Harry Potter and the The Emotional Health Issue

Hi Readers: How I love the Harry yieaendibd
books and their genius author, J.K. Rowling. I mean LOVE. So I hope this was just a silly little offhand remark Ms. Rowling made to  a New Yorker reporter:

“If Harry really had gone through everything he went through,” she says, “he probably wouldn’t be mentally healthy enough to survive anywhere, would he?”

Um…clearly Ms. Rowling knows better than me (or anyone) what Harry is able to survive. But since he seemed to be so strong and resilient as a youth, I would hope he would  continue to survive and thrive as an adult, despite his difficult (if rewarding) childhood. And since we DO see him seemingly happily married and even a dad at the end of book 7, when does he stop “surviving” mentally?

It’s a ridiculous thing to think about — he’s FICTION, for gosh’ sakes — but the notion niggled me because one of the great things about the Potter books is just how resourceful and strong the kids are — from Neville to Harry to the Weasley clan. They are victimized by all sorts of evil people and non-people. They even lose loved ones. But they don’t let the bastards get them down — or at least, they don’t let the bastards totally get them down, which is,  in itself, a triumph.

Ms. Rowling can do whatever she wants with her characters. But so far, she has allowed them to hold themselves together. As a reader, I am inspired by them. And I hope they live happily-enough ever after. – L.

Harry Potter: Demented at last?

34 Responses to Harry Potter and the The Emotional Health Issue

  1. Matt September 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    He seems to have turned out…..ok….the hair loss makes sense:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZN8QdCq5iM (Harry Potter and the 10 Years Later) very funny!!!

  2. Kelly September 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Well he does go a little nuts in the last book 🙂 But understandably. Not sure why they think it would be a good idea for the main character of a children’s book to have a mental breakdown…

  3. Maegan September 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    I completely agree! The best thing about the book is that the kids, for the most part, are not victims! And kids in real life, for the most part, are not victims, either. Viewing children as resilient is the best thing we can do for them.

  4. Bose in St. Peter MN September 25, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    It’s not fiction at all that children have emerged from the Holocaust, from wars, famine, extreme poverty, fully impacted and yet not disabled.

    I was lucky to grow up fully loved, and also very aware of the struggles my family was up against at times. I got my first jobs (babysitting and delivering newspapers) at 11 and 12, happily, because it felt great to be following in my parents’ footsteps by being resourceful, determined, and optimistic. I was up and out of the house at 5am for 3 years straight, delivering the daily paper, reluctant to take a day off. I was out running my business after school many afternoons (collecting from my customers, providing good customer service, managing my checking account).

    There were no Hogwarts- or Holocaust-level atrocities playing out around me, and plenty of character- and independence-affirming activities. I got stiffed by customers at times, and learned to trust but verify. I figured out how to balance my own checkbook and reconcile statements from my employers, asserting myself as necessary to get errors fixed. When I needed guidance or input from the parents, it was available. But, it was a much greater adventure to take a stab at managing bumps in the road myself and fill them in later.

  5. e September 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    As someone who read the first several books of the series about ten years ago, I think I agree with Ms. Rowling. The problem isn’t the adventures Harry went through in the books, the dark lord, or the relative lack of supervision at Hogwarts. The problem is that from age ~1 to age ~11, he was living with his uncle and aunt, who kept him cooped up in the house and emotionally abused him. Perhaps Rowling didn’t have that in mind in that quote, but such a confined and abusive childhood could very well have that result.

  6. Ken Hagler September 25, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Let’s not forget that the whole point of Harry’s childhood was fulfill Dumbledore’s plan to turn him into a sort of magical suicide bomber. It worked, as he goes forth to die on cue in the last book–it’s just a mistake one of the villains made a few books previously that allows him to survive.

  7. Shayne September 25, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Firstly, I agree completely. Sadly, many adults forget just how resilient children are (or were when they were young). Many times I wonder how my own kids deal with issues that at first thought overwhelm me. Then I recall my own childhood and realize I survived much worse (at least my kids have parents that care deeply and spend time with them, unlike my own).

    Secondly, it saddens me when authors revise the characters they created. JK Rowling, whom I adore as a writer, has done this a few times. First, when she announced Dumbledore was gay and second, by making Harry out to be a weaker person. It makes no sense to the story and only serves to confuse those who not only love the books, but are influenced by the strength of the characters.

    You’re right and it’s her story. But she does owe the buying public some consistency.

  8. Paul Adasiak September 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    I’m with “e” above: From the age of 1 to the age of 11, Harry is raised by relatives who detest him. He is ignored, verbally and physically abused, made to sleep among spiders in a closet under the stairs, and frequently starved. He has no friends, no social activities, no relationships but the one with his aunt, uncle, and spoiled, bullying cousin. He has never felt safe or loved. He has known nothing but abuse and neglect for his entire life.

    He should be a walking bundle of pathology, with personality disorders oozing out his pores. So why is he so normal, even charming?

    To me, this — not all the magic — is is the least believable part of the stories.

  9. Christina September 26, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    I thought the Hunger Games books plausibly dealt with the impact of extreme duress on the young (and adult) psyche. She’s not broken, but she’s definitely not the same.

  10. Yan Seiner September 26, 2012 at 1:34 am #

    OK, it’s a fantasy book! It’s all about overcoming overwhelming odds and coming out strong.

    One of my favorite fantasy stories is mathematical impossibility; the hero *must* die and yet he survives, and goes on to gain a fortune.

    It’s called suspension of disbelief.

    We all want to be Harry; to overcome our shortcomings, succeed, come out a hero, and live a normal life.

    Back in Harry’s world, Dumbledore intentionally places him with the Dursleys so that he has a modest upbringing and has a chance at being “normal”, instead of being an infant hero.

    And now back to reality, one of my favorite reads is the “Tales of Cades Cove”, a compilation of true life stories of life in Cades Cove in the Smokies. Most of the stories are from a child’s prespective (they were collected when the children were adults) and they describe what we would call a hard life; poverty, subsistence existence, hunger, hard work. And yet throughout the book, without exception, the people talk about how happy they were and how they loved their life there.

    Maybe because the kids were treated like adults, given real meaningful work, and not judged, but simply accepted for what they were.

  11. anon September 26, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    As a child I actually was isolated and emotionally abused. I had no friends, no social activities, and no relationships except with abusers.The only thing that let me see glimpses of a normal life was the fact that I was allowed to read. But I managed to end up relatively normal, though a bit socially awkward, live a normal life, and not have a mental breakdown – and I did not get out of that situation until I turned 18. I can completely believe that someone that got out of the situation at 11 learned to be charming and not have a mental breakdown, and end up having a normal life.

  12. ValerieH September 26, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    When I read the Harry Potter series I felt so sorry for Harry’s treatment at home. He has never known love since his parents died. I think the abuse he suffered would create a lot of limitations. Traumas can remain in the subconscious for the rest of our lives. Sometimes they create limiting beliefs about our oneself and the world which prevent one from forming healthy relationships or achieving a desired success.

    But this is not about real life. Harry Potter is a classic Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey. In hero tales, the hero comes from an unusual beginning. Life with the Durseleys certainly qualifies. What a fantastic story!

  13. CrazyCatLady September 26, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    My first thoughts went to people who were raised in awful conditions too, and turned out fine. Maybe not save the free world fine, but happy and successful at what they choose to do in life.

  14. Havva September 26, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    I tend to think that any normal young witch or warlock, would have fallen apart right on the spot. But then the normal kids are the ones in the background being shuffled off to safety by the teachers.

    Harry and friends are exceptionally bold for even getting involved. And I think a little resilience goes hand in hand with bold.

    The comment mostly reminds me of my sense that modern pop psychology has a horrid case of “worst first” thinking. JK Rowling seems to be playing with the standard thought of ‘once a victim always a victim.’ It is common “knowledge” that x horror has y life long trauma, and (of course) anyone who says their experience is otherwise is in denial. So people get afraid to talk about “traumatic” experiences. Rather than accepting as part of the human condition that crap happens, some times horrible crap, and having faith that most people rebound just fine and only need a little time and sympathy… we hide reality, we sweep it away. We create this false image of a perfect upbringing and life as the only way to avoid becoming a traumatized stunted adult. That or lots of therapy.

    Is it any wonder then that parents are so afraid for their children? Sort of seems natural if being supportive in the event of a bad incident isn’t good enough.

    The problem comes into sharp relief when I consider the issue of witnessing a stranger’s violent death. I saw this once when my family was in a car accident. I don’t consider this an astounding fact. Lots of people die in such a way, and usually there are witnesses. The fact that I witnessed, isn’t special, just unfortunate. I have had two other people my own age tell me that they too have witnessed a stranger’s violent death.
    The first gave the most cold technical run down imaginable. And to my questions of this odd account, admitted that her therapist, whom she had been seeing for *years* has her go over the police report at every therapy session.
    The other friend gasped in shock at my mentioning and questioned how I could be that okay. Then spilled forth with his experience. His whole confession made it sound like he felt contaminated by the event, simply for being a witness. He thought it a taboo topic. He had been in therapy for over a decade. He is notably changed by knowing he can just mention this if the urge strikes.

    Now my friends’ experiences were different, and they may have needed more help. But I wonder how much difference come from simply having calm parents who were open and treated this as an unfortunate fact of life event.

  15. Heather September 26, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    @Havva There’s a lot that children will accept if their parents treat it matter of factly. Every parent knows this, from seeing their child start howling only after someone asked if they were ok after a fall.

    It works for setting up routines, it works for arguments (research shows that if kids see the argument resolved, then they cope well with parents arguing. It’s arguments taken upstairs for the sake of the children that really scare them).

    It even works for smacking: the reason older people came to no harm despite being smacked as kids seems to be that if a smack if just part of the range of punishments, openly administered to all kids at some point without parental guilt over the action, then there’s no harm. These days, the taboo means that for many Westerners, smacks are a last resort, parents are at the end of their tether, and kids pick up on the shame of it all.

    Since I’m going to feel the taboo, I’m not opening the door to smacks in my house, but it makes more sense of those groups, like the Amish, who still consider smacking normal.

    Sorry, massive tangent, but I always thought that was interesting research.


  16. Jenny Islander September 26, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    There are a lot of fan-written continuations of the HP series on the Intertubes. (A lot. A LOT. More than 4,000 completed novel-length stories in English alone, and no I am not exaggerating.) There’s a whole category for this kind of musing on Harry’s well-being. Harry Potter and the Post-War Years. Harry Potter and the Rather Amusing Mid-Life Crisis. Harry Potter and the Nasty Case of PTSD. Harry Potter and the Desperate Pretence at Normality. Some are pretty good, actually.

  17. Kenny Felder September 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    One of the things that makes Hogwart’s familiar to anyone who has been through school is that the professors put walls around the kids for their own safety. “Don’t wander the halls at night.” “Never go into the forbidden forest.” And one of the things that makes the books work is that, if Harry stays within those walls, he will not survive: he *has* to continually break through the lines.

    And as someone pointed out already, we don’t need to hypothetically speculate about whether a child can survive unspeakable horrors and grow up sane and healthy. Our parents and grandparents survived the depression, the Holocaust, and so on. Children are *not* as fragile as the popular conception makes them out to be.

  18. Andrew September 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey, leave the Durseleys alone. They did the best job they could. After all if Harry wasn’t locked in that closet, he might have gone out and gotten kidnapped or molested. They even protected him by telling him he couldn’t do anything right. Because if he tried to do something he might fail, and we all know that a child failing at a task might scar him for life.
    Now, Ron’s family should be reported for child neglect! Not only do they let their kids roam unsupervised and allowed them to drink under-aged, but they also shipped them off to a boarding school in a whole other dimension,(which they traveled unaccompanied,I might add), with out first running a background check on the faculty and staff.
    Now, lets look at Hogworts. That school is an insurance nightmare. It has walls and stairs that move,MOVE. Clearly an OSHA and fire code violation. It also has giant snakes and three headed pit bulls roaming the halls.(We all know that pit bulls are a dangerous breed and should never be near schools and children. And whats with Hagrid? A single male who has never been married, doesn’t date,and often lures children to his house to show them a magical creature. Has anyone checked the s.o. data base to see if he’s there? And don’t get me started on Dumledore, “come into my office harry, I want to teach you a secret spell.”,need I say more. A lawyer should get in touch with the Hogworts alumni, I see a class action lawsuit on the way.

  19. Andrew September 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Oh, my niece just reminded my about the ghost that hangs out in the girl’s rest room. I assured her that the since the ghost is female and all sex offenders are male, it’s probably okay.
    Yes, I have way too much time on my hands.

  20. Emily September 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Andrew, you’re funny. Have you considered a career in stand-up comedy?

  21. Jenna September 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Huh. I always just thought that adversity makes us stronger. That’s why we like reading books about characters like this…they make great role models that depict that we can take weaknesses and turn them to strengths and also make the best out of what we’ve been given. Sad that the author of the book doesn’t even believe that.

  22. Jenna September 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    And Andrew–That was an awesome assessment of the books. I think I’ll share that one with my husband.

  23. oncefallendotcom September 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    OMG, don’t let your kiddos watch Anime shows like YuGiOh or Digimon or Pokemon, all those shows are full of kids and teens having adventures by themselves with little to no adult interaction. We wouldn’t want the future sheeple of America to get any crazy ideas in their heads.

  24. hineata September 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Love the school in the movies – all that dark panelled wood. Always fancied myself enjoying attending one of those old-fashioned English boarding schools, and that;s really what Harry Potter is all about – a boarding school story with magic thrown in!

    The trauma thing is interesting. My grandfather was in the trenches at the Somme, and survived Passenchdale, though survived is a relative term. And he was not alone in finding the rest of his life quite difficult, though he did go on, some twenty-odd years after the fact, to start a family and live a relatively normal life. Those old vets seemed to cope by not talking about it – what was the point? But a fair bit of child abuse in NZ (and probably other Commonwealth nations) stems back to these ‘survivors’. Ten percent of the entire population went to war, and one percent were killed, 2.7 percent maimed for life, and the remaining were usually, like my grandfather, shellshocked. He had days when he would take himself down to a shed he’d built in the back garden and lock himself in, and the family would feed him through a hole in the bottom of the door. He still woke up screaming on a regular basis until he died, some sixty years later.

    Maybe a therapist might have been helpful, who knows? They didn’t exist then. And stubborn old buggers like Grandad wouldn’t have gone to them anyway. You were supposed to man up and take things. And so they mostly did. And most of them went on to raise families etc. But it wasn’t plain sailing.

    Not sure what relevance this has to anything, have just been thinking about it in relation to my study (WW1 shaped the country in many ways, which may explain our dark sense of humour!). Just not sure all forms of trauma are completely overcomeable (if that’s a word!)

  25. Andy September 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Children (and adults) that have emerged from the Holocaust had quite impressive issues. It was not something you would easily recover from.

    They suffered from PTSD, anxiety, they felt guilty for being alive, identified with the dead and so on. They had trust issues, horded food, used to withdraw from families (their own children) or have been overprotective and so on. The thing was called “Konzentration Lager syndrome” back then.

    Some of these traits (anxiety, sleep problems, emotional distress) remained with them for the rest of their lives. Some (e.g. anxiety) have been passed to their own children – in bigger rates than general population.

    The same is case for war children in Africa. They grow unstable and violent much more often than normal kids. I’m too lazy to look it up right now, I used to read up about holocaust but not about those other issues.

    Surviving holocaust, being war kid that used to cut other kids hands off and so on are not easy things to deal with even if you are resilient.

  26. B. Durbin September 27, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    I’ve read a lot from people from dysfunctional family situations, from emotional neglect to outright abuse, physical and otherwise. And, like any group of people, they have varying reactions to the trauma. Some simply have to have a reorientation of reality—once they find out that their family situation is not only not normal but sub-par, they can re-adjust their pre-conceptions and live mostly normally, in defiance of their upbringing. Some need years of therapy to cope with what their families did to them.

    Harry Potter mostly falls into the first category—he’s aware that he’s not treated like he should be, so he hasn’t seemed to internalize the image of himself as a bad kid. But it’s obvious that he’s got trust issues, particularly when it comes to adults, and he’s got some (justifiable) anger issues too. Really, though, he’s got a good enough support system that he adjusts pretty well. I don’t buy that he’s a perpetual victim. He found his balance.

  27. Greg September 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Maybe she was referring to Daniel Radcliffe, who ended up something of an alcoholic after movie series ended.

    He’s cleaned up, now, I hear.

    Harry seemed fine by the end of the series, however.

  28. Mike September 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I love JK, but I think she’s wrong on this. I’ve met people who survied the Holocaust when they were children and turned out just fine.

  29. Sarah September 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    YouTube:http://youtu.be/BlIrmHOfeA8 An analogy of Harry Potter as a patient in a mental hospital.

  30. pentamom September 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    It’s not all or nothing. Would someone spending the first 17 (and particularly the 2nd through 11th) years of his life as Harry did be unscathed?

    Of course not.

    Would he necessarily be “unable to survive anywhere?”

    That’s silly. Not every person who survives abuse and the horrors of war in childhood winds up dead or institutionalized. There are millions of people walking the earth today who give the lie to Ms. Rowling’s lack of perspective. Perhaps at the root of this kind of thinking is the idea that emotional damage is not merely unfortunate and difficult, but wholly intolerable. People who experience horrors are not merely victims, but must be defined by victimhood.

  31. Jynet September 28, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    I think the thing that helps most people survive ‘impossible’ things (usually less impossible than Harry’s things, lol), is when thier actions produce better things for themselves and others around them.

    When you believe that how you act makes your situation, or the world a better place you have a surprising ability to survive and even thrive.

  32. AW13 September 28, 2012 at 2:50 am #

    Andrew, that was hilarious. I was snickering up until your description of Hagrid, at which point I laughed so hard that I snorted. Well done!

    So much of how a child reacts to something is linked to how they view their parents (and other adults) reacting to things. And I think that pentamom makes a great point: emotional damage, while not desirable, does not immediately prevent a person from being able to participate in society.

  33. sylvia_rachel October 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    What pentamom said.

    I would expect Harry (and his friends who went through all the crazy with him) to have some issues — and we see in the books that he does have issues as a result of a decade of the Dursleys. But I wouldn’t expect him to totally decompensate and become a gibbering wreck. Many people survive horrible experiences, process them, and go on with life and are ultimately fine. Of course some people don’t, which is one reason child abuse tends to run in families. There are some things that some people never get over. But everyone’s different — different people can experience the same events and circumstances in sometimes radically different ways.

    @Andrew, LOL! 😀

  34. Virginia October 2, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    Come on, people, let’s give Jo R. a break! She wasn’t making a grand pronouncement. She was simply acknowledging that in real life, traumatic events leave emotional scars that authors aren’t required to acknowledge in fiction. ITA with those who have pointed out that spending 11 of his first 12 years with the Dursleys — who, in the books, are simply comically nasty, but who in real life would be monsters — would almost certainly lead to far more severe emotional problems than Harry displays in the book.