*** I guess there are technically spoilers here, but come on, you’ve had enough time to read the books by now ***
Hello folks! This post is not what I was intending to publish today but is rather a passive-aggressive response to an argument I had a while ago about Hermione Granger. In a previous post, I Think Hermione Is Autistic, I talked about representation of ASD and how if you can’t find anyone who represents you, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose characters who you feel are a good representation, whether they are explicitly written as autistic or not. In said argument, I was talking about how my autistic friends and I really feel as though Hermione is autistic, as we recognized a lot of the traits in her that we have ourselves. The person opposing my point said that she wasn’t autistic, just “weird” and with “c**p social skills”. Therefore, I have decided to write an entire post exploring how the Harry Potter book series could be seen as an extended metaphor for ASD.
Harry Potter is a special interest of mine, equal to my interest in dinosaurs. (And you know how much I love dinosaurs!) My love for the series did not deplete in the face of what came to light regarding the author’s gross and outdated views towards gender; it was only my respect for her that was marred. When I was a child, the very first thing I bought with my pocket money was a Hermione Granger mug which I still have to this day. She has always been my favourite character, followed closely by Dobby.
As a child I was only vaguely aware that one of the reasons I liked Hermione was that I related to her, but it has only been more recently that I have given it much thought as to the more detailed reasons why. When we meet her, she is written as a know-it-all who most of the other characters find annoying but who is persistent in her quest for knowledge (and her quest to fit in). She is brash, she tells people when they are wrong, and she has an eagerness to excel that is unparalleled by any other character. However, she’s also disliked by Harry and Ron. They find her annoying and upon hearing Ron making fun of her, she starts crying and runs off and isn’t seen until she is rescued by Harry and Ron from the troll. That moment for me was important. It showed Hermione’s confidence not to be infallible, but rather to be a façade behind which she hides her insecurities. I was a shy kid in school and the first club I joined was Book Club. I struggled to make friends in my first year of secondary school and was sent to a teacher (who was massively unhelpful) to try and improve my confidence and get me to make friends. Even though I wasn’t as bold as Hermione, I recognised her throwing herself into work to try and distract from the loneliness. I did the same. My homework would often be done during lunchtime because I didn’t have any friends to eat with.
In much the same way that Hermione became friends with Harry and Ron after the troll attack, I became acquainted with a now very dear friend when I stumbled across her accidentally breaking into my locker. Okay, so they aren’t really the same at all, but still. After this encounter, Hermione seemed to relax, and while her thirst for knowledge never ceased, we saw a new side of her; a side which was much more sociable and fun. We got more of a well-rounded view of Hermione. Let me compare two encounters to demonstrate:
Before they were friends, Hermione told off Harry for retrieving Neville’s Remembrall when Malfoy stole it, telling him how dangerous it was and how he would be breaking school rules. Her speaking up and wanting everyone to obey the rules is a classic autistic trait, and I have been guilty of doing the same. After they are friends, Hermione encourages Harry to look in the restricted section for information on Nicholas Flammel, despite it not being allowed. This change in heart regarding following the rules is spurred on by the idea that there is a reasonable reason to break them: the desire to gain information on what Snape is trying to steal. (Of course they didn’t know at the time that Snape was not the one stealing.) As far as she was concerned, theft was a bigger crime than looking in illegal books, and so the rule was allowed to bend.
These events show that Hermione had a strong moral compass with regards to the rules, and it took a significant reason for her to act against her beliefs, something often found in autistic individuals. Her development of social skills throughout the series, but especially the first book, is also highly relatable. My social skills were decidedly less great when I was in Year 7, whereas now I can mask like nobody’s business. Hermione is strong willed and passionate about causes she believes in (see SPEW), even if she doesn’t always understand how best to go about helping the cause (again, see SPEW). Her priorities are also sometimes different to most of the characters, with the classic example being her placing expulsion as worse than death. For her, Hogwarts was a place where she fit in and was like everyone else, and so having to live the rest of her life not being able to fit in would be akin to torture.
Hogwarts was a place where kids who didn’t fit in with everyone else could go and be around people who were like them. If they were muggleborn they had no-one around them who was the same, and so having that place of refuge was hugely important. I didn’t understand why I was different but I was aware that I was. Whereas lots of people go through the rebellious not-like-other-girls phase, I did the opposite and had a desperately-trying-to-be-like-other-girls phase. None of my siblings were autistic and neither were my parents. I have one autistic cousin but I almost never see him, and from what I know, we are quite different anyway. Now being able to have autistic friends and hang out with people who’s brains work the same way is a joy! I can totally understand why Hermione wouldn’t want to give that up. I certainly don’t want to.
There are a whole host of other parts of the series that mirror ASD. The wand choosing the wizard rather than the other way around feels very much like a special interest. Just as a wand essentially becomes an extension of the wizard, my special interests are an extension of me. I didn’t choose the dinosaur life, the dinosaur life chose me!
I have seen Harry Potter be used as an allegory for almost every minority group and that makes total sense. The wonderful thing about literature is that once the words are on the paper, it is entirely up to the reader to decide how they choose to understand it. I don’t care if Hermione wasn’t written as autistic. Her progression from annoying child to caring, powerful, emotionally literate woman is a journey that I loved to read because it gave me hope for myself. I don’t have magical powers but I still recognise parts of myself in her. She retained her intelligence and logic throughout the series but grew and evolved into a kind and determined person with good friends who supported her exactly as she was. That’s what I wanted. And, dare I say it, that’s what I have.