Yes, I am a hardcore Potterhead and I have something absolutely important to tell all of you. Harry Potter is not just for kids. In fact, if you pay attention to the details, you’ll notice that it is anything but! It is dark, and it deals with a lot of disturbing topics such as multiple deaths and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So I’m going to tell you how dark and disturbing the series really is, up close.
WARNING: YOU MIGHT WANT TO SIT DOWN WITH A BOX OF TISSUES TO READ THIS POST.
Let’s break this down starting from Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, yeah? Harry’s parents were murdered by a psychopath who wanted to be immortal and feared the inevitable death so much that he planned on killing anyone who was a possible threat- even if that meant killing a one year old child (who survived, by the way). Harry was left to fend for himself for ten whole years with the Dursleys, who treated him like an unwanted waste of space. The poor child never even got to celebrate his birthday (he spends his eleventh birthday on a cold, dusty floor for God’s sake!). He wasn’t fed properly and was given a freaking cupboard under the staircase for a room.
Now, if you think something like that wouldn’t disturb an eleven year old, you’re wrong. Harry practically spent his entire childhood being neglected and was also bullied by Dudley on many occasions. He was never truly happy until Hagrid told him who he really was. For someone who has been through so much at such a young age, you might think that he would be a child with a lot of issues. But quoting Molly Weasley here, “No wonder he was alone, I wondered. He was ever so polite when he asked how to get onto the platform.” It’s here where you start falling in love with Harry, as a character.
Throughout the book, we see Harry struggling to fit into the magical world. He is constantly afraid that he’s going to be kicked out of this world- a world where he finally feels like he belongs. A world where he feels at home! A world where, after ten years of having no one, he finally has friends- Ron and Hermione. Even at the age of eleven, the level of maturity the Trio shows, knowing that they might end up dead is admirable. They would die for each other (which is very well showcased by Ron who ‘sacrifices’ himself in the game of chess so that Harry and Hermione can go ahead. Harry then goes on to meet his worst fear- Lord Voldemort and emerges wounded, but victorious.
Doesn’t sound like something an eleven year old would do, now, does it? You can’t possibly think that a child so young can go through all of this return alive, without any psychological scars.
Again, in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Harry spends his twelfth birthday all alone in his room “making no noise,” pretending that he “does not exist.” Along comes Dobby, the House Elf, who tells Harry that he must not return to Hogwarts. But Harry, who has never really felt at home at the Dursleys’ says that he has to get back to his school because that’s his home- that is where he truly belongs.
He is eventually grounded, starved and practically caged in his room until Ron comes to the rescue. On reaching the Weasleys’ residence, The Burrow, Harry is pampered and fed by Mrs Weasley. This is when we realize that Harry gets to experience the environment of a family, possibly for the first time since his parents died (of which he has no memory). If your heart doesn’t break a little every time you think about this, I doubt you’re even human!
Throughout their second year at Hogwarts, strange things keep happening, students get Petrified (including Harry and Ron’s best friend Hermione), Ginny Weasley gets possessed, Harry discovers disturbing things about Hogwarts’ history, including a student who had died in the bathroom (Moaning Myrtle, hello?) and kills an ancient beast at the age of twelve. He even comes really close to the possibility of accepting his own death when the Basilisk venom starts spreading.
Here, however, we cannot ignore Hermione- who gets Petrified by the Basilisk (or any Hogwarts student who was Petrified, for that matter), Ginny- who gets possessed by Tom Riddle’s diary, or the Weasleys- who nearly lost Ginny. All of them, especially Ginny, experienced severely traumatic incidents. We cannot deny that these incidents scarred them. Still think it’s a kids’ book? I’ve got more!
Before you go and call Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban a peaceful book, let me remind you that it is in this book that Harry finds out that he’s being “hunted” by a mass-murderer Sirius Black. Let me tell you something real quick! It’s not even remotely likely for a person to have a good night’s sleep when they know they have a serial killer on their trail. So you can imagine how absolutely terrified the thirteen year old Harry, and his friends would have been.
On top of the psycho-serial-killer scare, Harry also has to deal with his fear of the Dementors, who affect him more than they affect anyone else- as a result of which Harry falls from his broom during a game of Quidditch. His professor also keeps predicting his death, which he thinks is coming closer because he has seen some Death omen.
He later realizes that the mass-murderer is his godfather, and also his late father’s best friend. This news disturbs Harry deeply, until he goes after Sirius to kill him. That’s when he finds out that Sirius Black has been innocent the whole time. You cannot help but feel angry at Dumbledore for letting Sirius suffer in Azkaban, the wizard prison, for twelve whole years. Sirius’ condition is pitiful. He lost his best friend, was locked in Azkaban for a crime he never committed, and instead of being cleared of all charges, he had to flee again. Harry, who had happily considered the possibility of living with his godfather, has to go back to living with the Dursleys yet again.
It only keeps getting darker!
Nightmares. That is how Harry Potter And The Golbet Of Fire starts. Throughout the year, Harry keeps getting nightmares of impending doom. Harry, the Weasleys, and Hermione witness an attack by Lord Voldemort’s followers called Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup. Back at school, Harry, who is an underage wizard, is forced into a tournament that he hasn’t even entered his name for- and as his luck would have it, it’s the Triwizard Tournament, a tournament where there is a high possibility that Harry will die.
After braving dragons, merpeople and whatnot, Harry is transported to a graveyard where he watches Lord Voldemort rising once again. This is also the part where Cedric Diggory is mercilessly killed because he was a “spare”.
One of the most disturbing incidents in this book is the part where Bartemius Crouch is killed, transfigured into a bone and buried, by his own son. Also, if you think about it, locking up someone inside a trunk for an entire year (as in Alastor Moody’s case) is pretty twisted and can literally drive people into madness. The death of Cedric Diggory, who was killed just because he was in the middle of things shows us how little Voldemort cared about human life. Harry, who witnesses Cedric’s death, is so badly traumatized that he is unable to let go of Cedric’s corpse out of remorse.
Friendly reminder that witnessing the death of a friend can seriously disturb a fourteen year old. Still not dark enough for you?
Which brings us to Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. This book is so full of PTSD, I cannot even begin to explain how much reading this book disturbed me. Clearly, after having witnessed the death of Cedric Diggory, Harry has recurrent nightmares of the event, followed by visions of Voldemort. Throughout the year, Harry is short-tempered, reckless and restless. He yells at everyone, including Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore.
One of his reckless behaviours lands him in detention with the evil Defense Against Dark Arts professor, Dolores Umbridge, who makes Harry use a quill which draws on his own blood, leaving him with a badly wounded wrist. Just the thought of a professor resorting to such methods for detention is chilling.
Perhaps, the most disturbing event in the book is the death of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black. He was pretty much the only parental figure Harry had in his life. Sirius, who spent a really huge part of his life in Azkaban for crime he had never even committed in the first place, deserved a second chance at life where he didn’t have to be on the run again. Instead, he was shut inside the place he hated the most- his family’s home. What disturbs Harry even more is that Sirius’ death was partly his fault, since he chooses to believe the visions Voldemort shows him.
It is also the part where Harry finds out that either he has to kill Voldemort, or die at his hands because “neither can live while the other survives”. Harry is so overcome with rage that he proceeds to smash a lot of Dumbledore’s belongings at his office. Pretty much the entire fifth book is very dark and disturbing and shows how negatively traumatic events can affect a person.
In Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, there aren’t too many disturbing events from Harry’s side. The sole focus here is on Draco Malfoy, a sixteen year old, who was pure of heart. He is forced to kill Albus Dumbledore. Throughout the year, we see that Draco tries several methods to kill Dumbledore, but fails. His soul, as Dumbledore said, wasn’t tainted enough to commit a murder. Draco experiences several mental breakdowns and looks paler than usual as the book progresses.
What we need to understand here is that Draco Malfoy was threatened by Lord Voldemort, to kill Dumbledore. No matter how arrogant or vain he might have been in the earlier books, we get to see the softer, desperate side of him in this book.
Another dark angle to this book is the young Tom Riddle’s willingness to hurt his peers, and his obsession for power as he grows older. We learn that even before he knew about his wizard heritage, he had an unusual amount of control over his powers. By the age of fifteen, Riddle had already murdered his father and his grandparents and succeeded at making a Horcrux- a dark object to contain a fragment of the soul.
Just the thought of a fifteen year old murdering his father and grandparents is disturbing enough to send chills down anybody’s spine.
Finally, in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, we see several dark images. The first dark image is shown at the Ministry Of Magic where the Muggles or the non-Magic folk are shown to be inferior to the Wizards. The statue at the Ministry was of a Witch and a Wizard on an ornate throne. Except, the throne was actually made out of mounds of carved human beings showing “Muggles in their rightful place.”
The next disturbing angle is seen when Hermione is tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange for information. Hermione is tortured only because of her blood status, which is pretty twisted for a book that is supposedly “for kids”. Yet another dark image is shown when Aberforth talks about his sister Ariana and tells Harry, Ron and Hermione how she became mentally ill, implying a possible sexual assault on Ariana by some Muggle boys.
Many innocent people are mercilessly killed, too many lives are lost. Too many loved ones die, leaving their families to mourn them. But the most disturbing part is that Dumbledore, who has supposedly protected Harry all these years, actually wants him to die at the hands of Voldemort, so that Voldemort can be killed.
And Harry, who willingly walks into the arms of Death, greets his parents, Sirius and Remus, who tell him how easy dying can be. It seems a little strange because the same people who died trying to protect Harry are now encouraging him to embrace death, thus driving him into the arms of Death, which again, is not an imagery you have in “kids’ stories.
And while there are many such dark aspects to the series, these are the darkest and most disturbing in my opinion. It is also not to be assumed that the deaths of the characters that I haven’t mentioned or the traumatic events witnessed by others weren’t disturbing. The Harry Potter series on a whole, is a very well-written piece of work by J.K.Rowling with a lot of dark imagery that one may not understand when they read the books as a child. But to say that the series is “for kids” is a serious indication that you should pick up the book and start reading it.
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