Why Harry Potter's Hermione Granger Will Always Be the Badass We Aspire to Be

Twenty years after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Emma Watson's Hermione Granger is still inspiring young readers.

By Tierney Bricker Nov 14, 2021 1:00 PMTags
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"I'm hoping to do some good in the world!"

Little did Hermione Granger know the impact she would have when she uttered those words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of the magical series.

This past Halloween, I went to my 8-year-old nephew's outdoor costume parade at his elementary school. He was dressed as some kind of neon skeleton from Fortnite (apparently it is still A Thing, fellow olds!) and so was his best friend, though it wasn't an intentional matching situation. So as we waited for the precession to begin, I was expecting to see a lot of costumes I would be two (OK, three) generations away from understanding.

But then a small girl in a Hogwarts robe walked by, proudly holding her wand, and I felt a small flutter. And when another young grade schooler walked by with the same costume, complete with a Gryffindor scarf, a warmth spread through my body like I had just guzzled a mug of Butterbeer. By the end of the event, I had seen no less than nine girls dressed as Hermione Granger and my heart grew three sizes that day.

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I don't know why I was so surprised to see as many Harry Potter costumes as I did. It is one of the most beloved and successful franchises of all-time and was a full-blown phenomenon by any pop culture standard. But still, it was heartwarming to see that, in an era when there's a new must-watch Netflix show debuting weekly and the trends change faster than the seasons as our attention spans continue to get smaller and smaller, something that was so dear, precious, and foundational in my adolescence has the staying power and legacy that the wizarding world's young heroine has.

Alex Alonzo/E! Illustration

When I first read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, I was in middle school and had put myself on the long wait list at the library for a copy of J.K. Rowling's fantasy novel. A voracious reader from a young age, I always felt weird for actually—gasp!—liking books. My mom's interest could barely be held by a magazine, while my siblings and friends really had no interest in reading. Most Christmases I was holed away in a bedroom reading a book I had received, with my uncles calling me a "nerd." But for me, it was an escape and an adventure, but also something I struggled to not feel a weird shame about. Even Disney labeled Belle as different for having her nose always buried in a book. She's a puzzle to the rest of us, that Belle….

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After I finally got my hands on a copy, I immediately got lost in the story, as millions of other people did. Still, I wasn't expecting to see myself in the pages of the tale of the boy who lived, Harry Potter, a.k.a. yet another Chosen One in a genre filled with them. But then Hermione Granger entered Harry and Ron Weasley's carriage on the Hogwarts Express and everything changed.

First, her physical appearance was basically like looking in a literary mirror: She had "bushy brown hair," which ditto (I still have PTSD from the time I tried to use an actual clothing iron to smooth it out!), plus the addition of unfortunate bangs I was trying to grow out at the time. Hermione also had front buck teeth, while I, prior to my volatile four-year relationship with braces and a small dalliance with headgear, had a massive gap and overbite.

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But, unlike me, Hermione seemed to not care about such frivolous things like how her hair looked. Thought of initially as an "insufferable know-it-all" by the boys who would become her best friends—"Are you sure that's a real spell? Well, it's not very good, is it?"—she had the confidence I dreamed of having, clearly having no issue with being the smartest and most prepared person in any train cart or classroom. She used knowledge as her sword, both to wound and defend.

Looking back, I know there were times when I was, well, intolerable, reaching my fingers toward the ceiling hoping a teacher would call on me to answer a question. Fiercely competitive, I would sprint the mile in gym class while my classmates walked at a glacial pace. In a school spelling bee, I cried over coming in second place. (The word "incongruent" still haunts me.)

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Basically, I had a lot "Now if you two don't mind, I'm going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed - or worse, expelled" energy.

But looking to Hermione, the smartest witch in her class whose loyalty matched her wit, I was able to see that trying hard wasn't a bad thing. There is no shame in effort and cool is overrated, something Hermione also instilled in the actress who portrayed her. 

 "I was the girl in school whose hand shot up to answer the questions," Emma Watson told Paper magazine in 2016. "I was really eager to learn in an uncool way. In a super uncool way, actually. And then the character of Hermione gave me permission to be who I was." 

As the series went on, I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione and was usually around the same age as they were in each novel. It was thrilling to see a character like Hermione grapple with the same issues I was facing—first kiss, first heartbreak, social injustices—all while becoming a central and essential figure in stopping the return of He Who Shall Not Be Named. (Let's be real, Harry and Ron would've been screwed without Hermione. Fact.)

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Still, I won't lie to you, dear reader: When I initially read the books, I was not exactly enthralled by Hermione's mission to ensure better treatment of the house elves by forming S.P.E.W. (Society For the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) in The Goblet of Fire. And when the film adaptation was released in 2005, I was relieved to see the storyline, which seemed unnecessary and, well, boring, hit the cutting room floor.

However, when I reread the series as an adult, I couldn't believe how foolish that viewpoint was. Here was a young woman who saw injustices being carried out on those considered to be less-than and rather than look away, she forced others to confront the issue head-on. Even when her peers showed little interest or mocked her efforts, she persisted and fought for what she believed in. (And as we later learn, she would go on to work for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures before becoming Minister of Magic. NBD!) Justice for S.P.E.W.

Hermione's bewitching spell of head and heart, wit and wisdom proved to be a lasting one, the character topping The Hollywood Reporter's list of 50 Favorite Female Characters of All-Time in 2016, with more than 1,800 industry insiders participating in the survey.

Warner Bros. Pictures/Entertainment Pictures via ZUMA Press

But it's impossible to extricate Watson herself from Hermione's legacy, with the actress proving to be just as much of an activist as the character. 

In 2014, Watson was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and helped launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe, which advocates for gender equality. She is also a founding member of Time's Up UK, was appointed to a G7 advisory body for women's rights in 2019 and has also been a leading voice for sustainable fashion.

"Her empathy, her sense of integrity, her decency and resolute belief in fighting for justice and fairness," Watson told The Hollywood Reporter of her iconic character in 2016, "even when her earnestness made her an easy target for ridicule, they're all unwavering."

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"Hermione made it OK for girls to be the smartest in the room," she continued. "To be a leader, the one with the plan. She's not just a role for me, she's a symbol. I am deeply proud to have played her."

And after all the time, Potterheads remain grateful that Watson so capably captured Hermione's spirit, handling the weight of millions of young fans' expectations and older readers' childhood experiences with a flick of her Ollivander wand. Always.

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