Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hermione and Me

I'm now about midway through re-reading book six, and I think it's my favorite of the series -- for now. It may take another reading after the series is done for me to be sure. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, it's still really funny, as there's quite a complicated romantic comedy woven in among all that tragedy. It helps that the romantic comedy stuff is something I can really relate to, as I am, essentially, Hermione Granger grown up. There are times I feel like I ought to serve J.K. Rowling with a restraining order and force her to get out of my life. And it's not just me who thinks this. I can't sit next to my mother when I see the movies with her or I'll end up black-and-blue from her elbowing me every time Hermione does something very Shanna-like, and she's admitted that when she read the first book, before seeing the movie and learning how to pronounce Hermione, she just mentally substituted "Shanna" for that name as she read. A friend made me a t-shirt that says "Hermione grown up" as a birthday present, and if I can find it in my messy closet, that's probably what I'll wear for the release party at Conestoga.

First, there's the physical description. Hermione's key distinguishing feature is her "bushy brown hair." That's a pretty good description of me, especially when I was Hermione's age, before I learned how to deal with the curls. My high-school nickname when the boys were picking on me was "Bird Nest." If I'd worn my hair long then, it would have been even worse because I was trying to brush it into submission at the time, and I didn't know you weren't supposed to brush curly hair. The books also mention Hermione's big front teeth. I, too, had big front teeth I was very self-conscious about. Not only were they big and prominent, but mine were so crooked they overlapped, and I didn't get braces until I was a senior in high school. I was so self-conscious about those teeth that I had a hard time finding a picture that shows them, since I didn't open my mouth to smile when getting my picture taken. Here's a photo from around the age Hermione would have been in the first book. Just imagine that hair if it had been longer, and you can kind of see the teeth. (And, no, I really wasn't a redhead. This photo happened to have been scavenged from my grandmother's old house years after her death, so it's rather faded.)

early Shanna

My one big physical difference from Hermione is eye color. Based on the discussion around the Polyjuice Potion in Chamber of Secrets, she has brown eyes, and mine are green.

Then there's personality. I'll admit, I can be a bit of a know-it-all, and if I think I'm right about something, I'll argue it to the death, even if I'm arguing with a brick wall. These days, I'm more prone to avoiding conflict, but at that age, I thought arguing was fun. I was the kind of kid who'd read the textbooks all the way through at the beginning of the year, and if there was something in the textbooks that intrigued me, I'd go off and find lots of other books on that subject to read it in-depth. We had one little scene from The Miracle Worker in our English book one year, and then I went and read every book I could find on Helen Keller, including her autobiography, and taught myself the finger alphabet (which actually came in handy last Saturday when a deaf girl was looking for help making sure she was on the right train and going to the right station, and I was able to communicate with her -- 30 years later, and I finally had a reason to use it). I wasn't at all shy about commenting on all that extra knowledge in classroom discussions. If there was a book we were reading chapter-by-chapter, I'd have finished reading it within a couple of days. One year, I was in a class that combined two grades, so we were essentially self-paced, with assignments you'd check out and then turn in. I finished the entire school year before Christmas. I'm not much of a rebel unless the rules don't make sense. Otherwise, I'll practically break out in a cold sweat at the thought of going against the rules. Even if I've been given permission or an exception to go against a rule, I feel very uncomfortable about it and practically want it in writing before I'll do it. Does that sound like anyone else we know?

I also fit the pattern socially, and that's one of the things I love about this character. So many of the girls in kids' books seem to have to be either a girly-girl or a tomboy. Either she loves pink and makeup and boys, or else she's wearing jeans, has short hair and plays sports. I was always somewhere in the middle, like Hermione is. She's very much a girl, even if she isn't a typically girly-girl. She rolls her eyes at the girly-girls, and she doesn't seem to care too much about things like clothes, hair and makeup. Although it would appear that she has a bit of a thing for Ron starting in the very first book, she doesn't ever throw herself at him or even really flirt with him. She may be pretty astute about reading people at times, but she doesn't seem to know how to get the message across to him that she likes him, and then she gets frustrated with him when he doesn't realize it (then again, he is pretty dense, and he seems to have been the last person at Hogwarts -- including the giant squid -- to figure out what was going on between them). At the same time, though, she's not a tomboy. She doesn't do sports at all, doesn't seem to understand Quidditch (or care enough about it to bother understanding it) and doesn't play well even when they're just goofing around. She doesn't try to be boyish or macho. Even as she gets along better with boys than she does with girls, she never tries to act like a boy. She's very much a lady the whole time, even if the boys do tend to forget she's a girl. And that's pretty much me in a nutshell. I do enjoy nice clothes and makeup, but it's never been a priority in my life. I've always hung around with boys. Even now, my close friends are more likely to be men than women, and my women friends are likely to be the wives of my male friends. Yet I've never been a tomboy. I'm lousy at sports, entirely unathletic, and don't care much about sports beyond University of Texas football. My point of contact with the boys has usually been related to science fiction, instead. I'm also lousy at even attempting that transition from friendship to more than friends. I don't really know how to flirt or let him know I'm interested, but then I get frustrated when he doesn't get the message and respond to me as more than a friend. I think that's a lot of why I love books four and six so much, because that's so much of what's going on in the background. Hermione likes Ron, but gets frustrated that he doesn't seem to realize it and gets mad at him, and meanwhile he likes her but thinks she doesn't like him because she's mad at him all the time, and so he refuses to let on that he likes her.

The big "Yo, Jo, get out of my life, please!" moment for me was the Winter Ball in Goblet of Fire. That was basically my junior prom. I was friends with guys, but it never occurred to them to ask me to go with them. Instead, they chose cute girls (often much younger) they didn't seem to have anything in common with or anything to talk to about. I got so frustrated with them when they'd be talking about how they thought it would be fun to go eat at McDonald's before the prom, all dressed up in formal wear, and act like they were eating at a nice restaurant, but their dates were violently opposed to that idea and made them make reservations at some fancy restaurant. Meanwhile, I thought the McDonald's idea was a hoot and would have been totally on board with it. I think there even was a "hey, you're a girl" moment during all that, but they just wondered why I didn't have a date yet. The difference between me and Hermione was that I didn't end up with the star athlete from another school while my guy friends sulked around the girls they'd asked. I went without a date, and then ended up with my guy friends sitting with me and sulking when their cute little dates ditched them almost as soon as they got through the front door. I had high hopes that they'd then realize that they had fun with me, and I was a girl, and maybe then they'd ask me out, but they never did.

So, here's me at my "Winter Ball":
junior prom

My one quibble is that when Hermione got dressed up for the ball and was seen as pretty for the first time, she straightened her hair. That's such an annoying cliche, that the big transformation to pretty almost always seems to involve going from having wild curly hair to having sleek, straight hair. What about just getting the curls under control and having ringlets instead of frizz? That was my big transformation from plain to pretty. At least Hermione didn't stick with the straight hair, calling it too much trouble, and she still has bushy hair in later books.

So, basically, I've never seen a character I could relate to in such detail, on so many different levels. It's so cool that the smart girl gets to be a heroine instead of just being in the background. She can have boys interested in her -- and cool boys, at that -- without transforming into a boy-crazy idiot. She gets all these things on her own terms without compromising herself and without having to downplay her intelligence. What a wonderful role model she is.

So, what do you think, Hermione catching up with Hagrid at the Hogwarts 20-year class reunion?

Hagrid and me

PS: Don't forget the promo materials for Harry Potter night at your local bookstore!

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