Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 5

I hope you Americans all had a lovely Thanksgiving!

We of the H.P.B.C. are advancing this discussion just one chapter this week, while awaiting a post from Christie. Taking things a little slowly through the holidays is probably a good idea anyway. (If I think about what I have to get done between now and Christmas, I'll start crying, so I won't. No point subjecting either myself or you to that. :P)

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 5

Potential Discussion Points

...I saw two important ones in this chapter:

1. Professor R. J. Lupin. At this point, he's still part of the book's main mystery, and everything I want to say about him involves spoilers. There will, however, be lots of opportunity to talk of him in future.

Art by Jenny Dolfen. Source.

2. Dementors.

Art by Mike Schwalm. Source.
In all the speculative fiction I've ever read, I cannot think of a more troubling invention than the dementor. Not much is explained about them in this chapter, but the basic facts of their existence shouldn't be spoilerific enough to restrict discussion.

Probably the most succinct and thorough description of them in the series comes a few chapters ahead of where we are now:
"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."
That's bad enough, but it gets worse. The primary danger of the dementor is the Dementor's Kiss—in which the dementor clamps its mouth over a human's and sucks out the soul, leaving the body alive, but presumably vegetative. The soul ceases to exist.

That's one of the most disturbing ideas I've ever come across. The implications are beyond bearing.

Art by Melanie
Like other inventions of fantasy, however, this imagery can provide a way to deal with human issues at a manageable distance.  As someone who has fought the monster Depression, I've found significant consolation in three fictional portrayals of said monster, one of which is Rowling's dementor—or, more specifically, her means of battling it.* More on that in a few weeks.

I wouldn't want to limit a creature like this to a single interpretation, but the facts are that Rowling has suffered through depression and openly admits that the dementor is a depiction of that experience. Here she is talking about that portrayal with interviewer Ann Treneman (The Times [UK], 30 June 2000). Treneman begins:
I do not think that [the dementors] 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."
It's a hard experience to put into words. Images help. Allie Brosh used both very vividly and very famously earlier this year. My encounters with it have differed from hers, but the core feeling is similar. I used to picture an empty glass jar chilled in the freezer and then placed under a marble slab with someone standing on it. The whole inside of my chest would feel like that—empty and frozen and brittle and unstable and under pressure to the point of shattering, all at once.

So, the imagery of a malevolent creature that sucks feeling and hope away from you, that leaves you with a cold void space where your heart should be, that strands you in the company of only your worst fears and memories—yeah. That. That is what it feels like.

Art by Allie Brosh
Malfoy apparently excepted, it's impossible to have anything but sympathy for Harry and Ginny here, as both of them react more strongly than their companions: their worst fears and memories are horrible indeed.

In a few weeks, we get to talk about defense tactics. For now, though, I absolutely love it that first aid for a brush with a dementor is chocolate. That's not to say that chocolate is a reliable way to soften the effects of the soul-sucking void. But sometimes, it's the oddest, smallest things that let in the first, tiny, crucial bit of light and warmth.

Aaaaaaaaaaand now I'm hungry. Source.
If you have other ideas for interpretation of the dementor—pure evil comes to mind—please elaborate. I'm officially out of time for the day, but onward with the discussion!

* The others, in case you're curious: 1) Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, as Kostya Levin has to hide his farm ropes from himself despite his being young, successful, and happy in his marriage and newborn child; and 2) Bella Swan's experience of the Cullens' disappearance in Stephenie Meyer's New Moon. All three portrayals of depression have been very powerful to me.


  1. YES! Dementor time!!!!.. They are so troubling to me..so, so troubling..though the whole depression thing makes them..almost less so, and almost more so..which doesn't make sense at all.. I'm working on it!

    1. I think it makes sense! But even with that interview and even with everything I wrote above, I think depression is only one interpretation, and a little too pat to be going on with alone... I wanted to talk about other possibilities, but ran out of time and steam. Also, I'm not sure I can voice those other possibilities clearly at this point. I'll be looking forward to your post for sure!

  2. The Dementor's Kiss has also highly troubled me. One of the most troubling things for me in the books. Mainly because Rowling mostly keeps everything very atheological but then introduces the idea of the soul, without much definition as to what it means in her world, but then gives us the fact that souls can be destroyed, as well as later on letting us know (spoiler).

    So, I guess the big question is, what does she mean by 'soul?' Is it primarily a reflection of one's personality, consciousness, and individuality? If so, then I suppose its destruction would reflect the utter most pits of despair where one feels as if there's nothing left of them but a body going through the motions. If not, then what does she mean by it?

    And looking further ahead in the books, is what the Dementors do to the soul worse or less worse than what happens to (spoiler)?

    1. It is SUPER TROUBLING. So in addition to using depression ghouls as prison guards, the Ministry also has a death-in-life penalty. GOOD TO KNOW?

      I actually like that Ministry policies and Wizarding culture in general have so much toxic awfulness mixed in with the sunshine and roses. Where I get a little fan-ranty is when the dodgy / serious business elements get ignored or pushed aside for the sake of easier storytelling or cheap points or whatever. The Dementors are actually handled pretty well, if I remember correctly, but some other things. . .not so much.

      On a happier note, that picture of Lupin is TOO adorable. HUGS.


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