In depth analysis of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Time Travel

First of all: SPOILERS FOR HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD!!!

SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS
SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS

You have been warned.

Here goes nothing: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is either bad canon or a good fanfic. Short explanation: I loved the new characters and the development of the old ones, and the dynamics between them, but story-wise is isn’t that good. Lots of tropes and screwing up established lore. Now I could ‘just’ write a review of the book, but I actually feel like going in-depth about the subject that ruined the story most for me: Time travel.

Time travel is tricky. It can be confusing, it has many forms and it’s hard to do it good. Time travel as explained in the 3rth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, was done quite well in my opinion. However, now they’ve revisited the subject in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, they didn’t do so well. To explain, I need to visit some other franchises and forms of time travel where it is actually done well.

Prince of Persia: Undoing actions by rewinding
In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, you are able to rewind time for a bit. Using this mechanic, you can undo a short period of time and start over. You end up in your own body where it was a few minutes ago, not creating any doppelgangers. [Disclaimer: in later PoP games this mechanic gets more complicated and elaborated, but let’s leave it at this for now]

Life is Strange: Creating an alternate universe by rewinding
In Life is Strange, your character has the same kind of ability as you have in Prince of Persia. You have the ability to rewind time for about 5 minutes, placing your ‘mind’ in your body where it was 5 minutes ago (so no doppelgangers), enabling you to make better choices. However, the timeline where you came from keeps existing, so by travelling back in time, you create an alternate universe in which different choices are made. Your body keeps existing in the original timeline too, so you’re actually ‘copying’ your mind and placing it in your body of 5 minutes ago, resulting in 2 you’s in 2 different universes.

Life is Strange, Steins;Gate and the Butterfly Effect: Travelling back and forth in time, memory gap versus memory addition
In both Life is Strange and Steins;Gate, you’re able to change events of the past, resulting in alternate universes where different choices were made. However, right after the changed event, the protagonist fast forwards to the alternate universe version of current time. As a result, the protagonist does not have knowledge of anything that took place between the changed event and the present, resulting in a lot of confusion. In the Butterfly Effect, the protagonist is also able to change events in the past, and travels back to the alternate present right after. However, the protagonist gains added memories of events that took place in that alternate universe. So the protagonist ends up having memories of 2 different lives.

Doctor Who: Staying in the same universe
The Doctor travels back and forth in time. However, changing the past does not result in an alternate universe. In fact, everything he changes in the past has already happened, thereby he is not really able to change the past which would otherwise result in an alternate future (there are exceptions, but this is how it generally goes, Doctor Who is very wibbly-wobbly timey wimey). Example: Let’s say he can’t find his wallet in the morning, but some time later he finds it in a strange place. Later that day he travels 24 hours back in time, and he moves his wallet from the usual place to the strange place. He didn’t actually change anything, because it already happened. Another interesting point is that he does not copy his mind and places it in a former version of himself, but he physically travels back in time. As a result, he disappears in the present time and 2 versions of him exist in the past.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Closing the loop
The mechanics of time travel in HP 3 are very similar to Doctor Who. Initially, Hermione uses the Time Turner to travel back short amounts of time to be able to follow multiple classes at once. She physically travels back in time, so she disappears in the present, resulting in a double Hermione in the past. Because Hermione only travels back a short amount of time, it isn’t necessary to travel back to the present. She just has to wait until her doppelganger travels back like she did, and take her place as soon as the doppelganger disappears (closing the loop). It is important to note that there are no alternate universes created in this case: Hermione is present in all classes at once, she isn’t creating different universes in which she follows different classes in each one. Later in the story, Harry sees his father creating a Patronus, and later he travels to the past, creating a Patronus in sight of Past-Harry, realizing he didn’t see his father but himself. This follows the ‘It has already happened’ logic. Same goes for saving Buckbeak: They didn’t create one universe where he was saved and one where he wasn’t saved: They actually already saved him in the past.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A hot mess
I’m going to dissect this by pointing out facts that confused me or contradict the logic used in HP 3.

They are able to create an alternate universe
Albus and Scorpius get their hands on a Time Turner. They travel back a huge amount of time, change events, and travel back to the present. But instead of staying in the same timeline like in HP 3, they create an alternative timeline, and travel back to the present of that alternate timeline. This leaves them with a memory gap, similar to the mechanics in Life is Strange and Steins;Gate. There is nothing wrong with this mechanic on its own, but according to the lore that was established in HP 3, they should not be able to create an alternate timeline, but just travel back and forth in the same universe, not being able to really change things because everything has already happened. Granted, in the end the undo their changes and end up in the original timeline, but why does saving Buckbeak not create an alternate timeline, while Expelliarmus-ing Cedric does?

Abandoned universes stop existing
In one of the timelines where they end up, Ron and Hermione sacrifice themselves so that Scorpius is able to travel in time again to set things right. This suggests that when someone travels back in time, the abandoned timeline stops existing. Why would Ron and Hermione sacrifice themselves if their terrible universe would just keep on existing without them? Also,  Albus and Scorpius are physically time travelling (like in Doctor Who and HP3). By that logic, if universes would keep existing when they’re abandoned by the protagonists, they’re creating universes where they have forever disappeared. However, the book actually gives contradicting information, because when Albus and Scorpius have disappeared in the original timeline (travelled back in time), HP and gang keep on searching for them, proving that timelines keep existing after all. Which leaves 2 options: 1) all universes keep existing, resulting in universes where Albus and Scorpius have disappeared forever and Hemione’s and Ron’s sacrifice was in vain. 2) The original timeline keeps existing and newly created alternate timelines stop existing as soon as they’re abandoned.

They don’t follow their own logic
Because they screw up time so much, Albus and Scorpius indirectly kill Harry Potter, resulting in Albus never being born. Albus actually disappears at that point, but Scorpius is still there. However, if Albus was never born, Scorpius would never have any motivation to travel back in time in the first place, so by that logic he should disappear as well, which he doesn’t.

They create doppelgangers but they don’t
Albus and Scorpius physically travel back in time. So their bodies disappear in current time, and by that logic they should create doppelgangers in the past (this literally happens in HP 3). Because they travel back to a time where they haven’t been born yet, this doesn’t apply. But when they travel back to the (alternate) present, their mind is suddenly in the bodies of their alternate selves, in stead of creating a doppelganger, which would make more sense, following previous logic.

In conclusion:
The only way for time travel in HP and the Cursed Child to make sense is to follow these rules:

  • When you travel back in time but don’t travel back, but just wait until the loop is closed, you don’t create an alternate universe (HP 3), however, when you travel back in time, change events, and then fast forward back to the present, you have created an alternate timeline (HP and the Cursed Child). Or creating alternate universes just happens randomly. Or it depends on what you change. Or something.
  • The original timeline keeps existing, newly created alternate timelines stop existing as soon as they’re abandoned. Or you create multiple timelines where you have disappeared forever.
  • Preventing your own birth causes you to disappear, preventing events that caused you to time travel in the first place changes nothing. Because.
  • Travelling back to a time where you already exist creates a doppelganger, travelling to an alternate universe where you already exist doesn’t, your mind is transferred to the alternate you, leaving no memories of events in the alternate timeline prior to your transfer.

As you can see these rules are convoluted and obviously created in hindsight. Time travel logic in HP 3 was great: simple, clear rules, no exceptions. These new rules contradict everything established in HP 3, which is a real shame. Now I know it’s a play and it’s meant to be seen, not read. But J.K. said this is canon. So I really think it’s too bad that they’ve screwed up the otherwise great time-travel mechanics.

Advertisements

About Tekira

26 year old psychologist, on the quest of finding a job, loves anime and games.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s