The Burrow: Beyond Dueling: Fighting Fears in HP

by Demi Terceres

I found the wording of this month’s topic – “fighting fears” – provocative. Although duels occur several times in the books, much of the “fighting” of fears is more subtle, and occurs off the “battlefield.” Gryffindors are known for their bravery, and this shows dramatically in the duel scenes in OotP. Yet my favorite characters are tested even more in their lives outside of this setting (except perhaps for Neville), and not all of them are successful.

Ron, for example, confronts his fears in CoS, when Harry leads him into the Forbidden Forest. He follows the spiders even though he is afraid. Motivated by loyalty to Harry and a strong sense of duty to the school, he finds Aragog. Yes, he was “violently sick” after the encounter, but Ron still maintained enough wits to not only jump into the car but rescue Fang as well (pg. 280, US hardcover). We could not ask for more.

A deeper test for Ron comes in OotP. He grows dramatically by being on the Quidditch team. Instead of resigning, he hangs in there, embarrassing himself in front of the entire school. One of my biggest frustrations with OotP is that we readers missed Ron’s triumphant moment, when he thought to himself: “you can do this!” (pg. 704). More important than winning the Quidditch Cup was Ron’s triumph over his fear.

Hermione is not so successful. She is tested all year in PoA with her fear of failing academically. She cries when she meets her boggart, Professor McGonagall telling her she failed everything, and is unable to repel it. We have assumed she would be Prefect and assume she will one day be Head Girl; we are inspired but unsurprised by her courage and quick thinking in her only real-life duel. But true growth for Hermione will be if she stops caring about any outward signs of academic success. Risking expulsion for the DA is a start, but I’m not sure she will entirely conquer this fear by Book 7.

I understand Sirius’ struggle very well. After living away from my childhood home, it has brought up many fears to return. The fears are subtle and deep. Although Sirius did not stay at Grimmauld Place gracefully, he did stay (for the most part). Sirius may not have conquered his fears, but he stayed engaged in the process, even when it was contrary to his action-oriented nature.

Dumbledore himself admits defeat. His fear that Harry will be unhappy dictated his actions, with sad results. While I get the sense he is being too hard on himself, it is still surprising to witness Dumbledore fail in any way.

Has Harry “fought his fears?” In the classical way, through confronting and dueling with Voldemort, yes, and showed more bravery than I could in a similar situation. But what of Harry’s boggart, and his deepest fear – fear itself? Harry has much more trouble waiting for the first task in GoF than with the task itself. At the Department of Mysteries, he handles himself well, but has a very difficult time waiting for news at the beginning of the book. When Harry cannot confront his fears in a direct way, he is much less successful. The fear consumes him, and he becomes hot-headed, angry, and somewhat reckless. Unless someone is dosing Harry’s pumpkin juice with some scurvy-grass, lovage, and sneezewort (see pg. 383, OotP), Harry needs to be able to sit with his fear of fear, without letting it consume him and cause his temper to rise out of control.

This is why I am so happy that he has found Luna Lovegood. Regardless of whether their friendship turns into something more romantic, I think Luna has the unique ability to teach Harry to channel his fear of fear. It is not in duel that Harry can defeat Voldemort. It is by exploring the unseen, and the mysterious deeper workings of love, life, and magic, that Harry will be ultimately triumphant.