Anyone who knows me will know that I am a huge fan of Harry Potter. Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so to honour this milestone, I wanted to write about one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. Hermione Jean Granger. It seems almost cliched to say now but when I was at school, I was a self-confessed bookworm and something of a know it all. When I first started reading Harry Potter, at the age of seven, Hermione was the first character I felt such a strong connection to. Her attitude and appearance make her stick out like a sore thumb, yet she is completely unapologetic about who she is. It was as if J. K. Rowling was telling me personally that it was ok to be all of the things which set me apart from my classmates.
For me, Hermione Granger is the true hero of the Harry Potter series – especially considering the fact that Harry and Ron would definitely not have made it out of Hogwarts alive – she embodies everything the Harry Potter books represent. She is thrown into an entirely new world and despite all the challenges and torment she is met with, remains unabashedly true to herself. This is made even more poignant when you consider the popular reading of Hermione as a woman of colour. Tumblr first made me aware of this reading and the more I’ve read about it, the more effective this reading becomes. From Hermione’s physical appearance – the only time her skin colour is mentioned, it is described as “very brown” – and the continued prejudice that she faces throughout the books from her fellow students. She is mocked and excluded for her love of learning but also for being a ‘muggle-born’. When you consider the reading that Hermione is a person of colour, the term “mudblood” suddenly seems racialised and carries so much more power as a slur used, famously, by Malfoy.
Whether you see Hermione as a woman of colour whilst reading the books or not (I have to admit, the possibility of that reading hadn’t even occurred to me until it was pointed out by somebody else), it is hard to deny that even without the big bushy hair, wonky teeth, and the intense enthusiasm for school, she is an outsider. Not only because she is a muggle-born but also because of her love and excitement for school. Particularly in the first novel, Harry is very judgemental of the fact that Hermione has read every book on her reading list and is actually prepared for the school year. As a young, enthusiastic learner myself, Harry’s judgement of Hermione was strange to me. If you have just discovered an entire world of magic, wouldn’t you be desperate to learn as much as you possibly could? Why would you not read every book about this new life that you could lay your hands on? Whilst she does everything she can to fit into this new world, it becomes apparent that, in the eyes of many, she is not welcome. She is a “Mudblood”.
Intelligence is not Hermione’s only trait. Throughout the books, her character presents a resounding message that, yes, education, books and intelligence are important but they do not have to be your defining traits and they definitely are not the only worthwhile things in life (“Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery”), a lesson, I certainly needed to be taught when I first started reading the series. Hermione is kind, brave and fiercely loyal to her friends (not to mention how forgiving she is of Harry and Ron). She consistently stands up for what she believes in and is not afraid to speak her mind, whether that be talking back professors with too much power or her own friends. She is never too scared to tell people that what they are saying or doing is wrong. Yet along with all that fire and fierceness, she is gentle, compassionate and above all, she is brave.
Hermione Jean Granger really was my first feminist hero. After all she is the brightest witch of her age.
(And if all that isn’t enough, she punched Draco Malfoy in the face!)
Do you love Hermione as much as I do, or who was your first favourite character? Let me know in the comments!