Honoring the Heroine: Cho Chang and the other girls at Hogwarts

Yeah, in this article I plan to discuss multiple characters, mainly the female students in Hogwarts. Or, to be precise, I intend to write about the different ways JK Rowling includes females in the books and especially the way she handles romance. This time around skip the “choose one scene per book” part, though, and replace it with discussing some of the core scenes for Cho Chang. But, as usual, lets first talk about the book (I would say spoilers ahead, but honestly, if you haven’t read the books yet, what are you doing reading this article?)

The first time I read the “Prisoner of Azkaban”, there was one thing I was pretty sure about from the very beginning: That Sirius is innocent. It is hard to explain, but anything else would have been too simple for JK Rowling. And, since I am always suspicious by the lack of a body, I was equally sure that Peter Pettigrew was still alive. What I didn’t figure out was that he was hiding as Ron’s pet rat. Not that there aren’t enough hints in the book – Crookshanks reaction to the rat, the missing claw, Scrabber’s unusual age, the explanation what animagie are – it simply didn’t occur to me that JK Rowling had planed that far ahead that she planted a dangerous character that early in the books. All in all the mystery aspect of this book is a mixed bag, but still enjoyable overall.

In a way, the third book is a breather and a game-changer in one. For two books in a row Harry had to deal with Voldemort. This time around, though, the threat is a little bit smaller, at least initially. It seems to be a side-battle, but for the first time Harry looses. Well, he wins in a sense that Sirius is free and nobody dies during the book. But it is not a true victory, and thanks to Trelawney’s  prophecy, the reader knows that Pettigrew escaping will lead to Voldemort coming back.

There is one big problem with the book though: Once you introduce time-travel, there is always the question why the characters don’t do it all the time, rules be damned. JKR actually has to destroy all the time turners in book five to take the option of the table. But other than that it is one of the best perhaps the best of the series, because it might be the most emotional one. Harry always wanted a family and the moment in the end when Sirius offers him a home is like a dream coming true for him. One which is immediately ripped away from him. There are a few moments which have similar impact in the series, but they all are connected with people dying. What Harry looses here is more profound than that.

Which is why I am not really happy that the movie really rushes the scenes with Sirius in the end. It puts the focus on Sirius getting back his freedom without really showing what it would mean for Harry. Nevertheless I think the third movie is the best of them. Unlike with the first two movies this time around the screenwriter was not afraid to rearrange scenes and details to the movie format, and unlike the later movie it mostly still manages to hit the right notes and keeps the focus on the interaction between the characters instead of pointless action scenes. Plus, the cinematography is just stunning. The way the giant clock is integrated into the scenes is one of the visually most interesting aspects of the movies.

Granted, some decisions I don’t agree with. The shrunken heads are an annoying and pointless addition and the scene in The Three Broomsticks comes off as odd. But all in all the movie does a lot of things right. I especially appreciate that it adds a scene in which Harry and Remus talk about Harry’s mother. I always thought it odd that Lily often seem to be an afterthought when Harry wants to find out details about his parents. Here the whole matter is more balanced, even if it boils down to “Lily was a wonderful person”.

Book three is also the moment in which romance starts to creep into the series. Nothing definitive, yet, but it is the first time Harry notices Cho Chang. Who has kind of a thankless role. She mostly exists to ensure that Harry has some experience with girls before hooking up with Ginny. In a way Lavender Brown has the same role regarding Ron, but since she is a previous established character, she feels less like a storytelling device.

But let’s talk about the female pupils in Hogwarts, first. Other than Luna (who I will discuss in a later article), they tend to fall in two categories: The ones which are in Harry’s year and the ones which are playing Quidditch. And the ones which play Quidditch are usually not further characterized, with the exception of Cho (since she doubles as love interest) and Angelina (since she ends up being Quidditch captain in Harry’s fifth year).

There is also a certain hierarchy in the way Harry’s year mates are portrayed. The Slytherins for example only turn up when Harry needs an antagonist, as a result Pansy Parkinson and Milicent Bulstrode get the roles of the “bitchy” and the “brutal” girl. Both are described as being ugly, but I always got the impression that Harry only perceives them as ugly because they are antagonists (which is a pattern in the books. For example, Lockhart is perceived as very good-looking in universe, but Harry doesn’t sees him that way at all). Still, the Slytherins end up very one-dimensional. The Gryffindor get mentioned the most because they share all of the classes with Harry. The Ravenclaws play no role at all. Padma is only mentioned in her role as Parvati’s twin and Harry never really seems to share a class with them.

Ironically it’s the Hufflepuffs, the house which is supposedly overlooked, which gets the most exposure after Gryffindor. Take Hannah. By the end of the series we know that she is one of the Hufflepuffs who didn’t jump immediately to the conclusion that Harry is the heir of Slytherin, we know that she is very nervous during tests and tends to make mistakes because of it and we know that she fought in the battle of Hogwarts. Susan turns only up in one book, and yet we know that her Aunt is Amelia Bones, that her family suffered greatly under Voldemort and that she is one of those people who would stand up against Voldemort, too.

It is not really surprising that none of this made it in the movie, because those are only the small details which make the world of JKR so much richer. What was important, though, was getting Cho Chang and Lavender right. And the movies really didn’t.

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Let’s start with Cho. There are four important scenes which define her relationship with Harry: Him asking her to the Yule ball, their first date, their first kiss, and their break-up. The Yule ball scene is very well handled in the movie. The rest – not so much. We never get to see their first date in the movies, despite it being pretty much the definer of this relationship. In the book the whole scene has two purposes, for one to show that just because Harry is attracted to Cho it doesn’t mean that she is a good fit or that they have a lot in common aside from both liking Quidditch. And two to point out that Harry has no patience whatsoever for the dating game. He doesn’t want a girl-friend who would try to make him jealous or doesn’t speak her mind if he upsets her.

How much the director didn’t understand the point of Cho is especially evident in the way the first kiss is portrayed in movie. It is this romantic moment with mistletoe growing over the young pair. In the book, though, the kiss is described as wet. Because Cho breaks out in tears. Because in the book she is actually a human being and still upset over Cedric dying. It is not romantic, it is realistic. And it is yet another step in showing how dysfunctional this relationship is from the get go. Harry mostly wants to have fun, a little bit of happiness to escape the problems of his life. Cho on the other hand wants a shoulder to lean on and is generally prone to crying.

And then there is the break-up. In the movie, Umbridge uses Veritaserum on Cho, forcing her to betray the DA, which leads to Harry shunning Cho, not knowing why she did it. In the book, though, it is Marietta who betrays them voluntarily, and the break-up is the result of Cho defending her. This is yet another scene which demonstrates how far Harry is removed from most girls his own age. He knows how it is to fight Voldemort, he already lost his parents because of a betrayal, so he is certainly not ready to forgive an act like this. But Cho is still very much a girl. While she suffered the loss of Cedric, she has no real concept of how far-reaching the consequences of an act like this can be. In her mind, they got away, so there is no lasting harm. This is a huge difference from the movie, in which Harry comes off as kind of a dick for not listening to Cho’s side of the story and the break-up is caused by outside influences and not by the discrepancy between their characters.

I am not sure if what the movies did to Lavender is worse or not. They turn her into some sort of comic relief, but honestly, the character deserves better. From the get-go Lavender is, along with Parvati, portrayed as the “girly girls” in the Gryffindor tower. It explains why Hermione has a hard time connecting with them. There is a very telling scene in book three, in which Lavender is upset about her pet getting killed by a fox, an event which convinces her for good of Professor Trelawney’s ability as a seer. Hermione concentrates on refuting this, being more concerned with her logic than Lavender’s grief.

And yet, the relationship between the three Gryffindor girls doesn’t seem to be a particularly bad one either. Lavender and Parvati both participate in the DA. And when Lavender develops an interest in Ron, she actually asks Hermione if she has feeling for him (which Hermione denies). The important point is that while Parvati and Lavender are “girly” and a little bit gullible, they are not portrayed a shallow or bitchy.

I can’t begrudge the movie too much that it makes fun of Ron’s and Lavender’s relationship, because the book does the same thing. It just does it without turning Lavender into an airhead. Like Cho she is simply a bad fit and still too immature for a serious relationship. She deserves credit though. While Ron keeps hedging and is not ready to face a break-up, she finally recognizes that he is not really interested in her and ends the relationship herself. In a rather dramatic fashion, but that’s Lavender for you.

I think I might be bothered a little bit by the way Cho and Lavender are treated, if not for the fact that this is not the end of their story. They both will go on to fight in the battle of Hogwarts, alongside of nearly all the females mentioned in the book. In the end it doesn’t matter if those females are weepy, melodramatic, girly, dizzy or unusual nervous, when it counts they pick up their wands and fight. Lavender might even loose her life (in the book she is attacked by Fenrir Greyback but seems to survive badly hurt, in the movie it is suggested that she died later on from her injuries, though she is never clearly shown). In the Harry Potter books, everybody has the potential to be a hero, and that includes the female characters.

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Quote: “I’m sorry. I suppose … it’s just … learning all this stuff … it just makes me … wonder whether … if he’d known it all … he’d still be alive.”

Some people would love for JKR to write a continuation of the Harry Potter series. I hope that she never does. Because to me, the perfect continuation are the works by  .I decided to link to her AO3 page, but she is also at ff.net and Sink into your eyes. The AO3 page has the advantage that it is easier to put her many stories in order. They cover the life of Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione after the war, but she also has stories about the various side characters. I especially love her Lavender Moon series, which address how Lavender deals with her injuries and scars and develops into quite a fascinating woman. All those stories are so good, they are my headcanon, and I can’t recommend them enough.

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3 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Cho Chang and the other girls at Hogwarts

  1. Interesting analysis. I really enjoy the Harry Potter books and movies but little details are lost on me. I guess I just take them at face value

  2. I just never liked Cho Chang, because I knew that she wasn’t the right person for Harry. And I also don’t like how she sees nothing wrong in what Marietta did. And as for Lavender, she was just… there.

    • Well, that was kind of the point of Cho Chang, wasn’t it? But I remember how surprised I was back when I read the books for the first time. I expected a lot of fluffy romance and then JKR went all realistic. It was great.

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