These days the Lord of the Rings trilogy is what’s hot and with good reason. Tolkien’s world is richly drawn and philosophically based. I haven’t heard anyone mention Harry Potter in months. But, no matter how overshadowed the Harry Potter books are by the giant trilogy, they still have many things to offer us in the psychological realm. Aimed at a young audience, the Harry Potter books are more simply stated which makes them more accessible. In addition, where Tolkien focuses broadly, embedding individual psychological development in the context of a larger, international and, perhaps, world-wide context, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, stays more focused on individual psyches and the relationships formed around those individuals. Most people can easily see the characters known as dementors as personifications of the feelings of depression. The Bogart represents those personal internal fears which inhabit us all and training is provided in ways to deal with such fearsome creatures. The list can go on, however, my current favorite is Dobby the House-Elf.
A House-Elf, for those of you who have neglected your Harry reading, is a small elf-like creature who works for others generally the rich and the powerful. A House-Elf does what he or she is told, is paid nothing, and is generally ill-housed, ill-fed, and shabby. Further, the House-Elf is never, never to say or do anything that would insult his or her master or that would go against the wishes and best interests of said master. This is truly a state of slavery, and political commentary is offered, especially by the character Hermione, on this topic. I will let Hermione take care of that aspect of the story, since she is doing quite a nice job of it.
The part I would like to address has to do with the personal assistance Dobby the House-Elf has given to me. As mentioned, the House-Elf is required to behave in certain ways designed to serve the master. When Dobby wants to help Harry or warn him about imminent dangers, he is going against the tacit and expressed wishes of his master (the very guy who has it in for Harry). A part of House-Elfness is the requirement that when one (such as Dobby) behaves in a way that is out of step with this mandate to support the master, the House-Elf must punish him- or herself. The more egregious the misbehavior, the more severe the punishment, hence, Dobby’s warnings are accompanied by him bashing his head into walls, punching himself, and for a particularly important warning my favorite Dobby appears bandaged saying that he had to go iron [his] hand.
Now, this isn’t a particularly pleasant punishment, and I would never want anyone to take it seriously. However, for myself, this tortured little House-Elf has given me a way to externalize that internal punishing voice that all too often nags at me. Often this nagging voice goes unnoticed by my conscious self. I know it is there because I start feeling shut down and withdrawn I find myself not liking myself and being self-critical. Upon self-examination, I often find this follows a failure of some sort a rupture of a relationship, a botched job on something, a missed deadline.
How does Dobby help you ask? Because now when one of these things happens I find myself saying Oh, gee, I better go iron my hand! Thus, I have brought to consciousness, externalized, and rendered humorous something that once lurked in my unconscious plaguing me with self-doubt and self-criticism.
Copyright 2004 – Chris D. Cooper, PhD