As distance continues to accumulate between the present moment and the final installment of the Harry Potter books, one character has risen above the rest taken on a whole new afterlife. You’d think it would be Snape, the series’ most morally complex and mysterious character, but it’s not. Instead, Hermione Granger, born on September 19, who begins her journey as a brainy, hand-in-the-air teacher’s pet and ends it as an unshakeable heroine and the smartest wizard of her generation, has become a pop culture icon for a generation that was raised on Harry Potter and embraces feminism.
This makes sense in a lot of ways. Rowling has noted that Hermione’s know-it-all ways and insecurity as a young girl are modeled on her own character, and you can feel their deep connection. Hermione’s also got a more memorable personality than Harry or Ron. Her bookishness, her assertiveness, and her perfectionism stay with the reader after details about time-turners and Polyjuice Potion fade. Many of her experiences, from being desexualized by her male friends to getting picked on by teachers and other students to being the lone adherent of her very important activist cause (free the house elves!) are relatable in a way that being the Chosen One is not. For me, her willingness to raise her hand in class and take up lefty petitioning that her classmates found absurd were qualities that provided a retroactive affirmation of my own teenage personality.
Today, besides continually singing her praises, fans have found creative ways to honor Hermione. There are several alternate versions of Harry Potter which recenter her, making the case that she’s really the main character. Back in 2011, Sady Doyle wrote an appraisal of the series as though Hermione was its protagonist. “Hermione is not Chosen. That’s the best thing about her. Hermione is a hero because she decides to be a hero; she’s brave, she’s principled, she works hard, and she never apologizes for the fact that her goal is to be very, extremely good at this whole “wizard” deal,” she wrote. “In Hermione Granger and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she actually masters the forces of space and time just so that she can have more hours in the day to learn.”
BuzzFeed did something similar, reimagining the movie series with GIFs and images as Hermione Granger and the Goddamn Patriarchy. “Even though she’d read that women are less likely to speak up in classrooms, Hermione gave literally zero fucks for socially mandated gender roles,” reads one part of the project.”Twitter wasn’t around in those days, but if it was, she’d have just invented the #BossWitch hashtag” is another.” (You get the idea.)
Online, fans have also “racebent” Hermione, drawing pictures of her and creating montages that suggest she’s a woman of color. Her big hair and semi-outsider status, as a muggle-born wizard who feels she has to prove herself when called a”mudblood” by racial supremacists, has attracted this reading. “As a biracial girl growing up in a very white city, I found myself especially attaching to the allegory f fHarry Potter’s blood politics,” writes Alanna Bennet. “In middle school, when I was confronting that there were people out there who’d call me ‘n****r,’ I thought back to Hermione being called ‘mudblood’ and harassed by teacher and students alike. ”
Many LGBT readers had a similar, personalized reaction to Hermione’s “different” origins. “She provided me with a role model who was not only brazen and intelligent but she made an effort to prioritize these qualities,” writer J.E. Reich told me. “There was also something profoundly queer about her — not in her sexuality, of course, but in her marginality as a mudblood, and her obvious separateness. Hermione’s characterization informed my queer identity in a positive way: I too could be different from the majority, but I could also celebrate it.”
And then there’s the question of her marriage. While many fans are partial to Ron, others — including both Rowling and Watson — have asked whether this ultimate match was the right one for the character and whether she’d be better with Harry, or someone else entirely. Regardless of who she ended up with, the question of Hermione’s romantic fulfillment is a big one for feminist fans. “I honestly think that her life with Ron is going to be filled with lackluster sex and she doesn’t deserve that. Rowling wrote their romance in a way that suggested that Ron just deserved Hermione off of the strength that he liked her,” Feministing’s Sesali Bowen, who felt a kinship with Hermione because of her love of books and learning, tells Flavorwire.
The question of who deserves to be Hermione’s soulmate remains open, naturally, but it’s a testament to the passion people feel about her. While there’s plenty to critique in the Harry Potter universe, in terms of both gender and storytelling, Hermione Granger has taken on a life for her fans that transcends the books’ boundaries. She’s a literary icon.