The day I began reading this long-awaited latest Harry Potter adventure, I saw an image on Twitter of a birthday gift Rowling received from her son: a mug with an owl, below which reads Irritable Owl Syndrome and above which reads Fuck Off. The caption read “a most hilariously inappropriate birthday gift from a son.” Her son is 13.
Then I read the Cursed Child, which revolves around parents and teenage children and parents’ ability–and inability–to see their children for who they are rather than who they wish they themselves had been/were. Harry Potter, who, while famous, was never quite perfect, either in school or with his friends, continues these weaknesses as an adult. At work he prefers to act in the field rather than keep up with paperwork. At home he strives to be the right father without having exactly experienced having a father–and having had a push/pull relationship with his father-figure, Dumbledore. James, his eldest son, to whom everything comes easily, seems to have been an easy child to parent. Albus Severus Potter, however, more introverted, struggles to live in his father’s famous shadow, particularly once he arrives at Hogwarts, where he’s sorted into Slytherin and becomes friends with Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius. Scorpius is a kind-hearted, studious boy who, shortly after starting school, loses his mother and struggles with his grief with a father who is not overly demonstrative.
Rowling touches on familiar themes for children–the difficulty of choosing between right and wrong, the need for recognition and acknowledgement of our gifts, and the power of loneliness and humiliation–as well as the inability to change the past, no matter how rightly-intentioned we may be.
The comparisons between Harry/Albus and Rowling and her son are obvious. Growing up in the shadow of Rowling, revered as next to God by many people under 50 (and some over), cannot be easy. I cannot imagine having to turn in a piece of creative writing to anyone knowing Rowling was my mother. Or try to live up to her other male creation in any other way.
Many advice columnists recommend talking to teenagers while in the car or doing some other activity because teenagers (and adults, really) are more likely to feel safe to engage in emotional topics when they are not engaged in eye contact or intense one-on-one conversation (let’s have a talk scares nearly everyone I know). I wonder if Rowling, through her play, is talking to her son without eye contact. Telling him she will screw up, but that she loves him, recognizes him as his own person with his own talents, is proud of him, and knows he is capable of making it on his own merits. Or maybe she is just helping the rest of us have that conversation.
Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this latest chapter and, despite some initial concerns about how reading a screenplay would change the experience, quickly found myself again in the world of Harry Potter–a place that, thanks to Rowling, is always available for a quick get away.