Being Hermione

You know, the greatest thing about having your own blog is that you can totally ignore everyone’s advice about finding a niche and just write whatever you want. This blog is a lot of things to me. Sometimes it’s a megaphone, sometimes it’s a therapy group, sometimes it’s a mirror. Sometimes, it’s just somewhere to work through my ideas, to practice my writing, to say something that I think needs to be said.

So today, I’m going to talk about Harry Potter. And you can all deal with it. I love the Harry Potter books in a way that is very specific to my generation, I think. We grew up along with Harry, Ron and Hermione. People in my town wore tape around their glasses for a while. I sobbed when a friend cracked the spine of my first edition Goblet of Fire. We queued at midnight book releases. A year ago, I applied for the dream job at Pottermore (whoever got it – you have my eternal envy). My dad read the Philosopher’s Stone to me. I slept with my bedroom light on all through Chamber of Secrets. In Prisoner of Azkaban, I had an imaginary hippogriff. I stayed up all night to read Goblet of Fire. I got sunstroke reading Order of the Phoenix. I kept the faith through the Half Blood Prince. I cried and cried and cried at the Deathly Hallows.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

Reading, but also prepared to bolt in case of hungry basilisks or evil potions masters.

So, I might not be JK Rowling, but I consider myself quite the Harry Potter buff. And amidst all the debate about it, if you were to ask me who the real Hermione Granger is, I could tell you without a moment’s pause.

It’s me.

See? Hermione.

See? Hermione.

The bushy haired bookworm with too much to say. Who cried when people didn’t understand her, but never stopped being fiercely herself. Every time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I felt Hermione taking my hand. It’s okay, she’d whisper, we’re the good guys.

When the films came out, I was, of course, devastated that JK Rowling didn’t show up at my door and cry “Fiona! Where have you been! We’ve been searching for Hermione and I just knew we hadn’t found her because you weren’t there!”

That said, once I got over that devastating blow, my heart soared watching Emma Watson as Hermione. Sure, she was prettier than me and her hair was more manageable than mine, but I still saw myself in her every step of the way. I cheered when she punched Malfoy. I bawled when she descended the steps of the Yule Ball. I cheered when she hit Harry with a book that one time. I bawled when her and Ron shared their first kiss. Even now, show me a gif of Emma Watson crying and I’ll tear up. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is me.

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Now that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has opened at the Palace Theatre in London, conversations about the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a black woman, as Hermione have flared up again. While I suspect that a whole lot of people are using this as a very thin veil for their racism, the justification seems to be that Noma Dumezweni just isn’t what Hermione looks like. And you know what? She’s not what my Hermione looked like. But for millions of other young girls, millions of young black Harry Potter fans, she’s exactly what Hermione looked like. Because she is Hermione and Hermione is them.

If you can’t see the beauty in a whole new subsection of women having their vision of Hermione recognised and validated, you don’t understand Hermione at all. Hermione is for every little girl who has ever felt odd or out of place or wrong. Hermione is a woman. She’s outspoken, seen as mouthy, even – although I’d be willing to stake my life on Harry having more lines. She’s muggle born, a “mudblood”. She weathers criticism and discrimination on all these fronts, and adding racism to the mix puts in new layers to the discrimination she faces. And this is something that black girls will recognise and experience. Hermione exists to say it’s okay to be smart, it’s okay to be mouthy, it’s okay to be black. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be you.

Hermione is Emma Watson. Hermione is Noma Dumezweni. She’s probably JK Rowling too. She’s me. She might even be you. And if you don’t understand that, if you don’t wholeheartedly celebrate that, then you don’t understand the first thing about her.

Great Storybook Role Models For Little Girls

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Dolly Dowsie. Reposting today in honour of National Libraries Day.

When I was a little girl, I could usually be found curled up in a corner with my nose in a book. I could disappear for hours on end, only emerging once yet another story had been devoured. The courageous, feisty heroines within their pages were my best friends, and from a very young age, they taught me what kind of girl I wanted to grow up to be. Long gone are the days where girls in storybooks are passive damsels in distress. Now, girls can turn to books for aspirational, strong female role models. I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite childhood books and the characters in them that helped make me the woman I am today.

1. Matilda, from Matilda by Roald Dahl

As a slightly strange, extremely bookish girl, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Matilda. Matilda tells the story of a little girl who uses her intelligence and special powers to outsmart her bullying headmistress and apathetic parents. She is wildly imaginative and a little bit mischievous. Although she plays tricks on the grown-ups in her life, she is very fair, and only punishes people who really, truly deserve it. Those who treat her well, such as her friend Lavender and her teacher Miss Honey, are met with respect, love and loyalty from. As with most Roald Dahl characters, Matilda encourages children to see learning as an amazing journey that should continue outside school. Once I had begrudgingly accepted that I didn’t have telekinetic powers, I focused on attaining Matilda’s second and even more important weapon, her brilliant mind. Matilda shows little girls that reading voraciously and learning just for the love of it can be just as powerful as having a magical superpower.

2. Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte is a spider living in the dark corner of a farmer’s barn. She befriends Wilbur, a young pig who is horrified to learn that he might some day end up on the farmer’s breakfast plate. With the help of the other farm animals, Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur from this terrible fate. Charlotte is intelligent and well spoken – it’s thanks to her that I can greet someone with “salutations”, or aspire to create my “magnum opus”. She is kind to all the animals in the barn, despite their apprehension towards her because she is a spider. She is firm, but gentle towards the naïve Wilbur, and never lets him give up hope. She often puts the needs of her friends before her own. Charlotte taught me that it doesn’t matter how people perceive you, as long as you have a kind heart and a quick wit, you will always be loved.

3. Henrietta Hickathrift, from The Stray by Dick King Smith

This one isn’t a very well known book, but it is one of my absolute favourites. I first read it as a little girl, and now, as I pass it on to my littlest sister, I’m finding that it hasn’t lost a single bit of its charm. Henrietta is an old woman who decides to run away from her nursing home and go to the seaside. She is plucky and compassionate, earning the admiration and friendship of everyone she meets. Although she hits a few speed bumps along the way, the book eventually sees Henrietta’s kindness and generosity returned on her tenfold. She faces her fears with great panache, inspiring me to live life to the full, and taught me that no dream was too big or too small.

4. Sophie, from the series Sophie by Dick King Smith

Sophie is a stubborn but loveable four-year-old girl, who detests frilly dresses and dreams of becoming a lady farmer. The series follows her between the ages of four and eight, passing milestones such as beginning school, starring in the class play, taking riding lessons and informing the farmer’s son next door that they’re going to get married some day. She is steadfast and loyal, and a great lover of all animals. She is incredibly proud of her impressive vocabulary, and frequently uses very long, complicated words, albeit with a few endearing mistakes. Most of all though, Sophie works conscientiously to achieve her goals. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does, which frequently causes accidental chaos, but usually also ends in success. She taught me not to sit around and wait for things to happen to me. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I could achieve anything.

5. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

I know, I know, this one’s a big cliché, but I just couldn’t exclude Hermione. I have a special soft spot for her because we were almost the same age when the first book came out, and with each passing year, we grew up together. The Harry Potter series could more accurately be titled “Harry Potter gets confused, Hermione fixes everything”. She is intelligent, meticulous and motivated, leaving the boys in the dust both in and out of the classroom. She isn’t afraid to be herself, despite taking pretty much constant stick for being clever. As she matures throughout the series, she becomes increasingly considerate and understanding, acting as mother, teacher and friend to a great number. In the final couple of books, she has her heart repeatedly broken, but instead of sulking, simply continues to rid the wizarding world of evil until the object of her affections realises what a colossal mistake he has made and comes back. Hermione is beautiful, but this is completely outshone by a stunning personality, a keen intellect and a willingness to do anything that is necessary to protect her friends. She is a true leading lady: so, so much more than just a pretty face.