Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and How to See Them: Harry Potter and Mental Illness

I was listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the other day, and I was thinking about ways that Harry Potter could be connected to mental illness. It's common knowledge in the Harry Potter fan community that JK Rowling wrote the dementors as an allegory for depression, they suck the soul out of you, leaving you alive, but without the ability to feel and they make you remember all of your worst memories.

But I think other comparisons between magical creatures and mental illness can be drawn. Thestrals, the winged horses that pull the carriages up to Hogwarts, are analogous to trauma. One can only see them if they have seen someone die, so in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Harry can see the thestrals for the first time, and he feels like he is going mad because only Luna Lovegood can see them as well. Trauma often leaves a mental or emotional mark on a person, making signs of said trauma visible very clearly to the person who has suffered, but not to anyone around them. Sometimes, people are able to relate to each other, as Harry and Luna are in this passage, because they have shared similar trauma, and they can both "see" and "understand" it, just as the thestrals seem very real to them.

The second connection that I noticed, and that my therapist has pointed out to me many a time is the idea of the boggart, introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban, as a metaphor for anxiety. The boggart is a shape-shifting creature that transforms itself into whatever the viewer is the most afraid of. For example, Ron's boggart turns into a giant spider because he is afraid of spiders. The instance of the boggart that is most akin to anxiety is Molly's boggart in Order of the Phoenix though. She sees all of her family members dying one by one, becoming more and more distraught as she continues to see the worst case scenarios. The only way that one can get rid of a boggart is by using the Riddikulus spell, a spell that turns the boggart into a humorous version of the thing that you are afraid of, and sometimes, the only way to conquer anxiety is by laughing. It's really hard to continue to be anxious if you are laughing. Trust me, I've tried.  I'm sure that there are connections that I have missed, so I'd love it if you could leave them in comments, and I'm looking forward to doing more posts like this in the future.

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