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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Thoughts on pureblood Hermione!Sues
Another "Hermione is really a pure-blood!" Sue got reported on deleterius. They're shockingly common. I'll just breeze through the usual rant:

Books specifically against this, no evidence of pure-bloods being more powerful, Hermione as Muggle-born thematically important, and so on.

But I'm not in a ranty mood this morning. I'm wondering where it comes from.

I've never done a pure-blood Hermione (though, to be fair, I did once vaguely suggest in an unfinished and mostly dead story that she came from a break-off of the Weasley family--a Squib marrying a Muggle back in the Middle Ages), because I think it's very far outside of what works in the books, but I'm not innocent of the lure of the thing. God knows my obsession runs to the Blacks of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, and the history of the Weasleys. I want that family tree, and I want to know how the Potters might be in it (and they probably are, given Sirius's offhand statement about pretty much all the pure-bloods being related). Trust me, I would crave a copy of Nature's Nobility more than I would have ever wanted Quidditch Through The Ages.

I don't--and I suspect that the Suethors don't--actually have any loyalty to an old class system, or believe that people shouldn't be able to succeed unless they're to the manor born. Hell, I'm an American, and so are most of the writers who do these stories, and believing such a thing would be more or less relegating ourselves to permanent inferior status. The vast majority of us, after all, did not come from the upper classes of Europe. (This, of course, doesn't stop old family legends like, "Oh, yes, I'm descended from a Danish princess who ran away to America to marry her commoner lover"--which I've never heard phrased as "I'm descended from a Danish commoner who ran away to America so he could marry a princess," but that's just another version of the same question... why are we drawn to this story?)

It's not like we're inundated with visions of great aristocracy. Images are almost universally bad. Cinderella's noble roots are almost always obscured in modern re-tellings, to the point where "Cinderella story" is used colloquially to desribe a rags-to-riches story, instead of its actual plot, which involves a young noblewoman who's been unfairly cheated of her patrimony and ends up rising above even her previous station and punishing the usurpers who tried to displace her. Robin of Locksley is judged worthy by his willingness to be with the commoners. Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas from his poor but happy and upright clerk. Even within HP, the explicit text is that people are judged more worthy by how far from the behavior of the aristocracy they are. I can't think of a single example of a commonly told story of the 20th or 21st century in which the salt of the Earth were wrong and the aristocrats were right. (The Anastasia myth might be, but notably, when told as popular movies, the stress is on how the displaced princess has learned about life outside the palace, among commoners, and is therefore worthy.) In most stories, being in the proletariat seems to convey an instant superior moral status, which can only be overridden with particularly egregious acts... and even those are as likely as not to be seen, at least partly, as heroic rebellions against the status quo. The storytellers of our culture (Tolkien duly excepted) have been singularly concerned with discrediting the notion of aristocracy, and in general, we don't think of this as a bad thing.

And yet, despite all that, Hermione keeps being written as a secret pure-blood by American teenage girls. I fret over the Black family tree (and my own). And if Her Majesty--a sovereign of the very line against which rebelled--were to make an appearance in Copley Square tomorrow--or at the old State House, that breeding ground of the Revolution--we'd all go to see her and hope she'd wave at us. It's not the same thing as movie star fame, either--I personally couldn't come up with much that the Queen has done, though I have a vague impression that she's a an accomplished woman; it's not like I can say, "Yeah, I just loved her in the Indiana Jones movies!" She doesn't really handle the leadership of her country, either. She's just, you know, the Queen.

Since we've been trying to bring down the aristocracy for a few centuries now, the continued fascination with it suggests that we're dealing with something primal, though it's hard to imagine just what. Oh, you can go EvoPsych on it, I guess, and point out that humans are in the ape family, we do the troop thing, troops have greyback leaders, and so on. Leaders keep the troop together, and sociability makes it possible to hold territory and resources against hostile predators (not to mention other ape troops). That would explain our tendency to group around charismatic individuals, but it doesn't say anything about why we would so persistently choose "old families" or look at dynasties or lines of succession. Those aren't based on immediate needs; they exist only in really long-term thought.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it's part of our inherent fascination with the exotic--specifically because so few of us are actually nobles, they're always going to be The Other in some way. But that's lacking, as it doesn't explain why we should pay more attention to someone based on his bloodlines in the first place. Movie stars are also perpetual others, but the fawning over movie stars doesn't strike me as exactly the same thing, and while there may be scrambling to get pictures of their kids, it's not because there's some assumption that they will take over the industry in a few years.

A more compelling idea for me is that it has to do with that long-term thinking. A family like the Blacks that can trace itself back to the Middle Ages knows exactly who it is and exactly where it came from. Americans, in particular, made a great fuss about breaking away from homelands--or, in the case of later immigrants--had a fuss made for them at Ellis Island, where names were mangled, misspelled, or changed arbitrarily. Sometimes even easy-to-pronounce names were translated into English to be more normative in the new country. As a result, we got brand-spanking new lives, and a whole lot of existential angst about who we are. I couldn't in a million years explain why it's comforting to know that my ancestors came over from Cranbrook. I don't know why I was thrilled to be the first to find out that my Millington ancestors came over in the early 1800s from Tipton, and suddenly felt a vast connection to a part of England which is not, as far as I can tell, particularly picturesque or steeped in history. I'm more connected to Bavaria than Berlin in Germany, and feel a deep fondness for Alsace-Lorraine, but no other region in France. And it's not like I know anything much about it!

I don't know what psychological purpose this serves. Why should we have an idea that it matters who distant ancestors were, or where they came from? I'm even philosophically opposed to paying attention to a person's ancestors. But knowing that stuff. That's neat.

What does that have to do with pure-blood Hermione, though? Or fascination with the Blacks and Malfoys?

I suspect it might just be that sense that these families are historically anchored and know where they were, because it's all written down and recorded. They have traditions. They may have horse thieves in the family line, but they know who those horse thieves were, by gum. (Unless the horse-thieves were Muggle-borns, of course.) Now, Hermione may well know these things, too. We know nothing about her actual family. But even if she did, because of the statute of secrecy, it would be entirely outside the purview of the stories, and of the world she's now living in. Her history is no longer relevant to her life; she's been cut off and is now living as the first generation of a new line, and that's disorienting, because it's hard to know where an unattached person belongs. As a pure-blood, however, her history and background suddenly tie into the history of the world she's portrayed in. She's intimately bound to all of it, in a way that there is simply no possibility of undoing.

Shrug. Just thinking too much.
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ashtur From: ashtur Date: January 11th, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll probably rub someone's nose the wrong way for this, but perhaps the reason that "pureblood Hermione" is so popular is because that would be a form of fantasy-fulfillment.

In the series, Hermione is the ultimate example of "achivement through merit," or the like. She's who she is, because she has talent and drive. Perhaps the "lure" of the aristocracy is that people have given up on achivement through merit in their own lives, and instead focus on "achievement through circumstance"... and Hermione just becomes the ill fitting recipient of their own wish fulfillment.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2006 06:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know, really. It's not like they make her merit-less. They just seem to make her merits tied to being a secret pure-blood.
(Deleted comment)
maple_clef From: maple_clef Date: January 11th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, interesting...

A more compelling idea for me is that it has to do with that long-term thinking

I think that probably comes close to it. The aristocracy have a dynastic mentality*: they think long-term, and strive to ensure success for generations to come, rather than simply for themselves and their children. That resonates with the biological urge to see our genes persist long after we've gone. It's not as though most of us can afford to think so far ahead, but perhaps it's "desirable" on a subconsious level. Hence the fairy-tales...

*I was watching a TV show last night about land-ownership, which touched on this!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was watching a TV show last night about land-ownership, which touched on this!

Oo, what was it? Was it a history channel thing?

As someone who has rather perpetually thought about her great-grandchildren, I think I'd find that interesting. ;) It also explains things like the Kennedys and Adamses, who are always thinking long term prospects for progeny and therefore end up putting them in places where they're likely to move forward. (The John Adams quote I like a lot for many purposes applies here as well: "I study war and politics, that my son may study science and nature, and his son may study art and philosophy." Or, well, something like that.)
seangaffney From: seangaffney Date: January 11th, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I had always thought it was a) Author ships Draco/Hermione; b) Draco would only marry a pureblood, ergo c) Hermione is a pureblood. But I admit I have not read enough of the genre to back that up. That's what I gathered from being on the outside of it, though.
mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: January 11th, 2006 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a literary meme that's been around forever - the foundling who turns out to be a real prince or princess. (My favorite example is in Mel Brooks' wonderful parody Spaceballs, where the male lead learns he's an "honest to God prince" just in time to marry the princess.)

So, yeah. Given that a lot of girls want to *be* princesses and Hermione is just the right person to do that to - and because "pureblood" is the closest thing to royalty in the wizarding world, it makes sense.

It would also explain the ones with her as Voldemort's daughter. Or Lucius' daughter raised by Muggles for safety.

Funny how no one wants her to be Dumbledore's daughter. Maybe because it's more romantic for her to be a bad guy's daughter, or because they know Dumbledore wouldn't abandon her. (Unlike poor Harry...)

And also makes her available to Draco as a love interest. Let's not forget that part. :)
dangermousie From: dangermousie Date: January 11th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it also has to do with status. An aristocrat always has status. If a movie star stops being famous tomorrow, they are no different from you and me. They are famous for what they do, after all. But an aristocrat is famous for who he is. Queen Liz will always be a member of the nobility even if she ditched the crown tomorrow. And of course also, as you pointed out, it's the historical connection. It's the glamour of the ancestors with ruffles and lace, or in medieval armor, fighting or scheming or going to balls. It's reflected power and glory, really.
From: agatha_s Date: January 11th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
There definitely is something romantic and fascinating about aristocracy, but I've never seen it explored in a pureblood! Hermione fic. I don't remember ever reading about her arriving in a new family home and exploring it, looking at portraits and at the family tree, thinking about her roots... It's usually just an instant shot of self-esteem for her.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: January 11th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love how the heroic figures in Harry Potter seem to be overwhelmingly bourgeois, as is actually the focus of the entire series. Even though we do get dynastic families such as the Blacks and Malfoys, we don't get to see them doing things which people typically think of as aristocratic. They go to the same school as everyone else. They don't have titles. They don't seem to jet-set, either.

It's such a nice break from the typical Grand Fantasy where some kind of royal family is almost always involved--but I think that model is part of what makes the middle-class focus here hard to take, for some.
embossedsilver From: embossedsilver Date: January 11th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Despite my love for the Blacks and aristocrats in general, I've always hated pure-blood Hermione stories. I don't know why, but I feel like the author has to come up with some explanation as to why she is so powerful. I like the fact that Hermione is at the bottom of the Potterverse social system, and yet succeeds through both innate power and her own drive. I think making her a pureblood takes away a very important point JKR is trying to make, in that blood isn't everything.

I suppose it's just the romantic draw of the old family. Suethors usually leave out the unpleasant aspects of being pureblood (which manifest themselves in the Gaunts).

Anyway, good essay.
bwinter From: bwinter Date: January 11th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've yet to read a pureblood Hermione story, but I suspect it's the same lure of aristocracy that has girls playing at being princesses and women reading Regency romance novels.

My pet theory is that just about everyone is mixed blood actually, but they lose track of things after a few generations, especially when Squibs are involved. And that's before all the illegitimate kids, cheating on spouses, marrying mysterious beauties etc etc, if Regency romance novels are to be believed ;)
tangleofthorns From: tangleofthorns Date: January 11th, 2006 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
First off, I totally love this post, because I'm such a geek for this kind of thing. But what about the whole "princess" fantasy that is such a huge part of American girlhood? The whole Disney-Barbie-Diana nexus is a major force in a girl's upbringing, you know? It even seeps into unrelated areas, like, there's a Dora The Explorer princess doll now. The whole thing--pretty dress, pure bloodline, wealth and comfort and style and handsome prince--is very heavily sold to girls as what they should want to be, and maybe making Hermione pureblooded is the closest thing they can do to putting a tiara on her head.

You make a good argument about the anti-authoritarian strain in fairy tales and fantasy lit, but I was thinking about the above, and the counterpoints that came to mind are all female! There are fewer stories where a seamstress marries a prince than there are where a shepherd marries a princess--and the ones that there are, it's more along the lines of "she was beautiful and kind and docile so he married her" rather than "she went out into the world and used her wit and cleverness to win herself a kingdom."

And, not to dwell too terribly much on the horrible filthy things Mickey Mouse does to young people, but look at the princesses as portrayed in Disney canon:

Snow White - Princess. Banished to the woods thanks to the evil stepmother, puts up with it patiently and is rewarded by marrying a prince.

Sleeping Beauty - Princess. Banished to the woods thanks to the wicked witch, endures it patiently, takes a little nap and is rewarded by marrying a prince. I will actually cut Disney some slack on this one, though, because at least Aurora goes out and meets a boy, and he really cares about saving her because he's met her, not because she's the princess, which is at least a step forward from the original tale.

The Little Mermaid - Fish princess. Goes after her prince at the expense of her voice, is recaptured by the wicked witch and saved by the prince and then saves him, etc., etc., but her social status is never at stake; either she's gonna be a fish princess or a two-legged princess.

Aladdin - Princess. Experiments with living as a commoner, can't hack it, is rescued by Aladdin and plays the princess card to keep him off the chopping block. He changes to be worthy of her; she doesn't have any character growth or change at all. So, granted she's a better role model, but her value is still predicated on her title and her choice of men.

Beauty and the Beast - Commoner, but marked as sort of aristocratic because she's literate. Ends up with the Beast because of her father. An improvement, but she's not a great role model either, as the moral of this story seems to be, "if you treat a nasty man really really well and never complain, he'll fall in love with you."

So mostly, it doesn't seem like the women are everyday citizens who go off and become something special; it's more, the archetype is that she's a good-hearted, thoughtful, beautiful girl who puts up with a lot of suffering and is rewarded with the prince. And I don't know, to directly address your larger point, why exactly we so romanticize the aristocracy (and the celebrity version of same), unless it's as simple as the fact that they don't have to work and the rest of us do, but I definitely could see pureblood!Hermione as an aspect of fitting the Potterverse more closely to the formulas that are drilled into us.

Also, I suspect that at least some of the time it's a case of bad writing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
But what about the whole "princess" fantasy that is such a huge part of American girlhood?

See, that's part of it as well. It seems to occur totally naturally--it's not sold to little girls; marketers seem to be tapping into something that little girls naturally do. And boys definitely play at being knights, which is also something aristocratic. Being a princess seems to be seen as proof that a person is special, not as the thing that makes that person special (as you point out with Belle, it's not always actual aristocracy, but something setting her apart; in her case, note, it's also her great beauty). That's the sort of thing I wonder about. Why do we have this innate notion?
miss_daizy From: miss_daizy Date: January 11th, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's this same urge that causes us (Americans) to have "crowned" the Kennedys in this age. Why must we see them as "America's Royalty" when this nation was started to throw off the notions of royalty ruling a country? And yet we come back to it again and again, romanticizing other human beings as somehow more blessed or even cursed than we are, but nonetheless setting them apart from us as different in a special way, when they are merely other people.

And yet I remained thrilled that 20 years ago I looked out a hotel window and saw Princess Diana on the street below. So there it is, we can't seem it escape even when we see through its falsity.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 11th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think maybe in the modern age, we've overstressed the idea that the Revolution was about overthrowing royalty in general. It seems historically that they would have been happy to continue living under the constitutional monarchy of England if it hadn't been for heavy taxes and so on--and they did try to style Washington as a king, and there was talk of addressing the President as "his Royal Presidency" or some such at first. (They joked about calling him "Your Highness"--which was suggested--because a short man might occupy the office.)

So there it is, we can't seem it escape even when we see through its falsity.

Exactly... and that's what's fascinating about our reaction to it. What on Earth does this do for us from an evolutionary standpoint? What advantage does it confer that our brains do this?
zoepaleologa From: zoepaleologa Date: January 11th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
See, I've met Lords. I've even known one or two socially, and essentially true aristocrats tend to be rather non-descript. I think youngsters tend to assume that the life of the wife of an aristocrat is somewhat jet-setty, whereas in truth, it is not. There are one or two English noblemen who are as rich as Croesus (the Duke of Westminster springs to mind, here) but most are not cash rich. Serious English nobility tend to live rather frugally, seeing themselves as custodians of part of the national heritage (in the shape of their home or estate) and it is not theirs to spend, but rather that which it is their duty to maintain for future generations.

We have two serious examples of high nobility near us: The Duke of Northumberland (who is descended from 8 centuries of noblemen) and Lord Armstrong - scion of an ennobled Victorian industrialist. The lives of their wives, and the men themselves revolves around making enough money to maintain their homes, and the pricelss art collection in the case of Northumberland (whose home, Alnick Castle is one of the outdoor Hogwarts in the movies). Stately homes cost money, and you have to be an entrepreneur. I expect both the Duke and Duchess and Lord and Lady work hard and are boringly thrifty.

It's not what these girls think. Less pretty dresses, and more tweeds and wellington boots and the ability to "muck in".
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: January 11th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I must be getting old, because tweeds, wellington boots and a determination to take care of what you are responsible for is what I associate with aristocracy, not fancy dresses and balls. Ah, well.
leapin_jot From: leapin_jot Date: January 11th, 2006 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a cool discussion, and I wish I had something meaningful to add. I wonder if part of it may be a desire to feel special and to be treated as though we're special from the start. I always liked the story of the Princess and the Pea. The idea that there is just something inside that says, "Princess!" is fun....well, as long as you can pretend that you're the princess! :P

Hey, I've been to the Alsace-Lorraine. It's a beautiful area and the food is really good too! (I used to have a recipe for one of their better known dishes, I wonder if I still do.) I can't think of any big landmarks in that area off hand. What I remember is a peaceful countryside and quiet towns, a place that I would enjoy staying for awhile. Definitely worth going to visit if you ever get the chance!
disturbed_kiwi From: disturbed_kiwi Date: January 11th, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find that interesting. Although New Zealand is a younger country we have a similar background if immigration. My own family is remarkably recent, my mother came over in a ship in her pram from Ireland. My father's family goes back somewhat further here.

But i don't really know or care much about it. So far as I care, my extended family goes back to my Grandparents, wherupon my family begins its existence. I'm not sure what this means in any way. Maybe I'm an exception.
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: January 11th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think in New Zealand there's a much greater social focus on being "Kiwis" - NOT identifying with our roots - in great part because of Maori influence on our culture. Maori culture takes great pride in belonging to the land - they're the tangata whenua, each tribe has a special river and mountain. I think Pakeha (and, of course, other immigrants) feel the need to identify equally with New Zealand, to prove they're just as indigenous, to avoid feeling like guests in their own country. Which is interesting, because if you compare it again to Maori culture, they have a heavy focus on whakapapa that Pakeha tend not to have, because our whakapapa takes us _away_ from New Zealand. This probably relates to the fact that at heart, we're a nation of farmers.

We also don't idolise certain families; certain individuals, definitely, but any aura they take doesn't go onwards. We're very much into individual achievement and prowess. I can't think of any examples of political families, for instance - there is one mother-and-daughter set in Parliament, Labout MPs, but that's very unusual.

Of course, as a New Zealander, I know a lot about where my family came from, both within the country and from outside it, and I'd like to learn more. My parents visited the village some of my mother's ancestors came from in Scotland, when they were doing their OE. So it varies from person to person, too.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: January 11th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have always been secretly - or not so secretly - proud of my fact that, through my mother, I can trace myself back to generations of Borders cattle thieves... I think you're on to something. Certainly in Britain, there's a current obsession with tracing your ancestry, and I think it is to an extent to do with how fast the modern world changes (and perhaps also with the widespread loss of religious faith). Knowing where you come from gives you some sense of stability.
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