Middle Grade and YA Fantasies to Read Based on Your Hogwarts House


Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster’s life changes forever the day a boy appears and reveals that she’s an elf and that she can learn to control her Telepathetic abilities if she leaves her world behind to train at a magical academy. But even as Sophie delights in the wonders of her new world, she worries about her past. Why was she sent to live with humans? Why is she capable of things no other elf can do? And why does she seem to remember things she’s never learned at all?

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Princess Lu has always expected to Emperor. Her sister Min has always been expected to stay in the background. Then their father declares their male cousin Set as his heir. Suddenly, Lu is on the run, attempting to find and ally herself with a city that once held magic. She is accompanied by a boy whose tribe her family destroyed–but whose gifts as a skin changer might be necessary to her survival. Meanwhile, Min is left to navigate the court by herself. But a dark magic has awakened–and Min is angry enough to use it.

Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan

Years ago, Aunty ran with Mup and her mam, taking them from the realm of the witches across the border to the human world. Now Aunty is dead and her magic no longer protects them. And the Raggedy Witches come, stealing Mup’s father. So Mup and her mam cross the border to save him. Aunty always warned them to avoid the realm of the witches at all costs. But suddenly Mup’s mam seems like she might want to take back the throne that could have been hers.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

When Henry moves to Kansas, he doesn’t expect to find a whole lot of excitement. Then he finds an attic wall covered in cupboards and each one seems to lead to a different world! When his cousin Henrietta crawls through one, it’s up to Henry to bring her back. But the two of them may have woken an ancient evil.

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A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Prince Rhen, heir to Emberfell, is cursed to relive  his eighteeth year over and over again until a girl falls in love with him.  Harper is a teenager from D.C. who finds herself snatched into Rhen’s world.  Now the two must find a way to work together if they want to save Emberfell from an enemy force.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

One day the Green Wind catches up September and takes her to Fairyland—but all is not how it should be. Fairies are scarce, winged beasts are forbidden to fly, and the Marquess has stolen the spoon the witches use to see the future. September agrees to travel to the capital and retrieve the spoon, but somewhere along the way she realizes that her quest has grown bigger than she anticipated.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Scarred by a wolf when she is seven years old, Echo Alkaev leads a lonely existence, shunned by the villagers who think she is cursed. Years later, she meets the wolf again and he strikes a bargain: he will save her father’s life is she agrees to live with him for one year. In his house under the mountain, Echo finds an enchanted library and begins to fall in love with Hal, who seems trapped in the books. But an evil force is growing and the wolf, Echo, and Hal will all be lost at the end of the year, unless Echo can find a way to break the curse.

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have spent countless hours imagining stories in the room at the top of the stairs.  Now, however, Charlotte and Emily must go off to school–where their two older sisters died from fever.  But just as it seems separation is inevitable, they find themselves in a magical world where the Duke of Wellington still fights Bonaparte.  Even stranger, the world seems to be the one they themselves have created and it is populated with their toys.  At first they imagine they can stay there forever.  But when Branwell and Anne are kidnapped, the siblings realize that this world may be out of their control.

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The Dragon’s Tooth by N. D. Wilson

Antigone and Cyrus Smith live in a dilapidated hotel with their older brother Daniel. No one ever checks in, until the night a strange man requests a specific room. By morning, the man has died, the hotel has burned to the ground, and Daniel has disappeared. Informed that the only way to save their brother is to join a mysterious order of explorers, Antigone and Cyrus find themselves racing against time to find the order and swear their loyalty. However, not everyone welcomes the new initiates.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind. Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves. Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see. Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Tess has given up everything to see her twin sister married, so perhaps it’s not surprising she loses it at the wedding. With her family determined to send her to a nunnery, Tess takes off. Her quigutl friend, a subspecies of dragon, gives her a mission, but Tess is walking simply to survive.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars follows key characters from Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy as they deal with the aftermath of the Ravka civil war.  Nikolai Lantsov is struggling to hold his country together, while also dealing with the darkness inside him.  Zoya is attempting to accept her past and find a way to move on.  But new cults are spreading and they threaten the stability Nikolai has fought so hard to gain.

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Faith Sunderly and her family move to a small island in the wake of scandal; her father has been accused of forging fossils. When he dies, Faith believes it is murder and set out to find the killer by using the legendary Lie Tree–a tree that feeds on falsehoods and provides secrets in return A gripping story about a science-loving teenager trying to survive in a man’s world.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow has always believed she  was cursed.  But, on the day she was fated to die, she finds herself instead in the magical world of Nevermoor.  There, she has the opportunity to compete for a spot in an illustrious society of adventurers, explorers, and other incredible people.  But does she have what it takes?

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

The Union has been at war for years and the situation is growing desperate.  The draft age has been lowered once again and, even worse, the army is now reduced to recruiting women who wield illegal magic in order to power a new flight unit.  Revna is a disgraced factory worker whose skill manipulating the Weave gains her a spot in the unit.  Linné is the disgraced daughter of a general, angry she was caught serving in the regular army as a “boy.” Now they have to work together both to complete their missions and to gain the first women’s flight unit the respect it deserves.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz Brekker is a well-known thief, and he’s about to get the offer of his life.  If he can smuggle a political prisoner out from an impenetrable fortress, he will be rich beyond his wildest imaginings.  But, to do so, he will have to assemble an elite team.

Why Keeper of the Lost Cities is Perfect for Fans of Harry Potter

Keeper of the Lost Cities Perfect for Harry Potter Fans

Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series is one of my favorite middle-grade fantasy series.  Compulsively readable, it has inspired me to ship Team Keefe and raised some thought-provoking questions I still think about with each new installment.  But, even though the books are bestsellers, not everyone has jumped on the Keeper bandwagon.  So, if you are not sure the series is for you, here are some reasons you should check it out, especially if you are a fan of Harry Potter.

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An Immersive Fantasy World

The Keeper of the Lost Cities series follows Sophie Foster as she discovers that she is secretly an elf, who must return to the land of Eternalia to learn to use her abilities.  Elves can wield different types of magic (depending on what ability, if any, they are born with), and may, if they manifest, become a Telepath, an Empath, a Polyglot, a Pyrokinetic and so forth.  The different types of abilities, as well as the tension caused by the classism that results, create a world that is wondrous and magical, but that also possesses depth.  Furthermore, readers get to explore various breath-taking setting such as Sophie’s prestigious school, the animal sanctuary where she lives with her guardians, her best friends’ extensive crystal palace, and more.  Every scene seems to be dripping with magic and sparkles!

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An Expanding Universe

Sophie’s early days in the magical world of  Eternalia make it seem like Sophie’s adventures will largely take place in her school.  However, as the series progresses, the world expands and readers learn more about the (sometimes uneasy) relationships the elves have with other creatures such as the dwarves, trolls, goblins, etc.  Sophie explores not only distant (and occasionally secret) areas of the elven lands but also the lands of some of the other races.  As the world expands, Sophie uncovers more disturbing political truths about her new home.

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A Series that Matures over Time

Sophie begins the series as a twelve-year-old girl.  However, by book seven, she is fifteen.  Though her love of alicorns and stuffed animals remains, she does start to have more maturing relationships (read: romance and growing concerns with the elven practice of matchmaking), as well as darker adventures.  It is a series that can grow along with readers.

Movie Review: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Spoiler Free)


Director: David Yates
Writers: J. K. Rowling
Release: 2018


As Grindelwald rallies his supporters, Dumbledore contacts magizoologist Newt Scamander to track him down.  Meanwhile, Tina is on the trail of an Obscurial, hoping to find him before another Ministry employee eliminates him.


Note: This review generally mentions the overall plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald, but does not reveal the content of any major plot twists.  If you prefer to view the film knowing absolutely nothing, you may want to return to read this review later.

The Crimes of Grindelwald promises an exciting expansion to the Wizarding World as viewers travel with the characters to 1920s Paris.  However, despite a strong cast and a host of adorable baby nifflers, the film ultimately fails to captivate.  More than anything, it feels like an overly complicated middle installment cobbled together with over-the-top plot twists and familiar names shoehorned in to please viewers.  I left the theatre feeling a little like J. K. Rowling has lost some of her magic.

The Crimes of Grindelwald loses a lot of enchantment simply because it is difficult to follow.  Throughout the film, I frequently found myself doing a mental check to ensure that I was still following the plot and knew who (most of) the characters were.  A totally immersive experience was impossible when I kept having to leave the Wizarding World to recap the action to myself.  Furthermore, as the film progressed, I became increasingly aware of just how silly all the complicated maneuvering is.  Though Grindelwald is supposed to be a powerful wizard and a terrifying villain, he spends his days lazing about in Paris seeking to win a teenage Obscurial to his side.  Everyone else, instead of trying to locate Grindelwald or stop him, is also chasing the Obscurial.  The entire film is about a bunch of people trying to find a boy when they are not even sure who he is or why or if he might be important.  I spent a good deal of the film feeling baffled by this and wondering when (or if) the point would ever become clear.

Of course, the real reason for spending an entire film chasing a teenage boy instead of tracking down Grindelwald seems to be that we need material for three more films.  Perhaps even material enough to get from the 1920s to the 1940s, which is when Grindelwald, according to Rowling’s earlier information, was supposed to be at his height.  (Unless, of course, Rowling is choosing to ignore her own timelines–a possibility fans have been considering due to various revelations in this film.).  The result is that The Crimes of Grindelwald never feels like a high-stakes film; it is simply a middle film setting up future possibilities.

The real let-down for me, however, is the inclusion of a number of quite silly plot twists.  Characters act out of character.  Background stories are so convoluted and far-fetched they defy belief.  New revelations, apparently added just to shock and surprise viewers, contradict what we already know about the Wizarding World.  In short, the film simply is not well-written–a real surprise from a writer whom I have always admired for her detailed worldbuilding and carefully-placed foreshadowing.

The Crimes of Grindelwald will appeal to hardcore Harry Potter fans longing to learn more about the Wizarding World. It is hard not to love the film a little, despite its flaws, simply because we get to return to a world we love.  However, I cannot deny that The Crimes of Grindelwald is rather a muddle of a movie.

3 Stars

If You Like Harry Potter, Then Read… (Part Two)

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster’s life changes forever the day a boy appears and reveals that she’s an elf and that she can learn to control her Telepathetic abilities if she leaves her world behind to train at a magical academy. But even as Sophie delights in the wonders of her new world, she worries about her past. Why was she sent to live with humans? Why is she capable of things no other elf can do? And why does she seem to remember things she’s never learned at all?

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Rithmatist Brandon Sanderson review

In Joel’s world, students train as Rithmatists–people who can make chalk drawings come alive to fight the wild chalklings that threaten their society. Joel would do anything to be a Rithmatist himself, but because he was not chosen during the initiation ceremony, he spends his days studying Rithmatic theory and old Rithmatist duels. Then Rithmatist students begin disappearing and Joel finds himself assisting the professor determined to find the perpetrator. But with no Rithmatic powers himself, how can Joel hope to win a fight drawn in 2D?

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

Effie Truelove is not sure magic really exists until her grandfather ends up in the hospital. Then, suddenly, he is bequeathing his library to her as well as an assortment of magical objects. But her father sells the books to a man Effie is not sure she can trust. And thus she finds herself on an adventure to reclaim her inheritance and the truth about her birthright.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor The Trials of Morrigan Crow

All her life Morrigan Crow has believed herself cursed and destined to die on her eleventh birthday.  But then a man called Jupiter North appears and runs away with her to a magical citiy known as Nevermoor.  There she is selected to compete for a spot in the Wundrous Society.  But failure means death.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

Sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Kansas, Henry York is surprised to find that the cupboards in his attic bedroom seem to lead to different worlds!  But when he and his cousin unleash an ancient evil, they must find a way to fix their mistakes before it is too late.

You can find our first list of suggestions here.

Nature vs. Nurture in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Spoilers)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

As I was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (yes, I just got to it in April), I was struck by how several of the characters believed that if Voldemort ever had a child that the child would inevitably be bad.  They have such a revulsion to Voldemort (understandable) that they assume his child would inherit his villainy—basically that evil is inherent and determined by one’s parentage.  I don’t think this is Rowling’s or any of the co-writers’ opinion (well, it could be, but I have no way of knowing), but I find it interesting that in a series where characters are often not what they seem and villains are sometimes redeemed that there seems to be no room for the thought that a child of Voldemort’s might be anything other than a new Dark Lord (or Dark Lady).

Case One: Scorpius Malfoy

The book opens with the rumor that Scorpius Malfoy might the son of Voldemort.  When Rose Granger-Weasley and Albus Potter meet him on the Hogwarts Express, Rose is distant and suspicious from the start.  When Scorpius introduces himself, she is noticeably “cold” and blurts, “Your mum and dad are Death Eaters!” (16).  However, this is not the sticking point for her, and she finally has to spell out her discomfort to Albus:  “The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus” (17).  With this point clear, she turns on her heel and denies friendship with both Scorpius and Albus, if he’s going to associate with such a person.

Though Harry, Hermione, and Ron deny that they believe this rumor, there’s evidence they do.  Harry admits near the end of Act Three to Albus that he was against the friendship between the two boys because of it: “Well, I was wrong too—to think Scorpius was Voldemort’s son.  He wasn’t a black cloud” (203).  All these characters would presumably have enough reason to be suspicious of Scorpius for being Draco’s son—but Draco is semi-reformed since the end of HP 7, and the boy clearly wasn’t raised as a Death Eater.  They are all suspicious that he might be Voldemort’s son, and that this would make him a terrible person even though his mother was a decent person, even though he was raised in a normal household because simply being related to Voldemort would make him bad.  For them, nurture trumps nature.  Albus makes this clear when he tries to comfort Scorpius’s own doubts about his parentage: “I don’t think Voldemort is capable of having a kind son—and you’re kind, Scorpius.  To the depths. Of your belly, to the tips of your fingers.  I truly believe Voldemort—Voldemort couldn’t have a child like you” (143).

Admittedly, however, there is some argument for the important of nurture; Scorpius states explicitly that his friendship with Albus has made him a better person.  When Scorpius has to make some tough choices in the alternate universe where Voldemort succeeded, Snape reminds him: “Think about Albus.  You’re giving up your kingdom for Albus, right?  One person.  All it takes is one person” (193).  I don’t think the point is that friendship with Albus has made Scorpius a more virtuous person, however.  When the audience first meet him, he’s an eager kid trying to make friends with sweets and talking about his lovely mother; there’s no evidence he was ever tempted to the path of evil.  Friendship with Albus simply makes him more outgoing, more confident, more courageous.

Case Two: Delphini Diggory

Delphini is a somewhat less complicated case, in part because readers don’t see much of her after the “big reveal” of her true identity.  There are a couple things that we know, however.  The first is that she was raised by Death Eaters.  As she’s toying with Scorpius and Albus in revealing her true intentions for using the Time Turner, she casually drops this line about the woman who raised her: “She didn’t like me much.  Euphemia Rowle…she only took me in for the gold” (219).  Scorpius is concerned and slowly observes, “The Rowles were pretty extreme Death Eaters” (219).  It is this revelation that makes him most suspicious of Delphini, and—without knowing she’s Voldemort’s child—he realizes she’s probably up to no good.  Nurture is the issue here, as someone raised by practicing Death Eaters was probably raised to value Dark magic.  However, Delphini’s childhood never comes up again.  From this point forward, the driving point is that she’s Voldemort’s daughter.

And it is her parentage that alarms everyone.  When Harry and company raid Delphini’s room and discover (through an absurdly convenient message) that she’s Voldemort’s child, they panic.  When Hermione shares the news with the rest of the wizarding community, their reaction is “A child! Anything but that!”  They seem to subscribe to the view that Albus expresses earlier, that a child of Voldemort would undoubtedly be evil.  No one thinks for a moment that she could be otherwise.  They assume, without proof, that she’s up to no good with Albus and Scorpius as hostages.

The audience gets little explanation for Delphini’s personality and values beyond this, except in the scene at Godric’s hollow.  Here we learn that Delphini wants nothing more than her father’s approval.  She repeats “Farther!” frequently when speaking to Harry-disguised-as-Voldemort and then tells Harry, “I’ve studied to be worthy of him!” (290).  Is the desire to follow in her father’s footsteps nature or nurture, though?  Is this an idea she got from being raised by Death Eaters?  From having heard a prophecy that she could be a powerful Dark witch?  Or is it simply that a daughter of Voldemort must be like Voldemort?

There’s some nuance in the play, but the characters appear to strongly believe that nature trumps nurture and that a child of Voldemort’s must be evil, no questions asked.  What do you think?


Is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Canon?

The Cursed Child Is Canon

Spoilers below!

If you read the comments on Michal Schick’s article declaring Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fan fiction, (an article I refute), you will find a large number of fans declaring the new script not canon.  Alan Johnson, for instance, writes the following:

Arguing the merits of TCC as a stand-alone story is a different matter, but to call it canon means that we as the audience are being asked to compare TCC to the Harry Potter series and to hold it to the same standards. These “standards” are, of course, somewhat subjective and different for every fan/reader/audience member, but when a significant portion of fans feel TCC fails to meet the standards of canon established in the original series, then labeling TCC as canon becomes problematic. Does a story necessarily belong to the author? Or once the story is released into the world, does it then belong to the audience? In this case, I would say the Harry Potter fandom feels a significant degree of connection and ownership over the story. We give a lot of deference to JKR, but when she starts to push old, established “boundaries” (again subjective) too far in new works, we are free to push back.

Here Johnson argues that Harry Potter and his world no longer belong to J. K. Rowling, who created them, because fans like them.  The “standards” of canon to which he refer remain vague.  Perhaps he is saying that the story contradicts previously established information, but nowhere does he explicitly state as much.  Instead his argument, based on  his statement about “connection and ownership” seems to rest on a more subjective feeling that the play just does not match the power of the old works or that fans do not agree with it or like it, and thus fans are free to decide it does not exist.  (Or free to “push back,” as he writes–though that sounds a little aggressive to describe an interaction with a poor author.)

Slughorn’s Trophy Wife later enters this conversation and argues that the play is not canon because lines given to certain characters in some scenes were given to others in CC and that Lily and James being outside contradicts our previous knowledge of their lives.  She also says that she does not consider the story “100% Tier 1” canon.  A Google search did not provide any definitions for or references to such a term, but  Slughorn’s Trophy Wife refers to the theme park rides to indicate that she does not think everything Potter-related to be canon.  So, in this case, I think we are to assume that the commentator believes a thing is more canonical the more explicitly the creator is involved.

All of this is incredibly fascinating because the literal definition of canon is simply that it is the body of work of an author or creator.  Nowhere does the definition suggest that fans have to like a story for it to be canon.  Nowhere does this definition describe how involved an author has to be for their work to be canon.  And nowhere does it suggest that only traditionally-published sources count as canon.  And yet we know that the definition has never been as straight-forward as it appears.

Are These Works Canonical?

There have always been debates about the works of certain authors.  J. R. R. Tolkien, for example, has tons of published material now, most of which his son Christopher released after his death. There are different versions of different stories. Which one is canon?  Are the versions Tolkien himself published canonical and the rest simply drafts?  What if he had published one story, then rewrote it, but never published the later version?  Which is canon?

And what about Star Wars?  When The Force Awakens opened, we learned the book content was no longer considered canon.  So what are the books if not canon?  How can something be canon and then rewritten?

And what about contradictions in an author’s own published material?  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once called John Watson “James” apparently by accident. So is that story, by the logic of Slughorn’s Trophy Wife, no longer canon because it contradicted previously established information?  Alexandre Dumas seems to have shaky characterization in some of his stories–they’re so long he probably forgot what happened himself. Is The Three Musketeers no longer canon because D’Artagnan changes from installment to installment?

Maybe there are levels of authorial intent involved here.  Conan Doyle presumably did not mean to change John’s name, so we can safely ignore what could very well be a printer’s error.  And maybe we can say that what Tolkien himself published takes precedence over what are clearly drafts, though we might have more difficulty choosing the canonical work if faced with an early published version and a later revised but unpublished version.  But in that case, no doubt, scholars would first begin to see if they could discover whether Tolkien had been considering publication.  We might then say that the later version is canon, just as the revised Hobbit with an evil Gollum became canon after The Lord of the Rings.

The problem is, of course, that so often we do not know authorial intent.  If Tolkien did not write in his diary or to his publisher, we have no idea if he meant to revise or publish at all.  And then we begin to question all over again–what did the author mean or want?  Most likely we will then try to decide which version more closely matches all the other information we have about the author’s world–again leading us to the suggestion that contradictions are non-canonical.

But What if What the Author intends Upsets Fans?

Johnson, however, might argue that what the author wants to happen in their world is of little concern.  The fans have enjoyed the story and made it come alive, so now they have the authority to decide what happens.  This sounds kind of nice in theory–that is why we have fan fiction and shows like Sherlock.  It can be fun to play with our favorite stories and make them come alive in ways that are new, ways that make us see them afresh.

However, we are dealing with a living author here and the idea that the author no longer owns her works once she shares them with others becomes problematic.  Copyright laws exist because the author should be allowed to make money from her own intellectual property.  She created the world and it is hers to do with as she sees fit.

Saying that the work is no longer hers also seems disrespectful to creators.  After all, if I buy a pie that I like and enjoy, I would never argue to the baker that her business is my business now because without my purchase she’d be broke and without me her pies would have never realized their full potential as tasty desserts.  They would merely be pretty decorations in the window.  And yet this is the type of logic being thrown at authors.  Yes, ideas and stories are to be shared.  But this does not mean we should wrest creative control away from their originators, especially when they are alive and need to be recognized as the sole author in order to make a living.

But once copyright laws expire, the work of an author is still by definition canon.  Sherlock Holmes is canon.  Elementary and Sherlock, delightful though they may be, are not.

But What About All These Tweets and Pottermore Posts?  Are They Canon?

So the body of work of an author is, by definition, canon whether or not readers like it or agree with it.  But what is the body of work?  Slughorn’s Trophy Wife mentions theme park rides and video games while Emily at Rose Read explores all other bits of information Rowling has given us through the years from interviews to Tweets to Pottermore.

Here I do not consider things like video games and theme park rides to be canon.  Giving other people rights to your work so they can sell stuff does not mean you are giving them artistic authority. However, I do not see why an author providing material in forms other than traditional publication makes their work less valid.  Why should Rowling’s writings on Pottermore be taken less seriously than they would have been if she had published them in an encyclopedia format as was first suggested? Why should her words hold less weight on Twitter than they would if she bound them in paper and sold them at a bookstore?


The question of what is canon can indeed be tricky. However, in this case, it seems clear to me that J. K. Rowling was highly involved with the production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and gave it her approval.  It thus counts as part of her body of work (even with co-creators–Shakespeare’s work is still part of his canon his even though he collaborated!).  Finding small discrepancies like who says what dialogue does not invalidate the story, nor does not liking the story.  And the fact that the story is presented as a play rather than as a novel does not mean it is not part of her body of work.  “Body of work” encompasses various genres and forms.  If Rowling says this is canon, it is.

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The Dilemma of Delphini Diggory (A Criticism of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)

Delphini Diggory Discussion

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?

Krysta 64

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

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Harry Potter and Cursed ChildINFORMATION

Goodreads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Series: Harry Potter #8
Source: Borrowed
Published: July 2016


Now working for the Ministry of Magic, Harry Potter has a lot on his plate.  Voldemort’s old allies are moving.  His scar is starting to burn.  And, worst of all, he’s finding it difficult to connect with his son Albus.


Spoilers about the plot are marked below, but if you do not want to know anything about the play, including which characters return, where the scene is set, etc., read no further!

In many ways, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child seems designed to appeal to as many fans as possible.  Harry and his friends are married with jobs now, and thus relatable to readers who grew up with them.  However, the story also features his fourteen-year-old son Albus, a character who will be more relatable to younger fans of the series, but who can also provide a nostalgia factor to the older fans as he allows the story to return not only to the Wizarding World but also to Hogwarts.  Joining Harry and Albus are a large cast of old favorites from Professor McGonagall to Draco Malfoy, again making the play seem both new and familiar.

The story, being a script, of course presents less of the magical world than readers are accustomed to (though you can use your imagination very well with the stage directions provided).  This means that the characters have to carry the story in a way they did not in the original seven books. In this respect, having so many of the old favorites return works very well.  It is fun to see what the trio and Ginny are doing with their careers, satisfying to see McGonagall in charge of Hogwarts, touching to see Harry try to reach out to Dumbledore’s portrait.  Life has gone on for the characters, but sometimes it is comforting to know that some things stay the same.  And the setting aids the story as it means seeing so many old characters does not seem forced; they would naturally be at Hogwarts and do not seem inserted merely to please fans.

The old characters act very much as I would expect them to. Ron is still goofy, loving, and loyal.  Hermione is organized, in charge, and incredibly sharp.  (So is her daughter.)  Harry is, well, Harry.  He likes to be in on the action and still dislikes paperwork.  And though he loves his son, he has trouble expressing emotion.  Who could blame him in light of his past?

And the new characters? I loved them.  Strangely, Albus left little impression on me just as his father did in the first seven books.  But Scorpius Malfory is a delight and he makes Albus shine when they are together.  He’s funny and smart and caring–and just the type of character you would like to have as a protagonist.  And then, of course, there is Rose, almost a little Hermione.  Determined to excel at everything and just a little awkward when figuring out how to make friends.

Watching them all was delightful and at times more interesting than the plot, which was not particularly surprising, sadly to say, even if it was pretty fun.  [Spoilers ahead!]  In a way, having Albus want to change a major event in the past is a silly premise (or at least it makes him look rather thoughtless, but maybe that’s hereditary), but it does give us some delightful scenes from “Voldemort Day” to a new look at Snape.  Actually, this play in  many ways depicts how horrible Voldemort is better than the seven books did.  Here you can really see the senseless death and torture, the way that evil twists and corrupts.  And this gives the characters, as Scorpius notes, a chance to test themselves and determine the type of people they would like to be.

[Major spoilers ahead!] Of course the most controversial part of the plot is probably Delphini.  I admit I am not sure how I feel about her being Voldemort’s daughter.  I think the play would have worked just as well if she were working for someone else or were just an aspiring Death Eater.  Now we all are left with a sick image of Voldemort and Bellatrix that just does not make sense to me.  I just cannot imagine the conversation that happened or why Voldemort thought that trying to conceive a child (with one try!) was the thing to do.  I cannot imagine what Bellatrix’s husband was thinking.  It’s all so messed up that I just do not want to touch it.  And, frankly, the whole “He had an heir!” plot is so overused that it risks making the story ridiculous, even though I see that it is trying to be a commentary on love and parenthood and family,

On the whole, however, I think that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a solid addition to Harry’s story.  It nicely brings the old characters back while still making them seem like themselves–and older versions of themselves, which is often difficult for authors to depict–while adding a new cast of characters for fans to come to love.  And it brings us back to Hogwarts and to the Wizarding World, while reminding us that the world is full of darkness and suffering, but also full of wonder and magic.  And life is a mixture of both.

Need more magic?  Try our interactive Wizarding School Adventure!

4 starsKrysta 64