In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: Luna Lovegood
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Although often not respected or even taken seriously within a given narrative—Shakespeare especially—the fool is meant to portray a beacon of wisdom in a land of folly. They are not a fool as their name would suggest: While a fool by title or trade, they are not so in mentality; rather, their foolishness lends insight to the hero, and can humanize the villain. Other characters can be revealed through the fool as well, as how the fool is treated often speaks to what sort of person another character is.
And so it is with the fanciful Luna Lovegood, whose bouts of both whimsy and honesty may not be admired by her peers, but prove to be admirable all the same. It’s often said amongst the fandom that Luna’s flights of fancy shouldn’t be met with such derision—they all live in a world of magic, after all; is the existence of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack really more unrealistic than that? Well, considering that the Wizarding world isn’t unrealistic to those who inhabit it, such creatures as Luna is always going on about really don’t have any basis in reality. Every fantasy world has its own brand of socially odd beliefs and the consequent skepticism. And Luna, with her Spectrespecs and radish earrings, fits that bill perfectly.
Although the aforementioned Spectrespecs offer an interesting visual considering the fool usually does, at one time or another, don a mask, it’s Luna’s confidence in her own strange behavior that truly labels her the literary fool. But unlike the traditional fool, Luna’s hand in comic relief tends to be unintentional on her part, and funny to her peers and the audience because of the pure ridiculousness of it. This is a regular occurrence, and one such demonstration comes in Half-Blood Prince when, surrounded by teachers and Ministry officials, Luna says, “I don’t think you should be an Auror, Harry. The Aurors are part of the Rotfang Conspiracy, I thought everyone knew that. They’re working to bring down the Ministry of Magic from within using a mixture of dark magic and gum disease.”
Such disregard of social norms is, however, balanced by Luna’s astute observations of that society as well as those who live in it. She is quick to determine and dissect others’ character, a talent that is especially notable in Deathly Hallows, during Bill and Fleur’s wedding. When Harry has assumed a false identity under the influence of Polyjuice Potion for his and others’ safety, Luna is the only person who isn’t privy to this information but is able to identify him just as easily:
“Hello, Harry!” she said.
“Er—my name’s Barny,” said Harry, flummoxed.
“Oh, have you changed that too?” she asked brightly.
“How did you know—?”
“Oh, just your expression,” she said.
Like Shakespeare’s many renditions of the fool, Luna is blunt and unashamed in her honesty, even when it’s self-deprecating. Regarding Dumbledore’s Army during a conversation in HBP, she says, “I enjoyed the meetings, too. It was like having friends,” the suggestion being that Luna doesn’t have any actual friends to speak of, only a feeling of them during particular times of camaraderie.
Of course, the audience knows this to not be the case, as we see Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville, and even the skeptical Hermione come to accept Luna with open arms, just as she is. Although they may have referred to her as “Loony Lovegood” a time or two, they learn that Luna is a valid, worthy person, and an irreplaceable friend. Luna proves this perhaps first with Harry throughout the course of her introduction in Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s darkest and most difficult time within the text.
Most of the time, the fool proves himself a sidekick in his own right, a sort of exterior conscience to the hero to help them be more honest, both with themselves and others. Because the fool is seen as such and therefore not taken seriously, they have the freedom to speak their minds without worry of others’ opinion, as it’s generally low already. The fool has nothing left to lose, a fact that’s to their benefit, and their challenge is to teach this lesson to the hero. Luna finds such a moment here, in OOTP: While the world as he knows it crumbles beneath his feet and Harry no longer knows how to navigate what’s put in its place, Luna floats on astride her cloud and shows him that he doesn’t have to be grounded in his heretofore notion of reality, but rather he must adjust that notion to fit what reality has become.
When Harry is reluctant to voice his thoughts (perhaps his greatest struggle not only in the fifth installment, but the series as a whole), Luna is comfortable sharing, and in doing so Harry learns that they have more in common than he would have initially believed. Near the close of OOTP, following Sirius’ death and during Harry’s stages of grief, Luna tells him of her own losses—namely, that of her mother:
“Yes, it was rather horrible,” said Luna conversationally. “I still feel very sad about it sometimes. But I’ve still got Dad. And anyway, it’s not as though I’ll never see Mum again, is it?”
“Er—isn’t it?” said Harry uncertainly.
She shook her head in disbelief. “Oh, come on. You heard them, just behind the veil, didn’t you?”
“In that room with the archway. They were just lurking out of sight, that’s all. You heard them.”
A common theme throughout Harry Potter is that “the ones who love us never really leave us,” but at times this concept may come across as a pacifier, a way to comfort Harry without any basis in fact. Perhaps he can feel the power his lost loved ones lend to him, but for someone who’s lost so much and so many, the idea that they live on only in him may not help Harry to move on; the idea that death is final and there’s nothing after is no comfort to him, but it’s a conclusion that must lurk in his mind even when the likes of Dumbledore tries to combat it. Luna is the one who offers the reality within the comforting words, who makes the impossible seem possible, and in doing so validates the solace Harry needs in his grief.
Such is the nature of the fool—to provide honesty and insight, creation and change, innocence and joy and the possibilities that come with it. The fool encourages not only the hero to live as freely as they do, but the audience as well. As J. Phillip Newell writes in Shakespeare and the Human Mystery, “The fool is calling us to be truly ourselves and points out the falseness of what we have become. He is not, however, over and against his hearers. Rather he invites them to discover the fool within themselves. In All’s Well That Ends Well, when Paroles says that he has found the fool, the Clown replies, ‘Did you find me in yourself, sir?’”
While we see Harry’s transformation better than any other character’s in the series, it’s clear that Luna had an impact on him and how he sees the world. He finds that his beliefs can be shattered, but all he has to do is look within himself and tweak his perception, to open his mind to not what used to be or what should be, but what is. Luna may float along on a cloud much of the time, but she does so freely, unabashedly, and—as the fool does—invites us all to take off our masks and jump on our own clouds, to better observe the world and how to live in it.
Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.