General

Fictional Passports Ranked from Best to Worst

Let’s face it, everything is pretty terrible at the moment. The planet is on fire, various governments are in meltdown, the far right is on the rise and certain people with access to nukes are flirting with the idea of World War Three. Sometimes you just wish you could get away from it all.

But where to go? Fiction offers a world of alternative…well, worlds for you to choose from. Pick carefully, though. It’s all fun and games reading about the Red Wedding, but I can’t say I’m desperate for a seat at that particular table. Luckily for you guys, I’ve scouted ahead, so that when the time comes to jump ship into another reality, you’ll at least know which ones to avoid.

I now present to you, dear reader, the absolutely definitive and final ranking of fictional universes to escape to, from best to worst. Bear this in mind if you ever find a wormhole.

 

 

  1. Discworld

Let’s be real, I wasn’t going to put anything else in the top spot. Discworld would be the perfect place to live. It’s got the right balance of narrative causality and personal freedom, which means that it’d be convenient enough to stumble across relevant backstories but you wouldn’t get stuck as a trope for the rest of time. It evolves, it’s funny, it has a warmth to it that is never saccharine. Also, there’s a chance that I might end up as a wizard, where it would be my job to sit around, eat loads of really good food and never do any actual magic and/or work. The dream.

  

  1. The Invisible Library

For those of you that haven’t read this series: oh my God, what are you doing. The Invisible Library is great – it’s a series about Librarians working for an organisation that straddles multiple different universes and it really does have everything. Dragons, Fae, armour-plated alligators, books, and an unreasonably large amount of fancy parties. A decent knowledge of how stories work and an awareness of what you promise is really all you need to prosper, and if you don’t like the world you’re in you can always visit another one. There’s only two reasons why it didn’t get the top spot: a) there is a very real risk that as a puny human, I would get crushed by the Fae or the dragons and b) my skin might get stolen and I’m not up for that, I need it. Other than that, sign me up. 

 

  1. His Dark Materials

Give me my delightful animal friend. I’ve done the quizzes, I know my daemon would be a cat, now give it to me so I can sit about in Jordan College drinking tea.

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THIS IS WHAT I WANT (image: catster.com)

 

  1. Hogwarts

Once upon a time, this would’ve been the top spot. However, it’s important to remember that while I would absolutely clean up at the Hogwarts feasts, there is no power on Earth that could drag me back to high school. I want to do magic, don’t get me wrong, but I also don’t want to have to lie to all of my non-magical friends. Also, don’t tell me wizards can’t fix climate change, I know they can.

  

  1. Narnia

All the good bits of the Medieval period with none of the plague, dismemberment and raw sewage in the streets, although I maintain that the most interesting bit is the Wood Between the Worlds. Not my first choice, but there’s something appealing about the idea that if you went to Narnia and were basically just a decent person, it’d all turn out okay for you in the end. Marked down for religious moralising and the very unfortunate racial implications, though.

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Not that nobody else knows that. (image: tenor.com)

 

  1. Sherlock Holmes’s London

I’m being a bit cheeky by putting this on the list as it’s so close to the real world, but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. I think living in Sherlock Holmes’s London is about the closest I’ll get to being named the sole recipient of large and somehow sinister bequests, or being a famous jewel thief, so that’s mainly why it’s on here. Also, as I live in London I would at least know my way around. Major downside is that I would either have to commit crimes or have crimes committed against me. I’d definitely choose the former, as all of Holmes’s deductions seem to rely on making wild assumptions, so I reckon if I left behind deliberately confusing clues (a single peacock feather, a Russian dictionary, or a single bloodstained glove) I’d be able to give myself a decent headstart while he puzzled those out.

  

  1. Middle Earth

All of the good bits of the Medieval period, plus several marauding hordes of orcs, goblins, and the MASSIVE SPIDERS in Mirkwood forest. Only the hobbits seem to have a good time, and not once the plot really gets going. I’d visit but I wouldn’t want to stay there, mainly because I wouldn’t get to do any magic and you know those elves are really patronising.

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You know they’re all like this. (image: tumblr.com)

 

 

  1. The Hunger Games

The only things that saved this from the bottom of the list is the food in the Capitol, which sounded really nice, and the cool outfits. Blood sports are not my thing and if I ever came up against Katniss, she’d snap me in half.

  

  1. Westeros

All the good bits of the Medieval period, plus all the bad bits, plus all the worst bits, and then with some added modern horrors just to give it that extra edge. I would get maimed within about five minutes.

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She is the ONLY good thing about Westeros and I will fight you on this (image: http://www.fanpop.com)

 

  1. Lovecraft Country

About as bad as Westeros, but marginally more up-to-date and with more tentacles. Very racist, very gross, and laden with crushing despair. I’ll pass, thanks.

 

 

And there you have it! These are ten fictional universes which I have arbitrarily ranked from best to worst, based on how likely I’d be to survive and/or thrive. I’ve missed many out, and I have Opinions on many, many more. If anyone’s curious, feel free to ask, and if anyone thinks I’m wrong, feel free to make your case. I’ll be here, trying to work out whether I look good in a pointy hat. I’ve got to start packing eventually.

General

Harry Potter and the Passage of Time

About a month ago, my friends and I went up to Edinburgh.

I had the best time. By some miracle the weather was amazing and we had glorious sunshine for all our trips to Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and the Palace of Holyrood – which was just as well, as a lot of the museums we visited were crammed with very creepy mannequins and I couldn’t have dealt with it in the dark. But it was a pretty hilly city, and we had to regularly refuel with tea and cake.

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I am British, after all. (image: giphy.com)

One of the places we went to was The Elephant House.

The Elephant House is a small café just opposite the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a little small, a little crowded, and the back room is filled with an eclectic assortment of chairs and tables, in a way that reminded me of going round someone’s house to see they’ve set up for a barbecue or something. I had a hot chocolate and my friends had some tea, and because we’re all used to London prices (a.k.a. “re-mortgage your house if you want another slice of cake” prices) we were all pretty happy with it.

But that wasn’t why we went. We went to The Elephant House because that is the place where JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of the Harry Potter series.

We had a full geek-out. We sat in the back room, by a window overlooking Edinburgh Castle, which was apparently the very place where the first draft of Harry Potter was actually written omigod you guys one of us could be sitting on the same chair as JK – and we were totally calm and mature adults about the whole thing. We didn’t even cry.

But the really nice thing was that we weren’t the only ones doing this. Our table was an old desk with working drawers. I pulled one open and found that it was crammed with letters, all written by visitors saying how much they loved Harry Potter. And that wasn’t all we found. Even the loos had been turned into a kind of shrine:

Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood. I read all the books. I had the audiobooks too, and listened to them so often that to this day I can only hear the words in Stephen Fry’s voice. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve bought the merchandise, I’ve written fanfiction which (thankfully) is now dead and buried. But visiting The Elephant House really brought home the fact that it wasn’t just me. I got oddly emotional in those toilets, because it was so clear that people from all over the world had come to see the birthplace of Harry Potter in just the same way that I had done.

But Harry Potter wasn’t just a huge part of my childhood. It has also been a pretty constant feature of my adult life, and these experiences haven’t been quite so nice. The seventh book wasn’t the end of the franchise, though perhaps it should have been. Rowling’s efforts to continue the world of Hogwarts beyond that haven’t gone down so well. Her expansion of the wizarding world has been met with accusations of cultural appropriation. The follow-up play, The Cursed Child, was an incredible spectacle but, plot-wise, left a lot to be desired. And most disappointingly of all, Rowling has continued to support the casting of Johnny Depp in her Fantastic Beasts movie series: a man who tacitly admitted to domestic abuse in his official statement of separation from his now ex-wife, Amber Heard.

All of these things have changed the way I view JK Rowling and her series. Now, I’m much more sceptical of any new Harry Potter development. I’m less inclined to support a project just because it has Rowling’s involvement. Part of me wonders if, when I reminisce about the series, it’s not the books I’m nostalgic for but the way I felt when I first read them. They were an important part of my childhood, that’s true – but now, I am no longer a child.

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Actual footage of me ageing. (image: giphy.com)

Does this mean I don’t enjoy the series any more? If you mean the expanded HP universe, well, kinda. If you mean the original books, it’s a solid no. I still love those books. They were such an important part of my life that it would be kind of hard not to. Changing my mind about them would be almost like suddenly despising a childhood teddy. But it has made me look at them in a different light. Now I’m not afraid to look at them critically, or to share my (copious) opinions about them. I still enjoy them, but I can acknowledge that they have flaws, and that the author holds views that she and I don’t share. Despite everything that has happened since the final book was published, it was a formative series for me and I still appreciate having had it in my life.

And then, I left the toilets.

So if you’re ever in Edinburgh and want a cup of tea and a muse about children’s books, I can recommend popping along to The Elephant House. Perhaps you’ll pull a JK and inspiration will strike, and there’ll be different graffiti in the toilets the next time I go. Or maybe you’ll just sit at a table in the back room, pull open a drawer that you didn’t know was there, and you’ll find this:

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General

A World of Your Imagination: On Worldbuilding

There’s nothing quite like a good setting. Previously on this blog I’ve talked about characters and clichés, and that hasn’t really left a lot of time to talk about the other elements of a good story. Setting is one of them. It’s easy to forget that the right setting for a novel can transform it, elevating the events of the plot into something really special. Rebecca would be nothing without the vast, chilly halls of Manderley. Dracula would not be nearly so frightening if the Count’s castle was a three-room flat in east Croydon.

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Although those London house prices are pretty terrifying. (image: giphy.com)

Setting is a hugely important part of writing. In fantasy and sci-fi, the term gets all fancy and becomes ‘worldbuilding’, although it’s essentially the same concept. There’s just more of it, because instead of telling the reader where your characters are, you also have to tell the reader why they’re all holding laser swords and why it was a bad idea for them to steal the unicorn’s bouquet on a full moon. Worldbuilding can be one of the most memorable things about fiction. It can take on a life of its own, allowing the setting to be examined and discussed apart from the characters who inhabit it.

The basic elements of setting and worldbuilding are pretty similar. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you still need to know where your characters are standing. Broadly speaking this can cover a lot of different elements – culture, geography, climate and the physical layout of the scene would all come under this umbrella. These elements make a story convincing regardless of its genre. They get included in most stories that aren’t about two characters having conversations in featureless white rooms. Of course, rather than just having big lumps of description sitting around uselessly these can then be used to reflect mood and create atmosphere within the story. As a general rule of thumb this is true of both setting and worldbuilding – the only real difference between the two is that in worldbuilding, the author tends to make more of it up.

So – how do you actually go about creating a rich and compelling setting? Description. While it can get quite frustrating to pause the action and set the scene, it’s impossible to have a complex and detailed setting without settling in for a paragraph of description every now and then. But when it’s done well it doesn’t feel like a pause. In some of the best fantasy settings – like Middle Earth, Discworld and Hogwarts – this scene-setting feels more like an opportunity to explore than something that has to be skimmed over.

Real talk: this is super hard.

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But I don’t wanna… (image: giphy.com)

Obviously writing is pretty tricky to begin with, but worldbuilding is a whole other level. Setting a scene can be difficult, but if it is set in some variation of the real world it’s easier for the reader to make assumptions based on the details of the scene. For example, if a writer describes a group of people all in black heading for a church, the reader is likely to assume that they’re heading to a funeral. It doesn’t always have to be the case – in fact, turning assumptions on their heads is one of the most fun things an author can do – but the assumptions have to be there for that to happen, and details from the setting is what plant such ideas in the readers’ minds. You have none of those connections to rely on if you’re building a fictional world. If writing is like learning a new language, then putting a fictional world together is like making up your own language from scratch.

There’s a couple of forms this tends to take.

 

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image: buzzfeed.com

The Pocket Universe

These are fictional universes that have their bases in the real world in some capacity. This is where you’d find stories that diverged from the real-world timeline – where the Titanic never sank, or where the Germans won the Second World War. This is also where you’d find stories about worlds within the normal world, such as Harry Potter – stories about unusual societies that have been kept secret and are stumbled across by some hapless protagonist.

Pocket universes have a lot of benefits. As they are rooted in the real world, it’s easy for the writer to draw on a lot of common cultural touchpoints, which requires less explaining to the reader. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time making up fictional animals for your characters to eat, or describing the odd clothes they wear, you don’t have to – you can cut straight to the plot. However, they’ve got a lot of drawbacks as well. Rooting your pocket universe in the real world will usually mean that at some point, you’ll have to deal with all the boring parts of reality. This pops up a lot in the Harry Potter universe, when everybody wonders why wizards don’t have formal education for their kids before the age of eleven. In alternate histories pocket universes present another problem – the vast amounts of research a writer has to do to make them convincing. It’s not enough for an author to say that the Germans won the war: readers will want to know how, and when, and who is alive now and who isn’t, and whether the Sixties still got to happen. Don’t write one of these unless you’re prepared to hit the books.

 

A Whole New World

image: denofgeek.com
image: denofgeek.com

This is the other kind of worldbuilding and it’s exactly what it sounds like. These are the fictional universes that have no link to the real world whatsoever. They can be inspired by real-world societies, and often a lot of them are, but they are emphatically not on Planet Earth in any kind of capacity. This is where you’d find a lot of fantasy stories – anything from Game of Thrones to Discworld to the entire works of Tolkien – and some sci-fi stuff as well.

Starting from scratch also has its own particular set of benefits. As an author you have complete creative freedom: anything goes. Terry Pratchett proved this when he created the Discworld – the planet is a giant flat disc, supported by four massive elephants all standing on the back of a cosmic turtle swimming through space. As I said, anything goes. It’s also easier to suspend disbelief. The lack of cultural touchpoints works in your favour here, as the reader isn’t automatically comparing it to things they’re already familiar with. However, these also have drawbacks. Making up a fictional world from scratch is so much work. You have to come up with vast amounts of detail, most of which may never make it into the finished book but you just need to know they’re there. You’ve got to establish your own cultural touchpoints and make these clear to the reader, but you’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t seem stilted or weird. And you’ve got to make all of this completely watertight, because there is nothing readers (and editors) love more than poking holes in things.

 

So. Which is better? That depends: on your preferences, on the story you’re trying to tell, on the kind of readers you’re writing for. These things would also affect the level of detail you go into when setting the scene. But no matter which one you choose, the most important thing to remember is this: it doesn’t stop at description.

One of my favourite kinds of worldbuilding is when an author can do it through their characters. It’s a lovely way of integrating scene-setting with character development. Characters are products of their worlds, therefore their thoughts, actions and beliefs are a part of worldbuilding. This is particularly important in historical fiction. Choice of language can make or break both the scene-setting and the character’s internal monologue – if an author picks a phrase that sounds too modern, it can completely smash the readers’ suspension of disbelief. In historical fiction this presents its own set of problems as of course, modern and historical thoughts and beliefs are wildly divergent.

One of the easiest ways to illustrate this is the way that historical fiction treats corsets. I was talking about this with my colleague the other day (thanks, Cat) as we’ve both worked on historical fiction before. Corsets in fiction have become more symbolic than anything else. They’re something for the feisty heroine to cast aside before she becomes a pirate or rides off into the sunset. But this wouldn’t work in reality. Corsets were structural underwear and all the rest of a woman’s clothes were designed on the assumption that a corset would be worn. They make you stand and move differently and if you’d worn one all your life, taking it off would feel really strange. Casting the corset aside is a nice piece of authorial shorthand – look at how emancipated our female lead is! – but without it all the seams of her clothes are in the wrong places, everything is scratchy and she’s going to get terrible back pain from having to use underdeveloped muscles all of a sudden.

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Actual footage of post-corset muscle deterioration. (image: giphy.com)

My point is this: clothes are worldbuilding. The way characters think about clothes is worldbuilding. The way they care for their clothes is worldbuilding, and so is what the clothes are made of. Worldbuilding is not just about describing landscape and weather – it’s about clothes, food, slang, morality, social norms, marriage, relationships – I could go on. In short it’s about how characters fit into a setting as a context, and how that context affects them. Take, for example, Terry Pratchett’s description of the dwarves of Ankh-Morpork. Pratchett’s dwarves only acknowledge one gender, and thus most of the dwarves in the Discworld series present as male. When one of them decides she wants to present as female, it causes a massive cultural uproar, going against centuries of dwarf lore and tradition which go on to affect later books in the series. This introduces the reader to a whole new section of Discworld society, the factions within it, the conflict this brings about and how this manifests to other characters. This is very detailed worldbuilding, and it’s all done without a landscape in sight.

Worldbuilding is incredibly hard. It requires a lot of work, careful thought and research, all of which can really get in the way when you just want to jump to the plot. But it also helps make better stories. When the characters and the setting work in tandem, that’s when the setting feels the most vivid and a book really comes alive. It makes for rich and rewarding stories that a reader will remember. Despite all the hard work, I think it’s always worth it.

Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters: Ginny Weasley

For those of you that don’t know, Ginny is one of the leading female characters in JK Rowling’s phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. Set at a secret magical boarding school, the plot revolves around a group of plucky kids coming together to defeat Wizard Hitler – and Ginny happens to be one of those kids. As everyone and their mother probably knows by now, the books were a massive success, spawning a star-studded movie series, legions of fans (all producing fan art, fanfiction and fan theories) and some of the best audiobooks known to man. Ginny herself was a reasonably central figure in all of this – although her role was considerably cut down for the movies – and has turned out to be a surprisingly controversial character among some of the fans.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

NOTE: Just so we’re clear, I will be basing my analysis on the book version of Ginny, because the film version is a bit rubbish.

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Most of the time, Ginny is a character that has a reasonable amount of control over her own destiny. In the earlier books, she’s a little constrained, because being so much younger she still has to rely on other people to take care of her most of the time. However, as the series progresses, she becomes much more independent. She gets much more control over what she does, who she sees and where she goes as she gets older, despite the fact that most of the restrictions placed upon her are still in place. Whether she’s defying her parents to go and fight against Voldemort, or sneaking around school trying to annoy Professor Umbridge, she’s still taking matters into her own hands and trying to improve her own life. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Ginny’s hobbies are pretty well-established – she enjoys Quidditch, pulling a few pranks and spending time with animals. Her beliefs are pretty strong too: she believes people should stand up for their friends, has a rather lax attitude to parental restrictions, and seems to have a particular dislike for people acting like hypocrites. Her goals are also well-defined – most of the time she just wants to help Harry, Ron and Hermione on their various quests, but she also wants to pursue a career in Quidditch and bring down Voldemort. She’s firing on all three cylinders, so she passes this round with flying colours.

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HAHA GET IT IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S ON A BROOMSTICK (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, her personality is pretty consistent. She’s independent, forceful, stubborn, determined, sporty, tough, brave, funny, kind and has a little bit of a temper – although at the start of the series she’s a lot more shy around Harry. Her skills are pretty consistent, too – over the course of the series we see her become an accomplished dueller and Quidditch player, once she has a little time to find her feet.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A brave, determined, stubborn young witch must help her friends to bring down the most evil wizard of all time.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

 

Ginny’s love life is a pretty constant feature of the series. When she first meets Harry, she gets a HUGE crush on him, and this is played as a running joke in the background of the first few books. As the series goes on, she starts dating other people – but again, this is mostly in the background until the sixth and seventh books, when she finally starts dating Harry.

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Pack that in, you two. (image: tumblr.com)

This has led to a few fan complaints that Ginny was only included in the books to be Harry’s love interest. While that may be true, there’s no denying the fact that ‘love interest’ is not her only function in the story. She makes plenty of decisions that aren’t affected by her love life at all – whether that’s trying out for the Quidditch team, joining (and later re-starting) Dumbledore’s Army, trying to steal and smuggle out the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry, Ron and Hermione or fighting alongside her friends and family in the Battle of Hogwarts. Her love life is a pretty large part of her character, but it’s not the only part, and she’s shown more than once that she’s capable of prioritising other things over her romantic entanglements. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Ginny actually undergoes quite a bit of character development in the Harry Potter series. She starts off as a very shy little girl who’s a little bit afraid of stepping out of line, but as she gets older she learns to relax when she’s nervous, becomes more confident and learns when (and how) to break the rules and get away with it.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Ginny doesn’t really have that much of a weakness. She’s got a bit of a temper, which often leads her to hex people who annoy her, but this doesn’t actually have many consequences for her. Her sporadically cursing people isn’t treated as something she should stop doing, but rather as a sign of her ‘feisty’ nature, and more often than not people are charmed by her actions rather than frightened. Even her teachers rarely punish her – and the ones who do are often portrayed as ‘evil’ characters in their own right.

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But she’s got a cup of tea, how could she be nasty? (image: photobucket.com)

This has led some to criticise Ginny for being a Mary Sue – a character who is so perfect that they never have to work for anything, never have any flaws, and everyone loves them. I’ve talked about Sues before, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but if you’re interested in the term I strongly encourage you to do some research of your own. However, I’m not really sure if this criticism can be applied to Ginny. True, she doesn’t have many flaws, and a lot of guys fancy her, but she isn’t given an easy ride the way most Sues are and does get a chance to grow and develop. I don’t think she’s a Sue, but I am going to withhold the point this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Ginny is a real influence on the plot. She fights alongside our Golden Trio, she works against the villains in her own way, and she helps the good guys on their quest to defeat Voldemort. It’s true that she does a lot more in later books than she does at the beginning of the series, but even then she’s still a figure that advances the plot.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Gender stereotypes certainly influence Ginny’s character, but they don’t dictate it. It’s easy to see where stereotypes have influenced her development – she’s a redhead with a hot temper, she’s a girl who was so painfully shy she made a fool of herself whenever she was around her crush, she’s a ‘tomboy’ character who picked up her interests because she grew up with six brothers. These are all traits which are pretty common stereotypes, but they don’t dominate her personality.

The same can be said of her role as Harry’s love interest. It’s easy to make the argument that she was introduced so early on in the series as Harry’s future wife, as we hear such a lot about her when it’s not strictly relevant to the plot. People have already made the argument that JK Rowling only introduced her character to give Harry a happy ending, and while that may well be true – I don’t know, I haven’t asked JKR – that doesn’t necessarily mean that is the extent of her character. If you took Ginny out of the Harry Potter series, the plot wouldn’t be the same without her, and the same cannot be said of most typical love interests.

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Naming no names. (image: en.wikipedia.org)

Long story short, the stereotypes are certainly there, but I don’t think they completely ruin her character in the process. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 7.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Ginny has loads of different relationships with other female characters. She’s a little exasperated by, but ultimately loves, her mother. She stands up for and becomes friends with Luna Lovegood. She’s best friends with Hermione Granger, who she confides in, sticks up for, and asks for advice, even though the two girls are actually very different people. She doesn’t like Fleur Delacour at first, but eventually warms up to her when she realises she isn’t as shallow as she thought. She’s a little jealous of Cho Chang, she hates Professor Umbridge, she respects Professor McGonagall, and she actively works to bring down Bellatrix Lestrange. That’s a range of relationships which develop in their own ways, all with a range of different characters, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Ginny is a well-rounded character who takes control of her own life throughout the series, has her own hobbies, goals and beliefs, isn’t completely ruled by her love life and has a range of different relationships with a range of different female characters. She doesn’t have any weaknesses and she’s mildly influenced by gender stereotypes, but that hasn’t stopped her from passing my test!

Next week, I’ll be looking at a new favourite of mine. Liz Lemon, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters: Hermione Granger

For those of you that don’t know, Hermione Granger is one of the main characters in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Set in a secret magical boarding school, the books deal with the adventures of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’s efforts to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (aka. Wizard Hitler). While she’s not the protagonist, Hermione is one of the most important characters in the series, and she has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Unlike the rest of the Golden Trio, Hermione is the only one who consistently has her eye on the big picture. She’s very engaged in the world around her – she keeps up with contemporary politics throughout most of the series – and frequently tries to change it. She’s the one who persuades Harry to start the DA, she’s the one who starts a campaign for elf rights when she sees how they’re treated, and she’s the one who discovers – and makes – the Polyjuice Potion to help them find out more about the Heir of Slytherin.

Hermione is constantly examining and questioning the world around her on a massive scale, and even though she has limited resources, she does her best to change it. In true Granger style, she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Throughout the series, Hermione displays some very consistent goals: she wants to do well in school, get a job that lets her make a difference in the world, and maybe defeat some evil on the side. Defeating evil is a goal that many other characters share, but her academic motivation is entirely hers, and she owns it.

Yeah she does. image: pinterest.com
Yeah she does. (image: pinterest.com)

While Hermione’s two main hobbies (reading and knitting) can be a little solitary, her personal beliefs are a mix of her own opinions and what she has learned from other characters in the books. Like many other characters, she believes that blood discrimination is wrong and that Voldemort is evil, but unlike many other characters, she believes that enslaving house elves is wrong, and is more than willing to argue her case. This mixture of beliefs is actually much more realistic than you would usually find in a YA novel, and adds another layer to her character.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, Hermione is a pretty consistent character. Her intelligence and compassion remain a constant force throughout the series, and she never wavers in pursuing her goals.

The one place where this consistency falls down is in her attitude to her love life. Hermione has a tendency to get extremely petty over her love life (particularly when Ron starts dating Lavender Brown) and given the emotional maturity she shows through the rest of the series, I don’t feel that this is particularly consistent with her character. However, her tendency to be petty over things she cares about is previously established – just look at how annoyed she is when someone does better than her in a test – and this is an attitude she maintains consistently, so I’ll give her a pass on this one.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A fiercely intelligent young witch who’s determined to stop the spread of evil.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Most of Hermione’s decisions are influenced by her own moral compass or her determination to do well in school. Of course, some of her decisions are influenced by her love life, but the majority of them are not. In the final book, she shows that she’s more than capable of making choices without letting her love life influence her: when Ron leaves the Horcrux hunt and asks her to come with him, she refuses even though she has feelings for him because she knows destroying Horcruxes is more important. That’s another point for Gryffindor.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

Four for you Granger, you go Granger image: tumblr.com
Four for you Granger, you go Granger (image: tumblr.com)

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Hermione develops very naturally over the course of the Harry Potter series (and no, I’m not going to make a puberty joke). She learns the value of breaking the rules, the importance of standing up for what she believes in despite the costs, and grows up into a young woman who is proud of who she is. This is a very positive message for children everywhere, as well as very realistic character development, and so once again, she passes this round in a blaze of glory.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Hermione is prone to occasional bouts of irrational panic (usually over her grades), but this is most prevalent in her earlier years; in her final year at Hogwarts, she has grown out of it enough to skip her final year altogether. She’s a stickler for procedure and at times, can be a little close-minded (particularly in her interactions with Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood). More worryingly, her greatest weakness is a tendency for petty, sometimes cruel behaviour in her love life, but I’ll go into this in more detail later.

Regardless of the unfortunate implications that some of her weaknesses possess, they do still count as weaknesses, so the point goes to Granger.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Without Hermione getting stuff done, Harry and Ron would probably have dropped dead from sheer incompetence in their first year. Hermione is consistently the character who puts the clues together, who comes up with the solutions, and who makes the plans work. She does occasionally get captured, but they’re usually minor incidents and never the main focus of any of the books, so she passes this round once again.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

OK, hold onto your wizard hats.

LOOK AT HIM HE'S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)
LOOK AT HIM HE’S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)

In some ways, Hermione goes against traditional gender stereotypes. She’s very intelligent, stands up for what she believes in, and rises up over gossip and bullying in a way that contemporary stereotypes about teenage girls would have us believe is impossible. In some ways she can be very traditionally feminine (her emotional maturity and interest in knitting, for instance) but this is never presented as a bad thing, and this is all a very positive message for young girls.

Where it all falls down is how she behaves in her love life, particularly in the sixth book. For those of you who need a refresher, the part I’m referring to is where Hermione develops feelings for Ron only to find that he has started going out with another student (Lavender Brown). When she finds out, she sets a flock of birds on him, which leave cuts on his arms that take days to heal. Hermione – not any other character in the book, for that matter – never expresses any remorse for causing physical harm to someone she has feelings for.

WHAT THE HELL, GRANGER??

This is actually really dangerous behaviour that enforces a lot of harmful stereotypes about gender. Hermione – usually a very calm, controlled character – completely loses it when she experiences romantic rejection. Afterwards, she goes out of her way to make Ron jealous – including dating someone she really dislikes and shows little concern for her well-being – and once Hermione and Ron get together, this is never addressed again. This subtly reinforces the belief that women are slaves to their emotions, particularly when dealing with romantic rejection, which is a belief that can have a very harmful impact on the lives of contemporary women. However, this incident also reinforces harmful stereotypes about men, too. If you imagine the situation without magic, Hermione’s behaviour would legally count as relationship abuse, and I have no doubt that if the genders were reversed, it would be treated as such, but the characters just brush it off and the fans often treat it as a joke. This is symptomatic of a much wider trend in fiction where female characters often use unnecessary force to prove their strength, but it reinforces a lot of frankly poisonous stereotypes. By trivialising abuse committed by women against men, it reinforces the beliefs that women are not strong enough to harm men and men are too strong to be harmed by women – a belief which trivialises both female domestic abusers and their male victims in real life.

This is by no means the kind of behaviour we should be endorsing.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Like Katniss, Hermione has a range of different relationships with a range of different female characters. She looks up to Professor McGonagall, looks down on Rita Skeeter and rightfully despises characters such as Professor Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange. However, it’s worth noting that over the course of the series, Hermione doesn’t really develop a close friendship with another female character. She is close to Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood – she sticks up for them and seems to know a lot about what’s going on in their lives – but she doesn’t always engage with them. When the reader is presented with scenes that show her interacting with them, Hermione comes across as aloof: she looks down on some of Luna’s more eccentric beliefs, she makes no interest to share Ginny’s passion for Quidditch, and there are not many scenes that show her really engaging her friends in topics that interest them, which is a hugely important part of any friendship.

This takes its toll on the storytelling. Hermione is not a character that is incapable of forming friendships; her bond with Harry and Ron is proof of that. However, Hermione is frequently used as a vehicle to dispense information about other characters, particularly those outside Harry’s house and year. When she tells Harry (and, by extension, the reader) a myriad of very personal details about Ginny and Luna’s lives, yet has no scenes establishing the depth of her bond with those characters, she seems more like a plot device and less like a realistic character. With that in mind, I’m only going to award her half a point, as I feel this lack of depth really undercuts some of her most important relationships with other female characters.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Hermione Granger is a well-rounded character who develops over the course of the Harry Potter novels. While some of her behaviour carries some deeply unfortunate implications about gender, she does display realistic and developed strengths and weaknesses, and has a huge impact on the plot of the series. She’s certainly passed my test – ten points to Gryffindor.

Next week, I’ll be venturing into Sunnydale. Buffy Summers, I’m coming for you.