Picking up from the last International Women’s Day-inspired post, The Ladies of Austen, I’d like to bring your attention to witches.
Yes, witches. You’ve probably heard of them before: devious tricksters, sometimes green and warty, may attempt to eat children, steal your slippers, turn you into a newt…you get the picture. Is it possible they’ve just gotten a bad rap over the years? Sure. But historically speaking they were guilty of the worst sort of crime – having their own ideas. Eugh, disgusting!
The Witches of Potter
Now J.K. Rowling, she might just be the queen of witchcraft. In the span of the Harry Potter series she’s managed to charm a variety of wickedly strong witches into the mainstream consciousness of pop culture. Witches who not only think for themselves, but have the wits, power, and willful natures to pursue their own paths and stand up for what they believe in. Honestly, the nerve.
Let’s start with the worst of the lot: Hermione Granger. Only named one of the most powerful female characters in literature, Hermione Granger is made of sterner stuff. Since first reading the books as a kid she’s become a favorite character of mine, easily relatable and only partly because of similar hair frustrations. This heroine’s rationality and kindness are two traits which stand out the most to me, nor are they generally paired together so strongly in one character.
She’s the female of the trio and the most logical, right off the bat a role reversal of traditional group gender dynamics. Hermione is extremely smart, talented, and arguably the most powerful of the three, but she never lords that over others. Instead, she cares about their success and is honestly unable to comprehend her classmates’ lack of desire for studying and homework-chart-building.
And this is where her true strength lies, in her willingness to and quickness in helping others. Whether it’s Neville in potions class, keeping Lupin’s secret, house elf equality, supporting Harry, being Hagrid’s lawyer, and so on and so forth, Hermione is never selfish in offering her time and her talents.
Oh, and if you think her character is a little bossy – fine. However she’s probably going to save your life, so you may want to reconsider if that’s so bad. Me? I’ll take a little bossy.
(I assure you these certifications aren’t just handed out, or made in photoshop all willy-nilly.)
Next up? Luna Lovegood – another equally amazing female character. Incredibly honest, Luna’s view of the world around her is refreshing and often thought-provoking (also used to wonderful comic effect in the books; see quidditch commentator stint).
I love how open minded, perceptive, and unabashedly true to herself she is. Her ability to make connections that other miss, seeing the possibilities in the world around her, is a trait which probably puts her up there as the most brilliant character in the book – along the same vein as Dumbledore. In a way, Hermione and Luna explore opposing sides of the same coin (intelligence) with one representing logic and rules, the other, creative ingenuity.
Luna’s status as something of an outsider makes her capable of great empathy, despite the lack of which she often receives because of she’s perceived as ‘different’. Anyone who’s felt on the outside looking in is able to identify with her, and Rowling gave us an unassumingly fearless character to look up to. Of course, we see her through Harry’s eyes and their relationship mimics how we come to identify with this character; it takes you by surprise but upon reflection makes perfect sense. And while not featured greatly, I find their dynamic to be one of the most interesting in the series because while she’s see by many as ‘Loony Lovegood‘, she always seemed to be a positive source of sanity and stability to Harry.
Gentle and strong. Don’t ever change Luna. Truly. (Also, this.)
Then there’s Ginny Weasley, who rounds out the trio of the younger female protagonists. Regardless of how you feel about her in regards to her pairing with Harry, let’s all agree that she’s a great character on her own. When we first meet her she’s shy, quiet, and awkward (three adjectives I have been all too familiar with), but she really comes into her own by the fifth book, becoming one of the bravest characters in the series.
Ginny fulfills the athlete, go-getter role, but combined with those initial traits we saw, she does so without being bland and stereotyped. Plus, she’s got this distinct streak of impishness, spunk, and fun sense of humor – essentially, she’s cool. In some ways she’s a regular Fred and George, similarly adept at lightening the mood of a situation, and like every Weasley, a loyal friend to those in need.
And to speculate a little, looking back, Ginny’s first year pretty much sucked. Imagine how withdrawn she must have felt. Being used by the darkest wizard of our time for nefarious purposes? It takes a bit of a toll. Yet the next time we really see more of her, she’s prancing around with Fred and George chanting ‘he got off’ to celebrate Harry’s not getting kicked out of Hogwarts (…again).
What changed during that time? [Headcanon alert!] Maybe Fred and George felt awful about not being there for their little sis that first year, maybe they do everything they can during that summer to get her back to being vibrant and lively. Maybe the only two people beside Harry that she ever confesses everything to about that year are the twins, and maybe the three pretty much became inseparable at home after that. Wherever Ginny’s strength and confidence came from, maybe no small amount of it was found in that familial bond, playing into her ‘just one of the guys’ type personality. I’m just saying. Maybe.
“Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”
“What d’ you mean?” said Harry.
“You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes, have you?”
Ok, how about the elder witches, because there are some pretty kickass adults in the series as well. Case in point? Minerva McGonagall.
This character is not only named after the Roman-based Greek mythological figure for wisdom and war, but she is undoubtedly one of the most respected figures in the book. Despite a strict, no-nonsense demeanor, McGonagall’s got a competitive spirit and snarky sense of humor to match, which just add to her general awesomeness. She’s one of the few known animagi in the books (a cat, no less), head of Gryffindor House, and Dumbledore’s right-hand woman to boot. Of course, there was also that time she charged into battle against Death Eaters with a herd of galloping desks.
Pure awesome. And yet, I think my favorite McGonagall moment is when she comes to the defense and aid of Professor Trelawney (someone we know she has a little patience for) as the seer is being thrown out of the school by Umbridge. That was a wonderful character defining moment.
Now Mrs. Weasley is primarily a traditional mother figure, but you can’t let that fool you. One of her great ‘not-just-what-she-seems’ moments comes at the very end of the series when Mrs. Weasley duels Bellatrix. After reading it for the first time, I had argued (complained) in discussion with my mom that perhaps Neville should have fought that battle, in doing so avenging his parents. But then she had countered with a point that has since stuck, slowly but surely changing my opinion entirely:
In fighting that battle, Rowling lets us see Molly Weasley as the overly-doting mother hen/woman who reads the gossip columns as well as an extremely powerful witch in her own right. And not that being motherly doesn’t come with it’s own set of strengths (the woman kept a family of seven children in line, after all), but we’re reminded that she is as much a member of the Order as Sirius or McGonagall. So, to my own wise mom, I now gladly concede – it was absolutely a brilliant choice to make Mrs. Weasley defeater of Bellatrix.
Molly Weasley is not to be crossed. Don’t even contemplate it. In fact, don’t even contemplate crossing her children.
I could go on, because clearly I have too many Harry Potter feels, but I’ll just say that the women with smaller roles in the story seem just as awesome and interesting as the leading ladies from the glimpses we get of them. Tonks, Fleur, Lily Potter, Madame Pomfrey, Angelina Johnson…hell, even Neville’s grandmother jumps into the fray in the final battle! And the villainesses! If we’re talking baddie equality, Bellatrix and Umbridge are as unsettling and unpleasant as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself (to put it mildly).
Over the course of a seven book series with a male lead, JKR gave us some admirable additions for the incredible-female-characters list. And you know what the best part is? The fact that it’s not even a big deal in the world she’s created.
Nobody bats an eyelash at Hermione’s capabilities because she’s a girl. Harry himself basically shrugs and states, ‘Oh yeah, we would’ve screwed up loads more if Hermione hadn’t been there.’ Order members, Ministry workers, professors, Death Eaters, quidditch teams – these groups could each care less whether you were a male or female. Yes, there is injustice and inequality in Harry’s world, to be sure, but prejudice based solely on gender isn’t among them.
All right, where can I sign up to pledge my allegiance to Ms. Rowling? Anyone want to join me? Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…