Turn your fear into something absurd

Written freehand by Fredd Cheetham at 1001 Troubles Tattoo in Portsmouth, RI.
Written freehand by Fredd Cheetham at 1001 Troubles Tattoo in Portsmouth, RI.

As is the case with many people of my generation, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has had a profound and lasting impact on my life. As I’ve gotten older, many of the issues inherent in the series have come to light and I’ve begun to cast a much more critical eye on the series as a whole. But that doesn’t in any way lessen its impact on me.

I’ve been reading Harry Potter since I was 10 years old. I’ve reread each book in the series several times (some more than others) and I’m always discovering new moments, new characters, and new things to love. I’m also constantly finding new ways to love things I’ve loved from the start.

One of my favorite elements of this series is the story of the Marauders — James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. Admittedly, much of my love for the Marauders era comes from fanfiction, meta, and other fanworks. There simply isn’t enough back story in the books themselves for this cast of characters. But one of my favorite characters — both according to book canon and fanon (especially The Shoebox Project, which I personally consider to be canon even though Rowling didn’t write it) — is Remus Lupin.

My good friend Lottie, a writer at Velociriot, recently wrote a really great piece about Rowling’s hijacking of a queer narrative with the character of Lupin. For those who don’t know, he’s a werewolf who first appears in the series in book three, The Prizoner of Azkaban, as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. We don’t find out he’s a werewolf until later; simultaneously, we find out he was best friends with James, Harry’s dad, and Sirius, Harry’s godfather. If you don’t know this story, I won’t bore you with the details, but basically: Remus Lupin is one of the greatest creations in this series, even ignoring Rowling’s ridiculous and angering queer erasure.

Lupin is bookish and intelligent, sharp-witted and oddly beautiful. From all the descriptions we’re given, he doesn’t quite fit into the same troublemaker mold as his friends. He was a prefect and he sort of kept to himself. He was bitten by Fenrir Greyback as a small child and has had to suffer the curse of lycanthropy ever since. He’s been kicked out of job after job, living on next to nothing, the last of his friends to be alive and living in the larger wizarding world. He cares a lot and he does a lot and I have a lot of really intense feelings about Remus and the things he suffers and the way he reacts to those things.

But when we first meet Remus, we don’t know any of that. All we know is that he’s a bit shabby, that he carries a beat-up briefcase with “Professor R.J. Lupin” engraved on it, and that he knows his shit when it comes to DADA. He performs a patronus charm on the Hogwarts Express and later teaches Harry how to perfect the same spell, despite it being incredibly advanced for a third year to tackle.

In Lupin’s first lesson with the third years (Harry’s class), he teaches them how to battle boggarts. Boggarts are shapeshifters that take on the shape of a witch or wizard’s worst fear. No one knows what they really look like. The only way to repel a boggart and ultimately defeat it is with laughter. Lupin teaches his students a spell — riddikulus — that will turn the scary thing the boggart has become into something hilarious or absurd. His own boggart turns into a full moon; when he casts the spell, it becomes a deflated balloon.

I’ve loved Lupin since we first met him on the train, but this lesson sticks with me for several reasons. He’s teaching students how to battle what they fear most with laughter. In the Harry Potter ‘verse, love is the best of all defensive weapons, and laughter is definitely part of that. But there’s something very powerful about a man who’s been forced out of normal society because of people’s fear of him, teaching others how to combat their fear with something as gentle as a spell and a laugh.

I don’t want to turn this entire post into a rambling bit of meta about Remus Lupin, so I won’t. But I wanted to get a tattoo that represented my love of Harry Potter and also my love of Lupin. I chose riddikulus because I think it’s a powerful spell and a good reminder to take the things that scare you and transform them into things you can easily control or conquer. I also chose it because it’s the first thing Lupin teaches his students, and it’s one of the first things I associate with his character whenever I think about him.

I got this tattoo on Friday, August 30, with my best friend (who also got their Harry Potter tattoo — a James Potter reference, in their case, because I’m very similar to Remus in many ways and they are literally James Potter). I told the artist — Fredd Cheetham at 1001 Troubles Tattoo in Portsmouth, RI — that I wanted script with the ‘k’ sort of resembling a lightning bolt. He wrote the word freehand and I instantly fell in love. I think it’s perfect, and I can’t wait to get more work done by him in the future. I held off on getting my Harry Potter tattoo for a very, very long time because I wanted to be 100 percent settled on it before I took the plunge. I couldn’t be happier with my choice, or its placement, or its appearance. I feel warm whenever I look at it; it’s remarkable what character associations can give you for comfort in dark places. Remus Lupin went through Hell and still taught his students to laugh in the face of what scared them. I’m trying to learn to do the same.

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Turn your fear into something absurd

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