Guest Post: The Sidekick’s Journey — Neville Longbottom

The hot spots nation wide for serious study of Harry Potter, in my experience talking on campuses the last ten years, are places where a Professor is a Potter Pundit — think Pepperdine with James Thomas, Lawrence University with Edmund Kern — or where a class offered on the Hogwarts Saga has achieved something like cult status. Richard Priggie’s ‘The Soul of Harry Potter‘ course on Deathly Hallows at Augustana College is one of these and it has been my great pleasure to speak with this group (and other students at Augustana) more than once, always learning more from our exchanges than they could from me. Today I want to share an essay from one of these students, Mara Cantrell-Paulson, about Neville as Sidekick as a guest post. Let me know what you think!

The Sidekick’s Journey: A Look at Supporting Characters in Harry Potter

The most surprising moment I experienced watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the last chapter in the film saga based on my favorite book series, was not Harry’s self-sacrifice in the forest or Ron and Hermione’s highly anticipated kiss in the Chamber of Secrets. I was floored when, as Neville Longbottom surged up from the bottom of the staircase to single-handedly behead Nagini, Voldemort’s final Horcrux, the entire theater suddenly erupted in cheers, whistles and applause. This reaction had been saved specifically for Neville- not Molly Weasley, not Hagrid, Neville. And that got me thinking: What is it about this bumbling, “round-faced boy” (Stone Ch. 6) that captivated so many hearts and minds over someone like, say, Luna Lovegood, whose eccentricities and oddities make her a much better outlet for the imagination? After some research, an answer began to emerge. Neville’s transformative journey from shy, forgetful boy in Sorcerer’s Stone to independent leader in his own right in Deathly Hallows mirrors Harry’s “Hero’s Journey;” Neville reflects Harry’s life through the lens of the archetypal underdog. Luna, even though she is a fantastical being who shows a great depth of understanding and knowledge, remains too static and too far out in left field to make her as relatable and understandable. Both Luna and Neville work in their own way to support Harry throughout his journey, but only Neville truly undertakes it with him.

Carl Jung developed a theory on the human collective unconscious based on “archetypes”: models of people, behaviors or animals. There are many different archetypes recognized in literature today, including the hero, the earth mother, and the trickster (Mills 6). Neville is the ultimate archetypal underdog in the Harry Potter series because he is the character who always seems most likely to lose or fail. When Neville Longbottom is first introduced in Sorcerer’s Stone, he shows up in Harry’s and Ron’s compartment on the Hogwarts Express looking for his already lost toad (104). Readers are very quickly given further accounts of Neville’s incompetence: He was assumed to be a Squib until he was about ten years old (Stone 125). He is sent a Rememberall by his grandmother because he forgets simply everything(Stone 145). He takes off too early on his broomstick at their first flying lesson and ends up with a broken wrist (Stone 147); then, on returning to the Tower, he is unable to recall the password to get through the portrait hole (Stone 156). However, flashes of his bravery and leadership potential appear as early as Chapter 13 of Sorcerer’s Stone, when he haltingly, but firmly, stands up to Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle at the Quidditch match, repeating Harry’s statement that he is “worth twelve of [Draco]” (223).Then, in Chapter 16, Neville stands up to Harry, Ron and Hermione when they are attempting to leave Gryffindor Tower to get to the Sorcerer’s Stone (272). As Dumbledore says in Chapter 17 of Stone, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends” (306). This act, which wins Neville his first ever House points and Gryffindor the House Cup for the first time in seven years, is the truest representation of Neville. At the age of eleven, he knows what is right and what is wrong, what should be done and when it should be done. Despite the apparent disadvantages of being shy, forgetful and unable to perform even basic spells well, Neville shows that he can rise above these situations to uphold what’s right.

The most stunning aspect of both of these scenes is that JK Rowling writes in a style that employs “ring composition”, so they happen again in Deathly Hallows, neatly sandwiching Neville’s life experiences from age eleven to age seventeen with parallel circumstances (Granger). In Chapter 29 of Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts, at night, to search for a small, relatively unknown magical object-and they encounter Neville. When they tell him he’s not needed, he rebels. “I don’t see why you can’t trust us. Everyone in this room’s been fighting and they’ve been driven in here because the Carrows were hunting them down. Everyone in here’s proven they’re loyal to Dumbledore– loyal to you,” (581). But this time, Neville is not hit by a Full Body Bind curse that stops him from his goal. This time, Neville’s courage is recognized as the truth, and the weight of his words bring the trio around to what becomes the Battle of Hogwarts. Neville’s journey doesn’t end there. He has to stand up to evil as well as good– so on page 731, Neville tells Voldemort, “I’ll join you when hell freezes over.” Just as in book one, Neville ends up getting hurt for his bravery. Instead of getting beaten unconscious and sent to the hospital wing, he is forced, by Voldemort, to wear the Sorting Hat while the Hat is set on fire. Despite this incredibly painful experience, Neville is still able to bring forth the Sword of Gryffindor from the depths of the Hat and kill the snake. Talk about “underdog.” At every turn, when Neville is presented with an obstacle, he works until he overcomes it, so after seven years, overcoming problems has become second nature.

Readers connect with Neville because Neville is like, but unlike, Harry. Both boys are parentless because of Voldemort and his followers; both boys discover they have magic relatively late; they are the only two characters who draw the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat; both lead Dumbledore’s Army. But while Harry has the support of the most powerful wizard of the century, two best friends to provide backup when he needs them, and a unique path that only he can take to defeat his mortal enemy, Neville really only has himself. He fights with Harry, for Harry, because his own strong moral character and belief system tells him it’s the right thing to do. It’s not because it’s easy for him, or because he has to because of some prophecy.

Neville’s transformation is more inspiring than Harry’s because he is a self-made hero. Characters who grow and transform beyond their original appearance are nearly always the literary favorites because they are more “real” than static characters. Every person goes through changes during their life, and therefore every person likes to read about people who do the same (Schneider 607). Neville exemplifies this reader-character connection. JK Rowling’s masterful depiction of his coming-of-age in Deathly Hallows is so tantalizing because it is only revealed through bits and pieces. Readers don’t really find out what has really been happening at Hogwarts and to Neville until the very last chapters of the book. His emergence from the portrait, bloody, torn, tired and smiling, is a huge surprise to Harry, Ron and Hermione mainly because they were not expecting him. They had never thought of him as a leader, or even particularly strong. The trio helped him along in small ways throughout the books as one might help a lost child. One does so because it is expected, not because one particularly expects something to come out of the experience. However, Neville’s transformation is especially important because he, like Harry, is completely selfless in his goals. He is a perfect example of what it means to be self-motivated: no one else tells him what he has to do all the time; he finds a problem, figures out a solution, and solves it. If he is given instructions, he does his very best to carry them out, even if that means risking his own life. These qualities certainly parallel Harry’s own decisions and morals, but on a much larger scale. Neville is, in a way, both Harry’s foil and his pupil. Harry teaches Neville many of the aspects of leadership and self-motivation, but through example, not through instruction. The fact that Neville can take this relatively sparse knowledge and translate it into a complete skill set speaks volumes for his own intelligence, leadership skills and personal achievements.

On the other hand, there are characters who seem to only exist to help Harry in some way. Luna Lovegood is one of many who serve this purpose. While the Lovegoods are given a passing mention in Goblet of Fire, Luna does not make a physical appearance until book five of the series, which is a rather late introduction of such an eccentric personality who is, after all, only one year behind the trio in a relatively small school. John Granger explains this choice because, “She’s a mythic character….it’s hard to get a mythic character to be believable and admirable, someone you’d relate to until you have enough engagement with the story.” (Granger, Thomas and Prinzi 5). Basically, if Luna had been introduced earlier, she would have been even less understandable than she was as written. However, her “out-there” qualities don’t really give her much of an in-depth character.

In terms of archetypes, she fits best into a more modern interpretation: the “manic pixie dream girl.” This characterization was coined by Nathan Rabin in reference to Kirsten Dunst’s character in the movie Elizabethtown, but the description he provides is easily applicable to Luna. In his words, a manic pixie dream girl is, “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” (Ula). The indignant fan will claim that Luna exists as a very strong character in her own right, and her purpose is certainly NOT to simply help Harry with his own personal issues– yet that is exactly what she does throughout all three books where she appears. Luna has a view on the world that is unique from anyone else in Harry’s life, and this is what makes her invaluable to him. In Order of the Phoenix, it is Luna who finally gets through to Harry when he is wracked with grief over Sirius’s death, despite the fact that she never knew Sirius or really anything about the relationship between him and Harry. Her most insightful statement, “It’s not as though I’ll never see Mum againthey were just lurking out of sight, you heard them,” (863) is followed in the same conversation by, “I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up…. It always does in the end.” (864). The contrast between the mundane, everyday idea of pudding immediately followed by the deeply philosophical reasoning that everything “turns up” in the end highlights the fact that Luna’s outlook on life is very different from that of Harry’s other friends and mentors. In Deathly Hallows, Luna is once again the source of comfort at a time when Harry is lost in grief. Just like in Order of the Phoenix, she is relatively unaware of the relationship between Harry and Dobby, but she speaks the eulogy at his funeral and manages to capture the essence of what Harry is feeling: “It was all [Harry] could manage, but Luna had said it all for him,” (480).

While Luna is a brave, intelligent witch, she never quite evolves from the strange girl reading a magazine upside-down with her wand behind her ear that Harry is forced to sit with on the Hogwarts Express (Phoenix 185). In this scene, Harry and Neville think she’s crazy. Later, however, it is revealed that the section of the magazine she’s reading from required her to turn the whole thing upside-down in order to be able to read it correctly. As James Thomas put it in Harry Potter Smart Talk, “Some people can’t tell the difference between someone who reads upside down and who reads the right way.” (5). Luna is not crazy. She is fascinating, quirky, fun, loyal, brilliant and simply herself without ever needing to change. She provides Harry with an insight into himself he had never experienced before by allowing him to come to terms with intense life experiences through simple means (Spartz, Schoen and Kimsey 52). But this is precisely the point of having Luna in the books– to give Harry a new world lens. For example, in Deathly Hallows when Harry, Ron and Hermione visit Luna’s home and Harry goes into her room by accident, he finds her paintings of himself, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville surrounded by the word “friends.” This simple expression of happiness, completeness and unity is something that only Luna could have provided. During the Battle of Hogwarts, Luna is the one who is able to coach Harry into creating a Patronus to fight the dementors. She tells him, “We’re all still hereWe’re still fighting.” (Hallows 649). Again, this is something that at that moment, only Luna could do because Hermione and Ron were equally incapacitated and Harry couldn’t think straight on his own. Even Luna’s life story, with her mother dying when she was very young, and her eccentric father desperate enough to give up the trio to get his daughter back, is much more of a plot mechanism that lets readers understand Harry, while Neville’s is a direct contrast, a “what Harry’s life could have been” situation. Unlike Neville, Luna is not mentioned in the Epilogue of Deathly Hallows. Unlike Neville, Luna never destroys a Horcrux. Unlike Neville, Luna never has to take a stance against Harry, except on non-issues like Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and nargles. Most importantly, unlike Neville, Luna never undergoes a transformation to ground her in reality. Neville is the dynamic, active contrast to Luna’s static emotional reinforcement. Point for point, Neville is shown to be a better, though less explicit, help to Harry than Luna ever will be.

While Luna gives the most obvious direct “support” to Harry, it is Neville who truly helps Harry the most. Neville, not Luna, is the one who has been there from the very start, to challenge Harry and learn from his mistakes and examples. Luna is fun to read about and fun to interact with on a surface level, but Neville is the character that adds a completely new dimension to the series. It is Neville who leads Dumbledore’s Army during his horrific seventh year. It is Neville who forces Harry to reconsider his purpose in returning to Hogwarts. It is Neville who openly defies Voldemort even in the face of Harry’s death. And it is Neville who destroys the final barrier between Voldemort and mortality. It is Neville who is ultimately Harry’s most faithful foil. It is Neville who deserves the applause.

Works Cited

Granger, John. “Ring Composition in Harry Potter.” Harry Potter Class Retreat. Stronghold Castle, Oregon, IL. 31 Mar. 2012. Lecture.

Mills, Alice. “Archetypes and the Unconscious in Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody.” Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. Ed. Giselle Liza Anatol. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 3-13. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 1998. Print.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2003. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine, 2007. Print.

Schneider, Ralf. “Toward A Cognitive Theory Of Literary Character: The Dynamics Of Mental-Model Construction.” Style 35.4 (2001): 607-634. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.

Spartz, Emerson, Ben Schoen, and Jeanne Kimsey. “Who Is the Better Supporting Character: Luna Lovegood or Neville Longbottom?”’s Harry Potter Should Have Died: Controversial Views from the #1 Fan Site. Berkeley, CA: Ulysees, 2009. 50-52. Print.

Thomas, James W., Travis Prinzi, and John Granger. “Luna Lovegood.” Harry Potter Smart Talk. [s.l.]: Interlocking, 2010. 1-16. Print.

Ula, Neda. “Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?” All Things Considered. NPR. 09 Oct. 2008. NPR. NPR: National Public Radio, 09 Oct. 2008. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.


  1. Naturally, I think my granddaughter is brillant! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. A very well-written paper! I really enjoyed her perspective, and she’s definitely spot on in her observations.

    Neville’s transformation from nobody special to the nonchalant hero we have in DH led me to write what was at the time the longest story I’d ever written – 23,000 words chronicling Neville’s seventh year at Hogwarts and how he changes through that experience. His role as the supporting character and foil to Harry are absolutely fascinating.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Very nice work, Mara, and on a topic near and dear to my heart, as both a huge Neville fan and a long-time aficionado of the traditional sidekick. It dovetails nicely with Prof. Gavaler’s post on Harry as a superhero. Personally, I always found the sidekicks more interesting than the main heroes, as evidenced by the atrocious Teen Titans fan fiction I produced in my grad school days.

    I think the reason sidekicks always appealed to me was the fantasy-fulfillment aspect. What kid wouldn’t love to become the superhero’s best friend and indispensable partner? I think a lot of writers create such characters as a way of inserting themselves in the story, from Sancho Panza to Watson to Tommy Stubbins to Robin the Boy Wonder.

    In Harry Potter, the “traditional” sidekick role is perhaps better filled by Ron than Neville. But Neville shows us something more than what it is like to be the Hero’s best friend. Neville shows us that even a “nobody” can be a hero if he has enough courage. As Mara pointed at separated Harry from Neville, in the end, was not courage or leadership. Through pure luck, Harry had a few things Neville did not: the fame, the Horcrux connection to Voldy’s mind, his mother’s magical protection and knowledge of the prophecy, but he didn’t choose any of those. Neville manages make many choices that were as courageous as Harry without any of those benefits, and, as I’ve stated before, in the end, he fulfilled the prophecy as much as Harry did, without even knowing it existed or that it could have been applied to him had Voldemort made a different choice. Harry and Neville both choose to defy Voldemort and die, and both decisions were necessary for Voldemort’s final destruction. But, while Harry knew his “destiny” and had (eventually!) instruction from Dumbledore as to what to do to fulfill it, Neville had only his own motivation and convictions about what is right or wrong. And that is what, for me, makes Neville a more accessible character.

    Besides, who would have believed in Sorcerer’s Stone that Matthew Lewis would wind up better looking than Daniel Radcliffe?

  4. GO NEVILLE!!!!!!!!!!!!

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