Harry and Hermione, Agape and Narrative Thrust: What do you think?

Leah Libresco is deeply gratified that JK Rowling regrets putting Ron and Hermione:

It’s not just that Ron seems less intelligent and inquisitive than Hermione in the books, but that her joy in research and making connections leave him uninterested at best and impatient or contemptuous at worst. And she hardly seems to share his interest in Quidditch or Wizard Chess. Couples don’t need to share every interest, but a partner who checks out when you’re at your most engaged and joyful is bad news.

Still Libresco is less-than-pleased that Rowling’s stated preference would have been to couple Hermione to Harry, as she very much enjoys their platonic friendship.

I do too. I always loved the way Harry and Hermione were true friends, deep and fast friends, dependable and willing to sacrifice for each other, in a spirit of agape. It seems to me that the sexual revolution has wrecked our understanding of the value of agape, a notion I brought up in the combox over here at First Things:

Bl. John Henry Newman shares a grave with his companion Ambrose St John; I do not suggest that Newman was in any way unchaste, and yet there was a deep relationship, there — something that went beyond mere friendship, into a meeting of mind and spirit that was a genuine love, fast enough that they wished to be buried together. These sorts of very deep male friendships were I think better-understood in England than in America, and I think most of them were NOT homosexual in nature, but they were exclusive, in a way we almost cannot imagine today.
[...] Perhaps this normal sort of deep agape has become corrupted by a sexual revolution that added a sexual component to these sorts of relationships that, previously, would have been unthinkable, that being “if you feel love this deeply, it must be expressed sexually, too” — the prevalent narrative of our disoriented age.

That is an idea worth exploring, and I will, at some point, but it diverts us from the main point of this post, which is to not to consider agape, but to argue with Leah about whether or not Harry Potter should even have survived the series. I maintain that he — like Hamlet — should have died, and I’ve been saying so since 2006:

. . .everyone wants to see Harry, Hermione and Ron live happily ever after — but what would the rest of Harry’s life be like? Perhaps he’d teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but Voldemort vanquished it would all seem pretty pedestrian to him wouldn’t it? And rather purposeless? His parents would still be dead. Dumbledore, dead. Possibly Hagrid, dead. One or several Weasleys dead. Ron and Hermione probably wed.

Here is the interesting question: when a life has been lived with a sense of deep mission — as in either Hamlet’s or Harry’s case — and that mission has been fulfilled, what is the purpose of the life, thereafter? If the 18 year old Harry (or a 20-something year old Hamlet) have accomplished their goal, the thing that has driven them and given their whole life meaning and purpose, are we supposed to believe they can ever rest easy in a sort of “busywork” retirement?

Perhaps this is why monarchs, old generals, entrepreneurs, mother-hung rock stars and CBS newsmen can never willingly retire and live out their days. Without their sense of mission, life has no thrust and parry, no vivacity, no purpose.
[. . .]
Ophelia and Laertes and Horatio were fine enough people, even perhaps a little noble, but they were not single-minded and undistracted; they could not perceive what was happening around them. Hamlet, in his imperfect greatness, was the only character, besides evil Claudius, with a vision -– no matter how distraught -– and the gumption to strike out and move the narrative.

Hermione and Ron and Hagrid, again, good people, noble, but still rather ordinary. Without Harry, they’re just part of the necessary-but-plain crowd. Harry has the greatness, he moves the narrative, therefore more will be expected of him.

Christ moved the narrative of the world, too. The narrative movers rarely get to live out an ordinary sort of life once things have shifted – more often than not, they die. Resurrection is uncommon.

When my younger son, Buster, finished the series, he flung that heavy last book against the wall and yelled “for that? Seven books, and my entire childhood for that? So they could end up casting spells on their leaf blowers for the rest of their lives?” He was so fed up.

What do you think? Harry and Hermione wed? Or Harry dead? Which ending would you prefer?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • MarkP1971

    Harry the Christ figure did die. But all Harry really wanted, in all the books, was a home. Something he never really had. Even Hogwarts turns out to be Dumbledore using him. Now using him in a way that contains love, but still using him as a means to an end. After the resurrection Harry is freed to make a home. That is in some ways, for those of us not Christ figures, the Christian life. We are freed from the law and enabled by that freedom of the Gospel to actually live it, to make a home with God. Harry and Ginny make much more sense than Ron & Hermione.

  • Stephen

    Leah is simply wrong about the Ron/Hermione pairing. Shared interests are great – sure. But its a conceit of the young and unmarried / childless to attach WAY too much importance to shared interests in thinking about lifelong relationships. Teenagers, in that self-absorbed way that makes them both adorable and also worthy of a violent beating, will often insist that they could NEVER be with someone who doesn’t like the same bands or movies or graphic novels as them. They grow out of it.

    I’m surprised that you react so negatively to the domesticity of the ending of the series. I find it deeply humane. We see characters that are human beings. Yes – human beings who have been thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and thus behave extraordinarily bravely. But human beings nonetheless who are free to live lives – with all of the subtle glory and subtle courage that living any life entails, once those extraordinary circumstances pass. I’m reminded of the countless – utterly countless – heroes who returned from WWII, got married, bought a house, got a job as an accountant or a steelworker, raised a house full of unruly kids, drank domestic beer, got teery eyed on the 4th of July for the rest of their lives and demonstrated, through the magnificent ordinariness of their lives, that the Nazis who they beat down like dogs, with all of their desperate longing for grandeur, were a bunch of a$$holes.

  • Lee Strong

    Harry and Luna would have been much more interesting!

  • Laurel

    I don’t mind the pairings in Harry Potter. I think Ron would grow wiser
    as he ages and really appreciate Hermione. All four of them have a real
    home, and real love to gain, from their relationship with the older Weasleys.
    Harry is high maintenance and so is Hermione – I don’t think they would
    have worked together, and I LOVE Neville and Luna; they are both
    orphans and they are both kind of pure, in a way like saints.

    As far as Harry dying – if he was a Christ-figure, he would have had to come back to life, but not to use a leaf blower. I totally agree that something should have shown, in the books, that the rest of their lives (all six of them) had a higher purpose. Something should at least have been hinted at as to a more outstanding
    life that used their experiences in some way that really mattered.

  • Lee Strong

    I think the platonic friendship between Harry and Hermoine is much more satisfying than a romantic one would have been. I think people also underestimate Ron – he is the “heart” to Hermoine’s “head” – a good balance.

  • K. Cooper

    Might you have felt differently had Rowling created a “Grey Havens” for Harry as Tolkien allowed for Frodo?

  • Maria Johnson

    I like Buster; I had the very same reaction. Harry should have died. And the epilogue, really? The happy ending was that Harry eradicated an evil in the world.

    In related, and possibly incendiary opinions, I think Snape was the most interesting character of all. He was my favorite, and I was sorry that he died.

  • Adam Frey

    Is it a bad thing that a character goes on to have a happy ending? I get the literary value in having a character whose life purpose is to die in a triumphant conclusion to their struggles. It’s been done a lot, though, and we wouldn’t wish the same on real people. Remember Lieutenant Dan in “Forrest Gump”? He thought it was his destiny to die a glorious death on the battlefield, but life had better plans for him.

  • Win Nelson

    Beautifully done!

    Alternate endings for Ron, Hermione, Neville and Lorna – Ron and Lorna; Hermione and Neville.

  • Win Nelson

    Uh oh! Luna, not Lorna!

  • Suzanne

    “for that?”

    That was what Harry had wanted his entire life: an ordinary family life. The Mirror or Erised, which revealed the deepest desires of people’s hearts, showed Harry surrounded by family.

    Harry was in love with the Weasley family long before he ever romanced Ginny. He showed interest in Ron’s family from the first day he encountered them on the way to Hogwarts, and when he stayed with them before school started his second year, it was a revelation to him to be living among people who actually liked having him around; he would have been happy to spend every vacation with them. That Harry got to go from being an unloved, unwanted, and neglected orphan to not only having his own wife and three children, but also being a part of the Weasley family must be amazing to him. From being alone in the world to having friends and a large family of wizard in-laws who accept him and love him. We should all have our lives turn out so badly.

    A friend had told me that, in some forums he frequented when the final book came out, people hated the ending, sneering at it as “Harry Potter, soccer mom”. I was surprised by that then, and I am more surprised to find something akin to it on a Catholic forum. Harry getting the deepest desire of his heart was a happy ending, as much as Sam Gamgee getting to go home, marry, have children, and get fat and prosperous was a happy ending. You want to argue Harry should have died, you could make a good case, but I don’t see how anyone could be disappointed in how his life turned out.

  • Suzanne

    Being the head of a family isn’t having a purpose?
    Raising children doesn’t involve using your experiences in a way that really matters?
    If it makes anyone feel any better about poor Harry’s fate, JKR has said, outside the Epilogue, that Harry went on to become an Auror. So he actually got to do useful work, fighting dark wizards, on TOP of achieving the deepest desire of his heart by becoming part of a large and loving family.

  • Suzanne

    I’m surprised that anyone–but especially people on a Catholic forum–can react negatively to the domesticity of the ending. Like those soldiers, Harry was fighting for a world safe for good things to exist in.
    Somewhere there is a quote from Tolkien saying that all laws and governments and philosophies exist to protect those little platoons we call families. I may not remember the quote exactly, but I tend to agree with the sentiment. If it–whatever “it” is–isn’t protecting our freedom to make and keep our own little hearth, what good is it?

  • NRH

    I thought the ending was great. Harry etc are left to rebuild the world, and I love that they do it in part by having children! It shows what the entire war with Voldemort was FOR. I also love how the moment Harry chooses to come back after Voldemort kills him the whole story is transposed from tragedy to comedy. BeforeVoldemort was frightening and almost all-powerful, but now becomes ridiculous and contemptible, as evil really is. I think Rowling shows something very true and important when we get to see Voldemort without the “glamour of evil”. I always thought Ron and Hermione were inevitable, from quite early in the series, and I think Harry and Hermione would have been a big mistake.

  • amy r.

    “What is the purpose of their life thereafter?”
    This sounds much too close to ‘a life unworthy of life’, or straight up utilitarianism, for me to be comfortable with – especially coming from a Catholic. Is Harry supposed to just despair that his goal is accomplished, and nothing but a boring get-married-and-raise-children future lies ahead? I applaud that he finds joy in a life of marriage and children. We don’t all have to be heroes to live life heroically.

  • Rosemary

    I love your ideas in general but I must disagree here… Do you mean that someone who completes one mission *cannot* have any other mission in their lives? Women who have completed one mission of marriage, family, bringing up children are welcomed into convent life… Greg Mortenson (3 cups of tea) found a new mission.

    I think its unfair to limit one mission to one person – we are people with unlimited potential. I was so happy that Harry got to carry out the only mission he truly wanted to have.

  • MeanLizzie

    I just think that in fiction, in literature, the narrative arc would have played better with death and no happy epilogue. But I admit, when I was writing that bit in 2006, the series hadn’t ended yet, and I wasn’t thinking in terms of Harry as a Christ-figure.

  • MeanLizzie

    Well, I certainly don’t support utilitarianism. I just think in fiction, sometimes the happy ending is not the most satisfying. Frankly, if Hamlet had lived and Shakespeare had given us a “happily ever after” it would have ruined Hamlet, no?

  • MeanLizzie

    Very good. Never thought about happiness at finally having family. I never went into those forums.

  • MeanLizzie

    No. But then, I hate everything about the LOTR and all things Hobbitish, except the one poem I memorized from one of those books: All that is gold does not glitter/not all those who wander are lost/the old that is strong does not wither/deep roots are not reached by the frost/from ashes a fire shall be woken/a light from the shadows shall spring/renewed shall be blade that was broken/the crownless again shall be king. :-)

  • Roki

    Okay, I’m just plain curious: do you really mean “hate” or do you mean “I don’t get why everyone gushes over Tolkien”?

    If you really mean “hate”, then what is it you love about Harry Potter? How is it unlike (or like) The Lord of the Rings?

  • MeanLizzie

    “I don’t understand why everyone gushes; it all just puts me to sleep.” You’d think I’d be charmed by hobbit holes as I am by Hogwarts…but I’m just not. :-)

  • Roki

    I can respect that. I’d just never met anyone who hated Tolkien who didn’t also hate all other fantasy.

    I wonder what such a person would be like? Love HP, hate (genuinely) LOTR. That would be an intriguing character.

  • Roki

    I had exactly a “for that?” reaction – but not at the epilogue, which I rather liked for mostly the same reasons you state.

    I just found Voldemort such a pathetic villain, and the evil he represented was so impotent. I could never understand how he inspired the loyalty of his followers.

    But maybe that was the point: evil is weak, and all it takes to defeat it is the courage to love.

  • http://semperjase.com Jason

    Leah is right that Hermione and Ron were a bad match, but not because of unshared interests. Leah touched on it a bit when she mentions Ron’s lack of interest in her research, which shows Hermione is smarter and more ambitious than Ron.

    Women are hypergamous. They marry up, not down. Ron was poor and certainly less intelligent than Hermione, was a bad student, lacked Hermione’s or Harry skills, and showed no ambition or initiative (unlike his older twin brothers who launched a successful small business after dropping out of school).

    Hermione’s parents were both dentists, certainly upper middle class. Hermione would have had much better options to marrying someone to match her class, intelligence, and ambition.

  • Nenya

    I disagree. Ron was certainly ambitious! In the mirror of Erised he was Head Boy & Quidditch Captain. Dumbledore states that his desire is to stand out apart from his successful brothers. He just fell short of his goals, which happens more often than not.

    Just because Ron was a bad student doesn’t mean he was not smart. He certainly lacked confidence, much of it because of his highly successful brothers (who were also not very good in school).

    Marrying someone to match “class” or caste system? Sorry, but that has not been shown to work better than plain old LOYALTY as far Happy marriages go.

  • Mark O’Leary

    You have heard, of course, that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
    They are heroes because they make the right choice in spite of death. Some die, some don’t. The ones who don’t die, and go back to their ordinary lives, that is heroic.
    It is easy to pass on to your children the tough choices and sacrifices associated with living a truly Christian life. But to pass on the Joy of a true believer, despite the tough choices and sacrifices, that is truly heroic.

  • Mark O’Leary

    Suzanne, my comment below was directed toward Lizzie’s column. Not your response, with which I agree. I’m still pretty clumsy at this blogging thing. Thanks for your patience.

  • potkas7

    There is a different Greek term, a better word that Agape`, to describe the relationship between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger: Teleia Philia.

    Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, used this word to describe a perfected kind of friendship, based on Virtue, between two equals sharing values and principles of an essentially, and irreducibly moral nature. In this kind of friendship, what one person wants for his friend is what is Good for his friend for the friend’s sake.

    If you are lucky, you may have one such friend in your life.

    By the way, tell Buster not to worry about life after the 7th book. I have a great idea for a sequel. I call it “CSI Hogwarts.” With Harry and Ron as two street-wise Aurors, and Hermione running the forensic lab at the Ministry of Magic. After all, just because Voldemort is gone doesn’t mean evil has been banished from the world.