The Hermione Granger Curse: Misplaced Good Intentions

If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books or had an in-depth discussion with a Harry Potter-fanatic friend, the acronym S.P.E.W probably won’t mean much to you. Frankly, after spending a lot of consecutive Christmasses rewatching the film series, I forgot the small, intricate differences in plot and characterisation myself, and the pro-Elfish rights group was probably among the first of many minor book points to slowly leak out of my head. However, recently, upon finding myself stuck on long commutes to and from work with limbs pressed against me and smelly breath invading my personal space, listening to Stephen Fry’s silky voice was something I really needed to make sure that I didn’t crack under the pressure of London rush hour. So when, in The Goblet of Fire, we are introduced to the acrophobic house-elf Winky, I remembered with bemused confusion the farce that was Hermione Granger’s first attempt to bring about positive change for the poor “slaves”, as she so passionately puts it.

So what’s the problem with that, you’re probably wondering? Why would it be such an issue that Hermione wants to help those who are at a disadvantage to wizards? What could you possibly say, Shannii (if that’s even your real name), that would be a good argument against the basic human instinct to try to help those in need? You would be right to ask those questions of me, of course! To some extent, I will agree with you. I do not deny that those of us who have the most in society should feel a moral duty to help those around us. In an ideal world, no one would be treated as subordinate because of their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or (in the case of Harry Potter) species. Dumbledore’s affirmation “It’s our choices… that show what we truly are” would not only be accurate but also a practised and embraced worldview. That’s the world that I hope I can at least try to help accomplish. So, with the fact that I don’t agree at all with the enslavement of house-elves firmly in your minds, let’s continue with the actual issue when it comes to ‘being a Hermione Granger’ on this specific occasion.

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“It’s Just a Story”: We Underestimate the Power of Literature

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When we open a fiction book, it’s purely for the sake of escapism. There’s nothing to learn from these stories and nothing that should make us think. People should stop politicising stories because acting like they have deeper meanings is pointless, right?

Wrong.

I’ve had people tell me these sort of things frequently since I became a writer on Episode Interactive. That’s probably because I spend way too much of my time arguing with people on the forums about diversity standards, tasteful stories, and representation. I often discuss the importance of creating positive portrayals of certain sensitive scenarios, especially on an app aimed at such a young audience. When I try to tackle these areas of improvement, I am met with a great deal of push-back. People will completely shut down, refusing to engage with difficult topics and have a proper debate because they’re “just stories”. That makes me cringe really hard at my screen. I wish that these people would have a wake-up call. Good stories aren’t just about writing some words on a page and creating pretty pictures in our heads. No writer should ignore the power that their story can have over their readers. Yes, Episode does have the potential to generate some amazing stories and writers are powerful – and, as you probably already know, that means responsibility, folks!

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

So, my wonderfully inquisitive-minded friend, I hear you ask: “Why can’t I just write whatever the hell I want to write? Why do I have to think about the implications that my story may have?” Well, before I answer you, I have to tell you that those are some excellent questions! I guess the most important thing to cover first is the impact of art in general on the mind. This involves delving into the worlds of two of my biggest loves: literature and history. Lucky you.

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Episode Interactive​: Diversity Standards Don’t Always Work

Diversity standards aren’t the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to writing for Episode Interactive. As a mixed-race woman, believe me when I say that diversity is definitely an essential aspect for the improvement of a platform aimed at younger audiences. Globalisation has become a standard part of our world today, and so it is crucial to ensure that we are able to empathise with the people around us despite our differences. I am definitely not disputing the importance of promoting this cohesion and helping younger people to focus on the similarities rather than differences between different people. However, as a writer on Episode Interactive, I have to say that diversity standards don’t always work.

Why would I suggest this? Well, sadly, you can’t wave a magic wand and make the world more accepting. Forcing people to add diversity to their story when they have little knowledge about how to handle these topics sensitively and appropriately can do more harm than good. Despite the best efforts of these budding writers, they can often find themselves perpetuating gross stereotypes and creating two-dimensional characters to meet a quota, or they can fall into the trap of thinking that merely having a black, gay character in their story is good enough. This is especially true of an app like Episode, in which so many of the writers are young girls who are in the midst of developing their own literary style and opinions of the world.

 

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Artwork by Chaotic Deluge

 

I have to admire the efforts of some of these girls when they are creating these characters. They really do try their best to make sure that there are a plethora of characters of different ethnic origins, religions and sexualities. Often, though, this falls short of being genuine diversity when you have a look at the tropes that run through a vast majority of these stories. You may have a character in a hijab walking in the background and saying nothing, or a gay character who spends every breath in their lungs reminding you that they are, in fact, gay. Then there is the fear that I have spoken to many Episode writers about when it comes to actually making the protagonist of their story from a minority group. They fear that they will not capture the character well enough and will end up offending someone.

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