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.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

You ship Harry/Hermione? What a relief! In my last posting, I mentioned I ship HHr and didn't like the Mugglenet site because of its Ron/Hermione bias and only later did I realise that perhaps I have posted my comment on a site of someone who doesn't share my shipping preference.

Yes, I agree with you on Hermione's characterisation in HBP. It has been massacred, that's what I think, and it jives with what Ms Penny Linsenmeyer said in her essay on the evolving partnership of Harry/Hermione. In order to make way for another girl to be Harry's girl, JKR will have to downplay Hermione's importance to Harry. But in my opinion, JKR not only downplayed Hermione's importance; she nip/tucked Hermione so much that I don't recognise that girl anymore. Basically, JKR has made Hermione a dumb girl and thus make her going down to the level of emotional-range-of-a-teaspoon Ron. Maybe it's JKR's way of making Hermione and Ron suitable of each other.

And then suddenly Ginny becomes a supergirl. It seems like the good traits of Hermione - the emotional maturity, the mental connection with Harry - have been transplanted into Ginny by JKR. So, what Ms Linsenmeyer said in her article was really right. JKR had to make Hermione dumb in order to make Ginny shine.

One example of out-of-character Hermione in HBP is when she confiscated something, a toy of come kind, from a younger student. It's banned or dangerous, that's the reason why she confiscated it. She's a prefect and is expected to do that. And then you know what Ron did? He snatched it from Hermione's hand, saying he had been wanting that thing for so long. And you know what Hermione did? NOTHING!

Now, that's not the Hermione of the previous books. The old Hermione would have said something, get mad, scold Ron, something. She would have said Ron, as a prefect, should set an example to the other students. and not taking the toy for his own.

The Deathly Hallows is nearly here, and I am still not able to make sense of HBP.

Thank you for allowing me to share my view. I look forward to visiting your site again, especially later, once book 7 is here. I know I would definitely need people like you to explain things to me.

Thank you so much.

Regards,
winnie

Pamina said...

Thank you so much for this! It aptly sums up why I felt Hermione was butchered in HBP and why I lost all interest in this book after 200 pages or so, and then never really bothered to finished reading it.

It honestly made me sick to see how the girl who was strong enough to go her own way and do her own things no matter what people thought of her ("just ignore them!") was reduced to a clingy nerver-wreck over her buddy Ron.

I agree with all your points, the only addition I can think of right now is how she was portrayed as acting jealous over Harry getting better grades than her by using the Potions book. The Hermione I know would mainly be concerned over Harry's safety, not competing about grades (after all, Harry was better than her at DADA, and that didn't bother her).

Anyways, kudos to you for this. I still can't get my head around HBP, and I don't think JKR can redeem any of the mess in DH.

L.C.McCabe said...

Winnie,
Yes, I not only shipped H/Hr, I debated ship. I mentioned my fandom credits in my first post on the subject which was the one with L.O.O.N.s in the title.

I did reply to your previous comment which is on the "Spilling Literary Blood" post. It actually took me a little bit to figure out where you commented before because I was looking in the HP posts, and found it on one of my straight literary posts instead.

Feel free to analyze and dissect all things Potter on this blog, as I truly am an Obsessed Nitpicker.

The Ginny "Super-Witch" is something that I'll deal with in a future post, because I know my thoughts on the subject will be lengthy.

And, Penny Linsenmayer is a friend of mine. I met her at Nimbus and have had the privilege of corresponding with her ever since.

Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to seeing your future comments.

Linda

L.C.McCabe said...

Pamina,

I agree with you on the issue of Hermione's jealousy over Harry's superiority in potions. It did seem out of character for her.

As if all of a sudden she can't handle the competition.

She came off as being very petty, and also then started to distance herself from Harry as a result.

It felt odd. Really odd.

I didn't think of this as Hermione "loosening up," instead it seemed like she had changed her personality.

Frankly, if there were notes which improved the recipes for potions, I might think that Hermione would be interested in determining how it could be proved empirically by doing side-by-side comparisons.

One thing about the whole used text-book of Snape thing that bugged me was why didn't anyone ever recognize Snape's handwriting? Hadn't he written instructions on the board in previous years?

People's handwriting doesn't change that much from being a young adult to adulthood, so it didn't make logical sense that Harry (and *especially* Hermione) didn't recognize the writing style.

You'll have to finish HBP before DH comes out. Just for plot points.

I've only read HBP once though. I had no interest once the Interview From Hell came out to re-read the volume.

Linda

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the books. I think it's interesting to note that many adult HP fans have been disappointed with one or more of the later books, me included. Different things seem to bother different people, though. I must say, I also was a bit confused and disappointed by Ron and Hermione’s indifference to Harry’s suspicions of Malfoy in HBP. We are accustomed to seeing them work as a team. But, maybe they needed to learn that lesson before the great horcrux hunt.

I must disagree with you, however, about some of the issues of Hermione’s character. I don’t think that hexing McLaggen is that far out of character for her, unfortunately. In the previous books we have seen her steal potion ingredients, blackmail a tabloid reporter, permanently disfigure a student’s face, and deliberately lead a teacher to a herd of centaurs that she knew were threatening to kill humans (adult humans, that is, not children, so she believed herself and Harry to be safe). All of these actions were taken for the greater good, of course, but were they the right things to do? Strong arguments can be made that they were not. Is Rowling going somewhere with this morally ambiguous behavior? I have no idea. But, if a pompous ass is insulting Ron and Ginny, we have been shown a Hermione capable of feeling justified in giving Ron the advantage. And we are even shown later what a terrible addition to the team McLaggen would have been. She was right. But, do the ends justify the means?

JES

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

To comment a bit on the relationships, I do not think Hermione’s great attention to Harry’s Quidditch-playing indicates a romantic interest. Until Book 5, Harry is her only close friend who plays the game. I see this as the only reason she cares about the game at all and her attention to him comes across as motherly concern for his safety. In fact, the passage that describes the Book 1 Hufflepuff match (Ch. 13) begins with Harry believing that Ron and Hermione “were wondering whether they’d ever see him alive again.” She ignores Ron’s fistfight with Malfoy because Harry is the one in greater danger. This is only the second Quidditch match that Harry has ever played in and it comes on the heels of the first match when a deliberate attempt was made to hurt or kill Harry.

The trio believes Snape is responsible for this attempt and now, most unusually, Snape is refereeing this second match. Hermione and Ron have even prepared to protect Harry from Snape during the match, using the leg-locker curse, should it prove necessary. Incidentally, this secret curse-practice (we are told Harry doesn’t know about it) provided them an early opportunity to work together and develop a friendship that is off Harry’s radar. Ron is provoked into a fight by Malfoy, but Hermione remains vigilant to Harry’s safety, ready with their curse. I don’t believe she has forgotten Ron because she shouts his name several times during the match. First, she alerts Ron to Harry’s “spectacular dive” (which is, most disturbingly, straight at Snape) and then to the Gryffindor victory. The first person she looks for to celebrate with is Ron. Unlike Harry's situation, Ron’s life is not threatened by Malfoy and his goons - they are only 11-year-olds in a fistfight. The trio may hate Malfoy with a passion, but they are not genuinely intimidated by him, either physically or magically. Indeed, it’s Neville (unconscious from Crabbe and Goyle) and Malfoy (black eye from Ron) who get the worst end of that deal. Ron has five older brothers; he can handle himself.

I’ve only addressed one of the points you make, but my comments are getting long. I would be interested in knowing how early you started reading the books. I came a bit late to the party and was able to read the first five books straight through. I didn’t really give a thought to possible romantic pairings until the Yule Ball kind of forced the issue. I think either pairing was relatively fair game until GoF came out. To me, the Ron/Hermione post-ball fight and Harry’s thoughts as he observed that drama pretty firmly suggested a Ron/Hermione pairing. But, if you had to wait to read books three and/or four, I can understand how you could see a Harry/Hermione relationship in the earlier books (it is not a ridiculous notion after all) and then see different things happening in the clues for the R/Hr pairing. I think the movies further confuse things for some people, but I see that you have been focusing on the books. I think the hints are there for Rowling’s intended pairings, but the earliest one that might possibly qualify as anvil-sized is the Yule “Brawl”, as I’ve seen it referred to. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Ginny.

JES

L.C.McCabe said...

JES,

I mentioned my history with the HP series and fandom in my first posting about the books. I don't know if this post is the first one you've read, but you can find them all by clicking on the tag "Harry Potter" at the bottom of a post. Or you can go here:

http://lcmccabe.blogspot.com/search/label/Harry%20Potter

I spent waaaaaaay too much time debating ship. I really don't want to start again, especially since it is a moot point. It basically would be trying to explain to those who weren't involved in ship debate how we interpreted the text which was different than the authorial intent.

However, I still wonder whether or not JKR wanted there to be vagueness in regards to Hermione's true feelings towards Harry, or whether or not she was unaware of how things could be interpreted another way.

Many R/Hr shippers described Hermione as a mother-hen towards Harry, where H/Hr shippers saw devotion bordering on obsession towards Harry and an antagonism bordering on antipathy towards Ron.

But still, in Book 5 she did not show the same level of interest in Quidditch once Harry was kicked off the team. She dismissed its significance as being divisive, and she couldn't even force herself to stay awake by drinking coffee to be at Ron's party.

Drinking coffee as a morning beverage as opposed to only having pumpkin juice was mentioned on page 256 in Scholastic's paperback edition, the same chapter where she fell asleep at Ron's party. She could have used caffeine to stay awake, but she didn't.

Because in book 5, she didn't care enough.

And as for the Yule Brawl, my reaction was different. I saw Ron's repeated insults to Hermione's attractiveness and truthfulness as being beyond the pale. If I had harbored any attraction to someone who treated me that abysmally, it would have been destroyed by such interactions.

I did go on and on about that during the ship debates. If you want, I can dredge up links to those for archival purposes.

Linda

Devon Ellington said...

Very interesting points.

I found so much out of character for most of the characters in HBP -- to me it all felt like exposition for the big finale, and very little of moving the actual saga forward.

I'm looking forward to your views on the growth of Ginny.