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.

giphy tea
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.

giphy gothel
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:

img_1757.jpg

 

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.

giphy ginny
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.

tumblr_m3kmts41tS1rvvszeo1_500
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.

dolores_umbridge
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.

MatrixTrinity
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: Dolores Umbridge

For those of you that don’t know, Dolores Umbridge is one of the secondary antagonists in the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The book – set in Harry’s fifth year of Hogwarts – follows the Ministry of Magic’s attempts to bring Hogwarts further under its control, mainly through the efforts of Umbridge, who is forcibly instated as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. While her role in the series is small – she only appears during the fifth book and a brief chapter in the seventh – she left a huge impression on fans of the series. The character is universally renowned for her nastiness, so much so that Stephen King himself described her as “the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter”.

But does she measure 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?

Umbridge is an employee of the Ministry of Magic who’s a stickler for official policy. Thus, it’s pretty easy to argue that when it comes to her destiny as a larger whole, she might not be completely in control. It’s made very clear that she’s taking orders from the Ministry of Magic throughout most of the fifth book, although the full extent of these orders is never really made clear.

However, it’s also made pretty clear that part of the reason Umbridge has come to be in this position is that she is both power-hungry and sadistic. She has to persuade the Minister for Magic to pass the Educational Decrees that allow her to interfere at Hogwarts, we see her planning to keep things secret from the Minister, and in the seventh book we see her working for Voldemort’s ministry and lying about her family heritage in order to climb the ladder. These aren’t really the actions of someone who was ‘just following orders’, so I’ll give her the full point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

It’s well established that Umbridge has a deep and abiding love for all things saccharine. We see in the fifth book that she collects ornamental plates decorated with disgustingly cute kittens – they line the walls of her office.

This is her one redeeming feature. (image: giphy.com)
This is her one redeeming feature. (image: giphy.com)

Her goals and beliefs are pretty well-established too. We know from the very outset that her main purpose in the novels is to uphold the repressive policies of the Ministry, and it’s made pretty clear as the books progress that this is a direct result of her deep-seated prejudices against pretty much everyone who isn’t Umbridge. That’s some believable and consistent character traits, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

Umbridge is a vindictive, spiteful, petty, sadistic woman who uses a cloak of girlish femininity in order to disguise her deep-rooted nastiness, and she remains this way throughout the whole series. Her skills don’t dramatically increase or decrease in order to push the plot along, and she consistently demonstrates an aptitude for dark magic in all her appearances. Once again, she passes this round.

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 sadistic, spiteful government official who’s determined to uphold the principles of the repressive governments she works for – regardless of who might get in her way.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Umbridge doesn’t have a love life.

And nor does anyone else, when she's around. (image: giphy.com)
And nor does anyone else, when she’s around. (image: giphy.com)

What really influences her decisions are her strongly-held beliefs in the governments she works for and her own personal prejudices. Umbridge is never really a character who’s seen in a romantic or sexual light in the Harry Potter series – and given the ‘Baroness’ trope that often surrounds female villains, this is very refreshing.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

Umbridge doesn’t really develop over the course of her appearances in the Harry Potter novels. Although she seems to get nastier as the series goes on, it’s pretty clear that she was already nasty to begin with and simply chose to keep it secret – you only have to look at the cruel and unusual punishment she comes up with for Harry to prove this. The only other way her character progresses is the fear of centaurs she develops at the end of the fifth book, but as this doesn’t last, I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

For Villain Month, I’m defining weaknesses as something that holds these characters back, rather than as traditionally negative character traits. What really holds Umbridge back in the Harry Potter books is just how small-minded she is. She’s far too quick to believe she’s succeeded, often underestimates her opponents and is given to gloating.

The classic villain flaw. (image: giphy.com)
The classic villain flaw. (image: giphy.com)

This actually leads to some real set-backs. It’s this that allows Hermione to trick her into leading her into the Forbidden Forest, it’s this that allows Harry, Ron and Hermione to track down their first Horcrux – this is what helps her opponents to get the edge on her. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

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

Umbridge is a real influence on the plot. Her quest to rigidly enforce Ministry law at Hogwarts dominates the fifth book. However, she’s not such a force in the seventh book – and, as I pointed out in question one, she does spend a lot of time following orders – sometimes I wonder if all this influence can really be ascribed to her. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

In many ways, Umbridge defies a whole host of traditional gender stereotypes. She appears to be a very soft, feminine woman, with a clear preference for a traditionally girly aesthetic. However, she’s also a complete sadist with deep-rooted prejudices, seems utterly incapable of empathy and is ruthlessly ambitious – hardly traits you would expect to see in someone who looks like this:

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

There’s only one incident where she falters – and that is at the end of the fifth book. For the uninitiated, at the end of the fifth book Umbridge is lured into the Forbidden Forest and carried off by centaurs. When we see her next, she’s in a hospital bed, seemingly unharmed, but reacts with terror to the sound of horses’ hooves. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have any bearing on traditional gender stereotypes – apart from the fact that in Greek mythology (which Rowling has publicly stated as being a huge source of inspiration for the series), centaurs were known for carrying off and raping human women.

This throws the way Umbridge relates to gender stereotypes into a completely different light. The incident with the centaurs is portrayed as Umbridge’s comeuppance – it’s supposed to be seen as the direct result of all her nasty behaviour. This carries all sorts of unfortunate implications. Traditionally, rape has been used as a way of punishing women, and is often linked to enforcing gender roles when committed in this context. In light of these implications, the reader has to consider whether Umbridge is being punished for her misdeeds, or punished for being an unconventional woman.

As we don’t actually know what happened in the Forbidden Forest it’s difficult to say what this means for Umbridge in terms of gender stereotypes. JK Rowling has not given an official statement about the incident, so until she does we can only speculate. Personally, I think it’s unlikely. Given that the series is aimed at children, and that Rowling herself has advocated for women’s rights for some time, I have difficulty believing the theory that Umbridge was raped by centaurs. However, it does throw up some important questions and considerations which I don’t think can be ignored, so I’ll award half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Umbridge has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of female characters, and these relationships mainly depend on what she wants from the other woman. On the whole she’s condescending towards her female students, unless she’s trying to get them to tell her something. If they’re members of her Inquisitorial Squad she’s very indulgent with them, clearly having favourites amongst her students. When we see her relate to adults, it’s a different story – she’s outright antagonistic to Professor McGonagall, gloats over Professor Trelawney’s sacking and lords it over her colleagues at the Ministry. Her relationships are defined by status and her own goals rather than gender, so she passes this round.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Dolores Umbridge is an unforgivably nasty character who displays a consistent level of skill, drives the plot forward and has some very well-established goals, hobbies and beliefs. She has weaknesses that hold her back, isn’t defined by her love life and has a range of relationships with different female characters. She might not develop much over the course of the story, and some parts of her story raise a few eyebrows when it comes to gender stereotypes, but she’s still passed my test.

Next week, I’ll be looking at Gone Girl. Amy, 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.