The Plot Hole that Ate a Mother and Father
By Eric Bowling
With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling’s epic Harry Potter Saga is complete; this, in turn, gives us readers the position, in a critical perspective, to consider the whole story together. The view of the series as a whole has presented this particular writer with a conundrum - plot holes that have entirely swallowed up a mother and father in a literary world obsessed with family. Whatever happened to the Grangers? Just as Ron and Harry’s families are of crucial importance both to the plots of the books and to the characters themselves, Hermione’s unnamed mother and father and her relationship to them is integral to the character we know. As much as literary paradigms can be used to create suppositions as to the characters' inner-workings, the plot holes that J.K. Rowling purposefully wrote into her stories to maintain a sense of balance can leave those looking for the kind of depth exemplified in other relationships in the Harry Potter series disappointed.
One strong thematic aspect of the Harry Potter series has been its dichotomist main character structure. Harry, being the everyman, serves as the eyes of the reader. We do not understand what is going on any more than Harry does at any given time. We grow with Harry physically, mentally, and emotionally. In classic Greek terms, Harry’s psyche – composed of Dionysian and Apollonian halves1 – is personified and manifested by his two best friends, Ron and Hermione.
In his book The Birth of Tragedy, Friederich Nietzche discusses this ancient Greek concept that suits Ron and Hermione well: a dramatic Apollonian ~ Dionysian dichotomy. The Dionysian side, named after the god of wine, party, and disorder, Dionysus, is opposed to the Apollonian side, named after Apollo, the god of order, civilization, and logic. In Harry Potter Hermione Granger represents the Apollonian half of Harry’s world and Ron Weasley represents the Dionysian side. Naturally, these sides are constantly in conflict, until such a time that the two come together to create the zenith of drama in a dramatic story. This connection is one of the strongest themes in the series and can perhaps allow the reader to read a little more into the unwritten parts of Rowling’s series.
Coming from a magical family, Ron Weasley is more familiar with magic than Harry is. He represents the Dionysian portion of Harry’s mind- the excitement and wonder of the (Wizarding) world and the wondrous things one can do in it – even if sometimes they break traditional rules. As an extension, the Weasley family represents the Dionysian ideals of hearth, heart, celebration of nature, chaos, and home. The Weasleys become a surrogate family for Harry when he first began to understand who and what he is.
Representing the Apollonian ideals of logic, rules, and order is Hermione Granger. She is “Muggle-born”, a witch or wizard with non-magic-wielding parents. She is familiar with the Muggle world, which shows its cruelty through the actions of the Dursley family as they attempt to reign over Harry with rules, punishments, and oppression. While Hermione is little like the Dursleys, she does embody the ideals of laws and order through her actions and personality. While Ron is more free-spirited and easy-going, Hermione is loath to bend a rule and has studied about Hogwarts and Witchcraft and Wizardry before any first year student.
While there are moments when each of Harry’s friends act outside of the set dichotomy, these conditions break down in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Hermione sheds her ideals of order and rules by jinxing Cormac McLaggen to help Ron get on the Gryffindor Quidditch team,2 when she opts to leave school to aid in Harry’s quests, and throughout the book as she is consumed by her jealously and feelings toward Ron. Ron changes as he accepts the responsibilities that Dumbledore’s death places upon Harry and, in turn, himself to finish the hunt for the Horcruxes and help his best friend destroy Voldemort. The two classic forces, Dionysian and Apollonian, merge in Deathly Hollows, illustrated by the relationship of Hermione and Ron.
These two worlds ultimately must come together. Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the cruel rules of the world begin mixing with the fascinating and effulgent aura of the magical world. Cedric Diggory, then Sirius Black, and then Dumbledore are all murdered right in front of Harry’s face, each death thrusting in deeper and deeper a psychic doweling that inexorably binds the two worlds together, so that, by the beginning of Deathly Hallows these spheres have merged. As it is most evident in Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort and his forces have brought the fight to the Muggle world, causing horrible damage and death. The magical wonderment of the Wizarding World and the controlled and unforgiving world of Muggles has blended into one, leading to the highest and purest drama in the series.
But, still, even though these worlds have merged in Deathly Hallows, there is still something missing from the whole on Hermione’s part. Something is missing from the previous six books that could have made her character even stronger. This is the obfuscation of one crucial group of characters in the Harry Potter universe that is overtly strange and disconnected. Hermione’s unnamed parents are rarely mentioned in the books and only seen very briefly in written3 and visual form in the book and movie versions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We know for sure that her parents are both dentists,4 vacation in France5 and go skiing on winter holiday,6 but precious little else.
From their appearance at Diagon Alley in Chamber of Secrets it can be suggested that Hermione’s parents are involved enough in their daughter’s magical life to go with her to buy her school supplies.7 While they may be accepting, in other ways they are not supportive, as her parents prefer that Hermione fix her teeth with Muggle braces rather than with a spell.8 This could simply be seen, though, as a parental imprinting of good, conservative values upon Hermione which she so stridently displays in the first five books of the series, and not discriminatory against the Wizarding world per se.
It can be validly argued that the Granger parents’ point of view is not necessary in the narrative construct of the series. J.K. Rowling herself said of Hermione’s parents at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Sunday, August 15, 2004:
I have deliberately kept Hermione’s family in the background. You see so much of Ron’s family so I thought that I would keep Hermione’s family, by contrast, quite ordinary. They are dentists, as you know. They are a bit bemused by their odd daughter but quite proud of her all the same.9
We, the readers, as Muggles, know how bad and good the Muggle world can be because we live in it. Since we know less about the Wizarding world, the point of view of the Weasley family is narratively more important to catch the reader up on the new world they encounter. The Weasleys are connected to many of Harry’s wondrous discoveries about the Wizarding World- Floo Powder, the passage to the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾, The Flying Ford Anglia, The Burrow (an introduction to wizarding home life) and The Quidditch World Cup (the biggest sporting and social event in the Wizarding world). When Harry comes of age and he can taunt his unrestricted magical skills, he is visiting the Weasleys’ home in Deathly Hallows.10 Because we know how Muggles live, it is logical, then, that J.K. Rowling would not delve into her family and domestic life anywhere near as much as she does with Ron’s family.
But family is very important in the Harry Potter series. It is perhaps the greatest theme in the series. Harry is joined to his parents, James and Lily, compared to them physically repeatedly throughout the series. Ron is connected to his family and the Weasleys’ travails provide the lion's share of the human familial connection in the series. At the end of Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling provides an epilogue involving the families of the grown Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron, showing that the characters’ futures were prosperous, expressed through their children. The reader knows much more about the families of some minor characters than we do about Hermione’s: Frank, Alice, Algie, and Augusta “Gran” Longbottom; Sirius, Regulus, Bellatrix, Andromeda, and Narcissa Black; Ted and Nymphadora Tonks; Barty and Barty Crouch Jr. These are all family relationships we know more about than the one between Hermione and her unnamed parents.
holes are most obvious in Hermione’s introductions in Harry Potter and the
Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix,
and Half-Blood Prince, when Hermione more or less appears amongst the
Weasleys with little or no explanation whatsoever. At the end of Prisoner of
Azkaban, which sets up many of the early plot elements in Goblet of Fire,
there is no mention of Hermione attending the Quidditch World Cup with the
Weasleys.11 It can be assumed that she came to be with the
Weasleys at her own request, or Ginny’s request to have a fellow girl friend to
spend time with, or a combination of both. The lack of explanation at the end
of Prisoner of Azkaban can easily be forgiven, if rectified in Goblet
of Fire, but no explanation is concretely given then, either. Nor is there
any reason given in Order of the Phoenix why Hermione spends so much of
her time over the summer at
Later in Order
of the Phoenix, Hermione does offer some insight when she arrives at
“What are you doing here?” asked Harry... “I thought you were skiing with your mum and dad.”
“Well, to tell the truth, skiing’s not really my thing,” said Hermione. “So I’ve come for Christmas... Anyway, Mum and Dad are a bit disappointed, but I’ve told them that everyone who’s serious about the exams is staying at Hogwarts to study. They want me to do well, they’ll understand.” 12
Sadly, this is literally, literarily, the most we ever hear in a single passage about Hermione’s family besides J.K. Rowling’s own comments outside of her written texts. The feelings of Hermione and her parents are made clear in the above passage from Order of the Phoenix, as is Hermione’s dedication to her friends. Little passages such as this one do much to illuminate not only Hermione’s character, but also the nature of her relationship with her parents – or the lack thereof. The fact that Hermione spends her winter breaks and most of her summer breaks with the Weasleys – and away from her parents – while convenient for the plot of the story, offers nothing but contradiction and confusion when their relationship is considered realistically.
If Hermione’s parents wanted to spend more time with her, why did they choose to go skiing instead of a family activity that their daughter would have wanted to do? Is Hermione’s bossiness and pursuit of academic perfection at Hogwarts an attempt to preserve at any costs the order and structure of the one world she feels she can identify with? Hermione is a character of great purpose and will- but what is never really explained or hinted at is the reason for her particular behaviors. From plot-to-plot, book-to-book, many of her motives are rather obvious, but the deeper, more personal aspects of Hermione’s personality- information that can be gleaned from her relationship with her parents- are doggedly elusive.
This only spurs the inquisitive reader to ask the types of questions of the character, and, in turn, her parents, which they have or can have answered already from text about Harry, Ron, and their families. Possible answers that, even if revealed in the smallest of doses, could be potentially informative of Hermione and her parents for die-hard Harry Potter fans. For instance, why do we not see or even hear about Hermione’s parents in Prisoner of Azkaban when she arrives at the Leaky Cauldron? Was she shopping with her parents before and they left her with the Weasleys? How well do the Grangers know the Weasleys? Are they so trusting of their only daughter that they are willing to entrust her well-being (in what to them is a strange and increasingly dangerous world, since she had been petrified the year before) to a family they know so little of? Or maybe they do know the Weasleys? To what degree?
These questions open many intriguing plot elements that could have added extra dimension to the character of Hermione that would have opened her beyond her relationships to Ron and Harry, just as Ron and Harry’s relationships with their own parents is crucial to their own characters. Exempting the examples listed above, what were Hermione’s parents feelings toward the Weasleys? Were they not increasingly concerned for their only daughter as the danger of Voldemort’s return became ever deadlier? Perhaps she tells her parents very little about what happens at Hogwarts, other than her good grades? We know that she tells them about Harry:
“I’ve also modified my parents’ memories so that they’re
convinced they’re really called Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and that their
life’s ambition is to move to
Obviously, Hermione tells her parents some things, and the emotional strain she feels demonstrates that she has a deep emotional connection to her parents, but this provides at best a quick salve, not a panacea to the situation, as the reader still has no idea what Hermione’s parents reactions to what she has told them are. Unless she told them everything at once right before modifying their memories, they have been hearing about Harry for at least six years. It is also easy to assume from the previously cited scene and the rest of the series that Hermione, while secretive about some things, is an open person with Harry and Ron. She does not melodramatically bare her soul, but she is always a person who speaks her thoughts with her best friends.
Hermione, with her careful nature, perhaps wishes then to shield her parents from certain portions of the increasingly dangerous Wizarding world? Without any supporting exposition or dialogue, however, we can only guess as to what the nature of Hermione’s relationship with her parents is. Or, perhaps, the Grangers, both Muggles, feel that they are so out of their element that they can never understand the Wizarding world? Having their only daughter suddenly become “different” – a difference that literally takes her to another, secretive world – alienates Hermione from her parents? This would be a very likely explanation as to why Hermione finds refuge with the Weasley family. Once again, we have little evidence to construct any kind of social narrative about Hermione’s relationship with her parents.
Following the Apollonian construct, which is shared by the overly-strict, Muggle-world Dursleys, who attempt to dominate Harry completely with their oppressive rules and logic that refuse to acknowledge the existence of pseudo-scientific ideas, is it possible that Hermione’s parents also symbolize the view of the Muggle world as strict and oppressive? Then, much like Harry, she finds refuge in the Wizarding world, and ends up spending most of her life there. Does Hermione adopt Crookshanks – a cat that nobody wanted – because she felt some camaraderie with him? There is much that could be said about these decisions, especially since she comes from a pure Muggle family. Sadly, the little plot holes build up.
Is not the establishment of facts about Hermione’s parents, other than a few cursory, almost passing remarks, important in some way? This author is not arguing that Hermione’s parents should have been brought deeper into the storyline of the Harry Potter novels, to become more involved. J.K. Rowling shows that she can do a great lot with very little; this has been proven recently with her 800-word long “card” prequel involving Sirius and James. The density and complexity of her writing is extraordinary, the detail minute and inherently expressive. She can do much with a few lines, and yet she dedicates very few to Hermione’s parents. If you were to take the questions I ask above concerning Hermione’s relationship with her parents, and apply them to Ron or Harry’s relationship with their parents, would not the reader be able to answer them with certain confidence – whether deduced or inferred – from Rowling’s texts?
magic, things may be fixed at the flick of a wand. As much as she puts in her
books, J.K. Rowling loves to spring new information on fans, so an answer to some
or perhaps all of these questions may appear at any moment in an interview or
on Rowling’s web site. The author’s upcoming release of a Harry Potter
Encyclopedia also may also put stoppers in these plot holes. Perhaps the
yet-to-be-released movie adaptations of Half-Blood Prince and the
two-part Deathly Hallows will use the audio-visual language of the
filmic storytelling process to correct these plot holes. A particularly moving
scene can be made in Deathly Hallows when Hermione must alter her
parent’s memories and send them into hiding in
J.K. Rowling is right in wanting to obfuscate the intimate details of Hermione’s family. To go into the detail she does on Ron’s family, or Harry’s, would possibly provide us with too much information, which could confuse readers. It is this writer’s opinion, however, that in her attempts to be mysterious, J.K. Rowling has blocked an important conduit that provides valuable insight into one of the main characters of her series. Analyzing the juxtaposition of the themes of the different Muggle and Wizarding worlds can perhaps lead us to some answers, but giving so little information does a great disservice to Hermione throughout the Harry Potter books on an intrinsic level of storytelling. Taken into a literary “ecumenical” perspective, however, one that takes the entire series as a whole into consideration, the purposeful plot holes that J.K. Rowling has constructed to serve the story on one level prevents analysis on a deeper level.
1. Wikipedia, s.v. “Apollonian and Dionysian.”
2. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 232.
4. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 56-57.
5. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 199.
6. Ibid., Order
7. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 56-57.
8. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 405.
9. J.K. Rowling official site, “Edinburgh Book Festival Interview.”
10. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 113.
11. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 430 & 434.
Order of the
13. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 96-97.
Official Site, “News:
J K Rowling at the
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Potter and the Order of the
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Apollonian and Dionysian.” Wikimedia http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apollonian_and_Dionysian&oldid=219638950 (accessed 6/28/2008).