I read the first four books of the Harry Potter series in 2001, when I was 22. At the time, I was an aspiring teacher, and I thought it would be a good idea to find out what all of the fuss was about. To my complete surprise, I was enthralled, amazed, and absolutely delighted by the books! J.K. Rowling restored my love for reading with her “children’s” books, and I have been a passionate fan ever since. My encounter with a psychopath has given me new insight into the brilliant world that she created. This post, a modest attempt to relate her profound themes to my altered view of humanity, is dedicated to all survivors, especially those of us who keep the magical world of Harry Potter in our hearts.
The Reality of Evil
The main antagonist in the series, Lord Voldemort, is an almost perfect representation of a psychopath. He begins life as Tom Marvolo Riddle, a strange orphan who enjoys torturing both animals and other children simply because he can. He wants power over others; he wants control at all costs. He also knows he’s “different.” And on the surface it would seem that he is special because he is a wizard; yet he is not a typical wizard. He is emotionless and cold, he knows when others are lying (yet he himself is deceitful), and he can even talk to snakes.
As he grows older, he perfects his masks and is well-liked by all of the teachers at Hogwarts (except Professor Dumbledore). He has a legion of adoring admirers. He uses his orphan status as an effective pity play. And he knows how to “work” people and use them to get what he wants. He is able to flatter Professor Slughorn into revealing information about Horcruxes, he is able to con Hepzibah Smith out of her valuable cup, and he is able to charm the Gray Lady into showing him the way to her mother’s diadem. He changes his name to Lord Voldemort and becomes downright bold in orchestrating one act of terror after another. He is an expert at setting others up to be blamed for his evil deeds, and he keeps everyone in a fog of confusion and fear through smear campaigns, gaslighting, and straightforward magic.
For those of us who have crossed paths with disordered people, we recognize Voldemort in a way that we probably did not before. We have been on the receiving end of the deception and the cruelty. We have been idealized, devalued, and discarded, just like many of Voldemort’s targets and followers. We have felt the incredible highs of being love-bombed and the terrible lows of being thrown away as if we are worthless. And we have struggled to fight our way out of the fog created by the psychopaths and felt the heartbreaking loneliness of not being believed by others. For it is an unfortunate reality that so many are blinded to the hidden evil that exists all around us.
The Denial of Evil
When Voldemort returns to power halfway through the series, most witches and wizards refuse to believe that it has happened. Like Cornelius Fudge, they deny the truth and fight against the few who are ready and able to face reality. They begin smear campaigns of their own out of fear and to cover their feelings of inadequacy. It is too painful to admit the truth, the truth that evil exists. Like so many, they choose to take the “easy” way out. And perhaps many simply cannot fathom that such cloaked evil exists in the first place.
Before my encounter with a psychopath, I fully admit that I was in a form of denial too. If someone had told me that people exist without feeling the full range of emotions, and that they can masquerade as “normal” people, capable of figuring out their targets’ vulnerabilities and strengths better than the targets can and then using this knowledge to manipulate and exploit them, I would have raised my eyebrows. And I would have remained in denial, as open-minded and accepting as I am. Sometimes people (like Fudge) refuse to see the evil even when proof is provided. But sometimes seeing it requires the extremely painful experience of having one’s heart, body, and soul trampled in the cruelest ways imaginable.
Pain and Vulnerability
After his first brush with the dementors, Harry realizes that they affect him more dramatically than they affect his friends or anyone else. Everyone feels the ice cold that the dementors create with their dark, raspy breath, everyone feels as if they will never be happy again, but Harry is the only one to feel utter terror. He can hear his mother’s screaming voice as Voldemort kills her, and he is so overwhelmed that he passes out each time. The intense pain that he feels each time a dementor comes near represents the horror of what he has experienced in his past. Yet, through the pain and shame, he is motivated to find a way to fight back by creating his own protective light in the form of a conjured Patronus.
Harry also discovers a window into his own vulnerabilities very early on in the form of the Mirror of Erised. As he explores the castle, he comes across the mirror and is curious. He stands in front of it, and as he gazes into its depths, he sees people appear around him, and he notices that they look a lot like him! He feels a joy and sense of belonging—tinged with sadness—that he has never felt before, and to him, perhaps, it feels like love, the love of a family. He runs back to the dormitories, wakes up Ron, and asks Ron to join him, thinking Ron will see what he saw. But when Ron stands before the mirror, he sees something very different but equally as delightful to him. Harry cannot make sense of this, but he also is unable to tear himself away from the mirror during the subsequent two evenings. When he makes his way to the mirror on the third night and sits down in front of it, he is interrupted by Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains to Harry that the mirror shows those who gaze into it “nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” It can be tempting to spend hour after hour in front of the mirror, longing for what is reflected to be real. But, of course, what is reflected back is not real and can never be attained, as it is presented in the mirror. And so Dumbledore moves the mirror and prevents Harry from wasting away in front of it.
We all understand the terrible pain that Harry feels as the dementors come near him. We have felt it and been consumed by it. Just like Harry, we were lost in a thick fog of confusion purposely created by the psychopaths we survived. We perhaps felt that our souls were almost completely sucked out, and we almost certainly felt as if we would never, ever be happy again. And just like Harry, we have deep desires—vulnerabilities—that the psychopaths exploited. The psychopaths reflected our most desperate needs back to us, and we might not have even been aware that we had those needs. We were idealized and almost worshipped by the psychopaths. Because of the ways in which they mirrored us, and because they pretended to be sincere, we thought we had found the most perfect partners in the world! They had been created just for us! It was only when cracks appeared in those mirrors as the psychopaths began to devalue us that we realized the images were not real, that we had been maliciously deceived, and our lovely world came crashing down. And then the dementors could swoop in to deliver their kisses and suck out our souls…if we let them.
The Loss of Innocence
At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses Voldemort’s return to power. He also is forced to watch the murder of his classmate, Cedric Diggory. The experience has changed him, but he is unaware of how deeply he is altered. And so when he returns to Hogwarts soon after, he is shocked to see strange-looking horses—the thestrals—pulling the carriages to the school. He had always believed that the carriages moved independently, propelled by magic. Yet now he sees these creatures, and he is frightened, not only because of their appearance, but also because almost everyone else is unable to see them. He is so confused by this new reality, and he begins to question his sanity. But then he discovers that Luna and Neville can see them too, and Hagrid provides a logical explanation for their existence. He begins to see the beauty in them, and he understands that they are real, even though he is one of the few who do. By witnessing death, Harry has lost his innocence, and although it is painful, it also opens up a new world for him that he never could have imagined.
The pain and horror that come with realizing that we have been abused by psychopaths is a shocking and disorienting way in which to lose our innocence. And we mourn the loss of who we once were. Many of us once believed that there was the potential for good in all people; we believed that others feel the same emotions that we do; we believed that others are telling the truth when they say, “I love you;” and we believed, perhaps, that evil is obviously sinister and would never be cloaked in a sweet-looking package. When the realization hits us, we, like Harry, think we might be going crazy. Others often do not comprehend what we are talking about and this increases our distress. But then we learn about psychopaths (just like Harry learned about thestrals), the puzzle pieces fit together, and we finally find others who have the same view of the world as we do. We realize that we are not alone, and when we receive real love and kindness from those who understand, that is when we find the light in the midst of our pain.
The Power of Love
On the night that Voldemort tracks down his parents and brutally murders them both, Harry is spared. The curse that Voldemort aims at Harry rebounds back on the monster and almost destroys him. And a mystery remains…why was Voldemort unable to kill Harry too? Harry grows older, attends Hogwarts, and meets Voldemort again, during his demonic possession of Professor Quirrell. Harry finds that Quirrell is unable to touch him; the professor’s skin is burned by the contact, and he screams in agony. How is this possible? Professor Dumbledore helps Harry understand that a powerful force protected him during both battles. Before she died, Harry’s mother shielded him and was willing to die to protect him. She did this because she loved her son. In that moment, the power of her true and deep love was enough to repel the evil that Voldemort unleashed on Harry, and it provided him with lasting protection.
Harry has the gift of his mother’s love, but he also seems to be cursed by the evil powers that Voldemort unintentionally transferred to him. He has a window into Voldemort’s mind, and he can talk to snakes. A fight between good and evil is waged daily within his very body and soul. Yet, despite this, Harry demonstrates that love is everything. He loves his many friends and appreciates their love and support in return. He finds a father figure in Sirius, and even when his heart is almost wrenched apart with grief after Sirius dies, his goodness continues to shine. Harry discovers that Professor Dumbledore cares so much about him that the professor makes the mistake of shielding Harry too much from the harsh realities of the world, and Harry’s love for Dumbledore enables him to forgive and understand. Because of the loyalty and love that Harry demonstrates for Professor Dumbledore, his phoenix comes to Harry’s rescue in the Chamber of Secrets. And when the final battle between good and evil ensues, the combined forces of courage, friendship, kindness, honesty, and profound love prove victorious.
The theme of love in the Harry Potter series can seem trivial as we face our new knowledge of the real human evil that exists in the form of the psychopaths among us. We might wonder if love can truly make any difference; we might wonder if it has the power to push away the darkness that threatens to engulf us. I believe that love does make a difference, and I believe that it even has the power to defeat psychopathic evil, in the end. Those who are capable of love are able to transform themselves and evolve into better human beings. They can build true communities and make real connections with each other. Like Voldemort, psychopaths are limited, empty, and soulless; like Voldemort, they are cursed with a half-life. I personally am just like Harry in that my mother has given me the gift of her love throughout my life, and although I am scarred from the cruelty I have experienced along the way, her love for me has provided amazing protection. I have also had teachers who have inspired me simply through their small gestures of kindness and praise for my abilities. And I have made friends who accept me for who I am, who celebrate with me when I am successful, and who support me when I am down. And so the psychopath did not destroy me; he gave me the opportunity to make myself even better, because I can love and he cannot. It is important to note that Harry Potter’s world was not just protected by his mother’s love. It was saved by the cumulative effect of the love that caring people offered one another. And our world can be saved in the same way.
Relating Harry Potter’s World to Ours
You might be wondering, what possible relevance could the above comparisons have to our lives, as we grapple with the realization that human predators exist among us, intent on hurting us and even destroying us? How can this help us work through the excruciating pain? It is often completely overwhelming to think about the horrific ways in which psychopaths orchestrate their evil agendas. But we cannot close our eyes; we cannot undo what we now see. Just like Harry, we can find the courage within us and strive to accept the truth, as beautiful and terrible as it often is. We can be like phoenixes, reborn from the ashes of our lost innocence. And in doing so, we find hope and healing. We find others who understand. We find friends who sincerely love us, and we find out who we really are, allowing our inner light (our Patronuses) to shine. We come together to fight for what is right and true, we find compassion for those who deserve it, and we help each other along this often difficult and lonely path. Harry Potter’s world and the world of those of us who see is one and the same, full of love and light and the promise that good will always triumph over evil.
Special thanks to Peace for his thoughts about the dementors and for suggesting that I write this post. To Peace: Via your writing and all you do for this forum, you are a Patronus for so many. Thank you for creating a bright light that does so much to push the darkness away.
Hope and Healing from Harry Potter
I read the first four books of the Harry Potter series in 2001, when I was 22. At the time, I was an aspiring teacher, and I wanted to read the books.
Article Author: HealingJourney