Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Harriet Potter vs. Harry Potter

A few years ago, I wrote a draft of a novel called: Harriet Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stick, but my editor asked me to make a few changes. First and foremost, she wanted me to change "Harriet" to "Harry."

She argued:

Girls will “read boys,” but boys still don’t “read girls.” And therefore, Harriet cannot garner as vast an audience as Harry could.

When I remained stubborn, she emphasized:

A female writing about a female will be automatically classified as “chick-lit,” and you will be essentially writing-off male readership entirely. (There was an attempt at “lad-lit,” by the way, but it never found an audience.)

Still, when I wouldn’t bend on the issue, she reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ dictum:

"To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much."

“Harriet Potter,” she explained, would be too odd for an audience to stomach. You see, Dorothy (in Oz) and Alice (in Wonderland) are really good-little-girls, not leadership-types who lead armies or make mischievous magic. No one would be able to identify with Harriet, she insisted, while everyone would adore a boys-will-be-boys Harry.

Well, by now, I admit, I was wavering. Did I really want to go against such a famous dictum by such a renown author? But Lewis lived in different times, didn’t he? Surely, today, it cannot be so very odd for an impish girl to lead the way in an odd land?

However, before I could make up my mind on the matter, an unknown writer, somebody named J.K. Rowling, came out with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Yes, agreed, stone is much better than stick.)

Despite the fact that J.K. Rowling claims she wrote Harry Potter for her own daughter, she has placed a boy at the helm of the story. Why?

If she had chosen “Harriet” instead of “Harry,” would the series have changed dramatically? If she had called herself “Joanne” instead of J.K., would she be the richest woman in England? Or would she be working part-time in a bookstore to support her artistic aspirations?

13 repartee:

Anonymous PE wrote...

Darn! If you just got all the girls, then you would be one rich writer.

Seriously, though, the idea that Harriet couldn't do everything Harry does in the book is absurd. She might be different, no doubt, but I don't see why a girl couldn't be just as much a leader or make mischievous magic as a boy. It is an "oddity" only because a boy character is more typical, not because it makes for a better story.

Then again, maybe J.K. Rowling's daughter preferred boys rather than girls to be leaders. If so, that's sad.

2/01/2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Good post! I've often thought about the fact that there just aren't many lead female characters out there. JK Rowling only provides one really strong girl character in her series, which I think is a missed opportunity. And it STILL true that boys don't read about girls.

About the initials--it wasn't all that long ago that women wrote under male pseudonyms. Cultural change always takes such a long time, no?

2/01/2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Yes, actonbell - a "missed opportunity" is an excellent way to put it. JK Rowling deserves credit for her success, but why she doesn't use her success to promote strong female characters is beyond my imagination...

When HP hit the marketplace, so many exclaimed, "Wow, boys are reading!" Fabulous, yes, but wouldn't it be even better if what boys read didn't support so many outdated stereotypes?

PE - "Darn! If you just got all the girls, then you would be one rich writer."

Yes, pity, I didn't really write that draft - ;) Ah, if we choose a boy because he's more typical, then we only make him that much more typical...

2/01/2006 8:16 PM  
Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

'Lad-lit' lol! My B/f reads that, the likes of Tom Clancy and books extending the story of 'Alien' and 'Predator.' The sort of books where men are strong are girls are naked.

On HP note that Hermione A) has a really stupid name B) is better technically then Harry but gets no credit and C) is really snotty and annoying. Nice role model there!

2/02/2006 3:52 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Golgotha! Yes, "Lad-lit" - Ha! Maybe if they had called it "Macho-lit" - the category would have been better received?

Yes, it's so odd about Hermione! JK Rowling has said that "Hermione" is "Her" (at least based on her), and yet, she gives Hermione less and less importance as the series evolves. Hermione turns into the typical "love-interest" rather than a key power player.

I wonder if JK Rowling is bound by her own memories of girlhood or by a limited imagination or by the perceived expectations of her anticipating audience ...

2/02/2006 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Holly wrote...

Thanks for posting on this, Frankengirl. I admit I had a very similar reaction when I first read Harry Potter, and the lack of interesting female characters in the first few books is one reason I haven't read far beyond them. (I've been told it gets better? That Harry gets a hot Asian girlfriend?)

By the way, I have heard books and movies for men called, as the opposite of "chick lit and chick flicks," not "lad lit and lad flicks," but "dick lit and dick flicks." Vulgar, but for the older set, often appropriate.

2/02/2006 11:00 AM  
Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

Most 'dick-flicks' are just porn with cars and guns.

did anyone watch 'sin city?'

'I think I hear someone breaking into my house! well seen as I am a hot woman I'll investigate topless wearing just a thong' Yeah right! the first thing you'd do is get dressed!

I refuse to watch anything that has a good looking girl, car, explosion and Vin Diesel clone on the poster.

2/02/2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Thanks, Holly. I had never heard of dick-flicks. How appropriate! ;)

Golgotha, ha! My silly joke about Sin City was that the women's wardrobe department had a very low budget. ("Sorry, gals, but we really must cut expenses, and the first thing to go - are your clothes!")

2/02/2006 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Holly wrote...

By the way--remembered this while I was grocery shopping and thinking about how the name "Hermione" is kind of cool because it's old and Greek and polysyllabic, and kind of weird because it's old and Greek and polysyllabic, and how whenever I hear it, I think of a whiny little girl, because I also hear "her whiny" in it as well....

Anyway, I read in an interview with JK Rowling that Hermione was the character most like her: smart, bossy, a perennial sidekick, and an outsider who has to justify her existence to people who want to crush her.

2/02/2006 2:41 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Holly, yes, "Hermione" does have a bit of a "whine" in the pronunciation of it! I never noticed that before - :)

I'm glad you brought up the "outsider" issue. JK Rowling does call herself an outsider - and yet, this is complicated, because in may ways she seems to have brought it upon herself. She has been quoted as saying that she didn't know she was writing a fantasy novel and that she doesn't like the fantasy genre. As you can imagine, this has miffed many a fantasy author!

In response, fantasy writer Terry Pratchett has been quoted as saying: "I'm not the world's greatest expert, but I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?"

And Ursula Le Guin has noted: "...she could have been more gracious about her predecessors. My incredulity was at the critics who found the first book wonderfully original. She has many virtues, but originality isn't one of them. That hurt."

Ah, but is a tiny bit of peer envy quite natural?

In the end, I'm always in a tight spot in regard to JK Rowling. I wonder if I ask too much of women writers. Is it enough that she's breaking ground (financially) for women authors.

2/02/2006 3:44 PM  
Blogger Sven wrote...

I stumbled onto your blog based on the name. I nick-named my wife FrankenKrsitin after she underwent brain surgery last year.

After reading your post on Harry Potter I have to say that I couldn't agree more. I am currently reading The Goblet of Fire and while I understand the whole teen romance thing that happens in adolescence, it is unfortunate that she develops this at the expense of Hermione as a charater.

That is why I am such a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films. Nearly every one features a strong female lead character, usually a young girl. You may find the type of character (and perhaps the inspiration you need to work on that series) you are looking for in his films.

Thanks for letting me visit.

3/07/2006 12:54 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Thanks for stopping by, Sven.

I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki!!! :)

3/07/2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger The Poetry Princess wrote...

I've long been annoyed that Harry wasn't Harriet. I'm about to write a short play on the topic and I decided to Google "Harriet Potter," and I came across your blog. Nicely said. Until we open up our imaginative spaces such that boys identify with female characters as readily as girls identify with male characters, we won't have true equality. What's especially annoying about the Rowling books is that they're so engaging, it would have been a great chance to make some headway in this department.

However--and don't get me wrong, I love the books--overall they show a kind of reactionary imagination, don't you think? It's not just Harry. All the interesting roles are male--Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Snape. Not a female in the bunch. Until the collective we can imagine females having a central role in good vs. evil quests, we're nowhere. It's really disappointing to have an important female author who could have helped us out in this department, but didn't.

Anyway, thanks again for the great observations.

Dawn Corrigan

6/27/2007 9:17 PM  

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