Harry’s still Potter-ing around, but Hermione is my true hero
Last week, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling broke the Internet. Or rather, she broke the website Pottermore, a hub for her fans, when she posted a short new story about the boy who reshaped young adult literature and defined popular culture for a decade.
The story is set 20 years after the major events of the books and one year after the much-maligned epilogue to the final book. It updates readers on what the series’ major characters have been doing with their lives, and gives them a glimpse of how the wizarding world has and hasn’t changed since readers were last submerged in it. The excitement and interest were too great for the site’s servers to bear, and they crashed. Never underestimate the power of Harry Potter fandom.
For me, the most interesting piece of new information was about Rowling’s brainy heroine, Hermione Granger. What has Hermione Granger been doing with her life? She’s been running the world.
In February, Rowling caused a stir when she confessed that she regretted a major plot point in the final book: the eventual union and marriage of Hermione with Harry’s best friend Ron. Throughout the second half of the series, the pair engage in a lot of will-they-won’t-they before admitting in the final book that they love each other, and finding the courage to do something about it. With hindsight, Rowling said, Hermione ought to have ended up with Harry.
As a young woman who grew up with Hermione as a major literary role model — for me, she has a place alongside Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Shirley and Jo March as one of the fictional women who most influenced me as a girl — I was frustrated by Rowling’s ruminations about her characters’ romantic coupling. If I could have asked Rowling one question about Hermione, it wouldn’t have been whether or not she ended up with the right man. It would have been whether or not she made good on the professional ambition she expresses in the final book: “I’m hoping to do some good in the world.”
And as it turns out, she is. In the new story, we learn that Granger is working in wizarding government. After a “meteoric rise,” she is now Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and is “tipped to go even higher within the ministry.” And she’s only 37.
This new information comes as a relief. As a reader, I was always more inspired by Hermione’s teenage political activism than I was intrigued by who at Hogwarts was snogging whom. This is not to argue that her romantic life wasn’t pertinent; but what set Hermione apart from so many of the heroines offered to girls and young women in the late 1990s and the first decade of this millennium was that she was a student and friend first, and a love interest second. She was at school to learn, not to flirt with boys. She was friends with Harry and Ron because she liked them, not because she secretly wanted to date them. And when she did get romantically entangled for the first time — when she hit it off with a visiting student from a rival school — it was with a boy she met in the library.
For many young women, Hermione was (and still is) a role model: a smart, determined young woman who wasn’t afraid of working hard or of taking a principled political stand. Like Ron, she stood in the shadow of The Boy Who Lived, but he wouldn’t have lived through all seven books without her. And, despite Rowling’s regrets at writing them as “just” friends, reading about a teenage boy’s fierce respect for a teenage girl’s intellect and scholastic drive contributed to my belief that men and women can be close, fiercely loyal friends without sex or romance.
Hermione is a role model for readers, and she’s also a trailblazer for our current literary and popular culture heroines. You can draw the line from Hermione Granger to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and to Divergent’s Tris Prior, all of whom are thinkers, fighters and political activists whose stories have romantic subplots that are important but are not what define the female characters. Just as Hermione repeatedly saves her friends, these characters repeatedly save the day to create political and social revolution. You can imagine Tris, Katniss, and Hermione — all these smart, brave, politically astute young women for whom dating is really not a top priority — meeting each other for the first time and recognizing each other as kindred spirits.
It’s unclear whether this new story signals Rowling’s return to writing about the lives of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Certainly, she will be returning to the Potter universe as she writes three new screenplays about “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, which are set well before Potter’s birth.
Like so many other fans, I’m hoping for more. I want to see the young woman who helped define a generation grow up and shape the world. I want to know what kind of Minister for Magic she’d be. I want to watch her friendships deepen and mature.
Like Rowling herself, Hermione Granger broke the mold; the author redefined young people’s relationships with reading, and the character proved that heroines could be more than prizes to be won by plucky heroes. But if Rowling’s going to dive back in to writing about the intrepid trio who saved the wizarding world from totalitarian destruction, here’s a humble request from a devoted reader: make Hermione the star this time. For so many of us, she already is.
PHOTOS: Young girls read J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix” at Sydney’s Central Station June 21, 2003 after it was released in Australia. REUTERS/David Gray