Prize or protagonist…?

In a flurry of recent notifications from here and there I’ve been informed that J K Rowling has said in an interview – with the young actress who PLAYED Hermione, no less! – that in retrospect she now thinks that Hermione should really have ended up with Harry after all.

And I’m right back in 2002, attending WOrld Fantasy Con, sitting in the back of a panel on YA literature, hearing Jane Yolen say that she didn’t like the way that the Harry Potter books treated the girls. (This was the remark that gave birth to the Worldweavers series, my response to that – that yes, Virginia, girls can TOO have adventures and be the heart of their own story and I could prove it dammit…) Because Jane Yolen appears to have been right.

The fact that Rowling has allowed Hermione to be briliant and clever and loyal and intelligent and courageous – the fact that she has allowed her to be called “the brightest witch of her age” – that was rewarded by the story arc (however UNLIKELY it might appear to be – but hey – this is HARRY POTTER – you think anything in these books is *realistic*…?) that seemed to prove those points. Hermione was given a place in the book as a protagonist, as a character, and permitted to follow her own story to wherever it led – and it didn’t lead into Harry Potter’s orbit. Thank GOD for that. It was a brave decision, and I thought a mature one as far as that went, and in some ways it went a certain way towards mitigating jane Yolen’s assessment at the time that I heard it offered. But it turns out that Rowling lacks the courage of her own convictions, in the end. And now, after all the dust has settled, she has publicly expressed her regret that she has allowed Hermione to have this freedom. No – instead, she SHOULD have been the Hero’s Prize and no more than that. She should have, as the final reward, been awarded to Harry tne conquering hero.

Which kind of in the end cheapens ALL of their adventures. What, Hermione didn’t do all the things she did because she was HERMIONE – but because she was destined to be HARRY’S HERMIONE? Every time people insist that there are plenty of stories for girls out there – there’s this, now. That a girl’s story is being seen – by the character’s CREATOR, no less – to be sufficiently less valuable, intrinsically, than her male counterpart’s to the point that the epilogue should have just had her marry well and bear hero children (preferably all boys?) to the hero in the aftermath and the afterglow of an adventure. The brightest witch of her age is being relegated to the usual ghetto – the Good Wife, the Good Mother, and don’t practice any magic more important and impactful than waving a wand over the bread dough to make it rise faster.

Rowling disappoints me. I had thought she had a bit more faith in Hermione than that.

I *don’t* like the way girls are treated in the Potterverse, not now that Rowling has come out with this post-partum decree. I don’t like it one little bit. Rowling has waved her magic wand over the story and for a while the illusion may have held, that a girl had agency and power and a protagonistic arc and CHOICES of her own. But now, a few years after the glitter has had a chance to settle and the true shapes of things are being seen at last, it seems that it was no more than that – just the illusion. And underneath Hermione the beautiful and the brave is still no more than an unworthy boy – and her value as a character is seen to have been diminished by the fact that she failed to end up with the “right” romantic partner in the end…

 

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  1. 1. T.L. Bodine

    I’ve read that blip from the interview several times now, and have a lot of thoughts of it. But never once anywhere in that article does Rowling say Hermione should have ended up with Harry — only that she *shouldn’t* have ended up with Ron.

    Perhaps she’s thinking that Hermione is really better than both of them.

  2. 2. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

    I love that Hermione did not wind up as Harry’s love interest. For a story that focuses on Family, the fact that Harry and Hermione, who both lose family in the series (in different ways) get sorted into the Weasley Family shows the power of that idea.

    A Harry-Hermione relationship just gives them, in the end, each other. Not as powerful. It’s not the right pairing, I think.

    And, as you say, Alma, letting Hermione’s path lead her not to the hero is powerful.

  3. 3. Alma Alexander

    @T.L.Bodine: The line I see quoted in easily a dozen referrals to the original interview is this: “In a new interview, Harry Potter author JK Rowling admitted she thought Harry and Hermione would have made a better couple than the heroine and Ron.” WHich, to me, reads like she said exactly that – that she thought that it would have been better if Harry and Hermione had ended up together in the end.

    WHich I still just think is wrong wrong wrong.

    @Paul Weimer: good points.

  4. 4. Chrysoula Tzavelas

    I keep seeing this misunderstood all over the internet.

    Hermione was _destined_ to end up with Ron. It was planned along with book 1; it was foreshadowed all over the place, it was Meant To Be by a power higher than God. Everybody who says ‘it just seems so right’ for Hermione and Ron to be together are people who have been traveling down the path Rowling spun.

    For a story about how predestination is really the result of our choices, sticking to that plan does kind of make for a worse story, yeah.

    Rowling’s line refers to being able to look at her story from hindsight and see what would have made it a stronger story; when she was writing it she stuck to the outline and the Destiny at a point when she had a moment of doubt and now she regrets that. Seems reasonable to me, although maybe she shouldn’t have shared it. It’s something I totally understand as a writer.

    I’m not saying that ending up with Harry would have made it objectively better, since it would have elevated a different set of concerns, as you illustrated. But I don’t think you should let what she said cheapen Hermione’s story, because her _destiny_ was not Harry. He might have been her choice, though.

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Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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