Books Every Woman Should Read: The Harry Potter Series
I can guess what you’re thinking. The story of the ‘Boy Who Lived’ surely has nothing to say to the 21st century woman? It’s a kid’s story: a tale of wizards and magic and boarding schools, as far removed from reality as can be…right?
I grew up with the Harry Potter series and remember well the fevered anticipation every time a new book arrived. I never did make it to a midnight launch (they only happened in the cities) but I do have a copy of the Half-Blood Prince that I bought in King’s Cross that I’m very fond of.
The next book series to capture the world’s imagination in a similar way was Twilight, and after that, Fifty Shades of Grey. The balance seems to have righted itself somewhat with the action-packed and visceral Hunger Games but what did Twilight and Fifty Shades have in common (beside the plot and poor writing)? Thinly drawn, weak heroines with no lives outside the men they loved.
The contrast between this and Harry Potter could not be more pronounced. JK Rowling may not be the best writer in the world nor the most original. Her gift lies in painting strong, unforgettable characters and infusing her world with humour and pathos.
The series abounds with believable female characters. Rowling has said that Hermione is based on her younger self and the character undergoes a transformation throughout the 7 books. Hermione is a perfectionist; a stereotypical swot who would rather die than get in trouble. As the series goes on, she realises that doing what is right means occasionally breaking the rules and that friendship and love are more important than grades. It’s hard to believe that the Hermione who began first year in Hogwarts would ditch school to go Voldemort hunting, but that’s precisely what happens.
Ginny, too, learns a painful lesson from her experience with the Chamber of Secrets and is never quite the timid, Harry-worshipping girl who begs to be let on the train at Platform 9 ¾ again. Instead she is fiercely brave – something that attracts Harry to her.
All the women in Harry Potter provide the reader with several different kinds of femininity, not all of it positive. The incredibly awful Dolores Umbridge and the domineering Aunt Marge (reportedly based on the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) demonstrate that women, just as men, can be cruel, unthinking and hurtful. It would not be any other way.
Although they may have ridiculous names and wave wands, the characters in the Harry Potter series are real, rounded people. While the hero is a man – and so is his enemy – the books provide a far healthier role model for young girls than the characters in the female-led Twilight.
While motherhood is a very important part of the series, especially Lily’s sacrifice for Harry and Molly Weasley’s almost-Irish-Mammy level of fussing, characters like Professor McGonagall show a woman can exist independently of motherhood and marriage (although the Harry Potter Wiki tells me that Professor McGonagall was a widow- who knew?)
Maybe you’ve only seen the movies or haven’t picked up the books in years. Why not dust them off and get spellbound all over again?
Photos c/o fanpop.com