The North Tower #12: Trashing a Theory

by Maline

Last week I set up an exercise in literary analysis and critical thinking for you all by giving you a theory that – frankly – was total rubbish. I had a lot of fun when writing it, actually, getting to use a bunch of stuff that I find completely ludicrous and hardly believing in a word I was writing. I was very pleased to see (through all the owls I’ve had over the last week) that most of you got the point that this was an exercise and not a “real” article. I was likewise very amused by other owls where people didn’t get that point and either a) told me that this was my worst article ever, that I was losing my touch, that I’m really stupid, that just because I’m a literature major it doesn’t mean that I know everything (totally with you on that), and other equally pleasant things or b) told me how much they liked my article and that my theory was really well thought of, really clever and very probable. 🙂

This week’s article will thus be devoted to trashing my “wonderful” theory from last week, and I thought I’d do it by mixing my comments and arguments with those that some smart people sent me. Sadly, I can’t remember exactly who said what (I copy down all good comments in the owls I get and put them all together in a document) so I can’t put in your names, but I hope that none of you mind seeing your own words in my article (I’ll put things other people have said in italics) and that those people who don’t see their exact words in here won’t be sad (a lot of people give the same arguments and I can’t put them all in here). Okay, let’s start with the trashing!

Things that make the Hermione-theory unconvincing and utter rubbish:

1) It is very badly researched and draws farfetched parallels.

Yes, names are important to JKR, but they only provide clues to the characters’ personalities, not to the actual events in the book and the character’s roles in them. More importantly, Rowling has never drawn direct parallels between other books/myths and her own. There are similarities, and her work does have some elements of Greek tragedy in it, but she never takes existing storylines, changes the names, and gives the book a new title! And that is exactly what your whole article was throwing at: just because Rowling got the name Hermione from a Greek myth means she is going to incorporate both the character and the myth into her book, and therefore by just reading all of the Greek mythology there is to read, we can accurately predict what is going to happen in the entire series!! Which is of course total b******t.

Who says ANY of that Greek myth material has any significance in the Harry Potter plotline? The way you connect Greek dudes to particular HP characters seems totally arbitrary to me. The more such connections you make, the weaker your case becomes, logically speaking. Am I right?

Yes, totally. What I’ve done in the Hermione article is basically to push square pieces of wood through round holes. And, it’s correct that the more you try to do that, the weaker the whole theory becomes.

On the other hand, don’t be too hasty in dismissing everything that’s Greek. There’s a fair deal of it in the HP series: the centaurs and other mythological creatures for example, as well as some structural elements (e.g. prophecies).

Important point: just because something is used to create complete rubbish at one point doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in a good way at another time (and vice versa).

I also want to say that when it comes to any kind of mythology, you should always be careful. Very often, there are several different versions of one event or one person. For example, in one version of the Orestes myth, he gets cleared for murdering his mother by a sort of divine court; in another, he gets hunted down by vengeance spirits and goes mad.

HP Hermione = Greek Hermione

Rowling has said she named Hermione after the Hermione in A Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare.

Hermione is called Hermione after Shakespeare’s Hermione, not because there are links between them, but because Hermione’s parents are dentists and wanted to name their daughter something long and difficult that no one else could pronounce (confirmed by J.K Rowling) and because J.K wanted to call her something that no one else was called, so clever little girls who happened to have bushy hair and large front teeth wouldn’t get teased in the playground.

Very true. Just keep in the back of your heads that Shakespeare probably got his Hermione from the Greek myth… As I see it, the one thing that the Greek Hermione, Shakespeare’s Hermione, and JKR’s Hermione have in common is the love triangle storyline, though this doesn’t mean that the two men in the triangle with JKR’s Hermione are Ron and Harry. As many, MANY of you have pointed out, Viktor Krum would be a far likelier candidate.

Again, be careful with the complete dismissal. There are links between Shakespeare’s and JKR’s Hermiones. One is the love triangle; the other the fact that in A Winter’s Tale, Hermione’s turned into a statue, as JKR’s Hermione is in CoS. Choosing “Hermione” because it’s difficult to pronounce may have been one of JKR’s reasons but hardly the only one. (Or she could have named her Chaszmorkishuania or something… :))

Harry = Neoptolemus

Let’s start with Neoptolemus as Harry. The simple fact that he’s a jerk (or he is by modern standards) would seem to call this into question. He gets to kill the doddering old man who has already seen his 50 sons die and then goes on to show what a tough guy he is by tossing a little boy off the city walls so the child can’t grow up to fight him. He then rounds off his career by enslaving the mother of the dead boy (daughter-in-law of the old man and the woman whose husband his father killed) and treating her in a way that shouldn’t be elaborated on in family-friendly circles. This results in his wife (who didn’t want to marry him in the first place) leaving him. Oh, yeah. That’s Harry all right.

The prophecy, in this case, was that they NEEDED Neo with them to win. He wasn’t the only hero who could defeat the Trojan hero (that was his dad, Achilles, who defeated Hector). In this, he was more like a mascot.

Great points. Here you see the danger of crappy research where you focus on one word (e.g. “prophecy”) and completely disregard the rest of the story. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to check out these facts myself due to some Internet problems, so I’ll just trust these guys did a good job. Normally, and especially if you’re basing some major argument on a certain fact, you should never take somebody’s word for it (especially not on the internet) but always double-check yourself.)

Ron = Orestes

Nothing indicates in your argumentation that Ron could be Orestes. It seems highly unlikely, in the present state of things as of Book Five, that Ron would kill anybody, even less so his mother, especially for dubious reasons of “divine punishment” (none of the characters in the series have yet expressed religious feelings).

You’re perfectly right; I just drew the parallel because it suited my theory. There’s no proof whatsoever. I did get a very funny owl suggesting that Ron might kill another family member, with whom he doesn’t get along at the moment *cough* Percy *cough*… I think this person meant it more as a joke than an actual theory; but, in the event of Percy going bad (which I don’t believe he will), why not? This still doesn’t make Ron Orestes, though.

As for the expression of religious feelings, I’m working on a series of articles on the subject.

Dumbledore = Odysseus

Odysseus was the CLEVEREST man in Greece, not the WISEST. He could sell ice makers at the North Pole but proved time and again he could make all sorts of fatal mistakes by not thinking things through. He had more in common with the Marauders than with Dumbledore.

Great point; the choice of words is extremely important in this case. That’s another thing you should always check when analyzing something: what words are used and why?

Greek Phoenix = Fawkes the Phoenix

I allow that there’s some point to the name Phoenix but would suggest that it’s the same as saying Harry must visit Arizona because that’s where the city of Phoenix is. Rowling can’t help that the name’s been used but she probably has the good sense to ignore it.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Voldemort and Bellatrix = King Priam and his heir (Hector)

I basically did this one already in my article: Priam is a good king, whose “big sin” is that he has a son who’s a bit too good looking for his own good and who steals a neighboring king’s (Menelaus) wife (Helen). His heir Hector is not an evil person either, but a great warrior who defends his city when attacked by the angry husband. I see as many as zero connections between those two men and Voldemort and Bellatrix.

Okay, so all this goes to show that the parallels I drew between Greek and HP people are basically arbitrary and don’t hold up when you take a closer look. They’re of the “Crookshanks-kind”, meaning about as supported by actual evidence as the theory that Crookshanks is actually Lily Potter because they both have red hair (or fur) (and where contradictory arguments like the fact that Crookshanks is a male are conveniently left out of the picture…).

2) It jumps to conclusions and disregards JKR’s writing style.

The Harry-Hermione-Ron love triangle

Rowling has hinted both relationships are possible? She has made Hermione their friend, but Harry has never acted towards Hermione as other than a friend. He never reacts with jealousy to Victor Krum (unlike his reaction to Cedric when he finds out Cho is going to the ball with him). When Ron and Hermione fight in Book 4, Harry’s reaction is much less emotional and much more open to the idea that Ron should do something.

“JKR ‘promises’ Hermione to both Harry and Ron.” Now, where exactly did you come up with that? There has never been any hint whatsoever in the books pointing to a Hermy-Harry relationship. It’s obvious Ron and Hermione have got something going, but Harry has never thought about Hermione as a love interest, and neither has she. A kiss on the cheek at the end of GoF means nothing. Hermione is just a very sensitive, emotional, caring person who goes all gushy in the books sometimes, and this is her way of comforting Harry when it’s pretty obvious he’s troubled and depressed. She does the same for Ron before his first quidditch match in OotP, coz he too is very nervous and scared and in need of some support. Case closed.

I think (unlike many others) that Ron and Hermione are already dating. The Pensieve and Gryffindor Tower already wrote columns on this and presented us with some fairly good evidence.

Both Ron and Harry like Hermione. Harry doesn’t like her in that way. There is so much evidence that shows this I can’t list it all. J.K Rowling confirmed their relationship is platonic, and the novels show that Harry doesn’t give a toss who she goes out with (check reactions to Hermione’s mentionings of Victor, the Yule Ball, and tense situations with Ron and Hermione.) He doesn’t care that she fancies other people; he knows there is something between her and Ron but he really couldn’t care less. Compare this with Ron’s attitude toward Hermione (jealousy, concern for her, etc.). I’m sure you already know the mountains of evidence that show that Ron and Hermione will end up together. And we already know that Harry likes RON more than Hermione (GoF). The Harry/Hermione thing doesn’t make sense and never did. Can’t a guy and a girl be just best friends?

For the “JKR points at possible relationships between both Ron and Hermione and Harry and Hermione”: I’m in full agreement with the arguments above. I don’t see a shred of evidence that Harry and Hermione would be interested in one another. A lot of people do, though. Just check out possible couples on the Book 6 page to get a whole bunch of arguments on the subject. I think it’s very possible for a girl and a guy to just be friends, but I know that many people don’t.

As for the “Ron and Hermione are already dating” argument, I’m a skeptic. I definitely see the chemistry between them but I personally think that Ron is a bit too thick to have understood what he feels for her yet. Even so, there are some good arguments out there supporting this theory (Pensieve and GT) so I’ll just leave it alone. 🙂

And, of course, the most obvious reason why Harry wouldn’t be Ron’s opponent in the struggle for Hermione’s heart: he already has one in Victor Krum.

Watch out with the following:

1) “We know that…” We don’t know anything (except for basic facts such as “Harry’s last name is Potter”). There are some things that are more probable than others, but only JKR really knows what’s going to happen in Books 6 and 7. (Ron or Hermione might die, for all we know, and then they won’t end up together)
2) “It’s obvious that…” Obvious to you, not necessarily to everybody else. Everybody has their own interpretation of the text and what’s seen as a comforting kiss to one might be seen as a sign of romantic interest to another. To me, the most fundamental right when it comes to literature is the right to disagree. Also, ALWAYS be open to the possibility that you might be wrong, no matter how strongly you believe in something. (That goes for most things by the way, including religion.)

The Harry-Hermione-Luna love triangle

Sadly, Book Five tells us very little about Luna (I think she is a very interesting character, and I don’t really see why everyone sees her as a “weirdo”), and I think it is too early to predict a possible relationship. The only thing they have in common is the death of relatives, which does bring them together, but it seems a bit of a thin link. Maybe we will learn more about her, but nothing for the moment actually puts her in an Andromache-like position.

Hermione certainly likes Luna by the end of Phoenix. When Luna says she and her father are going to Sweden to search for one of those animals only she believes in, Hermione squelches her pragmatism to say something kind and supportive. She’s also enlisted Luna’s aid before this to get Harry’s interview published and didn’t seem to have Harry’s worries about Luna coming with them to the Ministry.

When it comes to Luna, I agree that it’s really too soon to pair her up with anyone. I don’t really see any evidence that she’d have a crush on either Harry or Ron. She’s interested in both of them, but not necessarily in a romantic way. On the other hand, her name is “Lovegood,” so either she will have a major role in the love storyline or JKR just did a parody on herself with the way she gives clues about the characters through their names (e.g., Lupin = wolf, Sirius = dog star, Malfoy = bad faith…). I also think that Hermione dislikes Luna because she’s “loony” and doesn’t share Hermione’s views on reason and proof, not because she’s jealous of her for liking Harry. And, as pointed out, she gets a lot more tolerant towards the end of OotP.

The “Ron betrays Harry and gets him killed” theory

The scenario you set up at the end is completely made up, you didn’t even try to make it track the existing mythology. It was simply based on a theory someone at another site had, which may be intriguing to think about, but isn’t evidence of anything. Just because somebody said it might happen doesn’t constitute evidence.

Yes, that’s right. I just made it up and I don’t believe a word of it myself. There are just so many weak points, for example:

Ron betraying Harry does not fit in with the style and literary techniques used by Rowling previously. Sure, there has been tension between them but they’ve always made up. They’re best friends, like James and Sirius; they’d die rather than betray each other!

I agree with the style argument. There’s a pattern in Harry and Ron’s relationship of conflict and reconciliation. They might fight occasionally, but in the end, they’ll “get back together.” Ron is the “thing Harry would most miss” (GoF), meaning his closest friend, and I think it’s mutual, meaning betrayal = unlikely.

If Ron and Harry fight over Hermione, would they do it while Death Eaters are sneaking up on them? They wouldn’t be dumb enough to do this in a battle zone. I also can’t see Ron’s first reaction when he walks up to Harry with Voldemort lying there dead, being “So, I bet this means you think Hermione will pick you over me, don’t you?” Having it happen after the story’s action is over and they’ve reached a safe haven for the sole purpose of resolving a love triangle is just dumb (and, sorry to say, not original [not a hallmark of good literature, just not original]).

No, that’d be pretty stupid indeed, not to mention that it would completely change the ending moral (which I believe will be something about the power of love and forgiveness) to a cheesy romance novel-inspired one.

Harry gets shot in the back by a DE? Someone other than Voldemort kills him? How’s that for anticlimactic?

“Surviving Death Eater hits Harry with a curse in the back and kills him.” So you’re telling me Harry is going to have his magnificent heroic final confrontation with Voldy, he kills Voldy and leaves lots of Death Eaters squirming on the floor in sorrow all around him, then turns around to face Ron and says: “Now let’s duel over Hermione. Whichever of us kills the other gets to take her home.” So they fight for a bit and then a Death Eater decides to stop bawling over the pile of ashes that was Voldy and hits Harry with a jet of green light in the back. Sounds very, very, very plausible now, doesn’t it?

LOVE the irony! It really shows how ridiculous the situation is. This also goes with the following argument that:

I don’t think a sane Ron would grab Harry by the collar, tell him to hand Hermione over to him or he’ll jinx him. That would just be plain stupid, and it’s all up to Hermione anyway. Neither of the guys can make her do anything she doesn’t want to. So the whole “Harry and Ron fighting over Hermione” thing is just out of the question, “betrayal” included.

Exactly! JKR’s Hermione is not a porcelain doll without a mind of her own. She’ll decide who she wants to be with, not Harry or Ron (or Viktor for that matter). She’s not a prize to be won through a duel. (This of course doesn’t stop the boys from doing stupid things to try to impress her though…)

Harry gets killed by a killing curse but has time for a deathbed speech? How kind of the DE to come up with a new killing curse that allows this to happen. Although, I don’t know what we’re supposed to think about Ron diddling around to hear the speech when he should be running for Madam Pomfrey or other medical help.

I’m not even going to talk about the powerful, tragic, reconciliation death scene, coz it’s just too silly. Hell, it’s even a technical impossibility, since people hit with a death curse just instantly drop dead, and don’t have any time for last words, let alone take-care-of-her-and-cherish-my-memory-forever speeches…

Precisely; it’s not a cheesy Hollywood production or a romance novel JKR is writing. (Although, I wouldn’t put it past WB to change the movies to go in this direction. Heck, according to rumor, Ron and Hermione will start dating in the third movie, which is completely changing the story of PoA.)

Conclusion

I thought these words were quite fitting… 🙂

So basically your article was based on pure speculation, not based on any real proof. You just wrote what you thought sounded neat without giving any thought to whether or not it makes any sense. There was a lot of jumping to conclusions, and little consideration for what JKR actually mentioned/implied in the books.

Thanks to all you guys who rose to the challenge of trashing my theory. Good job! Try not to forget about all these ways of reading something critically when you play around in the virtual Potter universe. And to you who didn’t get it this time: don’t worry and don’t feel offended or embarrassed or anything. You’ll get there eventually; just don’t believe in anything you hear or read without giving it a closer look.

See you all next week.
Maline

PS. Could Dora and Gally (who sent me the theory on McGonagall’s chess game) please send me another owl? I lost your address.

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