In case you’ve been woefully ignorant of my life for the last thirteen years, I am obsessed with Harry Potter. It’s a healthy kind of obsession, not an “I want to marry Dan Radcliffe and have his children” kind of obsession. You see, I grew up with Harry. I started reading the books when I was nine, just after the third one had come out. And I think it’s probably pretty safe to say that, outside of my parents/family and outside of church/religion-y things, Harry Potter has probably been the most influential thing in my life to date.
And because I’m on the brink of graduating from college and becoming an adult (uh…can you say scary?) and because I’m feeling nostalgic, I thought I’d share with you all some of the lessons I’ve learned from Harry Potter. So for the next little while, all you’re going to be hearing from me is how rad Harry Potter is. If you can’t handle that, then tough it up.
Lesson One: It’s okay to be a strong and intelligent woman.
The rise of Harry Potter happened at the tail-end of the nineties–a time where female role models for young girls primarliy consisted of Britney Spears and The Spice Girls. With the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling supplied my generation with an onslaught of strong, intelligent women. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Hermione Granger: She’s probably the first character to come to mind when people think of intelligent female book characters. I love Hermione. She’s gotten a lot of flack about being the stereotypical “smart but ugly girl” over the years. I would know. I once wrote a paper on how the people who thought that were just stupid. (Fact: I rocked that paper.) Here’s the thing about Hermione: yes, she’s brilliant, and yes, she can be a bit of a stickler sometimes, but she never (ever) backs down from what she believes in. Remember SPEW? But more than that, she’s completely dedicated to Harry. In the seventh book, when Ron deserts the horcrux quest, Hermione stays behind. She doesn’t chose to run off with the man she loves. She stays behind with Harry and lives in a tent in the middle of winter and helps with the fruitless hunt for horcruxes. And this wasn’t even the first time that Hermione stuck by Harry when Ron didn’t. (Think Goblet of Fire.) Hermione, for me, was the embodiment of a young woman who never tried to hide her intelligence, never tried to change herself for the approval of others, and never backed down when the path she’d chosen turned difficult.
Nymphadora Tonks: On the surface, I think Tonks comes across as a bit . . . airheaded, perhaps. I attribute that largely to her choice in hair color and her clumsiness. But she’s a fully trained auror, and that takes quite a bit of work. Think of it like this: In order for a Hogwarts grad to be considered for Auror training, they have to take NEWT level potions. Tonks would have been one of Snape’s students, and he doesn’t take anyone into his NEWT class unless they achieved the highest score on their OWL. And I don’t think anyone would deny that doing that well in Snape’s class takes anything less than brains and a good deal of hard work. So here are the things I especially love about Tonks: she’s a smart woman who doesn’t fall into the “fun-sucking, rule-stickler” stereotype and she’s willing to fight for the man she loves. This is probably just the romantic in me speaking, but Tonks knew that she loved Lupin and she knew that Lupin loved her (but was just being a bit daft) and she wasn’t going to give up on him. Seeing as how the power of love is one of the overarching themes of the novels, Tonks’s love for Lupin and her willingness to stand by him regardless of the difficulties is an important part of the series (which was unfortunately WAY overlooked in the movies).
Molly Weasley: What I love most about Molly is that she’s a stay-at-home-mom, but everyone (the exception to that everyone being Malfoy, whose opinion doesn’t really count right now) respects her for it. After all, Fred and George would toe the line after Hermione threatened to write to Molly about their various misdeeds–these boys weren’t afraid of detention or losing points, they were afraid of their mother’s strength. She’s a strong woman–she has to be, raising six sons and one very headstrong daughter. And she’s happy and willing to stay at home and take care of the children and be the kind of mother they need. She’s not worried about having this grand career. She’s not worried about making lots of money. She’s worried about helping her children become the best people they can be. She’s a compassionate woman. After all, she always treated Harry like one of her own, despite the fact that money was tight in the Weasley home. She’s the mother Harry never knew, and she’s willing to fight to the death for any of her children. After all, can you forget how she took down Bellatrix at the end of Deathly Hallows? I thought not.
Minerva McGonagall: I can only think of one way to put this. McGonagall is a bad ass. Hands down. You don’t believe me? Please consult Order of the Phoenix, the Career Advice chapter, and Deathly Hallows, basically any scene after Harry shows back up at Hogwarts. She’s a smart woman and she knows when to stand her ground. She’s a Gryffindor, through and through, no doubt about it. And while she seems a little strict at times, there’s a lot of heart there, too. (Don’t believe me? Go back to when Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup in book 3. She’s seen jumping up and down and crying in joy.)
This is only a glance at the many women in Harry Potter. There are plenty of other strong and courageous women (and especially strong and courageous mothers, namely Lily Potter and Narcissa Malfoy). At the same time, they are balanced with women who lie and sneak and abuse power and do evil things. Rowling paints a picture of women that doesn’t hide blemishes. She treats women as real people, just like she treats the men. And at the end of the day, she has provided young girls in generations to come an example of women who don’t deny that they’re smart and who don’t dumb themselves down to get the attention of a boy. These are role models who will last–not just for me, but for future generations of Potter readers as well.