Why Is a Dementor Like an Ice Pick?
Content note: This article contains a brief description of a neurosurgical procedure and a rather more in-depth description of the effects of depression. Proceed with caution.
The metaphorical interpretation of Dementors embodying depression is pretty well established by now, but I had something of a realization upon rereading the series recently, and that is that there is a rather eery similarity between the Dementor’s Kiss and the more severe effects of a lobotomy.
For those of you who may not know, a lobotomy is a very outdated neurosurgical procedure in which the surgeon would use a small tool (in some cases something very much like an ice pick) to disconnect certain sections in the frontal lobe of the brain. A very prominent side effect of the lobotomy was the loss of the patient’s personality and vitality, and in Prisoner of Azkaban, Lupin explains to Harry that the Dementor’s Kiss means “you’ll have no sense of self anymore” (PoA 12).
Incidentally, lobotomies were used as a means of “treatment” for mental illnesses, including depression – the very mental state that Dementors are analogous to. There’s something to be said for the fact that the Dementor’s Kiss is very much shown to be an undesirable outcome, and that the most effective way to fight off Dementors means something different to each individual. The subsequent consumption of chocolate, of course, is a means of self-care.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think this particular parallel was intentional on J.K. Rowling’s part. I think her idea behind the Dementor’s Kiss is probably when depression takes such a firm hold on you that you forget who you are and no longer enjoy the things you used to take pleasure in. You just lie listlessly on the floor, too existentially exhausted to do anything else. I think the empty husk of the body left behind after the Kiss is supposed to symbolize the sense of hollowness and apathy that consumes you when the depression becomes too much.
However, part of the beauty of literature is when things are open to the reader’s interpretation, and in this case, there seems to be some allowance for ambiguity. Morbid as it is, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought about this, and I’d be interested to see if there are any other interpretations out there. Feel free to share, if you feel comfortable doing so.
And remember: Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.