Hermione Granger: bossy, unapologetically bookish, abrasive in a way that put off her peers — in so many ways, she was everything I was afraid of being.
The classic image of Hermione is sitting in class, her hand stretched in the air, eager to show off what she knows. As someone who remembers consciously trimming her vocabulary in middle school so as not to annoy her classmates, Hermione’s confidence in the classroom was unthinkable for me. Throughout the series, her academic success is, at times, too important to her. When Harry does better than her in class in the sixth book due to the half-blood prince’s tips, Hermione cannot handle the academic competition. She becomes snappish and irritable. This is completely understandable to those of us who have long defined ourselves by our academic performance. Though I never wanted to get on anyone’s nerves by appearing too smart, I was always devastated whenever I received a mark lower than an A.
For both Hermione and myself, our obsession with grades is perhaps tied to our outsider status. Although my academic perfectionism stems back to kindergarten, before I was aware of race, I believe it became more complex as I entered predominately white institutions where I never fully fit in. Hermione is Muggle-born in a society that values pure blood. She, too, can challenge stereotypes by excelling.
Hermione’s emotions are always bubbling just below the surface. How many times throughout the series does she burst into tears? Growing up (and maybe a little bit now) I, too, dissolved into tears at the drop of the hat. Unlike the other children’s book heroines I encountered, those feisty girl children who were all so eager to disguise themselves as boys and save their kingdoms, Hermione was feminine. I don’t mean to imply that all girls are or should be emotional, but it is nice to occasionally find pieces of media in which girls can be strong, but still embody aspects of traditional femininity.
At the same time, Hermione certainly does not fulfill all gender norms. In the fourth book, we learn that Hermione actually can manipulate her trademark, bushy hair so that it fits more closely with social norms. But, she tells Harry breezily, it is simply far too much trouble. Her appearance is not important to her. It was never as easy for me to cast off all the media pressures surrounding a girl’s looks, but now, as an adult, I can only think it a good thing for the media to include more female role models who casually announce that working on their appearance is more trouble than it’s worth (and no, I’m not talking about those YA heroines who just happen to be beautiful without any attendant effort.)
I will alway prefer the flawed, sometimes-irritating Book Hermione to the superhero that appeared in the movies. Hermione in the movies is beautiful, confident, athletic and adventurous. For example, in the last movie, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione need to escape from Gringotts, it is Hermione that thinks of riding an imprisoned dragon into freedom. She leads the sprint to the dragon and leaps onto its back fearlessly. In the final book, it is Harry’s idea; Hermione follows along, but she seems afraid. All of this only makes her more human. It is certainly a scary thing, to ride atop a dragon, and to do what scares you is so much braver than to never be afraid at all.The funny thing is, as a child reading the books, I do not think I ever realized all the parallels between Hermione and myself. Still, I loved her very much, and when my cousin, sister, and I played Harry Potter, I was Hermione. On some level, I must have recognized a kindred spirit. Hermione felt, in many ways, like a real girl, with all the foibles and worries I saw everyday in myself and my friends. There is much I can no longer approve of in the Harry Potter series, some of which has been discussed elsewhere on this site and some of which has not; I would not uncritically recommend the series today. But I am glad to have known Hermione, with all her glorious annoyingness.