The Importance of Being the Underdog: Harry Potter
by Noor Alnaqeeb (@nooralnaqeeb)
LIKELY SPOILERS BELOW
Every story has its protagonist and every tale as its opposing antagonist, but every epic legend has the underdog that rises against all odds and betters the tale, the spirit and the life of the plot. In Harry Potter the two underdogs I’d like to pay tribute to are Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom.
Once upon a time, in a carriage far, far away, Harry sat contently with Luna and Neville in a compartment until he was asked to join Romilda Vane and her “cooler” friends elsewhere. Although Luna told Harry that people automatically expected him to side with the “cooler” people, Harry agreed, but said that Luna and Neville are those people, and amongst his closest and most trustworthy friends.
Luna Lovegood, the magical creature who believes in conspiracies, has no self-consciousness and has a “knack for embarrassing honesty.” Although the underdog of the school, ‘Loony’ Lovegood played an invaluable role in the world of Harry Potter. On a more grounded level, Luna was the first, and only, to directly connect with Harry’s memories of Privet Drive and the reality of being constantly bullied. With her shoes constantly going missing and crowds of people whispering as they passed her, she knew the torment of being picked on, but she never cared. Harry recognized within Luna that although she felt isolated because she was “different,” he could appreciate her uniqueness. Luna taught Harry that with uniqueness and trusting yourself to be who you are, Harry would strive as a friend and a wizard.
While Luna and Harry stood side-by-side watching the Thestrals, Luna helped Harry fully understand the impact Sirius’s death had on him. She told him about her mother’s death and that she believed they would one day be reunited. Luna comforted Harry in his darkest hour and opened his eyes to a world where he wasn’t alone in experiencing loss and tragedy. Luna was a great friend to all; one who withstood torture to maintain loyalty; one who stood by her friends during hopeless battles and one who catered to their needs in the most selfless ways. Luna was a soldier, not fitting the typical profile but invaluable nevertheless; she joined Dumbledore’s Army, helping them get to the Ministry by suggesting the use of Thestrals. She protected Ron, attacked the Death Eaters and guided an injured Ginny and hurt Ron to safety. She also fought in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower alongside Neville, Ginny, Ron and Hermione.
Luna was there for her friends through thick and thin. She helped a broken Neville to his chair at Dumblerdore’s funeral, she comforted Ollivander while they were both held captive and she believed in Harry when no one else would in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. There are a few dozen more acts of kindness, bravery and unique value demonstrated by Luna; read the books again, they’re scattered throughout, but for now that’ll do.
Neville Longbottom. Yeah, the bad ass with the unsuspecting name, who stood up to Voldemort when all hope was lost, gave a speech that never fails to make me cry, pulled a sword out of a hat and killed a horcrux all within the span of one or two minutes. But that’s not how Neville started. He was first the outcast who never got anything right; who always fell over and always got picked on. Draco, the prevailing source of Neville’s unhappiness at Hogwarts, once stuck Neville’s legs together with a curse forcing him to hop around the castle looking for help. When Neville refused to report Malfoy, Harry gave Neville his chocolate frog, and Neville handed Harry Dumbledore’s collectible card from the Chocolate Frog, importantly identifying Nicolas Flamel and helping Harry, Ron and Hermione on their way on their first adventure. Matthew Lewis, the actor who plays Neville, stated that both Luna and Neville “had so much to offer that people couldn’t see at face value.” They were inspiring characters that people thought nothing of at first and they stood up and stood their ground. Somehow I don’t think people meant stand up to the Dark Lord, but hey it worked out pretty well.
The first time Neville stood up for himself was when Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle taunted the Gryffindor Quidditch team, taking Crabbe and Goyle on by himself. Neville stood for the underdog that wasn’t just underappreciated, but ridiculed. As Lewis put it, Neville’s story is a story of evolution. Neville evolved from the clumsy introverted little boy to the hero he never thought he could be. His story is not one of reinvention, because Neville always was that little butt kicker who tried to stand up to bullies and wrong-doers, instead it’s a story of growth. Neville was the second person mentioned in the prophecy regarding the child who would muster the power to defeat the Dark Lord. As a result, Neville’s parents were tortured to insanity leaving him with his grandmother, a stern woman who was ashamed of him as she believed that Neville hadn’t a magical bone in his body. Longbottom was sorted into Gryffindor, but argued the decision, as he didn’t think that he was brave enough to join their ranks. A permanent membership to Dumbledore’s Army, the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, the Battle of the Astronomy Tower and the Battle of Hogwarts later and we beg to differ, Mr. Longbottom.
Neville will always be the hero who is “worth twelve Malfoys” and Luna will always be the girl who’s got “ten times Xenophilius’s guts.” They would’ve made a great couple (I know for a fact the fandoms have wished it to be so), but individually they are the prevailing underdogs of Harry Potter. Without them, integral plot points would never have been facilitated: the revelation of the Deathly Hallows, the identification of Nicolas Flamel and many others. Similarly so, bigger plot points would not be the same either. Neville and Luna are good, they are humble and it is freeing to watch such beautifully written characters bathe in the light of fan’s adoration.