Weekly Archive
April 28, 2002 - May 4, 2002

RE: Neville: Memory, History, Legacy, Power

[Note: This is a message that I wrote some time ago but then felt reluctant to post, as I thought that so much water had passed under the bridge that it might seem a bit odd to revive the thread in question. I therefore decided just to let it lie fallow. Because it has direct bearing on the portion of this week's Philip Nel discussion question that deals with literary doubles, however, I've now reconsidered my first decision. Note please that my usage of the term "mirror" is far more generalized than that proposed by Robert Rogers and explained in Heidi and Dicentra's terrific Nel message. Apologies for any confusion this might cause. Much of the following was written in response to messages that were posted quite some time ago; the relevant thread dates from late March and begins with Message #36772.]

This is one of a series of follow-ups to "Still Life with Memory Charm" (message #36772). I offer my sincere apologies for the long delay: other matters intervened there for a while, and then, by the time that I got back to this, so many people said such interesting things that it took me quite some time just to process them all!

My first response deals with my last question, regarding the thematic relevance of the issues of memory, remembrance, and the past to the story as a whole and to Neville's particular narrative function within it. It touches upon the (IMO) related question of just what Neville fears: why he might choose to downplay his own magical abilities, why Snape should serve as his boggart, and what significance, if any, the appearance of boggart-Snape dressed in Gran's clothing might have. It also explores some of the possible ramifications of the literary parallels between Neville and Harry.

Because this particular discussion in no way depends upon the acceptance of any version of the Memory Charm speculation, I have changed the subject line accordingly.


Quite some time ago, I asked:

Tell me...what do you see as the narrative function of this plotline? What do you imagine its thematic purpose to be? What do you perceive as the thematic relevance of issues of memory, remembrance, and the past to the story as a whole?

Dicentra offered to answer:

Dicentra raises her hand, Neville-like:

Having argued that Neville's magic is powerful, dangerous and poorly controlled, and that it gets even more poorly controlled whenever he is placed under stress, Elkins calls on Dicentra gently.

Oh, so very gently.


I have to believe that during Voldemort's reign people did things they weren't proud of, things they wouldn't have done if there hadn't been a war on, things they are desperate to keep hidden. They have done what they could to cover their sins, hoping that by so doing their sins would be forgotten — that they would cease to exist, in other words. But the filth they swept under the rug has festered during that time, and it's taking on a life of its own. Soon it will erupt in their faces.

And by the end of GoF, it already has erupted in a number of people's faces, hasn't it? Dicentra offered as examples Crouch Sr., whose dirty secret is not only exposed but also quite literally kills him, and Sirius' wrongful imprisonment without benefit of trial, acknowledgment of which could force public recognition of the Ministry's corruption. I would also suggest that Voldemort's return might represent an undesired "eruption in their faces" for quite a few former Death Eaters other than Karkaroff and Snape.

I found Dicentra's conceit of the "filth under the rug" a particularly evocative one. It led me to contemplate the role in GoF of things which are not only hidden, but specifically buried, things which then return to the light of day to drive the plot forward.

Barty Crouch Jr. is believed not only to have died, but also to have been buried. This is strongly emphasized in "Padfoot Returns" when Sirius recounts, with some degree of emotion, the story of having served as eye-witness to the event. The situation, however, is not what it seems: it is in fact the young man's mother who was buried at Azkaban; he himself underwent a different and more symbolic form of "burial" by spending over a decade both under the mental subsumption of the Imperius Curse and the physical/visual subsumption of the Invisibility Cloak. He is therefore, in a sense, doubly buried — or perhaps even triply buried. The plot revolves around the havoc that he wreaks once he has been "exhumed." In the end, he turns the tables on his father, transforming him into a bone and burying him, in turn, in Hagrid's pumpkin patch. The buried son who was also the "skeleton in the family closet" is restored to life; it is the father who becomes a buried bone.

Paralleling the story of the Crouch family, we then have the saga of the Riddle family. At the story's opening, Elder Riddle has been buried. He is dead and gone; his body has been interred. And yet his murder is never truly "buried" at all for Frank Bryce, who continues for the rest of his life to suffer the social stigma of having been unjustly accused of the crime, a crime actually committed by Riddle's son, in part as a type of vengeance for having himself been "buried:" hidden away in a muggle orphanage, rather than accepted as a member of the family. Young Tom Riddle (and his mother) are themselves dirty secrets, the skeletons in the Riddle family closet, things that had been hidden safely away and out of sight. The exhumation of Elder Riddle's bones is the necessary prerequisite for the spell by which Younger Riddle, as Voldemort, can once more return to the flesh: what was buried is exhumed, what was bone (quite literally in Elder Riddle's case, more figuratively in the case of "skeleton in the closet" Younger Riddle) is transformed to flesh. Here once again, we see a strong connection between three concepts: the father/son bond (further emphasized by the sharing of names); turnabout, or Nemesis; and the idea that the exhumation of things long-buried can bring about a dramatic, violent, and not always positive result.

Placed into this context, the Niffler scene interests me very much. Here, the buried material is illusory money, leprechaun gold. Its exhumation leads to a reawakening of Ron's frustration with his family's poverty and his resentment of Harry's own wealth. In this case, however, the exhumation has no dire effects. Ron weathers it. He is able (perhaps because it is merely illusory gold?) to overcome his frustration and his envy: he does not allow the event to lead to a second schism in his friendship with Harry.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the financial concerns of the Weasleys do play a strong background role in GoF. Ron's quarrel with Harry, the Twins' conflict with Molly, the Twins' blackmail subplot, and Percy's desperation to prove himself on the job (a desperation which allows him to be manipulated into unwittingly aiding Voldemort's plan) are all, as I see it, motivated in large part by the Weasley children's attempts to come to some terms with their family's poverty. Undercurrents of tension and discord underscore the Weasley family dynamics throughout GoF; it is difficult for me not to view their financial difficulties as one of the leading causes of this disharmony. Although Ron resists the negative temptations of the Niffler scene, therefore, I still tend to read it as thematically tied to the dangerous role that exhumed items play throughout the novel.

And yet that which was buried and is later exhumed can also prove beneficial. I do not think it coincidental that the novel's climactic conflict should take place in a graveyard, nor that the outcome should be decided by wand cores of Phoenix feather, by the spirits of the temporarily reawakened dead, by the Ghosts of Spells Past. Revival of the past can help as well as harm; sometimes, as in the end of PoA, it can even protect and heal.

Dicentra wrote:

It occurs to me that Neville is emblematic of the whole of the Wizarding World. If the Memory Charm theory is correct, the charm is an attempt to erase the horror he experienced while watching his parents be tortured (symbolizing the whole war), and possibly it's to erase one or more dirty little secrets.

It's an interesting parallel, to be sure. Neville, whether Memory Charmed or not, is notorious for his "poor" memory. And yet, whether for reasons psychological or magical or both, something certainly does seem to be interfering with his ability to function. Crouch's demonstration of the Cruciatus upsets him tremendously. The past would seem to be affecting him very strongly, and yet he is the one who, it is claimed, "cannot remember."

I do see a strong parallel here with wizarding culture overall. A culture whose children are not told even the most basic facts about the last war — and yet reenact its schismatics on a daily basis in their feuds and rivalries at Hogwarts. A culture whose members simultaneously insist that Voldemort is gone, never to return — and yet fear to speak his name out loud. A culture whose adults all seem to share the tacit understanding that many of its most well-respected members are also unrepentent practitioners of dark magic. Is this memory, or is it forgetfulness? Is what's afflicting this culture that it is trapped in the past, or that it refuses to remember the past?

Well, both, I'd say. Both.

In this respect, I can also see Neville's parents as a kind of personification of the wizarding world. We are told that they "do not recognize" their own son. And yet what could their madness be, if not a kind of perpetual reenactment of their past suffering? Are they amnesiac, or are they trapped within their own memories? What lies at the core of their dysfunction: that they cannot remember, or that they remember certain things not wisely, but too well?

Again, I think that the answer is: both. What is wrong with the Longbottom family—and with the wizarding world as a whole, as I see it—is an inability to deal with the past in a healthy manner: what ought to be remembered is forgotten, while what should have been let go is retained.

Or, as Gulplum quite succinctly put it:

The ability to forget is as important to the health of the human psyche as the ability to remember.



Someone might have hoped that if these things are forgotten, maybe they didn't happen. Maybe they'll go away. Maybe then everything will be OK. But Neville isn't OK. He isn't functioning well. The filth swept under his rug keeps surfacing. It keeps interfering with his attempts to be a good wizard. It erupts in his face uncontrollably. And there's every reason to believe his Memory Charm will fracture and all hell will break loose.

The thematic importance of Neville's Memory Charm, therefore, is to be a microcosm of the larger theme of memory and secrets in the post-Voldemort years. That "forgetting" or hiding the evil done during that time doesn't make it go away. That the world ISN'T functioning normally. That it will eventually come back to bite you hard in the anatomy.

I agree with Dicentra, and I must also confess here to a streak of sheer black envy (always a very dangerous thing in the Potterverse, as we all know!), because she expressed all of that so much better than I could ever have done myself.

I also find myself wondering, though, to what extent remembering may not also be problematic. All of the books have placed some degree of emphasis on the problems inherent in dwelling, in holding on far too tightly to the past: grudge, vengeance, depression, distraction. Porphyria did a very good job in message #36787, I thought, of itemizing some of the ways in which Harry's memories are shown throughout the books to be both seductive and dangerous. I think that the burial motif in GoF also strongly supports this reading. Burying things away may be problematic, but exhuming them again is always a risky proposition. The legacy of the past does help Harry to escape from the graveyard, but it is also what enables Voldemort to rise again.

Neville is indeed not functioning well. Unlike Harry, he is profoundly ineffectual. But also unlike Harry, he is—and this is the word that nearly always seems to be dredged up to describe him—"sweet." He is charitable, forgiving. He is not prone to anger, and he seems to possess very little in the way of malice. Above all else, he does no harm.

Sweet, dear, sensitive Neville — why, he's just a little angel, isn't he?

Is anyone else here a fan of the Ever So Cheesy cult film Barbarella? The last line of the movie is:

"Angels have no memories."

But what about avenging angels?


I can picture Neville going postal when he regains his memory. I can see him as an angel of wrath wreaking vengeance on all those who messed with him (or with anyone). And I can see that running parallel to what happens in the Wizarding World when the Truth comes out.

Yes, there is an unsettling sense of "just you wait" about Neville as he is presented in GoF, isn't there? A sense of something coiled to spring? A sense of even the lowliest worm will turn?

But is turning really what we as readers want for Neville?

Is it really what Neville wants for himself?


"Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive for such things..."


In my first message on this subject, I proposed that to whatever extent Neville's poor memory may be beyond his control, many aspects of his apparent feebleness, his apparent inability to compete, seem to be his own doing. I cited my reasons for suspecting that Neville himself goes out of his way to encourage others to view him, incorrectly, as "nearly a Squib," and as a bit of a coward as well. I expressed my belief that whenever Neville is forced into conflict, he deliberately plays to lose.

Porphyria wrote:

You've made a convincing point that Neville is the one responsible for leading everyone to think of him as Squib-like. And I'm wondering what exactly you think is going on with him.

And then promptly answered her own question:

Elkins points out all the ways in which Neville seems to lack wizarding pride and refuses to take part in the obligation to grow up big and strong and avenge his wronged parents. He goes out of his way to make it look (and perhaps make himself believe) that he's incapable of doing so. Snape OTOH is the very epitome of exactly what Neville is trying to avoid being himself. Is that what scares him? That Snape could be an image his fully actualized self?

Yes. I think that's what scares him.

Like Porphria herself, as well as Gulplum, Tabouli, Dogberry, and others who were kind enough to respond, I think that Neville is afraid of power. That is a large part of what I think that Snape represents to him: power, and not only power in the general sense, but even more specifically, power as it seems to find its primary expression in the traditional culture of the wizarding world.

JKR's wizarding society strikes me as above all else a competitive culture. It is capitalist, combatative; it is obsessed with sport. Duelling is not only legal, but also sufficiently socially acceptable that it is taught to schoolchildren as an extracurricular activity; one of Professor Flitwick's credentials as a Professor of Charms is that he was once a duelling champion. The entire structure of Hogwarts is based around competition. Everything, from academics to athletics to comportment, is viewed as fair game for the allocation and docking of "points" which apply towards the attainment of an item which serves a purely symbolic function: the House Cup. The House Cup is nothing but a trophy. It confers no actual benefit to the members of the House which possesses it. It is a pure expression of winning for the sake of winning. And yet the entire student body would seem to be terribly invested in its attainment. They are willing to allow their desire for this empty symbol to motivate their actions to a degree that at times seems quite ludicrous.

(Are none of these otherwise seemingly bright students capable of realizing that the Cup is nothing but a chimera? I always find myself wondering, not without a certain degree of irritation. Can't any of them see through that particular ploy? Or is it just that we never meet any of those students, because they were all sorted into Ravenclaw?)

In such a cultural context, power is not merely power. It is power as expressed through pride and ambition, power as expressed through competition, conflict, certamen. It is power as expressed through struggle. It is power as expressed through striving and through strife. That is what I believe that Neville fears, and that is what I think that he sees personified in Snape.

It is a very masculine type of power, and viewed in this context, Snape's targetting of the toad Trevor takes on some unavoidably Freudian overtones. In spite of having proposed in my last message that Trevor might serve as a textual symbol of Neville's magical potency itself, I'd been hoping to avoid getting too Freudian with this analysis, but...oh, well, it's just so hard to avoid with Neville, isn't it? The poor boy really does seem to be quite the mass of Freudian conflict. And besides, it's fun, so let's go for it. After all, as Pippin and Tabouli have had a blast discussing, frogs and toads have a long history of standing in as representations of masculine sexuality, and the concept of wizards' animal companions as repositories or symbols of their potency has some very deep roots as well.

So when Snape threatens Trevor in Potions class, or forces Neville to disembowel toads as his detention, I'm afraid that I do tend to read that as a castration threat. In essence, I think that the message that Neville himself must be taking away from it is: "Use it or lose it, boy!"

Small wonder that Snape scares him so.

And while we're grovelling around down here in the dirt with the psychoanalytic theory, how about those cauldrons, eh?

Gulplum wrote:

The main way in which Neville's problems with Snape show up is his knack of destroying cauldrons. We're reminded of this several times. What's so important about that element, or am I just reading too much into it?

Mmmmmmm. Well. We could go off on quite the riff here, I suppose, about what it might mean for Dreaded Dark Animus Snape to encourage the fire of Neville's suppressed masculinity to erupt forth, melting right through the protective womb-like enclosure of the cauldron, couldn't we? If you favor both "Gran gave Neville a Memory Charm" and "Snape is trying to crack Neville's Memory Charm," then such an interpretation would certainly give you plenty of room to maneuver.

Or, if you prefer, we could contemplate instead the symbolic connection between a cauldron with a melted bottom and the flawed receptive vessel of a mind that cannot retain memory. Here we touch on Jung: memory is the repository of culture, the cauldron is the receptacle of the collective unconscious, and the effect of Neville's poorly-controlled magic is to render his own internalized cauldron inoperative, thus cutting him off from both the benefits and the dangers of his own cultural legacy.

Is "a mind like a bottomless cauldron" the wizarding equivalent of "a mind like a leaky sieve," perhaps? Or, for that matter, a mind like a leaky PENsieve?


So if what Snape represents to Neville is power, then how does that relate to the ongoing motif of memory?

Porphyria wrote:

I think his cultivated ineptness is related to the memory charm, but perhaps only thematically. Perhaps his susceptibility to forgetting parallels his refusal to acknowledge his power.

I think that it does. We really have two conceptual clusters here: one involving power, competition, struggle and strife, and the other involving issues of memory, remembrance, history and the past. In Neville's case (and, I would argue, in the books as a whole), these two clusters seem to be inextricably thematically linked. And I think that they are both represented very neatly by the figure of Snape.

After all, Snape doesn't really represent power to us, does he? I would say that Dumbledore and Voldemort, taken together, stake a far stronger claim to that role than Snape does.

What Snape does often represent to the reader, I think, is memory, and a particularly negative manifestation of memory at that. Snape, it seems to me, often stands in as a personification of the perils of memory retention: grudge, envy, bitterness, resentment.

He also often stands in as a personification of the shadow side of the desire for attainment: not glory, but thwarted ambition; not the noblesse oblige of the gracious conqueror, but the twisted vindictiveness of the seething and resentful conquered.

Where these two conceptual clusters converge, there we find Snape.

There we also find vengeance.

"Vengeance is very sweet," quoth Snape.

In my original message, I asked:

So just what is it about Professor Snape — ex-DE Snape, Snape who is proud and vengeful and combatative, and who is obsessed with duty and honor, Snape who looks like the very archetype of a Powerful Sorceror, Snape who is the Head of House Slytherin, Snape who appears in boggart form looking as if he may well be reaching for his wand (even though he teaches a wandless subject), Snape in whose class Neville keeps melting down his cauldrons, Snape who is onto Neville and obviously doesn't believe this "I'm just nearly a Squib" act for a second—

What does this man represent to Neville Longbottom? Just what is it about Snape that scares Neville so very much?

I then went on to invite speculation about just what it might mean for Neville's boggart Snape to appear dressed in Gran's clothing.

Eileen, who sometimes seems to understand how my mind works so well that frankly she scares me just a little, all but read my thoughts when she likened the wizarding world to the culture of Livian Rome. (Did Eileen somehow know that this was my academic focus back in my University days? I found myself wondering. Or was that just an amazingly inspired deduction?) In addition to making me laugh out loud by translating Neville's family name to "Lombottomi," she also wrote:

I wouldn't be surprised if Gran and the rest of the clan desperately want Neville to be an auror. That's how it works in the Potterverse.

I am convinced that Neville's family wants him to become an auror. The members of his family, particularly Gran herself, would seem to speak to him often about his duties and obligations in regard to the family name.

When Gran sends Neville a howler in PoA, the nature of its complaint is that he has "brought shame on the whole family."

"She's always going on about how I should be upholding the family honor," Neville tells the others, in a "gloomy voice," right after the Triwizard Tournament is first announced in GoF.

I also find it telling that Gran sends him that Remembrall. It is, as others have pointed out, a completely useless item, even a somewhat mocking one. It serves only to remind you that there is something that you have forgotten, something that you have neglected to do.

But then, that certainly does convey quite a message in and of itself, doesn't it?


Taking Neville every year to see his parents? "Will you let this wrong stay unrighted? Will you forget what has been done to us?"

Here, Neville. Have a Remembrall. Yes. You're welcome.

Under this scheme, Gran and Snape are firmly united. They are the ghost of Hamlet's father in this mixed-up rendition of the immortal play.

Yes, that was precisely what I was trying to get at when I wrote about the significance of Neville's boggart: the image of Snape, the archetypical Proud and Vindictive Wizard, dressed in Gran's clothes.

What I was hoping to suggest there was that both of these figures, Gran and Snape, might represent to Neville the cultural expectations that have been laid upon him as the scion of an old, proud and pureblooded family, as the only son of a heroic and effectively martyred Auror father. I was hoping to suggest that together they might serve to stand in as animus and anima of the entire warrior culture of the wizarding world, of its dynamics of hatred and strife: the grudges that get passed down through the generations, the endless cycle of violence begetting violence begetting violence.

I cling to the feeble hope that there may be some significance to be found in the fact that Neville was capable of banishing the SnapeGranBoggart.

Oh, but I am afraid. I am very much afraid. I am afraid that—

Elkins, are you afraid that JKR plans to have Neville cry, "From now on, let all my thoughts be bloody! Or nothing worth!" To fall into line with the warrior culture which he has resisted so far?

Yes! Yes, that's it! That is exactly what I fear.

After all, wouldn't that just be a kind of reiteration of what she did with him at the end of PS/SS?

If so, I now begin to see why you think JKR isn't on your side, or my side either.

Or, for that matter, on Neville's side. Because...

And, personally, I don't think Neville very much wants to fulfil his destiny. He tries to supress his magic because he wants that as an excuse for not becoming the avenging son.

That's exactly my reading of Neville. He wants to avoid the entire dynamic. He does not hope to turn again, he does not hope to turn. He no longer strives to strive towards such things.


"Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?"


And indeed, why on earth should he? Why on earth should any of us?

But I have this horrible feeling that JKR might disagree with me there.


There is hope, however. Rowling has said that one of the students, but not one of the trio, will become a teacher at the end of the series. I think that would be a perfect ending for Neville. Still, all occasions do inform against us.

Occasions, sadly, do. And besides, Neville could be an avenging angel and still become a teacher, couldn't he?

Oh. I am wary. I am ever so wary.

As I believe that Eileen herself once wrote (causing my inner classicist to chortle with glee): "Consider no author trustworthy until she is finished."


Porphyria had some very insightful things to say about legacies:

If the series in general revolves around Harry accepting his legacy as a Potter, then maybe Neville is there to demonstrate the refusal to accept a legacy, and just exactly why legacies are such a dangerous and threatening things to have.

I very much like this reading, and I am swooningly grateful to Porphyria for her suggestion of the word "legacy." Legacy is the perfect term for the concept I have been trying to wrap my mind around, I think, because it encompasses both of those conceptual clusters that I mentioned before: it touches on both the issues of history and the past, and also on those of ambition and attainment. The word "legacy" also serves well here because it carries with it both negative and positive connotations. There are legacies of wealth, and then there are legacies of horror. A legacy can be either good or bad. Usually, it is a bit of both.

Harry benefits in many obvious ways from his legacy as a Potter. His mother's love protects him, both as an infant and at the end of PS/SS, and his championing of her memory helps to sustain him during his confrontation with Riddle at the end of CoS. His father—represented both as the incarnation of Harry's future self and as Harry's Prongs Patronus—appears to protect him at the end of PoA, and James' memory is what saves Lupin and Sirius from their own vengeful impulses in the Shrieking Shack. The reminder of his father's past heroism is what gives Harry the strength to resist Voldemort in the graveyard at the end of GoF (when will Voldemort learn to stop taunting Harry about his parents?), and his parents' temporarily-resurrected spirits aid in his escape.

And yet his legacy also harms him, and in far more ways than the exceptionally powerful enemy that he has inherited. Harry is highly vulnerable to the siren song of the Mirror of Erised, to the draining power of the Dementors, to the temptations of ambition and of anger. The desire to avenge his parents very nearly leads him to murder Sirius in the Shrieking Shack.

Eileen wrote:

Remember Draco Malfoy telling Harry that he'd want personal revenge on Black if he were in Harry's shoes?

Oh, yes. That I do. And as it happens, once Harry learns the story of Sirius Black's supposed role in his parents' murder, he does want vengeance on him, doesn't he? He wants that very badly. And he wants it so very badly in large part because of all of that time he has spent being forced by the Dementors (and by the boggart Dementor) to listen to the sound of his parents' murders, to the voice of his mother pleading helplessly for his life. That is what drives him to such anger, to that desire for vengeance.

What drives Harry to the desire for vengeance is memory.

One of the things that has always most intrigued me about the notion of amnesiac Neville is its implication for the contrast that I perceive between Neville's forgiving and pacifistic nature and Harry's own tendencies to anger and violence.

There are strong parallels between the two characters. They have very similar family histories. Both were effectively orphaned by the last war. Both have every "right" to feel themselves deeply invested in the upcoming conflict. Both would seem to have been subjected to rather harsh upbringings. And both of them were placed into House Gryffindor by the Sorting Hat...but only after a long hesitation.

But just look at the differences between them!

Neville exhibits very little in the way of True Warrior Spirit. He doesn't seem to hold any particular grudge even against the Slytherins, who torment him, nor does he often express anger. He is always being exhorted by others to "stand up for himself," but the few times that we actually see him doing so, he seems to be doing it far more to conform to others' expectations than to please himself. He certainly does lack self-assertion, and this can at times make him unreliable: at the beginning of PoA, he tells Malfoy about Harry's reaction to the dementors; at the beginning of GoF, he either slinks away from or remains utterly silent throughout (the text is unclear) the confrontation on the train. His poor memory causes problems for him, as does his timidity. His flaws are the flaws of quietism: he suffers from a certain lassitude, an unwillingness or an inability to engage head-on with the trials of the world. But he also lacks both pride and anger, and he seems to possess very little in the way of malice: Neville may fear Snape a great deal, but he never gives the slightest indication of wishing him harm.

Harry, on the other hand, has no difficulties at all with self-assertion. He is admirable in his exhibition of all of the classic warrior virtues. He is exceptionally courageous and strong-willed; he defends the weak; he has a strong sense of honor. He's also prone to all of the corresponding warrior vices: pride, anger, violence, ambition, vengeance. He is deeply competitive. When Snape angers Harry, Harry fantasizes about casting the Cruciatus Curse on him.

If we accept some variation on the notion that Neville's memory is suppressed (regardless of how this came about), then it is very tempting—for me, at least—to view these differences in behavior as partly a reflection of the difference between those who can remember the past, and those who cannot.

This seems to me to fit in very neatly with the way that the books, particularly PoA and GoF, have already dealt with the effects of the past on the present: the deeply corrupting influence of past wrongs, the profoundly redemptive influence of past love. Harry, as one who can remember the past, can be both helped and harmed by it. Neville, by virtue of being cut off—or having cut himself off—from his past, reaps none of its benefits, but neither is he exposed to its more corrupting and baleful influences.


Porphyria asked me what I meant by emphasizing the fact that the Sorting Hat took a very long time with Neville:

Were you thinking the Hat was tempted to sort him into Slytherin?

Oh, dear! Oh. No. No, I wasn't. That would be a sorry fate for someone terrified of competition, wouldn't it?

No, that wasn't really what I meant to imply at all, although I suppose that by calling Neville "sneaky," I did rather. No, what I was thinking at the time was really two entirely separate things: one of them far more subversive than the other.

The first thing that I was thinking was that Neville, as Harry's mirror and as someone desperate to avoid conflict, probably spent an awfully long time trying to convince the Hat not to put him in Gryffindor. I imagine him sitting there on that stool thinking "Not Gryffindor, please not Gryffindor, please, anywhere but Gryffindor..." But of course, because Neville is the anti-Harry, the Hat just ignored him completely.

The second and to my mind far more intriguing possibility lurking at the back of my mind, though, was that the entire paradigm by which the Sorting Hat evaluates character might, in some sense, not have applied very well to Neville at all due to his estrangement, whether voluntary or not, from his own culture.

Culture is, after all, itself a type of legacy. It is passed down from parent to child, it is conveyed through history. To some extent, it resides in the memory. But memory is precisely what we are told that Neville lacks.

The possibility that the Sorting Hat's dilemma with Harry was due to Harry's role as the possible unifier of all four Houses has been discussed here often in the past. People have pointed out that in the Hat's musings, it touches upon all four of the Houses' criteria before offering Harry a place first in Slytherin, and then in Gryffindor. Some have speculated that this might represent Harry's role as a kind of exemplar, an embodiment of all four of the founders and thus, by extension, of a holistic unification of the wizarding world.

If we accept this premise, and if we agree that Harry and Neville can be read as shadow images, or as mirrors, to one another, then what do we make of the Hat's long hesitation over Neville? Could it be that just as Harry reaps both the benefits and the drawbacks of his heritage, while Neville accepts neither of them, so Harry answers the Sorting Hat's fundamental question with "All of the Above," while Neville answers: "None of the above?"

A very long time ago, so long ago that I have long since lost the message number, Tabouli wrote:

Hmm. I wonder what made JKR choose the qualities she did to identify the houses?

- Courage
- Ambition
- Diligence
- Intellect

... why these four qualities? Obviously you can't get completely mutually exclusive qualities, but you could get less overlap than those four.

Yes. You certainly could. Really, they're very telling, aren't they? They represent only the hard virtues. Where are sensitivity, imagination, creativity, spiritual insight? Where are the Christian virtues of humility, charity, faith or temperance?

If I were forced to hazard a guess as to what quality or virtue Neville most strongly values, both in himself and in others, I would probably say "compassion." It is what Ginny, in GoF, says that he gave as his reason for asking Hermione to the Yule Ball: not that she was smart or clever or faithful or brave, or even pretty, but that she had been kind.

But compassion, it would seem, was not a trait that any of the four founders particularly valued or sought in their students.

I joked around a bit in an earlier post about Indeterminate Neville, citing the student list's lack of any symbols at all next to Neville's name as proof of his status ("You see? That proves it! He is Indeterminate!"), but all joking aside, this is very much how I see Neville's position at this point in the story: as strangely indeterminate, or perhaps even indeterminable, a figure who seems to be standing outside of the circumscriptions of his own culture and who therefore may have the ability to change that culture in a far more deep and profound manner than someone like Harry ever can. Harry, by accepting the power of his legacy, must also accept its restrictions. Neville, by rejecting his legacy, might enjoy an unusual degree of freedom from the snares and the patterns of history.


"Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place..."


Considering Neville's memory problems as indicative of a fundamental rejection of history leads me to contemplate the ever-mounting and often confusing proliferation of generational parallels that the text seems to go out of its way to suggest to readers—Draco/Snape, Draco/Lucius, Ron/Sirius, Ron/Arthur, Neville/Peter, Ginny/Lily, Hermione/Lily, Hermione/Remus, Harry/James, Harry/Riddle, Harry/Dumbledore, Voldemort/Grindelwald, and so on and so forth—almost all of them incomplete or contradictory or unconvincing, or in some other way profoundly unsatisfying.

History, the text seems to be suggesting, both does and does not repeat itself: it may or it may not; it can or it can't. Individual choice is vital, but choice is also constrained by the circumstances already laid in place. The extent to which any of the characters really have any choice at all in their affairs is to my mind one of the great tensions of the series as a whole.

I think that as readers, we can state with some certainty that our strong and heart-felt desire is for history not to repeat itself, or at least not precisely as it did the last time around. But the question then becomes: to what extent does knowledge of the past help or hinder this goal? Is it really those who are unaware of history who are doomed to repeat it? Or is it perhaps only those who choose to reject history who stand the slightest chance of resisting the patterns that history imposes upon the culture and those who live within it? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?

Which attitude is more likely to lead to a repetition of the horrors of the past: Neville's or Harry's? If we take as a starting assumption that the Sorting Hat's long hesitation with Neville represented a classification of "None of the Above," while its dilemma over Harry was one of "All of the Above," then what does that say about their respective relationships to the culture and history of the world that they live in? About their respective abilities to avoid becoming ensnared in the negative patterns of the past? About their respective abilities to draw off of the strengths provided by the positive aspects of the past?

Would Neville with a restored memory become more like Harry? Would this necessarily be a Good Thing?

People who believe that Neville has a memory charm often speculate that this charm will eventually be removed, and that when it does, Neville will "come into his own." He will be able to access previously-suppressed reservoirs of magical power; he will gain self-confidence; he will become SUPER-Neville. He will go out and kick DE butt. He will bring honor to the family name; he will exhibit Proper Pure-blooded Wizarding Pride. He will become at last a True Warrior-Spirited Gryffindor.

I lie awake sometimes at night, fearing that something like this might indeed be the author's intent. Because if it is, then I won't view it as a triumph for the forces of Good at all. I will view it as a horrible horrible tragedy.


"And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I might forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us..."


In terms of their respective coming-of-age stories, Harry and Neville seem to me to represent mirrored archetypes. Harry's story is that of the orphan boy revealed to be the heir to the throne. His adoptive family had denied him the knowledge of the potency of his legacy: his magical power, his financial wealth, the social status that he holds by default within the wizarding world. His story then, the coming of age story that accompanies his own particular archetype, is one of acceptance, of "coming into ones own" by proving oneself worthy of the legacy that one has inherited, and by learning to accept that legacy's negative aspects along with its positive ones.

Neville, on the other hand, I tend to read as a representation of the opposing archetype: the prince renunciate, the abdicator or the apostate. Neville has always known that he is (or that he is "supposed to be") a wizard. He has always known that his family is old and proud and well-respected, that they are "pureblood." He has always known that his father was a kind of a war hero, albeit a martyred one. And he has always been aware—far too well aware, I'd say—of the role that he is expected to play within his society.

And he's running away from it just as fast as he can. His story, the coming of age story that accompanies Neville's type, is one of renunciation, rather than of acceptance, of "coming into ones own" by finding the strength to reject the legacy and to forge instead a new destiny of ones own choosing.

In this respect, Harry and Neville are themselves mirrored by GoF's two parricidal villains, aren't they? Voldemort, as Harry's nemesis, is himself an orphan-revealed-to-be-heir. And Crouch Jr. serves as Neville's shadow, the darker manifestation of the renunciate, the Golden Boy turned apostate.

With Neville (not to mention Crouch), JKR has certainly shown us quite a bit of the perils of renunciation. She has not shown us very much of its advantages. I suspect that this is because her authorial vision does not encompass them. I find this extremely disappointing, admittedly largely for autobiographical reasons: I am, you see, a bit of a renunciate myself. But I also find it disappointing on far less personal (if perhaps equally idiosyncratic) philosophical grounds. I would very much like to see some challenge offered to the fundamental tenets of the Potterverse's wizarding culture. I would very much like to see someone within the series show the capacity to think outside of the box represented by those four horrid Houses of Hogwarts School. I would like to see someone question a few of the assumptions which serve as the foundations for the culture of the wizarding world.

I would like to feel, upon closing Book Seven, that a sequel starring the next generation of young wizards had not been left as a virtual inevitability. I would believe that it is possible to walk away from Omelas.


Something about talking about the theme of memory seems to inspire people to quote poetry. Porphyria cited Browning, and then Eileen provided us with the verses, after herself sliding into Shakespearean iambics. And yet I notice that no one seemed to fix upon the poem that was stuck in my own mind when I wrote my original message on this topic, the poem that was responsible for my decision to call it a "Still Life."


"Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death."

—TS Eliot, from "Ash-Wednesday," 1930


A very happy May Day/Beltane/Workers International Day to you all.

—Elkins, indebted to Fiat Incantatum for reminding her of those who walk away from Omelas