Before I get into the bulk of what I want to talk about regarding my read of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I want to let readers know that it is going to deal with some topics that might be triggering for some people. Specifically, I will be talking about my read of depression in this novel, and while I do hope to have a happier tone in certain points, I just want to make sure that I gave an appropriate forewarning. I will talk about my other points first, and I will insert a line in between paragraphs where I will begin talking about my read of depression, should you wish to read as much as you can.
From what I understand, J.K. Rowling used Remus Lupin’s lycanthropy as a metaphor for an individual suffering from HIV/AIDS through the prejudice that the general populace has towards people like him in the books. On any given day, Remus does not pose a threat to anyone and, provided he takes the Wolfsbane potion, he is relatively safe on the full moon each month. His condition in no way changes the kind of person he is. Okay it does in that he feels ashamed about his condition and plays into the prejudice by looking down on himself, but I mean that it does not change his kindness towards others and his ability to teach his student effectively, among other aspects of his character. This is similar, I think, to something like HIV/AIDS—as long as people take the proper precautions are taken, there is no significant danger to others. Despite this, there is documented evidence of a prejudice.
I do also believe that you can make other comparisons to the presentation of lycanthropy in the books, but that would require a lot of additional research so that I would approach the topic in the right way and with care. I believe that Rowling only wrote with HIV/AIDS in mind, but that said I think that what the individual readers gets out of the book, regardless of authorial intent, is still important.
~~~Note that I am now transitioning to writing about depression~~~
“Yeh can’ really remember who yeh are after a while. An’ yeh can’ see the point o’ livin’ at all. I use ter hope I’d jus’ die in me sleep … when they let me out, it was like bein’ born again, ev’rythin’ came floodin’ back, it was the bes’ feelin’ in the world. Mind, the Dementors weren’t keen on lettin’ me go.” – Hagrid, Chapter 11: The Firebolt, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Depression is not sadness. Sadness, whether it is severe or quite mild, is a feeling and depression is the cold, absence of feeling. Harry Potter readers, if they follow interviews that J.K. Rowling has done, will be aware that she suffered from depression in her 20s (and, from what I gather, it does crop up on occasion, but not to the same extent). I kind of knew that the Dementors stood for depression prior to my re-read of this book because of those interviews:
“The Dementors, for instance, are prison guards who track people by sensing their emotions. They disable their victims by sucking out all positive thoughts and with a kiss they can take a soul while leaving the body alive. I do not think that these are just characters. I think they are a description of depression.
‘Yes. That is exactly what they are,’ she says. ‘It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced.’
What does she mean?
‘It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.’ ”
I took that quote directly from an interview J.K. Rowling did on June 30, 2000 with The Times (UK). You will see that my words prior to this quote kind of reflect that same “absence” of feeling—mostly because that is how the Dementors are described. Their presence drains whoever is near them and only a Patronus Charm, fueled by a happy memory, can repel the Dementor.
Instead of going into Rowling’s personal experience, as you can find lots of information on that on the Internet, I want to move forward to how I read the inclusion of the Patronus Charm. I think that this inclusion is not only integral to the comparison—but very powerful to read as well.
To put it simply, I believe that the Patronus Charm is integral to the comparison because of the difficulty of its casting. But that is a little vague, is it not? From my understanding, battling depression is unlike anything else because the individual suffering simply does not believe that they will ever be happy again, that they have no purpose, essentially. In their eyes, there is no way out. (Aside: I hope I did that justice). This is why the Patronus is so hard to cast—if the Dementors represent depression in the books, the Patronus Charm is what repels and, hopefully, destroys the Dementor. The caster must think of their happiest memory (or rather, one strong enough) to actually cast the spell properly. I do not believe that it is a matter of magical prowess, because if it were Hermione would be able to do it as Harry does. It is a matter of will and the strength of that happy memory. With that in mind, the comparison to depression rings clear as it is beyond difficult to recall happy times on the worst days.
But when they manage to extract a memory strong enough to repel the Dementor, even if it is only for a little while…oh that feeling.
Returning to the topic of what house I would be in, I think I have one that I can at least eliminate. While I do think that everyone has qualities from all four houses in them, I also feel that certain qualities are more prominent. With that in mind, I have to take Gryffindor out of the running if only because I never find myself brave to the point of recklessness (or frankly, a “show-off”—I know not all Gryffindors would be this way, but many in the books are). Honestly though, if you were to ask me I am not particularly brave at all. It takes way too much courage and energy from me to actually do things that scare me—if I ever do them.
To end today, I would love to know what everyone thinks about these posts. If you have been revisiting the books, have you seen what I have? Any contradictions? Anything I have left out (I know there is something)?