Crimes of Grindelwald proved why it’s harmful for students to be taught riddikulus, and be forced to reveal their Boggart to their peers.
One of the most universally loved scenes in the Harry Potter series (both books and films) is Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson of the spell riddikulus in Prisoner of Azkaban. For many, it’s seen as a moment of humor. Any time there’s an opportunity to highlight Ron’s fear of spiders, is an opportunity for laughs. And Neville’s biggest fear being Snape? Hilarious! Neville transforming Boggart-Snape into Snape wearing Neville’s grandmother’s clothes? Even more hilarious! Parvati turning a snake into a terrifying, giant Jack-in-the-box? Okay, maybe this one missed the mark, but you get the idea.
The riddikulus lesson plays out as a great scene for entertainment value and adding layers to characters in both Harry Potter and Crimes of Grindelwald, but in actual practice, it’s a terrible idea. Preteens and teenagers are forced to reveal their deepest fears in front of their peers, making them easy targets for ridicule. Perhaps at 13 years old, most students’ deepest fears are as common as Ron’s fear of spiders, or Parvati’s fear of snakes. But what happens when students get older and more mature? Are your biggest fears at 13 as mundane as your biggest fears at 16?
The way to defeat a Boggart is with laughter, so naturally a scene in which a Boggart needs to be defeated would end with some humor. But it doesn’t begin that way. At least, it shouldn’t begin that way. A Boggart takes the form of whatever someone fears most, and someone’s biggest fear is not something to be laughed at. At least, it shouldn’t be something to be laughed at. Unfortunately though, children can be mean, particularly when armed with a peer’s insecurity, and seeing someone’s Boggart is the perfect ammunition. Such a situation is even hinted at in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
In Crimes of Grindelwald, we see two scenes of Leta Lestrange during her time as a student at Hogwarts. In the first scene, Leta is 13 years old, overhearing two Gryffindor girls say some unkind things about her, “…She’s so annoying. Even the name Lestrange makes me feel sick.” Early on it’s set up that Leta is a victim of bullying, from these two girls at the very least.
In a later scene, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dumbledore is teaching his 16 year old students how to defeat a Boggart with the riddikulus spell. When it’s Leta’s turn to face her fear, these same Gryffindor girls are described as “enjoying her fear,” saying, “I’ve been looking forward to this.” It’s a fleeting moment, but a realistic and resonant example of why subjecting young people to a Boggart is a harmful idea.
These Gryffindor bullies are not seen again for the rest of the film, but based on their clear disdain of Leta, is it not safe to assume they later tease her about her Boggart? It’s even more likely they make fun of her for her fear if we assume they didn’t understand what they were seeing. It’s easy for kids (and adults, for that matter) to mock others for what they don’t understand or know the full context of. We’ve seen as much in the Harry Potter series. When Harry faints after a Dementor attack in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s low-hanging fruit for Draco to use to make fun of Harry.
Had these girls understood Leta’s fear was the guilt of accidentally killing her brother, would they have teased her less? Possibly, either out of sympathy, or out of fear. It’s also equally possible they would have bullied her as much, or more, than they had been, now having proof of how “horrible” she is.
Then there are characters like Neville Longbottom and Newt Scamander, young teens with anxieties, and as evidenced in Neville’s case, an easy target for bullying. Would characters like these be comfortable sharing their biggest fear with their classmates? The fear of being harassed for what could be perceived as a ‘stupid’ fear could be crippling for a more anxious person.
Neither Neville nor Newt’s fears are ‘typical,’ one being afraid of his teacher, the other afraid of a desk job. It’s easy to laugh at both of those fears when they’re not something as common as a spider, but they shouldn’t be demeaned in that way. Clearly these fears are crippling enough for these students that it’s their worst fear. It’s no joke to them.
Though it hasn’t been heavily addressed or seen in Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts, it’s only natural to assume that if young people are given the opportunity to know someone’s fear, or even shame, they’ll jump on it and use it against them. The Gryffindor girls’ treatment of Leta in Crimes of Grindelwald is the closest indication that the Boggart and riddikulus lesson is a bad idea to do as a group. It reveals too much about a person that they may not want anyone to know, and subjects them to ridicule at best, or reliving past trauma at worst.