Saturday, July 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Schizotypal Personality Disorder

There's an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to works that have influenced, or are thematically similar to, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Some of the works have been acknowledged as being influential, and others may be amazing coincidences, or just cases of common influences; as Neil Gaiman put it regarding the amazing visual and thematic similarities between his 1990 comic book series Books of Magic and the Harry Potter stories, "I thought we were both just stealing from T.H. White."

One comparison I haven't seen anyone make yet is with Douglas Adams's second Dirk Gently novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. While the books bear little relation to each other, Adams does posit that all of the immortal gods ever invented by humans are alive now (they're immortal, though some can die of certain godly conditions like "the onx") but, since they are no longer actively worshipped, they are more or less out of work. Unable to cope with a world they no longer understand, many of the old Norse gods are currently slumming around London, cleverly disguised as homeless people. In the novel, they travel back to their old stomping grounds via a portal located in the St. Pancras train station in London.

In the Harry Potter stories, wizarding folk sometimes live off in their own partially segregated communities, but sometimes live by themselves among and in close proximity to Muggles, or non-wizarding folk. Wizarding folk are generally bewildered and repulsed by Muggle technology (Arthur Weasley is an exception) and have a hard time seamlessly integrating into Muggle society. They sometimes draw unwanted attention to themselves by their utter lack of clothing sense - they will often select the most garish and mismatched outfits in an attempt to remain inconspicuous. And, of course, the platform for the Hogwarts Express (invisible to Muggle eyes) is located in King's Cross station in London. (Interestingly, St. Pancras served as the visual reference for the exterior of King's Cross in the movies.)

So, much as Adams posited that the homeless may actually be gods in disguise, I'm wondering if Rowling is suggesting that another class of people may actually be wizards living among us.

The definition of Schizotypal Personality Disorder has flolloped around a bit in the past 20 years or so since I first had it described to me by someone who had just had the diagnosis thrust upon her. (She could easily have been the inspiration for the Luna Lovegood character; I lost track of her fifteen years ago and miss her very much.) Some information can about it can be found in this CNN article, while provides both American and European descriptions of the condition. When I first heard it described, it sounded like a long-winded and technical way of saying "eccentric" or "different"; by some applications of the term, every Trekkie, every Deadhead, every Star Wars fan, and every person who lined up at midnight to get a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows could very well be considered potentially schizotypal.

But these aren't the people I'm thinking of, not really.

No, what I'm thinking of are society's oddballs, the folks who don't dress right, who don't know how to act in social situations, who keep to themselves and their small circles of friends. You know them, you've seen them. You might very well work with them or go to school or church with them. I've seen lots of them. As I drove through Wilkes-Barre yesterday I looked at some passing pedestrians in garish and inappropriate clothing - not worn, as far as I could tell, for any sort of shock value, as I would expect if the pair had been 35 years younger. I couldn't help but wonder: in Harry Potter's world, could these be wizards in disguise?

Several of the characteristics ascribed to persons exhibiting Schizotypal Personality Disorder seem to also apply to wizarding folk in Rowling's books:

  • odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behavior and is inconsistent with subcultural norms (e.g., superstitiousness, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or "sixth sense"; in children and adolescents, bizarre fantasies or preoccupations)
  • unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions
  • odd thinking and speech (e.g., vague, circumstantial, metaphorical, overelaborate, or stereotyped)
  • suspiciousness or paranoid ideation
  • inappropriate or constricted affect
  • behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
  • lack of close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
(And of course, most of these characteristics are exhibited to varying degrees by almost everybody. Using the internet for any sort of self-diagnosis is problematic at best.)

So keep your eyes open. Watch the people that you pass in the street each day. Who would be Adams's gods? Who would be Rowling's wizards? And what are we to them?

UPDATE, 6/6/2011: Several other people have blogged on the topic of personality disorders in the Harry Potter universe. Check them out!

The Harry Potter DSM: Cluster A Personality Disorders Action Potential (May 30, 2011)
The Harry Potter DSM: Cluster B Personality Disorders Action Potential (June 1, 2011)


tiffany said...

i'm loving this post...goign to come back and read it again when i have more time.

Anonymous said...

hahaha this post is fabulous!! What a connection!

Three and a Half Pixels said...

I love this article, it articulates a concept i have thought on many ocaisions. thank you :D