Welcome to Muggles and Mocha! Today, we’re covering Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!
In this chapter, Harry is traveling back to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express. But this trip is particularly eventful because he’s confronted by one of the most terrifying creatures in the Harry Potter universe: a Dementor, one of the guards of Azkaban. Today, we’re going to focus in on these creatures and learn as much about them as we can.
In my opinion, Dementors are some of the most fearsome creatures we encounter in the Wizarding world. But what ARE they? Where did they come from? Read on, because we’ll be discussing all of that today!
We’ll also talk about J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Dementors and what they represented for her when she wrote about them—depression. Because of that, I want to give a trigger warning here: We will be talking about depression and mental health in this article, so if that’s something you’d rather avoid, I completely understand!
Before we get started, though, we have our video! We discuss Harry and the gang’s trip back to school, including information about Remus Lupin and the Dementor attack. As always, there are spoilers beyond this point in the article and video.
Let’s begin by discussing Dementors in general.
This chapter is the first time we’ve seen them, and it’s not pretty. Dementors are tall—around ten feet tall—hooded figures with rotting, scabby hands. They take deep, rattling breaths, and as they breathe in, they suck the happiness from those around them, leaving them with nothing but despair. While they incapacitate their victims with this hopelessness and fear, their ultimate weapon is the Dementor’s Kiss. With this “kiss,” they suck the soul out of their victims, leaving them in a vegetative state, an empty shell.
Here’s what Prisoner of Azkaban says about them:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Honestly, these descriptions were difficult to read and type because I believe the effects of Dementors, and especially the Dementor’s Kiss, make up the worst fate we learn of in the Wizarding world.
Dementors guard the wizard prison, Azkaban, and before Sirius Black, no one had ever escaped from that awful place. From what we learn in the books, these creatures seem to at least be semi-sentient. They can follow orders, but they can also decide to act of their own accord. We see them change allegiance to Voldemort’s side later in the series, which means they are capable of independent thought. They are also able to somehow communicate with humans; in this book, we learn they reported about Sirius Black muttering, “He’s at Hogwarts.” Humans don’t usually go to Azkaban except as prisoners, so we have to assume the Dementors are the ones who reported this to the Ministry.
But what are these beings, really? And where did they come from?
To start, Dementors are amortal beings. If you saw my video on Peeves the Poltergeist, you may remember that poltergeists are also amortal, rather than immortal. Here’s a quick definition of what it means to be an amortal being according to the Harry Potter Fandom website:
“Amortality was the condition of never having died and being unable to die, as an amortal entity was never ‘alive’ to begin with. As amortality referred to entities that were never alive from the beginning, it was different from ‘immortality,’ which described a living being who was unable to die.”
So, like poltergeists, Dementors are beings that aren’t killed but, rather, banished, held at bay, or purged from a place. We see this in action through the Patronus Charm, which is one of the only known defenses against these creatures.
As a matter of fact, I found a lot of connections between poltergeists and Dementors in my research. Poltergeists are born out of chaotic energy. For instance, if a place contains a lot of chaos—such as a castle full of angsty teens—a poltergeist could manifest from that energy. Similarly, Dementors manifest from places where there is death, despair, and decay, in every sense of the word. From what I’ve read, “They [Dementors] are genderless and don’t mate, they grow like fungus where there is decay.” There’s a bit of controversy on the topic of Dementor breeding (a sentence I never imagined I’d write, ha!) because, in Half-Blood Prince, Cornelius Fudge mentions there’s fog and mist because the Dementors are “breeding,” implying that they mate. However, I believe Fudge is simply expressing that the Dementors are multiplying in a way the Muggle Prime Minister could understand. Personally, I can’t imagine him saying, “This fog is a result of Dementors manifesting.” And knowing Fudge, he might not even understand where Dementors truly come from.
And speaking of where Dementors come from…
The Origin of Dementors
Regarding this subject, I highly suggest you check out this article from Wizarding World’s website all about the origins of Azkaban. Azkaban was made from a fortress owned by an evil wizard named Ekrizdis. Apparently, he lured Muggle sailors to his island and tortured and killed them in the fortress—horrible stuff. The Ministry of Magic discovered this place after Ekrizdis was long dead, and they found it infested with Dementors. These creatures had manifested from the death and despair present in this place, and there were thousands of them. This fortress was claimed by the Ministry, and it was decided it would be used as a prison with the Dementors as guards, a controversial decision. This way, the wizards could have free guards that made it nearly impossible for the prisoners to escape and the Dementors had a constant food supply. Ew.
Again, I highly suggest checking out Wizarding World’s article on Azkaban—it’s beyond fascinating!
That’s the majority of what we know about Dementors in the Wizarding World. But I also want to take a step back and look at the details behind the creation of Dementors—the author’s thoughts on the subject.
The Inspiration for Dementors
Writers often take their own experiences and incorporate them into the world or characters they’re writing about. After all, we’re individually and uniquely affected by the world around us, so little pieces of us are left on our creations. But that’s what’s so lovely about writing and books—each book is a unique gift from the author to the world with bits of their own lives embedded into the masterpiece. That’s why I find the inspiration behind Dementors so interesting; they are based on feelings that Rowling—and many, many others—can relate to.
Here’s what Rowling specifically said about Dementors in an interview in 2000, just before Goblet of Fire was set to be released:
“I do not think that these are just characters. I think they are a description of depression. ‘Yes. That is exactly what they are,’ she [Rowling] says. ‘It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced.’
What does she mean?
‘It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.’”
The connections between the Dementors in Harry Potter and our very own Dementors (depression) are pretty clear when we take a closer look.
Consider the emotional symptoms commonly associated with depression—hopelessness, emptiness, extreme sadness, despair, helplessness. These are words we’ve seen associated with Dementors as well, and as we’ve learned, this is no coincidence. Likewise, these emotional symptoms cause physical symptoms as well—exhaustion, feeling weak, clammy skin, nausea, increased heart rate, and a lack of energy. With these symptoms in mind, let’s consider Harry’s first encounter with a Dementor in Chapter 5.
First, he feels an intense cold deep within his chest that feels like it’s drowning him. True to its name, heartache and the emotions that accompany it settle right in the chest. There have been moments of suffering when I pressed my hands against my chest hard, almost trying to push away the pain that was there. I believe this was the feeling Rowling wanted to capture with this description of Dementors. Then, Harry experiences his worst memory, a subconscious one—his parents being killed. He hears his mother’s screams as all of the positive, happy energy is taken from him. He passes out, and once he wakes up, he’s weak, shaky, and clammy.
All of these symptoms match up with what we’ve discussed so far about depression.
One of the most beautiful ideas in the book series is the concept behind the Patronus Charm, the defense against Dementors. We’ll focus on that charm in detail later in the book, but I want to go ahead and mention it now as well. A Patronus is produced by focusing on a happy memory and using it to power the Patronus Charm. I found this quote about the happy memories Harry uses with this charm very powerful:
“But Harry took matters into his own hands, seeking help from Professor Lupin in mastering the Patronus charm, so that he may ward off the Dementors by summoning his happiest memories. Touchingly, they most often featured Ron and Hermione, whose friendship saved him in so many ways. And by learning this notoriously difficult charm, Harry was able to save many of his nearest and dearest, too.”
Each witch and wizard we see use a Patronus Charm in the books most likely has various types of memories and thoughts in mind, but I find Harry’s chosen memories particularly relevant to our conversation today. When experiencing the feelings that accompany depression (or Dementors), it’s easy and comfortable to want to fight them alone, for various reasons. But often, the people we love give us strength. For many of us, this could be the strength we need during times like these. Also, sharing burdens makes the loads we carry lighter. It’s significant that Harry’s memories are about his friends because it shows us he depended on them to strengthen him when times were hard, even during moments when they weren’t there.
As I said, we’ll discuss the Patronus Charm later as well, but these are just some introductory thoughts about how it plays into the inspiration for Dementors.
Regarding defenses against dementors, there’s also chocolate. This image brings back some fond memories for me as a kid. I would pretend I had survived a Dementor attack and use it as an excuse to eat a Cosmic Brownie. Those were the days… But really, we know the power chocolate has, especially when it comes to our mood. This is what Rowling said about it when discussing dementors:
“The mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the Muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings.
Chocolate can only be a short-term remedy, however. Finding ways to fight off Dementors – or depression – are essential if one is to become permanently happier. Excessive chocolate consumption cannot benefit either Muggle or wizard.”
Honestly, I had never truly made the connection between Dementors and depression until very recently. I think that’s something that happens when you read things as a child—the deeper symbolism can go right over your head until you look at it in a new light.
I do want to end on a little side note: Depression is something countless people deal with in their lifetime. If you’re suffering with it now, I want to begin by saying I’m sorry, and I hurt with you. Seeking out help and treatment can be beyond intimidating and scary—just like producing a Patronus Charm. But in all seriousness, if you’re searching for next steps, I suggest checking out this article. It has resources and information you may find interesting and helpful for your journey. In the end, know this—you’re not alone. It’s cliché, but true. I’m rooting for you!
This was a bit of a heavier note than usual to end on, but hopefully, it’s full of hope as well!
Thanks for joining us today for this discussion, and if you have any thoughts to add, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Next week, we’ll meet Professor Trelawney in Chapter 6 and talk a little bit about the Grim.
I hope you can join us.
Have a good week, everyone!
Disclaimer: I do not own any element of the Harry Potter series.