thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Missing Hermione, Some Reflections on Harry Potter

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

Phoebe Bronstein

I am sitting at home re-watching the Harry Potter movies on ABC Family in preparation for the last film, which is in theaters next Friday (or for the particularly daring midnight on Thursday). I have seen all the movies, save for the most recent, too many times to count but re-watching them lends me a sense of comfort and happiness. And, like many Harry Potter fans I know I have read most of the books at least twice.

It’s true, I am a serious Harry Potter fan; the kind that took a friend visiting me in New York a few years ago to the midnight release of the newest book. She wasn’t thrilled, but I definitely was and if I recall correctly we got a wand. And then went out to do grownup things like get drinks. What’s not to like? I am not so much a fan because I particularly love the character of Harry Potter, but rather my favorite characters are McGonagall (delightfully played by Maggie Smith in the films), Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley. I also, love Ron but that is another story.

Currently, I am re-watching The Chamber of Secrets and remembering that one of the reasons I do not like it that much is that Hermione gets frozen and is absent for the big rescue. Granted, Harry often finds himself alone at the end, but here it seems different (like in The Sorcerer’s Stone when he confronts Professor Quirrel). So at the end of The Chamber of Secrets, Ron and Harry go down to save Ginny from the giant snake that has been roaming the pipes of Hogwarts (Ginny is Ron’s sister who is also in love with Harry. They date latter on, don’t worry). After a debacle involving a backfiring memory charm, a goofy Kenneth Branagh (I love him), and rocks falling in between the two best friends, Harry moves on solo to save Ginny.

Ultimately Harry finds an unconscious Ginny and must defeat the evil Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle) and a giant snake under Voldemort’s control. So at the end of this particularly Harry Potter, we have two frozen young ladies one of whom, Ginny, must be rescued as the other, Hermione, slowly comes back to life only to have missed all the action. As Harry leans over Ginny (and Tom Riddle asserts that she is fine, but barely alive), it suddenly feels as if we are in a Disney fairytale of the Sleeping Beauty variety.

I am oddly remiss to criticize Harry Potter, but I think here the dynamic that gets set up between the boys on a rescue mission, the absence of the brilliant and resourceful Hermione, and Harry’s romantic saving of Ginny are a little too much for me to handle. What is generally so fantastic about Harry Potter, is Hermione’s resourcefulness and the boys’ inability to survive without her. She is a better wizard than they are, she is way smarter, often braver, more mature, and just generally more awesome.

Without Hermione, this ending just feels strange (granted the crumbled paper in her hand gave them the final clue), which perhaps, as I have said on girls like giants before, is why I am so looking forward to The Hunger Games movie. If you haven’t read the books, they are amazing! In The Hunger Games, Katniss is always front and center and even when she isn’t being her most likeable self, she is a badass. In Harry Potter, Hermione is the favorite of almost all the women I know and the most badass of the three main characters, thus it is frustrating that the books are not really about her. Perhaps this is a marketing concession to attract a broader (ie male) audience (so frustrating). However, what The Hunger Games have shown is that there is a mass audience for awesome and not sexed up women heroines. And for this I am grateful, and I eagerly await more leading ladies like Katniss.

  1. go team hermione/katniss! now that you point it out, i think it may be kind of a general trend that hermione is often not involved in the action when fights turn physical – even when she’s helping, she’s often contributing with her brilliant ideas and considerable talents but not so much with her wand. or i guess she is fighting, but the focus moves to harry whenever there is a battle scene so that we don’t get an impression of her as a particularly strong fighter?

    • i totally agree … i was just watching the first harry potter and thinking of an addendum to my post along the lines of you said =). for example, in sorcerer’s stone she winds up a pawn and immobile mostly in the wizard’s chess game. and then winds up being a nurse for ron as harry moves on to defeat quirrel/voldemart. and i think she would be s super strong fighter were she given the chance as she is such a bad ass. right?

  2. I’ve heard the comment of the HP world that Harry is a main character, yes, but a static one. He begins the story as an underprivileged kid who is confused about his place in the world, intelligent but not always very smart, and in awe of magic. He’s a good person, and he doesn’t need much help figuring this out. His story ends with him as a young man of average privilege (he gains fame, but not fortune), who has a slightly better idea about his place in the world, intelligent but not always very smart, and in respectful awe of magic. He’s still a good person, as he always was (minus a few insertions of teenage emo-rage).
    Therefore, where we really see character development is in the side characters. Hermione transforms. Ron transforms. Ginny transforms. Neville ABSOLUTELY transforms. So maybe it is a good thing that Hermione is not the central focus of the story? Maybe if she was, she would have the same static-ness about her that Harry has? I’m certainly not arguing that her disappearance in various movies/books is a good thing, but that, if this is ultimately a story about good winning out over evil with a little help from some friends, would we rather see Hermione as the one in need of help, or the one doing the helping?
    The lack of combat, however, I’m not sure about. Some female characters certainly do fight, and fight well (Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, McGonagall)… and Hermione does a little in the final battle… maybe she’s just not a fighter the way Katniss is? Maybe she just prefers to use her brain?

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