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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Two)

06 Aug

Okay, let’s keep going with this. Bring on the mental thumbscrews and iron maidens, Ramsay Bolton should’ve read this play to Theon Greyjoy. Part One if you missed it.

Act Two.

Scene one.

Another flashback scene, because everyone wanted those! Do they think that if they keep using flashbacks to the time of the books it’ll get people’s interest who care less about the next-generation stuff?

Anyway, this is another nightmare of Harry’s, as the next scene will reveal (which explains some things I found weird in it). The scene is between “young Harry” and Aunt Petunia, who woke him up to berate him for cleaning the pots incorrectly, tell him what a disappointment he is, and force him back to work. Apparently (we’re getting into Inception territory here, I feel), young Harry in Harry’s nightmare has also had a nightmare, and wet himself; Petunia yells at him for this and calls him a disgusting animal.

Harry tells her the nightmare was about his parents dying, and remembers a lot of detail (he nearly gets the incantation, even) and she tells him it’s nonsense and it was a car crash.

And the stage contorts and trees rise as the dream twists into something else entirely.
Suddenly, ALBUS appears and stands looking at YOUNG HARRY.

So that happened. And we get Voldemort-voice whispering his name again, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and something saying “He’s coming. He’s coming.” (Harry, you naughty boy, you, dreaming about such things.)

Such subtle foreshadowing, I wonder what this could possibly be about.

(Side note: I’m forgiving the lapses in detail and contradictions with the books because this is a dream and Harry could be backfilling the things he shouldn’t have known when he was a child. Likewise with Petunia being more explicitly abusive than we ever saw her in canon, Harry could well remember it as worse than it was.) [Makes sense, in his own head Harry is definitely a tragic little abuse victim despite there being no evidence of any such thing onscreen.]

Scene two.

Very short scene. Harry wakes in a panic, starts telling Ginny about his dream. Except what he describes is a bit different from what we saw, and the main thing he focuses on is that he thinks he saw Albus wearing red Durmstrang robes. Somehow from that, he thinks he’s deduced where Albus is.

That’s the entire scene. [So Harry is now explicitly psychic, because reasons. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this will never be explained.]

Scene three.

Harry and Ginny are in McGonagall’s office (explicitly labelled as Headmistress’ office, so yes, McGonagall is Headmistress) at Hogwarts, telling her they think Albus is in the Forbidden Forest because of Harry’s dream. [How does Albus wearing Durmstrang robes = Albus being on Hogwarts grounds, exactly?] (I think the end of the dream scene was supposed to look like the Forest, but the stage directions were unclear in that scene itself.) They’re asking her for help searching, she offers Professor Longbottom because “his knowledge of plants might be useful” (nothing against Neville but I’m honestly not sure how that’s meant to be the case), then Hermione turns up (“tumbles out of the chimney”) offering help.

[Hermione is Santa now? As for Neville, maybe the night and day he had to survive on his own in the Forest after he was abandoned on that first-year detention taught him a few things. Facetiousness aside, I assume as a Herbology expert he probably goes looking for plants in there; I think the Acromantulas died off during the final battle in book 7 so there’s nothing really dangerous in there now.]

She’s followed shortly by Ron; the writers seem to be going for “comically inept” with him, he shows up “Covered in soot. Wearing a gravy-stained dinner napkin.” saying he wasn’t sure which Floo to go to and ended up in “the kitchen” accidentally. I don’t find this particularly funny, and also, while I hate to defend Ron for various reasons it’s not even in-character for him. Ron’s the one who grew up using Floo powder all the time (remember in Chamber of Secrets, it was implied to be the preferred method of travel for the Wizarding poor? before Rowling forgot this and just made it a universal thing), he’s honestly the last person I’d expect to bungle it.

Then Draco shows up and everyone’s surprised to see him. He’s the only person to show manners, and also just brushes off Harry’s rudeness toward him:

DRACO: Sorry about your floor, Minerva.
PROFESSOR McGONAGALL: I dare say it’s my fault for owning a chimney.
HARRY: Quite a surprise to see you, Draco. I thought you didn’t believe in my dreams.
DRACO: I don’t, but I do trust your luck. Harry Potter is always where the action is at. And I need my son back with me and safe.

As an aside: one weird thing I just noticed (and went back to prior scenes to check, it’s doing this consistently) is that everyone’s calling Draco “Draco” rather than “Malfoy”. The books were pretty consistent about maintaining the last-name-basis thing, except where close friends were concerned (and Draco even called his friends Crabbe and Goyle rather than Vincent and Gregory), so I find this peculiar. I’m not sure whether they intend to convey that they’re on better terms now (despite the consistent hostility of their interactions), or they think it’s too much to expect the audience to remember characters’ first and last names, or what.

They head for the forest.

Scene four.

At the “edge of the Forbidden Forest”, Albus and Delphi are practising Expelliarmus (which she is apparently teaching him). He manages to pull it off and they seem surprised/impressed by this. [Of course they do. Ugh.]

SCORPIUS appears at the back of the stage. He looks at his friend talking to a girl — and part of him likes it and part of him doesn’t.

Fuck this misogynistic bullshit. (Okay, okay, it’s probably a realistic-ish reaction for a teenager but still, fuck this.) Also: Delphi is nearly twice their age, she should not be a “girl”, thank you so much stage directions. [How on earth is an actor supposed to convey that anyway?]

Delphi’s really laying on the flattery: “I think you’re becoming quite some wizard, Albus Potter.” and they’re going on about how they’re friends. (They’ve known each other what, a day?) This is pretty creepy, but in fairness I think it’s sort of supposed to be (given that Delphi will turn out to be the villain later, but I’m not supposed to know that yet), so I will reluctantly give this a pass.

They go immediately from expelliarmus practice (how is that relevant to anything, anyway?) into discussing their ludicrously foolish plans. Scorpius has apparently found a way for them to get into the school.

Apparently their plan is to sabotage Cedric in the Triwizard Tournament because “if he doesn’t win, he can’t be killed.” Oh, here’s how expelliarmus comes in, they’re planning to disarm him while he’s fighting the dragon. Scorpius at least worries this might get him killed, but Delphi just brushes him off with “this is Hogwarts. They won’t let damage happen to any of the champions.” Aside from being very awkwardly worded, that’s really not a good fallback plan.

Oh, and they’re going to do it wearing Durmstrang robes to avoid raising questions about who they are. This is a brilliant idea that cannot possibly go wrong in any way. [Neither of the boys question how framing Durmstrang while they have a Death Eater as Headmaster is supposed to help matters? Neither of them suggest wearing something else, or using Disillusion charms, or Polyjuice again, or literally anything else?] Nope, nothing. Although the Durmstrang robes were Delphi’s idea, she suggested them first.

Delphi admits she can’t pass for a student and wonders if she should pretend to be a dragon tamer instead. The boys tell her she can’t come with them, which she does not like at all (and they argue about for a bit) but they override all her objections and she reluctantly agrees. She kisses Albus on the cheeks, they’re really emphasising all the flirtatious/seductive gestures she makes toward him. Hooray paedophilia. (Again, reluctantly forced to give this a pass because she’s the villain and undoubtedly trying to manipulate him, but that’s still a misogynistic trope.) [I’m not giving this a pass. He’s thirteen. This is gross no matter what.]

ALBUS: Let’s do this.

The scene ends.

Serious question: why didn’t they come up with a better plan than this? In an earlier scene (1-10) Albus and Scorpius discussed the Triwizard Tournament and knew precisely how it ended, so they have to know it’d make more sense to just delay Cedric in the maze somehow so Harry would get to the cup alone. I know they’ve not been portrayed as exceptionally clever, but it really doesn’t take a genius to work out that they should minimise the number of changes, and the farther back they go from the point they care about the less likely what they alter will make the difference (so Cedric gets fewer points against the dragon, big deal, they’ve now altered the entire future and he could make up the deficit on other tasks, and in the final task points barely mattered anyway). I guess this is supposed to be teenage hubris?

THIS. IS. STUPID!

(Charitable reading would blame the characters. I place the blame squarely on the authors.)

[Aside from anything else why don’t any of them suggest leaving an anonymous note for Dumbles and/or Snape before the final task saying the Cup’s been sabotaged again and turned into a Portkey? Albus 2.0 should want to communicate with one or both of them anyway, he doesn’t know they’re going to be looping constantly so at this point this is his only chance to meet either of his namesakes.]

Scene five.

Harry is in the Forbidden Forest, looking for the children. Some other people are mentioned to be searching in the background but they vanish offstage. Bane, the centaur, shows up and starts talking with him. He’s not happy to see Harry and accuses him of trespassing (which Harry doesn’t appreciate, and basically asks why Bane can’t be more welcoming since they fought together in the Battle of Hogwarts and all). Bane basically says the centaurs fought to defend themselves, nothing else, and they don’t want anything to do with humans. On one level I appreciate this, and sympathise with him, but on another Bane’s basically just a talking schtick: every time he appeared in the books it was to be xenophobic toward humans and complain about trespassing, and here he is doing that again.

Apparently Bane doesn’t know where Albus is, but he’s “seen him in the movements of the stars” and there are bad omens. There’s “a black cloud around [him]” and this is dangerous (I almost said ominous, but that’s redundant because it’s an omen).

Oh joy. Just what I wanted, pretentious portents with no content. [This scene was definitely worth making the wardrobe people try to come up with a centaur costume. There is literally no other way Harry would ever learn that his son might be in danger in some vague unspecified way.]

Scene six.

Albus and Scorpius in the Forbidden Forest. They catch a glimpse of Hogwarts (I assumed this meant they’d already travelled back in time and were seeing it in the past, but nope, just happen to see the castle) and it sets them off into reminiscence for some reason. Scorpius goes on for a while about how wonderful Hogwarts is (surprising Albus, who hates the place), because

[SCORPIUS:] All I ever wanted to do was go to Hogwarts and have a mate to get up to mayhem with. Just like Harry Potter. And I got his son. How crazily fortunate is that.
ALBUS: But I’m nothing like my dad.
SCORPIUS: You’re better. You’re my best friend, Albus.

I’m not sure if this is cute or pathetic (and how must Draco feel, to have his son idolising Harry?). Also, this throws into relief something that’s been low-key bugging me about Scorpius’ character so far: he’s characterised primarily by his desire for friends, and everything he’s done so far has been motivated by friendship and loyalty to Albus. Why’s he in Slytherin and not Hufflepuff? [Because Hat racism, silly. Malfoy = Slytherin.]

They hear Ron’s voice calling out looking for them and decide it’s now or never, they have to use the Time-Turner. Albus “presses down upon it”, which doesn’t line up with any description of how Time-Turners worked before. In the book, it was explicitly like an hourglass and it sent you back an hour for each time you flipped it (and also you had to live out the time between whenever you went back to and the present, which won’t be happening here). There’s no indication here of how they knew how to set the thing up, how to specify when it would take them to, or anything like that. Inexcusably lazy. Anyway, trippy things start happening (the description is honestly incomprehensible and I have no idea how they meant to produce effects like this in a theatre) and the scene ends.

Scene seven.

They’re at the same location (“edge of the Forbidden Forest”), but it’s 1994 and the Triwizard Tournament is happening.

I already don’t want to be reading this. Help me.

Ludo Bagman is being a showman and calling for cheers in favour of each of the schools. Hogwarts and Durmstrang both get loud cheers, but Beauxbatons’ is “slightly limp”, and Bagman mocks this, saying “Slightly less enthusiastic from the French there”. This bothers me. It’s worst if you consider the film, in which Beauxbatons seems to have been made an all-girls’ school, but even in the books Beauxbatons (literally “pretty wands” in French, btw) is by far the most feminine-coded of the three (and has the only female headmaster and female champion), so this has more than a hint of misogyny about it. At its absolute best, this is playing into the cultural animus between the English and the French, but I think even that may be giving it too much credit.

Bagman introduces all of the champions and gives them stupid nicknames (which we never heard of in Goblet of Fire), and it is similarly awful. I absolutely must quote this so you can share my pain:

“there’s nothing he won’t try on a broomstick, it’s Viktor Krazy Krum”
“zut alors, it’s Fleur Delacour”
“he makes us all go weaky at the kneesy, he’s Cedric Delicious Diggory”
“you know him as the Boy Who Lived, I know him as the boy who keeps surprising us all . . . Yes, it’s Harry Plucky Potter.”

Eeeeeeurgh. How does Bagman still have a job? (Also notice how little attention the one woman gets. No, I’m not letting this go. It also explicitly notes she only gets “polite applause” while everyone else gets much more enthusiasm. FUCK THIS PLAY.) [Yes, that was absolutely terrible. Good grief. Though honestly I’m glad they didn’t nickname Fleur, fuck knows what they’d have pinned on her but there’s no way it wouldn’t have been sexist and slut-shaming.]

Scorpius and Albus cheer for “Krazy Krum” in an effort to look more like legitimate Durmstrang students. I’m inclined to think it’d make them stick out more, because I wouldn’t expect Krum’s friends and classmates to like that nickname and continue using it.

They’re standing near young Hermione (who the play explicitly notes is to be played by the same actor as Rose), and Scorpius calls her Rose by mistake. She’s suspicious of them because they don’t have accents; Albus fakes “a bad accent” [which accent? We still don’t really know exactly where Durmstrang is. I’m assuming generic B-movie Eastern Europe racist accent.] and apologises but calls her Hermione, and she’s more suspicious because he knows her name somehow. Typical stupid time-travel farce plot, which I despise on principle.

Cedric’s up against the dragon. Albus successfully disarms Cedric, and Bagman notices and discusses it in commentary: “but no, what’s this? Is it Dark Magic or is it something else entirely? His wand is flying away — Cedric Diggory is Disarmed” but somehow nobody saw where the spell came from or where the wand went?

Conveniently the Time-Turner starts malfunctioning and the two boys get sucked back to the present; this causes Albus pain and he screams. (This is nothing like how Time-Turners worked in the main series. I need to keep reiterating that. Aside from the brief exchange between Harry and Hermione about how amazingly different this thing is – with no specifics, of course – we’ve got no explanation for that. This is bad writing.) They deduce that it must have a time limit (with special emphasis on the word ‘time’ there, this play really talks down to its audience), and then they’re found by Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco. There’s emphasis made that Ron dresses differently (apparently he now has a part in his hair and “his wardrobe choices have become more staid”).

They wonder if they’ve changed anything. And here’s how the scene ends:

ALBUS: Hello, Dad. Is something wrong?
HARRY looks at his son disbelievingly.
HARRY: Yes. You could say that.
ALBUS collapses onto the floor. HARRY and GINNY rush to help.

I hate this play. Words cannot express how much I hate this play.

Scene eight.

We’re in the hospital wing, Albus is asleep in bed and Harry’s fretting over him. “Above them is a picture of a concerned kindly man.” Actual description from the stage direction, which is surprisingly vague since this is Dumbledore’s portrait. Why’s Dumbledore’s portrait in the hospital wing? (Well, I guess this is an altered timeline now so anything goes?)

Dumbledore strikes up a conversation with Harry. Harry says this about what’s wrong with Albus:

HARRY: He’s been out twenty-four hours, mostly in order so Madam Pomfrey could reset his arm. She said it was the strangest thing, it’s like it was broken twenty years ago and allowed to set in the “most contrary” of directions.

Dumbledore’s being Dumbledore. Harry asks him how he felt about his namesake (apparently it’s never come up before?) and Dumbles says he thought it was something a child shouldn’t be burdened with. [ROWLING STOLE MY LINE FROM SNAPE AND GAVE IT TO DUMBLES. WHAT THE FUCK.] Harry asks how he can protect his son. Dumbledore says this: “You ask me, of all people, how to protect a boy in terrible danger? We cannot protect the young from harm.” Is this refreshing, to see Dumbledore having some modicum of self-awareness? I honestly can’t tell. [I don’t think this is self-awareness at all. I’ll bet everything I own that he’s only talking about what Harry went through here, and not anything that any other Hogwarts student has ever suffered.]

Anyway, they talk for a while but it’s mostly irrelevant. Albus wakes up and the portrait leaves.

The following conversation is really cringeworthy. Basically, Harry wants to know where Albus went and what they were planning, Albus lies and says they were running away from school to make a life in the Muggle world. Harry thinks Scorpius encouraged him to leave and everything’s Scorpius’ fault, then tells Albus to stay away from Scorpius because he thinks he’s dangerous, connected to “Dark Magic” and the “black cloud” from the omen. Harry’s also planning to use the Marauders’ Map to stalk Albus at Hogwarts (apparently he’s given it to McGonagall) and make sure he doesn’t spend time with Scorpius.

Then he drops what’s supposed to be a bombshell, I guess, and tells Albus to stay in the Gryffindor common room whenever he doesn’t have to leave for lessons. Yep, apparently our big time-travel change is that Albus was sorted differently. Of course Albus protests he’s a Slytherin and Harry doesn’t believe him, saying “don’t play games”. Harry’s also planning to have the Auror department investigate Scorpius’ “true heritage”, because of course he is.

HARRY: I thought for a long time I wasn’t a good enough dad for you because you didn’t like me. It’s only now I realize that I don’t need you to like me, I need you to obey me because I’m your dad and I do know better. I’m sorry, Albus. It has to be this way.

That’s how the scene ends, with Harry deciding he needs to be a more abusive parent. [Lovely. Just lovely.]

Fuck this play. I’m tempted to take inspiration from the (old) Pharyngula playbook and suggest the use of porcupines and cacti, but the poor things wouldn’t deserve that fate. FUCK. THIS. PLAY.

Scene nine.

Albus and Harry are apparently continuing their conversation on a staircase. Albus is threatening to run away again and Harry’s telling him to go back to bed. Ron shows up. Albus says “Thank Dumbledore” (this is now the second time this has shown up) and says they need Ron’s jokes to defuse things. Ron’s confused, Albus mentions he runs a joke shop and he’s more confused. Apparently he’s married to Padma in this timeline, and has a son named Panju; Albus has no idea who these people are. Anyway, apparently school supplies are this Ron’s idea of a cheer-up gift for Albus (admittedly, I like this Ron better than the version who gives rape juice, but that’s a pretty low bar).

Albus says something like “but isn’t Ron married to Hermione” and this Ron says: “Hermione. No. Nooooo. Merlin’s beard.” I’m amused even the play seems to recognise how implausible that relationship is, but at this point I’m not even capable of appreciating that. [Particularly since it’s implying that Hermione’s just that awful and has nothing to do with Ron being rapey scum.] That said, the way Ron talks about Padma is still creepy:

RON (to HARRY): Taken a Confundus Charm to the head, has he? (To ALBUS.) My wife, Padma. You remember. Talks slightly too close to your face, smells a bit minty. (Leans in.) Padma, mother of Panju! (To HARRY.) That’s why I’m here, of course. Panju. He’s in trouble again.

So basically this scene continues to be really awkward, Harry and Ron are expositing things they think Albus should know but he doesn’t (but it’s still weird that their response to his confusion is to list off details for the audience).

Also, I had my suspicions about the name Panju so I Googled it to see what Indian people might have to say. Turns out, yep, not a realistic Indian name and people are pissed. Quelle surprise. [It sounds like a Pokemon.]

The scene ends with Albus breaking up with Scorpius, because of course it does.

ALBUS: Just — we’ll be better off without each other, okay?
SCORPIUS is left looking up after him. Heartbroken.

Melodrama. Woohoo.

Scene ten.

PROFESSOR McGONAGALL is full of unhappiness, HARRY is full of purpose, GINNY is not sure what she’s supposed to be.

What the fuck kind of stage direction is that. Anyway, we’re in the Headmistress’ office and McGonagall is not comfortable with being asked to constantly spy on Albus and keep him away from Scorpius. (And I’d like to ask: doesn’t she have a job? She’s fucking Headmistress of fucking Hogwarts, she has things to do, you can’t expect her to watch surveillance all fucking day. The Potterverse continues to have no conception that school administration actually involves real work.)

Ginny isn’t keen on it either but Harry talks over her. Such feminism, Joanne!

Harry implies he got the idea from Dumbledore’s portrait, and McGonagall isn’t buying this either, saying Dumbledore’s dead and portraits aren’t really the people they represent. [I agree, but this completely contradicts everything we see of portraits in the books.]

HARRY: Albus didn’t like me before. He might not like me again. But he will be safe. With the greatest respect, Minerva — you don’t have children —

Fuck you, Harry. McGonagall is rightly offended by this, citing that she spent a lifetime as a teacher (good on her! even if I think she’s not done a particularly good job in loco parentis, that’s irrelevant here), but Harry just steamrolls over her and threatens to bring down “the full force of the Ministry” on Hogwarts if she doesn’t cooperate.

Fuck you, Harry. [Oh yes, this tired old line. You cannot possibly know anything about children unless you’ve contributed some genetic material to one. (Adoption/surrogacy doesn’t count among the type of people who say this sort of bullshit.) Donating gametes alters your brain and allows you to magically understand not only your own spawn but all other children everywhere and only then can you possibly have any idea of how to raise them or what is best for them. I agree, fuck you, Harry. And by extension, fuck the writers.]

Scene eleven.

It’s the classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts (though this script continues to use American spellings for some reason and calls it “Defense”). Albus walks in and is surprised to see Hermione is the professor.

She’s not pleased to see him and is vaguely sarcastic at him (I see where people were comparing her to Snape, but she’s sadly not quite at that level yet), and when he continues to express disbelief the class laugh at him. She’s taking points off Gryffindor in Snapely quantities, though. I’ll admit some of it amuses me, though the “Albus is clueless at timeline changes” schtick is already wearing quite thin.

ALBUS: But you’re not this mean.
HERMIONE: And that’s twenty points from Gryffindor to assure Albus Potter that I am this mean.

She’s really offended when Albus mentions Rose (“Who’s Rose? Your invisible friend?”) and then, when he explains who Rose is she takes fifty points off Gryffindor (presumably for daring to suggest she could ever have married Ron. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

[I heartily approve of this version of Hermione. I’m sure nobody is surprised. Snape approves too.]

She’s lecturing on Patronuses because that’s the only thing Rowling et al could think up for a Defence lesson.

Scene twelve.

No dialogue, thank the gods. And it’s a short one. Albus and Scorpius are walking on the staircases missing each other, they exchange some poignant looks, the end. (Shippers, this scene is presumably for you.)

Scene thirteen.

Harry and Ginny are having an argument in their kitchen, or starting to anyway (there’s a knock at the door and she leaves for some reason). It’s Draco, saying Scorpius is in tears and he wants to know why Harry’s keeping them apart.

HARRY: I’m not keeping them apart.

Wow, you’ve got balls, Harry. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

When Draco continues to ask questions, Harry says he’s trying to protect Albus, mentions the “darkness” Bane sensed and Draco’s hackles go up. When pressed further Harry actually asks Draco if he knows Scorpius is his son (ugh, will this stupid plot just die). Draco is, understandably, very angry, and pulls his wand on Harry and tells him to take it back (rather than, say, saying something like “this is slander and I’ll have your job” and calling a lawyer? Bad form, Draco.). Naturally, they end up dueling. I suppose the writers wanted to shoehorn in a duelling scene somehow, and this was the best they could come up with?

They’re using almost entirely low-level spells. (I almost said first-year spells, but it’s more like second- or third-year. Still pathetic.) Here’s a list: expelliarmus, incarcerous, tarantallegra, densaugeo (the one that did Hermione’s teeth), rictusempra, flipendo, levicorpus, mobilicorpus. There’s a couple of new ones at the end, and they’re even worse than the usual incantations: brachiabindo (which apparently wraps ropes around the torso), emancipiare (apparently undoes the former), obscuro (apparently puts a blindfold around their head). Draco’s generally getting the better of Harry, at least, but it’s still a pretty pathetic duel. [Oh good grief. This is stupid. I am also giving major side-eye to ’emancipare’, that’s a very loaded word.]

I could believe Draco holding back because he wants answers from Harry more than he wants to hurt him, but that’s honestly a stretch and not supported by the way this scene is written, and likewise I find it very difficult to believe a supposedly-qualified Auror would use such useless spells in self-defence (well, okay, it’s entirely in-character for Harry, who used bloody expelliarmus against the Dark Lord). This scene is stupid.

[Alternatively, we’ve established in Philosopher’s Stone that Harry and Draco were in love for years before both marrying women to carry on their family names, maybe they just don’t want to hurt each other. Though that invalidates Harry attempting to murder Draco in book six.]

It ends with Harry throwing a chair at Draco and Draco “slowing the chair with his wand”.

Ginny comes in and complains of the mess. (Hooray, sexist tropes!)

I will admit to being kind of curious how they pulled off the stage directions here (they’re apparently shooting spells at each other and blocking with things, at one point Draco “bounces Harry up and down on the table” – hey shippers, there’s another one for you), so maybe this scene looks nice, but this is bullshit.

Scene fourteen.

We’re at Hogwarts on the staircases again. (Wow, a lot of scenes are taking place there for some reason.) [The unnecessary centaur costume earlier cost them set-building money.] Scorpius is moping about; Delphi shows up to talk to him.

She admits she’s never been to Hogwarts (she claims to have been too sick to go as a child, which Scorpius sympathises with; I think the implication is meant to be that he’s thinking of his mother), is bemused by lots of things (including “lax security”, the portraits and ghosts), and says she shouldn’t be there because it’s “endangering our entire operation”.

They discuss how their plan failed; apparently, failing the first task only made Cedric more determined to win the later ones. Who’da thunk? Anyway, she claims she’s put the Cedric thing on hold for now because reuniting Albus and Scorpius is more important. Albus has been writing to her frequently, apparently, so she knows he’s missing Scorpius.

There’s a bit of bonding over their mutual loneliness as children, apparently they both felt the need to invent imaginary friends.

DELPHI: Albus needs you, Scorpius. That’s a wonderful thing.
SCORPIUS: He needs me to do what?
DELPHI: That’s the thing, isn’t it? About friendships. You don’t know what he needs. You only know he needs it. Find him, Scorpius. You two — you belong together.

Sounds like she ships them, honestly. (Knowing what I know about who she really is, I wonder where she’s learnt off these platitudes about friendship.) [She watches My Little Pony in her spare time. Explains the hair colour, anyway.]

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** How does Delphi know what their plan was, let alone that it failed? She didn’t go along on the time-turner trip with them, so this should technically be new-timeline-Delphi. (I’ll reluctantly accept the conceit that past!Albus and past!Scorpius replaced their new-timeline-versions on arrival, as seems to be the norm in this kind of time-travel story but that doesn’t work for Delphi). Unless she didn’t have the slightest clue and found out from Albus’ letters, but I don’t think that works either.

I’m running out of ways to use the word fuck in a sentence. [Here’s another one. Fuck it, it’s magic.]

Scene fifteen.

We’re back at the Potter residence, right where we left off. Draco apologises to Ginny about the kitchen and she says it’s not her kitchen, Harry cooks (admittedly I like this, and it’s consistent with Harry learning to cook for the Dursleys). [Okay, so what the fuck does Ginny do all day? Harry has a full time job. We know Ginny stopped playing Quidditch professionally when she had children. Has she gone back to work in this timeline, or does she just sit around doing fuck-all while Harry does everything after work?] It’s actually mentioned in an earlier scene she’s a Quidditch writer/editor for the Daily Prophet, for whatever that’s worth.

Most of this scene is Draco monologuing at Harry. He commiserates over Harry’s inability to talk to Albus and says he and Scorpius are the same, he says he always envied Harry having real friends when he only had Crabbe and Goyle (so much for my and many others’ headcanons that Crabbe and Goyle were smarter/better friends in private when not putting on the thug act). Ginny says she envied Harry his friendships also, which is an interesting characterisation note. [Hard to say how plausible this is. Literally the only other student in Ginny’s year ever named is Luna. The other DA members and Ginny’s boyfriends are all from Harry’s year, if I remember rightly.]

Draco’s really laying into Harry here and I like it: “My father thought he was protecting me.” and then he says that being alone as a child “sent [him] to a truly dark place” and then goes further: “Tom Riddle was also a lonely child.” (How does Draco know that?) “Maybe the black cloud Bane saw was Albus’ loneliness.”

Good job, Draco. I’ll deduct some points because the dialogue in this scene is a little clunky, but overall this is actually decent.

Ginny tells Harry to get the Floo powder or she will (I guess to go to Hogwarts?).

Scene sixteen.

Scorpius runs into Albus in the Hogwarts library. Albus doesn’t want to talk to him and is trying to get out of the conversation, but Scorpius won’t let him.

Scorpius reveals that he read Rita Skeeter’s book about Ron and Hermione (this exists? and is credible? what?!) [I concur. What?] and that the reason they broke up was that they actually did go to the Yule Ball together.

SCORPIUS: As friends. And they danced in a friendly way, and it was nice, and then he danced with Padma Patil and that was nicer, and they started dating and he changed a bit and then they got married and meanwhile Hermione became a —
ALBUS: — psychopath.

SHE IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ROWLING, THORNE, WHOEVER WROTE THIS. Strict teachers are not psychopaths. Being bitter over some supposed lost love (heh, I see what you did there) does not turn people nasty; Snape had plenty of canonical reasons to be nasty to students beyond just not having love in his life or whatever bullshit way you want to word this. I am not amused. This bullshit offends me. The implication of this is that being single turns you evil, and for the sake of single people everywhere I refuse to let this stand. [I agree, this is Hallmark bullshit.]

It gets worse.

SCORPIUS: And without Krum, Ron never got jealous and that jealousy was all-important and so Ron and Hermione stayed very good friends but never fell in love — never got married — never had Rose.

THE JEALOUSY WAS ALL-IMPORTANT. THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WAS LITERALLY JEALOUSY. (This had been mentioned before, so it shouldn’t surprise me but I’d forgotten about this. This is one of the biggest deathblows the Ron/Hermione ship could possibly be given. Relationships founded on jealousy are not healthy. I know it’s a trope in mainstream depictions of heterosexuality, romcoms and the like, but mainstream descriptions of heterosexuality are terrible.)

I suppose we should thank the play for explicitly saying what sensible people already knew? Except the play isn’t condemning this, it’s arguing it’s a legitimate foundation for a relationship. So fuck this play. [I don’t know whether to be angry or horrified.]

(Also, I suppose I should mention for completeness’ sake that the reason Hermione didn’t go to the ball with Krum in this timeline is apparently because she thought Albus and Scorpius, qua Durmstrang students, were sent by him to sabotage Cedric.)

This scene has hit rock bottom and continues to dig.

Scorpius and Albus continue to argue. Scorpius gets angry that Albus is so focussed on his relationship with Harry when the problems are bigger than that (apparently something called Professor Croaker’s Law says the furthest you can go back in time without risking serious injury is five hours; no further explanation, just an arbitrary limit), and Scorpius thinks what they did created really bad changes. Albus wants to go back and meddle more to try to fix it and Scorpius thinks that’s “the wrong answer”. Scorpius apparently still has the Time-Turner, though.

Albus takes it from him and they continue to argue. Scorpius thinks they’ve proven they’re inept losers and they’ll just mess things up further (I don’t think he’s wrong), Albus says “I wasn’t a loser before I met you” and Scorpius loses his shit. Essentially (I’m summarising here) he goes off on Harry for being caught up in his own problems and not being supportive towards his own, Albus is so miserable to be the son of Harry when Scorpius has to deal with being thought the son of Voldemort and his mother’s dead, etc etc. Scorpius has a point. Also, Scorpius was hopeful that maybe fucking up the timeline could’ve saved his mother but he was devastated to see she’s still dead. This is decent characterisation given all the bullshit that’s come before, I can’t really criticise this.

McGonagall comes looking for them. Albus pulls out the Invisibility Cloak from “his bag” (since when has he had a bag? I guess he has a bag) and they hide under it. He explains he stole it from James. Anyway, McGonagall comes in and can’t see them, she figures out what’s going on and decides to play dumb, so she leaves.

Albus tells Scorpius that Harry’s Aurors are actually investigating the Voldy-dad thing, Scorpius says he doesn’t mind because he wants to actually know the truth, and Albus says not to worry because he’s too good a person to be Voldy’s son. (Genetics don’t work like this, but okay, I guess it’s a way to segue into apologising.) Albus starts waxing rhapsodic over how great Scorpius is and how much he appreciates him, keeps going on and on (it’s honestly sounding like a love confession). Eventually this happens:

SCORPIUS (interrupting): Albus, as apologies go this is wonderfully fulsome, but you’re starting to talk more about you than me again, so probably better to quit while you’re ahead.

*clap* *clap* okay, that’s a good line. [Agreed.]

Anyway, here’s where this scene becomes totally awful again. He’s come up with a new plan for how to change the past. He thinks, that because “losers are taught to be losers” (never mind that here, they’ve just made up their minds to keep trying, so clearly THAT DOESN’T WORK), they need to humiliate Cedric and maybe that will work. [There’s a nasty smell of victim-blaming here. Being worn down by things is your fault, just shake it off, if you don’t succeed you should have just tried harder.]

Scorpius, despite having shown signs of having a brain in the previous conversation, has now regressed and decides he thinks this sounds like “a really good strategy”. Albus also has a plan to get Ron and Hermione back together for Rose’s sake, but isn’t telling Scorpius what that is. Also Albus says that he’ll do it by himself if he has to, but asks Scorpius if he wants to come. The final line of the scene is the reveal that they need to go to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, whatever Albus’ “humiliation” plan is, it involves using Myrtle because they’re “not allowed to leave the school building”. I’m not sure why that matters, but I’m afraid to see where this is going. This is the stupidest plan I have ever heard.

Scene seventeen.

FUCK THIS SCENE.

Scene eighteen I’m sorry for reusing this gag.

Again on the Hogwarts staircases. Ron runs into Hermione and they talk. Apparently they’re still in love, or something. Hermione’s apparently done something with her hair (she claims she’s combed it) and Ron compliments her on it; she notices he’s looking at her oddly and he explains it’s because Albus said he thought they were married. It’s awkward. Lots of wistful looks, that kind of thing. The dialogue continues to be clunky and awkward and stupid. He compliments her hair again at the end as she leaves.

[…oh for fuck’s sake.]

I’m not recapping any more of this, there’s really not much I can say about it. I suppose, if I wanted to be fair, I could say the awkwardness makes sense because how the fuck do you talk to someone about some kid randomly thinking you’re married?

I also can’t help thinking about the references to hair in a racial context, because black!Hermione (I know black women’s hair can be a sensitive issue). I don’t know if it’s appropriate to think about that, and it’s not as though he’s touching/trying to touch her hair or anything obviously inappropriate, but this is written by white people and Ron is white so this hair talk feels weird.

Scene eighteen.

McGonagall’s office. She’s pleased with herself for not following through with Harry’s plan to separate the boys. Harry and Ginny and Draco show up unexpectedly through the fireplace. There’s a bit of talking past each other but they eventually establish that Harry’s there to apologise to her and to the boys, and decide they’re going to go look for them.

They check the map and discover they’re in the first floor girls’ bathroom.

Scene nineteen.

In the bathroom. Albus tells Scorpius his plan, which is apparently to use an Engorgement Charm on Cedric’s head to make him float, so he can’t complete the task.

LGN;FSGHRGHISJFAPIDJK;FDJAIPHFOHJOA’J

[I concur. Couldn’t have said it better myself.]

Furthermore, apparently Myrtle’s involvement extends only to learning how the castle pipes connect to the lake, they’re going to take gillyweed and travel there. Apparently the pipes to the bathroom sink are big enough for people to swim through? What is this?! [To be fair this is sort of canon, the pipes throughout the castle are apparently big enough for a basilisk to move through. Not that that ever made sense.]

In fairness, there are some decent bits in this scene. Firstly, Scorpius says ‘Moaning Myrtle’ and she gets offended, and wants to be called by her actual name, which is fair enough. But the actual name is Myrtle Elizabeth Warren. I don’t think she had a canonical middle or last name before, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this name, but I cannot help fearing that this is a dig at a certain actual person named Elizabeth Warren (a well-respected leftist US Senator, if you don’t know who she is, and someone I greatly admire). If that is the case, I am very unamused. But I suppose it could be coincidence. [I don’t believe in coincidence any more where these people are concerned. Fuck you, writers.]

And Myrtle says this about the Triwizard Tournament:

MOANING MYRTLE: Such a shame the pretty one had to die. Not that your father is not pretty — but Cedric Diggory — you’d be amazed at how many girls I had to hear doing love incantations in this very bathroom . . . And the weeping after he was taken.

WHAT IS THIS WITH THE LOVE POTIONSSPELLS. WHY IS THIS ENTIRE UNIVERSE FULL OF MAGICAL RAPISTS. I get that it’s supposed to be a joke but seriously, this shit is not funny. Cut it out.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of discussion the boys take gillyweed (where’d Albus get the gillyweed? It was a plot point in Goblet of Fire that Dobby had to steal it for Harry from Snape’s stores, I don’t think we’re meant to believe this is common stuff but he just has it in his bag?) and jump into the pipes. They apparently activate the Time-Turner.

The adults show up just barely too late, because of course they do.

MOANING MYRTLE: Oops, you caught me. And I was trying so hard to hide. Hello, Harry. Hello, Draco. Have you been bad boys again?

Okay, that line actually amused me. Anyway, she mentions Cedric Diggory and Harry immediately figures out what’s going on, and explains it to the others.

Scene twenty.

At the lake in 1995. Bagman’s announcing again. The stage directions make a point that the cheer for Beauxbatons is “slightly less limp” this time. FUCK THIS PLAY.

This scene is a fucking nightmare.

The engorgement charm works, Cedric turns into a balloon and literally floats up through the water and into the sky. Then fireworks explode around Cedric that say “Ron loves Hermione” and I want to explode as well. Bagman’s going on and on about this, how much the crowd is loving it and how much of a humiliation it is for Cedric. […oh God what.]

Stage directions:

The world becomes darker. The world becomes almost black, in fact.
And there’s a flash. And a bang. And the Time-Turner ticks to a stop. And we’re back in the present.

Because “darkness” has to be literal. My god I loathe this play.

When they come up out of the lake, they are greeted by Dolores Umbridge who is now Headmistress, and is not pleased with them. He mentions he’s looking for Albus Potter and she informs him – again, I suppose this is meant to be a bombshell – that there’s no such person, the last Potter at Hogwarts was Harry and he “didn’t turn out so well” and is dead. There are a bunch of dementors around, there are “Parseltongue whispers” and apparently it is something called Voldemort Day.

Thus ends the first “part” of the play.

I believe the two “parts” are actually shown on different nights, so this cliffhanger/downer ending is actually what people are going home on (presumably why people were so upset when the plot first leaked).

This is page 101 in my edition, so 90 more to go. Fuck me. Fuck everything.

Okay, have some semifinal thoughts I guess. I know it’s a trope in this kind of time-travel story that the bungling traveller has to go back, fuck things up, and return to a bad present/bad future, so they can regret what they’ve done and work toward fixing it (or just give up in despair, depending on the tone of the story; I’m thinking of e.g. A Sound of Thunder). Usually these stories go out of their way to make the bad future as bad as possible. Presumably the next part is going to explore how awful this bad future is, and somehow they’ll put things right in the end. That’s how these stories work.

That doesn’t make this a good story, nor does it make this anything less of an Idiot Plot (tm TvTropes). This is not a pleasant thing to read, it’s just endless contrived bullshit after contrived bullshit, the characterisation is inconsistent, the whole thing’s just thoughtlessly written at best (the other thing with these time travel plots is that the different timelines are usually used to highlight characterisation details in looking at how things could have gone, etc, but none of that works here either). I have already made my opinion of the writing, the events of this play, and everything else abundantly clear, I am sure.

Anyway, I’m taking the rest of the weekend off, as I have meatspace things to deal with (and I fully intend at some point to get thoroughly drunk, I need it). I will subject myself to Breaking Dawn Part Two oh I’m sorry did I say that? of course I meant Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two, next week and hopefully have the writeups done before the week is out. I want to put this thing firmly behind me.

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying my suffering. That’s what makes all this worthwhile. [I was, but now I’m just horrified and sympathetic. You brave soul.]

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7 Comments

Posted by on August 6, 2016 in mitchell

 

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7 responses to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Two)

  1. liminal fruitbat

    August 6, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Oh gods. I’ve given in to fatal curiosity and read this (someone else’s copy; I wasn’t going to spend money on this). It’s so bad (though I do appreciate than it all but the dark timeline Draco seems to be consistently a better parent and a better person than Harry).

    “this is Hogwarts. They won’t let damage happen to any of the champions.”

    I do hope the audiences respond appropriately.

    “you know him as the Boy Who Lived, I know him as the boy who keeps surprising us all

    This is an odd thing to say before he’s even competed in the first event.

    (Shippers, this scene is presumably for you.)

    Oh, you think this scene is queerbaiting?

    SHE IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ROWLING, THORNE, WHOEVER WROTE THIS.

    Hell, she’s not even setting birds on anyone in this timeline!

    he’s too good a person to be Voldy’s son. (Genetics don’t work like this, but okay, I guess it’s a way to segue into apologising.)

    It figures that this is one of the things consistent with the books.

    Then fireworks explode around Cedric that say “Ron loves Hermione”

    Everything about this set-up makes it seem like something Fred and George would have done, so why do Albus and Scorpius think it will do anything to make Hermione interested in Ron? This whole thing is stupid.

     
    • mcbender

      August 6, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      (shhh… don’t tell anyone, but I’ve not paid for this either. While I’m normally uncomfortable with piracy, I will make no apologies for acquiring this text through illicit means. The people responsible for this are making bank already and I think that’s a travesty.)

      Regarding canon Hermione and the birds incident, I will accept there’s a case to be made for her having sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies (I freely admit I have a selective memory where Hermione is concerned, for whatever reason I tend to view her worst acts as “things she was forced to do for the sake of the narrative”), but that’s irrelevant here because what the play is calling psychopathic is docking points from Gryffindor, for being displeased Albus showed up late to class and started spouting off nonsense about her personal life. I’m not so much offended that they dared to criticise Hermione (I criticise Hermione plenty! or I will when we get to later books) as that the implications of this scene and the interpretation the play gives thereof are deeply unpleasant, and downright harmful. But I take your point.

      Excellent point about what they do to Cedric being reminiscent of the Terrible Twins. (I really should have said more about it, probably, but it was getting late, I was getting sick of reading this trash, and I desperately needed booze). I don’t know how it’s supposed to get them together either: surely Hermione’s takeaway from this isn’t going to be “zomg Ron likes me squee” but “holy shit Ron and his brothers were involved in assaulting someone and put my name in it”. (Or so I would hope, anyway. But these writers also seem to take a dim view of her intelligence…)

      It also falls squarely into the territory of “public marriage proposals” like people do at sporting events and the like, which are coercive and creepy. (I know Ron didn’t do it, but Albus did, and his motivations were similar. It’s still creepy as fuck if you do it on someone else’s behalf.)

      The other thing is that, aside from being a physical assault on the person they’re trying to save (and the “crowds” reacting like nobody realistic and enjoying the spectacle, because we’re in Rowlingland), by including names in it Albus and Scorpius have ensured this incident of blatant public cheating will be associated with Team Harry and blamed on him. I’m assuming (I haven’t read ahead) that this is going to be the impetus for Cedric apparently becoming a Death Eater/Voldy sympathiser in the bad timeline, and frankly that’s a more understandable explanation than I thought they were going to manage for that.

       
  2. Charlie

    August 7, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Imma just have to disagree with you here about Harry being ‘a tragic little abuse victim in his head despite there being no evidence’. There is a shit ton of evidence for Harry having been abused both physically and mentally by the Dursleys. I don’t even particularly care for Harry as a character, but I went ahead anyway and compiled a half arsed list of some of the nice things the Dursleys did to Harry over the years. I even have some quotes, so that nobody can say I invented something to prove a point. I didn’t have the patience to look for quotes for everything, but a few quotes are still better than no quotes.

    Okay, so what have we got.. .

    – They tell him almost constantly that he’s a freak and that he’s not normal. Wouldn’t that do wonders for anyone’s self-esteem.
    – They treat him more like a servant than a child in their care.
    – Dudley’s hobby is basically beating Harry up, and as far as I can remember he also makes sure Harry has no friends at school before Hogwarts by scaring them all off. “He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.” (PS, ch. 1)
    – He has to live in a small dirty cupboard. And no, this is not just a small comfy room underneath the stairs, the place sucks ass: “Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.” (PS, ch. 2)
    – As punishment he is denied food and locked into his dingy closet: “Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, ‘Go – cupboard – stay – no meals,’ before he collapsed into a chair and Aunt Petunia had to run and get him a large brandy.” (PS, ch. 2)
    – They shut down any questions Harry might have about his parents, which any child should have a right to know about, and which is especially important for Harry, because, ya know, his relatives treat him like shit: “He couldn’t remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.” (PS, ch. 2)
    – Petunia almost bashes his head in, which I’m guessing would probably have injured him quite badly: “As neither Dudley nor the hedge was in any way hurt, Aunt Petunia knew he hadn’t really done magic, but he still had to duck as she aimed a heavy blow at his head with the soapy frying pan. Then she gave him work to do, with the promise he wouldn’t eat again until he was finished.” (CoS, ch. 1)
    – Vernon literally chokes Harry until he can’t breathe: “Harry felt as though his head had been split in two. Eyes streaming, he swayed, trying to focus on the street to spot the source of the noise, but he had barely staggered upright when two large purple hands reached through the open window and closed tightly around his throat.” (OotP, ch. 1)

    What else would you call that if not abuse? If any of the neighbors had had the sense to contact social services about the underfed child next door Harry would have been taken the fuck away from the Dursleys. As he should have been.

    Now, of course you don’t like Harry, but does that mean you have to downplay his experiences? It’s not like you can’t dislike a character who had a shitty childhood.

    Imagine if the childhood of a character you cared about, Snape for example, was described like that, that he had to live in a dirty little closet, was denied food, and was beaten by his bigger cousin on a regular basis. Would you call that abuse? I’m guessing you would, simply because you like Snape, and that means he’s more ‘worthy’ of having a tragic childhood, that his experiences were worse, that he was affected by them more, yada yada yada. If Snape’s childhood had been described like that, and someone told you Snape was a tragic little abuse victim in his head, wouldn’t that make you mad? I know it would make me want to scream bloody murder, because that person would be downplaying the experiences of one of my all time favourite characters and reducing him to a whiny little brat.

     
    • mcbender

      August 8, 2016 at 1:58 am

      This is a pointed rebuke, and one I think we probably deserved, so it warrants a thoughtful reply and I hope I’m able to do it justice. I think you are probably right that we were too flippant with our dismissal of Harry’s abuse, but I still find the way Rowling writes about Harry’s abuse (and truthfully, the way she writes Harry generally, because they can’t quite be separated) to be deeply problematic and difficult to believe.

      What I will say, first and foremost, is that if any of these things were done to a real child in the real world, it is child abuse. Full stop. Unconscionably so, and I do not wish to defend it or be seen as defending it.

      The problem is that Harry Potter is not a real child, he is a fictional construct. And as a fictional construct, he is written so inconsistently and irresponsibly that it is difficult to make sense of. The main issue is that (as we find) Harry does not respond in most situations as if he had actually experienced the abuse we’re told on occasion (as you’ve highlighted) that he did. He tends to be written, especially when at Hogwarts, as a normally-socialised child, unaffected by the abuse he’s experienced, until that abuse is needed for drama purposes and suddenly a switch flips and the narrative switches into pity-him-now mode. I don’t think the problem is that we are downplaying his experiences, so much as the narrative itself is downplaying his experiences.

      A few examples:

      One thing we noticed early on in our close reading of Philosopher’s Stone is how bizarrely Harry reacts to Mrs Figg. If he were as badly abused and starved as we’re told he is, one would think he’d look forward to seeing a kindly adult who feeds him and gives him attention. Harry should love Mrs Figg and view her home as a sanctuary. Instead the narration comes across as snobbish and looking down on her, telling us how stale all the food she feeds him is (and not to highlight that Harry enjoyed it in spite of its staleness and appreciated being able to eat his fill, or anything, just to complain that an old woman gives him stale food) and how he dislikes her for being fussy about her cats and dislikes the way her cats smell. Again: supposedly he is badly beaten and starved at the Dursleys’, as well as expected to perform slave labour. If that is true, this doesn’t add up.

      Staying with Harry’s starvation, when he arrives at Hogwarts and is greeted with tables full of delicious food, he does eat his fill. But he doesn’t overeat, and we don’t see (for instance) hoarding behaviour, which tends to be common in people who’ve experienced food insecurity. Now also, starvation has lots of effects, it affects the metabolism and after extended periods of starvation it is often difficult to digest solid foods, things like that, but Harry never seems to need any kind of special diet, nor to become ill after eating large quantities of foods he should struggle to digest. It’s not convincing.

      Likewise, we’re never given any sign that (for instance) he’s experienced brain damage from being struck on the head, or any lasting injury from Dudley and friends beating him.

      Harry should probably view adults and other children with fear and suspicion, but (outside of Snape, and actually Harry’s reaction to Snape is pretty restrained and would realistically be more like Neville’s, I think), he seems to trust people remarkably quickly. Yet we’re supposed to believe that his only prior experiences with other children were of being beaten by Dudley’s “gang”, and his only experiences with adults (except Mrs Figg) were the Dursleys, and being disbelieved and distrusted by his teachers and neighbours on the Dursleys’ say-so? He should be expecting his teachers to turn on him at a moment’s notice.

      I don’t want to discount the emotional abuse, because emotional abuse is real and insidious and causes far-reaching damage (I grew up in an emotionally abusive household myself, though nowhere near as bad as anything in these books, and I’m still struggling to work through that damage in therapy). But at the same time, again, Harry doesn’t really act like someone who’s been through that. The way he tends to talk back to teachers (and even the Dursleys), for instance, is written like a stereotypical rebellious teenager, not somebody who’s been branded a liar his entire early life.

      It’s impossible to make sense of this, unless you want to use some kind of hand-wave that Harry’s magic is rewriting his brain so he doesn’t act like he’s been abused, and if that’s possible then anything is. Or at least, at the Watsonian level I don’t think there’s a way to reconcile it.

      On the Doylist level, I think what it comes down to is that Rowling is playing fast and loose with her genres. The abuse is written like it comes straight out of a Roald Dahl book, it’s almost cartoonishly over-the-top, but in the same way as a cartoon or a Dahl book it tends not to be allowed to have consequences. The Dursleys aren’t treated as people, they’re props and caricatures (especially in the early books; she makes some token efforts to humanise Petunia and Dudley later but that seems half-hearted at best, and she still expects the reader to despise them afterward) and primarily serve the purpose of giving Harry something to escape from (I guess so the books better function as escapism). The frying pan things, the way she describes strangulation, etc, looks to me like nothing so much as a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and in that genre violence is consequence-free. But then, while Harry largely shrugs off all of this abuse and acts like it’s never happened, the narrative still expects the reader to take it seriously, to pity him and loathe the Dursleys because of that abuse. It’s bad writing and makes it almost impossible for us to take Harry seriously as a character.

      So that’s where those remarks were coming from, though I admit we probably worded them badly.

      Now, you may be saying, this sounds a lot like blaming the victim, or saying victims need to behave/react a certain way to their abuse in order for that abuse to be real. I hope it doesn’t, but I can see where it might. The difference, I think, is that Harry Potter isn’t a real person, he’s a fictional character and stories convey messages. The message this conveys is, essentially, “abuse doesn’t or shouldn’t affect people”. Look at how Harry is written, compared to Neville Longbottom, who also has an abusive family but actually acts like it. In the early books especially, he’s written off as cowardly and treated as comic relief. So the book is essentially saying, “if you’re abused, be a Harry and not a Neville”, and that is a very dangerous message.

      YMMV, I guess.

       
    • Loten

      August 8, 2016 at 7:17 am

      Yes, Mitchell’s said everything I could have said. I agree we worded it badly, but we’ve discussed Harry’s possible abuse at some length already so this flippant remark wasn’t a standalone but was based on other posts – I should have realised people coming to the blog for the Cursed Child posts aren’t going to have read our other stuff yet.

      I also admit that a lot of Snape’s characterisation is him overexaggerating things in his head. That’s part of how I write him in fanfics. He might be my favourite but that doesn’t mean he’s flawless, or pleasant.

      That said, if Harry is one of your all time favourite characters, this blog probably isn’t the place for you. We try to keep the criticism even handed but he comes off worst because he gets the most screentime so there’s more to criticise.

       

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