Mentoring Through the Madness: How Lupin Helps Harry Even When He’s Hurting
In honor of National Mentoring Month, I wanted to write about Remus Lupin, who acts as a mentor to Harry throughout his time at Hogwarts, even when he is struggling with his own issues. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry has been fighting unsuccessfully against the Dementors and he asks Lupin to teach him how to perform a Patronus Charm. Lupin responds by saying, “I don’t pretend to be an expert at fighting dementors, Harry… quite the contrary” (PoA 189) Even so, Lupin still agrees to help Harry learn the spell.
Knowing Lupin’s background, it is not hard to understand why he might struggle with the Patronus Charm. Lupin was bitten by a werewolf at the age of five and has had to carry the stigma and secrecy that come with that attack with him ever since. At this point in the series, he also believes that two of his best friends are dead and that the other has gone over to Lord Voldemort. There are certainly a lot of bad memories there for the Dementors to prey on.
Yet even though Lupin knows that he’s no expert and that he has a long way to go to heal from the traumas of his past, he still reaches out a hand to help someone who is even more vulnerable and lost than he is. Lupin’s own struggle with the Dementors is in fact what makes him such a good teacher. He knows how difficult they are to fight, and therefore is able to sympathize with Harry, to celebrate each of his small steps, and to provide him with chocolate when the fighting gets to be too much.
As a result, even though Lupin does not see himself as an expert with Patronuses, Harry does. Three years later, when Harry is wondering why Tonks’s Patronus has changed forms, he thinks to himself, “Who better to ask than Lupin, the man who knew all about Patronuses” (HBP 340). Harry comes to Lupin with questions, and amazingly, through asking these questions, Lupin himself is able to grow more, to become stronger, to love more deeply. Through being a mentor, Lupin is not just giving to Harry but also receiving. In the third book, we see Harry help Lupin gain information that allows him to repair his friendship with Sirius, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry helps Lupin realize how much Tonks loves him. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this mentoring relationship switches, with Harry telling Lupin to return to his wife and unborn child. Through loving and supporting Harry, Harry helps Lupin open up to love in return, which gives Lupin greater power in fighting the Dementors.
It is well known that the Dementors in the Potter universe are a metaphor for depression. I recently started teaching a group of teenage girls strategies for coping with negative emotions and improving happiness. I felt like a fraud talking to the girls about positivity and resilience when I myself struggled every day to implement the very strategies I was teaching. Luckily, I happened to be reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and saw Lupin say, “I don’t pretend to be an expert at fighting dementors, Harry… quite the contrary” (PoA 189). This line made me realize that I did not need to be an expert to help other people. In fact, my own struggles might make me better equipped to assist others because I could relate to their pain and would be open to learning from them. When talking about mental health, people often say that it is important to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting the person next to you. Although I agree that this is true, I think that helping others sometimes helps yourself. Remus Lupin proved to me that I do not need to have conquered all my demons in order to be an effective mentor.