Dragons Flights and Sacrifice: A Tribute to Hermione Granger

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.

Hermione Granger - Deathly Hallows Part 2Like 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?

Comments

  1. What a lovely love portrait of Hermione!
    And yeah, I never quite bought the way the love relationships were arranged in the end. Hermione and Ron was never convincing as a couple, and even less were Harry and Ginny. Especially the last one really has annoyed me and I was glad to see that it was very much tuned down in the final two movies. For good reasons. The chemistry just isn’t there.
    I have often thought to myself that it’s kind of sad that she “HAS” to blend in the love thing, without letting it come all natural. Like you I think Hermione and Harry would have made a far more natural couple. But maybe there was something too threatening in her strenght for a male audience to cope with? I don’t know. It’s a pity.

    Moments I’ve loved… there are so many, but why not pick something from the end that is lingering with us right now. I think the dancing scene between Harry and Hermione, an invention for the movie, was lovely. Oh, and Snape, how he turned out in the end. Actually one of the major points of the entire series. A heartbreaking destiny.

    • Jennifer

      I actually never really rooted for one pairing over the other. The nice thing about the series is that the romances played the proper role in their lives, rather than being all they were about.

      Something I just realized is that the Hermione/Ron pairing defies the stereotype that the main male and female leads always end up together. In most narratives the lead female is sort of the prize for the hero, so it’s nice that Hermione didn’t end up as simply Harry’s prize for a job well done. Of course, one of the loveliest things about how Rowling wrote Harry is that he would never see someone he cared about as a prize.

      Oh, and I agree that the dance was a great addition. Of course, I’m one of the few who really enjoyed all the camping in the book and the movie. Actually, I believe both the moments I list in this post were in the film only. The fact that they were new content may be part of the reason that they stuck out to me so much.

  2. Fantastic. I adored Hermione many times myself, but I think you’ve really hit it on the head here. I have to admit, sometimes Harry and Ron’s friendship seemed downplayed in the films, but I figured that was partly because Daniel and Emma had some spectacular chemistry. I know I had times where I wanted or even expected Hermione and Harry to get together, but in the end I think that they were almost like siblings. Both are only children, both essentially entered this magical world at about the same time, and both were basically adopted by Ron Weasley’s already large family.

    You know, the way you feel about Hermione sounds very close to my feelings on Neville. Every time he stepped up, I smiled and I was ready to cause some kind of midnight showing crazy woman scene if he hadn’t still been the one to take out that snake.

    • Jennifer

      I agree that Radcliffe and Watson have great chemistry. All three of them play off each other wonderfully, but there is an extra spark between those two.

      I liked how they really played up the fact that nobody else could manage to kill the snake in the film. So many people nitpick about any little change, but I thought that really helped build the tension leading up to Neville’s big triumph.

  3. I saw the Hermione/Ron thing as being much more natural in the books. Ron wasn’t so much the comic relief sidekick he wound up as in the movies. I really think he got the short end of the stick in the movies, though I loved his point kick of the diadem. Ginny worked much better in the books, too, so the romances made more sense there.

    Still, great article! Hermione, Luna and Neville were my favorites from the books, so it was good to see them all get some great moments.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to Hermione! She was definitely one of my favorite characters and one I identified with the strongest. I think JKR put so much of herself into Hermione that she just came across so strongly.

  5. Great guest post!

    J.K. Rowling has often said that she modeled Hermione after herself. Her perspective, the things she says and does are often thinks J.K. would have done.

    We loved D.H. Part II, and my son was a little sad to see it end.