Overall, I have fondness for the Harry Potter franchise. I grew up with the books and enjoyed them; I also find the film adaptations delightful. However, it has some aspects that I didn’t like. I also think it’s overrated; I believe that Harry Potter isn’t as great as many people think. Yes, it made my top 10 list for best fantasy literature, but it only did because I removed science fantasy books in the consideration.
Don’t mistake that I hated Harry Potter. To be clear with this, let me reiterate: I enjoyed Harry Potter. It’s not bad literature at all. It definitely has much more strong points over the flaws I have issues with. It’s just that I think several other fantasy titles are better. For example, I think Artemis Fowl is better.
Let me just put it this way: many people think Harry Potter is a “ten out of ten.” I don’t agree; in my opinion, it’s just 7/10. Still good, but not perfect.
But I think one change in how the story went would have made it extremely brilliant. And that is, if Neville Longbottom had been the true Chosen One, and not Harry Potter!(Disclaimer: this idea isn’t originally mine at all. This was a fan theory that existed even before the sixth and seventh books were out. Too bad it didn’t turn out to be correct, because if it had been the case, it would have resulted to an infinitely better Harry Potter story – as what I’m arguing now.)
In Order of the Phoenix, we get to first know of Sybil Trelawney’s prophecy to Dumbledore which tells about the boy – the Chosen One – who would be capable of defeating Voldemort. It goes:
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...."
The four main details of the prophecy are:
A.) He was born to parents who had defied Voldemort thrice.
B.) He was born during the closing days of July.
C.) Voldemort acknowledges him as his equal.
D.) He has a power that Voldemort doesn’t have.
Now, the first two details – A and B – of the prophecy apply to both Harry and Neville. Both their parents were members of the Order of the Phoenix and implied to have defied Voldemort during three instances, and both were born on the last days of July.
But C and D were supposedly applicable to Harry only. Dumbledore posits that C was fulfilled when Voldemort decided to attack baby Harry instead baby Neville during that fateful night. And D was supposed to be “love.”
However, what if it was revealed that details C and D weren’t really met by Harry? What if C would only be accomplished by Neville during the Battle of Hogwarts, and what if he had a legitimate Voldemort-killing D and not just something so clichéd as “power of love”?
OR, what if author J.K. Rowling instead decided to write a completely different prophecy, a prophecy whose stipulations are vague enough so that, though they are seemingly pointing to Harry, it’s actually Neville who is genuinely qualified?
Either way, it would have been awesome!
As a kid, I found the plot twists of book one (Quirrell, not Snape, is the villain) and book three (Sirius Black isn’t a villain) very well-executed. Rowling knew how to write plot twists. That’s why, as a college student, I expected the last book to have a grand plot twist that would emphatically floor me. And the scale of revealing Neville as the true Chosen One would have been perfect for such “grand plot twist” I was looking for back then. But Deathly Hallows had none of such. Instead, what we got from the last installment was a basic finale – the kind which we had already witnessed several times before in other stories – and an awful epilogue.
But if the preferred plot twist had played through, the story becomes more complex and fascinating. Not only would Neville’s character arc be enhanced, but Harry’s and Dumbledore’s as well.
Dumbledore was already established in the books as not only a powerful wizard, but a fine schemer and tactician as well, even dying in his own terms and leaving plans to be carried out after his death. It would have been terrific for the character if he had known all along that Neville was the real Chosen One, but as part of his strategy in combating Voldemort, he misled everyone into believing that Harry is the Chosen One in order to protect Neville. It would have been a despicable but brilliant ploy, and it would have made Dumbledore a much more outstanding fictional character than he already is.
As for Harry Potter, being a faux Chosen One would have actually made his character more interesting rather than diminish it. It would have made him a genuinely unique main protagonist instead of a generic “chosen one” hero.
Consider this alternate scenario:
After learning that he’s not the boy prophesied to take on Voldemort and that Dumbledore used him as a red herring – preferably during the events of Deathly Hallows via Snape’s memories or some other means in which Dumbledore could have gently and apologetically revealed to him the truth – Harry is shaken, but not bitter, recognizing the necessity and genius of Dumbledore’s schemes. He calmly accepts his role of being a decoy for Neville. During the lull of the Battle of Hogwarts, he goes to Voldemort’s camp, resigned to be killed by him, so that Voldemort can unwittingly destroy one of his horcruxes (remember that Voldemort had accidentally made Harry his horcrux when he attacked him as a baby) and be tricked of thinking he has won. Voldemort casts a Killing Curse on Harry, which he receives with a smile. Harry dies, and Voldemort is led to a false sense of security since he thinks he has already killed the boy prophesied to be the only one capable of defeating him. As the Battle of Hogwarts resumes, Neville – who has become aware of his real identity, Dumbledore’s plans, and Harry’s sacrifice – steps up. He kills Nagini and then confronts Voldemort. Voldemort, still pretty sure that his victory is secured since he has already killed Harry, cockily engages Neville. It’s only when Neville strikes the killing blow does Voldemort realize too late that his presumption was wrong, that Neville was the real boy in the prophecy.
Seriously, that would have been amazing. True, it won’t sit well to many fans – especially to those that lack sufficiently sophisticated tastes, who prefer a predictable “happily ever after” ending for Harry Potter. But if Rowling had chosen to be daring about it, she would have spun an inventive, distinct, masterful tale. And it would have easily become one of my all-time most favorite works of fiction.
Harry Potter was only one bold, mindblowing plot twist away from being a perfect 10/10 story. It could have been a true masterpiece of fantasy and literature. It’s a wasted opportunity that I’ll probably be upset about as long as I live.