Hermione – the Millennial Mary Sue
by Ann Biedermann
As a Millennial, I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione. As for many young girls in the 2000s and 2010s, Hermione was my role model. She was smart, assertive, not afraid to be mocked for being bookish, had close friends and was skilled in what she was doing: „The best witch of her age“. Which girl would not look up to her? From reading this you can easily tell that I belong to the generation of book readers which is supposed to read something else but still cannot stop going back to the wizarding world. Yet, as you grow older, you start to think about things differently. You start to notice things. And one of them is the differences between book Hermione and film Hermione. Book Hermione is a character to look up to but also flawed, who needs to learn to value friendships, to accept people who think differently than her and to function in stressful situations. In the films, however, she is perfect. She knows every spell, reacts fast in the face of danger, and becomes the center of the narrative in so many ways that one could think to rename the series “7 Times Hermione saved Harry’s a**”.
This resembles very much the film trope of the “Mary Sue”, coined in 1973. A Mary Sue is a female character that often appears to be a feminist character as she is equally or eve more skilled than her male counterparts. And that is also her largest pitfall. She is too skilled, things come too easy to her, and she never truly struggles. This attempt at a female character is seen in many genres, for example in the superhero characters She-Hulk and Captain Marvel. Many critics say that a Mary Sue is an ill-advised attempt of writing a female character, other critics call it is blatantly anti-feminist because while claiming to bring more female characters on the screen it sets impossible standards and is yet another character girls (and boys) cannot look up to.
A flawless character design is not only a disservice to the Mary Sue but also to the characters around her. For her to shine they must cede the spotlight. And in the Harry Potter series, Hermione was polished to the detriment of Ron. Film Ron is a funny sidekick, relegated to funny one-liners. This works to the point that film watchers start to wonder what he contributes to the narrative other than easy banter? Book Ron, however, is the best friend one can imagine: He is an emotional character who never hides his true feelings or thoughts, he is loyal, intelligent, brave, and yes, fun to hang out with. But most of these attributes were given to Hermione. Apparently, with unfortunate character design two well-rounded characters equals one Mary Sue and one lovable idiot.
But why do I give this a thought now? The first book was published in 1997 and the first film released in 2001. The stories have not (truly) been expanded since 2011. Well, first of all, you can always discuss the Wizarding World. And second, because someone cannot let the story rest. HBO plans a reboot of the Harry Potter saga in form of a TV series. There is a chance to improve Hermione’s and Ron’s character design and develop both as well-rounded characters, both with vices and virtues yet equally important to the story. Film viewers can finally understand how cool Ron and Hermione really are. Or not.
Superb Analysis about what went wrong in the character design of Ron, Hermione and Harry in the Films:
There is no universally agreed upon definition of a Mary Sue. Here you can find other definitions than the one I used: