Jim Kay’s Wizarding World 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The premise of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is simple:  He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, weak as a newborn, is powerless to reassert his will on the wizarding community.  He schemes to obtain a specimen of Harry’s blood for the spell that will restore him to a human body: another victim would do,but the poetic justice of forcing the Boy-Who-Lived to be an accessory is irresistible.  Until then, the dark lord must carry out his plan through creatures like Wormtail or the pale, hard-eyed Crouch junior, the subject of one of the best portraits in the volume.A lot happens in the 300-odd pages before Harry lands in the Little Hangleton graveyard and squares off with Voldemort.  There are peeks into the Burrow’s cluttered kitchen and  Ron’s memorabilia-cluttered cave.   The flying leprechauns and swaying Veelas  cheer on their teams at the World Quidditch Cup.  The fans party hearty until the dark mark appears in the night sky.   The champions from  Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, and Hogwarts must be chosen for the Tri-Wizard Tournament and unscrupulous journalist Rita Skeeter’s coverage endured.  Creating space for Jim Kay to illustrate and decorate this sprawling narrative as lavishly as the first three volumes meant some clever redesign.  By setting the text in two columns in a smaller font, it was possible to fit the entire story into a 450-page volume uniform with the others. The high point is the sequence of eight  double-page spreads for the climactic resurrection chapters: three spreads lead up to the stone cauldron scene, one portrays the arrival of the Death Eaters, and three dramatize the magical duel.The first part of the section shocks with an illustration of a character dying from an unforgiveable curse.  When Harry and Cedric share the honors by touching the trophy, their act of good sportsmanship drops them into the graveyard’s murky green darkness.  Winning the Tri-Wizard Tournament turns out to be the deadliest game they could have played.  Almost immediately, the young men hear a disembodied voice say “Kill the spare”  to a short man unrecognizable as Peter Pettigrew. When his curse strikes Cedric,  his contorted corpse is silhouetted by blinding greenish-yellow light streaming in all directions. There was no pathos or nobility in the death of Hufflepuff’s champion, the house where Hogwarts places its plodders.The voice, of course, was the dark lord’s.  Up until now, all that has been seen of him was the red eye attached to the back of Quirrell’s head in Philosopher’s Stone.  In the form of Riddle, he was heard, but not seen in the Chamber of Secrets.  He made no appearance in Azkaban.   As Pettigrew prepares to cast the spell, the image of a raw, red, bloody creature out of a nightmare suddenly confronts the reader’s eyes. Kay’s monstrous cross between a human embryo and a diseased crustacean is so much more menacing than Rowling’s words, that the second picture of his skeleton rising out of the cauldron seems a cliché in comparison.   Would it have been more ominous to see Pettigrew stabbing Harry’s arm?  Or more suggestive if the first glimpse of the reembodied dark lord were the cold red eyes and flat nose on pages 396-7?After rebuking the reassembled (and edgy) Death Eaters for their lukewarm loyalty during his thirteen-year-exile, he gives Pettigrew the sign to return Harry’s wand. Voldemort’s next move was to supposed to be dispatching Harry in a farcically unequal fight, but only Ollivander could have predicted how the way their wands would behave in a duel.  Voldemort’s startling setback is illustrated in six pages with green-black backgrounds.   Seen from below, he looks up with an unfathomable expression at the bead of light Harry has forced to the end of his wand (Harry appears two pages later, after the one of Voldemort and Harry in the eerie yellow cage of light, completing the composition).  The eye goes hard right to Harry’s crouching body, arms outstretched in the effort to hold the wand steady.  To the far left the dark lord’s smaller, less dynamic figure recedes, while the Death Eaters’ larger silhouettes break up the golden beam of light connecting the antagonists.  This spread follows closely Rowling’s words (unavoidably but inconveniently placed after it); yet critical details like the figures of James and Lily hovering over their son are all but lost in the murk.  For all Kay’s boldness, the sequence might have been more intense if there had been less detail.Compared to Harry and the dark lord, the champions of the Tri-Wizard Tournament hardly seem to be in contention.  The magical creatures were given more space, in any event, than the young wizards. The Common Welsh Green dragon, Swedish Short-snout, the Chinese Fireball, and Hungarian Horntail (a relative of Drogon?) imported for the first challenge bristle with spikes and fangs.   A gross of Grindylows lurking below the surface of the Hogwarts lake to as distractions to the champions during the second task are more compelling than the picture following of a splinched Viktor Krum.  The life-cycle of the blast-ended skrewt, a repulsive insect with a pimply pink exoskeleton and a slew of long, skinny legs, is carefully documented before an adult makes an appearance in the maze.  I wouldn’t have missed another picture of the gigantic spiders from the Forbidden Forest if it had been replaced with one of the funny, miserable moments that happen between the tasks, like Harry in the bath room trying to crack his egg while Moaning Myrtle leers.Humor takes a backseat to horror most of the time in Goblet, but when Kay tries to lighten the mood, as in the underdeveloped Viktor Krum/Hermione subplot, the results can be heavy handed.   Krum is introduced to the reader in a splendid poster of him glowering, with broom overhead, every inch the Quidditch star, with nothing of the Durmstrang Academy about him.  Off the Quidditch field, however, he is physically and socially awkward, but he looks like a goon with vampire blood next to a radiant Hermione at the Christmas ball. If he were that ghoulishly unattractive, why would Hermione have accepted his invitation or tolerated his constant companionship in the library?  Another good subject would have been a jealous Ron finding them in the stacks, but Kay prefers focusing on single figures.The remaining three  volumes, like this one, mix up magical derring-do, teen angst, and strange creatures in fabulous settings, giving Kay a wealth of choice for subjects. It would be wonderful if he’d abandon the book decorations, which don’t add as much to the visual storytelling as would illustrations of Hogwarts interiors.  Or stretch himself and tackle a few more dramatic scenes where several characters interact.  Until The Order of the Phoenix later this year.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:” A Review that Puzzles out but Keeps the Secrets

la-et-cm-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-london-2016-20150626Here’s a review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for readers waiting to buy tickets to the first United States production when they go on sale.  The two-part script published last July was billed as the eighth and final installment of Harry Potter.  It was a bold, even risky, decision to bring the saga to its conclusion in a play, but how does the story work on the page?584731898-britain-entertainment-literature-harry-potterThe Cursed Child is slick, elegant market-driven bookmaking, with the numerous stakeholders’ claims on the title page verso.  Everything about the design of the “Special Rehearsal Edition Script”–the dust jacket’s conservative typography, the shiny (but not too shiny raised letters), and the discreet touch of gold–helps define a new franchise under the Harry Potter brand’s umbrella. The enigmatic logo does not say “for young readers” as clearly as does Mary Grandpre’s colorful artwork for the American Harry Potter jackets and covers. Could the script be trying to distance itself from the fantasy series for kids from nine to ninety?  Some fans were disappointed that The Cursed Child was not a novel, but they should have been tipped off by the credits at the end that figure in playbills–original London cast, production credits down to the chaperones and house seats assistant, biographies of the original story team (Rowling, Tiffany, and Thorne), plus acknowledgments.

imageIs the script of The Cursed Child  for Potterheads only?   It certainly helps to belong to the fan base because the plot is dependent upon knowledge of Harry Potter and the Goblet of  Fire. harry_potter_and_the_goblet_of_fire_us_coverThe chronicle of year four was dominated by the Triwizard Tournament, when fourteen-year-old Harry was pitted against his adolescent self, his friends, Hogwarts, unwelcome celebrity, and He Who Must Not Be Named.   If you can’t recall much about about Victor Krumm, Winky the house elf, and blast-ended skrewts you can get by, but understanding how the relationship between Harry Cedric Diggory changed during the three tasks makes it much easier to understand the characters’ motives and in turn the plot of The Cursed Child.harry-cedric_xxxlarge42683340-54d9-0133-0b85-0e34a4cc753dAs there was no novel to dramatize, the script reveals the extent to which the wizards backstage fleshed out the eighth Harry Potter.   With what must be jaw-dropping special effects as the foundation, Thorne’s play whirls from past, present, and a future that must not be allowed to take place.  However the kaleidoscope of rapidly changing scenes shrinks most of the dialogue to rapid-fire exchanges.  This is not a shortcoming in scenes where there’s no time to be wasted, like the surprising encounter between the Trolley Witch, Albus, and Scorpius.  But the scenes with Ginny and Harry, for example, might have made a greater impact if the characters had been given more lines to reveal their fears and feelings.  Perhaps this isn’t as noticeable in the darkened theater as in the living room.

The story proper begins when the inseparable odd couple, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, decide to right a great wrong in the past using a Time Turner, the magical object that played a critical role in The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Dumbledore gave Hermione a beta version so she could double up on her courses and he also hinted that it would be rather useful rescuing Sirius and Buckbeak.  Unlike the Egyptian tyet in E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, the Time Turner is a precision instrument that either teenage wizards or powerful witches can operate without prior training.   The boys are too weighed down by Freudian angst and the responsibility of rescuing the wizarding world to have any larks when they time travel: they return only to critical episodes in Harry Potter’s childhood to improve, then preserve the past as it happened.  There is a side trip to the school they would have attended if Voldemort had won the Battle of Hogwarts. The brief reign of Dolores Umbridge as High Inquisitor in Order of the Phoenix foreshadows these nightmarish scenes, whose secondary function seems to be bringing back Severus Snape for a not especially satisfying cameo appearance.

The alignment of play’s narrative arc with that of the novels too deliberate to be anything but a reflection of a creative decision to allow the audience to re-experience the myth rather than to engage them in the younger generation’s lives.  Somewhat to its detriment, The Cursed Child is no The Year of the Griffin.  Some of the new material seems coldly calculated to stir a frisson of surprise in an audience that knows the score: for example, on the Hogwarts Express, Albus and Scorpius become best friends forever at first sight, instead of being loyal to their fathers.  The undercurrent of their banter suggests a strong mutual physical attraction, but it turns out to be a tease, which I hear let down young gay fans in Northern Europe.  Scorpius’ puppy love for Rose Granger Weasley is might foreshadow intermarriage between antagonistic wizarding families and is supposed to serve as a symbol that the age of Voldemort had indeed passed.

Casting African-born British actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione was another uneasy if well-intentioned move after the fact to make the Harry Potter series more diverse.  I would love to see what Dumezweni made of the role.  Granger may be the Minister of Magic, but deep down she is still the trio’s fixer and problem-solver.  It is hard to believe that she has changed so little, even though she is the boss of Harry Potter, the head of the Department of Magical Enforcement.  On the other hand, she is still married to the goofy underachiever Ron Weasley, which makes it psychologically plausible, if politically incorrect.  Hermione’s situation vis-a-vis Harry was always reminiscent of Mary Lennox at the end of The Secret Garden, edged aside by the author so as not to detract from the hero’s triumph. It is ironic that Hermione–and all the other strong women in the Cursed Child– are defined largely by their men.

As important as a mother’s love or friendship between the sexes is to the Harry Potter series, in the end it’s a boy’s chronicle.  The Cursed Child‘s dynamics revolve  around the ties between fathers and their children: Harry’s struggle to connect with his son Albus is contrasted with that of Draco and Scorpius Malfoy on the one hand, and the inconsolable grief of  Amos Diggory for the dead Cedric on the other, with Dumbledore reappearing as Harry’s most important father substitute.  Equally resonant are the children who  destroyed their fathers or those who longed to prove themselves to fathers they never knew.  By the end of the play, the ongoing tensions between the fathers and children have been resolved to such an extent that the passions driving the seven Harry Potter novels are reduced to dying embers.  In principle, J. K Rowling could write a novel based on the script of The Cursed Child, but we should take her at her word that this spectacular production really is the end.   At least until the break out of a certain prisoner in Azkaban…

Who then is  the cursed child?   If I am right, the clues concealed in the text and the logo point to not one, but two characters,  a male and a female.  What’s your take?