Hermione Granger and Making Fictional People Real

Why do we defend fictional characters? Whether it be appearance, decisions, feelings, or actions, many people come to the defense of a person who isn’t actually real. Why?

On Friday, November 13th, after an extremely stressful workweek, I read about an interview between Emma Watson and someone from Time in which Emma Watson said, not for the first time, that she thought Hermione Granger’s hair in the first Harry Potter movie was ugly.

First, I’d like to say that Emma Watson is an adult and entitled to her own opinions. She’s a complex person doing a lot of good in the world.

Second, that’s my hair. That was the hair that got me bullied to the point of tears in middle school. It hurts surprisingly badly to hear Emma Watson echo those bullies’ words.

It was too much after the week I’d had.

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So, I broke one of my Sacred Facebook Posting Rules not to put up personal, emotional content and posted a snarky status about the quote. Its original meaning did not carry well through the text, I’ll admit that. Did I mention the workweek had been really, really stressful? I just needed a hug.

Note to self: When in need of a hug, just ask.

Among the comments was one that really struck me. It essentially asked, “Hermione is a fictional character, how can you bully a fictional character?”

The short answer is: You can’t bully a fictional character, but you can denigrate a fictional person’s physical traits, traits that might be shared by real people, therefore essentially commenting on real people.

Then I got to thinking about why I cared so much about a fictional person. Hermione had no real honor to defend—and she’d be much better at defending it—and her story ended several years ago. How did this character seem so real that I still find myself personally offended on her behalf well after I’ve stopped reading or watching her story?

I figure it’s because Hermione Granger was written in such a masterful way that JK Rowling tricked my brain into think she was real. Hermione is a fantastic example of a person with her own strengths and character flaws, vaguely defined hopes and dreams, and someone who suffers the triumphs and failures of adolescence. She isn’t always right, and that makes her more human, more real.

I didn’t get upset because Emma Watson thinks Hermione’s hair in the first movie is ugly (for the record, I still would never use the word “ugly”). I got upset because Hermione Granger, the cleverest witch of her age, was reduced to the quality of her hair and, because I shared a similar appearance with the character, I felt like I had been reduced to my ugly hair (it is still quite difficult to tame and sort of random chance to look nice on any given day).

BUT WHY? Why do we care about characters like this? Why do people get upset when a character is mocked or made the butt of a joke?

Because when those characters are relatable, and people can see themselves as that character, that mocking feels personal. 

Since we’re in the thick of NaNo WriMo, I’m not going to go more in depth in this post, but I will be doing a short series on character, specifically how writers develop real, complex people who happen to be imaginary. Join me next Thursday for Character Study!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

2 thoughts

  1. I don’t know if this is adding a subtle dimension or parroting your same point using different words, but to me the biggest thing is not just the individuals speaking ill of/”bullying” the characters, but the way these conversations (and onscreen bullying arcs, for that matter, though good books sometimes manage to rise above in complexity once in a while) so often center on traits that society already says it’s ok to mock. Hair that’s not sleek and silky. Extra weight. Thick glasses. Whatever. All the usual stuff that makes us already feel not-good-enough. The larger force of pop culture and media is basically confirms people’s insecurities, and that keeps us all in this perpetual role of prejudice and power imbalance. The popular clique is running the culture, setting the rules, and everyone else is other.

    Of course, that old hackneyed dynamic has shifted in unprecedented ways lately, and it makes me happy. But there is still such a long way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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