A Character Analysis
"He's dot alone!" shouted a voice from above them. "He's still god be!" 1
Neville Longbottom, Harry's forgetful, round-faced classmate, has found a way into all of our hearts. His clumsiness, fear of Professor Snape and penchant for herbology has endeared him to people all over the world. But who is Neville Longbottom? How did he grow into the lovable, stuttering but deeply courageous young man that we have come to know and love?
A recent poll on the Leaky Lounge about which Harry Potter character had had the worst childhood saw Neville easily beating worthy contenders such as Remus Lupin and Tom Riddle and in a neck-and-neck race with Harry himself.2 Although Neville, unlike Harry, was brought up in the loving arms of his family, his childhood was no less traumatic and lonely. I think that the events in Neville's childhood and upbringing had a profound effect on the development of his character.
Neville was born in July 1980 as the only son of the Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom.3 Not much is known about his time with his parents, other than that it was short. Frank and Alice were captured by Death Eaters shortly after the fall of Voldemort in 1981 and tortured to insanity.4 They now permanently reside in the Janus Thickey Ward of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries; mere shadows of their former selves and no longer able to recognise their own son.5 After the loss of his parents, Neville's comfortable beginning took a drastic detour when he was sent to live with his grandmother, Augusta Longbottom: an austere and imposing witch with shrivelled, clawlike hands6 and a hat with a stuffed vulture on top.7
Neville has never shown much magical or academic prowess. He is generally behind in class, makes many mistakes and seems to crack easily under pressure. His extreme awkwardness is even testing for the usually just and tolerant head of Gryffindor house, Minerva McGonagall. When Neville accidentally transplants his own ears onto a cactus during one of her lessons she exclaims: "kindly do not reveal that you can't even perform a simple Switching Spell in front of anyone from Durmstrang!" 8 In fact, Neville was a magical late developer. At the Sorting feast of their first year at Hogwarts, Neville explains to his Gryffindor classmates that, though born and raised in a magical family, he did not show any signs of having magical ability until he was eight years old.
"Great Uncle Algie came round for tea and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced ’ all the way down the garden and into the road." 9
This was not the first incident where Neville was nearly killed in one of Great Uncle Algie's attempts to scare him into performing magic. On a previous occasion, Neville was pushed off Blackpool pier and nearly drowned. When Neville finally did show magical ability, the relief was so enormous it even brought his grandmother to tears.10 The young boy must have felt tremendous pressure to do things that he, at that time, had absolutely no control over and this probably sowed the seed of self-doubt in him that has ruled his life for so long. By the time Neville found out he was magical after all, the belief that he was no good was already irrevocably instilled in him.
Even after Neville had shown he possessed the gift of magic, his family did not let him off the hook easily. His "gran" appears to be a hard woman to please. She has very specific hopes and dreams for Neville and does not easily let him deviate from that plan. By all accounts, Frank Longbottom and his wife Alice were brave and intelligent people before they ended up in St. Mungo's. They were famous Aurors as well as members of the original Order of the Phoenix.11 They fought hard in the first battle against Voldemort ’ even defying him three times, just like Harry's parents did12 ’ and suffered the devastating consequences. Augusta feels the loss of her son deeply and expresses this by constantly comparing Neville to his father, even making him use his dad's old wand.13 She continually tells Neville he has to uphold the family honour14 and pushes him to choose subjects for his N.E.W.T.s that he is no good at and does not enjoy.15 At the same time, Neville's own talents are ignored.
The lack of loving parents and doubt about his magical ability would have been enough to turn Neville into a shy, insecure child, but the constant comparison with his father certainly did not improve matters. Already burdened with a severe lack of confidence, Neville also grew up knowing that in the eyes of his primary caretaker – the most influential person in a child's life – he would never be able to live up to the standard set by his father. "Gran's always telling Professor Marchbanks I'm not as good as my dad¦" he once confided in Harry, Ron and Hermione.16 This would only have added to the deep self-doubt and fear of failure he already felt, making him more accident-prone, more likely to crack under stress and, ironically, even less like his father than he may have been. If Augusta had been "proud of the grandson she's got, rather than the one she thinks she ought to have' 17 things may have been very different for "the boy who might have been." If Neville had been nurtured and supported and made to understand that his own qualities were just as valid as his father's, he might not have been weighed down by insecurity for as long as he has.
Neville never had the caring support he needed, and the detached and aggressive way in which his family has been accustomed to show affection has made him socially inept. He has never made many friends at school and even with the few friends he has he is not emotionally close. It is not surprising that he has found an outlet for his caring nature in the subject of herbology. Neville takes pride in fostering and caring for his plants, however strange and obscure they are (think Mimbulus mimbletonia). Plants are living and growing organisms, and for Neville they are his pets and his friends. It does not matter how awkward he is, all plants need is to be looked after and cared for, asking nothing in return. Neville's delight in nurturing and developing the fragile plant life and watching it grow healthy and strong illustrates a striking contrast with his own life: under the loving care of his parents, Neville would have grown strong and confident too. Instead, his development was nipped in the bud.
However, Neville is battling back. He has been growing up before our eyes and is slowly beginning to come into his own. It is becoming clear that he does have talents, but that he has only been held back by his fear and lack of self-assurance. When given the time and freedom to try, he performs quite well in several subjects. His aptitude for herbology was recognised and encouraged by the wizard everyone considered to be Professor Moody, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher during Neville's fourth year at Hogwarts.18 Neville even managed to obtain an "Outstanding" O.W.L. in Herbology later on in his academic career.19 Furthermore, upon hearing that his parents' attackers had escaped from the wizarding prison, Azkaban, Neville found new motivation and drive to master defensive spells. During the meetings of Dumbledore's Army ’ a secret Defence Against the Dark Arts group trained by Harry – Neville
worked relentlessly on every new jinx and counter-curse Harry taught them, his plump face screwed up in concentration, apparently indifferent to injuries or accidents, working harder than anyone else in the room. He was improving so fast it was quite unnerving and when Harry taught them the Shield Charm ’ a means of deflecting minor jinxes so that they rebounded upon the attacker ’ only Hermione mastered the charm faster than Neville. 20
His efforts eventually resulted in his receiving an "Exceeds Expectations" O.W.L. in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Neville's lack of confidence is not his only characteristic that can be directly traced back to events in his childhood. Neville was Sorted into Gryffindor house, and not without reason. Near the end of his first year at Hogwarts, Neville tries to prevent his classmates from getting themselves and Gryffindor house into trouble by attempting to stop them from going on a midnight expedition. He even goes so far as to risk injury by threatening to fight them physically if necessary.21 At the closing feast that year, Professor Dumbledore praises Neville for his courage: " ˜There are all kinds of courage,' said Dumbledore, smiling. ˜It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr Neville Longbottom.' " 22 Neville's shocked reaction to this news suggests that he would have never considered himself to be brave, and he certainly would never have expected to have his actions win Gryffindor the house cup.
Neville's valour doesn't stop there. At the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is Neville who insists that he, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Luna accompany Harry to the Ministry of Magic to help rescue Harry's godfather Sirius from the clutches of Voldemort.
"We were all in the DA together' said Neville quietly. "It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn't it? And this is the first chance we've had to do something real ’ or was that all just a game or something?"
"No ’ of course it wasn't ’" said Harry impatiently.
"Then we should come too' said Neville simply. "We want to help." 23
When they later find themselves surrounded by Death Eaters in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries, Neville shows courage beyond words. He fights like no other. When Hermione is knocked unconscious by the Death Eater Dolohov, Neville jumps out of hiding with his wand at the ready. With his nose broken and carrying the unconscious Hermione on his shoulders, he refuses to let Harry go off on his own. And when he is torn between staying behind with his injured friends and following Harry into the thick of the fight, he quickly judges which of his friends needs his help the most and follows Harry to face a gang of Death Eaters. Though he sometimes causes more damage than he provides help, and though he cannot properly pronounce the spells after he gets his nose broken, Neville's determination to fight never wavers.24 This same relentless courage is seen at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Neville again faces a band of Death Eaters – and even a werewolf. Once again, Neville does not hesitate to fight alongside veteran members of the Order of the Phoenix – though once again he gets himself injured.25
It won't have escaped anyone's notice that during all of these incidents, Neville is frightened beyond compare. His bravery is not boastful or reckless, he is terrified. However, his fear for his own safety pales in comparison to his fear for the safety of his friends. He does not care about getting himself injured or into trouble, as long as his friends are safe. After losing the chance to know his parents, being raised by a family who only grudgingly showed him any affection, and even seeing his grandfather die,26 it seems Neville would literally rather die than lose anything or anyone else he holds dear.
Neville's lonely and traumatic childhood has made him into a sensitive young man who is fiercely protective of the things he cares about: he lovingly cares for his plants as they are the friends that will never leave him; he secretly pockets and treasures the bubble gum wrapper his confused mother pushes into his hand,27 as it is the closest thing to love that he will ever get from her; and he will fight like a lioness to keep his few true friends safe from harm. If it is up to him, Neville is not going to suffer any more losses.
Neville Longbottom: faltering, frightened but brave beyond compare. Damaged by childhood, but battling to find his way. Neville will be ok ’ I think he will go far. As long as you have his friendship, you will not be alone. Neville is worth twelve of anyone.
1. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 705.
2. The Leaky Lounge, "Notable Magical Names, poll."
3. The Harry Potter Lexicon, "Wizards: Neville Longbottom."
4. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 523.
5. Ibid., 523.
6. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 453.
7. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 102.
8. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 208.
9. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 93.
11. The Harry Potter Lexicon, "Wizards: The Longbottom Family."
12. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 742.
13. Ibid., 700.
14. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 168.
15. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 165-66.
16. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 624.
17. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 165.
18. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 195.
19. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 165.
20. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 488.
21. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 198.
22. Ibid., 221.
23. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 671.
24. Ibid., 696-710.
25. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 576-78.
26. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 397.
27. Ibid., 455.
The Harry Potter Lexicon. "Wizards: Neville Longbottom." Member of the Floo Network. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizards/neville.html (accessed 9 September 2006).
-. "Wizards: The Longbottom Family." Member of the Floo Network. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizards/longbottom.html (accessed 9 September 2006).
The Leaky Lounge. "Notable Magical Names of Our Time, poll: Who Had the Worst Childhood?" http://www.leakylounge.com/index.php?showtopic=31893&st=0 (accessed 10 September 2006).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
-. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. -. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. -. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. -. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.