Fear vs. Courage

by Melissa Britton

Two extremely powerful forces drive those in the Wizarding world: fear and courage. In order to understand how they relate to each other and what it will mean for Deathly Hallows, let’’s first take a look at each driving force individually. We can derive our answers from the text alone. JKR has given us clues to the big mysteries; it’’s up to us to decipher them. (All citations are from the American Hardback edition.)


The root of all things evil in this series has been fear. Fear drives Muggles and wizards alike to do things that otherwise wouldn’t enter into their minds. Fear can turn intelligence into evil, friends into enemies, and any potential act of courage into pure self-preservation.

We see these elements of fear in wizards as early as their first year at Hogwarts. As a House, Slytherin selects its members based on a few distinct traits, generally traits we can associate with the Dark Arts. The first explanation of Slytherin comes from Hagrid when asked by Harry what Slytherin and Hufflepuff are.

““Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin,”” said Hagrid darkly. “”There’’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’’t in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one.””
(SS/PS pg. 80)

So the first clue we’’re given about Slytherin is very negative and the description itself evokes fearful expectations of its members. Next is the very first Sorting Hat song we hear.

“Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.”

(SS/PS pg. 118)

The term “use any means” is hardly associated with honesty or chivalry. It is another clue to what drives Slytherins, Death Eaters, and Voldemort himself: fear. If they had true confidence in their abilities, they would never have to “use any” other “means”” of succeeding. That lack of confidence flows from its source: fear.

So now, Harry has been introduced to the general characteristics of Slytherin and its members. As the years pass, Harry gains a deeper understanding of himself as well as the evil forces that are against him through his own experiences and Dumbledore’’s wisdom. Evil and its victims are constantly threatening the entire wizarding world. Harry begins to not only see how the grand scheme of evil influences the world, but how this directly affects his future.

Dumbledore slowly reveals different aspects of Harry’’s enemies and what drives them, particularly Voldemort. The most obvious examples lie in HBP; however, Dumbledore has alluded to these motivations throughout the entire series.

Now let’’s look into the use of the word “fear” contained among the pages of the novels. Dumbledore’’s words give wisdom on so many subjects. If we examine his usage of the word “fear” and its synonyms, we can deduce that fear is not to be nurtured nor entertained in any way. Fear is associated with evil in some form, in every instance shown here:

““Sir?”” said Harry. “”I’’ve been thinking, …Sir –– even if the Stone’’s gone, Vol-, I mean, You-Know-Who ––” 

“”Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.””
(SS/PS pg. 298)

““…Most interestingly and ominously of all – he [the boy Tom Riddle] had already discovered he had some measure of control over them, and begun to use them consciously…. He was already using magic against other people, to frighten, to punish, to control.””
(Dumbledore to Harry, HBP pg. 276)

“Few who knew him [teenage Tom Riddle] then are prepared to talk about him; they are too terrified.””
(Dumbledore to Harry, HBP pg. 362)

From these last three quotes, we can see that to Voldemort, fear equals power. It is his means of control over others. However, Voldemort isn’’t without fear himself. His entire quest to evade death comes from his fear of dying and therefore losing control. His quest to kill Harry is motivated by his fear that another wizard could overtake him and ultimately defeat him. He uses fear to establish his power while his own fear of death or destruction will not let him rest.

“”Don’’t you see? Voldemort himself created his own worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different!””
(Dumbledore to Harry, HBP pg. 510)

Fear will also dictate the actions of the weak. Peter Pettigrew is motivated almost solely by fear. Voldemort himself points this out.

“You returned to me, not out of loyalty, but out of fear…”
(Voldemort to Pettigrew, GOF pg. 649)

There is yet another form of fear that is nearly as damaging, yet not necessarily evil. It is the fear that blinds. Cornelius Fudge is the perfect example of this. At the end of GOF, we see him absolutely refuse to admit that Voldemort has returned for fear of losing his position as Minister of Magic.

Finally, he [Fudge] said, with a hint of a plea in his voice, “He can’’t be back, Dumbledore, he just can’’t be.…”
(GOF pg. 709)

This refusal ultimately hurts the Wizarding community and causes him to lose the very position that he originally tried to protect.

““My dear Prime Minister, you can’’t honestly think I’’m still Minister of Magic after all this? I was sacked three days ago!””
(Fudge, HBP pg. 15)

So in its many forms, fear has fueled the fires of evil and destruction. Wizards suffer due to their own fear or others’ fear. Ultimately, the use and consequences of fear permeate the entire Wizarding community, to their detriment.


Fear, however, is only one driving force. The other is courage. Merriam-Webster’’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” We see courage in those who overtake evil consistently, in the pages of HP. Courage itself is praised and encouraged among the good and benign. Harry is repeatedly appreciated for his courage and bravery.

The first Sorting Hat song:

“…You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart…”

(SS/PS pg. 118)“Third –– to Mr. Harry Potter…,” said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet. “…for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points.”
(SS/PS pg. 306)

Dumbledore commends Harry after his narrow escape at the end of GOF:

““…You [Harry] have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time…”…”
(GOF pg. 695)““…He showed, in every respect, the sort of bravery that few wizards have ever shown in facing Lord Voldemort, and for this, I honor him.””
(Dumbledore to Hogwarts students, GOF pg. 722)

Honor for bravery and courage comes in more than one form. Not all honor is bestowed upon a witch or wizard by the Headmaster, in front of the entire school. Sometimes courage goes unnoticed by most. Harry’’s self-proclamation to Rufus Scrimgeour speaks volumes of his courage even though very few may ever know those words were spoken.

“Dumbledore’’s man through and through, aren’’t you, Potter?” “Yeah, I am,” said Harry. “Glad we straightened that out.”
(HBP pg. 348)

Now we come to those who lie in the gray area of the courage/fear spectrum. Snape is still a mystery to most. Conflicting evidence has given us contrasting opinions. Snape has acted in a fearful and self-preserving way in the past; even his acts to help Harry can be attributed to looking after his own interests. Judging strictly from his behavior, it would be easy to assume he is on the wrong side, or worse – his own side.

Draco Malfoy is another enigma. We see him behave in ways that emulate his father’s evil and fearful side. However, we’ve seen signs he’s capable of redemption in the past. Draco may have yet one more opportunity to show courage against evil. That opportunity may prove Malfoy is far more capable than any have thus imagined. If Draco lets his fear overwhelm him, that opportunity could lead him to choose based on self-preservation and destroy his last chance to exercise true courage.

Voldemort has chosen to allow fear to drive his ambitions and actions. Snape has chosen, although we do not yet know where his loyalties lie. Draco Malfoy has yet to truly choose. The Order of the Phoenix members have chosen; very obviously, courage drives them. One of the two driving forces shall overtake the other and ultimately dictate the actions of each witch or wizard.

Courage isn’’t something a fearful man can obtain; conversely, fear cannot spoil true courage. Each exists deep inside the individual, engrained in the soul. Courage is not about deciding that others are worth more than us; it is never considering the option of not putting those people first, despite what may befall us. However, fear is never considering the option of putting anything or anyone above ourselves.

Examining fear and courage, we now have a template for the inner motivations of our favorite or least favorite characters involved in the series, as well as for the series itself. When Harry ventures into the depths of Deathly Hallows, what will be his driving force? Fear? Absolutely not; he will persevere relying on his very own driving force: courage. That kind of courage will lead him to find the answers he seeks. His courage will defeat fear and evil. Harry will once again stand for what is brave, chivalrous, courageous, and good. Harry Potter will succeed. Courage will conquer fear.