Why Me And The Fam Aren’t Adding Our Muggle Gold To Rowling’s Hoard

One of the frustrations I have with raising a girl is finding appropriate books to read to her. Something well written. Something interesting enough so I’ll be willing to read it through (many times, more than likely).

Oh, and something that has a female main character.

That last one is harder than you’d think. And, adding to my frustration, whenever I start ranting about this with other parents or librarians, one reading suggestion inevitably comes up: Harry Fucking Potter.

“That’s not about a girl,” I say. “It’s about a boy. Named Harry Potter. His name is right there in the title.”

“But there’s Hermione. She’s a strong female character,” they reply.

“But she’s not the bloody protagonist, is she?”

“Yes, but Hermione is very clever and has a handbag that’s infinitely large on the inside.”

Wait. Let me get this straight. While all the boys are storming about with their magical phalluses what shoot bolts of energy and explode things, precious Hermione carries a vulva on a string from which she pulls useful household items?

This is precisely the kind of thing I don’t want my daughter exposed to.

Now, as I mentioned in episode two of the Ultrasonic Alarm Call (prairie dog’s podcast… you did know we have a podcast now, right?), I’ve never seen the Harry Potter movies nor read the Harry Potter books. So maybe Hermione is wicked awesome. Doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t get her name in the title and the only time she appears on one of the book covers is on the last one.

Well, Joy Engel, of the blog Your Daily Dose Of Joy, has read the Potter books and she argues that Hermione kicks all sorts of ass — so much so that the books really should be about her. It’s a very good read. For instance:

…when Snape assigns homework, Harry is all, “Wah-Wah, there is sport tomorrow, fulfilling my responsibility will be so hard.” MEANWHILE Hermione is MOVING FUCKING TIME so she can take more classes. Because girl knows SOMETHING is happening and she needs to STUDY THE EFF UP.

When the time comes around to fight, the boys are like, “oh wow, look at this thing that happened! Isn’t that crazy?” Meanwhile Hermione is like, “idiots, I figured that out like 5 books ago. CAN YOU PLEASE FOCUS.”

Who actually forms Dumbledore’s army? Hermione. Who has the perseverance and planning to help them survive for the 1908830 thousand pages when they were just sitting in a tent in the cold? Hermione. Supes glad you mastered the patronus charm, Harry, but without Hermione, you wouldn’t even have your wand.

‘kay. Now I’m slightly more interested in reading these. But only just slightly.

And for the record, yes, I have found many books that have female protagonists. Some of them are even decently well written. (Many aren’t. Like those goddamn Our Canadian Girl books. Holy fuck.) But if anyone has any worthwhile suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

24 thoughts on “Why Me And The Fam Aren’t Adding Our Muggle Gold To Rowling’s Hoard”

  1. Hmmmm. Maybe Madeleine L’Engles books? I seem to remember enjoying those as a kid. It really depends how old your daughter is too.

  2. Paul, hope I can help you with some suggestions. Most are written more for pre-teens and teens.

    * Anita Daher (Canadian YA author) has written books suitable for those just starting to read chapter books all the way up to teenagers. Most of her protagonists are female and none of them are weak wimps. FYI Regina: she is coming here for a SK Writers Group event in late September / early October.

    * Tamora Pierce writes books with strong women protagonists. She is also part of a group of writers that supports this sort of all-too-rare literature.

    * For quality British YA lit, go with the Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. There are only a few of those and there won’t be more (unfortunately) but they are very good. And you can’t go wrong teaching any girl Granny Weatherwax’s philosophies.

    — As for the Potter books … I really dislike Rowling making a witch into a female warlock by definition. Say what you will about Wicca etc., there are some very female-positive and earth-positive things about that philosophy, and Rowling totally ignores these, making Hermione into a soldier in the magic army.

    — Not to mention she has ignored all the conventions built in SF/fantasy around the word “witch” (earth-based power versus alchemic powers of wizards.

    — Not to mention, she is NOT A GOOD WRITER. ARGH!!!

    Back to the topic. McNally-Robinson in Saskatoon (and Winnipeg) should have many of the decent books I mentioned, and can no doubt recommend more. If you can’t find them there, you can borrow mine.

  3. Ugh, I got all excited and then realized I can’t think of any strong female-centred YA books off the top of my head (aside from those suggested already). I will think on this further, but in the meantime, check out the Mary Sue for some Ladies First sci-fi and fantasy.

  4. Ah, the struggles of reading under patriarchy. A life-long battle. For the record, though, good ol’ HP would have ended before book 2 if Hermione hadn’t been in the picture. Just sayin’. As for some good reads with girl protagonaists:

    -Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series. Ada may be a little young for her yet, but I ADORED her books when I was about 11-12.
    – His Dark Materials. Again, probably a little early for these, but Lyra gets shit done like Harry Whiner never could.
    – Pippi Longstocking. Smart, mischievous, takes no guff. She’ll always be my favourite

  5. I second the Wrinkle in Time books. As a kid I really like Anne of Green Gables as well (she’s feisty and strong-willed but also flawed and sensitive, a full character).

    And for HP – you should give Harry Potter a chance. I think they do a good job of balancing the characters (really it is more about friendship and love than Harry himself) and like others have mentioned Hermione really makes those books and as a reader you root for her and even rely on her (and let’s not forget about Luna Lovegood too)!

  6. How ironic, Paul: you haven’t read the books, yet you condemn them out of hand. Let me refer you to the “Jesus Camp” clip in an earlier post. Censorship is censorship, regardless of the motive.

    As your children grow older, they will tend to read what they want, not necessarily what is prescribed for them, by you or by anyone else. In fact, over-prescription on religious or other grounds may turn kids off reading altogether. Lighten up, loosen up, and let your daughter – and your son, in time – read what interests them. They’ll develop their own critical tastes, but to do so they need freedom amd variety.

  7. Hey Paul,
    try this one by Winnepeg author Duncan Thornton entitled “Captain Jenny”

    hanks for all your work,

  8. Great suggestions everybody. Keep ’em coming.

    About Madeleine L’Engle… Ada loved A Wrinkle in Time. Personally, I thought it started out great but I found the precocious Charles Wallace (AKA, snotty little smarty mcsmartalot) a little hard to stomach by about the mid-point.

    And His Dark Materials is absolutely on our reading list. We tried the first chapter, but she found it kind of boring so we’ll have to come back to it.

    As for the other names there, haven’t heard of a lot of them. Thanks.

    And, yes, I will give HP a chance. Just not now when it’s all record-breaker, best-summer-movie-ever. I feel like that would be giving in.

  9. Hey Barb,
    You misunderstand, there is no proscription — or prescription, for that matter — where reading is concerned in our house.

    (I confess, I have said that I’d give my daughter vodka before I’d let her read the Narnia chronicles. But I didn’t really mean it.)

    Ada hasn’t asked about the HP books so I haven’t considered reading them to her. And I suspect part of the reason she’s not interested in them is because they’re about a boy.

    This rant isn’t me saying, “Oh, we have to do away with Harry Potter.” It’s me lamenting the fact that despite all the gains of feminism, female protagonists in literature and (especially) in film are still seen as not as viable as male ones.

  10. The main character of Linda Medley’s great ensemble comic, Castle Waiting, is a woman and also it’s GREAT did I say?

    The Earthsea trilogy is a must-read and the second book’s protagonist is female. (The first and third have stinky boys but they’re still good books.)

  11. The thing with the Harry Potter books is that they are fun to read, and Hermione is usually saving everyone’s ass. Except for when she was taken out of action, which was pretty scary because everybody was used to depending on her to save their ass.

  12. Well, when you say “This is precisely the kind of thing I don’t want my daughter exposed to”, you are echoing a lot of book challengers who mean it and ARE prescribers.

    On request, I read all 14 of Frank Baum’s Oz books to my daughter when she was under the age of 5; I also read the Narnia series to daughter and son when they were in primary school, again on request. I would rather have drunk jet fuel (oh, wait; that IS vodka), especially after the first couple of volumes, because Baum was just cranking them out, and C. S. Lewis is the most tiresome noodge ever. I’d like to think that the experience helped my kids develop a fell for what’s good storytelling and what isn’t. Both are Harry Potter fans, by the way.

  13. JB: That Sady Doyle essay is great. Much better than the one I linked to. Thanks.

  14. Barb: Welllll…. that line was kind of meant as comic overstatement.

    (But just kind of.)

    As for Baum, we read a few of the Oz books and I’d have to say I agree with you. Doesn’t he even say in one of his intros that he’d really like to write something else but his little tyrants won’t let him?

    As for Lewis, noodge is about the right word.

  15. Just wanted to make sure that there was no ideological double standard at operation, here.
    “The Wizard of Oz” is one book of which I can say honestly that the movie was better. Yes, Baum knew he was the Carolyn Keene of the early 20th century; much the same thing happened to L.M. Montgomery…but at least I didn’t have to read each and every one of her books aloud!

  16. Ideological double standard? No. Triple standard maybe. Quintuple even. I like to keep to odd numbers of ideological standards, that way the hypocrisies cancel each other out.

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