Brilliant, bushy-haired, and sometimes really, really obnoxious: Hermione Jean Granger is the brightest witch of her age and a feminist icon of the millennial generation.
Growing up, like many young women, I deeply related to Hermione Granger as a heroine. She was a flawed character, whose brilliance and good heart made her an invaluable member of the team.
Despite loving the Harry Potter books and overall preferring them to the movie, the movie versions of the characters, their personalities, and their mannerisms at times fight (and win) the battle for supremacy in my mind when it comes to accurately understanding the character. Reading the books, I am often reminded that while I love Hermione, she can be a frustrating character, especially when things like S.P.E.W come into play.
So whenever I see Hermione on lists of the best female heroines of all time, I always wonder—are they talking about movie Hermione or book Hermione?
Adaptational attractiveness happens all the time when bringing books to screen and so it is not surprising that the bushy-haired, buck-toothed, mediocre-looking Hermione Granger became the cute, and then the beautiful Emma Watson. Yet the movies did very little to even … try. I mean they committed to putting Matthew Lewis in false teeth for the role of Neville Longbottom even when he became a certified hottie. After the second movie, Hermione’s hair was curly at best and straight/wavy for the rest of the films.
Her teeth, which was her defining trait besides her hair until the 4th book, was a great insight into Hermione’s character. In the 4th book, Hermione is hit with a spell that grows her teeth (which Snape makes an exceptionally mean comment about). When she is in recovery, Hermione decided to shrink her teeth a little bit shorter than they were before using magic. It was the first time we saw Hermione as someone who cared about her looks.
Part of the reason Hermione’s transformation in Goblet of Fire is important is that it is the first time we really see Hermione as vulnerable. As someone who wants to be seen as beautiful, and trying to separate herself from just being Ron and Harry’s friend.
Another thing that I think is part of the problem is how fanfiction writes Hermione. Despite Hermione and Ron being endgame (I’m still in denial about it), people have been shipping Hermione with every single male in the series, turning her into this blank slate of kink for whatever you want to attach her to. All narratives with Hermione include some passage about how “she finally managed to get her hair under control” and that “she really filled out.”
Despite valuing Hermione for her brains and wit and intelligence, even among fans, we cannot resist making her not just attractive, but sexy.
During one of my most recent re-reading of Harry Potter, one passage stuck out for me in the final book, Deathly Hollows. It is when Hermione and the rest are trying to convince Griphook the goblin to help them.
‘If there was a wizard of whom I would believe that they did not seek personal gain,’ said Griphook finally, ‘it would be you, Harry Potter. Goblins and elves are not used to the protection, or the respect, that you have shown this night. Not from wand-carriers.’
‘Wand-carriers,’ repeated Harry: the phrase fell oddly upon his ears as his scar prickled, as Voldemort turned his thoughts northwards, and as Harry burned to question Ollivander, next door.
‘The right to carry a wand,’ said the goblin quietly, ‘has long been contested between wizards and goblins.’
‘Well, goblins can do magic without wands,’ said Ron.
‘That is immaterial! Wizards refuse to share the secrets of wandlore with other magical beings, they deny us the possibility of extending our powers!’
‘Well, goblins won’t share any of their magic, either,’ said Ron. ‘You won’t tell us how to make swords and armour the way you do. Goblins know how to work metal in a way wizards have never’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Harry, noting Griphook’s rising colour. ‘This isn’t about wizards versus goblins or any other sort of magical creature’
Griphook gave a nasty laugh.
‘But it is, it is about precisely that! As the Dark Lord becomes ever more powerful, your race is set still more firmly above mine! Gringotts falls under wizarding rule, house-elves are slaughtered, and who amongst the wand-carriers protests?’
‘We do!’ said Hermione. She had sat up straight, her eyes bright. ‘We protest! And I’m hunted quite as much as any goblin or elf, Griphook! I’m a Mudblood!’
‘Don’t call yourself’ Ron muttered.
‘Why shouldn’t I?’ said Hermione. ‘Mudblood, and proud of it! I’ve got no higher position under this new order than you have, Griphook! It was me they chose to torture, back at the Malfoys’!’
As she spoke, she pulled aside the neck of the dressing gown to reveal the thin cut Bellatrix had made, scarlet against her throat.
‘Did you know that it was Harry who set Dobby free?’ she asked. ‘Did you know that we’ve wanted elves to be freed for years?’ (Ron fidgeted uncomfortably on the arm of Hermione’s chair.) ‘You can’t want You-Know-Who defeated more than we do, Griphook!’
This whole passage made me roll my eyes, because Hermione’s comments towards Griphook are the magical community equivalent of White Feminist (TM). She is a righteous person, to the point where she ignores the realities of what other people might be going through in order to prove her point.
That’s why S.P.E.W is an annoying concept: she sees it through the lens of a Muggle-born person, instead of the lens of the creatures. It is her best and worst quality, but it makes sense because Hermione is so smart; her cleverness makes her arrogant and self-righteous even when she doesn’t really have a full “cultural grasp” on what she’s talking about. She cares more about freeing House Elves than if House Elves want to be free.
It’s not a shock, then, that S.P.E.W is completely gone from Hermione’s movie character.
One other important thing that was cut from Hermione’s character in adaptation was her parchment jinx in Order of the Phoenix. For those who have only seen the films, when students signed up for Dumbledore’s Army, Hermione put a jinx on a parchment so that if anyone spoke about it to Umbridge or one of her enforcers, they would have boils come across their face spelling the word “SNEAK.”
Unlike in the film, where the betrayal came from Cho Chang, in the book it came from Cho’s best friend, Marietta Edgecombe, who told Umbridge about the Army because she was afraid that by crossing Umbridge it would lead back to her mom, who worked for the Ministry, being fired. She told Umbridge about DA and the boils appeared on her face and lasted, at least, until the following year.
This cruel, yet cunning hex, shows how deeply Hermione values loyalty above all else and the extent she would enact revenge was removed from the film.
While I deeply dislike the character of Ron Weasley, I find that often, the reason I hate him has nothing to do with his book self, but who he was in the films. This video, by Emily Sowers breaks down how the Harry Potter movies have transformed the flawed, but impactful Hermione into the gorgeous, always right, sass-queen that I like to call, Belle!Hermione.
I call her that because just like a traditional Disney Princess, Hermione is rarely asked to grow and evolve as the story progresses. In fact, the only time, throughout the entire movie run, that she actually changes is the first movie where she is “mellows out” in order to become a member of the golden trio.
Beyond that, Hermione is never wrong, she is only ever wronged by Snape, by Ron, by Harry, and all the dumbasses around her.
The problem with this set-up is that this is the image of Hermione that we are left with. Someone whose nuances and flaws were filed down to fit into a pre-existing stereotype of female perfection. That combined with adaptational attractiveness, and the removal of her bossy and sometimes vain tendencies, you are left with a character who has all of the complexity of a 90s Disney Princess.
Hermione Granger is afraid of heights, yet she jumps bravely onto a dragon without even blinking? Hermione did not grow up within the magical community, but she is aware of what magical-community based slurs are?
I love Hermione Jean Granger, she is one of my favorite female characters ever, and I love what she has meant for young women everywhere. But when we frame it as though women are only valuable in certain media if they are unstoppable badasses, with no personality flaws and amazing beauty, that minimizes what made those female characters so valuable to begin with.
What do you think? Do you prefer book or movie Hemione? What other characters do you think got screwed up in the book-to-movie adaptation?
(via, image: Pottermore/Warner Bros)
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