As I've mentioned before, I am currently reading the Harry Potter books to my two Nanobots. They are loving the books as much as I do, and re-reading them while at the same time watching these two people I love so much experience them for the first time is kind of amazing. One of the most interesting consequences of reading the books aloud and discussing them as we go is that I am seeing aspects of characters that I never really clued in on consciously before.
When we focus on the feminist aspects of these books, the character most often brought to the fore is Hermine Granger, and with good reason. Confident, intelligent, and resourceful, Hermione is an excellent role model. She is the top of her class academically and her ingenuity and quick thinking save the day more than once.
But Hermione is by no means the only well-rounded, well-written, and above all feministly-written character in the series. We have Ginny: athletic and powerful, outgoing, with no fear of speaking her mind and who never softens her opinions for the numerous male characters around her. We have the strict but fair Minerva McGonagal, who is nonetheless capable of moments of true passion and tenderness. Uber-Mum Molly Weasley, a housewife whose fierce dedication to her family (a large group to start with, and one that grows with every book to include her children's friends and the other members of the Order of the Phoenix) proves that there is no "just" about being a mother and a housewife. Nymphadora Tonks, an auror who can do battle with the best of them and leave you rolling on the floor with laughter for days. Even the horrible Dolores Umbridge has her feminist qualities: while her unabashed ambition and Machiavellian methods may be distasteful, we are never expected to find them distasteful simply because of her sex.
The character that I am developing more feminist love for on this particular reading is Luna Lovegood. I have always loved Luna. She is a fun character with her constant name-dropping of non-existent creatures and her general other-worldliness. But there is much more to Luna than radish earrings and crumple-horned snorcacks.
Luna is ALWAYS calm. No hysterical females here. Despite her bizarre beliefs, she is surprisingly level-headed. In Order of the Phoenix, after Harry has his vision of Sirius, Luna calmly accepts that there is an emergency happening and immediately sets about doing what she can to help, despite having much less information about the situation than any of the others. This is in no way painted as a subservient gesture. Luna is simply happy to help and content to wait for a more opportune moment to get more information. When tensions are high and the other characters are at a loss in the Forbidden Forest, it is Luna who calmly points out the arrival of the thestrals who can carry them to London. Once in the Ministry of Magic and the Death Eaters show up, Luna shepherds an injured Ginny and a completely unmanageable Ron out to the entrance. She addresses Harry calmly, almost as a trusted lieutenant to her general, filling him in on the situation clearly and concisely. Luna is clearly comfortable being a leader or a follower, whichever is required by the situation. This is shown further in Deathly Hallows when Luna aids in the escape from the Malfoy Manor where she has been held captive for months. Luna has spent her time gathering such information as she can and caring for the wand-maker, Olivander. When the opportunity to escape presents itself in the form of Harry, Hermione, and Dobby, Luna easily slips from being the one in charge to following orders. But again, there is no hint of subservience in the shift.
Luna is accepting of others' shortcomings. We know very little of Luna's life before Order of the Phoenix. We know that she lives with her father and that her mother died when Luna was very young, in an accident that she witnessed. We also know that Luna has been very much an outsider at Hogwarts. She is bullied by members of her own house. Even the students who are not actively cruel to her tend to ridicule her and ostracize her. Her belongings are regularly stolen and hidden. Ron Weasley is actively rude to her and Hermione Granger is highly dismissive. But Luna accepts it all with a calm grace. She appears to hold no ill-will toward those who have hurt her, simply going about her business and ignoring their slights. Even when the fact that her possessions have been stolen hampers her ability to pack for the summer holidays, Luna betrays nothing but tolerance for those who have been bullying her, clearly regularly. This is in no way presented as something Luna should just endure because girls shouldn't make a fuss. Luna endures it because she chooses to, not because she has been taught to. She even refuses to allow Harry to either defend her or help her find her belongings. She is perfectly capable of dealing with the situation according to her own rules.
Luna is firm in her own convictions and willing to stand up to anyone to defend them, even her own father. Granted, many of her convictions are a bit silly. Luna can make 9-11 truthers look rational. But Luna also clearly believes in standing up to evil and helping people. She is willing to put herself in danger in order to help Harry defeat Voldemort, despite the fact that her father has sold out to the Death Eaters in order to protect her.
When I talk to my boys about what we have just read, I find myself, more and more, pointing out Luna's characteristics and reactions to the other characters and the events of the books. Each chapter, we find more reasons to admire her, simply as a person, but also as a woman. Luna Lovegood may be a fun and funny character, but she is also one, among many in the series, with true depth. So wear those radish earrings with pride, and watch out for nargles!