7 Ways the Harry Potter Series Deals with Mental Illness

I've been rereading the Harry Potter series, and like with anything you read as a child and reread as an adult, I've been noticing things I didn't ten years ago.

Asa kid, I didn't realize that Harry's behavior in Order of the Phoenix was probably due to PTSD from everything that's happened to him. I didn't realize that Kreacher exhibited signs of dementia. I didn't realize that dementors pretty served as a pretty accurate metaphor for depression.

That's part of the joy of rereading these books. Each time, even if it's the tenth or twentieth reread, I discover something new. Sometimes it's a flaw in the storytelling, as I discussed in my post about Goblet of Fire. Sometimes, like now, it's a realization of the pervasiveness of a "grown-up" topic like mental illness within the story.

Because because mental illness is such a recurring theme in the series, I couldn't talk about every instance where it's brought up. Instead, here's a list of seven ways Rowling deals with the issue that stuck out the most to me. Some are empowering, some are confusing or problematic, and some are ambiguous—like many aspects of the Harry Potter series, the portrayal of mental illness is more nuanced than it may seem at first glance.

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The Vampire as the Specter of Madness in Stoker’s Dracula

In Victorian England, which considered itself the pinnacle of rationality and technological development, illnesses of the mind were terrifying. In his 1897 novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker crafts horror not only by realizing the Victorians’ prudish, proper, xenophobic nightmares, but also by threatening them with madness.

Count Dracula is an aristocrat from Transylvania, an Eastern European country that is considered primitive and superstitious—supposedly the complete opposite of nineteenth-century England. What’s more, Dracula has a special affinity with madness: one of his first recruits when he arrives in London is Renfield, an inmate in the asylum where a good portion of the novel takes place.

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