Midnight Release Party for HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD: An Off-Syllabus Field Trip

The last installment in the Harry Potter series released nine years ago, but it’s been clear from that point onward that neither J.K. Rowling nor Harry Potter fans are done with the wizarding world. On this blog alone I’ve written a travelogue of the Potterverse theme park attraction in Universal Studios and a review of the supplemental “textbooks” Rowling published. Rowling is constantly updating fans on her fictional universe, either by describing the future and progeny of her characters or giving more insight into the already-existent canon, sometimes to the ire of her fans (to be clear: Team Ron and Hermione forever). In November, we’ll even be getting a new Potterverse movie about Newt Scamander, the magizoologist who wrote one of Harry’s textbooks, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. The Harry Potter phenomenon has never really ended, and it doesn’t seem like it will anytime soon. Even still, it was a surreal and wonderful experience to be standing in line at a bookstore at 11:59 p.m. waiting for a new Harry Potter book.

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To celebrate, I went to the release party hosted by my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books (where, full disclosure and all, I worked until recently). I arrived with other Harry Potter fans at the bookstore at 10 p.m., waiting in a line designated by Marauder’s-Map style footprints leading to the kid’s section. We were all given slips of paper reserving a copy of the book for us, and then we were free to roam about until about 11:30. The store had crafts and snacks set up in the kid’s section, including Butterbeer (creme soda), Felix Felicis (lemonade), and Every Flavor Beans. The employees were all dressed up in Hogwarts attire, and one person led a game of Harry Potter trivia. Other than that, we were free to hang out and continue shopping until it was time to line up (and of course, exploring a bookstore is one of my favorite activities).

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At about 11:30, we all lined up, eagerly chatting away about Harry Potter trivia. I overheard discussions about Hogwarts houses (“You’re not a Hufflepuff! Stop lying! You are totally a Ravenclaw!”) and memories of the last time spent waiting in a midnight line. There were people of all ages there, and as many single adults as families. Everyone was friendly and excited. When the time finally came, all four registers opened–each of the employees sporting different house colors. The manager directed us to the next available register with a point of her wand and the cadence of the Sorting Hat: “Slytherin! Ravenclaw! Gryffindor!” And then suddenly, there was a new Harry Potter book in my hands, along with a poster, a lightning bolt temporary tattoo, and a “Fantastic Beasts” sticker. I’m trying very hard to avoid corny, obvious puns, but it really did feel a bit magic.

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My opinion on the book itself? I won’t give any spoilers, but if you’re even trying to avoid reviews, go ahead and stop reading. The book itself was a bit of a mix for me. There was a lot about it that I liked (mostly the characters, some of them new and some of them further developed from the original story). There were some elements that I wish were different. The plot is not what I would have expected–it was both a little out there and also not the most original? But it did provide some fun character explorations, even if it didn’t do much else for me. Reading the story in play format was actually pretty enjoyable, and more than anything, it made me REALLY wish I could see the staged performance (some of the stage directions and plot points just don’t even seem possible, so I’m sure it’s spectacular). Basically, I fall somewhere in the middle of reactions towards it. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I understand (and agree with) some of the criticisms.

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In the end, my ambivalence about the story didn’t take away from the fun. The experience of going to the bookstore, of bringing home a new Harry Potter title, of opening the cover (slowly, reverently) and reading the first words one more time, brought me so much joy. The story might not be perfect, but the evening was.

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So, did you go to a midnight release party? What did you think of The Cursed Child? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments!

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