J.K. (Jo) Rowling caused a sensation recently when she complained on her website’s “Extra Stuff” section about the celebrity culture of thin girls being held up as role models. In an article entitled “For Girls Only, Probably….”, she stated:
Maybe all this seems funny, or trivial, but it’s really not. It’s about what girls want to be, what they’re told they should be, and how they feel about who they are. I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons. Let them never be Stupid Girls. Rant over.1
“Let my girls be Hermiones”! It is a bold statement, not just from an author, but more importantly, the mother of a young girl. My own daughter is ten years old, and therefore this subject is close to my heart.
BUT, is Hermione Granger a suitable role model for my daughter - for all our daughters? To answer that question, it is necessary to consider her actions throughout these books, not just her personality.
We first encounter Hermione Granger already dressed in her Hogwarts robes, she is helping Neville search for his toad.2 Keen to make an impression, she imparts on Harry and Ron that even though she is the first one in her family to do magic, she has learned all her set books off by heart and has even got extra books for background reading. Straight away, Jo is telling us that this character is studious- an admirable quality indeed.
Hermione then makes her personality known in the chapter, “The Midnight Duel”, when she attempts to stop Harry and Ron from meeting Malfoy at midnight. She follows them out of the portrait hole, literally hissing at them to stop breaking the rules, only to find herself locked out. So she stays with Harry and Ron and, albeit unwittingly, this is their first adventure together as they run to escape Filch, only to come face to face with Fluffy, the three-headed dog. Hermione’s contribution to the discussion, once they are back in Gryffindor Tower, is to share with the others what the beast was standing on - a trapdoor. This adds an extra quality to her personality, in that not only is she studious in the literary sense, but she is also very perceptive as to her surroundings. She may have been a Muggle born, but she is showing herself to be worldly wise in a wizard’s world.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we witness the incident that results in the forming of the friendship between Hermione, Harry and Ron.3 We also witness another side to Hermione’s character: the fact that she is prepared to lie to figures of authority. In the troll-in-the-girl’s-toilet incident, Hermione lies to Professor McGonagall and tells her that she went looking for the troll and that the boys went to save her. Why did Hermione lie? It’s not as if she even knew a troll was on the loose in the school. She had been crying in the toilet because Ron had been unkind about her. She could have told the truth and would not have gotten into trouble. Instead, she lies, has house points docked, but, in return, gains the friendship of Harry and Ron. This incident sets up Hermione’s character for the rest of the published books. It cements her strong bonds with Harry and Ron, but it also shows Hermione can be a rule-breaker as well as enforcer.
At this point it is interesting to note that Hermione, from the very beginning, has chosen boys as her friends, not girls. In fact, in Hermione’s year at Hogwarts, we only hear about two other girls in the Gryffindor house, Parvati and Lavender. Hermione throughout these books is not a “girl’s girl”. Teenage girls can be nasty to each other, as any girl who has gone through the teenage years can testify. Hermione is an only child and so perhaps choosing to be friends with boys was as much about self-preservation than anything else. Hermione is not the type of character to conform to the masses, she is her own person. In my opinion, boys can be more accepting of this than girls.
Throughout the books, Hermione continues to break the rules. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, she gains detention and has 50 house points docked for helping Harry get Norbert the dragon away from Hogwarts.4 She goes through the trapdoor with Harry after hexing Neville with the full body-bind curse Petrificus Totalus.5 In the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, she suggests, steals the ingredients and then brews the Polyjuice potion. A potion that is highly restricted. However, one has to look at why she does these things. Is it for personal profit or glory? – absolutely not. In every instance I just referred to, Hermione is attempting to help others. She is selfless and even if she disagrees, she is fiercely loyal to Harry and Ron.
There is one incident however where Hermione, in my opinion, goes too far. This incident happens in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
In this book we meet the hideous Dolores Umbridge. Not afraid to break the rules herself, (even though she is a Ministry of Magic employee and in a position of authority at Hogwarts School), she is prepared to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry in order to get the information she requires.6 Hermione immediately comes up with a plan and the day appears saved. She leads Harry and Professor Umbridge out of Hogwarts and towards the Forbidden Forest. Over the next few pages it is worth noting how Jo describes Hermione’s demeanour as she leads Umbridge on towards the centaurs. She marches “purposefully”, she gives Umbridge a “contemptuous glare and plunged straight into the trees”, she speaks with a “steely voice” and so on. Hermione is clearly in control and knows exactly what she is doing. But, what is Hermione doing? She is leading Umbridge through the forest towards the centaurs, knowing full well that the centaurs have threatened to harm adult humans that enter the forest.7 In fact, the centaur Magorian had stated the slaughter of foals (children) was a terrible crime and they do not touch the innocent, in other words - children. They were prepared though, to harm adults. This centaur was talking about slaughter, which is defined in the Oxford Students Dictionary as “ruthless killing”, and so it is not far-fetched to think that this is the fate that could be metered out to adults.
And yet Hermione leads Umbridge onto certain harm. The reasons for her actions were obvious, she was attempting to save Harry, but her actions are highly dangerous. At best Hermione is knowingly endangering the life of Umbridge, at worst it could be claimed she could have been an accessory to murder.
This event, more than any other of the rule breaking that Hermione does in these books, shows a reckless streak in her personality and the fact that despite being the “cleverest witch of her age”, she does not always think of the end result with regard to her actions. In this incident, the centaurs are outraged by Hermione’s suggestion that they help her and it shows Hermione’s immaturity in thinking through her plan to see the “bigger picture”. She was of course, only sixteen at the time, and I am sure this is the reason for her folly. It becomes obvious as the scene is played out that Hermione did not wish Umbridge to be killed at all.
Another example of not thinking things through is Hermione’s action group S.P.E.W. She forms this in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and as we all know, it stands for “The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.” 8 Her intentions are good. She believes she is standing up for a minority group in the wizarding world, the problem is, most elves do not want emancipation. The majority are happy with their lives and do not welcome her interference. When she starts leaving knitted bobble hats lying in the Gryffindor common room, they refuse to clean it. It is an example of how well-intentioned Hermione is, but also how blinkered she is as to what other creatures customs are. The cleverest witch of her age still has a lot to learn.
Finally we come onto Hermione in the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is where seventeen-year-old Hermione starts becoming aware of her feminine charms and becomes the epitome of the phrase, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”! As Ron and Lavender become closer, Hermione becomes more withdrawn and moody from Ron, a very natural reaction from someone who is jealous. She then performs the Oppugno spell on a small ring of yellow birds she had conjured which results in them attacking Ron after she sees him and Lavender kissing.9 Not for the first time, Hermione is prepared to use a spell on another student. It may have been done out of anger and distress, but is it acceptable? Hermione is able to use charms and spells as a way of exacting her revenge because she is a witch. In real life, this would be akin to perhaps slapping someone or throwing something at them. This is something I certainly have done as a teenage girl!! Hermione though shows her caring side though after Ron is poisoned in Slughorn’s office and visits him regularly in the hospital wing. As the Won-Won relationship eventually crashes and burns, Hermione and Ron’s relationship becomes closer again and it is to Ron she looks for comfort at Dumbledore’s funeral.
These books are from Harry’s perspective and so we don’t really see Hermione getting intimate with other male characters. Ginny refers to the fact that she has kissed Victor Krum and we know she writes to him. The fact that no intimate relations have taken place with Ron is more down to his immaturity than hers. All mothers want their daughters to take dating slowly and not rush in and hormones are dangerous things, especially in teenage girls, but in my opinion, Hermione certainly seems to be well grounded in this aspect of her personality. She is not a flirt or tease, two traits I do not want my daughter to have.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince ends with the bond between the three friends as strong as ever, in the face of more danger than they have ever known. Hermione states
“You said to us once before,” said Hermione quietly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?” 10
Ron and Hermione will go with Harry to the end. Time and time again in these books, she has put her life in danger for her friends, as they have done for her. I believe she would die for her friends and she puts them first at every instance. After all, how many times does Hermione forsake a holiday with her parents, even though she rarely sees them, in order to stay and support Harry and Ron. Her loyalty is exceptional.
To conclude, Hermione Granger is often referred to as “the brains” of the trio, but there is so much more to her character than that, good and bad. She is loyal, brave, kind, extremely clever, jealous, petty and can be a dangerous person to cross. Jo Rowling has created a character, with strengths and flaws and this makes her real. Is she a good role model for our daughters though? I asked my daughter who her favourite character in the HP series was and she immediately replied “Hermione”. I asked why and she said because she was clever, loved books and loved animals! My opinion is that Hermione has extremely good traits as a role model for young girls because a 10 year old is not going to dissect a characters personality in the way I have done here. If we dissected our own personalities, we would all find flaws that we didn’t like and wished we didn’t have. Hermione has done some ill-advised and dangerous things in these books, but I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and say these were done in the heat of the moment, as a teenager without life experience and not because she is a malevolent person. It is a testament to Jo’s writing, that despite this character having flaws, it is the strengths that appeal and shine through above all else.
Let my girl be a Hermione!
1. Rowling Official Website. “For Girls Only, Probably.”
2. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 79.
3. Ibid., 131.
4. Ibid., 178.
5. Ibid., 198.
6. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 658.
7. Ibid., 616.
8. Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 198.
9. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 283.
10. Ibid., 607.
J.K. Rowling Official Website. “For Girls Only, Probably.” Extra Stuff.. 2004. J.K. Rowling Official Website. 15 May 2006. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/extrastuff_view.cfm?id=22.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.