When I was a child – and this will doubtless be surprising to no one – everyone called me Hermione.
The most conflicting part about this was that people called me Hermione both as a compliment and as an insult. If I put my hand up in class (which I did often; the similarity was legitimate), then there would likely be an “Alright Hermione, calm down” from somewhere behind me. But it would also be used fondly, like: “You can ask Beki, she’s our very own Hermione Granger.”
I thought Hermione Granger was pretty badass, so I was okay with this – even the insults. But as time went on, I began to appreciate that Hermione was a lot more than being bossy and willing to thrust her knowledge at anyone unfortunate enough to get in her way. And as I saw that, I saw that there were are lot of things we didn’t have in common at all.
You see, Hermione gets where she gets to because she works incredibly hard. As a Muggleborn, she is behind on the base knowledge about the Wizarding World that her Magically-born peers have had since they were babies. She reacts to this by studying and learning everything she can. By writing essays that are a foot too long (a problem in itself, but definitely not one born of laziness).
Teenage me, meanwhile, reacted to being an outsider by – well, not doing that. I didn’t work very hard at all in classes. Often, I put no effort in simply to prove that by putting no effort in I could still do better than most people (then got upset with myself that I couldn’t do better than the people who did put a lot of effort in). I regularly didn’t do homework and just slid forwards on the momentum of doing well enough in exams.
I did this a lot as an adult, too; the habit of flaunting my cleverness whilst actually not having to work for it persisted. Until I became self-conscious about my arrogance, and started to try and hide it – or at least to keep it quieter. I started to realise that actually by taking the lazy approach, I wasn’t really giving myself wholly to anything.
And honestly? I didn’t really start to give everything until a couple of years ago. Maybe a few more than that. It didn’t happen overnight. I just slowly began to put more and more effort into what I was doing – writing and running roleplaying games, working in some freelance/volunteer jobs, and eventually writing Mundane Magic.
I became Hermione Granger, and when I realised this it was a very strange experience. Like a prophecy coming to pass.
You might think this is an odd thing to be writing a blog post about. It’s interesting, sure, but why does it merit discussion here? Well, when I started thinking about coming closer to Hermione, I also started thinking about what heroines and heroes in any kind of fiction mean so much to us. The fact is that we read stories to discover new, other things, but we also want to be part of them. We want to see ourselves in the story. Representation matters.
The thing that is most incredible is that I’m still learning from Hermione, two decades after I first met her. And it’s not just her, either, nor is it just characters that I loved. I hated Samwise Gamgee for so long, finding him whiny and annoying, but as an adult I came to understand that he – for his bottomless loyalty and love – is the best of all of the fellowship.
Along the way I’ve met other characters too, and felt so deeply about them in relation to me that sometimes it hurts when they get too similar. Shallan Davar is the single greatest gift I have ever been given in fiction, and whilst we certainly don’t share a similar history, there is so much about her and how she thinks that resonates painfully with me. There is a point in Oathbringer where she makes a choice – which I won’t go into because spoilers – and that choice made me so viscerally angry that I felt silly for it.
Then I took a breath, and realised that I was angry because she had made the best choice for herself. The choice that I made in my own life. I was so angry because I wanted her to live the adventurous and daring life that suited me much more in my head than in the real world. I wanted her to do the things I wouldn’t do, couldn’t do. But she had done what was best for her, and when I realised that somehow I just loved her all the more.
Here’s the thing. Finding myself in books kept me alive. It kept me from feeling like I was alone, even when I wasn’t able to connect fully with people in the real world. And I keep saying that – in the real world – but I shouldn’t. Because as a very complicated character once said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
Hermione and Samwise and Shallan and all of the others are in my head, which is part of my experience. They’re real; to me, at least. They have changed my world in a very real way. They are friends that will never truly leave. Their presence in my life is an unending, constant source of love. Because I’m lucky enough to have found them. For them to have been there.
Now imagine if you could never find yourself in a story.
This is why we keep telling stories. This is why we have to keep highlighting the stories that haven’t reached the people they need to. The stories of different cultures and races and sexualities. Representation matters, because we all want to be part of the stories we read, because no one should be denied this life-changing kind of experience.
So keep telling stories. Especially if yours is one that hasn’t been heard. Keep telling them. The world needs them.