It would be fair to say that neither I nor anyone else expected the sheer volume of the reaction to last week’s piece on Hermione Granger. It was a silly idea, one I submitted to my editor almost as a joke; I was surprised when she asked me to write it up, and substantially more surprised that people actually read it. But, then, I shouldn’t have been; I’ve learned since writing the piece that I am hardly the only person to find Hermione heroic, or to be disappointed with how she’s treated by Rowling’s narrative.
Of course, there are plenty of people who feel that Severus Snape is the real hero of the story, or that Neville Longbottom is the actual Chosen One; everybody can construct a defense of why their favorite characters are the best. But people’s feelings about Hermione are different, and strangely personal. She’s not just a character we love; her story inadvertently taps into many women’s real-life frustrations. When we read about Hermione, a lot of what we see is an old, frustrating story: The girl who works twice as hard, twice as well, for half as much credit.
So, before we move on to some non-Harry-Potter related discussions, it seems worthwhile to deal with some of the reactions to last week’s piece. Most of them have been positive, and I’ve appreciated them greatly. Others, well. Let’s just say that they raise questions worth answering.
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.