Honoring the Heroine: Hermione Granger

Sorry for the delay. It happened only partly because of my desire to make the article as good as possible. I actually got hit really, really hard with some sort of flue, which put me out of commission for a week, which in turn forced me to catch up fast before the two week vacation I had planned. I originally wanted to prepare posts for my absence, but I didn’t even manage to do that. But now I am back, hopefully with some fresh thoughts in my mind.

This will be a series of articles in which I will discuss the most important females in Harry Potter. Seven articles, to be precise. Most of them will be about a single character, some of them about a group of them. I’ll discuss one book in each article, what I think about the movie adaptation and then discuss the role of the character in all books as well as how it got adapted in the movies. I have to admit though, I am not a big fan of the movies. They fall into in one category with movies like “The Never-ending Story”. You can watch them and have a good time. But once you have actually read the book you realize that you only got a tiny glimpse on a beautifully complex tapestry. I think the movies are okay. I also think that they could be better. But I don’t want to turn this into a very long rant. So I will do the following: I’ll pick for each movie one moment I thought improved on the book. And then I will pick one moment I especially liked for the character I am discussing for each book and address if it even made it into the movie and how well (or badly)the movie dealt with it. And the first character up is naturally Hermione Granger, who is easily the most important female character in the series.

Banner-HP-Hermione

But let’s start with some thoughts about “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Of all the Harry Potter books, this one is, in a lot of ways, the most simple one. That is because it has the easiest task. You are at the beginning of the series. You expect a harmless book for children. And because of this, you are absolutely ready to buy that the evil teacher who presents himself so handily as the villain might be exactly that. In later books, though, you have caught on that this isn’t a writer of the level of Enid Blyton, who does all but paint a giant arrow over a character on which is written “that is the bad guy”. You pay automatically closer attention and as a result the task of the author to mislead you becomes more and more difficult.

In their core the Harry Potter books, especially the first four, are cleverly written detective stories. There is always something odd going on which Harry and his friends have to investigate, and always some sort of big reveal. JK Rowling alters how she does do it a little bit, but in her first book, she can go for the simple method to mislead the reader by setting up a character who seems to be very threatening (Snape) but is actually trying to do the right thing and another character who seems to be weak (Quirrel) but is actually the true danger. In later books this set-up wouldn’t have worked. In the first one, though, it does because the expectations of the readers are still pretty low. What actually makes this book so good is not the actual mystery which is, if you go down to it, as simple as it gets (JKR gets credit though for sneaking in the information about Nicolas Flamel early on, I freely admit, I didn’t remember it even though I actually knew who Flamel was when I read the book), it is the world the reader gets introduced to. The quirky characters, the little jokes with the setting, it is a world you immediately want to enter yourself.

The draw of the first book is that everything is still new and shiny, and that is exactly the tone of the first movie, too. It is not perfect, though. For example the scene in which Oliver Wood explains the rules of Quidditch. I question if it really was that necessary to spend so much time on the rules when the only thing you really need to know is “when Harry gets the shiny golden ball his team most likely wins”. Things like this throw off the pacing in the movie, but it does do a really good job in capturing the magic of the world, even if it is something a little bit too literal. And sometimes either it is too close to the book while not being close enough at the same time. Okay, this is hard to explain. Let’s take  the scene in which Hagrid tracks down Harry and the Dursley’s to the hut at the sea. I always had a hard time with it because the dialogue is close to the book, but some lines have been removed, which makes for a very off viewing experience. It’s like watching a puzzle of which you just know pieces are missing and often makes the dialogue kind of choppy – not that I think a non-reader would notice.

What the movie does better is one single line. “She needs to sort out her priorities.” It cracks me up every time, though it is actually not from the book but something the screen writers added, in the book the chapter actually ends with Hermione’s line that getting expelled is worse than getting killed. It’s a small detail which makes a moment which is already pretty funny even more memorable. In a way this moment is typical for Hermione (which is exactly why I chose this quote to represent her). But let’s run down my favourite scenes with her before I discuss her more thoroughly:

Book 1: Forgetting that she is a witch

In the book: When the trio falls into the devil’s snare  Hermione remembers that they are not supposed to struggle and that fire is the best way to fight the plant, but then laments that she doesn’t have any wood. Which prompts Ron to remind her (rather forcefully) that she is a witch and can make fire easily.

In the movie: The scene plays very differently. Just holding still is enough to overcome the devil’s snare and the only reason why Hermione even needs an additional spell (light, not fire) is because Ron is the one who looses his head.

Why I like it: It is a very simple moment, but it tells us so much  about Hermione’s character. She is very smart, but in dangerous situations she has trouble to think clearly (unlike Harry, who always thinks on his feet).  And being a Muggleborn magic isn’t as natural for her as it is for Ron. Both aspects will change eventually. By the end of the series she keeps her head in battle and magic as normal as breathing. I think it is too bad that such subtle character moments are mostly lost in the movie. Especially in cases like this, in which it would have been possible to stay true to the book. By switching out the roles and made Ron the one who panics, they diminished both characters in my eyes.

Book 2: The Mudblood scene

In the book: During an encounter with the Slytherin Quidditch team, Draco calls Hermione a “Mudblood”, which causes a huge fight. Hermione and Harry are both kind of confused because they have never heard the word, but they both immediately know that Draco said something truly awful. Ron later explains the meaning of the word.

In the movie: The scene mostly plays out the same, with the difference that this time around Hermione knows what the word means and explains it to Harry in a moving scene.

Why I like it: Mostly because it makes a really good point about words. They only have the power we give them. It is not the word in itself which alerts Harry and Hermione that Draco just said something truly terrible, it is the way he says it and the reactions to it. It also clarifies that Hermione is kind of living in some sort of safety bubble in Hogwarts. This aspect is lost in the movie, though it is a change which kind of preserves most of the point since Harry is still confused. Still, it is another instance in which Ron’s knowledge of wizard society is played down so that Hermione gets a moment to shine.

Book 3: Punching Draco

In the book: Hermione, totally stressed out, encounters Draco who jokes about Buckbeak’s execution. Enraged, she slaps him in the face.

In the movie: The scene mostly plays out the same, though a punch is naturally way more violent than a slap and the circumstances are a little bit different. For one, that Hermione has simply reached her breaking point isn’t that clear in the movie due to it spending less time on the fight she and Ron have. And two, in the movie it seems like Ron and Harry are impressed with Hermione because she has such a good punch. In the book though they are mostly stunned that Hermione is suddenly breaking rules left and right and somewhat impressed by that, not by her ability for violence.

Why I like the scene: I have ranted a couple of times already about movies and TV-show using woman slapping men as some sort of shorthand to show how badass they are. In this case, though, it works for a couple of reasons, especially in the book. For one, because Hermione has ample reason to be angry with Draco, after the way he treated her for three years. Her punching him is more or less what we all would like to do to the bullies in our life, and the satisfaction connected with the scene is less about her being a female character who stands up to a male one, and more about standing up to a bully. Two, Hermione and Draco are not in some sort of relationship and (despite what some really awful fanfictions claim) he is certainly not impressed by her actions. Three, Hermione herself is in a very peculiar emotional state from the get go. Four, at least in the book her actions are not portrayed as the okay thing to do, more as something which she shouldn’t have done but is impressive nevertheless because nobody expected it of her.

And here lies the crux why I like the scene. If it were the expected thing to do for Hermione to act all emotional and let loose like that, I most likely wouldn’t praise it. But Hermione normally reacts very logical, and is usually the one of the trio most set on avoiding confrontations with Draco. In the first book she even tries to keep Harry and Ron from duelling with him. Seeing her loose all control is both satisfying and worrying, because it reveals all the pent-up emotions in Hermione.

Book 4: The Yule Ball

In the book: Hermione has an “ugly duckling turns into a swan” moment. But what I actually like is a conversation she has with Harry later on, in which she tells him that straightening out her hair is too much of an effort to do every day.

In the movie: It was hard to recreate the moment from the get go, because Emma Watson never had large teeth to begin with and her bushy hair was gone by the third movie. She is clearly beautiful, no matter what she wears. In addition, the costume designers were set on showing that she is a girl on the verge of being a woman and therefore changed her dress from blue to pink, which sadly also had the “princess goes to a ball” implication. It is not really the fault of the costume designers that the moment fails to have the same impact, but I think they could have gotten a little bit closer. The line about it being too much effort for everyday use should have made it into the movie somehow.

Why I like the scene: Because Hermione surely has her priorities straight. It is fun to spend a couple of hours on your looks and have a nice evening dressed up to the nines. But it is not important for everyday life. This sends exactly the right message: It is okay to make yourself feel beautiful, but what in the end counts, is something else. It is better to carry a couple of books with you than gliding through the halls like a swan.

Book 5: Questioning Umbridge

In the book: After Umbridge writes her educational goals on the blackboard, Hermione calls her out, questioning why she doesn’t mention practicing spells.

In the movie: The scene is very similar, but Umbridge is less sneaky and the part in which Hermione voices her doubt about the book they are supposed to read is very simplified.

Why I like the scene: It shows what a keen mind Hermione has. She is in a room full of people who are overlooking the obvious and immediately spots the “fine-print” so to speak. At the same time, it shows how far she has come. Originally Hermione was pretty much a believer of the written word, but she has reached a point at which she is ready to question people who are supposedly smarter than her.

Book 6: Going out with Cormac McLaggen

In the book: After Ron starts going out with Lavender, Hermione invites Cormac McLaggen to Slughorn’s party, specifically because he is the one who would bother Ron the most.

In the movie: Somehow the movie manages to play down her actions while making them worse at the same time. It rushes over Hermione’s motivations in top speed, but at the same time they add a line in which Hermione says that going with Harry would have been even better.

Why I like the scene: Because for once Hermione is not morally superior but acts very vindictive. But not too vindictive. The additional line in the movie bothers me because I don’t think that Hermione would sink so low to use Harry of all people to make Ron jealous. But using a guy who is very unlikable to begin with? She has no problem with that.

Book 7: Kissing Ron

In the book: In the middle of the battle of Hogwarts Ron mentions that they should evacuate the house-elves. Hermione reacts by kissing him.

In the movie: They kiss out of nowhere in the Chamber of Secrets.

Why I like the scene: I considered a couple of scenes, but in the end, this one won out. Hermione and Ron have been dancing around each other for years at this point, though it might be a good thing that they both had other partners beforehand. But I like the trigger for the kiss. Hermione is a person who is constantly standing up for what she believes is right. Whoever she chooses for a partner, it should always be someone who challenges her views, but also understands them.

Final thoughts: Of all the child actors they picked, Emma Watson is easily the most talented one, and does manage to capture Hermione’s pushiness perfectly whenever the script allows it. She is a little bit too good-looking, though. One of the main points of the books is that all characters have flaws. Harry is small and has knobby knees, Ron is gangly and has a long nose and Hermione has bushy hair and big teeth. But the true problem is the script Emma Watson is given. She acts the hell out of the material, but she can’t change the content.

To be frank, there is a lot which bothers me about the portrayal of Hermione on screen. In the book, she is a character. She is pushy, she is often annoying, she can be just as insensitive as Ron and get overzealous about a cause. On screen she is a role model. With every movie she gets more and more perfect to a degree that she gets lines which are actually Ron’s in the book (while Ron becomes a stupid comic relief). By the last movie she even gets the idea to ride out of Gringotts on the dragon. In the book, Harry is the one who always keeps his head in dangerous situations and has the off-the-wall ideas, while she tends to freeze up until he trains her and she matures a little bit. Hermione in the movie knows everything, can do everything and is always right. Hermione in the books is way more layered than that.

In both cases though, it tells the story about a little girl who has trouble to make friends. She doesn’t really connect with her dorm mates, because they are girly-girls, and she doesn’t connect with anyone else because she is such a driven overachiever. But once she has friends, she changes. The need to constantly proof herself becomes less pronounced, at the same time she loosens up a little bit, realizing that rules are not everything. And through her experiences over the years, she grows into a confident woman who is ready to call out the minister of magic himself. I always wondered though if she had gotten that far if she hadn’t found friendship at one point, people who accepted her intelligence and even encouraged her. Intelligent woman often have a hard time to fit in and are often discouraged from being too opinionated. Therefore we never can have enough characters like Hermione in the media. I just wish we would have gotten book Hermione instead of yet another version of an perfectly perfect in every way heroine.

Quote: “I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could have been all killed — or worse, expelled.”

Needless to say, I recommend the Harry Potter books. And if you only know the movies: Do yourself a favour and read the books. You are missing out otherwise, big time. 

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5 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Hermione Granger

  1. Marvelously written. I really like all the points you make. The tendency JK has to portray Hermione as this superior being can annoy me at times, but it is much better in the books than it is the movie – at least it allows her a couple of moments every other book where she can make mistakes. That said, I hate Ron bashing… and I partly blame the movies for it (and also hypocritical readers).

    It’s been so long since I’ve read the books… I have read the series maybe two or three times, but I was still too young back then, and didn’t analyse anything. One day I’ll reread it – perhaps I’ll wait a few years, because that will make the experience more special, I suppose.

    When is your next update scheduled to happen? Next week, two weeks from now or what?

    • Yeah, I partly blame the movies too…the other part of the blame goes to crazy shipper.
      I currently work on an “every two weeks” schedule, but it might be difficult to keep it up because of the current heat wave in Europe. I can only work during the night because I would risk my hard-drive melting otherwise if I use the computer for longer than an hour or so.
      A reread is certainly worth it. I have read those books so often and still notice details I was missing beforehand.

  2. Interesting. I’m actually about equal in my love of the books and movies. I think they are both very entertaining. My favorite movie is 3 and least is 7 pt 1. I’m not someone who knows every last detail like you do but I just know I like the richness of the world, battle of good vs evil and the journey all the characters go on.

      • I think thats nearly always the case but for me these are one of the best adaptations but I’m not a die hard fan even though I do enjoy them

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