Will the New Hermione Please Stand Up?

Don’t hate me, Potterites, but I would have preferred the Harry Potter series had been instead the Hermione Granger series. Sure, Harry is great and all, but, given that men protagonists still vastly outnumber women ones, I wish J.K. Rowling had chosen to frame her saga around a woman character.

Thankfully, many recent popular sagas do just that. Alas, some of the most popular (ahem, Twilight) have fairly weak protagonists, a little too focused on romance and not nearly focused enough on charging through complex narratives. Instead of talking about Edward’s golden eyes a bazillion times, how about some heroes with wit, intelligence, bravery and charisma? For that type of character, my recent favorite is Katniss from The Hunger Games.

This summer, I am on a mission to find another Katniss fix for my daughter and I (heck, for my mom and son too, who also loved the series). I have thus far turned to Matched, Divergent, and Uglies.

I was disappointed with Cassia, the protagonist from Matched. The book’s love triangle focus smacked very much of Twilight with similar undertones of pro-abstinence and you-need-a-man-to-be-complete messages. In contrast, Tris, from Divergent, gave me the Katniss chutzpah and Hermione intellect I yearn for rolled into one. And, so far, Uglies’ Tally and Shay read like feminist rebels in training.

Sadly, films with strong young women protagonists have proven non-existent this summer. While I loved Alice in Super 8, I was underwhelmed by the typical damsel-in-distress narrative she ultimately inhabited. Though I commend (and appreciate) J Boursaw’s coverage of five recent strong women in family films, I would argue that strong women leads are much rarer in film than in YA fiction. While the Goodreads list of “Best Feminist Young Adult Books” started by Jessica Stites of Ms. magazine swells with 512 titles, movies aimed at the YA set predominantly feature men leads. For a visual of these men-helmed films, take a gander at Margot Magowan’s gallery of 2011 kids movie posters here.

Unfortunately, most Harry Potter posters could be included in this gallery as they feature Harry, not Hermione. I will admit that I have already purchased my midnight tickets of the final Potter film for tonight, July 14, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up finding a saga as popular and influential as Rowling’s that features a woman at the helm.

Thankfully, The Hunger Games film adaptation is in the works, with the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence (of Winter’s Bone) as the lead. Though I fear Hollywood will up the love triangle quotient of the story and downgrade Katniss’ feminist awesomeness, I am still hoping Games will finally prove that women-helmed narratives can attract large, diverse audiences and put the “boys will only read about (or watch films with) men leads” claim to rest.

Ah, if only I had the power to enact an Imperio curse and make Hollywood and the book publishing world fill our pages and screens with women of the Hermione/Katniss ilk! Or, maybe a new spell is needed–Arresto Bella! Hermione Engorgio! In other words, stop with the Bella-esque characters and let narratives swell with Hermione magnificence.

Cross-posted from Girl w/Pen

Photo from Flickr user ursulakm under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. I believe the word, according to Michele Bachmann at least, is choots-pa. couldn’t help myself.

    Good post btw

  2. Danielle says:

    Waverley from Amy Kathleen Ryan’s upcoming ‘Glow’ is a great protagonist. There is a love triangle, of sorts, but the book is more focused on Waverley’s disillusionment with love/sex/marriage/baby-making … and it’s set in deep space, so there’s lots of fun too!

  3. Oh, oh, I have one for you!! I suggest Consuela from Dawn Metcalf’s “Luminous” which just hit shelves a week or so ago. In addition to the weird fantasy (weird in a good and creepy way, like Guillermo del Toro weird), the main character thinks her body is pretty awesome. Her Latina heritage plays heavily into the themes of the story (dio de los muertos being one of them) so her race isn’t just a cosmetic thing, and the story is entirely about her being brave, smart, and clever. I’m kind of irked at the marketing for the book because it seems that the publisher wants to angle it like a YA Paranormal Romance but that’s not what it’s about at all.

    Full disclosure, I know the author well. But I still think the story rocks and would have recommended it anyway, because the world needs way more characters like Consuela.

  4. When it comes to YA fantasy with female main characters I’m partial to His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and Abarat Clive Barker.

  5. The Mysterious Benedict Society has a jaw-droppingly awesome female lead character, Kate Wetherall.

  6. Nicola Smith says:

    Can I also recommend Tammora Pierce’s books and especially the series “The protector of the Small’ and the Circle series. Great female roles and characters. I’d love to make them into movies and/or a TV series.

    • Mary B. says:

      Yes, yes, and yes! Tamora Pierce=badass feminist writer.

    • I read her Lioness books growing up (a long time ago) and they have really stuck with me. I go back and read them every few years, and they are amazing. There is romance, but not approached in a way that undermines the female protagonist’s agency. Sadly this is rare, and I loved finding it.

  7. I always liked Ellie from the ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ series from author John Marsden. She was gritty, intelligent, strong, a great role model for me.

  8. Also check out Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Fire amazingly well-crafted fantasies. She has a third book, Bitterblue (tentatively), scheduled for release in 2012 that is also set in the same world.

  9. Iliana Echo says:

    IDK about books off the top of my head, but my feminist thing is probably Star Trek Voyager and Captain Kathryn Janeway. It also has three major female supporting characters who are all strong, well-developed characters (and some pretty awesome women who only show up for an episode or two or once a season).

  10. The four main girls of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy are incredible. They are strong, powerful, and independent even in Victorian England while still managing to be believable for the time period. They aren’t without their flaws or their dark, unlikeable moments, but that’s what makes them all such good characters. Multidimensional and strong. I recommend all of Libba Bray’s books for strong girls.

  11. If you’re looking for TV and movies with strong female protagonists, I’d suggest anything by Neil Jordan or Joss Whedon. The subject matter is often more mature, but both writer/directors have a thing for strong female characters.

    And yes, I am suggesting you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer if you haven’t already.

  12. Brittany says:

    i love uglies!! it is awesome for a woman protagonist in a series like the hunger games…i totally agree

  13. Personally, I recommend Tamora Pierce’s various quartets, trilogies, etc for a good feminist read. ALL of her main characters except 1 (Briar, from the Circle of Magic Quartet) are female, and all are strong. Most are women who rebel against society to become knights or other powerful members of society. I absolutely LOVE all of her books. There is some romance, but there is romance in any life, whether male or female, and the focus is invariably more upon saving the world than romance. And all the main characters get to wear clothes that are FUNCTIONAL rather than fuck-able.

  14. Some great suggestions so far. I’ll be sure to check out the suggestions I haven’t read. I would like to second (or fourth in this case) anything by Tamora Pierce (my fave is the Lioness series).

    If looking for TV ‘Fringe’ is a good and gutsy one. Isobelle Carmody and Trudi Canavan are two fabulous Aussie writers who write characters and worlds I enjoy (with strong female protagonists in both cases. I can’t wait for the holidays, definitely going to be checking out the Hunger Games books.

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