‘Some good in the world’

Years after finishing Deathly Hallows for the first time, this conversation still wends through my mind:

‘Are you planning to follow a career in Magical Law, Miss Granger?” asked Scrimgeour.

‘No, I’m not,’ retorted Hermione. ‘I’m hoping to do some good in the world!’

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Before the atrocity known as The Cursed Child came out, Hermione’s plans and career was a rather emotional topic of conversation for me. I remember a particularly charged exchange with a friend, wherein I asked ‘How on earth did Hermione survive after school?’ I was going through a bit of a rough patch in ‘the real world’, having found it not as hospitable and accommodating as I might have hoped. ‘Merit’, hard work, perseverance—none of that seemed to count here. It didn’t matter that I worked well, I thought; the road to whatever I wanted was long and hard and filled with obstacles, and some people had the power to get over them more easily than I did.

‘Hermione would never have been happy outside of school,’ I remember saying. ‘She was too good at it.’

Hermione was and is my model of what kind of student, nay, the kind of person I want to be. She’s intelligent, compassionate, and incredibly intuitive. She’s able to grasp concepts, really get at the fundamentals, in a way that not many other wizards seem to; she’s loyal and not afraid to get her hands dirty, or put in the time to get a job done. As I mentioned in this post, she’s incredibly brave as well, taking on a world she knows nothing about, with no safety net in place to catch her, for the sake of her best friend, love and the ‘rightness’ of her cause.

Such a person, I was sure, would inevitably be let down by the world outside of her school. She was too smart, too fair-minded, to want to thrive in a world of nepotism and red tape, ridiculous rules and drudgery. Unlike the far more officious Percy, who seemed to worship authority almost for its own sake, Hermione was not afraid to question and call out things she found wrong. It may have begun in Divination class, when she scoffed at Trelawney’s predictions of doom, but it was certainly in full force by Order of the Phoenix, when she not only helped start the DA under Umbridge’s nose, but uttered the now-infamous line: ‘I mean, it’s sort of exciting, isn’t it? Breaking the rules.’

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So when she talked back to Scrimgeour in Deathly Hallows, and scoffed at his question of her entering the law, it made a lot of sense. Of course Hermione would have no time for wizarding law, which kept house elves in slavery and endorsed segregation between ‘beasts’ and ‘beings’. She’d seen the law misused enough in just six years of being part of the magical world: Hagrid being carted off to Azkaban as a ‘preventative’ measure, Sirius’s lack of trial, and the exoneration of Lucius Malfoy being key examples. Not to mention, she had literally rebelled against the Ministry in school. Why on earth would she ever decide to go into that hellhole, when she had the whole world open before her? Surely she’d go onto some illustrious research career, I thought, and change lives, curing dragon pox, Neville’s parents, and rehabilitating house elves and other ‘marginal’ elements of wizarding society on the side.

Among the more ridiculous elements of Cursed Child was this, I thought—the revelation of what Hermione actually did after school. We don’t know how it happened, but somehow, she ended up not only running for Minister of Magic, but winning the position. That she won was not the confusing thing; it was her deciding to do it at all.

I tried to expunge it from my memory, like most of Cursed Child. Hermione would never have sold her soul and gone into politics! I told myself. She saw how corrupt it all was. She knew, even after Voldemort was gone, that the Ministry did not change overnight. Of the trio, Hermione was always the most grounded, the least likely to proceed on feelings and idealism alone. She weighed and measured every decision, at least when she felt she had the luxury to. Defeating Voldemort, of course, was a little beyond the scope of the normal, and so she’d thrown her arms up and gone along with Harry’s lack of a plan, while furiously preparing for any eventuality that might result (see: her beaded bag).

downloadBut then, as they say, life happened. I realized it was actually totally of a piece with Hermione’s logic for her to go into the belly of the beast. Hermione was careful, yes, but she never shrunk back from a challenge. Hermione did not rush blindly forth on the strength of feelings alone, sure, but she also never agreed or submitted to anything, or anyone, she felt was wrong. Hermione was smart and capable and scornful of those who believed they were better than her, simply because they were richer or prettier or had ‘purer blood’, but she was also willing, and more than ready, to work with those she respected and cared for, and had never, ever abandoned a friend, or a person, in need.

Surely this Hermione, someone who had saved the wizarding world with her smarts and talent, who’d started a society that was the butt of her friends’ jokes and championed a cause few would support—this Hermione, when she saw the problems of the world she’d chosen to defend, would roll up her sleeves, flick out her wand, and get down to solving them. And what better place to do it from, than the heart of power?

Hermione was on my mind when I read about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the many more like her, young women who are stepping up, around the world, to take charge of a political system that’s historically worked against them. Hermione is on my mind when I read about Reese Witherspoon, or Priyanka Chopra, or other women in the film industry, who, sick of waiting for good parts to be written for them, have opened new streams down which ‘overlooked’ stories can set sail. And Hermione is definitely front and centre when I look at my own female friends, many of whom are doing and will do incredible things, whether that’s braving the courts and corporates, crafting art for a variety of media, or teaching the next generation of Hermiones and Harrys and Rons just how to go about defeating their own Voldemorts.

To them, and to Hermione, salút!

Hell hath no fury: Jessica Jones, Season 2

There are three things that are guaranteed to happen in any Marvel-Netflix show: someone who is presumed dead will turn out to very much alive; people will go into the hospital, where violent altercations rather than healing will take place; and someone, the villain, or the companions, or even the hero, will break out of jail. Season 2 of Jessica Jones hits all three points, and then some.

jjtop1-539x600That’s not to say that the season is predictable. Far from it. Characters that we thought we knew behave in surprising, fascinating ways. To be honest, I found myself far more intrigued by the old faithfuls: Jessica, Jeri, Trish, than any of the newer entrants. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Plenty of time for dissection later.

Season 2 opens very shortly after the horrors of Season 1 and The Defenders. Though the show doesn’t make too much of the events that took place in the latter, Season 1’s ghosts literally linger into the present, with one episode bringing back Kilgrave as an annoying, sadistic voice in Jessica’s head. It’s clear right at the outset that it will take more than a team-up with a bunch of other heroes to put Jessica’s demons to rest, and the events of these 13 episodes make it seem like that ‘rest’ will be a long time coming.

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While Jessica is trying to move past her trauma, Trish is doing all she can to dig deeper into the secrets behind her friend’s superpowers, openly going after the mysterious ‘IGH’ on her talk show.  Her journalistic ambition, however, ends up ruffling some powerful feathers, and it’s not long before a ruthless killer is on the loose, determined to shut her up. Jessica, the best friend, rushes in to protect her, and finds that far from the monster she had imagined, she is confronted with a disturbingly familiar figure: her mother.

5b78d313-9912-4c30-ac58-6e252f94bef2-jj1This, really, is the heart of Season 2, the reckoning with one’s past, the sins of the mother, and the manner in which they shadow our character’s lives. Jessica’s mother, Alyssa, is the recipient of the same mysterious treatment that saved her own life, and gave her her powers. Alyssa’s powers are far stronger than her daughter’s, but unlike Jessica, she cannot control herself. Subject to horrifying, murderous rages, Alyssa lashes out at Trish, and those she sees as threatening her survival, hers and that of her partner, the Frankenstein-like Dr. Karl Malus.

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In this season, Jessica comes face to face with her maker(s), the scientific one, and the biological. While she struggles to handle the dilemma posed by her mother—-a mass murderer who represents, to Jessica at least, her one chance at family—Trish falls down a rabbit hole of her own. Growing up as a victim of abuse, both from her domineering, driving mother and various men she encountered in showbiz, Trish has long felt helpless, and sees IGH as her one path to salvation. We watch her spin herself into deeper and deeper holes, putting her relationship with Jessica at risk. Indeed, by the end of the season we’re not even sure if they can ever be friends, let alone sisters, again.

Darkness hangs over the indomitable Jeryn Hogarth as well, who receives a diagnosis of ALS early on in the season. This launches her on a quest to find a cure, which brings us in contact with my favourite new entrant: Inez, a nurse who once worked with IGH. This being the Marvel-verse, nobody is as trustworthy as they seem, and victories do not come easily, if they come at all. In this world of superpowered beings, it seems easy enough for Jeri to believe in Inez’s stories of a ‘healer’, another patient of IGH who can heal sick persons with his touch. A desperate Jeri clings to this story, but of course, it meanders to a bitter end.

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Season 2 was written and presumably put into production long before the flood of stories that form the #MeToo movement, and the resounding echoes of the same in Hollywood. Maybe it’s because those stories, and that anger, is still so present that it was impossible to watch this season without thinking about it, seeing anger in all its forms distilled into and played through these female characters. Whether it’s Trish’s anger over her helplessness at the hands of an inherently hostile, bullying world, Jessica’s anger at herself for her seeming failures, Alyssa’s much more violent rage that was, tellingly, the result of a man’s botched experiments, or Jeri’s colder, existential fury at having the life she’s worked so hard at taken away—all of these are powerful, telling illustrations of what happens to a dream too long deferred. The male characters, Malcolm, Karl, other new entrants Oscar and an investigator named Pryce Chang, are frequently stunned by the force of this anger, and the achievements and actions it can give rise to. Often, they are left helpless in the face of it, tied up in bathtubs, driven to suicide, or defecting to rival organisations. The only exception seems to be Oscar, who presents the one pleasant thing for Jessica this entire season.

Because of the jagged theme, the season itself seems to move in a halting fashion, and it takes a while for it to find its stride. That being said, though, there’s a lot to unpack in these 13 episodes, and I’m sure that those who watch it will end up thinking about it for a long while. We cover a long trail, from the opening shots, that follow Jessica about her tawdry tasks of stalking cheating spouses, to the close, which sees her, somewhat hesitantly, embracing if not the fact, then the idea of happiness. Earlier in that same episode, Jessica had recalled how she felt ‘dead’, alone ever since the loss of her family. At the end, she seems to have opened herself to the notion that ‘death’ in her case is a choice, and taking steps to face the other way. Whether Oscar and the relief he offers will prove permanent is a question that remains; for now, it looks as though she might finally, finally, be working towards some sort of peace.

The peace that comes after a storm, or before one? Only time, and Season 3, will tell.

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Soaring on the Other wind

The tale of puberty, that difficult, awkward phase of a person’s life, has been told many times. I recall it with alternating flashes of embarrassment and nostalgia. There are some parts of it I think of fondly—the suddenly much more serious friendships, the whispers of crushes and romantic interest—and others I prefer to forget.

Why do I begin with this? I’ve read, somewhere, that the books we read in that phase, or as young teenagers, are the ones that affect us most, that stick with us and mould what becomes of us later on. I don’t know where this was, or even whether it’s scientifically proven, but I’ve often thought of it, and wondered at its validity, especially in my life. It’s true, for me at least, that the books I read in those years, 13 to 17, are the ones that have stayed with me longest, and still feature on my ‘top ten’ lists, even now, more than a decade later.

leguin_ursula_kUrusla le Guin’s books were among those.

I still remember it so clearly. When I hit 13, and my body began its weird, inexplicable morphing towards adulthood, my mother made me start ‘exercising’. This was very strange to me, since I was a fairly active child, attending dance classes and karate classes. True, I spent most of my time between those classes lying around and reading, or walking around and reading, but this emphasis on ‘exercise’ mystified me. She would make me, and my sister, go upstairs to the terrace, and do ‘something’. Skip, I assume. Or run. I’m not sure, mostly because, the moment I reached the terrace, I would pick up my book, and walk around, reading.

It was exercise of a sort, I suppose.

One of the books I picked up was Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. I was coming to it fresh from The Lord of the Rings, and I knew, already, that I liked fantasy. I was more at home among dragons and Elves and heroic ideals than I was in any other place (like near a skipping rope, obviously). Being a smug little 13 year old, I thought I knew what I was in for, and being a smug little 13 year old, I was surprised.

The world of Earthsea was nothing like Middle Earth. It was dirty, and it was corrupt, and its residents smelled bad and lost control of their bowels. I distinctly remember a description of a princess—a princess—gasping in fear and the narrator commenting on the snot dangling from her nose. I was so scandalized by this; I was coming off fresh from the Arwens and Galadriels, who probably never had to sneeze, let alone leave mucus dangling from their noses.

But I loved it, and most of all, I loved the women in it. Two of them, specifically. I worshipped Tenar, the priestess in her tombs, who turns her back on everything she knows to flee to freedom and the outside world. I loved how she became wise, and venerable, and that I’d been able to watch her do it, in a way I never had with Galadriel. She felt reachable, closer to me than any woman Tolkien had created.

And I adored Tehanu. I’ll always remember The Other Wind for its last scenes, the victory and sheer power that accompanied Tehanu’s departure. I wanted to be her, and it’s with only the smallest bit of embarrassment that I admit wishing I was part dragon, so I too could transform in  a blaze of glory, and sail away from everything on the other wind.

rebecca-guay-the-tombs-of-atuanLe Guin’s world, and her women, were complicated, and messy. They were not an escape from reality. Puberty is a strange time. I remember feeling terrified, of everything, of myself, of inexplicable, hard to name things. Life didn’t seem neat and tidy, the way Tolkien’s world was at the end. There were darknesses in every corner, and I think, at that age, I was just beginning to realize it. At least, I was beginning to realize the dangers that accompanied my existence as a girl, and learning to cultivate a very particular kind of fear.

And strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, le Guin’s fantastical world reflected that darkness. It had at its root a greyness that Tolkien’s didn’t, a reckoning with the fact that many lives are haunted by danger, and dread.  And yet, her heroines managed to overcome it, whether by jumping madly across chasms, trusting to the words of a stranger, or reaching their arms up into the heavens. They struggled and they made mistakes, and they faced horrors, but they won through a hostile world.

They endured, perhaps with grey in their hair, or burns on their faces. But importantly, they endured, fighting on, or flying into, another day.

the other windAnd I guess that’s what she’s done, enduring in a genre traditionally hostile to women, living life with a grace and fortitude that she infused in her characters. I’d like to think that she crossed that crumbling, horrible wall, and found it waiting on the far side. That Other wind, that swept her up, and took her to lands more fantastic than we, lingering behind, can imagine.