If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ve probably already picked up the bound version of the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling’s eighth entry into the world of Potter and Hogwarts. While the print edition released with midnight bookstore parties on July 31, 2016 (the traditional release day of the Potter books, as well as Harry Potter’s birthday), the West End play, featuring Noma Dumezweni, an Olivier-winning actress of South African heritage portraying a black Hermione Granger, opened on July 30.
That the performance and the book debuted so closely together is atypical of the way that plays are normally published, and the large following the Harry Potter world has amassed since the first novel was published in 1997 makes the newest release noteworthy.
In addition, Dumezweni’s casting and the protests of some fans over the idea of a black Hermione Granger puts into question the idea that the default for fictional characters is white. If you are looking for interesting research paper topics in literature or theater (and want an excuse to write about Harry Potter), consider delving into these areas.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
What is the new story about? The play takes place 19 years after the final battle in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—or, as devoted Hogwarts fans are likely to know, in 2016. (The continuity year is revealed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, published in 1998, but which takes place in 1992, as one of the ghosts is celebrating the 500th anniversary of his 1492 death).
The characters appearing in the play include series favorites Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny as adults, as well as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus Potter, Scorpius Malfoy (son of Harry’s old rival Draco), and Hermione and Ron’s daughter Rose. But as for the plot, there’s very little that’s been released, other than that Harry is now an overworked employee at the Ministry of Magic, and his youngest son, Albus, struggles with the weight of the family legacy.
Interestingly, though J. K. Rowling developed the story, the play itself was penned by Jack Thorne, with writing credits also given to director John Tiffany. Early reviews of the West End production, during the previews, have been largely positive. Molly Driscoll of the Christian Science Monitor compiled several review quotes in her July 26, 2016, article, “What Do Critics Love So Much about ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’?”
But although the play is doing well, what is the fate of the book? It’s receiving only a 4.5 million print run, which is a substantial number for a new publication, but is a shadow of the 12 million copy run received by series book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007.
While USA Today writer and self-proclaimed Potter fan Kelly Lawler admitted she was planning to attend a midnight release for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she also acknowledged a lack of enthusiasm in her July 30, 2016, post, “Why it’s hard to get excited for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’” As she noted, “the oddity of reading a script over a book underlines that I (and so many others) will never get to see the critically acclaimed production fully staged.”
A research paper could look at the critical response to the printed work, after it is published, and compare that to the reviews of the play, discussing the difference between the formats.
Black Hermione Granger
Dumezweni’s casting brought to light that Hermione’s skin color is never explicitly stated in the books: in the novels her eye color is brown, and she has frizzy hair. Hermione has long been portrayed in fan art as black or biracial, which set the precedent for the play.
In “Can Hermione be black? What a stupid question” for the Guardian, published December 21, 2015, Chitra Ramaswamy wrote that the casting “challenges our assumption that characters are white unless we’re told otherwise.” Looking into that default assumption of a character’s race, or into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, could garner a number of interesting research paper topics.
For more on 20th and 21st century British literature, visit Questia.
What are your thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Tell us in the comments.