Consider the Dementor: Harry Potter and the Construction of the Anthropocentric Villain
In his 2004 essay “Consider the Lobster,” David Foster Wallace investigated the ethics of boiling alive an aesthetically unappealing, yet sentient and perceiving, creature to augment the pleasure of a human consumer. In the Potterverse, dementors are described by our human heroes as “terrible things” with “rotting” bodies, “unseen” mouths, and characterized as “among the foulest creatures that walk this earth.” Their occupation as guards of Azkaban Prison does little to improve their reputation among wizard-kind. However, how much of the dementors’ evil is ontological? Is it possible that these beings have been actively constructed as villains by wizarding institutions in order to provide a non-human bogeyman for disciplinary purposes? This talk proposes to employ posthuman and transhuman discourse to attempt a recuperation of the dementor. Lurking beneath and at the edges of the books’ representation of dementors are clues about their chosen habitats and habits that suggest wizards have manipulated their existence in order to weaponize them. Dementors prefer “decay and despair,” and the “darkest, filthiest places.” Though unpleasant, this classification suggests that left to their own devices, dementors would self-segregate from most public spaces, and join the ranks of other largely avoided chaotic-evil beings in the wizarding world like redcaps and hinkypunks. However, dementors are enlisted as prison guards and assigned the task of punishing wizard lawbreakers. Therefore, their food supply and mating capacity is strictly regulated by wizards, and there are textual suggestions that they are being starved in order to increase their drive to hunt and feed off of wizards. By close reading the reviled dementor, this talk hopes to open up a wider discussion of wizarding disciplinary techniques, and explore how other hierarchies in the Potterverse are established and maintained.