You Just Need to Look Long Enough

Another thing I’m learning in the process of research: if you look long enough, you can find someone to agree with you on just about anything.

I’m working on my Children’s Lit paper, and I’m looking at the portrayal of Hermione in Harry Potter. Now, at first glance, the HP books are sexist (as I mentioned here), and that’s one of the beefs Jack Zipes has with them. So I was reading some more material on that, notably one book called Females and Harry Potter: Not All That Empowering, by Ruthann Mayes-Elma. It’s a piece of hand-wringing about how the females in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione not excepted, have no agency, and how the Harry Potter stories reinforce patriarchal thinking. Now, it annoyed me, reading that, because I don’t want to think of the Harry Potter novels as bad, anti-feminist, and child-corrupting (even though I had already formulated my preliminary thesis along those lines). My own gut reaction to the novels is that they are empowering, not suppressive.

So I continued digging, and hit the jackpot. Not only are there two great essays on the topic, I found a book called Hermione Granger Saves the World: Essays on the Feminist Heroine of Hogwarts, edited by Christopher E. Bell (it’s got a charming picture of a squashed-face ginger cat on the cover, just like Hermione’s Crookshanks). A whole book about just how feminist the Harry Potter stories really are! I’m looking forward to digging more into that. Oh, I also found out some interesting bits: Hermione is not only modelled on J. K. Rowling herself (she said so repeatedly), but is named after several historic or literary characters, from Greek mythology through Shakespeare to D.H. Lawrence. And apparently they were all strong women.

Incidentally, the same thing happened with a book on C. S. Lewis which I found annoying, David Holbrook’s The Skeleton in the Wardrobe. It’s a Freudian interpretation of Lewis’ fantasy stories, which Holbrook apparently can’t stand. It didn’t take me long to find scholars who refute Holbrook quite emphatically, including one who says that “in this case the use of evidence is driven all too often by the axe-grinding urge” (Colin Manlove, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World. New York: Twayne, 1993, p.20). My sentiments exactly.

So, conclusion: in research, you just have to dig deeply enough, and you’ll turn up something you can quote with impunity. If you don’t like the answers, look again, you’ll probably find better ones. And chances are, whichever scholar you’ve found agreeing with you has already thought things through a lot better than you have – well, at least that’s the case for me.

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3 thoughts on “You Just Need to Look Long Enough

  1. Well that’s pretty fascinating for me – on two counts. First, I am looking for research that backs up some hunches I have about reading disabilities (because my experience with my 2 boys conflicts with much of the mainstream research and I want to dig deeper) – and I have just found that perhaps, indeed, I have found something that backs up my experience – yay. Second, as I read the HP books, and as someone who has studied feminism to some degree at a graduate level, I found the female characters to be very strong, very inspiring – especially Mrs. Weasley, who, after all, endured the following: a wedding, kids in constant danger, a son who lost his ear and then lost his very life (or was it the brother who died? can’t quite remember) and then, after all that tragedy and agony, used her anger to kill the 2nd worst evil villain of the whole series! I mean – what a goddess! And even Luna………she was really cool somehow. And Hermione? Loved her. She was the real reason Harry triumphed at all…..we all know that. His self-confidence sucked -but hers was strong the whole way through. At least that was my take on it all.

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    • If you want to study that whole angle of Harry Potter and feminism some more, check out that book I mentioned (it’s an ebook, available through the uni library). It’s got a whole chapter on the power of mothers, and it makes that same point about Mrs Weasley being the ultimate kick-butt mum (and, what’s more, she’s very happy in her maternal role – she’s not a downtrodden housewife who has no other choice). Plus, there is the fact that ultimately it’s the power of mother love which defeats Voldemort – it’s the protection Harry has through his mother’s blood, because of her self-sacrificial death, which keeps Voldemort from killing him. And yes, the scene where Mrs Weasley kills Bellatrix – whoohoo! I was disappointed that they made it so short in the movie.
      Another point they make in that book is that, in a sense, Harry isn’t the protagonist of the story – not on his own, anyway. It’s like the protagonist is made up of the three together, Harry, Ron and Hermione, because without the other two, Harry would be toast. I thought that was interesting.
      Oh, and it was Fred who lost his ear, and George who died.

      So yeah, just keep looking for the info you need, you’ll find it eventually. And if not – write it yourself! That’s what grad school is all about, isn’t it.

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