Like Holmes and Watson yesterday, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger of J.K. Rowling's famed Harry Potter novels, are not an emblem of your typical love story. For a start, as most of you will no doubt know, they don't even end up together and at no point do they ever get together (though that's not to say other characters don't suspect it, or that I didn't want them to. I did. Oh, I did.) Whatever their ultimate choices, when I read these books, and re-read them, it's always Harry and Hermione I come back to.
Earlier this week, Nina commented on my post about Emma and George Knightley, pointing out that while Knightley steering Emma the right way strikes the reader as appealing, a female character steering a male protagonist seems to make her come off as 'saintly'.
This comment struck me as very ironic, partly because I was already planning to write about Harry and Hermione today, partly because Nina's right (how many times in the books are we told that Hermione is very by-the-book, very good for trying to do the moral or right thing), and partly because I rather think the Harry/Hermione relationship is very much like the Emma/Knightley one.
Think about it. Just as Knightley makes Emma better, so does Hermione make Harry better. Harry, lovely as he is, has a temper, is impetuous, and he does tend to fall off the path. Eight times out of ten (the other two being reserved for occasional bits of wisdom from Lupin, Dumbledore or Sirius), it's Hermione who steers Harry back on track, who reminds him of what is right, and logical, and practical, and she's the moral compass by which he grows up and fights by. What's even more suggestive is that, like Emma, Harry might feel resentful of the truth offered by Hermione, but he almost always comes to understand that she was right and he follows her advice. Ultimately, I think any Harry Potter fan knows that if it hadn't been for Hermione a thousand times over, Voldemort would still be rampaging about and Harry would be dead.
Moreover, like Holmes and Watson, Harry and Hermione are equals. I always found it interesting that the one subject Hermione doesn't do as well in at school (Defense Against the Dark Arts) is the one Harry excels in. It's as though, if you were to fit these two together like a jigsaw, they'd be able to cope with anything; they are each other's foils (the one spontaneous, the other logical) and they compensate for each other's weaknesses.
What struck me further about these two is the fact that they are somehow elevated above the rest of their peers and most of the novel's characters. It is striking that over the course of the series, Hermione is the only person who never fails Harry, who never walks out on him, who never fails to follow him into whatever he does, even if he asks her not to. Even when she disagrees with him (see the climax of Order of the Phoenix), she'll help him. Even when Ron, her apparent 'love' and eventual husband, gives her an ultimatum (he as good as says 'I'm leaving, and he's staying. So who's it gonna be, eh? Him or me?' - see Deathly Hallows), she sticks by Harry. Good grief, she even makes her own parents forget her existence so that she can protect them and fight by Harry's side at the same time.
And Harry is by no means unaware of the sacrifices she's made for him or of her unique status in his life. Hermione, though, bless her, she doesn't know it, is given the single greatest compliment Harry offers anybody in the entire series. No, it's not the way he repeatedly talks about how clever she is.
He says he loves her. Yes, he says 'I love her like a sister' to Ron, so it's not the pinnacle of romance. But whoever said it had to be? I find it immensely touching that Hermione is the only person Harry ever states, aloud, that he loves.
Towards the end of Deathly Hallows, as he prepares to go meet wicked old Voldy in the woods, Harry also reflects silently on the people he loves, and, shock horror, Hermione is the first he thinks of.
Conflict, drama, sacrifice, loyalty, a moral compass, keen protective instincts (see the photo for further evidence of what's already clear in the novels), and two characters on equal footing who are set apart in some way from the other characters. And even, dare I say it, a certain chemistry that always flashes out at me when I read scenes in which these two argue and steadily step closer and closer together...
For a pair that were never portrayed as romantic, Harry and Hermione seem to fit almost everything that I look for in a memorable and effective literary relationship.
Is it any wonder, then, that when I think about the relationships in Harry Potter, or even of fictional relationships in general, this is one that truly stands out for me?
What do you think?