Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why did Harry Potter's "boggart" effect him like a "dementor?" (Parshat Beshalach)

I'm starting to develop and write a new thought on Harry Potter and Torah that relates to the Torah portion of Beshalach, which is read this year on Shabbat Feb 3, 2007. This doesn't appear in Harry Potter and Torah, I'm just thinking out the idea as I write it up now. But it's similar in style to chapters in the book.

I'd like to start with a question from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the 3rd book and movie):

Why did Harry Potter's "boggart" effect him like a "dementor?"

As background to the question, "boggarts" and "dementors" are both fictional magical creatures from the Harry Potter stories. Each one has magical powers that we learn about in the 3rd book.

Dementors are introduced in chapter ten, as Professor Lupin explains to Harry: "Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth... they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air... get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you... you'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life...."

Boggarts are introduced in seven, as Hermione answers in Defense class: "(A boggart) is a shape-shifter... It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most." As the story continues, the boggart proceeds to take the forms of whatever will most frighten the student closest to it. When Harry Potter faces a boggart in chapter twelve, it takes the form of a dementor, and, as dementors do, it causes Harry to relive the worst experiences of his life.

But this brings us to a question: Boggarts only take the form of whatever will frighten us, they don't actually become those things. The boggart facing the defense class didn't actually become Neville's grandmother or a mummy, it just looked exactly like them. So when Harry faces the boggart that looks like a dementor, why should it effect him like a dementor does?
Believe it or not, we can see a perspective on this question from the Torah. Obviously beggarts and dementors aren't real, but the Torah does talk about things that are analogous to shape-shifting creatures in Harry Potter. I think we're going to find a disagreement between the Chiddushei HaRim and the Chida on the subject, but I'm still researching it. I'll start writing about it early next week. For now I'll just give you a hint -- it's related to the Torah portion of Beshalach, not this Shabbat's parsha but next Shabbat's parsha.

If you're reading this on the web and haven't subscribed to the blog, just click on the subscribe link to receive blog updates by e-mail. That way you won't miss each message as this idea is developed.

I hope everyone has a good Shabbos and a fun weekend.

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