The Neville Effect

I can hardly believe this is the same guy!

So you might have heard of something drifting around the Internet called “The Neville Effect”: it’s when someone is chubby and unattractive when younger and then grows up to be very attractive and cool (according to Urban Dictionary). It all started with Neville Longbottom’s impressive appearance in the eighth Harry Potter movie and beyond, and is a term that has since been applied to several other people (most notably Josh from Drake and Josh).

I’d known about this term for quite a while, but it wasn’t until recently that I’d discovered that it only applied to appearances, and not the actual personality. I was kind of surprised. Sure, Neville’s looks improved greatly, but what about his bravery?

After all, the actor and the face who plays Neville in the movies isn’t actually Neville. I don’t remember J.K. Rowling ever saying in the books that Neville turned from chubby to attractive, so I don’t really feel like that fact applies to Neville at all. I think The Neville Effect has more to do with Neville’s growth as a character than his maturation of looks.

Let’s be honest: Neville was an incredibly weak character in the start of the series. He was a push-over at times*, uncertain of himself, and was the kind of kid who liked to keep to himself. But when times were dark and it mattered most, Neville grew into a young man who would fight with everything he had in order to protect that which he cared for. I mean, just look at him in the last movie, standing against Voldemort’s army and wielding the sword of Gryffindor like it was made for him. He turned from meek to unshakable and that’s a pretty impressive transformation.

So I still think of The Neville Effect as a state of personality–an incredible change from a little bit wimpy to downright heroic. Which means that, unless Josh is radically more confident of himself now than when he was on the TV show (which I wouldn’t know), he’s unfortunately not what I would call a part of The Neville Effect.

But there are a lot of characters who are. Look at Bilbo from The Hobbit, for instance. At the beginning of the adventure, he was worried about leaving his handkerchief at home and was desperate to turn around and retrieve it. By the end, though, he was wielding a sword and fighting wargs and orcs like that’s what he was born to do. He went from being a hobbit concerned primarily with leading a quiet, proper life to being a hobbit concerned primarily with saving his friends (and his own skin).

Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon is another of my favourite examples of The Neville Effect (both in appearances and looks, as you can see here). He starts out the movie as the least popular teen in Berk, scrawny and undervalued by his elders. And he knows it, which sometimes gets him down. But by the end of the movie, when he has to save both his people and his dragon, he grows into a character braver than all the rest. He proves that he’s more of a Viking than anyone else on the island.

Actually, if you think about it, The Neville Effect is actually a pretty common aspect of stories and the creation of heroes. A lot of the time, we’re introduced at the beginning of the story to a character who has a certain personality, and it’s usually that personality that gets them into trouble. Sometimes the character is stubborn, proud, irresponsible, or weak-minded, and they have to learn to be cooperative, humble, respectful, or brave. Often the conflict of a story demands the character to undergo change and growth to become a hero, and the more dramatic the change, the more interesting the story can be.

I think that it’s fun to watch a character with a personality flaw learn a lesson and change themselves to save the day, but by far my most favourite variation of The Neville Effect is truly The Neville Effect: when an underdog rises up to be the unexpected hero. This quote says it all:

“We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them.”

Shane Koyczan

Can you think of any heroes who underwent The Neville Effect?

May you never fear being the underdog, and simply unleash your inner Neville.


*EDIT: not all the time, though, as has been kindly pointed out to me. He did have moments where he stood up for himself and what he believed right, they just weren’t quite as impressive as him standing up to Voldemort.


7 thoughts on “The Neville Effect

  1. Interesting point about the Neville effect being more of a personality transformation rather than physical shift in appearance; however, I don’t think Neville’s character was necessarily a push-over. In the philosopher’s stone, he stands up to Harry, Ron and Hermione about leaving the common room and she petrifies him. I think he always stood up to adversity, it just became a more honed skill as he grew up. Perhaps it had something to do with his being uncertain of himself when he was younger? So as he discovered who he was (and what side he stood for), he found his voice and let other know his opinions.

    • You know, I didn’t even think of that while I was writing the post. I was so focussed on all the times he backed away from bullying, I forgot about the times he actually did stand up for himself. Thanks for reminding me! I think you’re right that he always had it, it just took him some time to really develop it and find his voice. I think if you add this to what Chromebiatch said below, that The Neville Effect is due to the audience, you two have got it!

  2. When reading the book, I will never forget my pride in Neville when he stands up to Voldemort in the final part of the battle. Events unfold differently to the film. In the book, Harry leaves the castle on his own but hasn’t spoken to Ron or Hermione, instead talking to Neville before he leaves. The words they exchange and Neville’s understanding of the situation and that responsibility lies with him to end this – brings tears to my eyes to just think about it! He really is the true hero; you realise how pure he is as a human being, his bravery is incredible.

    He showed signs of this throughout the book, but it’s only this life or death moment that you truly appreciate it – so has the Neville Effect actually been the audience? We have come to learn the true value of Neville’s kindness of heart and bravery which we can look back on and finally understand?

    • That’s a really good point–that The Neville Effect was on the part of the audience. Maybe partly due to Rowling, as well, in that she purposely hinted at his inner strength, but then saved the best for the end to make him really spectacular.

      I’d say you and Erin Willet know the Harry Potter books better than I do :P

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