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"So, the first question we must ask ourselves is, what is a boggart?"
Hermione put up her hand.
"It's a shape shifter," she said.
"It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most."
(Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 133)
The boggart - "fear itself," as we behold it in Harry Potter, evolves from the British belief in a house spirit. The boggart exists to muddle intermittently in the conveniences of its house's inhabitants, (ie spoiling the milk, spooking the horses, chilling the beds.) As legend explains, a simple horseshoe on the door can keep boggarts away - but beware of claiming or naming a boggart - it'll become yours for life!
This passage, as only children's literature can do, explores the mysteries of the boggart, touching on the immense and abstractions of fear itself in a particularly adult way of thinking and reasoning. What is the relationship between humans and fear? The trick to dispelling fear - really as simple as laughter? Through the HP series, we peer into the characters' experiences of various levels of fear, various causes, shadowed through their run-ins with closet boggarts. For Ron, we gaze upwards in terror with him at the classic room-sized spider. With his mother, however, we feel the acute stab of desperation at the image of her children falling dead into her arms.
I would like to believe that the opportunity to battle a boggart, tete-a-tete, would be very worth the potentially disarming discovery of what it is specifically that I fear. Finally, some concrete closure on the sensation that often begets hesitation, worry, self-consciousness, even paralyzation. There is something very childlike in the ability to pinpoint one's fears. Adults are prone to recognize the sensation of fear, but struggle to dissolve feeling into cause. Moreover, sweet Ron, wouldn't it be nice to fear large spiders above everything else? Ahh the simplicity of fears we remember from our childhood: bugs, snakes, thunder, monsters, the dark... the child's boggart easily renders insects, rats, vermin, and other more concrete fears. Too quickly, it seems, we're pushed away from these simplistic, childlike (however, I'm certainly not saying I have by any means mastered my "childlike" terror of snakes) fears and forced to cope with rather adult concepts of fear. Failure, dying, insufficiency, o Boggart, just try to emulate these notions.
It seems easier to me to recognize when I'm afraid, but much more difficult to put that fear into words or images. "I'm just afraid something's going to go wrong." "What if..." "It's not going to be worth it." Perhaps the recognition of fear remains greater than the actual fear itself? Or at least the "unknown" aspects of our fears supply added influence and trepidation. If we all but had our own personal closet boggart, to keep us informed and healthily balanced in appropriate fears. And if only dispelling those fears were as simple as visualizing Snape in an old fashioned woman's dress.


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