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Home » Books & writing

Harry Potter and the Unsung Hero

Submitted by on July 20, 2011 – 10:46 pm18 Comments

With the release of the final Harry Potter movie last Friday, millions have been saying goodbye to our beloved wizard friends and, for some, to their entire childhood. I was a lot older than school age when I first encountered J.K. Rowling’s books, but my memories are no less magical than those of the children who grew up reading them.

In 1998, I was walking past a Crown Books store when I saw a giant display featuring Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the window. I had never heard of them and wondered why the store felt the books were deserving of such a splashy display. I stepped inside and a bookseller said they were children’s books that were all the rage in England. I didn’t buy them because, well, I wasn’t interested in kid-lit at the time.

But I was intrigued so I went home and researched this supposed Potter craze on the Internet. I found over 400 reviews on Amazon and was surprised to see they were all five stars. There’s always at least one person who complains about something—price, plot, ending, cover—and throws off the whole average with a nasty one-star review. But no, not for Harry. It seemed everyone loved him, and how could everyone be wrong?

I went back to Crown the next day and bought the two books. Read the first that night and cried at the end. Woke up in the morning, shoved it at my husband, said, “Don’t ask questions, just read this,” then started the second book. Mr. PCN tore through Sorcerer’s Stone before I could finish Chamber (hey, it’s longer) and bugged me repeatedly with “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” until I could hand it over. And so began our obsession.

For the release of every book in the series after that, we had to be at the midnight party. One time, we drove straight to a Borders after getting off a 14-hour plane ride from Europe because we needed to get in line. Luckily, it had a coffee bar there. Another time, we had to wear numbered plastic bracelets for a week, in the shower and all, because the store gave them out early so we could claim our positions in the queue (they were sealed onto our wrists and could only be cut off by a store employee when we came to get our books). The standing in line, meeting fellow fans, anticipation of midnight—it all made us feel like children waiting for Santa. And then of course, Mr. PCN and I would stay up all night reading the books, often out loud to each other in British accents and different voices (I was pretty good as Dobby).

*SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t read the final book or seen the final movie*

It’s funny that I’ve never had the same experiences with the movies, which can’t touch the magic of the books for me. The final installment was underwhelming. It was serviceable and touched on major plot points but lacked emotional heft. I was gutted when Fred dies in the book while the movie just kind of glosses over it. Mrs. Weasley’s showdown with Bellatrix is rushed—how does she vanquish Bellatrix, a terrifyingly powerful Death Eater, so easily? Why didn’t the Elder Wand recognize Harry as its true owner right away, before allowing Voldemort to throw those kill curses at him?

But there’s one thing that holds true for me in both books and movies: Neville Longbottom being the unsung hero. You know how I cried at the end of the first book? It was because of him. Gryffindor thought it had lost the house cup until Dumbledore said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends” and awarded ten points to Neville for doing just that. The fact that Dumbledore could see the beauty and courage in that shy chubby boy moved me immensely.

And Neville showed he could stand up to his enemies, too. Towards the end of Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, when everyone thought Harry was dead and Voldemort was gloating, Neville was the only one who stepped forward, limping and bleeding, to exhort his friends not to give up. His speech was the only thing in the movie that nudged me close to tears.

He was never the best wizard, always the awkward one who was more likely to blow himself up in class than correctly cast a spell. He had to work harder than many of his peers just to stay in the fight. But stay he always did, with a heart true and pure. When he sliced Nagini’s head off, I cheered more loudly than anyone. Once again, it came down to Neville to save the day. The series had come full circle.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising because Neville could have been the Boy Who Lived had Voldemort visited his house instead of Harry’s that fateful night. It’s admirable to live up to great expectations, as Harry did, but it’s heroic to step up when no one thinks you can win. Rowling has told Harry’s story splendidly and I hope she’ll forever leave him where we last saw him. Professor Longbottom, however, may still have a few adventures left in him.

Matthew Lewis, who played Neville

Photos: Warner Bros.

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18 Comments »

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself, and absolutely agree on all points.

  • le0pard13 says:

    Excellent look at this from the comparative book perspective, Elyse. I’m sure my wife would agree with you and Mr. PCN concerning your points (she pored over the novels as they came out). I, on the other hand, came to this purely from the film end. Now that the movie series is complete, I intend on pursuing (and hopefully re-discovering) it from the beginning through the books — see how I cleverly planned this out to extend it all ;-) .

    Still, I have to say concerning this last installment that my most enjoyably hated character in the entire series was Bellatrix Lestrange! Kudos to Helena Bonham Carter for making her so. From a solely vengeful angle, her’s was the death I most savored in the final film (hmm… pretty good for a kid’s novel). And that it was delivered from Fred’s mom made it doubly so. There, I got that out of my system ;-) .

    Great post! Thanks for this.

  • EIREGO says:

    Neville is the unsung nerd in all these movies. Love the big moment he gets in the latest one.

    I will miss all the hullabaloo that came with the release of each book and movie. At the midnight screening of HP8, I saw someone dressed as Hedwig, Dobby, Luna and several versions of Voldemort at different stages of transformation. And I got to sit next to a Hagrid. Can’t recall when a series of books and movies had this effect on people.

  • Poncho says:

    I completely agree with you, specially in how the films couldn’t bring much of the emotional strength the books had.

    I found out about the books when I was 16 or 17, and in Highschool. “Prisoner of Azkaban”‘s translation had just been released, and my Lit teacher came to class saying how much she recommended the series and how it had grown in quality. Needless to say, I went straight to the book store and got the first three and devoured ‘em. From then on, I did almost the same thing as you: I got to the bookstore first thing in the morning (most of ‘em are about a 2 minute walk from my house) and picked up my pre-purchased copy. At my place, my mom/brother often read during daylight hours and I stayed up reading during the night.

    And I’m with you. I was underwhelmed by many of the things in the films. Though I loved-to-hate HBC’s Bellatrix, I loathed how cheap her death looked. But what I truly despised is how underplayed Lupin and Tonks’s demises are.

    Ohh… and I also agree with you about Neville. Many times, he was the one I felt most identified with through the books.

    This was a fantastic post, PCN. Thanks!

  • Elizabeth says:

    And here I was expecting a post about Snape. ;)

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Brett—I nominate you for president of the Neville fan club, then.

    le0pard13—I envy the fact you have the wonderful books to discover still. You should act out scenes in your living room with your whole family. I’m with you about Bellatrix. I loathed her and Bonham Carter did a great job bringing her evilness to the screen.

    EIREGO—Though I was expecting it, I almost wept when Neville swung the Sword of Gryffindor and decimated Nagini. The scene being in slo-mo made it even more amazing.

    Poncho—I love that your lit teacher recommended the books to your class. And yes, Tonks and Lupin getting short shrift in the movie was awful. When they died in the book, my heart dropped to the floor because baby Teddy would be left an orphan. And he didn’t even appear in the ending when the next generation was going off to Hogwarts. ????

    Elizabeth—Snape got his tribute when Harry named his son after him. Neville wasn’t even mentioned in the movie’s epilogue. He needed some love!

  • What I’ll miss most about these movies is seeing so many very fine actors in one place, all doing wonderful work. Michael Gambon, the late Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Jason Isaac, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh, Imelda Staunton, and on and on.

  • Perfect, perfect post.

    I, too, thought the last film was underwhelming for exactly the points you mention and a couple more. BUT, I am remedying that by starting back at the beginning.

    I first came across them after book 3 came out. My mom taught middle school reading and told me about them. I scoffed (which is unusual for me about books) but read all three in one afternoon and asked for the next. Imagine my disappointment when I realized a long wait was in store…

  • heidenkind says:

    I love Neville, too, for all the reasons you mentioned. One of the great things about the series is that a lot of the characters evolve over time and have their own story arc, not just Harry.

    But you’d have know Neville was brave and lion-hearted because he’s in Gryffindor. :)

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Hi, heidenkind, and welcome to my site! I think Neville has one of the most drastic arcs. I loved seeing him grow up and how far he came. Matthew Lewis, too. Look at him now!

  • I started reading the books because a friend at work recommended them, then I passed them on to my grandkids. For some reason, they all got tired of them. I kept reading. I loved Neville from the beginning, too. Also Luna, and I identified with her more than any other character. Nobody took either one of them seriously, but both were wise beyond their years. I think you might be right about the future adventures of Neville–and Luna could be included. She has a lot more to say.

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