Fear Need Not Frighten: “Harry Potter” and the Fight Against Fear
Fear plays a central role throughout the Harry Potter series. From characters’ personal fears to the larger society-wide fears that permeate and divide the wizarding world, fear takes many shapes and forms. Oftentimes, the effects of fear are what mark a character’s path – the choice between letting themselves be consumed by their fear or persevere despite it.
In fact, you could say that the central conflict of the series – between Voldemort and Harry – represents the struggle between fear and courage. Voldemort uses fear in order to gain power, from spreading terror and apprehension throughout the wizarding world to creating an enigmatic persona around himself – shrouding his very name in fear. This is offset by the fact that Voldemort himself is driven by his fear of death, which consistently motivates him to seek out new ways of cheating death – from the Philosopher’s Stone to Horcruxes. Even his pursuit of Harry is driven by fear: fear of the unknown power that allowed Harry to withstand and beat Voldemort as a mere baby. Harry, in contrast, represents the pursuit of courage – to withstand fears and fight despite their crippling nature. However, today I want to talk about neither Harry’s fears nor Voldemort but Ron Weasley’s fear of spiders.
Why is something like arachnophobia so important in a series that deals with such large issues and themes? Ron’s fear of spiders is not only perhaps the most relatable fear in the series but also very important to what J.K. Rowling is trying to tell us about the nature of fear. Fear can arise from the seemingly small things of our world, and this can make it easy for others to mock or misunderstand the complicated meaning behind these fears, to pass them off as irrational. As a pure-blooded wizard, it seems quite amusing that what Ron fears the most is something non-magical, especially when there are many, many other elements of the wizarding world that seem terrifying by comparison.
However, this fear is personal, stemming from a traumatic moment in Ron’s childhood – that’s what makes his fear real and legitimate to him. This fear is brought up time and again from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. J.K. Rowling is reminding us of this particular element of Ron’s character for a reason. Our fears can have a significant effect on our lives, and no matter what they are, their power over us isn’t inconsequential. But it’s also up to us as to how we react to them. Ron doesn’t let his fears stop him from following Harry into the Forbidden Forest, and his fears don’t stop him from destroying the locket either. He overcomes his fears when confronted with them no matter how terrified he is. And he is very much frightened – his arachnophobia is by no means insignificant or something that can be easily passed over. I mean, look at that face. That is one scared kid.
Something crucial that J.K. Rowling doesn’t shy away from with her characters is failure. Sometimes, her characters fail, and fail epically, giving in to their fears and letting them dominate their lives, relationships, and actions. Characters like Ron Weasley and Remus Lupin let their fears cripple them badly, both leaving the people they love because of their fears. For Ron, it is his fear for his family’s safety as well as a growing feeling that the quest to destroy the Horcruxes is hopeless. For Remus, it is the fear of his own condition together with the prejudice that he and his family face because of society’s fear of him and “his kind” – a fear that has soured into hate. Although these fears lead these characters to fail the people they love, that love also drives them to return, and this is a crucial lesson that J.K. Rowling imparts to us readers.
Fear need not frighten. This basically means that while fear is a natural part of our lives and society, it need not dominate or determine our own actions. Fear can be crippling, but it can also show us where our boundaries are and – more importantly – which boundaries we are willing to push. In the end, love is more powerful than fear and the hatred that it often spreads.