The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most beloved cinematic creations ever to hit the big screen. Telling a timeless story about the battle between good and evil, the fantasy movies are packed with exciting action scenes, stunning cinematography, and iconic characters. However, one Harry Potter character manages to stand out as a central figure in this cinematic franchise, and spoiler alert, they aren’t the protagonist.
In the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet two of the young wizard’s companions, who will accompany him throughout all his adventures in the following seven films – Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson, is a talented witch, the top of her class, and one of the few Hogwarts students whose parents weren’t actually magic users themselves.
She is often looked at as a fan favourite of many Wizarding World enthusiasts, and for good reason. Why, you ask? Well, because in many ways, she outshines the rest of the Potter crew and may just have been a better main character than poor old Harry himself. Before you set down your Butterbeer and pick up your pitchforks, give me a chance to explain this point of view.
Now just to clarify, I’m not saying that Harry Potter is a bad protagonist. In fact, Harry follows a very typical formula and characterisation that we see in many films that follow the hero’s journey narrative. He is a seemingly ordinary orphan, who must struggle through various trials on the road to embracing his destiny of defeating Lord Voldemort.
Just as Luke Skywalker is for Star Wars, Harry is the backbone of the franchise’s plot, and the tethering figure for all of the other characters in the movie. No one can genuinely replace Harry as the protagonist, as he is imperative to the film’s structure. But, what I am saying is that in comparison with a complex and grounded figure like Hermione by his side, Harry just comes across as less compelling and, dare I say, a bit bland.
Hermione is the smug smarty-pants of Harry’s gang. Often solving everyone’s problems, she has continually proven herself to be an indispensable addition to the story. However, her Muggle background and character growth truly make her stand out above the rest, including our protagonist.
In the book The Protagonist’s Journey, Scott Myers explains how main characters must go beyond formula, and must also act as the vessel in which readers and viewers can identify themselves with.
“Beyond their importance within the story universe, the protagonist serves a critical function to the reader or audience member: The character is their primary conduit into the story,” he writes. “Symbolically, the protagonist functions as us, our identification with them shrinking the distance between printed page and screen as we live vicariously through them.”
With this in mind, it makes sense that I would find myself identifying more with Hermione, than Harry as a whole, and connect with her journey over his. Like all of us watching, Hermione, first and foremost, belongs to the human world. Her parents, family and even her identity among fellow Hogwarts students centre around the word “Muggle” (the term for non-magic Humans). She provides something familiar in a fantastical story that is generally devoid of reality, making her a beacon of strange comfort throughout the magical series.
On top of being a grounded character, her background also offers an immense amount of intriguing conflict that works in tandem with the film’s overall story. Over the course of the Harry Potter movies, we witness the discrimination she faces due to this identity, such as being called a ‘Mud Blood’, as well as the danger she soon finds herself in as a result. The Muggle narrative increases tenfold once we learn that Voldemort plans to rid the world of them, including those who have Muggle roots despite their magic like Hermione.
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In this sense, it is Hermione who stands to lose the most if Voldemort succeeds, not Harry himself. So it is easy to find yourself caring more about her outcome and fate rather than our protagonist. This narrative revelation of high stakes subsequently pushes the character of Hermione to work harder in her studies, and even to make the heart-breaking decision of erasing her parents’ memories of her existence to protect them as she continues to work to save the day.
We see Hermione change from the young witch full of hubris to a centred fighter who has given up everything for the greater good. Just like Harry, she has undergone a massive change throughout this story, as she has had to sacrifice everything – including her past and family.
So with the most relatable background you can have (in a film about witches and wizards anyway), the most prominent motivations, and solid character growth Hermione manages to outshine the protagonist of her story.
Although we will always follow Harry and never see Hermione’s perspective, she still stands as an authoritative figure, and as the most memorable hero in the Harry Potter franchise yet.