Depression and THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series, which I have not done since the last book came out some years back. I have a tendency to read books too fast the first time through–inhaling them as quickly as humanly possible, sprinting through the text like the pages are on fire. This means I have a tendency to miss the nuances of books the first time I read them.

I’m not sure if that’s what happened, or if it’s because in the intervening years since I last read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that I’ve survived major depression, but I noticed a lot of depressive imagery this time around. Much has been written about the dementors, so we’ll start there. J. K. Rowling has gone on record saying that they are a manifestation of depression, and certainly their portrayal as this vague, unfaceable creature sucking all the joy from your life is accurate for many people. But the depressive imagery in the book, I think, goes far deeper than that.

There’s Sirius’ animagus form, the massive black dog, which lurks around Harry unexplained through most of the book. Harry’s plagued by the constant sightings of the black dog–The Grim, which suggests impending death, the worst of bad omens. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that Rowling uses the imagery of a black dog which matches perfectly with Winston Churchill’s personification of his own struggles with depression as a black dog that followed everywhere he went.

But Rowling is an enormously subtle writer, and I think Prisoner of Azkaban is deeply steeped with depression. Depression, as anyone who’s survived can tell you, is not just dementors and black dogs. It’s everything, it’s a totality. It’s a sense of foreboding, of loss, all the more confusing because you don’t know where it’s come from or if it will ever lift. It’s a sense of being trapped and missing out (like when Harry alone of the third years can’t go to Hogsmeade), and it’s a threaded through with a twitchy anxiety and this nagging feeling that you’re getting nothing done and never will because the hours have become so slippery (Hermione’s time-turner).

Rowling’s is a textured, multi-layered depiction of depression. It captures the way depression turned into a mindset, a frame for interpreting reality, the way it leaks into any and everything.

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