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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I was in the process of reading the Harry Potter series for the first time, I once searched for the books in my library’s catalog, but since my library happened to be a college library, I found that 90 percent of the results were about Harry the cultural icon rather than Harry the character.

One of these books that I found particularly interesting, and that, thanks to being in college, I had online access to, was entitled, The Psychology of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Examination of the Boy Who Lived.  If you like thinking deeply about the Harry Potter series, this is a good book to get into.  It’s a bunch of scholarly type articles that discuss things such as Harry, Ron, and Hermione‘s relationships with their childhood caretakers, the lack of a good father figure in Harry’s life, and why Harry is an example of “resilience,” because he turned out fairly normal in spite of his horrific family situation.

However, the part of the book that I remember the most vividly was an article advocating a certain type of psychotherapy and explaining how it would help Harry deal with some of the problems he faces as a character.  When the author described Harry entering the psychologist’s office, I suddenly had a very strong feeling that this hypothetical therapy session was not going to help Harry as much as the author thought it would.  “Wait a minute,” I was thinking.  “Harry can’t talk about his problems with a psychologist!  If he starts going on about how his family hates him because he’s a wizard, and his classmates don’t know what to make of him because he’s the only one who survived the wrath the evil wizard Voldemort, or how they’re scared of him because he can talk to snakes, or mad at him because they think he cheated his way into the wizarding tournament or lied about Voldemort’s return, even though he swears he didn’t, then the muggle psychiatrist will probably have a talk with Harry’s Uncle about getting him institutionalized.  And Harry’s Uncle will be very happy about that.”

In fact, after this, I thought up a little scenario that I wish would have happened at the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban instead of what did happen, in which Vernon Dursley shows up at a mental institution attempting to get “help” for his “poor nephew” who thinks he’s a wizard.  Some things I envisioned: 1. The psychologist examining Harry’s wand and trying to determine why Harry developed such an attachment to it.  2. The psychologist reading Harry’s essay on the futility of medieval witch burning and admiring Harry’s imagination.  3. Harry attempting to pretend he doesn’t really think he’s a wizard at all, but then slipping up. (“No, wait! You can’t take that!  That’s my homework!”  “Oh, so now you’re saying you do go to wizarding school.”)  4. On the way to his padded cell, Harry escapes (with the use of magic), and then has to run from both the wizarding and muggle police just as he did after blowing up his “aunt” in the actual book.  I don’t read or write fan fiction, so don’t expect to ever see a full version of this, but this idea did make me very happy.

But it also made think just a bit.  If you’re writing a story where the unbelievable is happening, and only some people know about it, how do get your characters who are “in on” the fantasy elements of the story to convince the other characters it’s true?  If they want to confide in somebody, and of course they do, then what will it take to convince their friends not to start calling the psychologists on their behalf?

Unfortuantely, I don’t think I have an answer to this one, since I think it’s probably different for every character.  So help me out with this.  What would it take for you personally to believe that something “impossible” was happening?  That the aliens had landed… or fairies existed and were hiding out in the woods… or there was a doorway to Middle-earth in the cupboard under the sink….  Is there any circumstance in which you would believe it (or consider believing it) before you actually saw it, and if so, what?

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