In Praise of Neville Longbottom
For What’s Up Wednesday, I always share some of the small doings of my life. Last night, I went to the Harry Potter movie and came away with some writerly insights.
In my characterization workshop, I talk about archetypes and how enduring character templates keep recurring in literature. There are mentors and threshold guardians, heralds and shadows. And of course, there are heroes! I like to think of all these types as masks which different characters can wear as the story progresses, exchanging the function of the type as the tale unfolds. For example, I’m always fascinated when a hero slips on a shadow’s mask and behaves in a less than exemplary manner. Or when a secondary character takes up the hero’s mask.
That’s why I was so happy with the final installment of the Harry Potter books. Neville Longbottom, one of my favorite secondary characters, gets to walk the hero’s path and he does it with grit and dogged determination. Let’s take a minute to explore why we love Neville.
He’s not the most attractive of the youngsters at the outset of the HP saga. If anyone’s broom malfunctions, it’ll be his. He frequently ends up in an embarrassing situation saying, “Why is it always me?” But we empathize with him when he admits to fearing Professor Snape and laugh with him as Neville imagines his nemesis dressed in his grandmother’s dubious fashions. We smile when he learns to dance and are grateful when he acts as an information planter, providing Harry with gilly-weed right when he needs it.
Now in the last movie, Neville has grown up and unlike Harry and Ron, who still seem very juvenile to me, Neville is a man. He’s not out gallivanting about having adventures. He’s standing on the rubble of Hogwarts, defending what he holds dear even when it seems hopeless.
He may be battered and limping, but his spirit is indomitable. Dumbledore says “Help will always come to those who deserve it.” None deserve it so much as Neville, yet he’s the one who gives aid to Harry at the crucial moment. I literally cheered when Neville wielded the sword of Gryffindore. It was made for just such an unlikely hero’s hand.
All told, JK Rowling tied up every lose story thread and crafted one of the most satisfying story endings I’ve ever experienced. And I’m so glad she didn’t limit herself to her main protagonists. It cheered my soul to watch Neville grow into himself and at a time when all around him seemed to lose heart, step forward and defend the right against insurmountable odds.
There can never be too many heroes.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a favorite HP character?