Modified from comments delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, August 10, 2018.
Welcome to “Coming to Terms with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” My name is Lorrie Kim and I’m the author of Snape: A Definitive Reading. I got the idea for this session because I was seeing a lot of Potter fans feeling conflict about this play. Disappointed, angry, or betrayed by it – but not able to put it aside or make peace with it. Sometimes when you don’t love something, you can just stop reading, or move on, or dismiss it. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. I wanted to have a gentle, supportive discussion in which we hear from each other and try to find if there are ways we can come to terms with this play, feel at peace with how we feel about it. I don’t have any conclusions prepared; I just wanted to see, if we talked about this in an open, supportive way, where it will take us.
Six allegories that make Cursed Child meaningful to me:
Allegory 1. Harry’s gifts to his children
He gives James the Invisibility Cloak — Sirius and Remus taught him enough about his father to parent his Gryffindor son. He gives Lily the fairy wings — Snape taught him enough about his mother’s ability to fly that he could pass that on to his daughter. But Albus, bullied as the “Slytherin squib,” needs “specific love,” everyday comfort and advocacy: Harry never learned that. All he can give Albus is a shabby old blanket. That’s all Harry got: 15 months of parental love. No, it’s not enough. But everything Harry got, he will give to Albus.
Allegory 2. Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow
One of the riddles in Hermione’s bookcase says:
I am the creature you have not seen.
I am you. I am me. The echo unforeseen.
Sometimes in front, sometimes behind,
A constant companion, for we are entwined.
In 1938, psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
Harry’s shadow has always been Voldemort, and when his fears form the “dangerous black cloud around Albus,” he hears Voldemort again. In response, Albus forms his own shadow, Delphi. His subconscious forms her into existence when he develops issues with his father. Hermione tries to check out Delphi’s background, but says, “There’s no record of her. She’s a shadow.”
Jung said: “If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”
If the adults understand what’s hurting the kids, they can restore the past to peace.
Jung said: “Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications.”
Delphi has ever-changing, mutually contradictory stories. She went to school. She didn’t go to school. She’s Diggory’s niece. She’s Voldemort’s daughter. She has a tattoo. She can fly. Every modification reflects a change in what Albus must work through regarding his father.
Jung said: “But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”
If the adults can’t connect emotionally with the kids, the kids’ distress will continue to dictate their families’ dynamics. Harry and his friends want Delphi to come into the light, come into consciousness, so Albus’s deepest concerns can be recognized.
Jung said in 1945: “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”
Harry attributes this “dangerous black cloud” not to himself but to the return of Voldemort, or werewolves, or hapless little Scorpius Malfoy. His shadow self is in control. This is what it looks like when the part of Voldemort that’s in him has a voice. That’s why Harry sounds “out of character” when, for example, he orders McGonagall to track Albus using the Marauder’s Map.
Allegory 3. Who is the Cursed Child?
Projection creates cursed children. In adult Harry’s dream about the Dursleys running away from his Hogwarts letters, Petunia says, “The boy has cursed us!” In a later dream, Petunia tells lies about James and Lily, and Harry hears Voldemort’s voice: “I smell guilt, there is a stench of guilt upon the air.” That’s what Voldemort said to his Death Eaters when he regained his body in Goblet of Fire, the rage of a child at the caretaker who has abandoned him. It is the same warning as Dumbledore’s Howler to Petunia: “Remember my last.”
There are three steps to the magic spell of creating cursed children — or adults, for that matter: mistreat them, realize that we did, and punish them for knowing it. Cursed Child made me understand, finally, what it means that Voldemort’s Killing Curse “rebounded on him”: when Voldemort saw that he had orphaned baby Harry, he identified with the baby, the only time we ever see him experiencing empathy, and he realized he had scarred someone for life as he had been scarred. His Avada Kedavra on baby Harry was the only time that his attack on another person made him feel and understand the pain he had caused. It made him remember his own pain and connect the two. This triggering of his own trauma is enough to send him beyond death into the forest.
Adult Harry, in Cursed Child, has less damage than Voldemort — but he, too, is triggered against his will into the memories of his own trauma, the things that Voldemort stole from him when he was a baby and the truth that the Dursleys withheld from him as a child. That’s what it means to say that Voldemort is back in Harry’s head, that his scar hurts again. Nothing but seeing this old trauma damage his own child could spur Harry to go this deep into his own past, and he has to decide whether it’s too painful and he will sacrifice his relationship with his son, or if he will do what he’s never been able to do before and fully comprehend – relive – the murder of his parents.
Allegory 4. Time-Turners are about psychological process, not science fiction
As with Rowling’s other magical devices, such as the Elder Wand, which can change ownership without even being touched, I understand Time-Turners best as symbolic, as allegorical. As Hermione learned, there are two rules for using a Time-Turner: change nothing, and you must not be seen. There are safeguards. When you go into the past, be anchored by a friend or guide; third-year Harry is anchored by Hermione, Hermione by McGonagall or Dumbledore. The purpose of a Time-Turner is for you to be able to relive a moment from the past from a different perspective: greater age and experience, but also literally from a different perspective, as Harry did with seeing himself cast a Patronus at dementors from the opposite bank of a lake. What you gain in understanding from this new perspective, and the support of a friend, can have the power to save an innocent life — maybe more than one — and set people free.
If you are stuck in the past, especially because of trauma, and you revisit the past for a different perspective, supported by trusted people, that is the dynamic that Rowling encodes into the device of the Time-Turner. As with all super-magical objects in Potterverse, such as the Deathly Hallows or the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Mirror of Erised, Time-Turners work best for people who use them to help others, not for personal gain. Scorpius and Albus go into the past without any training, intending to “change everything,” and are seen. When they are trapped in time by Delphi, Draco offers his own secret Time-Turner because he knows Harry will use it properly: to reconnect with Scorpius and Albus, understanding how the Time-Turner is meant to work, and then to make good-faith efforts to gain new perspective on his own past so he can relieve its ill effects on Albus’s life.
Allegory 5. The Alternate Universes are imagined by Albus and Scorpius
The boys try to work through their relationships with their fathers by going back in time — allegory for trying to understand where Draco and Harry are coming from, Albus looking for the real Harry behind the legend or Scorpius envisioning a world in which Malfoys are leaders. The adults interact with these AUs because that’s what parents do, negotiate with the images their teenagers have of them.
This explains anomalies like Cedric Diggory becoming a Death Eater. We readers met Cedric through teen Harry; only someone who never knew Cedric could think he’d become a Death Eater because of whatever scenario a 14-year-old boy could invent, ballooning into the sky like Aunt Marge, completely wrong in tone for anything associated with the Cedric that people knew when he was alive. It explains why Ludo Bagman says “Mr. Dragon” in the Triwizard task. He knew the dragons were nesting mothers. That’s not the real Ludo Bagman; it’s just Albus imagining the scene and gendering the dragon as male because he’s working through his father issues. It explains how anyone trying to work out when or how Bellatrix and Voldemort could have reproduced runs into uncomfortable logistical questions. Unlike us, Albus never got to know either of them; he didn’t know Bellatrix attacked children or that Voldemort was barely human, so he can ascribe parental sentiment to them more easily than we can. All of the AUs as imagined by Albus and Scorpius contain only elements that they would have heard or read of, second-hand: the same spells, the same people or incidents, but slightly misunderstood or misremembered, sometimes absurdly so, and I think the absurdity is intentional and meant to be a clue.
Allegory 6. Albus’s feelings toward Harry
Delphi says to Voldemort what Albus would find too painful to say to Harry: “I have devoted my life to being a child you could be proud of.”
Delphi attacks Harry with the cry, “Are you crawling away from me? Harry Potter. Hero of the wizarding world. Crawling away like a rat.” A teenage boy might well be this angry at a father who doesn’t have the guts to face his own child’s anger.
Voldemort was obsessed with Harry Potter because his entire life, Harry was the only force he’d ever encountered that was stronger than the power of his own murderous rage. He was Voldemort’s only hope for help in containing and limiting that rage. Albus, through Delphi, is able to express murderous rage to Harry as Voldemort, and still be loved. This gives Albus the security to understand Harry’s effort in fighting through his own darkness to be a parent. The use of a Time-Turner to witness Voldemort’s attack is an allegory to mean that Harry and Albus returned to the past to gain new perspective, supported by loved ones. Then Delphi disappears because Albus no longer needs her. Quote: “And slowly what was there is no longer there.”