Canon discussion / Essays

Fears and Naïveté


Fears and Naïveté

Professor Lupin‘s first class with the third-year Gryffindors covers boggarts, which shapeshift into a form that the person who encounters it will find the most frightening.  As humans grow and age, they compile more experiences, which result in unique personalities, a deeper capacity for emotions, and more complex desires and fears.  The third-years in Harry’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class are thirteen years old–right in the middle of becoming themselves.  It is no surprise that the classmates show differing levels of maturity at this stage.  Hermione regrets that she is not given a chance to “tackle” the boggart in their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Professor Lupin.  Ron teases her with his remark:

“What would it have been for you?” said Ron, sniggering.  “A piece of homework that only got nine out of ten?” – PA7

His comment likely hits a little too close to home, as when Hermione faces the boggart during her end-of-term exam, it takes the form of Professor McGonagall, who informs her that she has failed everything.  On the surface, her fear does seem trivial and silly, but it is also quintessentially Hermione, and it is indicative of a more meaningful characteristic.

Each character’s boggart speaks volumes about that character.  When Professor Lupin speaks to Harry about his choice to prevent Harry’s confrontation with the boggart, he learns that Harry would likely have seen a dementor–not, as Lupin expected, Voldemort.  Lupin tells Harry that fearing fear itself above all else is very wise.  Fear of fear does seem more mature than fear of failing one’s exams, and one could easily argue that Hermione’s greatest fear would have evolved as the threat of Voldemort loomed ever nearer.  However, fear of failure, in general, seems less naive.

In comparison to Molly Weasley‘s experience with the boggart in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, during which the boggart transforms into her family members lying dead before her, most other boggart forms seem pretty tame.  Unfortunately for Mrs. Weasley, she has experience with losing loved ones–her twin brothers, Gideon and Fabian, die at the hands of Death Eaters.  Given that she names her twin sons Fred and George–sharing the same first initials as her twin brothers–it is easy to imagine that she continually mourns their loss.  At the time he first encounters a boggart, Harry has not lived through a terrible loss that he is able to comprehend fully, so his experience with the dementors bring him as close to that kind of grief as he has yet come.  While he has witnessed Cedric’s death by the time he uses the boggart to provide practice against dementors for Dumbledore’s Army, and he is certainly plagued with nightmares about it, it is understandable that he still fears the effect of the dementors more than the concept of losing more loved ones; if (and when) he does lose more loved ones, the effect of the dementors will only grow stronger.

Remus Lupin’s boggart takes the form of the full moon.   Since the full moon symbolizes his being cast out from society for much of his life–and presumably causes him to transform into a werewolf, since boggart-dementors cause Harry to feel the effects of dementors–it is not unreasonable that he would fear it above all else.  The loss of James and Lily, and effectively of Sirius and Peter on the same night, would certainly have been harrowing for him, but the experience would perhaps only have driven home for him the lifetime of loneliness he presumed to be ahead, due to his condition.

The other students in the class on the day of the boggart lesson have more childish, illogical boggarts than Professor Lupin, Harry, or even Hermione.  A banshee, for example, is certainly frightening, given that its screams are fatal, but banshee sightings are not commonplace in the Wizarding World.  Having been a student of Gilderoy Lockhart–wildly arrogant fraud and author of Break With a Banshee–the previous year, Seamus Finnegan may have been influenced by some unreliable information about banshees (resulting in his banshee boggart).  Death by banshee shriek would probably constitute a “freak accident,” even in the Wizarding World.  One would hope that Seamus would learn to downgrade that particular fear to a more logical level of severity.  In contrast, Ron’s fear of spiders–specifically an acromantula–makes sense; as comical as it is to see him splutter in fear at the sight of an itsy bitsy spider, he has pretty recently had a life-threatening experience with a large colony of acromantulas.  While it is unlikely that he will cross paths with an acromantula on any given day, it is entirely within the realm of possibility, and it is reasonable for him to be frightened by that.  However, it is naive to assume that Ron, Seamus, and the other students will never encounter anything worse than an acromantula or the concept of a banshee, and it is likely that they will reach this conclusion over time.  Thus, Professor Lupin’s assessment that Harry is “wise” to fear dementors, symbols of fear itself, acknowledges that Harry has faced terrors that most of his peers and many adults have never and may never face.

The root of Hermione’s greatest fear is uncertain, as knowledge of Hermione’s life prior to Hogwarts is relatively limited.  Her parents are dentists, and she is devastated when she overhears Ron’s complaints about her after their Charms lesson on Halloween in their first year, so it can logically be theorized that Hermione has not had a lot of friends, perhaps due to her exceedingly bookish tendencies, which might stem partly from her high-achieving parents’ expectations.  Like Harry, she may have viewed her life at Hogwarts as an opportunity to start fresh, and though she clearly has no intention to sacrifice her education for the sake of friendship, it is likely that balancing the two felt almost impossible to her.  It is also likely that, at the time of her first encounter with the boggart, Hermione felt that she and her family were reasonably safe.  Voldemort has not yet returned to power, and while there was the matter of having recently been petrified by a giant snake at the command of the memory of Voldemort, she has no reason to believe that will be a recurring issue.  Her fears for her safety are still abstract, while her fear of failure–in both academia and friendship–are fresh and always relevant.  Failing everything, as boggart-McGonagall insists that she has, could put Hermione’s magical education and friendships in jeopardy.  Hermione values friendship even more than education, as she makes clear at every opportunity (from her motivational speech to Harry before he faces Quirrel to her abscondence from Hogwarts to search for Horcruxes).  However, to Hermione, whose parents likely prioritize education and feel rather dubious about magical education, failure in her exams might constitute a loss of both her magical education and the friendships she has formed.  Evidently, her fear is most easily depicted in the form of Professor McGonagall, who tells her she has failed her exams, but the concept behind this boggart form could also easily represent her general fear of loss, which she will grow to understand, over time.


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Tags: danger death education expectations failure fear fears friends friendship loneliness loss maturity peril priorities safety stigma values wisdom