That damn Harry Potter has done it again.
The Boy Who Lived has once again made the internet livid by simply celebrating the 20th anniversary of his introduction to the world in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But among the event’s celebrations and dedications, it was wholly unsurprising that the anniversary dredged up a perpetually argumentative concept that has ruined many a friendship: Hogwarts houses.
Nobody who has reached consciousness in post-’90s pop culture has been able to avoid that pressing question we’ve all heard: “What house are you in?” The respondent’s answer somehow always manages to surprise the interviewer, yet the cycle goes round and round, with things like Pottermore only living to make the question infinitely more burdensome. However, as the years have passed and J.K. Rowling has expanded the wizarding world through further writing and her tweeting purview, the four houses of Hogwarts have morphed into something far more loaded than their initial introductions in the Sorting Hat’s song of September. For better or worse, the words Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw have become a combination of stereotype, hyperbole, and brutal peer-to-peer judgment — and their names alone are, in a word, triggering.
Such a phenomenon reared its head on the eve of #HarryPotter20, as allegiances were declared and battle lines were tweeted. And so, here at EW, a portion of us fairly devoted Harry Potter fans have decided to clear up the murkiest of misconceptions that have come to plague the houses with which we so closely identify.
There is only one pertinent word worth using when describing a Slytherin: ambitious. Yes, Voldemort was a Slytherin. Yes, so was almost every other evil character. Yes, the parallel between Nazis and Death Eaters is problematic. But is it reasonable to argue that everyone in Slytherin is inherently evil? Absolutely not. (If anything, that’s the whole reason Cursed Child exists — to shame you for thinking such a thing.) And yet, pop culture has written off Slytherin as a savage breed of loathsome people when, in actuality, ambition itself is not a desire worth damning — especially in an age when a millennial’s wish to afford basic rent is considered wildly aspirational.
Do you think there weren’t Slytherins hiding in the bathroom during Voldemort’s shenanigans because they didn’t want to jeopardize a Quidditch scholarship? Can’t a Slytherin share a house with the most famous dark wizard of all time and win best-dressed at the Yule Ball? I urge people to think of Slytherin less as a reflection of personality and more as a marker of purpose, fully realized. I think Slytherin when I think of rich heiresses of Beverly Hills, and savvy con artists, and eager med-school students and hard-ass football coaches and hungry Newsies understudies and slick car salesmen. They all share a laser-eyed focus on the fundamental absence in their lives. (And calling their achievement methods “cunning” is simply just a more colorful way of saying “imaginative.”)
Personality-wise, there are indeed links among Slytherin dispositions, but they’re more to do with the amalgamation of traits a Slytherin assembles to present him or herself to the world. No Hogwarts house takes better advantage of the dichotomy between outward presentation and inward truth than the serpent. Rude Slytherins have been doing it wrong the whole time. When someone insists that you, a Slytherin, are “more of a Hufflepuff,” that’s just part of the con, babe. Slytherins don’t get to the top by just wanting to be there! They adapt a little something from every other house to do it. They put in all the work of the Ravenclaw, they make all the bold moves of the Gryffindor, they smile and shake hands and scoot along submissively like the Hufflepuff. (And this, by the way, says nothing of the supposed idea that a Huffle’s principal value is loyalty, which is not an exclusive trait to any one house and, if you really want to spill that pumpkin tea, is demonstrated most consistently in the Harry Potter series by the Slytherins anyway).
So here lie we, the Slytherins, entering your consciousness with this outrageous burden of badness, but using those prejudices to get what we need and where we need by charming the game and performing the play. There’s authenticity in the craft of it all. Your mistake is not in befriending a Slytherin, but in writing one off as exactly what you already think we are.
And by the way: Anyone who self-identifies as a Gryffindor is actually a Hufflepuff. Ravenclaws are too afraid to really get to know themselves (spoiler alert: we ALL read). And I think I made my stance fairly clear on Hufflepuffs. – MARC SNETIKER
How many people have you met who say they’re a Gryffindor, but they’re… probably not? I don’t know if it’s the color scheme, the fact that we’d all like to think we’re brave enough to stand up when we see injustice in the world, or maybe it’s just simply that J.K. Rowling’s main protagonists in the Potter novels call this house home. But wanting to be Hermione Granger or be best pals with the Weasley twins doesn’t mean you’d be sorted into their house.
That said, not all Gryffindors are like Harry, Ron, and Hermione. While those three are arguably the most famous members of the house since Godric himself, they’re also some of the most reckless (sneaking around at all hours, going into the Forbidden Forest, spontaneous road trip to the Ministry based on Harry’s mystery dreams, you see where I’m going with this). And while, by definition, members of Gryffindor house are “brave at heart,” that doesn’t mean everyone jumps into perilous situations at every plot twist and turn. There are other ways to possess “daring, nerve, and chivalry,” like loyalty to one’s friends and quieter (but still profound) ways of resisting the forces of evil and standing up for what’s right.
There’s also an affinity for adventure that I think comes along with being on Team Gryffindor that for Harry/Ron/Hermione certainly manifested itself in courting danger, but isn’t always necessarily that extreme. Also, we don’t all love cats — come on, our symbol is a lion! — but it doesn’t hurt if you do (or maybe that’s just me…).
While we’re on the subject: I really do think Slytherins get a bad rap — there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious unless your ambition is to ruin everyone’s lives. For Ravenclaws, being smart doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be the most interesting thing about you. And, Hufflepuffs … never change, guys. – JESSICA DERSCHOWITZ
Having Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them protagonist Newt Scamander be a member of Hufflepuff felt like a clear concession by J.K. Rowling to make up for how underserved Hufflepuff was by the original Harry Potter series. Hardly any characters actually belong to Hufflepuff in those early books. For the most part, the good guys are Gryffindor, the bad guys are Slytherin, and the smart girls are Ravenclaw. Where does that leave Hufflepuff? Nowhere, really. There was Cedric Diggory, of course, but he was a clear exception who stood in the Triwizard Tournament as a representative of Hogwarts itself, rather than Hufflepuff. The result, as a highly popular Second City video showed in 2011, is that the average person can’t think of a single characteristic to describe Hufflepuff.
Well, Hufflepuffs are definitely more than nothing, but what are we exactly? One reason Hufflepuff might seem less well-defined than the other three houses is that we are far less exclusionary. We don’t care how many books you’ve read or how many famous wizards are in your family tree; if you’re ready to work hard and try your best, we’re happy to have you. This tradition dates back to Helga Hufflepuff, who famously declared to her fellow Hogwarts founders that “I’ll teach the lot, and treat them just the same.”
So while Hufflepuffs possess fewer surface-level similarities, we all understand the value of hard work and the importance of loyalty to your fellow people. What often gets overlooked are the rewards of that kind of work. When Hufflepuffs put hard work into exploring their own eccentric interests, they can reap rare rewards – developing difficult plants like Professor Sprout or track down impossible-to-find creatures like Newt. Hufflepuff’s inclusivity does not lead to blandness, as many assume; by contrast, it allows for the discovery and cultivation of all kinds of unique treasures.
Philosophies: Gryffindors act like they’re sticking up for the little guy, but really they just want to put themselves front and center. Slytherins gain their power and prestige from excluding others and are therefore not to be trusted. Ravenclaws need to get their head out of a book once in a while and talk to people. — CHRISTIAN HOLUB
Ravenclaw is a lot of people’s backup House; they fancy the romance of Gryffindor or the dangerous glamour of Slytherin or… I guess that’s it. But most people wouldn’t say no to Ravenclaw, because there’s really not a lot that actually offends people about it. Ravenclaws are smart? Everybody thinks they’re smart. Most people, however, consider intellect a secondary element of their identity; it isn’t quite as impactful a brand (if wizards were to concern themselves with such low Muggle concepts as brands) as courage or loyalty or ambition, all of which have actual Shakespearean soliloquys devoted to them and are outwardly demonstrable, whereas an act of intelligence is, what, reading?
I have to say, I resent the popular image of Ravenclaw as a collective of introverts who spend all their time with their noses in books. Luna Lovegood, unquestionably the most visible member of the House, is a textbook Ravenclaw in that, yes, she is cerebral and perceptive, but more importantly in that she is textbook in no other respect. Singularity is typical (ironic though that may be) of Ravenclaws, because the fruits of the labors of the mind are inspiration, creativity — which make for very distinctive individuals. Furthermore, anyone whose primary interest is expanding their knowledge will be curious and highly engaged with the world around them, rather than shut off from it. What better way to learn than to seek out other people’s perspectives?
The main misconception, if you can call it that, about Ravenclaw is that they’re all just intelligent. I mean, sure, yes, okay, thank you, we are — but not only. Very intelligent people sometimes belong in other houses (see: Hermione), because as Harry Potter himself is living proof, Sorting has just as much, if not more, to do with one’s values as it does with one’s aptitudes. Belonging to Ravenclaw doesn’t signify that you have a great mind (though you probably do) as much as it does that you want to use it — and that is a profound thing. That is a strong characteristic (worthy of Shakespeare, certainly), and one that can take as many outward forms as there are flavors of Bertie Bott’s Beans. Because when the trait we define ourselves by — and perhaps, to be honest, are overly concerned with — is what’s going on inside our heads, that can manifest itself as just about anything outside of them.
And just so you know: The best and truest Gryffindors are the (very) few who do not suffer from delusions of grandeur, but rather suffer from the sad suspicion that they don’t actually belong in Gryffindor. Slytherins are never as smart as they think they are. And Hufflepuffs just break my heart a little. – MARY SOLLOSI