“The Uncanny” and Boggarts

Everyone’s scared of something, and some things vary in their fright factor. This is where Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” comes in. We learn about how fear is relative and depends not only on the individual, but the source of fear. The uncanny is essentially the opposite of aesthetics, described as “undoubtedly related to what is frightening- to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general” (825). Here we see that the term is vague, but is generally understandable as something not pleasing to view and induces some kind of negative emotion related to fear.

Next comes the boggart from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love the Harry Potter series, so I was naturally excited to apply the uncanny to this book. The boggart is a creature that changes its shape to whatever the viewer is most scared of. Professor Lupin further explains, “Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears” (133). The condition is that the boggart will turn into something that the viewer is likely most scared of. This relates to the different levels of the uncanny, as explained by Freud when he writes, “people vary so very greatly in their sensitivity to the quality of this feeling” (825).

What I find interesting about the uncanny in this scene is the restriction that comes with it. The boggart seems to be able to only take on the fear of one person. That means what appears uncanny to one individual won’t have the same effect on another. This is pointed out by Lupin, saying, “He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake- tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into a half a slug. Not remotely frightening” (134). The boggart’s failure was in the dilemma it had at attempting to become as uncanny as possible to more than one person. Perhaps if someone was deathly afraid of slugs, the boggart could have succeeded in that instance, but alas.

What’s more, the spell the students use is further related to aesthetics. Evidently, as Freud tells us, “aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling” (824). The Ridikkulus spell changes the shape of the boggart. “What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing” (134) Lupin tells us. The boggart is donned in something that is more pleasing to the eye, effectively canceling the uncanny effect or emotions that arise from its initial form. Where the uncanny is a negative form of aesthetics, the change is positive. While the spell doesn’t necessarily apply a beautiful aspect to a boggart, it cancels the scariness of it out.

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