Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic/Boggart

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
Boggart
Type Creature
Features Shapeshifting
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Overview[edit]

A boggart is a shapeshifter that usually lurks in dark spaces. It has no definite form, taking the shape of that which is most feared by the person who encounters it. When not in the sight of a person, it is believed to look like a dark blob.

Extended Description[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

To repel or destroy a boggart, it must be laughed at. The spell Riddikulus can be cast to force the boggart to assume a generally amusing shape of what the caster mentally conceives.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Boggart appears three times.

  • In Professor Lupin's Defence Against the Dark Arts class, we are introduced to the Boggart and his characteristics, and the fact that this allows us to see people's deepest fears; this also allows us a comical jab at Professor Snape, as Neville produces a simulacrum of Snape dressed in his grandmother's favorite outfit. Lupin does prevent Harry from triggering the Boggart's defence mechanism, which Harry feels is unfair; but Lupin later explains this as being done to prevent a simulacrum of Lord Voldemort from appearing in front of the class. This in particular shows that Lupin is much more aware of the class and its needs and concerns than any of the other Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers that have preceded him in the series.
  • Later, Lupin uses a second Boggart to train Harry in the use of the Patronus charm and its use against Dementors.
  • Either this same Boggart, or a third one, is then used in the final exam for Defence Against the Dark Arts. In this, we see Hermione's insecurity about her grades – her greatest fear is revealed to be "Professor McGonagall – she said I failed everything!" And apparently this is such a great fear that she is unable to invoke Riddikulus against it.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry encounters a Boggart in the final task of the Triwizard Tournament. It takes the form of a Dementor upon seeing Harry.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a Boggart is discovered in a desk in the Headquarters of the Order. It is identified by Alastor Moody using his magical eye, whereupon Mrs. Weasley goes to eliminate it. Ultimately she is unable to, and Remus Lupin, possibly alerted by Mad-Eye Moody, arrives to vanquish it and rescue her.

Analysis[edit]

The Boggart has two main purposes in the series: one is to reveal characters' deepest fears, as the Mirror Erised reveals their deepest desires; the other is to give Harry a "dementor" that he can battle, without risking having his soul sucked out. The latter is the most important, as Harry will be called upon to fight Dementors, and must somehow be prepared for that struggle; but their ability to show the greatest fears of the characters will prove useful as well.

The appearance of the Boggart in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is particularly interesting, not for the fact of the Boggart, but for the illumination it provides. This episode allows Harry to see what Mrs. Weasley's greatest fears are: that her family, or Harry himself, might end up dead. Naturally, Harry is surprised to see that his well-being is so important to Mrs. Weasley, though he does not comment on it at the time. His thoughts are more about his recent upset at having been passed over for Prefectship, and the realization of just how trivial that was relative to the other possible outcomes for the next few years. The author does not explicitly show us the effect this revelation has on Harry in the long term, but it would be safe to say that Harry is heartened by the discovery that there is someone in the world who cares so much about him.

It is somewhat illuminating to note the form Boggarts take when confronted with specific characters in the story. For Ron, a confirmed arachnophobe, it is an Acromantula. Hermione is confronted with the spectre of failing all her courses. Harry, as mentioned, is forced to deal with a Dementor, while Neville faces Professor Snape, and Mrs. Weasley sees, in succession, the death of all her family members and Harry. The Boggart taking the shape of an animated, severed hand for Seamus Finnigan tells us little, but it taking the shape of a full moon when confronted by Lupin would tell us a great deal, if we recognized it as a full moon. It can be interesting to speculate on what other characters would see; Ginny, following the events in the Chamber of Secrets the previous year, might be expected to see herself as a puppet, or to see a puppet master; Fred and George, we suspect, would each see the other, dead, though it is uncertain if a Boggart would ever find one of them alone; and it is a safe assumption that Voldemort would see his own lifeless body.

In connection with this, we note the apparent mindlessness of the Boggart's response. Specifically when confronted by Lupin, the Boggart becomes a small, and pointless, simulacrum of the full moon. It does not change even when Lupin casually brushes it aside, indicating an unawareness that its understanding of Lupin's deepest fear is deeply flawed. This indicates that the Boggart's response is automatic, rather than reasoned, and that the lack of a fear response by the target of the Boggart's illusion is not something that the Boggart can react to.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

  1. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin says "Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone," yet in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Alastor Moody is able to identify it immediately, before it is released from the desk. What did Moody see with his magical eye?
  2. Why does a boggart have the full effect on Harry when it turns into a Dementor but it does not make Lupin a werewolf when it turns into a full moon?
  3. What parallels can be drawn between the effects of boggarts and the Mirror of Erised?
  4. Our immediate suspicion is that Voldemort, confronted by a boggart, would see his own corpse. Are there other images that could be presented? Support your answer.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

There is some conflicting information about the effects of Boggarts. In particular, the Boggart-as-Dementor that Harry is using to learn the Patronus charm affects him exactly as the true Dementors do, weakening him and allowing him to hear his mother's and father's final minutes. Yet the boggart-as-full-moon that appears in Lupin's Defence Against the Dark Arts class, and the similar effect occurring when Lupin confronts the Boggart in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, do not cause him to turn into a werewolf.

Uncharacteristically, when Harry encounters the Boggart-as-Dementor in the maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he recognizes it as a Boggart because it trips over its own robes. This is a very uncharacteristic revelation, not something we would expect of a Boggart, and can only be explained by our later understanding that the false Alastor Moody was watching Harry's progress through the maze and eliminating obstacles. Likely he could not eliminate the Boggart, and so made it clumsy to tip Harry off.