Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Is Not “Fan Fiction”

Cursed Child DIscussion

Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Below.  Read at your own risk.

After writing my reviews, I like to go on Goodreads and around the blogosphere to see what others have to say about the latest book I read.  Not surprisingly, readers are writing a lot about the latest installment of the Harry Potter series, with results seeming to divide in two extremes–the “I heart Harry Potter!” camp and the “This is fan fiction” camp.  My own opinion falls somewhere in the middle, leaving me wondering why so many readers are repeating the fan fiction line.  Few reviews provide evidence for this claim; they simply repeat it as if I must know what they mean.  Not until someone directed me to Michal Schick’s article on Hypable did I really start to get a sense of what readers wished to say.

Schick makes a lot claims in the article, suggesting that the play is too self-referential, too far-fetched, and too reliant on the idea of “What if?”  She also suggests, like many others, that the script format does not work for this story.  None of these arguments, however, convince me that the story reads like fan fiction or that it is an inferior work to the original series.  Below I respond to various arguments I have seen against the play.

The story does not work as a script.

I read a lot of Renaissance drama so I am accustomed to staging scripts in  my head, mapping out where the action is, imagining what the set might look like, and discerning implied stage directions present in the dialogue.  Learning this took me some time, however, and I can imagine that readers not accustomed to it would find the format, as Schick says, “flat.”  However, I think this is an obstacle to be overcome by the reader and not a failing of the format.  The story might actually work very well as a play if you consider that it can easily stage the passing of three years in a way a book could not.

I also think it’s unfair to complain this story is a boring script when, really, it’s not a script.  It is a performance, which the creators have graciously allowed us access to through the script.  They did not have to publish it; the play might have been seen by only a privileged few.  I for one am not about to complain that Rowling allowed us easier access to her work.

The Story is Fan Fiction

As I have stated, I see this vague claim all over the Internet.  Not everyone explains what this means, but it seems like an insult.  Which is insulting to writers of fan fiction.  Schick insists that that she is not dismissing fan fiction when she compares Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to it, but then goes on to say that the story “left me with the feeling that I should be reading this physical, expensive, J.K. Rowling-approved script for free on Archive of Our Own.”  Stating that the story was not worth your money does indeed make it sound like comparing it to fan fiction is saying that it–and thus fan fiction– is sub-par work.  Not the kind you like to support with your hard-earned cash.

The Story is Far-Fetched

Schick suggests that Albus having a Time Tuner and Polyjuice Potion conveniently on hand are “What if” questions that belong in the realm of fan fiction because they are not serious enough.  In the original series, a twelve-year-old and her friends raided a professor’s store room, bluffed their way into getting parts of people, and then brewed their own highly sophisticated potion.  In the original series, a thirteen-year-old was handed a Time Turner by the government, who assumed a teenager would naturally do nothing wrong with such a dangerous magical object.  In retrospect, having an organized group of Dark wizard adults making illegal objects and brewing complicated potions for a plot they are hatching makes a lot more sense than the plots of the first seven books do.

The Story Asks “What If?”

Schick’s main argument seems to be that it is the role of fan fiction and not canon to ask “what if. ” She writes: “Within the bounds of an established, canonical tale, storytellers must be judicious in their application of ‘what if,’ because ‘what if’  is not governed by theme, history, or character. ‘What if” can lead anywhere, and stories that bear the weight of canon cannot afford to go anywhere.”  Later she elaborates that “none of the audacious ideas in The Cursed Child are inherently bad outside the context of canon. What they are, however, is fundamentally light, unmoored from canonical responsibility.”

I’m going to be honest here and admit I have no idea what any of this means.  What is “canonical responsibility?”  Why are “what if” questions “not governed by theme, history, or character?”  Certainly fan fiction might ask these questions and ignore canon, but that does not mean canon cannot ask the same and still adhere to character, theme, history.  Schick never explains where she sees the divergences.  Is she arguing that Harry is not Harry here?  That somehow the theme of the books are not the same?  That the story ignores the rules of its own world or overwrites its history?

I do not think any of this is true.  Harry and the others have the same defining traits as they did in the book–and I think this would be even more apparent if we were to see the actors’ choices in performing.  The themes seem the same.  The play is very much concerned with issues of love, responsibility, sacrifice, and politics.  And I do not think the history of the books is ignored.  Schick herself says the story is too self-referential, an indication that past writings are far from forgotten.

Furthermore, time travel is a staple of science fiction and plenty of stories have used it to ask “what if” questions.  To say that a canonical story cannot use this plot device makes little sense to me, especially as Rowling as already established time travel in her world and is not inserting it out of the blue.

The Story is Too Self-Referential

I think this is because it’s drama.  Audiences like allusions in drama.  It’s like of like seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and seeing nods to previous films.  Audiences eat it up  when it’s in a performance format.  Also, because it’s drama, the characters have to give all the information in dialogue form–the narrator cannot subtly allude to it.  It might sound stilted or forced, but if you want audiences to know something in a play, you pretty much have to have someone say it.  That’s why so many of Shakespeare’s plays begin with people discussing the events of court.  “Oh yes, this guy is banished and this one is married and this one is angry.”  It’s also helpful to have the characters keep alluding to something in case the audience forgot pertinent information or got distracted during the performance.  I assure you that in performance, all the references probably seem more fun and more natural.

Time Travel is Ridiculous/A Silly Reason to Cram in Old Characters

Actually, Rowling really did not have to cram in old characters.  She is at an advantage here because she can set her story at Hogwarts where a bunch of old characters would naturally be found anyway.  I think the time travel element is actually supposed to be an extended look at  Albus’s and Harry’s relationship.  The real plot is about that, not about trying to save Cedric Diggory.  If you look at what happens in light of that relationship, things make more sense.  Here you have a child burdened by history and his father’s legacy.  What better plot to give him than a chance to change that history?


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is by no means a perfect story; I have criticisms of it myself.  However, I think the high expectations for an eighth Potter book have burdened it with a weight no work could bear.  I also think that the format–the script form–is disappointing readers who are not accustomed to reading drama and who were longing to return to the Wizarding World in a way that a script cannot bring them.  Here you have to imagine the halls of Hogwarts, the floating candles, the talking portraits.  They are seldom referred to, even though they are present.

If you accept the work for what it is–a written guide to a performance–a lot of what is happening in the work makes more sense.  You don’t need to think that this story is as good as the others or that it’s the best book published this year.  However, you do need to evaluate it on its own terms

Krysta 64

21 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Is Not “Fan Fiction”

  1. Briana says:

    I have absolutely no idea what that long quote about “canonical responsibility” means either. I’m not even sure if that’s a real term common in fan fiction communities that I”m just not familiar with, or if the author invented it herself and assumed the meaning was self-evident. (It’s really not.) I find it kind of ridiculous an author would have any responsibility to write or not write something about their OWN world and characters, assuming it’s not completely inconsistent with what they have already established. As far as I can see, this argument amounts to “I don’t like what Rowling did here.” which is certainly valid as a personal opinion, but not as an attempt as some kind of academic literary criticism.

    Edit: Ok, I did a Google search for “canonical responsibility,” and it does seem like something she made up. Which I am fine with, except it would make sense to give her readers a definition then.


    • Briana says:

      As another random comment, I think if there are a lot of references to novels, it’s probably at least in part because the writers had to think about the logistics of reminding their audience of the novels. Not everyone who sees the play is a super-fan or re-read the books last week. They have to put into enough references and explanation to situation anyone who read the books but possibly did so 5 years ago. There may even be people in the audience who haven’t read the books at all.


      • Krysta says:

        Very true. I know I haven’t read the HP books in years so I found the references quite helpful, actually, and you are correct that I know people who have not read the books at all and they’d be extremely lost without all the allusions.


    • Krysta says:

      The only way for me to make sense of “canonical responsibility” is for me to assume the author meant that the work is NOT consistent with HP canon. But the article does not offer evidence for how this might be so, so it ends up reading like a commentary on how canonical works cannot be lighter fare or ask “what if” at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Briana says:

        She’s been getting a lot of praise for this on Twitter, particularly the term “canonical responsibility” and I’m just sitting here flailing and madly screaming to the skies “But what does it all MEAN?” It sounds cool and clever, but the hard facts are that I only know what I think it must mean, and other readers only have their best guesses, too. If you’re going to make up terms, you simply must define them. This bothers me.


  2. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    I had to skim through this post because I want to read The Cursed Child, but haven’t gotten around to it yet! It’s interesting that people are divided into two camps though – I think I’m in the “This is fan-fiction” camp – but I do have to read the play first before deciding! Plus, I think some of us do need to consider that it is a play – maybe there are some elements that work better when viewing it than when reading it?


    • Krysta says:

      I just wish people in the fan fiction camp would elaborate more, as Schick did. When people just keep repeating “It’s fan fiction,” that sounds like an insult, like you’re saying it’s amateur stuff no one would spend money on. But I’m not sure if that’s what they mean or if they’re disappointed at the way the trio act as adults or what.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy @ inkyspells says:

    This is a fantastic post. I’ve been seeing so many people say “it’s like fanfiction” with such derision that it had started to become genuinely irritating. Like you say, no one is ever really saying what they mean by this, so it doesn’t really work as a criticism. Fanfiction isn’t inherently bad or poorly written, so it’s frustrating to see this being said so often about this play. Also, I’m fairly certain the plot was J.K. Rowling’s? And she was very involved throughout, so it’s not like any of this was done without her approval.

    I did have a lot of issues with the play, but ultimately I had fun reading it. The script is never going to come close to the actual performance anyway. I think a lot of people were expecting it to feel exactly like the books, but given that those are novels, and this is a script, I never really expected that.


    • Krysta says:

      I think I reside in an in-between place that I’m not really seeing represented. I don’t think the play is greatest thing to ever happen in my life just because Rowling was involved, but I don’t think it deserves as much hate as it’s been getting. It was obviously never going to live up to the expectations people had for it, even if it had been a novel and not a script. It’s hard for something to be as good as you remember your favorite childhood series being. But that doesn’t make it a terrible story. It has its flaws,sure, but there are highlights, such as Albus and Harry’s relationship. And the decisions made in the plot, though perhaps a little wild, make sense to me. I actually wrote up a whole post for tomorrow about why I think these elements are there. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with said elements–but I recognize they are not totally random.

      And, yes, I wish people would explain what they mean by “fan fiction.” I don’t read “fan fiction” so I just hear “amateur and poorly written” and maybe that’s not what they mean at all!


      • Amy @ inkyspells says:

        I completely agree with you. The relationships between a lot of the characters were why I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. It’s really interesting seeing how people react to it, especially people who end up either completely loving it or completely hating it. I don’t think I really expected it to divide people as much as it has!


        • Krysta says:

          I’m surprised by the divide, too, but then I always thought Rowling’s characterization was weak and that her prose wasn’t the greatest thing ever, so I think that’s allowed me to feel less personal investment in how this book turned out. For other people, HP changed their lives or made them love reading, so I suppose that they would feel closer to the material and feel personally affected by how it’s handled.


  4. carlisajc says:

    I totally agree that being Harry Potter #8 put way too much pressure on it, and people aren’t realizing nothing could have lived up to their expectations. I actually wrote a blog post yesterday after finishing Cursed Child about how I’ve been able to have a better play-reading experience, since I know a lot of people are turning away or bashing it just because of it’s format, like you said. You can check it out here if you want: http://confessionsofcarlisa.com/2016/08/03/how-to-enjoy-reading-plays/

    Great post!


    • Krysta says:

      Perhaps I was fortunate because HP wasn’t life-changing for me, so I didn’t go in with high expectations, just with a sense of curiosity. And I think that’s allowed me to step back and think about the play without feeling a sense of disappointment or even betrayal.

      I shall have to check out your post. Thanks for the link!


  5. Ravenclaw Book Club says:

    I can’t agree or disagree with anything you’ve said because I haven’t read the book yet, but I like the way you handled this. You responded to everything very politely and with good reasoning. 😃


  6. luvtoread says:

    Great post! I didn’t care for the book, it just fell flat to me. But one of the things that I did like about it was the format of the play. Even though I didn’t care for the script, I do think that if I had seen this as a play (as it was intended to be presented), then I’d overlook the issues I have with it (the classic characters in essence being caricatures of themselves, the plot being ridiculous and unoriginal, and too many references to the previous books). I’d be able to overlook the issues because I’m sure that the effects, staging, & acting are what is to be the focus, not the actual text.
    The fact of the time-travel didn’t particularly bother me, but I never felt truly invested in the plot, there wasn’t any tension for me, so it just felt kind of silly and flat.
    And I never felt that the old characters were crammed in – they seemed to fit in seamlessly, and I enjoyed seeing them again. Even if some of their interaction was off.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, while I do take issue a little with some things, such as Ron’s portrayal–he seems a little TOO goofy–I think that the nuances of the script would come across much better on stage. I firmly believe that one day we’ll have a filmed version, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to decide for myself then!

      Liked by 1 person

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