Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 45

It’s time again for another conundrum from the Wizarding World! This week’s question comes from Kat, and is questioning the actions taken against a very confused Muggle.

We learn that Mr Roberts, the Muggle at the QWC campground, needs a memory charm “ten times a day to be happy”. What effects do we think that the repeated Oblivation has on him? Is it more or less severe because he is a Muggle? And why does his memory seem to be creeping back in?

Post your answers here and they might be read on the show!

  • Cassandra1447

    I believe that the repeated Memory Charms are probably doing a fair bit of damage to Mr. Roberts short-term memory. While a single Memory Charm might not cause lingering damage, I think ten a day over a period of weeks certainly would. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has memory-related mental issues later in life. Brains can be quite fragile and, regardless of if he is a Muggle or a Wizard, such repeated tampering must not be good for him.

    As to why his memory keeps coming back, I think there are two main reasons. The first is simply that he keeps seeing weird things happen. So he might be made to forget one weird thing only to see another weird thing thirty minutes later and then needs another Memory Charm. The other reason is that memories are highly interconnected. It would be very hard to remove or alter his memories just enough to forget all the Wizarding stuff without making him forget everything else surrounding them. And to me, Memory Charms work by over-writing the memory with new or no information and I imagine there’s still a ghost or echo of the original memory buried underneath like the impressions on a notepad of what you wrote on the sheet you just tore off. If the person gets the right trigger, the memory might come back.

    I wonder why the Ministry kept the Muggles there at all. Surely the Ministry could have invented some excuse to get the owners/managers of these campsites to leave for a couple of weeks? A la Tonks in OotP, they could have pretended the Muggles won a contest for a extended cruise in the Bahamas. They could declared the area infested with dangerous creatures (I don’t know British wildlife) or commandeered it for military training exercises or something. It would have prevented this need for constant Memory Charms and, if no Muggles were around, the Statute of Secrecy wouldn’t have been an issue.

  • gringotts713

    First I never thought his memory came back, just more and more the wizards became reckless with their behavior and stopped hiding magic. I am not sure what the repeat charm would do, but I imagine he would be “fuzzy headed”. It would be similar to strong medicine maybe? He would know he is forgetting something but it would always be out of reach. He would feel like he was confused, but I don’t know if it would cause permanent damage. You would hope that it wouldn’t. I think the fact that he is a muggle does not change the effects because *spoiler alert*
    when Hermione uses the charm on her parents it works like its intended, the charm was also reversible after the war so leads me to believe it acts in the same way.

  • Think that Mr Roberts had quite a raw deal even before his ordeal at the hands of Death Eaters. He’s obviously a curious person who refuses to stop asking questions! I assume that the use of Memory Charms is strictly regulated – esp. given this is the Ministry of Magic performing them on a Muggle (for relatively trivial reasons connected to a sporting event) – so presumably the Charms must fall within accepted health and safety guidelines (i.e. no lasting damage). I’d imagine that Arthur Weasley’s Muggle Protection Act covers this sort of thing?

    However, in Chapter 10, after the Death Eater attack, Mr Roberts appears more disorientated and Mr Weasley explains that it ‘”was a big thing they had to make him forget”‘ although he does reassure the children that Roberts ‘”[will] be all right”‘. We later find out (GOF35) that Bertha Jorkins (a witch not a Muggle) had her memory permanently damaged by a very powerful Memory Charm applied by Crouch Senior. And Gilderoy Lockhart seems destined to spend the rest of his days in St Mungo’s… So a powerful – or incorrectly applied(?) – Memory Charm can be very dangerous. Hermione’s parents recovered fine, though…

    Reminds me of pre-Deathly Hallows speculation that Neville Longbottom might have had a Memory Charm applied at one time (maybe after his parents were tortured) since he is repeatedly described at the start of the series as both forgetful and clumsy, ‘[an] accident-prone boy with the worst memory of anyone Harry had ever met’ (COS6).

  • Usman Asaf

    I always compare a human brain to a computers hard drive. so i always imagined that erasing a memory is rather like setting a file “hidden” on your computer. technically its gone, no one will be able to access it unless they know its hidden. thus, you can hide away many or as little as you want on your computer without harming the operating system. so a memory charm works in the same principle, it just locates the memory and hides it away… thats why voldemort was able to access bertha jorkins memories about barty crouch jr.

    so technically, if we assume that a memory is hidden, no effect is taking place mr roberts brain at all. it certainly cannot be worse or less severe because he is a muggle, as i dont think the anatomy of a wizards brain differs to that of a muggle.

    since the memory is hidden away, i dont actually think that the memory creeps back in. maybe certain triggers related to that memory creates a deja vu scenario. so its not that the memory is coming back, its just seems like it is.

    • Interesting! That would also help to explain why a Memory Charm can be broken through torture (as happens to poor Bertha Jorkins)…

  • Leah McCurdy

    Like the others have said, there would probably be no difference because Mr. Roberts is a muggle, except the fact that wizards would be able to avoid the memory charm with some sort of defensive spell and muggles don’t have the ability to do so … A muggle is defenseless against the will of a wizard wanting to alter the memory of an event.

    This scenario makes me think about the ethics of magic and especially magic that involves manipulating or altering someone’s mental state or memory. We know that “imperius” works to overtake someone’s personal decision making … basically their free will. While distinct, memory charms also affect mental processes. Imperius is illegal and unethical but obliviate doesn’t seem to be illegal but in my mind, it certainly is unethical. In a sense, removing or altering someone’s memory (however trivial or significant the memory is) is another way to remove their free will and thus their unalienable rights. I realize that the memory charms used to control Mr. Roberts would likely be justified under the Statue of Secrecy but what about the others we have seen in the series? And can wizard sneak up on another and perform a memory charm? Isn’t this just a perfect way to get out of trouble, clean up a crime, manipulate opinions on important matters … Or are Ministry officials only allowed to perform memory charms? Does the Ministry presume the authority over what people are allowed to remember?

    • Agree about the ethical problem. And we do find out much later that Tom Riddle modified memories to cover up his early crimes (and create scapegoats), so tampering with memory is a serious matter. In this case, I think you’re right about the Statute of Secrecy providing the justification though…

      • AK4DJ

        On another related note, what about Slughorn? We know from Half-Blood Prince that he actually modified his OWN memory! This raises a lot of questions and ethical issues, but I think Harry’s foray into Slughorn’s horcrux memory sheds interesting light on what happens when a memory is modified. The memory was fuzzy and foggy and indistinct. YET, Slughorn ultimately did still have access to the original memory!
        I don’t have an explanation at the moment, but it’s definitely worth pondering!

  • Elderdeb

    Is it possible that Mr. Roberts has some trace of wizarding blood, which makes him able to break through the memory charms? This reminds me of Harry shaking off the Imperious curse later on. It also puts me in mind of young wizards, whose magic is not under their control. I thought about crossing genre with a Twilight analogy, but decided not to. 🙂

  • FeatherLeviosa

    I don’t really think that the memory charm has any negative effects towards Mr. Roberts. Although it always reminded me of the “flashy thingy” Neuralyzer from Men In Black. In the first movie Will Smith’s character, Agent J, was always concerned about what repeated treatments of the Neuralyzer would do to the subject. However, one main difference between a memory charm and the Neuralyzer is that the Neuralyzer just puts the subject into a hypnotic like state where a new memory can be inserted for the subject. A memory charm is used to completely erase a specific moment.

    I don’t remember an instance in the books where a new memory was implanted to replace the memory being erased, but I could be wrong. My opinion is that Professor Lockhart’s character shows us in later books that these memories do not come back. Even spending a few years in St. Mungos, Lockhart is never able to retain the memories he had before his memory charm spell backfired while using Ron’s broken wand in Chamber of Secrets. While Lockhart does retain is flamboyant personality, he never remembers why he is sometimes referred to as “Professor” or why he is always compelled to give out autographed photographs of himself.

    I don’t ever think Mr. Robert’s memory comes back. I feel the same as most others who have posted here. Because the World Cup is such a huge event that draws many thousands wizards and witches, there is no possible way to regulate everybody and make them all appear to be ‘normal’ Muggles. As the excitement increases throughout the event they get more flamboyant and celebratory, and Mr. Roberts is going to continue to see strange sights ever more increasingly as the event draws on. Therefore, in order for Mr. Roberts to remain happy, multiple Memory Charms are going to be required throughout a single day.

  • Indigo

    Whenever I read this chapter, I always wonder exactly how memory charms are performed. Does the witch or wizard have to know exactly what they want the person to forget, and can the memory charm change memories?
    It sounds like the ministry officials are only making him forget small things, such as the people paying in strange money, or the chimneys on the tents, rather than completely taking away all his short term memories.
    As to why they have to keep performing memory charms, we can see why just from this chapter. Magical things are happening all the time, and memory charms can only make him forget things that have already happened. If someone mentions bludgers or performs magic in front of him after he has had his memory modified, then it will have to be done again to make him forget that too.

  • LumosNight174

    I’m sure that these obliviations weren’t like the extremes that we’ve heard of in other places in the series (Lockhart and his victims, Hermione’s parents). Rather, I see them more like the two Death Eaters at the cafe in the beginning of Deathly Hallows, or Aunt Marge after she’s blown up–temporary memory removal, just so that they have no recollection of recent events. That’s what the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad is in place for, after all.

    Having said that, Mr. Roberts probably has temporary memory loss for a couple of hours at a time (assuming they’re given every hour or two (“ten times a day”)). So after it gets altered, within a few minutes, he’ll see more suspicious activity that can stir up his curiosity–hence, the need for more Obliviation. He’s still a Muggle, so it’ll still look strange to see people Apparating in, or wearing kilts and sombreros or nightgowns.

    As for how much it effects hi, I’m not sure, but what Lockhart had done was probably the most severe case of Obliviation in all of history. So, I don’t think that him being Muggle would effect his Obliviation; it only effects him because he is a non-magical folk to begin with. He doesn’t know any better. I don’t know about repeated obliviations though. It might have some kind of effect, but I can’t see it bothering too much. They’re only removing what happened that day. He might just have woke up from a coma after the QWC was over.

    I just finally finished reading all the podcasts, and am now caught up! It feels SO GOOD to be able to comment in real time!! Keep doing what you guys do!

  • Aimee_Pond

    I think that the repeated Obliviation would definitely affect his memory of events in general, but I think it might start erasing other memories too. I don’t know exactly how the charm works, which affects my answer. If it just erases what happened in the last few minutes, then it might not affect his memory too much, but if a wizard can control what memory it erases, the effects could be different. I think it would start seeping into his mind and erasing other memories as well as the ones about wizards. He could forget that things happened in the Muggle world, or he could forget how to do simple things in day to day life. I would also expect him to have memory loss later in life.

    I think his memory starts creeping back in because the brain connects everything. If he recalls one thing, it might remind him of a memory with a wizard in it, and he would remember all of the strange things that he saw. I believe that the human mind has more power than magic, and therefore if one tries hard enough they could override a memory charm.

    I would also wonder if he has trouble recalling other things in his life because the connection his brain made had to do with wizards, and once that connection is gone, it is harder to remember the original thought.

  • Katlyn Jarrett

    Memory is a tricky thing. Think of what we’ve seen in the magical world, we see it being manipulated and destroyed in a number of ways – in Lockhart’s case, he basically wipes out all memory as to who he is, like an amnesia patient, and that situation seems to be permanent. Later on, Slughorn is able to manipulate and block some of his own memories from other people’s view, because he’s denying something that happened. I think that the latter is moreso the case with Mr. Roberts. And it ties in with the idea that people who go through tramatic events, can, in some cases, supplement their own memories. If you’ve experienced something, that you don’t want to or can’t think about on a daily basis and carry on with a normal life, your subconscious develops coping mechanisms. The memory charm helps this along – the charm helps block away the unsatisfactory memory, and then the obliviator can suggest a reason for what you just seen, which is more appealing to a muggle or traumatized brain. As much as I’d hate to bring it up – think Men in Black and their flashy thingies.

    Roberts, however, can’t really get away from that – mainly because he’s still in the traumatic situation! Every time he is situated with a new memory, he goes back out and sees more magic being performed, which not only freaks him out in the present, but probably brings back feelings and flashes of everything else’s he’s seen over the past week! He can’t escape it, because it’s his own the camp site, so they have to keep making forget but he can’t very well forget because he’s still there IN the campsite surrounded by wizards!

    It’s kind of a perfect example of how broken the Ministry is even before we see it at it’s worst. This mode of operation – come in, obliviate, leave – would probably be fine for one-time cases. If a muggle saw magic happening, they dealt with it, and they were never in that situation again. There is literally no alternative plan, or how to deal with muggles who are exposed to magical circumstances for hours on end.

  • CentaurSeeker121

    I am wondering if the memory charm that is placed on him is temporary and that is the reason why it keeps seeming to “wear off”. Hermione’s memory charm that she places on her parents in Deathly Hallows lasts until she can retrieve them at the end of the war. The memory charm placed on poor Bertha Jorkins lasts until it’s broken by Lord Voldemort, meanwhile the memory charm that backfired on Lockhart left him as pretty much a permanent resident of St. Mungos. It sounds like it’s possible that there may be different levels of memory charms where maybe you might have one that is completely mild and wears off after a while all the way up to ones that are more permanent. As mentioned before, an extremely powerful charm had to be put on Mr. Roberts and his family after their ordeal that they went through with the DEs so I am going to assume that THAT particular obliviation was on the same level as the one placed on Jorkins whereas the ones in the beginning were much more mild.

  • Gus

    Ok I know I’m late on the transportation discussion but I had a thought listening to the Podcast I thought I had to share.

    How do wizards travel ‘under the influence’?

    I don’t think that apparition or flying would be a good idea after a few too many drinks and there’d surely be ministry laws. Floo Powder would be good for getting home from the leaky cauldron or a friend’s house etc, but what about situations where there’s no fireplace, like Bill and Fleur’s wedding? Bill and Fleur might have organised a few portkey’s with the ministry for family’s to travel across the country but I guess sometimes the Knight Bus is your only alternative!!

  • SpinenrsEnd

    The ten-a-day dosage of Memory Charms has to leave some kind of lasting damage. It would be like any Muggle medication that has side effects. I believe it would impair his short term memory, much in the way of someone with Alzheimer disease where short term memory is not converted to long term memory. It’s one of those correct-dosage things.

    I believe Mr. Roberts is also building an immunity to the Memory Charms. Compounded with the fact that wizards are terrible at being inconspicuous, the immunity makes it more and more difficult for the charm to stick.

  • Mr.Cy5

    I would have to air to the side of many of the comments that are saying strange incidents keep jogging Mr. Roberts’ memory. To give the Ministry officials the benefit of the doubt, they are probably obliviating Mr. Roberts’ memory as delicately as possible. The mind is delicate and there is probably higher risk (secrecy and health related) at giving him one powerful memory charm a day over time versus multiple low dosage memory charms a day.

    Also, they understand that at any given time thousands of witches and wizards will arrive closer to the match times of the teams for which they are cheering. Many of these magical folk will be oddly dressed, dressed in team clothing, maybe after a few swigs of Fire Whiskey with the statute of secrecy and the fact that their is a muggle in their presence being the last thing on their minds. Therefore constantly jogging Mr. Roberts memory or engaging his curiosity to poke around. Rather than allowing this to happen they hit him with a low level memory charm multiple times a day until the event is over. At which point they can perform a proper and stronger memory charm to make sure all loose ends are hidden without doing any damage to Mr Roberts.

    Regardless though, I would be shocked if this didn’t have any adverse affects on poor Mr. Roberts’ mind in the future.

  • RavensHerald

    I think that repeated obliviations have the effect of creating blank spaces in his memory that his brain has issues trying to fill. When Harry & Co. show up Roberts is charmed to forget a lot of the “weird” stuff he’d seen but not to forget his conversation with Mr. Weasly. I think this puts holes in his memory that he has to try and deal with resulting in a vague “Merry Christmas” when they depart after the world cup. As far as the resurfacing of his memory it reminds me of how mind wipes are done in the Artemis Fowl series, where enough exposure to phenomenon that your brain cannot explain away is sufficient to recall the suppressed memory.

  • Mayra Amaya

    I think the affects on Mr. Roberts brain won’t be seen until after things go back “to normal”. As mentioned previously, the brain is extremely complicated and interwoven in a way that they may only be erasing the visual aspect of his memory, but perhaps not the sensory detail. For example, they might have taken away the image of a witch or wizard cooking with a wand, but not the smell or sound, so that when he encounters the smell of the stew it triggers the sense that he’s seen it before causing a feeling of deja vu, or a phantom memory which in turn peaks his curiosity enabling him to find more magical things. This would continue as a cycle, memory charm, hears a sound that reminds him of something, gets curious, sees something, memory charm again.

    As for the affects of such continuous memory erasing, I keep thinking of the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” where characters would get a memory erasing procedure done to forget their previous painful love affairs. (Spoiler alert ) Though the memory erasures were successful, the profound love the characters felt for each other keeps them coming back to each other. I think this circumstance is much the same, except this time it is Mr. Roberts natural curiosity that keeps him coming back.

  • DragonHeartString

    I really like Leah McCurdy’s comment bringing up the ethical issues with memory charms. The Statute of Secrecy is used time and again as an excuse for messing with muggles. I think it’s interesting that while the Malfoys are openly disdainful of muggles and are hated for it, Weasley is respect because he “likes” muggles yet has no respect for their human rights, knows next to nothing about their culture, and seems to regard them more as being “cute” rather than as being real people. On page 87 of the British edition of GoF (chapter 8), Weasley says “… Every time Muggles have got anywhere near here all year, they’ve suddenly remembered urgent appointments and had to dash away again… Bless them”. This scene reminds me of a scene in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” when Sethe expresses interest in getting married and her owner Mrs Garner “laugh[s] a little, she touch Sethe on the head, saying “You are one sweet child”. This condescending attitude throughout the series that the “good” wizards have towards muggles is never really addressed as being a problem.

    I wonder how muggles who are related to wizards feel when they hear about memory and repelling charms. I would probably be incredibly mistrustful of my relatives if they talked about altering people’s memories so easily and purely for their own convenience.

  • Georgia Campbell

    i think the memory charm probably has some short term effects on him (the small ones at the beginning at least) but nothing major. I dont think the Ministry would allow it otherwise. I also agree with other commenters, that he just keeps seeing new people, tents or oddities that either trigger previous memories, or are so strange, they require a charm of their own. Finally, i think it would be less severe because he is a Muggle. There is no magic that could potentially strengthen the memories, and we have a tendency to dismiss thing we deem “impossible”. If in a few months , or even years, he started to remember, in all likelihood he’d pass it off as a dream. The ministry workers probably know this, and are applying shorter term charms on him. Who knows, maybe there are different charms for different lengths of memory loss?

  • awkwardjenny

    Poor old Mr.Roberts! This discussion made me think of my father’s recent brain surgery, after which it felt for a few days like his memories had been obliviated! My dad ( aptly named Robert) had essentially lost his memory as that portion of his brain swelled after a large tumor was removed from it, but as days went by it began to heal and with help he began to recover and his brain began to heal. It’s a tough organ but once damaged rarely ever recovers completely. He will have short term memory problems forever, which I imagine will plague Mr. Roberts as well. Not sure about one or two targeted memory removals, but more powerful spells (a la Lockhart) appear to have more lasting damage to that particular part of the brain. After the events of the world cup I can’t imagine anything less than a rather potent spell erasing what he experienced. Parts would likely heal to a degree buy never back to his former capacity…