The Collapse of Wizarding Society As We Know It: How Hermione Granger’s Parents Will Probably Cause the Apocalypse

This is an essay I wrote for my Harry Potter class a few years ago, and I am still absurdly proud of it. It is here more for posterity than anything else.

There is no pair of characters in the Harry Potter canon that intrigues me more, and yet is mentioned less, than the two parents of Hermione Granger. Over the course of seven books — several of which are the longest children’s books in the modern canon, and all of which cover themes of family, parental strife, and the role that parents play in their offsprings’ lives even after they’re gone — Hermione’s parents appear a grand total of once, and are very seldom mentioned. Furthermore, on several occasions when they are casually mentioned, their behavior towards Hermione, and their treatment by the wizarding community, raises many important and often mind-boggling questions about the relationship between the Wizard and Muggle worlds.

The word “granger” comes from old French and English, and it refers to a farm bailiff — basically, someone who oversees the finances of a farm. That term, in turn, is derived from the Latin “granica,” meaning granary. The farming imagery, plus the rather banal sound of the name itself, connotes a rather ordinary family, and indeed every bit of information we are given on Hermione’s parents seems to confirm this. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione confirms that both of her parents are dentists. We know that Mr. and Mrs. Granger occasionally take their daughter on vacations: in Prisoner of Azkaban they holiday in France, in Order of the Phoenix they take her skiing, and in Deathly Hallows Hermione reveals that they have taken her to both Tottenham Court Road and the Forest of Dean. We also know that they are very smart (there’s no way Hermione only developed her bookworm tendencies after learning she was a witch, and becoming a dentist requires extensive education), and they are very passionate about dental hygiene: in Goblet of Fire they send Harry several sugar-free snacks over the summer when he requests emergency food, and discourage Hermione from using magic to adjust the size of her front teeth.

What we don’t know, however, is any of their opinions on witchcraft and wizardry in general, which is fascinating to me. There are only four Muggles in the Harry Potter series who are both aware of the wizarding world’s existence and are shown having definite opinions about it: these are of course the three Dursleys and the unnamed Muggle Prime Minister in Book 6. The former abhor all things magical and prefer to pretend that wizardry doesn’t exist; the latter grudgingly accepts the Ministry of Magic as something he occasionally has to deal with, but most of the time keeps a similar strategy of pushing that world to the back of his mind. Why, then, do Mr. and Mrs. Granger so readily accept the fact that wizards live among us, and seemingly form what seems to be a normal, healthy relationship with their magical daughter? And what regulations are in place to make sure that these Muggle parents don’t break the International Statute of Secrecy?

To answer these questions, let’s take a brief tour through Mr. and Mrs. Granger’s relationship with the wizarding world. When Muggle-born children are sent Hogwarts letters, we are given to understand (mostly from Dumbledore’s visit to Tom Riddle’s orphanage presented in a flashback in Half-Blood Prince, and the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Granger are clearly aware their daughter is a witch) that someone — perhaps either a Hogwarts teacher or a Ministry of Magic official — makes a visit to their home to break the news that a) magic exists, b) their child is a wizard, and c) that we want to take your child to a magical boarding school. Presumably, there are articles in the International Statute of Secrecy that allow for this, as well as for the use of Memory Charms or other magic in case the encounter does not go well. However, the incentive for the interaction to go well is extreme, as we know from the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that a Muggle-born wizard who remains untrained, or is otherwise made to suppress their magic, can become an Obscurial if left to stew too long.

When Mr. and Mrs. Granger (and indeed Mr. and Mrs. Evans a generation earlier) were told that their daughter was a witch, they clearly responded in a positive manner, although we cannot know for sure. But judging from the fact that Hermione is already extremely familiar with many wizarding texts not included in her required school list by the time she steps on the Hogwarts Express, it is safe to assume that they accompanied her to Flourish and Blotts in Diagon Alley and allowed her to purchase as many books as she wanted. But what happens when parents put in their situation don’t respond so positively? We know from the Dursleys that Muggle attitudes towards wizardry can vary widely, but even the Dursleys grudgingly let Harry attend Hogwarts after some (frankly) bullying from Hagrid. What happens when Muggle parents stubbornly refuse to let their children attend, even after the visiting wizard informs them of the threat an Obscurial would pose? Can wizards get in trouble with the Muggle government for kidnapping?

I would suggest a much darker possibility, one that is intimated by Hermione in The Deathly Hallows, when she puts her parents under a powerful Memory Charm to make them forget they have a daughter (as well as think their names are Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and suddenly develop a desire to move to Australia). She does this to protect them from Death Eaters, but I believe that wizards in the past must have done it to prevent young Muggle-born wizards from becoming Obscurials. Especially since the incident in New York in the 1920’s, which resulted in chaos and destruction, it would be too risky to let unwilling, abusive Muggle parents to continue stifling the magic in their wizard children. It would hardly be the shadiest thing that Hogwarts or the Ministry did in that century. But then, of course, would they have to modify the memory of the young witch or wizard? What happens when they grow up and investigate their past?

But that is not even the darkest possibility that the activities of the Granger parents suggests. Let us go for a moment to Chamber of Secrets, when Mr. and Mrs. Granger make their second (and seemingly last) trip to Diagon Alley to help Hermione buy her school supplies. We first see them “standing nervously” at the entrance to Gringotts, where they are greeted with great gusto by Arthur Weasley, who of course finds them endlessly fascinating, goggling at them throughout the day as though they are animals in a zoo. They exchange their Muggle money for wizarding currency at Gringotts, and then have a drink with Arthur in the Leaky Cauldron (we don’t get to see this but presumably they spend the time talking about the machinations of their Muggle lives with a very overeager wizard). The next time we see them, they are in Flourish and Blotts. Here, they witness a photoshoot with the wizarding celebrity Gilderoy Lockhart, as well a fight between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy that is not only incredibly uncomfortable but quite illustrative of politics in the wizarding world at the time.

But here’s the kicker: at the end of the day, they simply waltz out the door of the Leaky Cauldron, back into the Muggle world. Their memories are not modified, and nobody is shown monitoring Muggle activity in and out of the Leaky Cauldron.

Now, in The Sorcerer’s Stone Harry cannot see the Leaky Cauldron on the street until Hagrid points it out to him, so it stands to reason that Muggles cannot see it unless they are directed to it by one who can. The wizard who delivered Hermione’s acceptance letter most likely informed them how to get to Diagon Alley, as Dumbledore did for Tom Riddle. But the question remains: what provisions are in place to stop the Grangers from going home and blabbing to all their Muggle friends about the wizarding world, how it works, the state it’s in, and how to get there?

In the case of the Dursleys, they are inclined of their own accord to suppress any knowledge of Harry’s oddity. But this is an inherently unreliable system, as not all Muggles share the Dursleys’ aversion to magic. More likely, when the visiting wizard speaks with the family of a Muggle-born, we can deduce that they are required to tell them about the International Statute of Secrecy, and that they are not to tell any of their Muggle friends about the wizarding world. It is logical that the Muggle parents would then be required to sign some sort of charmed nondisclosure agreement, which would magically alert the Ministry if magic was mentioned to someone outside the young wizard’s immediate family: we already know that the Ministry monitors wizard-inhabited Muggle homes to detect underage magic, so this is not that far of a stretch.

But here’s where this system can fail: wizards are consistently shown to have limited knowledge of Muggle technology, so much so that their spectacular ignorance is often played for comedy. Even Arthur Weasley, a man who has devoted his life to studying Muggle inventions, consistently gets things wrong: as late as Order of the Phoenix he refers to a telephone as a “fellytone.”

In addition, a great deal of wizarding secrecy is predicated on the idea that all Muggles have an inherently Dursley-esque attitude towards magic — namely, that they will go to ridiculous ends to pretend that it doesn’t exist even when the evidence is right in front of them. In Chamber of Secrets Arthur insists that even when Muggles are given Vanishing keys, they will ignore the evidence and insist they’ve lost them. In Order of the Phoenix, Hagrid asserts that the reason mountain-dwelling giants can freely prey on Muggles is that the other Muggles attribute the disappearances to avalanches without bothering to investigate. These are hardly the only examples: countless times throughout the series the legitimate question “How come the Muggles don’t notice this?” is brushed off with “Muggles don’t notice anything!”

I have lived among Muggles for twenty-two years, and in my experience the exact opposite is true. Muggles notice everything: they are paranoid, panicky, and prone to creating insane conspiracy theories based on small amounts of evidence. And this trend has only sharpened in intensity since, of course, the advent of the internet.

That’s right, once again, the internet ruins everything. The Harry Potter series takes place primarily in the 1990’s, before the internet was a universal constant in every Muggle’s day-to-day life. Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, my smartphone can do much more than simply photograph my meals. It can take instant video of anything I happen to see in public; a wizard Disapparating on the street, for instance, or a family shuffling through a busy train station with an owl in a cage and then disappearing into what is supposed to be a solid brick wall. Then, ten minutes later, my entire friend group has seen the exact same thing — and two days later, so have ten thousand other mystified Muggles.

In addition, if wizards haven’t learned how to pronounce the word “telephone” by 1996, then they certainly aren’t aware of how social media works by 2017. Even the magical nondisclosure agreement I just signed can’t stop me from tweeting about my wizard son — how could it? Wizards don’t even know what Twitter is! Considering the sloppy enforcement of the Statute of Secrecy we witnessed throughout the Harry Potter books, it absolutely stands to reason that the International Confederation of Wizards is shitting their pants right about now. Entire Muggle governments — not just their leaders anymore — are becoming wise to the fact that wizards are living among us in secret, and that they could solve most of our problems with a swish and a flick. As poor as the Weasleys were, food was never a problem for them, not when you can transfigure objects into food, increase food you’ve already got, and cook by magic. And I’m certain that citizens of Flint, Michigan would welcome at least one magic individual capable of shouting “Aguamenti!” Of course, we Muggles are also quite capable of producing enough food and clean water for everyone and still don’t do it. But try telling an angry politician that.

I want you to imagine that your name is Monica Wilkins, and you and your husband Wendell are living your quiet lives somewhere in suburban Australia when suddenly, an unfamiliar girl rushes into your home, points a wooden stick at you, and mutters a strange Latin phrase. All of a sudden, your identity begins to crumble. . . your last name isn’t Wilkins, it’s Granger, and this strange girl standing in front of you is actually your daughter — how could you have forgotten your own daughter? And then, as the daughter you’ve just remembered begins to explain the long, complicated story of why she had to do this to you, of the danger she put herself in, of the terrifying power she wields over your very perception of reality — wouldn’t you feel scared? Wouldn’t you begin to harbor some resentment, not just toward Voldemort, but the entire wizarding world? Wouldn’t you want to tell your therapist about it?

The unraveling of the wizarding world as we know it starts and ends with Mr. and Mrs. Granger, and J.K. Rowling doesn’t even do us the favor of telling us their first names.

Works Cited

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dir. David Yates. Screenplay by J. K. Rowling. Perf. Eddie Redmayne. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2016. Film.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Random House, 2000. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Random House, 2005. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Review of ‘Incredibles 2’

I wrote this for Rescripted.org as part of their young critics’ mentorship program, and it can also be found on their website.

Image result for incredibles 2

People like Pixar movies for many reasons. But by far, the reason I love this studio so much is that each Pixar movie has a distinct and easily distillable moral center. Each of these has shaped who I am today in some way — ideas like the difficulty of growing up, the importance of preserving childlike wonder into adulthood, and the sham of capitalism, among other things.

But these moral centers are usually quite personal, and the reason Incredibles 2 is the best Pixar movie is that it asks a question concerning not just the viewer, but the way the viewer will affect the world around them.

The intervening years between Incredibles 1 and 2 have of course brought a veritable glut of superhero movies, so this movie had a lot to prove. The difficult line that Incredibles 2 walks — nostalgic yet innovative, human yet fast-paced  — is a mammoth achievement in and of itself. But I’d like to focus on the movie’s themes, because Incredibles 2 is a story about people trying to control the superhero narrative. Every character in this film is selling a story, whether to the public or to themselves. Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), media businessman and superhero fanboy, is the most obvious example — he sells the public a controlled narrative about Elastigirl so he can feel better about his father’s death. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) gets the opportunity in this movie to reclaim her own narrative; the simple glory of saving people and looking cool doing it. And Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is of course dealing with giving up that same narrative so he can care for his kids, all the while selling the narrative that he’s a good dad so hard that it eventually becomes true.

Even super-daughter Violet Parr (Sarah Vowell) gets in on this theme, in a comic yet crucial subplot in which her high school crush Tony Ridinger gets his memory of her wiped. There’s a reason that as her mom is reshaping the perception of superheroes in the public eye, Violet is trying to rebuild the memory of herself in Tony. And. . . she doesn’t do a great job.

In fact, no hero in this movie does a great job. The day is saved, but in the same way that the Underminer never gets captured, the underlying problem is never resolved. Heroes are legal again, but the reason they were made illegal in the first place hasn’t been addressed.

And that reason, of course, is public complacency! This movie explores in depth the dire consequences of putting too much faith in public figures, of trusting that we can lay back while the powerful solve our problems, and the ways our media reinforces this in subtle and insidious ways. There’s a reason the villain controls people through television and computer screens. There’s a reason Elastigirl earns the public’s trust through a body camera — by literally letting her audience live their own superhero fantasy through her, as every superhero movie does. At its worst, a superhero movie gives you the adrenaline rush of saving the world without empowering you to actually do it. Real world-ending problems are invisible, dull, and entrenched within systems; you can’t stop global warming by blowing it up. And that one celebrity you love, or that one politician you voted for, isn’t going to fix it, at least not without your help.

I like that Incredibles 2 revels in the giddy theatrics of heroism without being afraid to savagely critique its effects. Superheroes are troubling because they teach us that things get better through individuals, and not because we make things better together, through massive civil movements, which I might point out is the only way in history anything has ever gotten better, ever.

Incredibles 2 asks: How are modern superhero narratives making us complacent? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

The fact that this movie manages to make these devastating observations while still being a manic, self-contained, and visually stunning ride is nothing short of astonishing to me.