Harry Potter Series

by J.K. Rowling; ill. by Mary GrandPre


Shortly after I started writing this blog, I had an idea for a series: something that would recognize books with strong female secondary characters. After all, girls don’t always read books about girls–nor should they. But we can still steer them to books with strong female characters, girls and women who are in the background but not part of the scenery.

To that end, welcome to Super Secondaries: a series of posts about books with strong female secondary characters. I don’t have a schedule in mind for these posts–I’ll just put them up as the spirit moves me.

Given its popularity–and its wealth of strong female secondaries–I thought J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series would be a good place to start. Just in case you haven’t read the books or seen the movies (or paid any attention to pop culture over the last 15 years), here’s a quick rundown of this seven-book epic.

Harry Potter, a 10-year-old orphan, lives with his aunt and uncle in 1990s England. On his 11th birthday, Harry learns that he is actually a young wizard, the son of two magical parents who were murdered about 10 years previously by the evil sorcerer Voldemort.

When Voldemort attempted to kill Harry, however, the curse rebounded; Voldemort was almost (but not completely) destroyed, and his followers were jailed, killed, or went into hiding. An entire society of witches and wizards now lives in an uneasy peace alongside the “Muggle” (non-magical) world.

Harry goes off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he makes some terrific friends (and some bitter enemies) and later becomes part of the battle to stop a returning Voldemort. Along the way, he teases out the details of his past, grows into his own skin, and finds true family with those who love him. He also accomplishes some amazing feats, but not entirely on his own–and that’s where the strong female characters come into play.

Here’s just a partial list of the inspiring women and girls of the Harry Potter series.

Hermione Granger. Harry’s two best friends throughout the series are Hermione and Ron Weasley, so Hermione is the books’ most prominent female character. Although she’s sometimes an exasperating know-it-all (especially in the early days), she proves intensely loyal and incredibly courageous. Born to non-magical parents, she is nevertheless “the most gifted witch of her generation,” in the words of one Hogwarts professor. Her life-saving intelligence and resourcefulness, plus her willingness to speak up, are inspiration for smart girls everywhere.

Minerva McGonagall. Professor McGonagall is Hogwarts’ assistant headmistress and a tremendously powerful and courageous witch. My English in-laws would describe her as a “tough old bird.” She’s physically strong, very sharp-minded, and an expert in some of the most complicated forms of magic. At the same time, she keeps the students on their toes with a wicked sense of humor and occasional bouts of unexpected empathy and tenderness. She proves one of Harry’s most important allies and is a key figure in the ultimate defeat of Voldemort. She’s a strong antidote to our youth-worshipping culture and inspiration for girls to think about what they can be years, or even decades, down the road.

Molly Weasley. Mrs. Weasley is Ron’s mother and the matriarch of a family of nine. Her strength lies primarily in her open heart and her ability to create a safe and welcoming home for any good witch or wizard in need of a refuge. Like McGonagall, however, she’s tough and unafraid to speak her mind; she also stands up, with dramatic effect, to anyone who threatens her family–not even excepting Voldemort’s most trusted (and powerful) lieutenant. Mrs. Weasley is inspiration for the strength found in kindness and proof of the dignity and power sometimes found in quieter, less-heralded pursuits.

Ginnie Weasley. The youngest Weasley child and only daughter, Ginnie grows into her own over the course of the series, transitioning from a shy and star-struck youngster to a fierce and gifted witch. She eventually becomes Harry’s love interest, but that role is secondary to her position as the leader of the Hogwarts student rebellion against the returned Voldemort. She’s also a terrific Quidditch player, a crafty and mischievous prankster, and a loyal encourager and confidante. Ginnie is a reminder that girls can be paradigm-busters, that others’ opinions or a well-established pecking order aren’t unbreakable barriers to fulfillment and success.

As I said, this is just as partial list. Other great female characters include Luna Lovegood, Angelina Johnson, Nymphadora Tonks, Fleur Delacour, and of course Harry’s mother Lilly. So if you haven’t shared Harry Potter yet with the girl in your life, go for it! Even though the series is “about a boy,” it will be an inspiring read.

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