The following is a guest post by my lovely wife Jennifer, who reminds me of Hermione in more than a few ways (which is a good thing!). She even has her own Hogwart’s textbook, Marauder’s Map, and butterbeer mug.
Like every other woman who went through school with frizzy hair and the label of “the smart girl,” I identify strongly with the character of Hermione Granger. I have no illusions about how clichéd this is. I know it’s about as original as every non-Republican professional woman with glasses believing herself to be the one real-life Liz Lemon (I had this moment about 10,000 times while reading Bossypants).
Cliché or not, Hermione is still often my touchstone in the Harry Potter books and films. Another aspect of this connection is that, at every point when I’ve read the books or watched the movies, I have always been older than Hermione. I think a lot of older Potter fans have a feeling of pride when we see how well the three actors have grown up. I feel the same way about Hermione’s character. Even though I see parts of myself in her, I also have a sense of big-sister pride at the fact that she is stronger and more courageous than I have ever been.
And man-oh-man, does Deathly Hallows Part 2 give me plenty to be proud of.
First of all, I believe that DH2 is fantastically successful as an adaptation and, more importantly, a film. I can’t say yet whether it’s the best of the series, but I think it may be. I also think it has a chance at being the only one of the movies whose success as a film exceeds the book’s success as a novel. It’s much, much too early to say, though.
But I want to talk about the two Hermione moments in the film that made me love my girl even more.
1. Hermione jumps on a dragon.
Pretty self-explanatory. The Gringotts scene may be the best action sequence in the whole series. It combines whimsical effects (the magical reproduction of Bellatrix’s treasure), plot-driven suspense (they have to get that horcrux), our three leads in danger, and a daring escape via dragon flight. I also loved the quick nod to Hermione’s compassion for enslaved magical creatures (mostly left out of the films) with the pained look she gives upon seeing the tortured dragon.
When escape seems impossible, Harry and Ron look to Hermione for a plan. She says she has one, but that it’s “crazy.”
She then proceeds to leap onto the back of a crazed, fire-breathing dragon.
There’s a concept that comes up over and over in many feminist analyses of pop culture: the idea of agency. In looking at agency in this context, scholars examine whether female characters actively participate in the world—that is, whether they initiate behaviors and actions that have tangible results. A lot of times, the underlying passivity of female characters is masked by their sassy personality, but when you examine their behavior, they actually only act in response to the actions of male characters. They don’t initiate.
But my Hermione says “I have an idea” and jumps onto a dragon to save herself, her friends, and—ultimately—the world. Beej will tell you that a huge, proud grin broke out on my face as I said (quietly, of course) “Good girl!”
2. “I’ll go with you.”
The internet is flooded with lists of tear-worthy moments in DH2, so I won’t list mine, but I will say that this line was the most poignant teary moment for me. Harry tells his two best friends that he is going into the woods to let Voldemort kill him, and Hermione’s immediate response is to offer a teary—but determined—“I’ll go with you.”
Now, this is different from all the other times that Hermione has insisted on coming along because, usually, Harry needs her smarts and her spells to help navigate the situation. But this time, there isn’t anything for Hermione to help with. There’s no hope for a daring last-minute escape, no chance of somehow defeating Voldemort. She knows that Harry’s death is necessary and that she’s not going to talk him out of it. So when she says, “I’ll go with you,” she’s just a young woman who is willing to die to keep her best friend from dying alone. Not to stop him from dying, mind you, but just to stand by his side as she always has.
I’m sure there are other moments in pop culture that portray such remarkable friendship, but they are certainly rare. It’s also remarkable that the same character who breaks traditional feminine roles by leaping onto a dragon also embodies the very best of that traditional role with her nurturing selflessness.
Of course, Hermione’s devotion to Harry brings up one question for some fans: Why does she end up with Ron instead? I always kind of went with the flow on the central romance, and I’m a little ambivalent about the message Rowling sends about love and relationships. On the one hand, it does annoy me a bit that she reinforces the “type of person you’d be best friends with” vs. “type of person you should fall in love with” dichotomy. Too often in pop culture, these are presented as opposing personality types when, I would think, they should at least be very closely related. Beej and I were friends for two years before we started dating.
On the other hand, I love that Rowling portrays a long-term, loving friendship between a young man and young woman. My oldest, most loyal friend is male, and we’ve each stood by the other during plenty of hard times (not so difficult as Harry and Hermione’s, but difficult nonetheless). Plus, Hermione and Ron are very dear friends, after all. It’s not as though she suddenly ends up with Draco, which would happen in plenty of romantic comedies with the “if you love that jerk enough, he’ll stop being a jerk” plot. (By the way, this romantic-pairings tangent was inspired by this lovely post that I ran across tonight).
Like everyone else who has followed the series for years, I feel a little sad that the main avenues for the stories are finished. What a tremendous gift it’s been, though, to see it through with these characters who have simultaneously been friends, reflections of ourselves, and heroes we can aspire to emulate. Hermione is far from the only unforgettable character of Harry Potter, but I sure am glad that she’s been around for me and that she’ll be waiting for the next generation of book-smart girls and boys who dream of saving the world.
Which moments in the Harry Potter series (novels or films) have stuck with you?