Flights of fancy: Theatrical rebirth of the boy who lived

Flights of fancy: Theatrical rebirth of the boy who lived

By Dipavali Hazra | | 20 August, 2016
J.K. Rowling.
The world was seized by Potter mania yet again when author Jack Thorne decided to publish his two-part play based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. But is it worth the hype? Dipavali Hazra finds out.

Even if the new Harry Potter book leaves one a bit “discombobulated”, the story, or rather the play, is of the clichéd unputdownable variety. Which is to say, it is not a bad thing at all.

Nearly a decade after the last Harry Potter book was published, the new book, which was intended for theatre and had been released as a play by Jack Thorne (based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) hit the stalls and sold like hot cakes fresh out of a steaming cauldron. Two million print copies went off the shelves in its first 48 hours in the U.S. and Canada, according to Scholastic. And in London’s West End where the play is being staged, the ticket chase is so intense that touts are now selling them for as much as $10,000. According to TIME, 175,000 tickets were sold in just 24 hours.

With books flying off the racks and tickets vanishing with every new performance announcement, there is surely some magic at work here? Yes, it is the spell that nostalgia casts on you. The book is being promoted as the eighth one in the Harry Potter series, which means it was not meant to be a standalone, hence for muggles who might want to test the wizarding waters, the first book would be a good place to begin.

The staggering sales figures therefore are all contributed by fans, the very ones queuing up outside bookstores in cloaks, wands and make-up scars for hours, and also the ones unaffected by the frenzy, actually waiting before purchasing a copy, and ultimately, like yours truly, receiving it as a gift from a dear friend. What Harry Potter suffers from, the series not the boy, is the constant drubbing it receives for its popularity. I guess you could say that for the boy as well. The fan fiction spin offs, the Pottermore website, the Harry Potter merchandise, the box-office-conquering movies, the (awaited) movies of the spin offs — the boy who lived is J.K. Rowling’s veritable cash cow. And in this environment of excess, it is easy to look down upon the book and its readers as overgrown teenagers who cannot accept the fact that they are probably on the wrong side of their twenties (or thirties, or fifties even!).

I am not here to convert you, but the charm, and yes, even genius, of the books can escape you if you mistake the content for the hype.

Surely, Harry Potter is not the first detailed fantasy tale ever written. Tolkien achieved that with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, inventing even the languages spoken by the Elvin and Dwarvish people.

The events in the Cursed Child take place 22 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. A grown-up Harry, now an employee at the Ministry of Magic, is failing at being a good father to his youngest son, Albus Severus Potter, who is burdened by the expectations heaped upon him by his famous namesakes.

Harry Potter by comparison is a magical universe on a much humbler scale, but where it always wins is in its ability to coax audiences into a willing suspension of disbelief. The magical world is just within your grasp — you only need to stumble across the correct public toilet, be wild enough to step into the bowl and know the correct password to enter the Ministry of Magic. It is all so simple that nobody would have ever thought of it — and that is basically the foundation on which this other world was built by its author J.K.Rowling. It may have its loopholes and occasional slip ups, but in my mind these are sealed away firmly with the disbelief.

Most importantly, the story has its heart in the right place. Characters like Dumbledore and Luna Lovegood, and occasionally Hermione, are the beacons who guide the narrative with their insights, helping Harry and the readers see that there is nothing more magical in a person than the ability to love, be kind and have courage, which is very rarely of the roaring type.

The new book too strikes the right chords, apart from being an engaging page-turner, and (warning for spoiler) — time-turner. The events in the Cursed Child take place 22 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. A grown-up Harry, now an employee at the Ministry of Magic, is failing at being a good father to his youngest son, Albus Severus Potter, who is burdened by the expectations heaped upon him by his famous namesakes. What’s worse is that he is the first Potter-Weasley to be sorted into Slytherin. The rest is the story of a boy wizard trying to prove himself and finally coming to terms with his unique identity, and finding the acceptance he needed from those closest to him.

The play, as a script, does wind up a little too soon, and I was left craving details, more fleshed-out characters. But given the script, I can imagine it being transformed into a gripping theatre production, for which purpose it was essentially designed. So, one cannot complain.

Although, Rowling has promised there will be no ninth book in the series, I would gladly go back for more, maybe in ten years’ time if Rowling does pull another one out of her hat. As far as I am concerned, the boy who lived has cemented his place in my heart for always.

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