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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out a couple of weeks ago so I know I'm a little slow on the Harry Potter uptake. But really, the whole Wizarding era ended for me when the last book came out in 2007. The movies were fun, but more often than not I felt like there were crappy abridged versions of the books. I actually kind of feel sorry for anyone whose only experience with Harry Potter comes from the movies, because the books are so rich and full. If the books are like a delicious steak dinner, the movies are like a scratch and sniff sticker of a hamburger with googly eyes.
I think my biggest problem with the movies as a whole was their neglect of Neville Longbottom. I know you can't cram an entire book into a two hour movie. I know that things have to be edited out. I'm a writer and an avid reader - I know these things and have had my own stuff edited down more than once. But Neville's storyline in the books is so tragic and so heroic. Hell, I don't even think the books spent enough time with Neville. In a nutshell, Neville could have easily been Harry - the Chosen One. According to prophecy:
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...
There were two children that could have fulfilled this prophecy: Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. Harry was made the Chosen One by Voldemort himself, when the Dark Lord went after the Potters as opposed to the Longbottoms. And so we have these two boys living parallel lives - the One Who Was and the One Who Might Have Been. Oddly enough, the One Who Might Have Been is the more interesting and better written character.
So, why are we reading about Harry and not Neville? Why don't we have a more Neville-like Harry? Why does Neville even exist? I wonder if Rowling intended Neville's fate to be so tied to Harry's as she started writing or if Neville was supposed to just be the shlubby sidekick whose story takes a dark turn. He's a sort of proto-Harry.
Voldemort tortures Neville's parents into insanity instead of murdering them. Neville grows up raised by his abrasive gran as opposed to downright abusive extended family, but both boys live lonely lives previous to Hogwarts. Neville is Harry with much less confidence or skill, yet is put into Gryffindor House just like Harry.
Despite Harry's parental loss, Neville lives a much darker, sadder existance. Harry never knew his parents, and Lily and James existed as perfection in his mind. Reuniting with them was Harry's greatest desire, and learning of their faults was his greatest source of anguish. Harry's parents loved him deeply, as evidenced by his strength against Voldemort. Neville knows his parents, but he has only ever known them has human vegetables. And where Harry's parents have imbued him with the power of love, all Mrs. Longbottom can give Nevillie is an empty candy wrapper.
Compared to Neville, Harry's tragedies aren't nearly as tragic. His successes aren't as epic. Once Harry reached Hogwarts, his life blossomed. His professors adored him. Even Snape loved him because he was a part of Lily. He made fast friends in Ron and Hermione. Harry excelled at Quiditch just like his father. While Harry wasn't stupid, much of his schoolwork and a good portion of his mystery solving was helped along by Hermione.
Harry had his crap moments, but there was nothing he couldn't overcome. His support network was vast. But then we have Neville, the proto-Harry. Neville was shy, pudgy, and not very good at magic. He trailed after Harry and his gang, but no one wanted to be friends with Neville on his own. He didn't have a Hermione to help him with his schoolwork.
Neville was expendable and was treated as such. Neville was never invited to stay at Hogwarts on holidays and always went back to his crazy vulture hat gran for more verbal abuse. Neville would never be as good as his parents, but his only knowledge of his parents was their existence at St. Mungo's.
My writer friend Eric Hansen had a good answer to the "why Harry?" question:
I think its a matter of who you would imagine yourself to be... Neville *is* a lot more interesting than Harry, who has the personality of a football/Frodo/tow-headed Skywalker. Neville also had a childhood much more like mine than Harry had (clumsy, daft, and bereft of cute Asian girls with Glaswegian accents). But no one wants to be a Neville.
No one wants to be a Neville. This is a hard truth, I think. No one wants to be the shy, goofy, fat kid with insane parents. No one wants to be so very lonely, making all the difficult choices without friends, with no grand destiny to fulfill at the end of the day. In addition to this, Neville could have so easily ended up just like Peter Pettigrew, bitter and hateful, backstabbing the ones who he once looked up to.
So often, Harry and Co. treat Neville as just another body in the way of their adventures, and in this they make a mistake. Neville is more loyal than Ron, more compassionate than Hermione, and braver even than Harry. Yes, Neville spends a lot of time being afraid, but the hardest time to be brave is when you're afraid. Neville doesn't have an invisibilty cloak to hide under or a Marauder's Map to guide him or a kindly old mentor to help him out. He has only himself.
The most heart-stopping, heartwrenching scene in the entire series is in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Neville takes on Belatrix Lestrange. Neville, whose abilities are a couple steps above squib-ness, directly confronts one of Voldemort's most powerful followers - the very one who tortured his parents into insanity. This is Neville's turning point as a character, and because no one wants to be a Neville, the movie ignores this entire plot thread.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione begin and end the series as golden children. They are filled with a knowledge of their own self worth. Neville has to work up to this basic sense of self and he does so in attacking Belatrix. In the last two Harry Potter volumes, Neville comes to his own even though we don't see very much of him. He embraces his skills in herbology, even though that's not nearly as exciting as Quidditch. He makes his own life outside of Harry's shadow, although he still remains firecely loyal to Harry. Neville holds Hogwarts together after Harry leaves to go camping with Hermione. Neville stays and takes the abuse of Voldemort's Death Eaters, not because he is afraid to do otherwise, but because he knows someone has to do it now that Harry's gone. Someone has to protect the small and the weak - the future Nevilles.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II gives Neville a very brief moment in the sun when he beheads Nagini, but the movie treats this as an accident of circumstance, instead of a deliberate and suicidal gesture in the name of love and loyalty witnessed by all of Hogwarts and Voldemort himself, as told in the book. Even at the end, Harry defeats Voldemort with the help of Dumbledore's ghost, and the shades of his dead family, while Neville again has only himself and his personal convictions.
So yeah, I've always liked Neville more than Harry. I've always thought he was more noble, more interesting, and more deserving of our sympathy where Harry was always very safe, not rocking our emotional boat too far in one direction or another. But no one wants to be a Neville. However, I wouldn't mind dating a Neville...