Professor Couches Harry Potter in Psychological Terms
Associate Professor Louise Freeman brought her expertise in psychology to a discussion on MuggleNet, the world’s #1 Harry Potter site. She was a guest on one of the MuggleNet Academia podcasts that present scholarly interpretations of J. K. Rowling’s novels.
Freeman’s appearance on the show stemmed from her presentation, “Harry Potter and the Behavioral Sciences,” at the Replacing Wands with Quills Symposium at James Madison University last year. She became interested in the Harry Potter books after reading them aloud to her children.
Along with host Keith Hawk, co-host John Granger (nicknamed the Hogwarts professor), and Southern Illinois University graduate student Cassandra Dinius, Freeman explored the psychological profiles of several characters in the series, including Mad Eye Moody, Dudley Dursley, Hermione Granger, Winky the house elf, and Lord Voldemort.
Listen to the full podcast here.
Highlights from Freeman’s Appearance on the Podcast
On the Dementors and depression
“J.K. Rowling has said many times that the Dementors were inspired by her own experience with clinical depression. She no doubt drew from her own experience, but I think she probably did a lot of professional reading about the subject too, just because she nails it so well with her depiction of the Dementors. The American Psychiatric Association publishes a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual … It is the professional’s guide to diagnosing mental illness and the manual actually lists nine separate symptoms associated with full-blown, clinical depression and a patient has to have five of the nine in order to get an official diagnosis. Rowling’s depiction of the Dementors, at one point or anther, shows us all nine of these traits.”
On chocolate helping characters recover from the Dementors’ attack
“That’s a little bit of popular psychology working its way in. The idea that chocolate has magical or medicinal properties isn’t new. Its scientific name, theobroma, means ‘food of the gods,’ so many people do believe it counteracts depression, many people take it when they’re depressed to make themselves feel better, and it actually does have some, what you might call, ‘feel good’ chemicals in it.”
On Lord Voldemort as a psychopath or sociopath
“There are psychologists who would argue there’s really no difference, and in fact, if you consult the diagnostic manual, it would really lump them under one category, antisocial personality disorder. So psychopaths and sociopaths share a lot in common: they both disregard social norms, they disregard the rights of others, they often physically bully others or torture animals as children. Voldemort certainly did that. They lack remorse for their actions, they lack a conscience, they lack empathy for the victims.”
On Harry’s ability to bounce back after all the horrors he’s experienced
“That’s true of child heroes of all sorts, particularly in the fantasy genre. They have very high levels of resilience. Otherwise all the Batman comics from about the 1950s on would have shown Batman visiting Robin in the psychiatric hospital … In a realistic world, I think Harry could have ended up more like Katniss or Peeta at the end of Mockingjay [the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy]. He was ok, he survived, he could even be happy, could have a life, but still permanently affected. I mean the magic of Rowling’s world allowed her to say at the end ‘all is well.’”