Seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Was a Religious Experience

Seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Was a Religious ExperienceEXPAND
Courtesy Maureen Lenker

I am a member of the Harry Potter generation. From Harry Potter birthday parties and Halloween costumes to midnight release parties, I grew up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. I have a Harry Potter tattoo and pursued a master’s degree at Oxford University because it was the closest I was ever going to get to attending Hogwarts. So when it was announced that a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was coming to London's West End, I knew I had to attend the play the way Hermione Granger knows, well, everything. (The Cursed Child, in book form, is being released in the United States at midnight on Saturday.)

For so many, the books defined our childhoods. They helped us learn core values; cultivated a love of reading; and taught us to grapple with tough subjects like sacrifice, loss and grief. And here was a chance to have more — a thought so exultant it might produce the strongest patronus ever seen. Passing it up would be as unthinkable as choosing to live with the Dursleys.

When I arrived at London's Palace Theatre, the atmosphere was electric — crowds full of muggles wound around the block, their attire proclaiming allegiance to one Hogwarts house or another. People had traveled from across the U.K., Ireland, Asia, Canada and all regions of the United States to find out what happens 19 years after the last of the original books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, leaves off. Sidewalk conversations veer from which book is best (Team Azkaban) to literary crushes (Sirius Black all the way).

From the moment I picked up my tickets, which were embossed with a filigree golden snitch, I began to feel like I'd taken a dose of Felix Felicis (aka Liquid Luck) and was suddenly among the luckiest humans on Earth. The experience waiting inside makes one thing clear: Magic is real and it lives in the theater.

The story, divided over the course of two nights, begins on the heels of the Deathly Hallows epilogue, pitching us into a tale that suggests all was not so well as we'd been left to believe.

Seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Was a Religious ExperienceEXPAND
Maureen Lenker

The spectacle of the stagecraft leaves you suspecting you've just witnessed real magic — a sense of awe overwhelmed me throughout. While the films brought magical creatures and Quidditch matches brilliantly to life, special effects onstage raise the stakes — here, there is no CGI. Onstage, we have to feel that witchcraft is happening in front of our eyes. From flame-fueled wizarding duels to Dementors flying into the audience, sorcery comes alive. Many times I was nearly moved to tears from the sheer wonder of it all. Harry Potter fans have spent more than a decade wishing magic was real; seeing The Cursed Child is the closest we might ever get.

But even more magical than the astounding effects is the chance to spend two evenings in the company of these characters. At this point they're old friends, and passing time in their company is a nostalgia-fueled wave of emotion and comfort. It is affecting just to hear new banter between Ron and Hermione or see Harry face the challenges of having the family he’d always wanted. The play’s emotional core is as pure as the phoenix feather in Harry’s wand.

For many millennials, Harry Potter was an ur-text. Giovanni Berber, 23, of San Francisco said Harry Potter, and its message that our choices define us, impacted his life as deeply as the Bible. Another fan, Cat, 28, from Boston, said she majored in religious studies because of Harry Potter and her view of it as sacred text.

Attending Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, then, is a religious experience in a way – a chance to deepen and renew your faith by returning to our childhood heroes. The play gives us all a chance to go back to that frisson of excitement that accompanied the release of a new book, to have a new adventure while taking comfort in the company of familiar faces. It once again avows the importance of friendship, kindness and loyalty in the face of difficult choices, thereby affirming the values by which Potterheads have set out to lead our lives. Ultimately, it upholds Rowling’s most profound message: Love is the deepest, purest and only real magic there is.

This reminder that love can be a form of magic, expressed in the company of these beloved characters and spectacular stagecraft, is a gift – a chance to regain a sense of wonder many of us have lost. J.K. Rowling promised, “Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” Thank you, Jo and the entire Cursed Child team — for helping us all find our way home. 

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