We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Dementors in Harry Potter explained - dark world of the Azkaban guards

Think happy thoughts and grab a bar of chocolate because we're about to tell you everything we know about the most chilling Harry Potter villains, Dementors.

Dementors in Harry Potter explained

The Harry Potter franchise is full of evil wizards, dangerous magical beings, and dark spells, but few creatures are as terrifying as Dementors. I mean, just look at them.

If we lived in the Wizarding World with Harry Potter, we’d rather face a dozen Death Eaters down a dark alley, and all the other Harry Potter villains as well, than meet even one Dementor. So why not protect yourself by learning more about these terrible cloaked creatures? We’re feeling pretty miserable just writing about them, but maybe that’s to do with the skeletal fingers tapping on our window.

What are Dementors?

Dementors are wraith-like magical beings made up of terrifying skeletal bodies in long cloaks who feed on happiness and joy. They’re among the most feared creatures in the Wizarding World and work as the prison guards at Azkaban.

The origin of Azkaban‘s Dementors has been traced back to the dark wizard Ekrizdis in the 15th century. He was a creepy chap obsessed with the worst magic, who used to lure very unfortunate Muggle sailors to the island that would eventually become Azkaban. When Ekrizdis died, and his Concealment Charms failed, the only evidence of his crimes was the empty prison and hundreds of Dementors. Chilling.

Lupin told Harry in the books that Dementors “infest the darkest, filthiest places”, although we can’t imagine there was much for them to feed on there. Dark and filthy places don’t tend to be full of happy souls.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban features hundreds of Dementors

Y’see, the Dementors need a constant supply of human food sources in order to live. Their presence draws the happiness out of people, leaving their victims with only their worst and most depressing memories. This makes them particularly useful at Azkaban, keeping the prison population controlled through sadness and suppressing their magic with feelings of pure hopelessness. Grim.

Of all the Harry Potter characters to face these foul creatures, it’s the Boy Who Lived who has the worst time with Dementors. That’s because his life has been filled with more turmoil and terror than any other teenage boy. He certainly had more struggles at that age than we did, although we were just as scared of Dementors.

They make their first appearance in the best movie of the entire franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and they just keep showing up like a bad smell. They’re not wanted, but they just keep coming back, whether it’s attacking Harry and Dudley in Order of the Phoenix or joining Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts.

A Dementor attacks Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix

What is the Dementor’s Kiss?

The Dementor’s Kiss is a hideous process by which a Dementor sucks out somebody’s soul, leaving them in a vegetative state. It’s the ultimate punishment in the Wizarding World.

From what we hear in the books, the Kiss is a horrible thing to witness, but wisely, it’s never described in too much detail. The only known victim of the Dementor’s Kiss in the books is Barty Crouch Jr. in Goblet of Fire, though our heroes only narrowly save Sirius Black from this fate in Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Kiss was originally used as a punishment for those who managed to escape from Azkaban, which would perhaps explain why so few even tried to do so. It makes us shudder just thinking about it.

Barty Crouch Jr was the only victim of the Dementor's Kiss in the Harry Potter books

How does a Patronus stop Dementors?

A Patronus is a projection of purity and happiness, which can overwhelm a Dementor. As Patronuses can’t feel despair like a human can, the Dementors cannot feed on them.

There aren’t many Harry Potter spells more difficult than the Patronus Charm, which is a mark of just how powerful it is. Weaker versions of the spell can produce a wispy “shield form” capable of holding Dementors at bay, while the ultimate “corporeal Patronus” – taking the form of an animal important to the user – can chase the creatures away.

Ever since we first saw the movies, we’ve been trying really hard to cast a Patronus. People keep telling us Dementors are fictional and that the twig we picked up in our local park isn’t really a magic wand, but you can’t be too careful.

Lupin teaches Harry how to produce a Patronus in Prisoner of Azkaban, but it’s not until the movie’s final act that he conjures a corporeal stag in honor of his father. It’s one of the most euphoric moments in the entire series, with Daniel Radcliffe giving both barrels to that eardrum-shattering yell of “Expecto Patronum”.

The Patronus Charm, of course, has since captured the imagination of fans in a big way. The first question you ask a Potter fan is which of the Harry Potter houses they would be in. The second is: what’s your Patronus? No wonder the Harry Potter cast keep getting asked about it.

YouTube Thumbnail

Do the Dementors count as Death Eaters?

The Dementors are not part of the Death Eaters, but they fought alongside Voldemort and were believed to be natural allies of dark witches and wizards.

Dementors don’t have any sort of loyalty to either side of the Wizarding War, but Voldemort and his buddies were quite happy to keep the Dementors supplied with people to feed on and souls to suck. A Dementor’s only loyalty is to its own self-preservation.

Interestingly, Death Eaters don’t ever cast the Patronus Charm. The Potter author explained in a web chat that the reason for this is that Patronus Charms are only ever used against things that Death Eaters naturally fight alongside. It’s not necessarily that they can’t cast a Patronus. They just don’t need one.

Indeed, the only Potter baddies we ever see using a Patronus are Severus Snape, who was secretly a hero all along, and Dolores Umbridge, who was never officially a Death Eater.

Dementors attack Harry Potter in the Ministry of Magic during Deathly Hallows

Can Muggles see Dementors?

Muggles cannot see Dementors, but Dementors can still attack them and Muggles can feel their presence, as well as the cloud of sadness they cause. 

We see this manifest in the Potter movies during the opening of Order of the Phoenix, in which Harry and Dudley Dursley are attacked in Surrey. Harry faces a hearing at the Ministry of Magic for using magic outside school, but defends himself by saying that he was fighting off Dementors.

Of course, Dudley couldn’t see what was attacking him, but he experienced the same face-distorting effects of having the happiness sucked from him. He also came within a whisker of suffering the Dementor’s Kiss, so it’s a good thing Harry was there to fight the creatures away.

Squibs, who are from magical families but lack the ability to do magic, can see Dementors. It’s in this scene from the books that we learn Harry’s neighbor, Mrs Figg, is a Squib who was tasked with keeping an eye on him throughout his childhood.

YouTube Thumbnail

Are the Dementors a metaphor for depression?

The Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, has confirmed that her own experiences with depression inspired the feeling of hopelessness created by the Dementors.

Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression before the first Harry Potter book was published. She has spoken in the years since about how she channeled that feeling into the Dementors, who exist by robbing people of their happiness and leaving a hopeless void behind.

There’s no denying that these evil beasts are a potent metaphor for the very real feelings of people who live with the effects of depression. Those who know what that darkness feels like will certainly understand why Dementors are among the most feared wizarding creatures.

It’s significant that chocolate, which is well-known (including in scientific studies) for its ability to cheer people up, is used as one of the key ways to recuperate from a Dementor attack in Harry Potter.

Dementors by the lake in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Right, that’s everything we know about Dementors, so we’re heading off to take a shower and think happy thoughts. But if you want more from the darker side of Potter than you could possibly learn from just rewatching the Harry Potter movies in order, find out about the horrifying original Voldemort design. We’ve also explained why we still can’t forgive the Harry Potter finale for one choice.

Meanwhile, you can learn about the new movies coming to the Wizarding World with our guides to the Fantastic Beasts 4 release date and the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child movie release date.

The creator of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, has made a number of transphobic remarks on social media in recent years. If you’d like to learn more about transgender equality or lend your support, here are two charities we encourage you to visit: the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US, and Mermaids in the UK.