Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rory Gilmore, Hermione Granger, and what happens when clever girls grow up

While I wasn’t able to watch the Gilmore Girls revival over Thanksgiving, I spent the following Saturday on the couch with a friend, bingeing on all four episodes. During the run of the show, I’d usually found Lauren Graham’s Lorelei the more interesting character, as she juggled romantic relationships, raising Rory, and her inn-owning ambitions along with her rebellious and often immature nature. Rory, a book smart good girl, had her own paradoxes – the relationship with bad boy Jess; sleeping with married ex Dean – but her essential nature was a person who appreciated systems, who figured them out and figured how to be successful within them. This is the type of person who does well in school, who ingratiates herself with her biggest enemy, and who attends an Ivy League college.

Or maybe Hogwarts.

Rory may not be a witch, but she has quite a bit in common with Hermione Granger, another straight-A student with questionable parentage. Hermione was more rebellious than Rory, but then again, she had to be. Voldemort wasn’t moving in on Chilton or Yale; Rory’s biggest rebellion was dropping out of Yale and moving into Richard and Emily’s pool house. But at the end of the series, she graduated from Yale and spurned Logan’s proposal in order to cover Senator Obama’s campaign for president. Similarly, after helping Harry vanquish Voldemort, Hermione went back to Hogwarts for her final year.

This year, fans were lucky enough to be reunited with both young women. Rory is now 32, and Hermione is in her late 30s in the Rowling-approved play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Unfortunately, adulthood has been rough for both women.

During the run of the Gilmore Girls series, I never bought Rory as a future journalist. A journalism major myself, I noted that the people around me were obsessed with current events and a lot more aware of the outside world than the typical college student. (This is also why I never became a journalist.) For all her pop-culture references, Rory spent a lot of time in her own head, reading famous novels and enjoying isolated Stars Hollow. Even though Mitchum Huntzberger was supposed to be a bad guy for telling Rory he didn’t think she was cut out to be a journalist, I agreed with him.

So I wasn’t too surprised to see Rory floundering as a freelance journalist, a career that requires a person to go beyond pre-set rules and systems, to flout convention, to question and probe and examine beyond what is presented as truth. Even so, what took her so long? When we last saw Rory in 2007, she was primed for an explosive career. As a member of the pool covering Obama, she would have become part of the White House press corps after he was elected. If she had been cut out for journalism, that path easily would have led to her becoming the next Christiane Amanpour. And if not, the contacts she made could have led her to the business side of publishing. Instead, despite her “Talk of the Town” piece in the New Yorker, Rory’s a mess. She’s nowhere near the smart, determined girl who had to choose between Harvard and Yale.

Which brings me to Hermione, who might have faced the same decision after graduating Hogwarts. In Cursed Child, Hermione is the Ministry of Magic. But she’s a bad one, an administrator who is so careless with an illegal time turner that two below-average teenage wizards are able to crack her spell and find it. (I won’t get into the canon-violation of time travel rules that were carefully spelled out in Prisoner of Azkaban.) Characters constantly talk over her and treat her as an impediment rather than as the cleverest witch of her generation. And in alternate time lines where she does not marry Ron, she becomes a complete mess. Of course the cleverest witch of her time would be nothing without a man! Poor Professor McGonagall is stripped of her own cleverness, also becoming only an impediment.

For the girls who grew up loving these characters, what does it say that they fail to become fully functioning adults? For women who appreciated them as girls and hoped to see them equally successful as women, the disappointment goes beyond the field of entertainment. Fictional role models are just as important as real-life role models. When the writers who created these characters cannot see their clever girls growing into successful adults – when their stories are no longer as important as the stories of the men in their lives, or the sons of these men – where does that leave their fans?

Like the rest of us, watching as the smartest woman of her generation wins the popular vote by nearly three million, and is forced to watch an orange clown ascend to the most powerful office of the free world.

1 comment:

  1. This was a great comparison! Although I haven't seen Cursed Child, I was so, so disappointed with how Rory's life turned out. I couldn't believe that this is what the series creators had been planning for her all along. I guess, with Laine getting pregnant instead of pursuing her career, maybe we should have considered ourselves warned.