Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where Is the Love... for Hermione Granger?

Before we begin, some warnings: Since it is my general belief that everyone and their hamster has seen/read Harry Potter, the following post will contain spoilers for books 3 and 4. Also, this review, cross-posted from my GR account, will contain critisism of the Harry Potter books, as well as copious amounts of cursing, for which I apologize beforehand. If you are averse to any or all of these things, please do not to read this post.

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Greetings, loved ones, and let us talk of a young witch named Hermione Granger.

It is no secret to my friends (and the occasional stranger) that I'm not fond the Harry Potter books. I went from fantatic to hater just about overnight, and this book was largely to blame for it. When I was young and gullible, I hated how Cedric got killed off and how bloody the series got afterwards. I hated "The Goblet of Fire" enough to renounce the franchize. Now that I am older and slightly wiser, though I decided to come back to the books and see if my ire was remotely justified.

It is. I still hate it, but for all different reasons. Cedric, on second reading, is as dull as unbuttered toast (so I guess the movie casting must have been really spot-on). Harry has finally started to shed his unnatural maturity, and has turned just as obnoxious as most boys at 13. Ron is a wanker. So it's beyond me why Hermione hasn't stolen the spotlight here, as she is easily the most relatable character of them all.

Hermione is, and always has been, a delight to read. Not necessarily because she's a girl, but because she is the only character amongst that Fabulous Trio who actually has a good head on her shoulders. Let's look at her character - she is from a muggle family, but through hard work she has become the best student in the school. She studies hard, follows the rules, but makes exceptions when the circumstances are right. She comes off as stuck-up at first, but looks after her friends. She keeps her promises, even though she barely has time to take care of herself. And yet Ron is Harry's best friend, not her.

Why?

Harry and Ron are much closer than Harry and Hermione. In the previous book, Hermione was at odds with the boys not one, but twice, and that put a serious hinge on their friendship. They don't speak to her for ages, and the only reference they make to her is in relation to her towering homework. Even so, that doesn't nearly come close to the drama that follows Harry and Ron's falling out in book 4. And then, when they do make up, Hermione is once again pushed back as a tercery best friend, even though she sacrificed her efforts and sleep in order to help Harry learn a spell that would save his skinny ass.

But is that really so surprising? Throughout the books, Hermione is defined by her intelligence. It falls squarely on her shoulders to help the guys when they're in a pickle - whenever they discover that rushing at an obstackle headfirst isn't going to cut it, they turn to her for advice. She's also acutely aware of issues of inequality - in book 3, she was the only one who kept her promise to help Hagrid save his hippogriff. I'm not sure how much Harry and Ron's involvement wasn't motivated by Malfoy.

But Hermione's fighting for equality and fairness really shines in "The Goblet of Fire. In this book, she actually starts an organisation to help house elves! Moreover, she doesn't give up even when they tell her they don't want salaries. She's not motivated by the Good White Person guilt, but because she actually cares for these things. She stands up for Hagrid when Rita Skeeter takes a sling at him, and she kept Lupin's secret for months in book 3 simply because she believed he was a good guy! And where do her efforts to promote equality lead to? They're used for comedic relief.

Har-dee-har-har.

There is no reason for this. Harry has lived with his relatives as an upper middle class brat (a much abused middle class brat), but Hermione's parents are dentists and yet she has a better awareness of social issues than he does! Is Rowling trying to suggest that young activism is only for women, because only women seem aware of these issues?

It's equally disgusting how little the boys seem to appreciate her. Not only do they refuse to take her seriously, they literally take her for granted. On the Yule Ball, Harry and Ron take take forever to realize Hermione is a girl, and thus, qualified to be a dance partner (apparently, they can't go with each other, altough it would be most logical, what with all the sparks flying among them. What, it wouldn't sell well?)

Hermione, though, refuses to be taken for granted. She knows she deserves better than to be a go-to girl, and she does - she gets to be Viktor Krum's date, and she damn well got someone who appreciates her! But are her friends happy for her? No, they're shocked, and in Ron's case, offended, that she dared *gasp* make plans without them! Ron goes as far as to make a scene - in which he (not for the first time in the series) makes Hermione cry. This was supposed to establish some beginnings of the love between Hermione and Ron, but, quite frankly, it just makes Ron look like a wanker.

This also starts a subplot about female adversary in the book. First, there are the other girls at Hogwarts who seem mystified that Hermione is actually attractive AND smart. And then there's th Rita Skeeter article. After its publication, Hermione becomes the target for bullying which, in some cases, blurs the borders between assault and battary. Grown-up witches send her hate mail packed with all sorts of deadly stuff, one of which makes the skin of her hands fall off. Ron's commentary? She should have seen it coming, messing around with the paparazzi like that. I bet the bumrag was happy she got punished for liking Krum. But that's not even what's most disturbing about this thing - it's that witches who have never even met Hermione are willing to take Skeeter's word for it, even if the woman's as trustworthy as a snake. Even Mrs. Weasley, whose own husband got blackened twice in "The Daily Prophet", believes the slander! Nice message for female solidarity, Ms Rowling, real subtle.

Again, I ask, why can't Hermione be the hero of these series? I don't think I'm alone in thinking it could be so much better.

I haven't read books five through seven, so I cannot say if Hermione gets more spotlight, or if the the issue of Ron's rather disturbing attitude towards her is adressed. I may be a hater without reason, so I will read the rest of the series. But the Harry Potter books are one of the most loved children's series, and some of the best known. "The Goblet of Fire" won a Hugo award for best novel in 2001, and the Mythoepic Fantasy Award for Adolescen Literature in 2008, along with many, many others. So why is a book so loved, so popular, mocking young activism and abuses an intelligent female character so much? Hermione comes up on top, in the end, and I thank J. K. Rowling for that, because Hermione isn't just a literary character. She's all of us women who put hard work, integrity and friendship before anything else.

What's your take? What do you think of Hermione in "The Goblet of Fire"?

For some more reading: The Further Adventures of Hermione Granger, the follow-up piece to the one I linked above.

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