Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the book): is it gay or British?
by Drew Rowsome -
When each of the seven Harry Potter novels arrived in stores, I immediately bought a copy and devoured it withing two or three sittings (perhaps more for the longer ones). I then passed it on to my niece. Gifting her was a convenient cover for my indulgence in two things that were not completely socially acceptable: reading young adult (ie: children's or inferior) literature and participating in a phenomenon (ie: popular so inferior). I got to be a great uncle and to protect my reputation as a snobby literate.
I went ahead and pre-ordered a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but when I told her that she could have it as soon as I finished, her eyes rolled so far back in her head that I feared damage. "Harry Potter?" she said stretching each vowel impossibly. "And I don't like reading plays." Of course, nine years after the series' thrilling conclusion Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, my niece is in her second year of university which means she is now the snobby literate.
And I have fortunately reached the point in life where I really don't give a shit what anyone thinks about what I choose to enjoy. And besides, now that author JK Rowling had proclaimed that Professor Albus Dumbledore was a gay character (and tweeted her enthusiasm of Neville Longbottom actor Matthew Lewis' honking new body on the cover of Attitude and grudging admiration for Daniel Radcliffe's gay-positive politics and enthusiastic nudity in Equus), it was practically a political necessity to read the new book..
True to form, I devoured Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in a few sittings. For the first few pages, I succumbed to my niece's dramaturgical dilemma, and wondered if I was going to enjoy this. JK Rowling's strength in the Harry Potter series was its creation - the characters are compelling, the universe is believable and the plots speed along with just enough twists and high enough stakes to induce page-turning. As Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play (written by John Tiffany from a story created by Rowling) there is no clunky exposition or description, just straight to it action. And none of that is missed, unless you have not seen the films or read the previous books. Having indulged in both, I already had a clear vision of what Hogwarts and all the other locales and characters look like.
This also added an intriguing extra layer as the quite lengthy stage directions and descriptions provided a puzzle - is the production to be lavish? Minimal with imaginative flourishes? Just how will they achieve the multiple effects without CGI and/or a budget the size of England's gross national product?
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as a text, is not vintage Harry Potter. The plot, involving time travel which confounded even the coruscating nerds who wrote Star Trek, is full of holes and has a sappy emotional tone. The dialogue is occasionally flat but reading Professor Minerva McGonagall in Maggie Smith's voice and with her flawless diva timing elevates everything. If Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was meant to be a standalone book, it is mediocre, as an advertisement for the play it made me salivate for the inevitable Mirvish presentation.
However there is one flourish that makes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brilliant. It is the first mainstream sci-fi/fantasy young-adult gay love story that I am aware of. Mind you it is questionable whether it is gay or British, as the homoeroticism which bubbles off the pages is couched in the classic tropes of the boarding school narrative - think John Knowle's A Separate Peace, Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited or the opening moments of a hazehim.com or fraternityx.com porn. Yes, Harry Potter's son Albus Severus and Draco Malfoy's son Scorpius, not only set out on adventures together but long to do much more.
There is much discussion (again it could be British rather than gay) of how much hugging between men is appropriate; Albus falls in "love" with a diva right out of the school of Maleficent or Liza; Scorpius has a few lame lines about a crush on a girl until he decides that he prefers Albus; and the father/son conflicts that are the main theme and plot engine of the play, read much like the perils of a closet teen or a father trying to understand his gay son. Thank you JK Rowling for giving us an almost explicitly gay, and at least ripe with innuendo, continuation of the Potter saga. Would it be too much to ask for a prequel of Dumbledore's more sordid magical shenanigans?