Hermione Granger is so much more than just the brightest witch of her age.
For every bookish, bossy, perfectionist who grew up feeling out of place in a world that prefers quiet girls with pretty smiles, within the Harry Potter series Hermione emerged as a different kind of heroine. She wasn’t flashy, fiery, or even really very funny. But she represented the best and worst in us all.
Hermione is named after a character from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. J.K. Rowling chose an obscure name on purpose to ensure that little girls would not be made fun of by other children for sharing a name with Harry Potter’s insufferable, know-it-all classmate. J.K. Rowling’s worry seems almost ironic now, considering how beloved Hermione Granger has become not only within children’s literature, but throughout pop culture and around the world.
Because given everything we’ve been through with her, it’s charming to remember how insufferable Harry and Ron found Hermione to be when they were all 11. She was confident in her abilities and assertive in her intelligence. She bossed others around with the delusional belief that they should be grateful for her unsolicited advice. She was a horrible show off, and lacked any sense of humility.
And yet, despite the boys’ irritation with her, the qualities that make up the very best of Hermione have been there from the start. When we originally meet Hermione, it’s because she’s helping a dorky Neville Longbottom search for his lost toad. This kind of compassion for the vulnerable is arguably Hermione’s most beautiful and defining trait.
It’s this same compassionate nature that allows her to see people as individuals instead of as the labels society has put on them. It’s what made her decide to keep Lupin’s werewolf secret, even from her best friends, when she was clever enough to figure it out only months into the school year. As young as she is, she’s able to recognize the unfairness of the prejudice through her compassion, but it’s her social conscience that sets her apart from her peers and pushes her to act.
She starts S.P.E.W. because she knows it’s wrong to simply sit around and passively accept slavery. Even when her friends make fun of her passion to a seemingly lost cause, she remains unfazed and convicted in her beliefs. As she grows up, her intelligence coupled with her celebrity status as a wizarding world savior mean that she would be a lock-in for any profession, but instead of choosing something flashy, she decides to continue advocating for the weak within the wizarding community at the Ministry of Magic.
Hermione is able to take the socially unpopular road so often because while she has insecurities just like anyone else, she is still remarkably comfortable in who she is. She chooses to embrace the title of ‘Mudblood’, knowing that someone else’s derogatory term doesn’t diminish her own brilliance. She knows exactly how smart she is, and from the start, she refuses to pretend to be anything less. She doesn’t need to sacrifice parts of herself to make the boys around her feel better, and therefore her talents become an essential part of what makes up their team.
Hermione was never effortlessly cool. She cared too much, and it could be embarrassing. But she was strong, and tenacious, and gutsy. When people disappointed her, whether it was Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban or Ron in Deathly Hallows, she just chose to pick herself up and look at the big picture to focus on the things she could save. In so many ways, the fact that Hermione’s success never felt effortless is part of what makes her such a remarkable heroine. Hermione showed us that it’s okay for success to be purposeful, and it’s okay to want to work hard to be great.
So here’s to the smart girls who make society just a little bit uncomfortable with their brilliant brains and thirsty hearts. The girls with messy hair and too much confidence. The ones who are assertive about their curiosity. May they always be unafraid of their power.
Happy Birthday, Hermione Granger!