Better settle in, folks, this one is going to be a long one.
On the other hand, its not going to be about politics. Nope, this one is sort of silly. My thoughts and ideas regarding one of the best-regarded characters in children's literature: Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.
I talk to a lot of the fans of the series online. I occasionally even geek out and write my own stories (yes, I admit it, I am a fanfiction writer). But talking to some of these people, I begin to wonder whether we're all reading the same books, or if I'm just seeing something that no one else is noticing.
Specifically, I'm talking about Hermione Granger and her rabid, amazingly defensive fans. When I talk to them, its almost like I'm talking to cult members about their Glorious Leader. Seriously, the character was pretty well-written, though she's a bit static. Hermione Granger, as a character, was immensely loyal to her friends, was a selfless champion of the underdog, and was one of the best examples of "book smart" that I can point to in literature. Note: book smart. When it came to real world experience and how to apply what she learned in books to reality, she actually came off as pretty naïve and sometimes downright stupid.
In addition, she was surprisingly closed-minded, arrogant, shrewish, dismissive, superior, condescending, and unduly controlling toward her friends. I believe "bossy" would be the right term, except for that's now politically incorrect and anyone who applies it to a woman, regardless of how bossy the woman in question happens to be, is in danger of being accused of misogyny.
The fans of the series have distorted her character. I, on the other hand, remember how she was portrayed in the books, and I know precisely what she was. All of you fans who cry foul about Hermione's portrayal in Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, who complain about the negative aspects of her personality that "suddenly appeared out of nowhere," need to stop fooling yourselves. Hermione didn't change in those books. The same characteristics she displayed in those two novels were always there. Always. You fans just convinced yourself to ignore them when they showed up in the earlier books.
In point of fact, the very first time Hermione Granger appears in the series, Harry Potter comes away from their meeting thinking that she's bossy and annoying. Those two words -- "bossy" and "annoying" -- are taken directly from the text of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Do you really think that those personality traits just suddenly went away when she became Harry's friend? Hardly! Remember that bit in Philosopher's Stone where Hermione tried to force her own personal study habits onto Ron and Harry by nagging them? I sure do. As a father who has had to raise his children by himself, let me tell you what you get when you nag an eleven year old: you get nowhere, that's what you get.
Its not like I don't get it. Rowling let us know quite clearly that Hermione had no friends before coming to Hogwarts. The only thing she could do to get personal attention from others was win approval from adults (her own parents and her teachers), and the route she chose to get that approval was to be a suck up and an intellectual snobbish over-achiever. She definitely displayed no social skills whatsoever. And given all these character traits, could someone please tell me why the fans of the series insist that Hermione Granger is a kind, helpful, social person at age eleven while simultaneously considering the eleven year old Harry to be a few inches away from "basket case" status, and Ron Weasley a feckless thug?
Ron and Hermione both hit Hogwarts with a burning need to impress others. Ron because he was living in the shadow of his siblings, and Hermione because it was the only form of affection she'd only known. The difference was, Hermione Granger had already found a way to impress other people: knowledge and academic achievement. Thus, when she met Harry Potter -- who, remember, was a celebrity so well known that a muggleborn new to the Wizarding World had heard about him -- she immediately tried to impress him by talking about things she knew about him. She failed, of course, because first most of what she knew was bullshit, but also because she came off (as I have already noted) as "bossy" and "annoying."
A short digression: when Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape call Hermione a know-it-all, she barely reacts. When Ron does it, she goes into hysterics. Does this seem to indicate that her interest in Ron had already started all the way back in Philosopher's Stone?
Where was I...
The fans of the series like to bash on Ron Weasley for his character flaws, and this always strikes me as amazingly hypocritical. Hermione Granger was easily just as bad. She was incredibly insensitive and jealous of Harry and Ron, mostly because Ron had done what Hermione didn't: connect to Harry Potter on a personal level.
Let's talk for a moment about the incident with the troll. Fans of Hermione Granger love to point out that Ron was being a complete and total piece of shit with his horrible rudeness to that poor dear, Hermione, what with his refusal to accept that she was just trying to help. Sorry, but I call bullshit. When Ron called Hermione a "nightmare," he was venting to one of his friends. Are we no longer allowed to vent to our friends? And did you notice that Harry didn't disagree with Ron at all? The truth is the truth, even if it makes a little girl cry. Should Ron have vented to Harry in private? Probably. Does that make Ron a horrible bully? No. It makes him an eleven year old boy, and historically those are known for their insensitivity and crudeness.
Anyway, let's set aside Ron Weasley's insensitivity for a moment and talk about Hermione's insensitivity. What drove Ron to say that "It's no wonder she hasn't got any friends"? Because she was so busy showing up everyone else with her perfect use of the Wingardium Leviosa charm that she missed the part where she was being a condescending bitch who had already alienated all of her peers. And its not just in this book, either. Its pretty clear later on that she just doesn't have many friends. Friendly acquaintances, sure. Admirers of her intellect also, but friends? No. And why? Because she's a know-it-all who lords her superior intellect over others.
Again a digression: throughout the seven books, we see Hermione insult Ron constantly. She talks down to him because of something he said, or some piece of knowledge he didn't already have, or something he did. She goes out of her way to put him down every chance she gets. Is this her demented form of flirting, you wonder? Or does she simply think she's the reincarnation of Elizabeth Bennet?
We move ahead to third year, and again Hermione gets to show off just how insensitive and condescending she is. Let's start with Crookshanks. The fact that Ron's pet rat was a shape-shifted death eater is irrelevant; Hermione should never have purchased that damned cat. She had no idea the rat was a hidden villain, after all, and she certainly knew that cats hunted, killed, and ate rats. So exactly what point was she trying to make with Ron when she not only bought a pet that could (and did) stalk Ron's pet, but got huffy when Ron complained about the lethal predator stalking his own pet? I wonder how she would have felt if Hedwig had decided, as wild owls have been known to do in the real world, to end the existence of a rival predator by stooping on Crookshanks and killing the cat. She was also less than sensitive about the death of poor Lavender Brown's pet rabbit.
Harry Potter has often been labeled as whiney for his attitude in Order of the Phoenix. Hermione whined at least as much in Prisoner of Azkaban, but funny how no one ever calls her a whiner.
In fifth year, she was just horrible. Hermione was literally snapping at everyone around her. When Harry called her and Ron out for their arguing, she actually got angry at him for daring to call her out for it. And what did she do next? She nagged Harry some more, this time about the occlumency lessons. Wonder how well Hermione would have done if Snape had spent the lesson calling her a bossy know-it-all while simultaneously taking a sledge hammer to her skull.
But Hermione's tipping point was Half-Blood Prince. Harry was finally outshining her academically, Ron had found himself a girlfriend, neither boy was paying her any attention at all, and what happens? She turns into a jealousy-driven harridan. The potion book is a perfect example. It was just a freaking textbook, with superior notes written in it. That's all. Any college student who has ever purchased a used text book can tell stories about occasionally getting lucky and finding a book that had once been owned by someone who not only understood the subject a lot better than they did, but who took phenomenal notes and wrote them in the book. That's not cheating, that's just being lucky. But nevertheless, Hermione Granger was jealous because Harry was performing better than she was.
It was okay for her to use the time turner, because it let her get around the restriction on elective classes. And it was okay for Harry to do better than her in Defense Against the Dark Arts because it wasn't a subject she naturally excelled at. But potions? A subject in which she was used to outperforming Harry Potter? Oh fuck no! There's no way she could accept that! So she returned to form and started nagging at everyone around her. And heaven forbid Harry and Ron have a problem with her doing so!
As for her abominable abuse of Ron Weasley, he had a girlfriend, remember? Lavender Brown, rather than bitch and nag and insult him, was actively flirting with Ron and showing an interest in him based on nothing more than she found him attractive and interesting. For once in his life, he didn't have to do anything to get someone to notice him. And again, Hermione wasn't having it. She continued to insult and belittle him, all the while complaining about his suddenly getting along with Lavender Brown.
Ron made no promises to Hermione Granger. He was under no obligation to her. Sure, she invited him to the Slug Club party, but she made it clear they were going "just as friends." Seriously, did she expect a teenage boy she described as having "the emotional range of a teaspoon" to be discerning enough to pick up the clues, especially since the clues were crouched in insults? If she was interested in him (and it does look like she'd been interested for a long time) then she should have just said something instead of beaten around the bush. According to her fans, she's an independent, mature, strong young woman, but rather than act like it, she becomes sulky, weepy, and ultimately angry and physically abusive.
Another digression: the ugly truth is this: when it comes to physical abuse among the three heroes of the story, its pretty much always Hermione Granger dishing it out. And as with real life cases where a domestic abuser is female and her victim male, when Hermione Granger gets violent with Ron or Harry, she gets away with it and the violent behavior is laughed off. This certainly puts all those fans of Hermione Granger who insist that Ron Weasley would turn into a wife-beater in a very interesting light, doesn't it? After all, Hermione had already shown herself to have a temper that led to physical abuse of her spouse.
Let's talk a bit about Hermione Granger's constant need to always be the smartest person in the room. Throughout the series, she openly displays a need to be right, with absolutely no exceptions. When Harry found out his new firebolt was from Sirius Black, she just could not hold in that "I told you so." Given that they still thought Black was a bad guy at the time, it seems a bit warranted right? Well, no. Not when Harry was refraining from pointing out how stupid Hermione was being about the house elves. She also couldn't resist using the "I told you so" line on Harry when he cursed Draco Malfoy. But hey, Harry deserved it, right? I mean, he cheated by using one of the Half-Blood Prince's spells! And do you remember when Harry found out the truth about Draco Malfoy and his status as a Death Eater? Do you remember how Harry refused to look Hermione in the eye when he was telling her about it? Do you remember why he wouldn't look her in the eye?
It was because he specifically didn't want to say "I told you so."
And on the subject of house elves, the narrative purpose of the house elves was to show us just how far kindness could go. Some fans have said the elves were conditioned to accept their servile position. Other fans have said they were slaves. All very possible. Hermione's attitude toward the elves certain reflect these opinions. But if you read Goblet of Fire, you find Dobby saying he'd gone out and searched for a new job. When was the last time you heard a slave say, "I need to find a new master, because I really, really like working the cotton fields?"
Hermione did not take the feelings and opinions of the elves into consideration when she was pontificating on the "evils" of their servitude. She came to a conclusion, and acted on that conclusion, and if the elves didn't agree, well, fuck them. She knew better than they, because she was a witch and they were merely elves. Lesser beings. They were slaves, so what did they know, right? She was being kind, after all.
But as C. S. Lewis put it, "this very kindness stings with intolerable insult." The worst sort of evils have always been committed by people who think that what they are doing is for the betterment of someone else. Even better, a lot of the fans who excuse this behavior in Hermione then turn around and imply that Professor Dumbledore was some sort of manipulative tyrant because of his "greater good" ideals.
Any of this sinking in, yet?
I noted earlier that outside of Ron and Harry, Hermione Granger had no friends (except for Ginny Weasley, and they only became friends towards the end of the series). Why do you think that was? In the early books, Neville Longbottom was an extremely lonely boy who would have loved to become friends with her if only to have someone with which to occasionally hang out. So why didn't Hermione become friends with poor Neville?
And she shared her living space with four other girls (Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, Fay Dunbar, and an unnamed fifth Gryffindor girl). Back when I was in Army basic training, I shared a room with eleven other guys. I wasn't friends with all of them, but I did manage to become friends with about half of them. How the hell did Hermione go through six years in the same room with these girls and not be friends with any of them?
As I said before: no social skills.
You know, something I find endlessly entertaining is the hypocrisy shown by some fans of Hermione Granger. Especially by the fans of "Harmony Shipping" (as the potential relationship between Harry and Hermione is called). Ginny Weasley (who ended up with Harry, remember) is often called out by Harmony fans for doing things that these same fans turn a blind eye to when Hermione does it. For example, Harmony fans often come down on Ginny for supposedly using Dean Thomas to make Harry jealous. First, at no time in Order of the Phoenix is Ginny's relationship with Dean ever treated as anything but genuine. Second, didn't Hermione attempt to do the very same thing to Ron by going out with Cormac McLaggen?
Harmony fans also call Ginny out for calling Fleur Delacouer "Phlegm". But do you guys remember the reason Ginny gives for doing so? I didn't think so. It was because Fleur talked to Ginny like she (Ginny, that is) was a baby. You do remember back in Goblet of Fire how Fleur dismissed Harry as just "a leetle boy", right? Do you remember how Harry reacted to being talked to like that? He didn't like it very much, and there's no reason to think Ginny enjoyed it either.
Hermione, by the way, complains of Fleur too. And not only because Fleur condescended to Hermione, but also because she was jealous. Ron, after all, couldn't stop drooling over Fleur.
Not only that, but Fleur was everything Hermione wasn't: graceful, attractive, and imminently feminine. I'm not saying that Hermione was tomboyish or unfeminine, but the truth is, Hermione always disdained "girlishness" and equated it with a lack of intelligence. Take her attitude toward Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. They were two typical teenage girls: they think and talk about makeup, boys, and clothes. Education is not their main priority. Did that make them stupid? Did Lavender flirting with Ron turn her into a cow, as Hermione labeled her? Of course not. Let's consider Luna, who while described as slightly unusual looking was also described (by Harry no less) as nevertheless being pretty. She's easily Hermione's intellectual equal, but Hermione barely tolerates her existence. Funny how her fans fail to mention that when they're bitching about Ginny.
The only pretty girl Hermione ever gets along with is Nymphadora Tonks, and personally I think its because by the time Hermione encounters her, Tonks is an adult and a fully trained Auror. Had they met at Hogwarts as students, Hermione likely wouldn't have given Tonks the time of day.
Now, in defense of the fans, I think part of the problem is that they are incorporating their love of the films with their love of the books. Let's be honest now. Emma Watson looks nothing like how Hermione Granger is described in the books, and she never behaved like Hermione behaved, either. Snape was too nice in the movies (and let's face it, Alan Rickman is far too charismatic). Ginny Weasley had just a handful of lines, and Daniel Radcliffe was too short. To make things worse, Steve Kloves, the main scriptwriter for the films, kept stealing lines from Ron and Harry and gave them to his admitted favorite character: Hermione Granger. He's also admitted that he became convinced Harry and Hermione would end up together early, so wrote the scripts from that assumption -- which is why Ginny and Harry's romance in the films seems to come out of fucking nowhere.
Speaking of Ginny and Harry's romance, despite the fact that Hermione fans say otherwise, its entirely possible that Harry actually loved Ginny, and got to the point that he did love her without any coercion, tricks, or love potions involved. Ginny was, after all, the only one who stood up to Harry's notorious temper and gave back as good as she got (and earned Harry's respect in doing so). They shared interests, respected each other, and would be quite equal in a relationship. If nothing else, Harry would yell and scream and Ginny would yell and scream right back. Compare that to Harry's relationship with Hermione, in which not only would Hermione browbeat Harry constantly, but she'd be terrified of his temper. And the idea that somehow Ginny resembled Harry's mother simply because they were both redheads is absurd. Its like saying actresses Frances Fisher and Allyson Hannigan look alive because they're both redheads (do a Google Image search for those two names and see what I mean).
Harmony fans, if you have to make Ginny Weasley into a one-dimensional character in order to make Hermione Granger look good in comparison, what does that say about Hermione Granger? I get that this is a fictional character I've been rambling about for a while, but seriously, you're beginning to come off as honestly delusional to me.
Rowling was amazingly obvious in which romantic pairings she was building up to. Ginny Weasley was a tomboy, a tough Action Girl. She had no time for bullshit. She wasn't a crier, a trait that Harry admired and a trait not possessed by Hermione Granger. Ginny would and could argue with Harry without belittling him, something Hermione Granger could not do. Whenever Harry was angry, remember, Hermione would step back in fear. There is a point in each of the books in which Harry specifically takes note of Ginny's presence. And in Half-Blood Prince the two of them spent so much time together that he actually forgot she had other friends outside of his circle.
All of this should tell you something about the "Harmony" ship.