The Brilliance of the Evenstar

There are three important female characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Galadriel, the super powerful, super cool one, whose beauty, wisdom and general awesomeness is unparalleled.

Arwen, the beautiful one who has a tragic but fulfilling love life.

Eowyn, the rebellious warrior prince who does things that no man can do.

If these three formed a clique, I would assume that Galadriel would be the brains, the leader, the effortlessly cool one; Eowyn would be her slightly sporty, energetic second in command and Arwen…Arwen would be the girl in the relationship.


arwen 1There are few characters in the fantasy trove who confuse as much as Arwen Undomiel, alias Evenstar. On the one hand, she is a powerful Elf in her own right, someone who literally gives away her place in the Undying Lands to Frodo, a favour that he can never pay back. On the other, her role in the book is severely limited, condensed into an Appendix where she is little more than a beautiful presence who sighs and ‘cleaves’ to Aragorn, playing no further active role in his struggle.

In the movies, Arwen veered between a warrior princess like role, rescuing Frodo and facing down nine Ringwraiths, and then becoming a pawn who is quite literally passed from father to husband at the close of The Return of the King. In The Two Towers she is told what awaits her if she actually goes through with the mad plan of marrying Aragorn, and seems swayed by her father’s desire to hustle her out of Middle Earth. ‘Do I not also have your love?’ Elrond asks her and, weeping, she confesses that yes, of course he does.

arwen and el

There are many things that I think Peter Jackson did wrong in the movies (namely Faramir), but his evocation of Arwen’s struggle is nearly on par, for me, with his depiction of Thranduil. It’s quite amazingly perfect. In the book, we never really get a sense of what Arwen herself went through—even in the Appendix, it’s Aragorn we are focussed on, and the quest he has to complete. Arwen’s sacrifice is summed up thus:

And she stood then, as still as a white tree, looking into the West, and at last she said: ‘I will cleave to you, Dunadan, and turn from the Twilight. Yet there lies the land of my people and the long home of all my kin.’ She loved her father dearly.

Jackson puts the romance front and centre, shocking those fans who felt his way ‘brutish’ and ‘so not subtle’. He plays out Arwen’s role in her own destiny, stressing how she rebels against both Aragorn and her father in the making of her choice. In the movie, it’s Aragorn who loses hope in their relationship, who tells her ‘it was a dream Arwen, nothing more’, even crassly and rather insensitively trying to give back a gift that symbolized, to her, the ultimate sacrifice. I love how there is just the hint of a bite in Arwen’s retort: ‘It was a gift. Keep it.’

Like, what are you saying?

Like, what are you saying?

Seriously Estel, learn some manners.

Arwen is the one who keeps ‘hope’ for both her and Aragorn, in the face of his demoralisation. He turns to her in his dreams to find inspiration and strength to carry on, dreamand it’s very strongly implied that Arwen is consciously reaching out to him, watching over him in some form. This is not entirely impossible, given that she is the descendent of very powerful Elves, including Galadriel, Elrond and, of course, Luthien Tinuviel, whose form and fate she brings to life again.

If The Two Towers chronicles her rebellion against Aragorn’s loss of spirit, The Return of the King follows her revolt against her father and his desire to protect her. ‘Ada, whether by your will or not, there is no ship that will bear me hence,’ she says, striving to make Elrond understand that he no longer has the ability to force her to emigrate, that it is no longer really a matter of choice for him, or for her, for that matter, to stay in Middle Earth with Aragorn.

Whether he, or her intended, want her to or not, Arwen is staying put.

Deal with it.

Deal with it.

Now is where Jackson, in my opinion, messes up. For some reason, he makes Arwen a weakening force from this point on. Her fate, for some reason, become tied to the Ring. She becomes the physical embodiment of Middle Earth, in some ways, fading as Sauron’s power grows. Though it is her idea to reforge Anduril, it’s Elrond who carries it to Aragorn. If Jackson had to tweak canon, wouldn’t it have been awesome if he’d gone the whole hog and had Arwen bring the sword to him instead, thereby underlining how much of an independent spirit she is? The exchange would have gone like this:

Aragorn: Arwen! But I thought you were sailing to the Undying Lands…

Arwen: Whether by your will or not, there is no ship that will bear me hence. I’ve made my choice, respect it and take this wonderful sword I had made for you.

Eowyn peeks into the tent, is confused, but then realizes that Aragorn really was just a random crush who is way too old for her and besides, she is not ready to handle his angsty moods.

It's so much better when you just let me go ahead and do things.

It’s so much better when you just let me go ahead and do things.

See, this is why it’s so easy to dismiss Arwen as ‘the girl in the relationship’. She is set up as this amazing character, but then for some reason, the film makers, and the author, made her fall a little flat. So she doesn’t do the obviously amazing things that Galadriel and Eowyn do—but neither of them, in my completely unbiased opinion, go through the sort of emotional maelstrom that Arwen does in the course of the film. Imagine being, for all want himintents and purposes, rejected by the man you have given up your immortality for, and being told you don’t really know your own mind, that it was all some sort of fairytale ‘dream’.

This despite the fact that the man is about 2000-odd years younger than you. What a patronising prick.

Despite this, you persevere, only to be sent away ignominiously by your dad for your own ‘good’. When you come back, claiming once again that there is still hope, he tells you—in fancy fantasyish words—that there’s very little and your boyfriend is probably going to die. You hurl away the negativity and tell the men to stop being idiots and just get on with defeating Sauron already.

Arwen’s emotional strength is amazing, and it doesn’t get praised enough by readers, viewers or feminist critics. She is not, despite appearances, a doormat. It’s a sad fact that
centuries of literature and decades of film have told us that while love may be a powerful tool for a man (please read the Loving Hero Paradox), a woman in love is not a rational being. A woman in love is weak, confused and apt to go where her hormones lead her, to be the sort of crazy figure Taylor Swift ironically brings to life in ‘Blank Space’. A woman in love is not the captain of her own ship, and is prone to doing disastrous things. Witness Dido, Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play, Hermione’s rare bursts of irrationality, even the doughty Katniss can’t be entrusted with ‘real objectives’ of the rebels because her silly ‘feelings’ will get in the way.

Arwen rebels against this reading, and tells her lover, her father, the rest of Middle Earth, to sod off and respect her decisions. Dying a lonely death on a hilltop? It may not have been ideal, but it was something she chose to do. It’s about time we started respecting that, and realising that ‘the girl in the relationship’ is not always the boy-crazy, silly figure we’ve long imagined her to be.

Ten ways in which reading fantasy screws up your love life

Lo and behold, herein are written the ways in which an overdose of the fantastical can screw up any right thinking, clear headed person. As though the socially accepted form of insanity doesn’t do that well enough anyway.

1) When someone says ‘I can’t be with you’, you automatically assume they are being self-sacrificing and noble and trying to protect you from some darker power.

arwen and aragorn

2) Because of this, you only decide to love them more.

3) You think ‘waiting’ for said person is a wonderful thing and will surely result in a reward, i.e., returned regard.

There is still hope.

                 There is still hope.

4) Even if it doesn’t, literature and the heroes have taught you that unrequited love is the most noble and wonderful thing evah. Just look at all the love Snape got after it was revealed he was crazy about Lily Evans.

5) This is a lie. Unrequited love is a bitch and it would hurt like hell to love like Severus Snape. But you’ve ‘known’ otherwise for so long that it will take you months, maybe even years, to accept that.

snape and lily

‘Always’: Not a word to be uttered lightly.

6) When all your friends tell you that someone is wrong for you, is not giving you what you deserve, you think it’s just because they don’t see the nobility and courage the other person hides so successfully from the rest of the world. Only you are blessed with that vaunted ability because you are not fooled by the mundane world and its standards.

7) Also, fantasy heroes and heroines are always ridiculed at some point in their lives for their beliefs, so you think it’s part of the deal to be considered a complete, blind idiot. At some point, like all those heroes, you’ll have the chance to turn around and say ‘I told you so.’

'Everybody thinks I'm lying. That's okay. I'm used to it.'

‘Everybody thinks I’m lying. That’s okay. I’m used to it.’

8) There is no such thing as bad timing, or coincidence, or, for that matter, all-around unbeatable circumstances. There is only Fate and you, the lone warrior who will defy it in order to be with the one you so desperately love. Bring on the shitstorm, universe!

'I can totes handle this.'

‘I can totes handle this.’

9) The more reasons the person throws at you to stay away, the more drawn you feel to them. Because they are just more demons for you to overcome and prove yourself a worthy champion.

10) Fantasy heroes never give up, you tell yourself. No matter how tough the going gets, no matter how terrible they feel, they don’t ever give up. And neither will you, no matter how much it might kill you to flog yourself on.

'I shall carry on until I collapse and even then I will crawl my way up this damn mountain. You shall not defeat me!'

‘I shall carry on until I collapse and even then I will crawl my way up this damn mountain. You shall not defeat me!’

Ain’t no love like tortured, angsty fantasy love.

 

After all, they lived happily ever after...for a while.

After all, they lived happily ever after…for a while.

The Importance of Being Hermione: Part II

Image

(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.Image

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.

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Hermione: Part I

hermione_granger_by_crymson99-d3oobb7I’m finally going to discuss a character I have been rather noticeably reticent about in all my previous entries. She’s amazingly popular, so it’s a little strange that I’ve ignored her for so long. I’ll be breaking this entry into two separate posts, the first dealing with the character herself and the second with the ‘relationship’ that, for me, is the most realistic and relatable of the Harry Potter canon, as well as the larger fantasy canon in general.

Recently, there was a great hullaballoo in the Harry Potter fandom. This was the result of Rowling sitting up and saying (according to selectively quoted portions of an interview with Emma Watson in Wonderland magazine) that the Ron-Hermione relationship was a form of ‘wish fulfillment’ and that perhaps, Harry and Hermione ‘are a better fit’. In the interview, Rowling cast aspersions on the stability of the pair’s marriage but admitted, eventually, that they would probably be ‘alright with a bit of counseling’.

I’ve never been a Harry/Hermione fan, not even when they were stuck in a tent together in the middle of Gods-only-know-where. There are a bunch of reasons for this, including the fact that I never really saw Harry as ‘ending up’ with anyone, really. I sort of assumed he would die at the close of the seventh book; to my mind, that would have been the most poetic ending. Also, given that his greatest desire at the start of the series is to see his family, it might have been nice to have him reunited with them at the close.

But perhaps that’s just me being morbid.

Anyhow, let’s get back to Hermione/Ron and Hermione/Harry. I think Rowling pitting Hermione with Ron was a great decision. Last night, I sat and thought about leading female characters in fantasy I could look upon as potential role models in a romantic relationship (after all, I do take my role models for everything from fantasy fiction, make of that what you will) and realized that very few are of any real use to a twenty-something, or any-something for that matter, urban, educated and relatively independent girl.

The problem is, many, many women in fantasy fiction, whether it be the beautiful Arwen or the feisty Ginny, fall into the familiar trap of waiting-for-Hero-to-finish-Quest. They are almost preternaturally understanding and patient creatures, providing unquestioning support to a Hero whose mission is, we assume, much more important than anything they might get up to or want to get up to. The other category of women, which includes people like Egwene al’Vere from Wheel of Time and Eowyn of Rohan, seem to see romance almost as a weakness, something they do not have time for. In fact, when Eowyn falls in love with Faramir, her emotional change is described as a ‘thaw’, melting her from the self-imposed frost that had previously defined her dealings with men.

My point is, none of the women I could think were shown as having healthy, functioning relationships with their significant others until that significant other had completed whatever divinely or fatefully ordained quest they were on. The other women, who were on quests themselves, acted like the men, refusing to really get ‘into’ a relationship, or fall in love, until they had finished their business. I include Katniss Everdeen in the latter category.

I noted in a previous entry (Ginny Weasley and the Loving Hero Paradox) that this is all too common a theme in epic fantasy, and that perhaps, if there were more novels floating about with female leads, we might see a change.  But if there is anyone who comes close to being in a healthy, somewhat relatable relationship, and still manages to go about saving the world, I honestly think its Hermione Jean Granger.

Cue for the splutters of surprise, confusion and even outrage.

herm and ron

 

It’s self-evident why Hermione is such a popular and important character. Not only is she Harry’s best friend, but she is not a conventionally attractive, popular, sporty girl. She is a swot, a geek, a girl who freaks out at the possibility of getting one question wrong in an exam. Find me another girl like that in popular fiction, I dare you. She’s always got her facts handy, and when she doesn’t, she refuses to let ridicule keep her from running off to her favourite haven: the Library.

Hermione taught me that it was okay to be yourself in high school, a hard lesson to drill into an adolescent girl. I never really saw myself in her though, chiefly because she was much more assertive and independent than I was. Also, I lacked the social consciousness that she had, the drive to do good things for the world. I wanted to do great things, not necessarily good, and there was the difference between us.

What was most relatable about Hermione, however, was her lack of perfection. For all her brains, for all her dedication to the good of the wizarding world, she was not the paragon of girlhood in the Potter books. That was Ginny Weasley, woman who never cries. Hermione gets emotionally overwrought, she acts silly and competitive and does immature things in order to get back at people (Ron, mostly). Unlike in the case of Ginny, Hermione’s particularly vicious jinxes are not held up for admiration; when she sends Charmed canaries whirring at Ron’s head, we’re meant (I believe) to see the act for what it is: vindictive, petty vengeance for his ‘snogging’ Lavender. Harry notes that Hermione’s eyes are ‘wild’, her voice ‘high’ when she does this. Clearly, the girl is not in her usual reasonable and reasoning frame of mind.

Contrast this to Ginny, whose Bat Bogey Hex on Zacharias Smith and deliberate crashing of her broom into the commentator’s box (when he was holding forth) is touted as ‘cool’ and totally okay. Ginny seems to be able to escape authorial and reader judgment, while Hermione, for all her admirable qualities, does not.

This is an important point, and one that I want to take forward into the second half of my post. Harry, for all his imperfections, is very rarely judged negatively by the reader. Even his darker actions, such as casting Unforgiveables, are put down to the influence of the Horcrux he carries within him (this was the explanation Rowling gave in an interview). This lack of accountability that he enjoys makes him somewhat difficult to like in the last two books, I think, which is why both Hermione and Ron, whose faults also glare much more brightly in these volumes, suddenly begin to steal the limelight from their more famous friend. Harry becomes more and more a remote ideal, much like Ginny does. How can you pair a very human girl with this increasingly blank Hero figure?

What Hermione, in all her glorious imperfection, needs is a fellow imperfect being. And that’s where Ron comes in.

 

 

Ginny, Cho and the Case of the Weeping Woman

How often do you cry?

Myself, I cry a lot. If I feel sad, I cry. If I feel frustrated, I often vent a little to a close friend and might get teary in the process. I have found that I don’t really feel worse after I cry, but I do feel quite terrible in the moments leading up to the cathartic weeping session, so I prefer to just cut to the chase and play fast and loose with my lachrymal glands.

I know some people find this odd, my friends included. Also, given the prevailing tone of the Potter books, I’m pretty sure it would have meant that Harry would never have dated me.

ImageI realized this when I was re-reading The Order of the Phoenix a couple of months ago: weeping is not seen as a very constructive or even therapeutic act in the Potter books especially when it’s being done by women. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that the books are told, by and large, from the perspective of an adolescent boy who is (like many adolescent boys in literature) ‘uncomfortable’ in the presence of a weeping woman.

Consider Cho Chang. Here’s a sixteen year old girl who lost her boyfriend in an extremely traumatizing manner and (maybe unwisely) took a call to move on and date the person who saw him die. Cho is popular, sporty and very pretty, but whenever shes with Harry, she inevitably breaks into tears and acts, as he puts it, like a ‘human hosepipe’. Hermione’s attempt to explain Cho’s conflicted emotions impresses Harry and Ron (‘no one could feel all that at once, they’d explode’), but does it really lead to any increased sense of empathy for Cho?

It might be too optimistic to expect Harry to understand Cho’s viewpoint—after all, he is only fifteen years old and rather wrapped up in the larger issue of dealing with Voldemort’s return. In itself, his inability to be supportive is not a terrible thing, it’s hardly the biggest problem in the series, but when Cho’s weepiness is contrasted strongly with Ginny Weasley’s behaviour, Harry’s lack of supportiveness becomes much more problematic.

In Deathly Hallows , Harry and Ginny have a ‘moment’ on his 17th birthday. Despite the fact that she knows Harry and his friends are going off on a dangerous mission, Ginny does not press for details, nor does she betray (except for one moment of pale-faced shock) any sadness or worry at the prospect. Harry reflects on this during their brief encounter in her sunny bedroom: ‘…that was one of the things he liked about her, she was very rarely weepy’.

Ginny does not cry, not usually. She’s been ‘toughened’ by living with six brothers, rarely succumbing to the weakness of tears. The one time she cries on-screen after her emergence as a bright, focused character in Order of the Phoenix is at this point in Hallows , when her birthday surprise for Harry is ruined by the ‘pointed’  entrance of Ron and Hermione. Then she ‘succumbs’ ‘for once’ to tears.Image

It is noteworthy that, even at this point, she turns away to cry, sparing Harry the sight.

Ginny’s ‘toughness’ is contrasted strongly to Cho’s hosepipe-like behaviour at the close of Phoenix when the six Ministry survivors sit around discussing the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor Quidditch match. Ginny snags the Snitch from ‘right under’ Cho’s nose; Harry asks what Cho did in response, enquiring (rather nastily) whether she burst into tears. As it turns out, she did throw a bit of a tantrum, casting her broom aside and rushing off to be comforted by Ginny’s onetime boyfriend, Michael Corner. This hissy fit neatly ties up the straggling ends of both Harry and Ginny’s drama-soaked love lives in Phoenix, leaving Harry free to move on to the tougher girl. Of course, Ginny dallies for a bit before she gives him the satisfaction of being with her.

 Ginny is an odd blend, feminine without being ‘girly’, understanding without words Harry’s need for unquestioned support and being just tough enough to be a love interest who doesn’t sap at his attention. She seems, in some respects, impossible to emulate; I can’t imagine being half so mature at the age of sixteen – indeed, even Hermione has more moments of emotional weakness than Ginny does. She has the ability to be one of the ‘boys’ in a manner that Hermione does not, chiefly because of her interest in and skills on the Quidditch pitch. I think Rowling gave her the strengths of many of the other leading female characters in the series: the more typical high-school success traits of attractiveness and popularity that define Cho, the spunk and independence of Luna and the impressive insight into other people that Hermione betrays time and again. Take all these ingredients and mix them up, and you’ve got Harry’s ideal partner.

Ginny is pure nerve, unlike her rival. Cho seems to run on emotion and impulse, rarely appearing to filter what she feels or says once she’s let her guard down and shown her feelings for Harry. Ginny, despite the overwhelming trials she faces, never once breaks down except, for a couple of moments, in the privacy of her bedroom.

Maybe this is why it took me so very long to warm up to Ginny. She seems sort of unbelievably perfect, a shining ideal that not all of us, least of all me, could hope to emulate. Cho, on the other hand, is much more easily accessible, more ‘human’ in some ways. She certainly seems closer to the everyday teenage girl than strong and perfect Ginny.

I would like to think, however, that Ginny made Harry work a little in the years after the war, and wasn’t too perfect. Perhaps he even learned how to deal with crying women once he was done ‘hunting Voldemort’. There’s no doubt that the boy needed time to do his own growing up; one can only hope that Ginny didn’t make that ride too easy for him, as he didn’t make it easy for anyone else.

Ginny Weasley and the Loving Hero Paradox

Image I’ve been thinking a lot about Ginny Weasley. You could put this down to reading The Half Blood Prince again, where she leaps out of the background of the mill of Hogwarts students and assumes the vaunted title of ‘love interest’ for our hero. You could also pin this down to certain ruminations brought on by events unfolding around me, but that’s quite beside the point.

What’s the deal with Ginny Weasley? She’s smart and pretty and a wonderful Quidditch player, so obviously she’s got all the elements needed to be a popular girl. In the course of two books, she dates three boys, not a staggeringly high number, but certainly more than any other girl in the series (besides, significantly, Cho Chang). She’s capable of attracting a snooty Slytherin, Blaise Zabini, and of impressing the selective Slughorn. Evidently, she’s quite something in the Potterverse.

And yet, for all her awesomeness, Ginny is never made privy to the secret of the Horcruxes, never becomes part of Harry’s inner circle in his mission to destroy Voldemort. Sure, she has a vague idea that he, Ron and Hermione are up to something of crucial importance to the war effort, but she doesn’t know exactly what. Nor does she seem to push too hard to find out what it is. Harry’s reasoning for leaving her out of things is clear: he doesn’t want to endanger her. And Ginny, being perfect, accepts this without question, even going so far as to say ‘I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.’

Hey, I just realized Ginny uses his name too.

Ginny, for all her awesomeness, is something Harry has to protect, and in order for him to do that, he has to deny himself both her company and any obvious display of attachment (in this case, dating her). But, at the same time, if we are to believe Dumbledore, his ability to be attached to Ginny, to ‘love’, is the power that holds him in his stead against Voldemort. This is underscored when, in the Forest, it is Ginny’s face that bursts into his mind when the Dark Lord levels the Avada Kedavra at him.Image

Ginny is the centre of what I have rather creatively dubbed the Loving Hero Paradox (TM)*. This paradox plays out every time the hero of a fantasy or superhero saga resists love/shuts beloved away because he is afraid that she will fall prey to the evils of the foe, but then, ironically, relies (un)consciously on his feelings for her to distinguish himself ideologically from the villain he fights. This happens time and again in novels/movies where there’s a good versus evil fights; consider Rand in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time or even Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi directed Spiderman.

In Harry’s case, the turn away from Ginny is a rather half-hearted move, considering the wizarding world is so small that their association with him makes the Weasleys a well-known and obvious target anyway, even without the addition of romance. Besides, just because he wants her to stay out of it doesn’t mean Ginny actually sits around tamely waiting to be rescued. She’s one of the leaders of the internal resistance in Hogwarts, going so far as to attempt to break into Snape’s office in a misguided attempt to steal the sword of Gryffindor.

Of course, this move begs the question of what on earth the kids hoped to achieve by doing that. How were they planning to get it to Harry? Did they really  know that Harry needed it? I don’t recall Harry ever telling Ginny that Dumbledore had left him the relic. This is one of those random moves that Rowling pulled in Deathly Hallows that requires a deal of explication.

What really bugs me about the Loving Hero Paradox is the fact that it’s so very…male. the only female character I’ve seen pull this ‘oh I can’t be in a relationship because I have better things to do’ line is Katniss Everdeen (and hey, it’s completely justified in her case because honestly, I don’t think she really knows what she feels for either Peeta or Gale until far into the books) and Egwene in Wheel of Time. And even Egwene wasn’t averse to a little romance—she just didn’t have time to deal with Gawyn’s drama until she had cemented herself as leader at a crucial juncture in the war against the Shadow.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that not all that many fantasy/superhero novels or movies are centred on a female protagonist, and so we don’t meet all that many heroines who have to choose between being publicly in love and saving the world. When there are more such gems floating around in the market, we might be able to take a more informed call.

So no, I don’t support Harry’s rather lousy move of breaking up with Ginny at the end of Half Blood Prince. Not only did he choose to do it in a public location, in full glare of the media, at a funeral (man, what an ass. He’s worse than Peter Parker in some respects), but he also was stupid enough to believe that Ginny would sit tight and stay safe on his say-so. He really didn’t know her very well, did he?

I am so glad she proved him wrong.

Coming up: Ginny Weasley, Cho Chang and the Problem of the Weeping Woman

*This new literary term can get in line behind my other gem, Poor Little Rich Boy.