Wow have we been lazy. All of us sitting around and waiting for Apep to do book recommendations is fun, and he’s certainly got great taste and all, but frankly I feel as if we’ve been making him pick up the slack of our idleness and that’s just not fair. Although if we’re being honest here I’ve been pretty busy with graduate school, and I don’t have that much free time.
Voice in the Background: Then how is it that you’ve managed to read the entire run of Godslave?
There are tons of articles I’ve considered for ImpishIdea; a sporking of Iron Druid Chronicles for one. But because this one was on my mind with the recent Beauty and the Beast film, I decided to jump on it. I don’t know if this should be a “Sue Spotlight” article or its own thing, so for now I’ll just categorize it as a separate piece.
I have some beef with Hermione Granger.
Alright before I get lynched by the Internet I want to clarify: Hermione Granger as a character in the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling is a fantastic character. She’s memorable, interesting, well-rounded and identifiable, all the while being a genuinely flawed human being. Her place as one of the most celebrated fictional female characters of all time is certainly well-deserved, even if she isn’t the star of the stories that contain her. It’s no wonder that her popularity has skyrocketed.
All of that being said, pop cultural depictions of Hermione Granger tend to be anything but interesting or balanced.
Part of the blame can be aimed squarely at her depiction in the film series. Obviously in the interest of saving time and in the process of adaptation, parts and lines will be shifted around or deleted when changing a story from book to film. But for the sake of Hermione’s (and by extension Emma Watson’s) popularity, many lines or parts are taken from other characters (mostly Ron) and given to her, and she’s presented much more sympathetically and courageously in scenes in which she really shouldn’t be.
We don’t have to go far to find examples. In the original novel Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone Hermione is panicking about how defeat the Devil’s Snare, realizing that while it hates light and heat, she has no matches. Ron quickly reminds her that “WE HAVE MAGIC DUH” because despite her being able to recall things from memory, Hermione is never portrayed as an on-the-fly thinker. The first story spells out for us that Ron’s better at that sort of thing by having him win the deadly game of chess. But this ability to think critically under stress is completely dispensed with in the films—the first film has Hermione racing to think of the correct spell while Ron is wailing and helplessly screaming his head off in the trap.
Or let’s take the ending from Prisoner of Azkaban. When it seems Sirius Black has our Golden Trio cornered in a small room in the Shrieking Shack, Ron, despite having a broken leg, valiantly and loyally says he’ll get between Sirius and Harry if he has to, sacrificing his own safety for Harry’s. At least, that’s what he does in the book. In the film this line is given to Hermione, who steps forward while Ron doesn’t do much in the scene but lay on a mattress and whimper pathetically.
Or maybe the ending of Half-Blood Prince in which Ron and Hermione decided to go with Harry on his dangerous quest to track down Voldemort’s Horcruxes, both of them saying they wouldn’t dare leave him for a quest so important. Except in the film, this final scene has Hermione saying all of this to Harry, while Ron sits a ways behind them saying absolutely nothing while someone is volunteering him to go on a deadly quest to slay the Dark Lord.
The films paint her not just as the most book-smart character in the cast, but also as a straightforward action heroine. She’s the one who fearlessly decides to jump on the dragon in Gringotts; she punches Malfoy in the face instead of slapping him. It wasn’t enough to have her be clever, she had to also be the action star.
Aside from making Ron sound useless to make Hermione more badass, the films also made Hermione much more overtly emotional. In Chamber of Secrets she begins bawling when Draco calls her ‘Mudblood’; in the novel she doesn’t have a clue what the word means, as all of her reading didn’t cover any Wizarding slurs. The scene in Goblet of Fire in which “Moody” is performing Unforgivable Curses in front of the class (to the disturbance of Neville) actually has her crying at her classmate’s pain, and Neville being silent about it. Whereas in the book, she does shout but doesn’t cry. She certainly doesn’t call out a professor being insensitive, and Neville himself tries to pass it off as not a big deal despite being visibly shaken.
Part of Hermione’s characterization in the novels was that she really didn’t care what other people thought—and while that’s often touted as a virtue these days, the stories showed how often that got her into trouble, being blatantly insensitive to other people’s feelings and shoving her own opinion down other people’s throats at the worst time. She picked up on people’s feelings, sure—she explains how teenage girls’ minds work for Harry and Ron several times. But sometimes she just didn’t care how others felt if it didn’t suit her purposes. For instance, when Lavender Brown receives word that her pet rabbit Binky had died, she connects to Trelawney’s vague prophecy and is bawling her eyes out. Hermione emphatically asserts that it has to be a coincidence, and tries to enforce her point despite, y’know, the fact that Lavender’s not precisely in a stable emotional state after her beloved pet died.
And that’s just one example. She’s often openly dismissive of Harry and Ron’s obsession with Quidditch, spitefully makes little birds attack Ron out of envy, and loudly proclaims her Divination professor a hack because it’s the one subject she doesn’t excel at. She’s very abrasive at times, and the text wasn’t afraid to show it. But because her negative traits might make her less popular, they’re erased or glossed-over in the movies. It’s no wonder that Hermione Granger has become a by-word for female empowerment when her character’s film version is practically a made-to-order feminist role model.
Emma Watson went so far as to call Hermione “the glue that keeps them together” and “the one in control, the one with a plan” and that Ron was just “along for the ride.”
Yes, Ronald Weasley, Harry’s best friend, the one who is basically his brother and has been willing to lay down his life for his friends at least ten times over? He’s just “along for the ride.” And saying Hermione is “the one in control” makes it sound like she’s Harry’s boss, which she most definitely is not. The point I’m making isn’t that Emma Watson sucx and we should all hate her or whatever. But I do think that despite playing the Hermione on screen, or perhaps because of it, she doesn’t understand the dynamics of the characters as they were originally written in canon.
Steve Kloves, who wrote the screenplays for most of the films, admitted that Hermione was his favorite character} and I think that explains why her role is expanded as much as it is in the films. But even then you get weird interpretations of the story wherein people begin wondering why the plot isn’t about Hermione instead of the title character. This song from Hermione’s point of view (titled “I Won’t Do Your F***ing Homework”) made rounds on the Internet, and it’s quite amusing, but canonically doesn’t make sense. It has Hermione calling out Harry on his own arrogance and self-righteousness while she’s the one who gets things done…which doesn’t describe the relationship between Harry and Hermione or the plot of the stories in any incarnation of Harry Potter.
My problem isn’t with Hermione Granger as she’s written in the source material. It’s with how she’s represented in adaptation and in popular culture. Hermione Granger is not an omniscient gore-splattered warrior heroine surrounded by clueless useless men. She’s kick-ass, and clever, and smarter than almost everyone else in the room, but she’s also abrasive, insensitive, tightly-wound and skeptical of things that aren’t logical. Despite, y’know, living in a world filled with magic. Attempts to portray her as the ultimate woman who can do anything and has no limitations isn’t honest to the source text and it certainly isn’t empowering to women. Because if we’re saying that women have to be flawless intellectually and emotionally to be worthy of praise, isn’t that just as bad as the flipside?
Voice in the Background: How do you feel about her depiction in Cursed Child?
SHUDDUP WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT ATROCITY