Monday, April 2, 2007

Sins of Commission in the Harry Potter series or “What happened to Hermione’s character in Half-Blood Prince?”

Those of you who know me from my time debating in the Harry Potter fandom know that I was a fierce advocate of the Harry/Hermione (H/Hr) ship.

I honestly, truly thought it was the final romantic relationship of the series and that the Ron/Hermione (R/Hr) and Harry/Ginny (H/G) pairings were literary red hair-ings.

I was wrong.

What I really didn’t like was that I wasn’t certain at the end of reading book 6 that Jo had wanted us to realize for certain that the pairings were destined to be R/Hr and H/G from the text, but instead I learned that from an interview.

Honestly, once I finished reading Half-Blood Prince I had the sinking feeling, but was still a little uncertain. I couldn’t think of how I could possibly articulate a good defense of H/Hr, but I was wondering “What the hell happened to Hermione’s character in book 6?”


Quidditch

Hermione had only shown interest in Quidditch when it came to Harry being involved. In book 1, this was evident by the rare change in narrative voice from 3rd person limited to omniscient narrator.

PS/SS, Chapter 13, “Nicholas Flamel,” Scholastic paperback, p. 222-224,

“Little did Harry know that Ron and Hermione had been secretly practicing the Leg-Locker Curse….”


We return to Harry with:

“Back in the locker room, Wood had taken Harry aside.”

Then later that page we leave Harry’s side again to join Ron and Hermione in the stands.

“Perhaps that was why Snape was looking so angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too….”

What is so important about this scene is that when Harry goes into his “spectacular dive” that Hermione was so obsessed with watching him in the game that she was oblivious to Ron and Malfoy literally fighting under her feet.

Wow.

She was focused intently on Harry, but forgot all about her other best friend who was engaged in a fist fight in her presence.

There are other examples of her obsession with Quidditch as it relates to Harry, but the next best one comes from Order of the Phoenix (OotP). Harry, Fred and George had all been kicked off the Quidditch team by Umbridge and were discussing the prospects of their upcoming game with Hufflepuff when Hermione made this statement:


OotP, chapter 26, “Seen and Unforeseen,” Scholastic paperback, p. 574-575.


“That’s the trouble with Quidditch,” said Hermione absentmindedly, once again bent over her Rune translation, “it creates all this bad feeling and tension between the houses.”


Her opinion wasn’t welcomed by the boys. She followed it up with this statement.

“(A)t least my happiness doesn’t depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.”

BAM. End of story. Her happiness did not depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.

Uh huh, and that was consistent with her inability to stay awake and celebrate with Ron when he made the Quidditch team earlier in book 5. See Chapter 13, “Detention with Dolores.” She was asleep when Ron would have preferred she bask in his glory.

Harry woke Hermione up to tell her about the nasty sensation he felt when Umbridge touched his arm, and she went through a variety of emotional states from bleary-eyed to listening closely to looking alarmed to looking relieved at the idea of Harry going to bed and not staying at the party. She felt she could then leave without being seen as rude, because she was tired. Oh, and then she asked Harry if he wanted to help her knit hats, and at this point her face was shining with glee.

It seems to me that she was awake enough at this point to join Ron for his big night, if she had any interest in him and his success on making the Quidditch team. However, she didn’t seem to care about Ron, only Harry that night.

Then, comes HBP and she makes an about face when it comes to Ron and Quidditch. All of a sudden she cares about his success, and she hexes a fellow student to assure Ron makes the team.

Huh?

That was wildly out of character for Hermione.

I honestly was wondering at the end of this book whether or not Malfoy was sitting in the bleachers in Polyjuiced!Disguise and putting her under the Imperius curse in order to hex someone else. That way she would not be as close to Harry and he wouldn’t have her undivided support that he had in years 1-5.

At the beginning of that chapter, “Hermione’s Helping Hand” she is telling Harry that he has never been more “fanciable” and that it didn’t hurt that he had grown about a foot in height over the summer.

Ron kept trying to assert himself into the conversation and she ignored him.

Because she once again was focused on Harry and not Ron, I mean I could see exactly how I was going to debate this book. Until the hexing incident, and when she sicced a flock of yellow birds on Ron.

All of a sudden, Hermione has become obsessed with Ron and does not really care about Harry, his troubles or solving mysteries with him.


My theory about the Imperius curse by Malfoy started to seem pretty attractive to me. It explained her sudden character transplant. She was under a curse!

The other thing that bugged me about Hermione’s character was her abandonment of political interest in house-elves.

In Goblet of Fire (GoF), Hermione tried starting a political movement. She had no idea what she was doing and she alienated more people with her inept, but enthusiastic manner. Then in OotP, she had a new strategy which also was ineffective, the idea she could knit their way to freedom.

Ron was openly hostile to her political beliefs and insulted her at nearly every opportunity. Harry was different, he seemed more put off by her pathetic political organizing skills than her desire to see an oppressed class of magical beings liberated. Harry stopped short however, at having compassion toward the mentally disturbed Kreacher.

I had loved the house-elf subplot in Book 2 and Book 4. I thought it was a great addition to the Potterverse to show that even a magical world has inequality and a need to struggle for social justice. Because I think it is important to introduce these concepts of societal problems to children so that they will want to work to change our system.

I liked the politics, but I just wished that Hermione was given some political organizing skills and not just passion. However, I figured in OotP, it was simply a place marker to show that she would help to lead a house-elf rebellion later in the series.

Then it seemed in HBP that Hermione simply forgot about them. As if it was simply a passing phase and now that she’s discovered boys she doesn’t have time to care about their oppression any more. It made me sick.

Truly, I was disappointed. This was not the feisty character that I once knew and championed. She was sobbing about Ron kissing Lavender, and becoming vindictive enough to ask McLaggen out for a date to make Ron jealous.

This from the same character who was deliberately vague about her relationship with Viktor in books 4 & 5?

To me, it was as if Jo Rowling looked back at her plot outline to see that HBP is when she started to have Hermione have a go at jealousy over Ron while Harry got to start feeling jealous over Ginny. So she had to all of a sudden take these characters she had been writing for five previous books and make them fit into her predetermined plotline.

It felt as if she picked up trains from parallel tracks and moved them where she needed them to be. I found it incredibly abrupt, and I really missed Ron and Hermione trying to help Harry solve the mysteries of the year. Instead, the Trio was different and Ron and Hermione dismissed Harry’s concerns and theories all year long.

It bugged me, because it didn’t feel right to me at all.

I felt disappointed with the resolutions of the mysteries as if Jo just wasn’t trying hard enough in the sixth volume to come up with plot twists. It was Draco all along? Like I thought? Okay, I solved it and felt like it wasn’t all that difficult to solve. Just don’t get thrown off by red herrings and you’ll be fine.

That’s when I considered the idea of Malfoy and the Imperius Curse on Hermione. I was warming up to it, and started to comb the text to find examples that might serve as evidence.

Then I read the infamous TLC/Mugglenet interview and realized that it wasn’t the case at all.

Jo intended Hermione’s character to act in a manner which I found to be “out of character.” It is after all, Jo Rowling's character so anything JKR writes for Hermione is by some definition "in character," but it still was jarring for me as a reader to see what I felt were discrepancies in character motivations.

At another time, I’ll talk about why I was unsatisfied and disappointed with character building of Ginny throughout the series and why I did not feel as though I was carefully brought to the conclusion that she was the perfect girl for Harry. I know that was Jo’s authorial intent, because she said so in an interview.

It didn’t work for me, and I’ll explain why in a future posting.

Anyone have other quibbles about Hermione’s character that I didn’t touch on?

Linda


P.S. In the Bloomsbury cover there appears to be Dobby on Harry's back, so hopefully there will be some more mention of house-elves joining with the "good guys" in the war against Voldemort.

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