(Part I of this post can be found here)
Hermione Granger is not a prize to be won. Hermione doesn’t go to the boy who ‘deserves’ her. Hermione is Ron’s consolation gift for not being the hero. The only reason Hermione doesn’t end up with Harry is because Rowling figured out the ending way before she actually finished the series and hadn’t anticipated how much her characters might change. Hermione and Ron would never have lasted because they were the perfect example of a corny, unrealistic romcom couple. Hermione and Ron is the relationship everyone dreams of in high school but no one gets because, let’s face it, they are just way too different. It was so brave of Rowling to not dump Hermione with the hero; she broke so many conventions!
Disconnected though they are, these are statements I’ve heard being hurled during the Hermione/Ron and Hermione/Harry debates. I’ve made clear which side I am on (in the first part of this post), and in this, the second half, I’m going to try and justify this stance. Mind you, things might get a little icky and personal, so feel free to scoot out of here before they do if that makes you uncomfortable.
Recently, I discussed the Rowling Revelations (this is what I’ve taken to calling her interview with Emma Watson in Wonderland Magazine) with a fellow fantasy fan. He was quite adamant about Hermione being too good for Ron, stating that the only reason I didn’t agree with him was because I wanted Harry for myself and viewed Hermione as potentially greater competition than Ginny. I both agree and disagree with him. Yes, I might have wanted Harry, and yes, being more like Hermione than Ginny in many ways, I might have anticipated greater threat from her (if she wanted him in the first place) simply because I don’t underestimate myself when it comes to making attempts to get what I want. No because, honestly, I do think her relationship with Ron is an important part of what makes her such an appealing character and, ultimately, makes her such a shining beacon of unconventionality and hope in a genre otherwise sadly lacking in strong, relatable female protagonists.
Hermione and Ron have far from the most romantic relationship in the series. Their ‘courting’, such as it is, is limited to half-hearted flirting, some classic comedic misunderstandings and half-spoken confessions. In keeping with their less-than-central status, there are no protestations of ‘Always’ and golden afternoons by the lake or ‘we could have had months, years even’. And yet, despite this, they have long been my favourite couple.
An astute person once told me ‘I suppose that’s a human tendency, to want what we cannot have.’ In real life, I venerate crazy, intense, complicated relationships, which sap energy both emotional and physical. I suppose I have taught myself, based on whatever I’ve seen of fantasy heroes and their love lives, that to be considered ‘great’ and ‘true’, love must be passionate, it must be sacrificial, come under attack from society and, above all, it must hurt. Anakin and Padme, even Rand and Min or Arwen and Aragorn—they all go through so much emotional trauma and societal disapproval and whatnot to be with their loved ones. If I can’t emulate them in the grander aspects (i.e. saving the world), surely I can ape them when it comes to this, a much more achievable category.
But the problem is, in most of these relationships, what we are usually presented is the male perspective. When we do get the girl’s outlook, it’s (arguably) more muted than the boy’s, less loaded with Fate and Destiny and other such heroic terms. True, Arwen is the one making the big decision to give up her immortality, but since Tolkien’s book has privileged Aragorn’s story all along, the shoehorning in of her regret and loneliness comes a little too late to make much of an impact.
This is, perhaps, a casualty of being the hero or central character’s love interest. So if Hermione had gone down that road, gotten with Harry, this would probably have happened to her. She would have been forced to wane a little bit, so that Harry, the more ‘important’ of the pair, shone. Look at what happened to Ginny, if you want proof.
But I think Hermione herself as a character required someone like Ron. Hermione is a very ‘intense’ girl, as Rowling admitted. She’s smart, driven, emotional and, more importantly, she takes things very, very seriously. Hermione seems to view life as something of an exam; she must do well at every turn and those things she is not good at, she often tries to ignore or excise. In fact, Ron and Harry see this part of her and refuse to condone it, encouraging her to play chess (one of the few things she does not do very well) because they think it is good for her ‘to lose’ on occasion.
For someone like Hermione, a personality like Harry’s would have been quite a disastrous match. Harry is, like her, a very intense, focussed sort of character. He takes his quest and heroism seriously, he drives himself to crazy lengths to ensure that things get done in the ‘right’ way, often ignoring other people’s feelings in the process (his confrontation with Remus comes to mind, as well as his break-up with Ginny). Hermione, unlike Ginny, takes Harry’s moods seriously, cowering back when yelled at, leaving him to stew in silence when she does not know what exactly to say to him. Ginny, on the other hand, is capable of simply shrugging off Harry’s tantrums. Unlike Hermione, she doesn’t seem to get very fazed when things don’t go the way she planned, and for someone who is as volatile as Harry gets to be in the second half of the series, this is an ideal trait in a partner.
Like Harry, Hermione needs someone who can calm her down, whose ability to live in the moment offsets her own need to plan obsessively. And that, really, is Ron’s forte. Being the most grounded of the trio, in some ways, Ron has an ability to loosen the others up, to distract them from the doom and gloom that surrounds them. This is part of his role as ‘comic relief’, but it also makes his descent into metaphorical ‘darkness’ all the more hard-hitting in Deathly Hallows. Above all things, Ron is loyal and able to put others before himself with an ease born of growing up in a large family. Harry and Hermione do not have this ability to efface themselves. Ron can fade into the background and still be Ron. If Harry or Hermione did it, they would most likely be seen as selling themselves short or only accomplish it with great psychological turmoil.
Especially Hermione. Imagine her not being the best at something, or being applauded for her accomplishments. Nope, not happening.
Rowling admitted that Hermione, being an ‘uptight’ girl, needs someone ‘who takes life, or appears to take life, a little more lightheartedly’. Being such a star herself, she needs someone who can support her, be there for her without being scared of either being eclipsed or distracting her with his own emotional needs.
When I was in high school, my friends would joke that whoever I ended up with would be a glorified errand boy, fetching refills for me while I penned bestselling novels. I protested, of course, saying that I wanted someone with a little more ambition than that. I wanted a fantasy hero (well, don’t we all?), a Harry perhaps, or an Aragorn: someone who had a noble quest to fulfil. I never thought about what their love interests actually went through, and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized how very difficult, if not downright impossible, it is to put myself second in a relationship, to agree that, yes, my ‘hero’s’ work is more important than anything I might want to accomplish, at least for the moment. It’s only now that I see how few women there are in fantasy who appear able to do what they want without their significant other creating a big hue and cry about it and making things difficult for them. And I think this sends a very wrong message to young readers everywhere.
You don’t understand how much your reading has affected you until you find yourself adopting those lessons in your life. Not that many people can actually see it happening, not many people realize how much of what they’ve been taught filters into their everyday. I think I was lucky enough to see it, and perhaps it’s not too late for me to shrug off those lessons. Professors have been parroting things about ‘received wisdom’ and ‘gender conventions’ in literature for ages, but honestly, it’s only now that I’m learning just how very ingrained and hard to shake those lessons are.
And that’s why I think Hermione is super important. Hermione and Ron get together in the middle of a war, rather spectacularly flinging their regard for one another in Harry’s face (despite his yelling at them to concentrate on the quest at hand). Hermione and Ron show an impressive ability to work together, combining Ron’s instinctual grasp of magic with her book-learning. Hermione and Ron balance out one another’s weaknesses and strengths. Hermione and Ron do all this without either of them losing their individuality in the process, or being told (explicitly or implicitly) that what one of them wants is not as important as what the other has to do. Both are equally heroic, both will have to work hard to make their relationship last, but both show that yes, you can be fantastical world-savers while being crazily in love and in the field together.
And never, ever forget that it was, really, Hermione who made the first move.