“Potterversity” Episode 41: “Terror and Trauma”

Harry Potter may not technically be considered a work of horror, but there are plenty of horrifying aspects to explore in this episode.



Katy and Emily speak with Dr. Jeff Ambrose about the scariest parts of the series and the lasting effects horrific events have on characters (and readers and viewers). The series has its fair share of monsters, torture, murder, and soul-sucking, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire bringing in such terrors as Death Eaters, Unforgivable Curses, and a gruesome graveyard resurrection. Horror as a genre traffics in trauma, which is bound to result from the characters’ experiences.

Emotion is closely tied to magic in Potter, so manifestations of trauma in the series come not only in the forms of Thestrals, Dementors, and boggarts but also in Harry’s role as a Horcrux, literally carrying past trauma within him, and in what Harry represents to Snape. While trauma can certainly be tied to personal identity, Jeff disagrees with the idea that it erodes characters’ personalities, pointing to how Harry manages to function despite his traumatic past and how characters have different responses to their trauma.

Although the wizarding world and Hogwarts provide safe spaces for Harry, they are also full of dangerous and scary things: the shadow of a villain so frightening that people still fear to speak his name a decade later, a poltergeist, the ghost of a murdered student, a restricted section in the library, and the need to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts.

While Harry Potter does contain a great deal of darkness, it also shows us how to overcome it. Trauma can cause characters to make mistakes, like how Dumbledore keeps secrets and Snape harbors resentment, but Harry finds a community of support, and Hagrid shows love to all kinds of creatures.

What scenes in Harry Potter scare you the most? We’d love to hear from you! Send us an email at PotterversityPodcast@gmail.com, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.