The Only One He Ever Feared: Fear as a Driving Force in the Plot of “Harry Potter”

by Lena Rayne

Abstract: What if every decision, every main idea, and every theme in the story of Harry Potter was driven by one emotion that is felt by everybody on the planet? Fear changes everything. It warps minds, inspires bravery, sparks violence, and in this case changes plot lines.

So how can the epic battles fought in Harry Potter be compared to everyone’s own internal conflict between being ruled by fear or living their life? In this editorial, I address all of these issues and also how fear shapes both Harry and Voldemort into the characters that they are. (One of which results in success, the other… well, we know how You-Know-Who turned out.)

“Now fear makes people do terrible things, Harry. The last time Voldemort gained power he almost destroyed everything we hold most dear” (Remus Lupin, Order of the Phoenix film). It’s not coincidental how correctly this quote sums up Lord Voldemort and his reasons for gaining power. It was intended to describe Minister Fudge, who publicly denied any reports of Voldemort’s return out of fear, but the premise also holds true for Voldemort’s intentions: death (and Dumbledore) is the only thing that he has ever feared. Obviously, Voldemort’s violent rampage of murders was not just out of boredom: They were out of a twisted, sickening, fear of death. The Horcruxes could almost guarantee him freedom from death. Almost…

Fear is the captain of many aspects of life. It can inspire hate, prejudice, over-ambition, and even love. However, fear is also an apparent and important theme in the Harry Potter universe. More specifically, it is my opinion that the menacing character of Voldemort is merely a literary analogy for fear.

Almost all citizens of the wizarding world are frightened of Voldemort (and most appropriately so). His ideas, his followers, and most obviously his name cause many wizards young and old to shake in their boots. Excluding Harry and Dumbledore, most wizards refuse to speak his name or even admit that he has returned once he has risen to full power. Just as Minister Fudge refuses to accept that Voldemort is back in Order of the Phoenix , many children and adults alike refuse to admit their fear of anything. Fear is normal in all of society, yet it is seen as a sign of weakness and inferiority.

However, Harry is often the first to admit his original fear of Voldemort. After finding out the true content of the prophecy and telling it to Ron and Hermione, he explains to Hermione that he was afraid at first of having to confront Voldemort but that his fear faded. Harry will admit his fear of basically anything. In his third year, he openly speaks of the fear that he has of Dementors, ranking his fear of a higher caliber than Voldemort himself. This prompts Lupin to suggest that Harry’s greatest fear is fear itself. In his fourth year, Harry blatantly tells Sirius that he is terrified to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, and in Order of the Phoenix he is fearful of the dreams and visions that Voldemort is capable of implanting in his mind. Harry is open to the world about his fears, and that can be considered very noble. In Voldemort’s case, he is secretive about his fear, mainly of death, and turns to methods such as Horcruxes and genocide to keep himself immortal and powerful. This is one of the separating features between Voldemort and Harry.

“Neither can live while the other survives” (Sybill Trelawney, OotP, Chapter 37, pg. 841, US paperback edition). This statement accurately describes the relationship between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. In other words, one must kill the other. This philosophy is also true for the internal conflict that we all face against the fear in our minds. While fear is present within us, it is hard for us to live. Fear can force us to live in conditions that keep us comfortable and restrict us from living daily life. But to live so guarded and protected to the extent that you never face any danger is not really living. In short, you cannot live while fear survives. However, if you are truly living, making sacrifices, and decisions, fear can be cast from you. Fear is no longer fear, only the risk of living. You may have fears, but you accept them. In other words, fear cannot survive in your mind if you are truly living. This can be used to draw comparisons between Harry’s battle with Voldemort.

Harry (the life) battles Voldemort (the extreme fear) because one will have to kill the other in the end. Neither can live in this world (or in your mind) together. In real life, fear often wins, and it results in war, hate, and violence – just what Voldemort creates in the wizarding world. However, in the story of Harry Potter , Harry wins, and this means that the symbolic option of life opposed to fear does, too.

With all of this said, Voldemort’s actions were vile, cruel, and disgusting. However, we must ask ourselves: “Was Voldemort only a scared, frightened, sad child who ended up on the wrong path in life? Should we feel sorry for Voldemort, just as Harry did?” After all, he never did know love…