home Books, Europe, Fantasy, Feminism, Humor In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series

In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series

It’s the end of an era. The entertainment which has stretched across books, movies, and countless marketing tie-ins, which has captivated children and adults for well over a decade and which has, for better or worse, managed to become the defining myth for an entire generation, is winding to its close. I speak, of course, of the Hermione Granger series, by Joanne Rowling.

So, before she goes away for good, let us sing the praises of Hermione. A generation could not have asked for a better role model. Looking back over the series — from Hermione Granger and the Philosopher’s Stone through to Hermione Granger and the Deathly Hallows — the startling thing about it is how original it is. It’s what inspires your respect for Rowling: She could only have written the Hermione Granger by refusing to take the easy way out.

For starters, she gave us a female lead. As difficult as it is to imagine, Rowling was pressured to revise her initial drafts to make the lead wizard male. “More universal,” they said. “Nobody’s going to follow a female character for 4,000 pages,” they said. “Girls don’t buy books,” they said, “and boys won’t buy books about them.” But Rowling proved them wrong. She was even asked to hide her own gender, and to publish her books under a pen name, so that children wouldn’t run screaming at the thought of reading something by a lady. But Joanne Rowling never bowed to the forces of crass commercialism. She will forever be “Joanne Rowling,” and the Hermione Granger series will always be Hermione’s show.

And what a show it is. In Hermione, Joanne Rowling undermines all of the cliches that we have come to expect in our mythic heroes. It’s easy to imagine Hermione’s origin story as some warmed-over Star Wars claptrap, with tragically missing parents and unsatisfying parental substitutes and a realization that she belongs to a hidden order, with wondrous (and unsettlingly genetic) gifts. But, no: Hermione’s normal parents are her normal parents. She just so happens to be gifted. Being special, Rowling tells us, isn’t about where you come from; it’s about what you can do, if you put your mind to it. And what Hermione can do, when she puts her mind to it, is magic.

Ditto for the whole “Chosen One” thing. Look: I’ve enjoyed stories that relied on a “Chosen One” mythology to convince us that the hero is worth our time. I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer as much as anyone. But it’s hard to deny that “Chosen Ones” are lazy writing. Why is this person the hero? Because everyone says he’s the hero. Why does everyone say he’s the hero? Because everyone says so, shut up, there’s magic.

Hermione is not Chosen. That’s the best thing about her. Hermione is a hero because she decides to be a hero; she’s brave, she’s principled, she works hard, and she never apologizes for the fact that her goal is to be very, extremely good at this whole “wizard” deal. Just as Hermione’s origins are nothing special, we’re left with the impression that her much-vaunted intelligence might not be anything special, on its own. But Hermione is never comfortable with relying on her “gifts” to get by. There’s no prophecy assuring her importance; the only way for Hermione to have the life she wants is to work for it. So Hermione Granger, generation-defining role model, works her adorable British ass off for seven straight books in a row. Although she deals with the slings and arrows of any coming-of-age tale — being told that she’s “bossy,” stuck-up, boring, “annoying,” etc — she’s too strong to let that stop her. In Hermione Granger and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she actually masters the forces of space and time just so that she can have more hours in the day to learn.

And it pays off. Hermione saves the day, over and over; in every book, there is a moment where her classmates need to be saved, and they need a plan that is going to save them, and they inevitably turn to Hermione, “the brightest witch of her age.” Hermione always comes through; she has the plans, she saves them all. That’s why her name is on the cover of every book.

As the series developed, its politics did, too. Dumbledore, memorably, falls in love with a younger man in the third installment. Other female characters were introduced, and developed beyond stereotype; we learned to value McGonagall as much as Dumbledore, to stop slagging Lavender Brown off as clingy and gross because she actually wanted her boyfriend to like her, to see the Patil sisters and Luna as something other than flaky, intuitive, girly idiots. Unbelievably, even Ginny Weasley got an actual personality. Hermione was not an exceptionalist, the one girl in the world worth liking; she didn’t need to be surrounded by female stereotypes in order to stand out as a compelling female character. And Hermione, in her defining moment, became an activist for the enfranchisement of house-elves.

The best thing about this development is Rowling’s lack of condescension; it’s easy to take potshots at youthful activism, and a lesser author would have played Hermione’s campaign for nasty comedy. Imagine that abomination; Hermione being the only character to notice that her sparkly, magical world relied on the creation of a goddamn slave race, and all of the supposedly sympathetic characters being like, “no, they like slavery! Stop being such a downer!” Instead, Hermione works with the house-elves to free them early on, and many house-elves become well-developed, central characters.

And there we have it: The defining hero of our age is a girl who saves the day with her egalitarianism, love of learning, hard work, and refusal to give way to peer pressure. It’s hard to think of the Hermione Granger series as anything other than flawless. And yet — as fans constantly point out — there is a very big flaw in the series. You know who I’m talking about; it’s He Who Must Not Be Named, but we spell it H-A-R-R-Y.

The character of Harry Potter is an obnoxious error in the Hermione Granger universe, made more obnoxious by his constant presence. It’s tempting to just write Harry off as a love interest who didn’t quite work out; the popular-yet-brooding jock is hardly an unfamiliar type. And, given that Hermione is constantly having to rescue Harry, he does come across as a sort of male damsel-in-distress.

But, if we look closely, we can see that Harry is a parody of every cliche Rowling avoided with Hermione. Harry is not particularly bright or studious; he’s provided with an endless supply of gifts and favors; he’s the heir to no less than two huge fortunes; he’s privileged above his fellow students, due to his fame for something he didn’t actually do himself; he even seems to take credit for “Dumbledore’s Army,” which Hermione started. Of course this character is obnoxious. It’s only by treating ourselves to the irritation caused by Harry that we can fully appreciate Hermione herself.

Those who doubt Rowling’s satiric intent need look no farther than the scathingly funny epilogue to the final book. In the end, we see Harry married to some girl he met as a teenager, dropping his kids off at school, and reminiscing about his glory days. In the end, Potter is just another jock who peaked in high school. And Hermione? Well. Rowling would never insult Hermione by dropping her into some suburban nightmare of marrying a boy she met before graduation. What we learn about Hermione is what she does for her job. Although we are, thankfully, treated to the hint that she’s been hooking up with Neville Longbottom.

“For truly,” goes the last line, “Neville somehow got really handsome. All was well.” Indeed.

Front page photo: Emma Watson filming for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Editor’s Note: Sady’s responded to the comment thread with a follow-up thread here.

210 thoughts on “In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series

  1. Here’s a thought: instead of damning the *incredibly good* for not perfectly expressing *your* thoughts, how about *you* write it.

    Go ahead, try it. I’m interested to see what all the critactivists have to show when they’re asked to actually top Glee, HP, and all the other things they damn as “not good ENOUGH!”

  2. this is by far the best thing I’ve read by Sady. Truly brilliant work of feminist literary criticism.

  3. We DO learn what Hermione does for a job – head an entire department – in a later interview. And Hermione was never ever presented as a love interest to the hero, except if anything, this IS a mark of progress. Ron and Harry were ALSO only presented as husbands and fathers in the book.

  4. As much as I love HP–this is totally spot on. Wow, I wish, so much, that those books existed.

  5. Also, as for the activism, she was slightly lampooned, but in the end IT WAS HERMIONE’S ACTIVISM that got Kreacher on their side. Hermione has the last laugh over Ron and Harry and the others who had originally laughed off Hermione’s efforts to treat the elves with kindness and free them because she is the one who figures out Kreacher’s psyche. Regulus Black treated elves with respect and thus, even though he was a deatheater, he had Kreacher’s trust, rather than Sirius. I actually think that Hermione’s efforts are generally written with a positive light… But anyway…some youth activism *is* a little silly…the posters, cute slogans, etc. There’s nothing wrong with gently poking fun when the overall message is overwhelmingly positive.

  6. This is spot-on with one exceptoin. Your criticism directed at Rowling’s tone vis-a-vis Hermione and the house elves is off-putting.

    While many of the characters do respond to Hermione as though she’s crazy — and indeed, many house elves display internalized inferiority based on generations of abuse — acting as though the responses of the characters are equivalent to the author’s tone is slightly inaccurate.

    Rowling’s intent in the books is always abudantly clear, both through putting the crusade in the hands of an imminently respected and admired character, Hermione, and through consistent cues by other respectable characters, such as Dumbledore, that her crusade is both just and appropriate. She succeeds marvelously, as previous commenters have suggested, in mobilizing Kreacher at the last. In short, Rowling’s vision of Hermione’s quest, while not reforming and revolutionizing immediately (what reform movement has done its best work within three years of its founding) is imminently charitable towards her aims and objectives.

    Furthermore, her writing and characterization shows that even good wizards have internalized prejudice initially leading them to derision of Hermione’s aims — Ron, for instance — and yet, if they are of good will, can be brought around to both realize their prejudice and combat it.

    That said, I have no problem with much else here. I’m impressed with the style used to make your points, too; it’s a great use of a specialized device to make a specific point.

  7. September, by your own rules of conduct, shouldn’t you be writing a better article rather than criticizing this one?

  8. Is there any evidence to support that Ms. Rowling was indeed pressured in the ways that this article satirically implies?

    I mean, if not, how is this not a direct and unfounded attack on her strength of character? Maybe I’m misreading this but it seems to imply that The original MS was intended to be about a female lead. I’ve never heard this. Can someone please cite the source?

  9. It’s difficult to figure out what precisely this article is trying to say, so I’m sorry if I come off as not understanding it.

    There is a lot to praise Hermione about, and a lot to criticize Harry of. This article communicates to me that the series would have been better if Hermione were the primary character, and Harry were downgraded to “major character.” I’m not disagreeing with that, if Harry’s story would have worked as a major character it wouldn’t be any skin off of my nose. I’ve got plenty of male characters to read.

    However, It seems your main argument for this is because Hermione’s character has important values to teach while Harry falls into standard gender stereotypes, thus making Hermione’s story arc more valuable in general.

    Well, I’m not claiming that Harry’s story arc is more valuable than Hermione’s, but I still think Harry has something valuable to teach, just not to women.

    The major complaint of Harry in this article is that he’s privileged, though he doesn’t deserve it–he’s just normal. I don’t disagree with that. I emphatically agree with it.

    Harry’s story arc, to me, is that he’s given a heightened version of male privilege, and has to work against it to keep himself grounded, keep from becoming an asshole, and do the right thing despite incredible external pressure.

    This is a very valuable lesson for young boys to learn, and I feel like this article denies or belittles that lesson because of personal preference for one character over another rather than as a response to sexist writing.

  10. This was such a smart piece, critical yet affectionate at the same time. While I would have loved to see a few more substantial female characters in HP and wish that the series wouldn’t have ended with such a definitively suburban wrap-up, at least Rowling let the teenage protagonists wait a decade or so before having children!

  11. Someone over at pandagon pointed out that Harry’s not exactly a jock – UK school cliches don’t line up so neatly with the US ones. He’s pretty much the stereotypical boarding school hero – good at athletics, smart but not TOO smart, generally well-liked if he’s not being cruely slandered, and nice to everyone in return (if they deserve it).

  12. Absolutely brilliant! Whenever I saw the movies in the theater I would imagine that the Harry and Hermione’s roles were reversed – it made for a much more enjoyable magical experience – so I’m thrilled more about the remixed series that I thought was only going on in my head!

    I’m also reminded of what bell hook’s wrote about Harry Potter in her book The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love —- “It was adult, white, wealthy males in this country who first read and fell in love with the Harry Potter books. Though written by a British female, initially described by the rich white American men who ‘discovered’ her as a working class single mom, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are clever modern reworkings of the English schoolboy novel. Harry as our modern-day hero is the supersmart, gifted, blessed, white boy genius (a mini patriarch) who “rules” over the equally smart kids, including an occasional girl and an occasional male of color… Sexism and racist thinking in the Harry Potter books are rarely critiqued. Had the author been a ruling-class white male, feminist thinkers might have been more active in challenging the imperialism, racism and sexism of Rowling’s books.”

  13. Absolutely brilliant! Whenever I saw the movies in the theater I would imagine that the Harry and Hermione’s roles were reversed – it made for a much more enjoyable magical experience – so I’m even more thrilled about this article talking about the female-driven series which I thought was only going on in my own head!

    I’m also reminded of what bell hook’s wrote about Harry Potter in her amazing book The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love —- “It was adult, white, wealthy males in this country who first read and fell in love with the Harry Potter books. Though written by a British female, initially described by the rich white American men who ‘discovered’ her as a working class single mom, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are clever modern reworkings of the English schoolboy novel. Harry as our modern-day hero is the supersmart, gifted, blessed, white boy genius (a mini patriarch) who “rules” over the equally smart kids, including an occasional girl and an occasional male of color… Sexism and racist thinking in the Harry Potter books are rarely critiqued. Had the author been a ruling-class white male, feminist thinkers might have been more active in challenging the imperialism, racism and sexism of Rowling’s books.”

  14. Rachel and QBert put it well already; I just want to add a third “Thank you for this excellent post!”

  15. Hugely enjoyable, spot on – for me, the mother of a son – and thought provoking, thank you. I am reminded of Sherri Tepper’s now out-of-print True Game Series. Six of the nine books center on adolescent heroines of the Hermione Granger cast.

  16. While clever, this article gives several wrong impressions. As others above have already mentioned, Hermione’s anti-slavery was intended to be taken in earnest. Harry and Ron laughing it off are shown to be in the wrong. This article would have us believe that Hermione’s passion was intended as comedy, and it was not.

    Also, the jab at the “Chosen One” business shows that the article writer either hadn’t read the later books or simply didn’t understand that the reason for this was not just some silly prophecy, but rather a very matter-of-fact rational reason. To lampoon it as anything but is misleading.

    And yes, it’s very sad that had J.K. Rowling written it as “Hermione Granger and the” most young and teen boys would not have read it. Is she to be critisised for a well-known publishing fact? There’s no evidence she’d ever intended Harry to “Harriette” or whatever, so saying that she should have changed her main character to female simply to try her best to buck tradition is a bit silly.

  17. I think the author of this overlooked the theme of the series in context to the main character. I think we can all agree with Sirius Black that we all have light and dark inside of us, and it’s what we choose to act on that makes us who we are. Harry’s character illustrated this, over and over again as he is faced with choices and questions. This is the entire theme of the book. Hermione in all her awesomeness was always relatively solid in whom she was and what she believes in, while admirable, there was no internal struggle with her.

  18. You really did fail to comprehend the UK culture in the text. So mind not thinking Joanne Rowling’s an American? Or is cultural imperialism too hard for you to break?

  19. Is there actually a ‘Hermione Granger…’ series? I’m failing to find this anywhere. It’s certainly not referenced under Joanne Rowling’s works, however you have said here that it is written by her.

    I found the generalisations and lack of references in this article irritating.

    The incessant feminist need to promote female characters over male characters with the assumption that we can learn more from female characters is very sad and downright sexist. Why can we not just appreciate the characters for who they are and what they are communicating, rather than judging them purely on their sex?

  20. Ask many fantasy authors and they’ ll tell you. Rowling probably didn’t even consider for a moment any issues of role models, gender, steroetypes, prejudices, etc etc. She probably just had rollicking fun writing a great story that people would love reading. Which millions of us did.

  21. @Anthony Sullivan: The part about Rowling having to go by her initials rather than her first name to attract male readers is unfortunately true. (Though even if she’d chosen to fight that battle, who’s to say she wouldn’t have gone by the more androgynous “Jo” anyway?) The rest is pure riffing/criticism on the author’s part. Like it or not, Harry was always intended to be the protagonist. And much as I love Neville, I’m not sure why he gets a pass (and a superfluous makeover!) in this scenario while the kid who repeatedly states he doesn’t want any of the privilege heaped on him gets pilloried.

    By the by, as long as we’re talking about Dumbledore’s Army, did our heroine scar one of her classmates for life by not disclosing the full penalty for spilling the secret in this universe?

  22. I love the Harry Potter books — very much, in fact — and I still think this analysis is right on.

    It’s sad that our culture hates women so much that even female authors write male main characters.

  23. You know, If the main character had been cast as “your” heroine, and young mr Potter as the bumbling assistant, I suspect that she would have been seen the same way a smart, capable, supportive, kind, and creative male lead would be. Phoney. To be successful, Harry must first be an idiot and, in his idiocy, be rescued (repeatedly) by a female assistant who, though born of lesser privilege, is morally and intellectually, superior. She leads by example and shows our bumbling hero how to be a man. Seemingly, she succeeds. That’s pretty much how it happens in the real world. Real men are created by superior women. Why is that so hard for anyone to understand?

  24. Brilliant. Your critiques of popular culture are always so insightful. This post makes me feel warm on the inside. Hermione was always my favorite character and the one I most connected with. So much for boys not being able to relate to female leads. 🙁

    Special thanks for pointing out Harry’s “jock”-ness. As a nerd throughout my childhood, it always bothered me that no one cared how dull and non-talented he was off the Quidditch pitch. As McGonagall pointed out, his successes seemed to stem from sheer “dumb luck.”

    Anyway, just thank you.

  25. This just seems trite and reductive. I agree wholeheartendly, as many have said above, that the real value of a female character isn’t whether her name is on the front of the book or not, but what her function is within the narrative. In the case of Harry Potter, Hermoine is consistently and clearly Harry’s superior. Further and as such, she enables to narrative to transcend a gender line between book-smarts (troped as female) and skill/luck (troped as male). The deconstruction of these tropes is what Hermoine’s character deserves to be lauded for. I think this article is a terrible piece of criticism, embodying the worst type of reactionary, reductive, Gilbert+Gubar style criticism that fails to look at the function of a female character like Hermoine in her deserved recognition (what she does in /relation/ to men, not in /spite/ of) and can not but relegate her to the lower, bitter half of a double discourse. Do Hermoine more justice; recognize her for the CRITICAL component that she is in the series, don’t reduce her to simply a foil and then bewail the reductive role you’ve just put her in.

  26. I dunno, this article is real mixed bag for me, and the comments even more so. It’s always a little weird when gendered discussions among first-world netizens who had time to read a multi-thousand-page fantasy series start veering into “unearned privilege makes you a bad person, doesn’t it?” territory, as parts of this essay and several of the comments seem to. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and *everyone reading here* have access to wealth and privilege well beyond what many in the world can count on, despite the real, non-trivial differences among them. How’s life in our glass house casting stones at each other going today? 😉

    Someone commented that it was odd that “nobody” had noticed Harry’s ordinariness off the Quidditch pitch. Good lord, it’s only the most frequent criticism leveled at the books by anybody with half a brain … maybe you don’t know the right people? (Not to mention: did you read none of the things Rowling put in Snape’s mouth about Harry? The criticism is right out in the open, and as we eventually learn, Snape is a character well worth heeding.)

    As has already been said, I think Rowling was onto something quite deliberate here: Harry’s a case of having “greatness” thrust upon one. Yes he’s privileged–and he still has to learn to make choices about what to DO with that privilege, choices which redound to the benefit of all, not merely himself. Yes, he draws on the talents of smarter people, Hermione chief among them … what was he supposed to do, ignore them? (I also think it’s interesting that nobody is talking about the series’ rather sharp critique of the culture of ‘fame’ and its implication that being privileged and popular can be soul-deadening *and distract from the real work of changing things for the better* … is everyone convinced that Hermione would have had an easy time if only everyone made HER the hero and thrust all those expectations on HER?)

    People frequently note what a “weak” or “ordinary” hero Harry is, but that’s a big part of the point: the era of the “great” person who goes it alone and does it all themselves ought to be over, is what I think Rowling’s saying. This essay gestures to that egalitarianism in speculating about Hermione surrounding herself with a group of interesting and accomplished women … but it also suggests, for example, that only a Hermione Grainger series would have taught us to see Luna Lovegood as something other than an “intuitive, girly idiot.” I dunno: I’m a queer male in my late 40s and I was smart enough to see Luna as a whole person even in the Harry Potter books. If it truly takes Hermione-as-hero series to make a woman like Luna seem valuable, what exactly are feminists saying about their own ability to respect human beings in general? I know a fair number of “intuitive, girly” MEN–should I not value them for not being book-smart? *Intellectual* privilege is okay?

    As I say: mixed bag. A series with Hermione as the hero would certainly be AWESOME–but not because tendentious readings of the existing series are more true than the existing series itself. 😉

  27. As a woman and a feminist, I consider the critiques of this article to be completely bogus. As anyone who has worked in bookstores or libraries knows, getting boys and men to read is very hard. Rowling did that. To criticize her for having a male protagonist misses the point of the feminist movement. She had the freedom to write about a character of any sex, so she did, and in a fantasy genre generally dominated by male writers. She did not feel constrained to write only about girls or issues stereotypically attributed only to women.

    Yes, there is a bias among readers, especially male ones, about reading books by women. Using initials is one way to get around this (and British writers – both male and female – have a good solid history fo doing this). After the books became a phenomenon, it no longer mattered. A women is the most successful and influential writer of her generation. And she did it by breaking the rules, whether you want to admit it or not.

  28. Thank you for the bit about the house elves: the Gone With the Wind, House Elves Want to be Slaves, was more than I could bear and I stopped reading at book 5. I am astonished at the excuses people make for this.

  29. Haha! Amazing.

    Man, I’m with most of you guys, though. I figure, I’m a good person, and I’m not sexist or classist or racist, and since what I like is reflective of myself, if I like Harry Potter, it must not be sexist, classist, or racist, either.

    Obviously I’d notice if I was looking at a story through the window of my own privilege; since I DON’T see anything wrong with it, it must be because there ISN’T anything wrong with it, and it’s just a regular, rollicking old time.

    QED.

    Shame on you, Sady Doyle, for suggesting that there’s anything at all in the world that matters about anything except whether or not I’m happy.

  30. Your condemnation of the Harry Potter books is an interesting way to confront these issues. It’s obviously won you a great deal of attention here, but it seems unfair to throw this pretty respectable book under the bus for not addressing your favorite causes at any cost. I’m hoping that your Harry Potter angle is basically just an attention-grabbing hook, and that you aren’t actually filled with rage about it. Otherwise, you might as well get started denouncing Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fahrenheit 451 — neither of those beloved books starred a strong career-driven woman, either.

  31. I agree with some of her points, but I have a few serious issues. I feel like she’s laying general criticisms of society, cultural mythologies, and gender relations on a series that subverts quite a few of the expected tropes. For example: (excuse my geeking out):

    1. If we look at the first book, which was when the entire premise was set up, it’s a pretty clear that it’s a fantasy-come-true scenario—here’s a poor, rather horrifically-abused child who finds out that he’s actually a fantastic wizard, really famous, and really rich. I thought she actually did a pretty admirable job of showing the complexities of somebody thrust into stardom and a hero role without ever really wanting to be part of it. His friends are constantly jealous of him, he bitches about it pretty frequently, he gets harassed for it, put into mortal danger without his consent, and in the end of the series finds out that his mentor and closest friend has been grooming him to be a human sacrifice for seven years. It’s only near the very end of the series where he really accepts the mantle of what he has to do—and he then realizes he has to sacrifice his life because he’s chosen that path (he gets better). Yes, of course this is the archetypical “chosen one” story, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

    2. Sady’s point about the apparent lack of valuing meritocracy in wizardland completely ignores the fact that the primary motivating force for the “dark side” throughout the whole series is the primacy of blood over effort. If there’s anything that’s made clear throughout the series, its that those who rise into a station through their efforts are just as great as those born into it. Also, Hermione was born a wizard just as much as Harry. She didn’t train herself to be one. The only difference is that it was, ahem, a point mutation rather than inherited—her parents were normal, Harry’s were wizards.

    Also, Harry’s parents are supposed to be quite normal. Harry’s father is even supposed to be a bit of a jerk. The only reason Harry is in the place he’s in is because Voldemort misinterpreted a prophecy. It was supposed to be Neville as the saviour, who’s of noble blood. Harry’s parents were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    3. A bit out-of-universe here one…as a friend of mine who was in the publishing industry when these books came out pointed out, the reason the books were such a huge success is that they actually got 8–15 year old boys reading. That demographic was completely ignored by the publishing industry because they figured they were a lost cause. Acting like Rowling did some great disservice to the world by making her book have an 11-year-old male character, which boys of that age (including myself, I may say) immediately latched onto? Come on.

  32. First all, I think the way you have chose to write this article is a little condescending. But okay.

    Regarding the point you are trying to make. Of course I agree that there need to be more strong non-stereotypical female characters in lead roles.
    But just because Hermione isn’t in the lead role doesn’t make the series completely worthless. She is still a wellrounded, strong character and good role model.

    I do not see a problem with the fact that see is being teased. To me it just seems very realistic; friends do tease each other and her being the only girl and her being extremely smart makes her a target more often, but I do think Harry and Ron were teased as well. If anything this makes her a stronger character because of the way she handles it and always perseveres.

    All in all I love the series and the character of Hermione. I think you’re coming on a little too strong here.
    In regards to your remarks about the series (and character of Harry) not being original, I would just like t0 say: cliches are cliches for a reason, becauser they work.

  33. Dear Braak–

    Nice try, hon, but no score. Had you read my earlier comments in particular, you might have noticed that some of us were not refusing to see our own entitlement as a possible set of blinders, we were opining that perhaps Sady’s entitlements were a different set of blinders but still entitled, and it is thus a bit risky to call others out on that issue.

    Your parodic recapitulation of other commenters goes “I’m not racist, classist, or sexist, so I’m okay,” but in fact, one thing I do notice is a silence on your part, and partially on Sady’s, about sexual orientation. (Let alone class and economic privilege.) Sady’s rewriting of the series casts Hermione as the central hero, but maintains her heterosexuality. Shall we call “heterosexual privilege” on these points, and cast Sady’s thoughts into outer darkness along with Jo Rowlings’?

    What’s that? Sady gave Dumbledore a boyfriend? Tokenism! As bad as making Hermione a white heterosexual male’s right-hand-man, ain’t it?

    Obviously the only real answer is this:

    Luna Lovegood teaches Hermione all about lesbian awesomeness. (She only LOOKS like an “idiot” girl to women like Sady and Jo Rowlings who are too deeply invested in their own place in the phallic economy … all those wands, my God.) Luna and Hermione teach the Patil sisters how to kick Harry and Ron’s asses for ignoring them at the Yule Ball, setting up an epilogue where Luna is Minister of Magic, Hermione is a stay-at-home lesbian mom taking care of their three kids (with sperm donated by Harry, Ron, and Neville), Harry and Ron are suburban loser dads while Padma and Parvati Patil are their wives who do all the real glam stuff, and Neville is the first out gay Headmaster of Hogwarts, and everyone sits around crapping on Dumbledore for having been such a closet queen. 😉 (Oh, and I’m Neville’s boyfriend.)

    THAT’s the only REAL way to obliterate entitlement.

Oh, and then Kreacher leads a house-elf revolution and kills them ALL, and the rest of the human race. Stupid humans.

    Now that’s a series I would read: first the Gay Hegemony, then the Annihilation! 😉

  34. There’s still hope. The novel we know as _Manon Lescaut_ (the name of the “secondary female character”) was actually named “Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality, Volume 7: The Story of the chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut,” though hardly anybody knows that nowadays. The mincing, almost totally uninteresting male lead (who is further nested within a 7-volume frame novel with another male lead as narrator) is now overshadowed by the historical shift in interest in the female character. The abbé de Prévost had no idea what would become of his creation as social history evolved.

  35. I just want to say that I think this is fantastic, and thanks for writing it. The party about the house elves was always awful, and you nailed quickly (and hilariously) why I felt that way.

  36. Ugh, really, Pete? “You can’t criticise anyone else, because you’re also imperfect? You can’t suggest the series suffered from neglecting its female lead, because you didn’t ALSO point out that it didn’t have any gay leads at all?” Sure, okay, all criticism is invalid, because no one who criticises is perfect.

    Good, salient point. We’re all wealthy and have time on our hands, so we have no right to point out certain kinds of privilege when we see it. All criticisms relating to gender, class, race, or sexuality in literature can only be written by bisexual transgendered mixed race quadrapelegics living below the poverty line.

    Hey, you know what, though? There *should* have been more acknowledgement of homosexuality in the books, especially if Rowling had it in her head that Dumbledore was gay. So…what…if I agree with that, do I then get to say that Harry Potter was a bumbling, selfish, incompetent idiot who won by luck and privilege, and it’s absurd that he’s the main character while the character who studied and came up with a plan and was just a generally good and sensible person ended up playing second-fiddle to him?

    Can we just imagine that any time I, or anyone else, has a criticism of Harry Potter, it includes an asterisk that says, “By the way: also should have been more gay people.”?

  37. Sady, you’ve just written fanfic!

    Or perhaps, you’ve written an AU version of a fanfiction of a critic’s review of a popular series of books…

    or something.

    I read, I laughed, I cried.

    Then I read the comments and laughed and cried even harder.

  38. Amazing. I truly wish this was the series I grew up with. Maybe Rowling will pull a Stephanie Meyer and repurpose half of her original scripts from a slightly altered perspective and rerelease them as if they are new books.

  39. Wow, anti-feminists are kind of humourless, huh.

    This is possibly the best thing you have done since Mooregate, Sady Doyle, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

  40. Let’s light up the elephant in the room.

    What about the Disney Princesses?

    How many times do we hear that they are bad for girls? They just wait around for someone to save them. Oh really? How about Snow White? She escapes an attempted murder, by her own step-mother. Finds a _potential_ place of safety, and exhausts herself trying to clean it up so as to impress the people who live there to let her stay. And when accepted helps make their lives better by cooking and cleaning and improving their hygiene, so they’ll live longer. And she’s what 14-15 years old.

    How many modern citydwellers could think of doing all that? Or would you have everyone act more like Gothel?

  41. Braak, I think where we really disagree is that Hermione was “second fiddle” just because she wasn’t the character the series was named after. I’m *parodying* the tactic of critiquing entitlement and privilege much like you and Sady seem to be critiquing the culture of white heterosexual male patriarchy: of course it’s a real-world issue, of course it makes itself felt in literature … but one could extend the critiques into all kinds of inflexible readings and overstatements far more restrictive of how people out in the real world respond to literature than the novels we’re talking about. I thought Sady got close to that kind of overstatement and some of the commenters here definitely did. You parodied an unwillingness to buy Sady’s entire argument lock, stock, and barrel as people being unwilling to have their heroes taken off their pedestals; I parodied that by showing how stupid we could all get if we went even further in that direction and knocked everyone.

    (Had you responded with something like “gee, I think some of you are getting your knickers a little too much in a twist at the thought that the series does have real problems, could it maybe be that you’re having trouble looking at your own entitlement” I might have given you a huge thumbs up.)

    Here’s my real question: are we really saying that an author’s lapses have so much power to mold our thinking that we can’t read through any of that? Are we saying, indeed, that what we’re *identifying as* the author’s lapses could not, in fact, have sometimes been strategic maneuvers?

    We have someone in this thread decrying the Uncle Tomism of the house elves, and the hideous racism directed at them, who gave up on the series over it, *before* the portions of the narrative in which the hideous racism was *exposed to the characters (other than Hermione, who was right all along) as a failing on their part which they were forced to get the fuck over if they wanted to save themselves and everyone else*. As a reader who gets sensitive to the injustices of the world, I can identify with throwing a book aside in frustration about it, as that commenter may have done … but I know damn well that sometimes it’s my own sensitivity to the issue getting the best of me, not *necessarily* some awful thing the author is doing. I always took the portrayal of the house elves as a bit of good writing as regards how both the oppressed AND the oppressor sometimes find their minds internally colonized by the baggage of racism/sexism/patriarchy/homophobia/cisgenderism/classism or what have you, and a model for how people examine that kind of baggage and work through it.

    Entitlement and privilege are real issues, but what I’m actually arguing for is a reading strategy that allows for the possibility that some of us knew Hermione was the biggest hero of the series all along, whether Rowling put her name in the title or not, and whether or not we also liked Harry Potter.

    Maybe you are too, in which case I apologize for responding to your snark with yet more snark. 😉

  42. I kind of take offense to the suggested idea that Luna and McGonagall would only be praised were Hermione the hero, or that they (or Molly, Bellatrix, etc.) were only in the books to make Hermione seem more compelling.

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