Girl Talk: Neville Longbottom And The Glory Of The Late Bloomer

It all ends today. And by “it,” of course, I mean our decade-long love affair with the Harry Potter movies. For those young adults who came of age with Harry, what’s ending is an era. I am one of them – I was 11 when the first book was released, and 19 when the last one came out – and though I’m a bigger fan of the books than of the movies, I can’t help but feel a bittersweet blend of sadness and excitement as it all winds down.

We grew up as Harry grew up, and though none of us was involved in a good-versus-evil, civil-rights-metaphor fight-to-the-death with a vicious tyrant, we still saw ourselves in Harry and in his friends. We learned a lot from these books. For example, that sometimes, nice guys finish first and smart girls get the guy. We learned about motherhood and feminism. We learned that love is the answer to almost every question, and if “love” doesn’t work, try “expelliarmus!”

And more recently, as the cast of the movies has been hitting the red carpet to promote the movie, we have learned about the glory of being a late bloomer.

J.K. Rowling herself didn’t realize her dream until well into her adulthood. But when it happened, it happened on a grand, remarkable scale.

The late bloomer to whom I’m referring, specifically, is one Matthew Lewis, the young actor who plays Neville Longbottom. In the last few weeks, as photos of Lewis and the other actors have been flying around the internet, there has been a good deal of discussion about him. Well, it’s been less a discussion and more repeated blurting of the sentiment, “Whoa, Neville got hot!”

It’s true. Matthew is a very good-looking young man, and he wears the hell out of a suit on the red carpet. It’s also kind of ironic that Lewis’s surprise blossoming into something of a heartthrob has mirrored the development of the character he plays. And here lies a sometimes-overlooked lesson that Harry Potter teaches us: there is nothing wrong with taking your time to grow up.

When we first meet Neville Longbottom, he is a laughingstock. Forgetful, clumsy, hopeless in school, he is a bit of a loser. But we learn more about his dark past as the books go on: Neville isn’t, as we first thought, an orphan. His parents, resistance heroes who were tortured into insanity by Voldemort’s henchmen when Neville was very young, are still alive. Neville, who visits them occasionally, was raised by his grandmother, a formidable woman who doubts his ability to live up to the heroism of his father.

As the series continues, Neville comes into his own. It starts slowly: when the students are banned from learning defensive magic, Harry starts an underground club and teaches them himself. Neville is one of Harry’s most avid students. When Harry, Ron and Hermione leave school a year early to chase down Voldemort, Neville stays on. He carries on the underground resistance that Harry started, and becomes the leader of the movement. (Another lesson: social justice is pretty damn cool.)

By the end of the final book, Neville has gone from laughingstock to hero. He has developed into a courageous and charismatic leader of a small army of magical civil rights activists. (Seriously people, I’m telling you, social justice is hot.) In the great battle at the end of the series, he has a moment of glory. (SPOILER ALERT!) In the epilogue, we learn that Neville will remain at Hogwarts as a teacher of the one subject he was ever any good at when he was a student. His character arc is one of the most satisfying in the whole book, partly because, at the beginning, he’s the last person you expect to become a political hero – or a teacher, for that matter.

Neville – and the very handsome Mr. Lewis – are excellent examples of the late bloomer. Some of us had the misfortune of being awkward adolescents. Some of us endured the mortification of being shy, or clumsy, or not terribly good in school, or some unpleasant combination of these qualities. Some of us took a little longer that we would have liked to figure out who we were and what mattered to us – and to find the courage to go after those things once we determined what they were.

There is nothing wrong with that. And some things (studliness, heroism, a commitment to equality in the wizarding world and beyond) are worth the wait.

Matthew Lewis took some time to turn into the dreamboat he has been revealed to be. Neville Longbottom took some time to grow into his father’s shoes. But that in no way detracts from his heroism – if anything, it makes it all the more impressive.

J.K. Rowling herself didn’t realize her dream until well into her adulthood. But when it happened, it happened on a grand, remarkable scale.

Indeed, had Rowling not bloomed when she did, later than she would have liked, and later than most of us would want for ourselves, we would not have been able to come of age with Harry and his friends.