Character Name: Professor Minerva McGonagall
Fandom Name: Harry Potter
Author: Debbie B (minerva_fan)
Word Count: 925
In researching this essay, I did what anybody wanting to know more about a topic would do—I Googled. An English-language search for "Minerva McGonagall" yielded 7,650 hits with the very first hit being *minerva*, a Minerva McGonagall fanlisting that boasts 752 members in 48 countries.
Why all this hoopla over a relatively minor character in a children’s book? Granted, Harry Potter is arguably the most successful franchise of children’s books in publishing history, but why Professor McGonagall? Why this interest in a teacher, and an old teacher for that matter?
My first introduction to Professor Minerva McGonagall was stunning. In the darkened theater, I watched with an audience of adults and children, hardcore fans and newbies, as the shadow of a spectacled tabby transformed smoothly into a small female witch in an enormous pointed hat. Professor McGonagall had arrived in a visual effect that was both clever and cool. Add to the mix that the character was played with a splendid blend of humor and sternness by Dame Maggie Smith, and you can understand why I was quickly hooked.
Most descriptions of Professor McGonagall describe her as an intimidating and stern woman, who is actually quite a softy. She is both Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, and she teaches Transfigurations. She has a notorious passion for Quidditch and has been known to bend the rules on occasion, if the circumstance requires.
Professor McGonagall is that teacher most of us remember from our school days, the tough old bird with your best interest in mind. She is tough because she cares, and her goal is to challenge her students in order to better prepare them for the tasks they will face later in life. When she punishes, it is rarely for malice, and she seems genuinely happy when her students succeed.
While not as obvious as Snape, McGonagall does have her favorites. She has turned a blind eye on more than one occasion for Harry, although whether this is due to his skill on the Quidditch field or due to his unfortunate past remains a mystery. She championed Hermione Granger in her third year at Hogwarts, going to great lengths to allow her student to use a time-turner in order to carry a larger class load. On the other hand, she does tend to lose patience with slow or lazy students, and has on an occasion or two let slip some less than flattering comments.
McGonagall’s relationships with her fellow teachers are no less complex. As Dumbledore’s Number Two, she works closely with him and is fiercely loyal. He trusts her implicitly and delegates a large amount of authority to her. As we see most notably in Order of the Phoenix, she is willing to fight for him, although he insists she stay at Hogwarts because he needs her there.
Another friendship noted conspicuously in the books is her friendship with Hagrid. While it may seem an unlikely match, considering McGonagall’s sternness and Hagrid’s notorious tendencies toward breaking the rules, we have seen examples of their friendship. In Goblet of Fire, Hagrid even goes so far as to give the Deputy Headmistress a friendly peck on the cheek, while in Order of the Phoenix it is McGonagall who rushes out to protect Hagrid from arrest. It takes four stunning spells to the chest to stop her.
Not all of McGonagall’s professional relationships are as sociable, though. She references in Sorcerer’s Stone a fierce rivalry with Severus Snape, head of Slytherin House, that tends to worsen when Slytherin’s team beats Gryffindor.
McGonagall’s dislike for Sybill Trelawney is legendary and, unfortunately, a bit unprofessional. Twice in Prisoner of Azkaban she insults Trelawney in front of students. First, she mocks the Divinations teacher on the first day of class by verbally "rolling her eyes" at Trelawney’s death prediction for Harry. Later in the book, she needles Sybill in front of the students at the sparsely-attended Christmas dinner. However, Minerva does show some kindness towards Trelawney when Dolores Umbridge starts her Ministry-approved "downsizing" of the faculty. Granted, it’s uncertain whether she was nice to Sybill because (a) Dumbledore asked it of her, (b) she actually felt sorry for Sybill, or (c) she just hated Umbridge so much that even Sybill Trelawney seemed like a better option at that moment.
In fact, it is with the introduction of Dolores Umbridge (aka The Toad) that fans really begin to see the steel beneath the tartan, so to speak. When Umbridge stages her hostile takeover of Hogwarts, Minerva rebels. First, her rebellion is passive, such as turning her gaze away from activities by the Weasley twins and Peeves ("It unscrews the other way."). But as Umbridge becomes more brutal and overt, McGonagall’s defiance swiftly shifts from passive to aggressive, culminating in a shouting match over Harry Potter’s future career where McGonagall vows to do everything in her power to make sure that Harry becomes an Auror.
When all was said and done, it took Ministry goons with four Stunning spells to drag Minerva away from protecting her brood. That’s a hell of a character.
As the books progress, we are seeing more of Minerva McGonagall’s part in the struggle against evil, both from Lord Voldemort and from the ignorant misguidance of the Ministry itself. We see her love for her students, her fierce loyalty to Hogwarts and to her friends, and we see her bravery and strength. To sum up a passage from Order of the Phoenix, like Harry, I simply couldn’t imagine Hogwarts without Professor McGonagall.