Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

By Seth Lerer | Go to book overview

11
Theaters of Girlhood
DOMESTICITY, DESIRE, AND
PERFORMANCE IN FEMALE FICTION

At the close of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black mounts Harry's hippogriff to fly away to freedom. Escaped from prison, captured, misunderstood, and eventually rescued and revealed, Black spends the book largely as the beneficiary of Hermione's skill. She is the one, as in all the Harry Potter stories, who figures things out, who uses ingenuity and knowledge to crack codes or subvert subjection. And yet, at the novel's close, when Black wheels the hippogriff, Buckbeak, around to face the open sky, he turns to Harry and says: “We'll see each other again. You are—truly your father's son, Harry.”1 Viewers of the movie version of this book, however, will hear something very different at this moment. There, Black turns to Hermione, not Harry, and affirms: “You really are the cleverest witch of your age.”

The movie of The Prisoner of Azkaban transforms a moment of male bonding into one of female affirmation. It displaces Black's avowal of paternal influence—you are your father's son—into a benediction of female accomplishment. In this revision, the movie takes as its telos the authority of girlhood. It makes Hermione the real performer of the story: the stage manager of magic; the director of its time shifts, costume, and control. The film becomes a girls' film, one in which the female audience can find their affirmation. Yet the book remains, in spite of Hermione's obvious centrality, a story about men and boys: about Harry's search for his relationship to his dead father; about his need to find surrogates in Black, or Dumbledore.

But by refiguring the final focus of the story from the boy to the girl, the movie also affirms one of the controlling themes of female fiction, almost from its origin: that girls are always on the stage; that being female is

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