The inspiration for this post came from the hilarious and intelligent ladies of Witch, Please, who pointed out that real-life disabilities might be a bit underrepresented in the Harry Potter world. Being the obsessed Harry Potter fan that I am, I decided to take the question to reddit:
What examples of disability, mental illness, and neurodivergance ARE there in the wizarding world?
Some of the answers I got were fascinating.
“Well, dementors are basically the personification of depression so there’s that.” -imjacechillin
Redditors gave several examples of characters who showed symptoms of depression, including Sirius, Snape, and even Harry himself, but the answer that captivated me most was the dementors. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling writes, “they infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them.” Characters who came in contact with them were forced to relive their worst memories and to feel like they’d never be happy again.
Rowling, who suffered from depression herself, said that the metaphor was deliberate. The metaphor was heartbreaking because it demonstrated how visceral depression really can be. But the fact that Harry overcame the dementors after extensive training and support from Lupin might be a metaphor for the power of therapy and medicine to combat depression.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
“Nobody seemed very concerned or tried to help when both Harry and Cho were obviously not handling what happened in the triwizard tournament well.” -thebananaparadox As this redditor pointed out, it’s made explicit in Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix that Harry and Cho both suffered from PTSD after Cedric’s death, but neither of them received any help. After the deaths of James, Lily, Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Moody, Dobby, Snape, Fred, Lupin, and Tonks, it’s easy to imagine that many key characters must have been suffering from undiagnosed and untreated PTSD.
In fact, some Harry Potter fans have argued that the whole series is just one long story about recovering from PTSD. That seems like a fare assessment given that the entire series begins with the death of Harry’s parents.
- The Autism Spectrum
“As someone diagnosed with Asperger’s, the character I’ve personally been most compared to is Hermione. So much so, in fact, that my family basically nicknamed me Hermione.” -Obversa
A few redditors responded to say that Hermione, Percy, and Luna were on the autism spectrum. All three excelled in academics but struggled to respond to social cues in a neurotypical fashion. For instance, in the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione told Ron, “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the ‘gar’ nice and long,” Hermione didn’t realize that Ron didn’t want her help. As a result was perceived as bossy and rude when she hadn’t actually meant any harm. Similarly, Luna was creative, loyal, and deliberate, but many of her peers found her overly blunt and oblivious to social norms, so she was ostracized for much of her time at hogwarts.
Other redditors suggested that Newt Scamander and Arthur Weasley might be Autistic.
- Missing Body Parts
“Mad-Eye Moody and Professor Kettleburn are missing limbs.” -Maur1ne
The only examples of physical disability that we see in the Harry Potter series are missing body parts. Mad-Eye lost his eye and one leg while he was working as an Auror, Professor Kettleburn lost multiple limbs while working as a Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Wormtail an arm for Voldemort, and George lost his ear to the Sectumsempra curse. As far as I can tell, no other physical disabilities exist in the wizarding world.
Let me know what you think about the representation of disability in Harry Potter! Did Rowling portray disability, mental illness, and neurodivergence accurately? Do you relate especially to any characters in particular?