I’m one of those people who partly grew up reading the Harry Potter series. Although I was in high school and college when most of the books and movies came out, they still had a significant influence on me. I wrote a good deal of fanfiction, which kept me writing when I couldn’t work on my own original stories.
This series helped me in myriad ways, some of which I’m sure I’m not even aware of, and a large part of that was thanks to the number and variety of women in this magical world. Sure, Harry is the title character, and I learned many things from him and the men of Harry Potter as well, but as a teenage girl struggling with a sense of self and worth and trying to fit in, it was nice to have an array of women, good and bad, to read about in these books.
“What’s interesting about the wizarding world is that when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just the same as a man can fight; a woman can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic.” —J.K. Rowling
To my delight, the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD includes a wonderful feature about the women of Harry Potter, and that was the seed for this post. (Seriously, watch that video. It’s inspiring and wonderful.)
It’s too bad I can’t go through every awesome woman in this series (I could probably run an entire side blog for at least a year if I tried to do that), so I’m going to divide it into categories and then pick a character to talk about in each. It still doesn’t cover all the women in the books, because just like real people, they can’t be easily categorized.
“I was a very insecure person for longer than I like to admit. And I think writing about the time in Hermione’s life that I write about, growing from childhood into womanhood…I think it brought back to me how very difficult it is. So much is expected of you as you become a woman.” —J.K. Rowling
I have to go with the obvious choice in this category: Hermione Granger. As a fellow overachiever, I consider her a priceless character. She is smart, but she gets on people’s nerves. She knows what she’s doing, but sometimes she doesn’t let other people figure things out for themselves. She is headstrong but vulnerable. And I appreciate to this day that she never acts dumb to make the people around her feel better about themselves. Aside from the ability to do magic, she was like me and so many young women I knew.
None of the characters of the central trio in Harry Potter (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) can be taken out of the story or changed without impacting everything, but Hermione’s importance cannot be overstated. She’s often the heart of the group while also being the brain. In some MG books and many YA books with male main characters, the main female characters almost always end up just being love interests, with a bare minimum of personality. Or if they’re friends, they end up being little more than the emotional compass for the main character. But Hermione has her own strengths and weaknesses—ones that change and develop over time as she does—and she’s often the one that comes up with the elaborate plans, the sure-fire solutions.
But she’s not infallible, which is important. She can be reckless, angry. And, as always, it’s the flaws that make her feel real, that allow young women reading the series to identify with her and learn from her. Hermione’s strengths are wonderful, but her flaws make her relatable.
See also: Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Cho Chang, Fleur Delacour, etc.
“I just suppose that, as a woman, and as a daughter, maybe I feel that that’s a form of love that doesn’t get explored as much as it should given that it’s so formative in everyone’s life.” —J.K. Rowling
Here, I want to pick a more unexpected character. I love Molly Weasley dearly, but I think Narcissa Malfoy is a more interesting representation of motherhood in the series. She’s a somewhat minor character, really, and at first we think she’s worlds away from Molly Weasley’s type of motherhood. From what we glean, she seems cold and distant—and, of course, unlikable, given that the Malfoys are Death Eaters.
But Rowling does some clever maneuvering with Narcissa as a character to actually make her pivotal to Voldemort’s downfall. First, when her son is tasked with killing Dumbledore, one of Voldemort’s greatest threats, she immediately does what she can to protect him, going against Voldemort’s command. This gives the readers a hint that maybe Narcissa isn’t as far from Molly as we think. Their ideals are different, their views on the world couldn’t be more disparate, but when it comes to their children, they will both face some of the most terrifying forces in the world to protect them.
Because in the end, Narcissa puts Draco above everything. At some point she believed in Voldemort’s cause enough to become a Death Eater, to follow him into not one war but two. But when she goes to see if Harry is truly dead, she is concerned only for her son. The outcome of the series would have been completely different if not for Narcissa.
See also: Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, Minerva McGonagall (as a mother figure, not a literal mother), etc.
“You have Molly, who will mother the whole world if she can, and you have Bellatrix, whose idea of love is very perverse.” —J.K. Rowling
This is a small category, but Bellatrix Lestrange is such a massive presence in the books that I can’t not talk about her. She is the antithesis of so many of the other women in this series, and yet like her sister Narcissa, there are common factors: namely, love and loyalty.
Many of the women in these books are driven by love, but it’s not always romantic. Hermione loves Ron romantically, but she also loves Harry deeply as a friend. Molly and Narcissa both have a mother’s love for and loyalty to their children that drives their actions. Bellatrix shows, to use Rowling’s own word, a perversion of love and loyalty, an explosion of obsession that sends someone off the deep end, that causes them to do heinous things without a second thought. Bellatrix would be a psychopath even without Voldemort, but her loyalty makes her deadly.
I think some degree of Bellatrix’s type of loyalty can be a good thing, but it’s shone through the warped prism of her mind and becomes a fault instead. This is excellent work on Rowling’s part, because Hermione, for example, is a perfect degree of loyal to Harry. She’ll tell him when he has a terrible plan or is making a mistake, but she still sometimes follows him straight into those plans when she can’t come up with a better one. In Hermione, and many of the other female (and male) characters in this series, loyalty is a virtue. In Bellatrix, it is a huge flaw. She has chosen to be loyal to an evil person with despicable values, but she never once wavers in her devotion. Not even when everyone thought Voldemort was dead the first time. She is an excellent example of how normally good qualities can be pushed to terrible extremes.
See also: Dolores Umbridge (a different type of warped, but warped nonetheless).
Do you have a favorite fierce fictional female from the Harry Potter series that I didn’t mention here? Tell me why you love her!
Other posts in this series: