As someone who was lucky enough to have seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on the West End stage, you might think the question, “Who is the Cursed Child?” would be an easy one for me to answer. You would be wrong. Like so much of the Harry Potter fictional universe — J.K. Rowling (and brilliant The Cursed Child writer Jack Thorne) are much too masterful for that.
The Cursed Child is thematically rich in so many ways, a treatise in the baggage we carry with us all (both through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ and, more importantly, emotionally). It asks questions like: “How is our identity shaped by our parents?”, “Do we ever really grow up?”, and “What effect does our past — and the people we love who are no longer with us — have on the person we are in this moment?”
Coming out of The Cursed Child, I wasn’t sure if I could tell you the identity of the eponymous cursed child, but that wasn’t a dissatisfying revelation in any way. We are all of us cursed children, in some ways. Cursed with the burden of the knowledge that we won’t live forever, and that the people we love won’t live forever, and that — even in a world rife with magic — this is one truth no spell (resurrection stones, aside) can change. Let’s take a look at all of the cursed children in the latest Harry Potter installment…
I was not expecting for The Cursed Child to get so very retrospectively dark about Harry’s troubled past, but did it ever — and it was one of the best parts of the all-around brilliant play. In the present-day storyline, Harry’s behavior — and most particularly his parenting decisions regarding Albus — were not always the wisest. However, the brief, atmospheric, heartbreaking flashbacks to major moments from his childhood put them in perspective and made Parent Harry deeply sympathetic, even in the most face-palmy of moments.
In these flashbacks, we see Harry stuck living (unloved) in a cupboard, visiting his mother and father’s grave, and Hagrid finally coming to tell him about his magic on his eleventh birthday. We get to see a loving Lily Potter as she takes her baby son for a walk through Godric’s Hollow. The dramatic irony is tragically strong with this one.
Later, in one of the most emotional moments of the five-hour, two-part play, we witness a conversation between Harry and Dumbledore’s portrait in which Harry is finally given the chance to express his anger at Dumbledore for leaving him to be raised by the Dursley’s, manipulating into being The Chosen One, and for ultimately leaving him behind in death to face it all on his own. The conversation is one seven books in the making, one that Harry and Dumbledore were only partially able to have when they met in purgatorial King’s Cross while Harry was between life and death at the end of The Deathly Hallows.
Harry’s arc in The Cursed Child is his struggle to get past his abusive childhood and the PTSD he still suffers as a result of the terrible events that helped to define his adolescence. Sure, he has made some progress in the 19 years since he graduated from Hogwarts, but another potential rise of Voldemort and, perhaps more importantly, the struggle of being a good parent to Albus, make him face his cursed past more than ever before.