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Hermione is not The Girl - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Hermione is not The Girl
You know, I've heard quite often, usually in the context of R/Hr vs. H/Hr, that until SW, "the hero always got The Girl."

It's hard to argue with that, because nine times out of ten (and I assure you, that's an accurate statistic via the I'm-Sure-I've-Seen-It-Somewhere polling company ;)), The Girl was the object of a quest, or at least a major reward of the quest. She was captured by evildoers or cursed by a wizard or any number of other scenarios, if she existed at all, and she was rescued by the hero, who did, indeed, "get" her. In fact, I'd say it's more or less still true that the hero gets The Girl, with the occasional twist that the heroine gets The Boy.

It's just, unlike former times, any girl appearing on screen is not necessarily The Girl... some of them actually play parts.

Let's start with Princess Leia.

In ANH, Leia is very, very definitely in The Girl role. She's been captured by dastardly powers, and the young hero and his acquired sidekicks must go rescue her. She's sassy and tough in the role, but it's definitely her role. In the battle at the end, her role is to talk and then offer rewards. Oh, and to dramatically chew her lip while the hero is fighting.

In ESB, something else happened: Leia got promoted. Oh, not in the sense of a higher rank in the rebellion; she always had that. But we start to see her in action in the base, then participating in battles on the Falcon. She is captured, but it's Han who's tortured, and Luke's concern is with both of them. She has been raised up into the action, to being one of the hero's valuable sidekicks. (The prequels have a different structure altogether, but again, the different elements have the same weight--Padmé, representing love, is a stressor on an equal level with Obi-Wan, representing duty.)

So what happens when The Girl becomes a sidekick?

Her role in the hero's life changes... or the entire dynamic of the story does, because holding two roles gives her something like a gravitational force equal to that of the hero, under which everyone else becomes less. Lucas chose to have Leia change roles rather than add a role and make the story about Luke-and-Leia rather than about Luke and his struggle with the Dark Side of the Force. Leia becomes co-equal with Han, and the romance between them is balanced.

In the case of Harry Potter, Rowling never had to change anything, because she was not introduced as The Girl. A girl, yes, but that wasn't the point of her character. She was one of Harry's sidekicks from the start, and always part of the action. She did her stint when she was petrified, but that was an injury in the course of battle, and her absence as an equal was most noted by Ron, not Harry (though of course Harry was worried about her).

And she is of course overshadowed there by the real The Girl figure, Ginny, who is victimized by evil forces all year and rescued by the hero at the end. In HBP, Ginny and Harry go out and then break up--he's been given a taste of the world that waits for him after he succeeds in his quest, the fulfillment and the life beyond the war. She is notably not going on the Horcrux quest... though I don't doubt that she will be involved in the plot in a different way. If she were on the quest and Harry's love interest, then she would overshadow Ron and Hermione, who are Harry's comrades-in-arms.

None of this is to denigrate The Girl role, or get into heteronormative standards or whatnot. The same would be structurally true if Harry were in love with Colin Creevey (though in that case, the role would be The Boy, I guess). Someone needs to be on the outside of the hero's quest to represent life in the future, a kind of promise of redemption and completion. That's the role The Girl traditionally played. The triumph of feminism is not to obliterate this role--it's an almost inevitable spot in a story--but to make sure that every female character is not relegated to it by virtue of her sex. Hermione's elevation to sidekick status, though it makes it structurally impossible for her to be the lead's romantic interest, is a giant step forward.
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From: oicrylic Date: September 14th, 2006 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

The Princess Leia example is perfect to describe the Harry-Hermione-Ron thing. Except the fact Hermione is not related to Harry. But I always related Leia/Han to Hermione/Ron. It just fits like a glove. Then Luke and Harry go for the red heads (Mara Jade and Ginny Weasley).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 14th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah--it's a good match.

Though I don't recognize the existence of Mara Jade. ;p
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thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: September 14th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, that's what bothered me about the H/Hr ship; it was an attempt to force Hermione into the The Girl role willynilly without taking her personality into account.
modestyrabnott From: modestyrabnott Date: September 14th, 2006 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree wholeheartedly with this. But not because I think HP breaks molds or anything...

It's just that HP much more closely resembles Jungian archetypal literature, while the old 'quest/hero gets the girl' is more typical of traditional Western journey archetypal literature.

JKR uses Jungian archtypes pretty heavily and predictably - not that predictable is bad, mind. In fact, that's the whole point of archetypal literature: to present a character that is subconsciously familiar to the reader, who then unknowingly gains insight and understanding of said character's motivations.

I can't believe how much I just babbled about this. Sorry.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 14th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
No, I totally agree. JKR isn't breaking any molds, just allowing a girl to be in a different traditional role. God bless her. I like the traditional roles and the monomyth. :)
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: September 14th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel like part of it is that there's a certain contingent who refuses to recognize Harry as the Hero and instead insists that Harry and Hermione are co-heroes working together to solve the problem.

Flawed, of course, as Harry is clearly distinguished from both Hermione and Ron, whose roles are equally clearly conflated.
greyathena From: greyathena Date: September 14th, 2006 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I think that's exactly what a lot of people believe - hence the sort of "Hermione is half of Harry / they complete each other" arguments. But you and Fern are both right - Hermione and Ron have been conflated as characters since the first book (in fact, Harry's life feels wrong without either of them or with either on their own, as we see in POA and GOF) and their inevitable coupling (IMO) pushes them even more clearly into the Han-and-Leia role. Han becomes a sort of "big brother" to Luke; Luke and Leia have a basically platonic/sisterly relationship (from ESB on anyway) and then of course she turns out to be his actual sister; and Han-and-Leia become the collective brother-and-sister who support and worry about Luke while he saves the world with his special talents. I'm pretty sure that's what we'll see for HP7.

Of course . . . I think you can get the sense that, given the necessity of making a choice, Han would choose to save Leia's life over doing something that would help Luke succeed in his mission. I wonder what Ron would do . . .
From: lianna_blanca Date: September 14th, 2006 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here, here! I always liked Leia 'breaking out' of the role, as it were.
dalf From: dalf Date: September 14th, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Amazingly well put. I have read a few essays that go at this from different sides and do a good job of explaining it but none of them do so good a job in so few words. I will have to book mark this post and point people at it when they need it explained.

It reminds me of some of the confusion that a lot of people (usually h/hr shippers) have with Hermione. To the point that there was something of a Debate on wikipedia about adding the article about Hermione to the category "Fictional Heroins". It had to be explained with small words that she was in fact a sidekick.
dalf From: dalf Date: September 14th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh looks like someone has actually re-added that category. *goes to fix*
verdenia From: verdenia Date: September 15th, 2006 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

great post; great discussion!

I really enjoyed this! The archetype banter was really cool, too--I knew some of that stuff, but haven't studied Literature extensively enough to have the background that you all do [I got sucked (willingly!) into cultural Anthropology instead]. ;P
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: September 15th, 2006 03:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Good Post

I think that you make a very good point. The Star Wars model still is unique (well, off the top of my head, I can't think of another similar example) in that there isn't "The Girl" for Luke (unless you are a big fan of the novels, as I understand it). If you believe Lucas, Leia was never meant for Luke (because, ew...) so her role in ANH is sort-of a red herring. The instant attraction/bond Luke feels towards her is in actuality more filial than erotic/romantic (he's just too much of a farm boy to know the difference).

You look at HP and Ginny as "The Girl" is introduced even before Hermione, and you are right that there is never any question of Hermione's role in Harry's life -- she is one of his assistants not what he is fighting for. And Hermione gets Ron at the end of it which isn't bad. Literature is full of side-kick girls who aid the hero out of love for him, only to lose him to "the Girl" at the end -- I always felt frustrated for that girl, as she usually had more characterization and seemed to me to deserve the hero more. I guess that's where HP is unique -- Ginny may be "The Girl" -- but she isn't without characterization.

I guess that's why I like how Lord of the Rings turned out. At first read, Eowyn seems like the more deserving woman -- I've even read that Tolkien originally intended Aragorn to marry her. But Arwen is clearly "the Girl" and in the end, I think Eowyn will be happier with Faramir (maybe because I would be happier with Faramir...LOL).
miseri From: miseri Date: September 15th, 2006 04:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Good Post

In Wilkie Collins' "The Woman In White", Marian Halcombe acts as the hero's sidekick because "The Girl" is Marian's half-sister, whom she loves and wishes to see safely and happily in the arms of the hero. There is never any suggestion that Marian has any sort of interest in the hero at all. Although, yes, she's certainly a more interesting character than "The Girl". Or the hero, for that matter: in that respect, it's rather a relief that she didn't get him.
prettyveela From: prettyveela Date: September 15th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Nice! Saving to memories.
madderbrad From: madderbrad Date: September 15th, 2006 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting. I personally find it unsatisfying when the hero ends up with a 'trophy girl', rather than one who did a lot of the work by his side (if such a lass is available). I enjoyed your observation on how the trophy girl represents the promise of the hero's life after his quest, though; that ties in nicely with Harry's comment to Ginny at the end of HBP.

Your Star Wars parallel is interesting, although hardly a rigorous proof, of course, just a singular example. Fits beautifully with OBHWF HP (which is where canon seems to be going), the two sidekicks marrying, etc. I'm not erudite enough to think of any counter-examples other than Luke/Mara Star Wars one, which others have mentioned above.
lothy From: lothy Date: September 15th, 2006 09:37 am (UTC) (Link)

I personally find it unsatisfying when the hero ends up with a 'trophy girl', rather than one who did a lot of the work by his side.

In neither SW nor HP does the main character end up with a "trophy girl". In SW Luke doesn't end up with any girl in the films, but afterwards he has Mara who is certainly not anything approaching a trophy! Likewise, Ginny has worked by Harry's side - in the DA, in the Department of Mysteries etc.

I personally find it refreshing to read something where a male and a female character can work together, be close friends, without ending up in a romantic relationship. It's such a common occurence in all fiction - either the leading man & leading woman end up together, or some of the viewers/readers want them to! Personally, I'd rather they didn't.
From: doctorwhohp Date: September 15th, 2006 07:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Lovely comparision, definately saving to memories. That's all I have to say before I give away my lack of SW knowledge.
lothy From: lothy Date: September 15th, 2006 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)

I came to check out your post through hogwarts_today, and I'm glad I did :) It does sum up Hermione's role nicely :) I'd certainly never think to compare HP to SW, lol.
mrs_bombadil From: mrs_bombadil Date: September 15th, 2006 12:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Here via hogwarts_today

Very nice!

There was a presentation at Lumos by Gareth Fisher called "Lucky You": Gender, Agency, and Alternate Myth-Making in the Characterization of Ginny Weasley. It points out that even in the conventional role of maiden, Ginny isn't portrayed in a completely conventional way.

First of all, she's saved at the beginning of the quest, not the end. One thing this accomplishes is that she not just strictly a trophy.

Then, she is given a journey of her own. Yes, it's largely off page but she has to deal with her experience in the Chamber on her own. In many conventional tales, it would seem that the honor of being claimed by the hero is sufficient to quell any demons. Instead, Ginny has to face that darkness on her own.

She is also made to journey to a point where she does not want the hero JUST because he's a hero.

Gareth posited that the "Lucky You" scene is Ginny's reemergence and its specific link to the Chamber incident is no accident. Not only is it a brief allusion to Ginny's own issues, it gives her a place to aid the hero in a distinctly non-passive-maiden way. And this interpersonal dynamic, and somewhat similar struggle Harry and Ginny share, is JKR's way of showing (no matter how insufficiently it might be) that they are equals in the way they need to be in the future.

Finally, he points out that Harry and Ginny both demonstrate a mix of male and female archetypal traits that further muddy the conventionality of that aspect of the hero's journey. He posits that could be one reason for any confusion in predicting that outcome; however, in that regard JKR is still predictable.

It will be interesting to see if she further plays with the convention in the final book.

Thanks for letting me go on a bit of a tangent here. I haven't posted about this yet and I've actually been eager to :)
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dim54 From: dim54 Date: September 17th, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep. *points to my icon*

I just watched Episode 4 yesterday for the umpteenth time, and the parallels are very striking.
alixtii From: alixtii Date: September 17th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that post-Star Wars, perhaps, we might have moved onto another trope. In most of the instances I can think of nowadays, the romantic interest is not so much The Girl as The Reluctant Partner. The romantic arc concludes not with the Hero saving The Girl, but with The Reluctant Partner finally recognizing the Hero as being capable of saving the day (either right before or right after he actually does so, usually). I mean, even the Bond films take on this pattern anymore.

Of course, while Hermione starts out reluctant, I'm not sure that she fits into that mold either, anymore.

lunalovepotter From: lunalovepotter Date: September 18th, 2006 03:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I was linked to this essay by a friend. Very well done, I enjoyed it a lot, particularly the analysis of the Star Wars/Harry Potter parallels.
azarsuerte From: azarsuerte Date: September 18th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your argument has one fundamental fallacy: the assumption that in contemporary literature (or film or television), the old archetype of the hero's ideal mate being his "reward" still holds true. Or rather, that it is unavoidably true. More and more commonly, the love interest is becoming not the inspiration for/culmination of the quest, but a companion on the journey--today's heroic love interests are less Arwen and more Eowyn--the best example I can think of being The X-Files. Scully is, was an always will be a sidekick--the proof of this being that the quest only becomes her own, she only moves into the heroic role in Mulder's absence with him then as the object of her quest. And yet this is considered one of the great literary/screen romances of our time. The only way to make it fit the pattern is to argue that the romance only works because Scully *does* move into that heroic role, and Mulder then becomes "The Girl," but even that argument doesn't work because the relationship was quite clearly being steered towards romance *before* that shift in roles occurred, as evidenced by Scully's pregnancy.

While I will agree with you that JKR has always made it quite clear that Hermione was meant for Ron, it's fallacious to argue that this is so because the archetypal pattern makes it impossible for it to be otherwise.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 19th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I would argue that the romance of equals is a different archetypical pattern altogether. That's two people taking a co-heroic turn, more like a romance than a hero's quest. I wouldn't term Scully a sidekick. I'd actually be more inclined to see her as the hero, since she's the one going through a character arc, with Mulder as the Mentor, if they were to be put in archetypical roles. Romance is a slightly different animal, and both characters are given equal weight, which is why Harry's girl (or Ginny's guy, if the roles had been the other way) couldn't function in that kind of part--it would move attention away from the hero, and not serve its specific psychological function. Had Ginny become a partner in the enterprise, then suddenly Ron and Hermione would become... I don't know, Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark--an amusing but very minor character.
From: vanceone Date: September 21st, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never understood the whole "Ginny is the girl" idea. Yes, I can see your argument, but it seems that it misses a few things. One, JKR HATES Harry Potter and Star War's comparisons. What relevance that has, I have no idea, but I know she has on more than one occassion complained about it. Besides, from what I vaguely recall, there was no Girl figure in Star Wars in the end--the only romance was Han/Leia, and Luke went off alone. That's another type of figure all together; also popular--hero is elevated above the rest, and goes off alone, while sidekicks get the romance. Frodo is like that--Sam, the sidekick, get's the girl, while Frodo goes off. Of course, saying Sam is just a sidekick is stretching things a bit, but I think the point is valid.

2) I've always put Ginny in the mode of the Temptress, not the Girl. She seems to fit that mode much better. Ginny as the "Girl" as you are describing it means she's in a fairly passive role. The whole, "Oh, I'll just sit and wait for him" kind of role, even though it's fairly clear that Ginny is not a passive style girl. She's a very independant, take no gruff from anyone, girl (or so she acts).

Continuing, the Hero should love the Girl. No one had any doubt that Aragorn loved Arwen. If Tolkien had gone for Eowyn, I suspect it would have been clear, too. But there's no evidence Harry loves Ginny at all, or she inspires any other feelings than pleasure in him. He feels good, or has the lust monster roaring. Almost all their interaction, that we see, is heavy handed on the physical side. Harry doesn't show any evidence of caring FOR Ginny, just for what she can provide him. He's worried about Ron's reaction, not hers.

If Ginny were meant to be the Girl as a traditional sense, I would anticipate that there would be more signs that Harry actually cares for her. Up until HBP, Harry really could care less about Ginny. He saved her because, after all, he is a Hero. That's what he does. Even in HBP, he doesn't seem to consider her wants and needs one bit, which is how I would look for signs that he cares for her--he would take an interest in her life. It's not like he doesn't have the opportunity, after all--he's dodging his responsibilities most of the year.

I think Hermione also could be considered the Girl. After all, the first truly heroic thing he did was save her. As far as I can remember, that's the first time he ever acted on behalf of anyone else. And it's clear they love and care for each other, too.

The big problem, I suppose, is that "Hermione as the Girl means she's not just a sidekick! What about Ron?" To that I say, so what about Ron? This is Harry's story, not Ron's. I think Luna is destined for Ron--she clearly crushed on him, and he say's she's growing on him. Does it make Hermione more important than Ron in the story or in Harry's life? I suppose it does, yet regardless, whomever Harry ends up with is going to be more important in his life--so it's going to happen. It's part of the journey, really--guy grows up, and leaves his old friends behind to become (hopefully) united with his mate. If said mate is one of his friends, that's all the better. And thematically, Hermione is more important than Ron, anyway--she drives far more of the plot than he does. I find it telling that Harry quite plainly chose Hermione over his last crush, Cho. He may not have realized it--but that's what he did. I think the case can be made that Hermione is the Girl, too.
profshallowness From: profshallowness Date: August 27th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I know it's a long time since this was posted - I'm finally working my way through HP essays I've come across, but I wanted to comment, because this articulated something I'd subconsciously accepted about Ginny, Harry, Hermione and Ron's roles. Or certainly what bearing it would have on their eventual romantic configuration. And your point about why Ginny couldn't go along on the Horcrux quest is a good one. I say that grudgingly, because having been enchanted by the sextet of OotP, I wanted them and not the Trio to go together. Of course, post DH hindsight backs the argument meade here up too.
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