Harry Potter and the Cursed Child spoilers below! Read at your own risk!
Perhaps of all the criticisms leveled at the new Harry Potter script, the most searing one has to do with the revelation of Delphini Diggory’s true identity. I admit that even though I do not consider the story fan fiction, as the Internet has been clamoring, I was a bit disappointed by this plot twist. Revealing the hidden heir of an old villain is hardly original and it borders on the ridiculous, especially in this case. For years we have heard that Voldemort was incapable of love and that Bellatrix pined after him with an unrequited devotion. Now suddenly the two of them did the deed? Not for love certainly, but it still does seem like–dare I say it–a fan fiction moment. It is the fulfillment of a plot line readers previously could only have imagined, but most likely did not consider probable or even possible.
However, before I jump to condemn this odd moment in what I otherwise consider a solid drama, I have to consider the reasons Rowling may have included Delphini. The number one rule of reading, after all, is to begin by reading sympathetically. Only after you try to view the work on its own merits and to understand what it is saying–and not simply what you think it might be saying or ought to be saying–can you begin to break it apart.
Missing in the critiques of the story I have seen so far are mentions of Albus and Harry’s relationship; it seems that the time travel plot and the revelation of Voldemort’s heir are so sensational that they have overshadowed what I consider the true driving force of the play. This is not, in the end, a time travel tale, nor is really another battle of good versus evil. This is the story of Harry trying to accept his past and his son Albus trying to accept his present burdened by his father’s past. In this way, having Albus attempt to change the past is fitting. He cannot yet understand the sacrifices that had to be made, nor can he understand his father’s pain. He cannot see how love sometimes has to accept loss and pain.
So where does Delphini come into this? The Harry Potter books have always been about the power of love, with an emphasis on Lily’s motherly love for her son. Rowling contrasts this love, prepared to die so that another might live, with the emptiness of Tom Riddle’s life. Riddle does not know love nor how to love; that is the deceptively simple explanation for how he becomes Lord Voldemort. He cannot begin to understand that love wishes the good of the other, that love puts another first. If you think about it, Harry, an orphan starved for love himself, might have followed Tom’s lead and descended into self-pity or anger or resentment himself. But instead he chooses to rise above the example provided to him by the Dursleys and, when tested, to give of himself instead of taking. Now, in the eighth installment of his series, he and his son face a similar test. But this time their choices are juxtaposed with Delphi’s.
Harry never knew his parents and, despite knowing that they did love him enough to die for him, we can see in this story that this created an emptiness inside of him that continues into his adulthood. He hangs on to his childhood blanket. He makes pilgrimages to Godric’s Hollow. He suffers because he fears he is a bad father to Albus and he knows he has had few father figures to model himself on. In a way, the story is about Harry always trying to fill in the gap his own father (unwillingly) left in his life; he does not want Albus to have a similar emptiness.
But Albus is experiencing just the opposite problem. He does not have a hole in his life. Rather, he has too much Harry Potter in it, and he has no idea how to deal with that and the expectations it brings. In many ways, this is because he fundamentally misunderstands his father. He believes his father, despite his childhood with the Dursleys, had a charmed life. He had friends and popularity and he found everything easy. Then he become famous for saving the world. And Albus believes all of this means Harry does not care or else he would find a way to change the bad things that people keep saying happened because of him. Voldemort did not kill Cedric; Harry did.
Both Harry and Albus are contrasted with Delphi, who is, though engaged in a maniacal plot to overthrow the world and create a new order full of murder and torture, really another lost orphan, another suffering child. She and Harry are not so different. She, too, wants to know her father and wants him to be proud of her. She wants to fulfill her destiny and receive recognition. She simply has the misfortune of being born to a father who did not model love and sacrifice but selfishness and ego.
The defining moment for them all comes in Godric’s Hollow. Here Delphi and Harry want the exact same thing–another chance for being with their parents and feeling their love and approval. The difference is that Delphi is willing to sacrifice everyone to get her father back, while Harry has to be willing to sacrifice everything to ensure the good of the world. Harry experiences the pain and trauma of his parents’ death over again because he knows he cannot choose himself and risk everyone else. And finally here Albus begins to understand his father. Harry is not sacrificing lives unfeelingly. The deaths are Voldemort’s fault–not Harry’s–and Harry has to live with the pain of them.
The lives of Harry, Albus, and Delphi intersect with one another to provide a further commentary on the nature of love and family in Rowling’s world. Family is a legacy, a burden, an aspiration, a necessity. Love is strange and terrible and beautiful and painful. And though we understand love as a positive, love can be twisted and used as a justification for the most horrible of acts. It’s all very messy and very complicated. It’s almost like trying to figure out what love and family are and what your place in them is, is a constant reassessment of who you are and where you came from–and where you wish you could be. And who among us, if given a Time Turner, would not be tempted for a moment to figure out if we could indeed change our place in the world?
17 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Delphini Diggory (A Criticism of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)”
Excellent post! I think you hit the nail on the head with what the authors were trying to convey. I just don’t think they did it effectively (as you know, lol).
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I’m torn on how effective I find it. Honestly I’d want to see it performed before I decide.
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This whole release/play has been rather a conundrum for me… Honestly, I made my peace with Harry Potter (as a series) being over a few years ago, and I see no need to keep chasing it, hoping and hoping more books will come out. I respect the author’s decision to step back and try other writing styles, etc. I love this series, and I probably will for quite a long time. But I don’t find myself going crazy to get tickets for the play, or buy the book release of the script. While I respect that Rowling wanted to approve what others were doing with her original material, personally I don’t see the need to go back to this world. Trying to update a story that has been laid to rest (and very well done, at that) for a while now is complicated at best.
I don’t know. Authors go back to their worlds all the time. Once years have passed it seems like they’re able to almost welcome it again after having had to deal with all the fans and almost feeling trapped by their fans wanting them to release more all the time–kind of like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanting to branch out from Holmes but upsetting everyone as a result.
I wasn’t so excited that I rushed out to buy the book, but I did borrow it since it was convenient (and I wanted to avoid spoilers by reading it earlier rather than later). I think it’s interesting to see where Rowling thinks the story could go, even if I don’t like or agree with all the plot points.
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Who said this had to do anything with love?
The prophecy could’ve been made while Voldemort was gaining power, and he realized the best way to ensure his own survival (or revival) would be to have an heir – someone pure (Slytherin decent and parseltongue).
To say that Voldemort suddenly found love seems far fetched. I believe he did it to ensure himself.
I never said Voldemort found love. I said that Harry and Albus’s choices to love are juxtaposed with Delphi’s and Voldemort’s choices not to love:
“Riddle does not know love nor how to love; that is the deceptively simple explanation for how he becomes Lord Voldemort. He cannot begin to understand that love wishes the good of the other, that love puts another first. If you think about it, Harry, an orphan starved for love himself, might have followed Tom’s lead and descended into self-pity or anger or resentment himself. But instead he chooses to rise above the example provided to him by the Dursleys and, when tested, to give of himself instead of taking. Now, in the eighth installment of his series, he and his son face a similar test. But this time their choices are juxtaposed with the Delphi’s.”
If you are referring to Voldemort sleeping with Bellatrix, which I do not address in this post, I think it’s clear Voldemort did not love Bellatrix and did it for utilitarian purposes.
Wow. That was perfect. I didn’t get caught up in he amazement of her existing. I was more torn emotionally because of Harry and Albus not having the kind of relationship they both wished for. You pretty much broke it down far better than I could ever have.
And I agree, I’d love to see this performed so I could make a better decision on my final thoughts.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I hope that one day the play leaves London or maybe even gets filmed. 🙂
Of course he never loved, but he did seem quite upset over Bellatrix dying. And having children can be a way of showing off/inflating one’s own ego.
I think that when J. K. Rowling states that Voldemort never loved, she’s thinking of a sacrificial love that seeks the good of others before one’s self. It is possible, I suppose, that Voldemort was fond or affectionate of Bellatrix in some sort of way, even if that just means he recognized her as a loyal follower. Voldemort would have had to fear the conviction of his followers–quite a few of them immediately distanced themselves from him as soon as he lost power. But Bellatrix was really attached to him and remained loyal to him even when she no longer had anything to gain personally from staying with him. Perhaps Voldemort would have found some relief in knowing that he had at least one Death Eater he could actually count on.
Somehow I missed this post over the summer… and I hadn’t really thought about Delphini’s purpose in the story to this extent, because (like many readers) I struggled to come to terms with the idea that Voldemort and Bellatrix had a child together. Now, a few months after reading Cursed Child, I see what you’re talking about here, and it makes sense. She helps contrast the struggles that Harry and Albus experience in the play as well as Harry’s struggles during the seven books. She’s what I’d call a mirror character: someone who shares similar attributes or predicaments as the main character(s), yet acts / reacts differently for one reason or another.
Nice job with presenting your argument, Krysta. 🙂
I am still struggling with the idea that Voldemort and Bellatrix had a child. I understand what function Delphie serves, but I also wonder what the story might look like if the mirror character, as you call her, were not Voldemort’s child but someone else’s. Maybe the play would be unable to explore fatherhood in quite the same way, however.
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This a wonderful post! I missed it when you first published it but your new post just referred me back to it. I totally agree with your analysis of Delphini, especially in her similarities to both Albus and Harry in varying ways. I found the set piece in Godric’s Hollow at the end of the play extremely poignant and moving for the reasons you mentioned, too.
A really interesting piece. 🙂
I think it’s easy to overlook Delphie’s potential functions in the story because her background is so shocking. I’m not sure that I’m over the revelation!
I can only imagine that the final scene would be incredibly moving in person. I’d probably be crying in the audience.
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It is very well the post, but I have some doubts: in the seventh part, the first time Harry and Voldemort face to destroy the soul fragment, which has Harry, after impacting the spells, it is seen that Voldemort also fell, By the impact, it is seen that Bellatrix, is going to help Voldemort, yes, but this one, he even shouted to him, since he does not need his help, I do not know, I did not see them, like two people, who conceived a child, It was not for love, I still did not see them, you do not see any kind of love, or affection, as you say in other answers, and it also makes sense that Voldemort never knew any kind of love, so now, that Come with me if you know some kind of love, I find: strange, strange, and meaningless. Thank you very much.
Really enjoyed reading this, how you pulled out the guts of the story… or a less disgusting metaphor! I was pretty upset after reading the play (would love to see it if and when I can) but you actually made me look at it differently. Thank you for sharing!
I’m not totally enamored of the story. I think that parts of it are ridiculous and definitely stretch my credulity. (I’m looking at you, trolley witch.) But it can be fun to analyze it anyway!