Arresto Momentum

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I’ve a long-time fan of the Harry Potter novels, started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1999, and still think fondly of the books despite the offensiveness of J.K. Rowling’s transphobia. My oldest daughter was five when we both read The Sorcerer’s Stone and both my daughters grew up reading Harry Potter books, watching Harry Potter movies, and engaging in constant Harry Potter chat about Hogwarts, Gryffindor, brooms, wands, spells, and magical pets. And I grew up as a father while sharing Harry Potter materials with them, racing the oldest to see who could first finish The Order of the Phoenix, and watching the movies again and again as family ritual. I had a couple Harry Potter wands and would use them in my classes to explain the concept of labor in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Harry Potter tapes still help keep me awake and focused on long drives from Eastern Kentucky to Upstate New York and Florida.

What was especially affecting about The Prisoner of Azkaban was the idea of Harry’s father as a patronus who could be called on to protect Harry from the “demontors” who attacked Harry on many occasions. Dementors were creatures nourished by sucking on the happiness of their human prey and they could suck out human souls by performing the “dementor’s kiss.” Harry was attacked several times by dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban and gradually began to hear his mother screaming at Voldemort while he was preparing to attack her. To protect himself, Harry learned to conjure a large silvery image of a patronus which chased the dementors away. When Harry’s father James Potter was in school, he regularly changed into a large stag for adventures with his friends and Harry’s patronus was also a large stag, representing the protective, nurturing spirit of his father within him. Harry’s father was killed by Voldemort when Harry was one, but his spirit lived within Harry helping him fight off dementors the same way Dumbledore provided paternal guidance to Harry even after his own death.

When I first read The Prisoner of Azkaban, I was in Clarksville, TN preparing to deliver a history paper at Austin Peay State University. What was inspiring about the book was the pervasive “spirit of the father” that had been so long lacking in my own life. Having grown up in a family with such an abusive father that I changed my name in 1995, I had a yearning for a “real” father extending back to my childhood and appreciation for television shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Bachelor Father,” “My Three Sons,” “Bewitched,” and “Bonanza.” In all these shows, fictional fathers evinced a supportive interest in their children, sense of proportion in relation to their children’s issues, and ability to be helpful that seemed much more real than the spasmodic terrorism of my own father. Indeed, far from feeling my father as a guardian spirit, I had just emerged from a 20-year period of him torturing me in my dreams. What Prisoner of Azkaban brought out in me was a sense of for once having a fatherly figure as a guardian spirit and I was inspired by the feeling for several days if not several weeks.

But what’s sticking with me now is the annoying arresto momentum spell that wasn’t in the book but was used in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie as Dumbledore broke Harry’s fall from his broom after his second dementor attack. I’ve always viewed the movie’s arresto momentum spell as a dumb sacrilege on the book but now I feel like my own momentum has been arrested by my travel to my ancestral homeland in Upstate NY and yesterday’s colonoscopy procedure. The writing had been going well. I was writing two posts per week and have been developing a nice mix of daily political commentary and insights into the basic cultural mechanisms of American politics. I’ve also been making progress on my book manuscript. Much of my current work for Ch 10 on 1840’s blackface has been on the famous “Ol’ Dan Tucker” and I’ve been putting together my themes of white identification with black suffering, comic substance, the attribution of infinite phallicism to black male characters, the equally infinite potential for torturing black male characters, and the underlying dynamics of labor. I was up to 3000 words a week but now I’m starting over again.

Arresto Momentum indeed.