Feelings Behind the Flick: On Emotion and Magic
What does a Patronus look like?” said Harry curiously.
“Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it.”
“And how do you conjure it?”
“With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.”
-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Often times, I think that when people think of magic they think simple. Some old guy with a beard longer than the line for the restroom at Disneyland snaps his fingers and POOF! The impossible happens. It’s the mumble of words. The snap of a finger. A wave of the wand. And BAM! Instant voodoo. It’s just doing that right thing, saying those right words at the right time, and that’s that… right?
Pre-Potter, I would have confidently agreed with this. Everything I’d ever really seen or read about involving magic had seemed so calculated; take the way dueling would usually work, for instance. The first spell would be cast, and something would happen. Then another spell and a reaction. And another. And then one more. And back and forth this would go until someone gave up, died, or won.
But magic really isn’t just a simple “swish and flick” as Professor Flitwick so elegantly put it. There are simple spells like the Wand-Lighting Charm and the Wand-Extinguishing Charm, of course, but we shouldn’t forget that emotions play an important part in the successful execution of many incantations, like the Patronus Charm.
I’m sure we all remember Harry’s numerous failed attempts at producing a Patronus during the scene with Lupin and the boggart. Harry was unsuccessful in his first tries because of his inability to become emotionally in-tune with a memory that filled him with happiness, an emotion that, for Harry, was extremely hard to call on due to his tremendous misfortune. But after “rack[ing] his brains,” Harry wholeheartedly remembers his feelings of true happiness after realizing he would be leaving the Dursleys’ for Hogwarts, and victory is his.
I find it very interesting to note here that we see Hermione struggle a bit with casting the Patronus Charm in Deathly Hallows – Harry tells Mrs. Cattermole, “It’s the only spell she ever has trouble with…” Now, why would Hermione – brightest witch of her age – be the one out of the trio to have problems with this spell? You guessed it. Hermione tends to approach things logically, and the Patronus Charm is a kind of magic that just doesn’t work this way.
Another example of this is Legilimency. The art of Legilimency, similar to mind-reading in that it allows the caster the ability to extract emotions and memories from another’s mind, and its opposite Occlumency (to close off one’s mind), are extraordinarily emotion-based, as Order of the Phoenix teaches us. Snape tells Harry he must “empty [him]self of emotion!” during his Occlumency lessons if he wants to evade infiltration from the Dark Lord. Something else he mentions is that those who cannot control their emotions allow themselves to be provoked easily and are “weak”; in other words, the success of Legilimency, and in turn Occlumency, is based on the emotional capacity of the witch or wizard.
This explains why Harry appears to have no control over Snape’s penetration of his mind during lessons; Harry’s discomfort and dislike for Snape leave him unable to control his emotions and therefore unable to defend himself against the constant attacks (it doesn’t help that Snape continues to taunt Harry during the exercises). And vice versa, of course, Snape’s grudge against the son of his school bully leaves him open to Harry’s retaliation when things get heated.
The last example – and my favorite when explaining why I think magic is so much more of an emotional thing than many people think – involves the Cruciatus Curse. We actually learn this lesson from Bellatrix (who would’ve thought?!), and it helps to drive home the significance of one’s emotional state when using magic.
When Harry yells “Crucio” and casts the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix just after Sirius falls through the veil in Order of the Phoenix, I completely expected – through teary eyes – to see justice being served. What we got instead was far from justice. Bellatrix, barely fazed by the attack, says, “Never used an Unforgiveable Curse before, have you, boy? … You need mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain – to enjoy it…” Again, an instance of a failed spell with a correlation to one’s emotional state.
And there you have it. Three of what I believe to be the best examples of why magic is much more complex than a simple, calculated gesture. Your thoughts?