I’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.
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.