Hugo reading 2017: The Women of Harry Potter, by Sarah Gailey

OK, I didn’t mean to read The Women of Harry Potter Posts, by Sarah Gailey, next, but my Kobo opened it automatically for me, and since it was only 25 pages, I thought, what the hell…

This is a series of five pieces that fall somewhere between essay and fanfic, each focusing on one of the women in the Harry Potter universe.  I should probably start by mentioning that I haven’t read all of Harry Potter – I think I stopped at the end of Book 5, because it was all getting too dark and depressing for my taste.  But I’ve read a lot of fanfic and essays about it, one way or another, because I find the fandom kind of fascinating.

The first story is about Ginny Weasley, and it is full of frustration and anger about being the youngest and the only girl and ignored and viewed as weak and nobody even thinking to notice that she is the only one who ever actually had conversations with Voldemort (which might, you know, be useful to the resistance).  I like that it points out all the things that we can deduce she is doing off to the side of the plot, and I loved the ending, where she marries Harry Potter ‘because she wants to – not because he’s earned her, not because she’s the prize that’s handed to him once Voldemort is dead, but because she’s decided that he’s adequate. She’s the only woman in the world who can look him in the face and tell him truthfully that she’s not impressed at all, but that she loves him anyway.’

Molly Weasley’s story is in a similar vein, and centres on all the invisible labour of women’s work during the war – making sure people are fed and housed, patching up the wounded, listening to people, motivating people, providing the necessary back up for the fighters, and in the end fighting herself.

We then move to Dolores Umbridge, and her story is a little more essay-like, and quite thought provoking.  Also a little bit too timely.  For me, the core of the story is the idea that Umbridge sees herself as doing good and working to improve the wizarding world and make everyone better off.  This, in particular, resonated with me:

We trust, often, that those in positions of power will use their power more for good than for evil. We trust in our systems: that those who do use power for evil will be removed, punished, pushed out by a common desire for good.

But then, we forget, don’t we? We forget that not everyone agrees on the definition of “good.” We might think of “good” as “everyone equal, everyone friends” while others think of “good” as “those people gone.”

The next essay is really a love letter to Hermione.  It points out just how much she is doing, and how much of a heroine she truly is.  I’ve seen a lot of essays on this topic, and this is a good example, but did not give me anything particularly new to work with, apart from painting her as an Everywoman in her overlooked heroism and emotional labour and all-round brilliance.

Last of all is an essay about Luna, which is really about the incredible courage of optimism.  I really liked this one, but no one quote sprang out at me, quite.

I don’t really know how to judge this against the other works in this category.  It’s very engaging, and definitely the most fun to read of anything in the category so far.  I enjoyed it.  I wasn’t bored. I got some new insights from it. And yet… the scope was quite constrained, compared, say, to LeGuin’s collection. It would make a handful of chapters there, no more.

I think I’m putting it second for now, after LeGuin but before Silverberg, simply because Silverberg, while interesting, was a bit of a chore to get though in the end.  And, in fact, I think it belongs there.  My main complaint about Silverberg was his tendency to forget about women… and this is pretty much the perfect antidote to that, bringing forward the female characters from Harry Potter and presenting them as the heroines of their own stories.

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