Harry Potter turned 20 this week! My how time flies. I’ll admit sometimes, even to this day, after school lets out for the summer, I find myself confused about why I still have to get up early and where my class schedule is.
Summer always fills me with that tremendous Harry Potter feeling, you know? That feeling of total wonder and excitement. I always make sure to re-read at least one of the books every summer, starting on July 31st: the date I spent every year, from ages 11-17, staring with unblinking alertness at the sky, waiting for my Hogwarts letter to come.
I was skeptical of Harry Potter at first. Even at age 7, I always found myself distrusting the majority. But I picked up the first book when I was around 10 or so, and after that, I totally understood the hype. Like millions of other kids, those books were my childhood.
However, there is one thing about the Harry Potter books that I simply cannot get behind. And that is the house system.
So, when students get to Hogwarts at age 11, they are sorted into four “houses” based on core personality traits.
You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart,
their daring nerve and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.
You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal,
those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil.
Or yet in wise, old Ravenclaw, if you’ve a ready mind,
where those of wit and learning will always find their kind.
Or perhaps in Slytherin, you’ll make your real friends.
Those cunning folks use any means to achieve their ends.
(Yes, I did type that from memory. And later today, I’ll have no idea where I put my car keys.)
You take classes with your house, you dorm with your house, you eat meals with your house, you sit with them at Quidditch games. Your house is your family. And you are pitted against other houses with a points system that, granted, promotes good study habits and behavior, but also promotes rivalry against those who are unlike you.
The history of this is supposedly the four Hogwarts founders couldn’t decide which types of students they would admit, so they decided they would take them all. But while they were there, they would ensure students would stick to their own kind.
So these students are supposed to spend some of their most formative years only hanging out with people who are like them? That seems like a really good way to stunt their brain growth. They say there wasn’t a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. Gee! I wonder why! That’s never happened when you’ve put a bunch of capitalists in one room. With sorting comes judgment, marginalizing, fascism. Maybe that’s why Voldemort went bad. Because he never had to talk to a Hufflepuff.
Also, who’s to say a Gryffindor at age 11 is still going to be a Gryffindor at age 17? When I first took the Pottermore test at age 21, I was sorted into Gryffindor. I took it again about a year ago when I made a new account, and I was sorted into Hufflepuff. But I’m fundamentally a bookish introvert. Does that make me a Ravenclaw? I identify with all the houses. Every time someone has asked me about my Hogwarts house, I legitimately do not know the answer. Which can make me feel even more out of place than I already feel.
And I know, I know: people are always going to have their differences. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were hardly the same on many levels. And the hat takes your choice into account and yada yada. A recent Atlantic article just discussed a study being done about how people were more likely to get Pottermore-sorted into the house they wanted to be in. But is that self-awareness, self-aspiration, or a testament to the malleability of the quiz? Quizzes are easily manipulated. The hat, seemingly, not so much.
Plus, what if you get into your house and it’s awful and you don’t get along with your housemates? Are you allowed to transfer houses the way you’d be allowed to transfer roommates at a university? How are you supposed to bond with a whole group of people based solely on the fact that you’re “brave”? It doesn’t even seem like you’d be able to transfer schools without running into the same issue, as Ilvermorny, for example, uses the same system. Though that could be your standard U.S./British thing.
Maybe it’s best I didn’t go to Hogwarts. This is a lot of social pressure. Imagine those poor wizard kids losing sleep over whether or not they will make it into their family house, forcing them to adopt unnecessary personality traits. Or maybe, with a family like the Weasleys, the hat just throws them into Gryffindor for the sake of not having to think about it too hard. What are the implications of that? What does it do to the system?
J.K. Rowling, I adore you. You are my queen. You gave me the most precious gift I’ve ever been given, and I truly believe my love for Harry Potter has helped define me as a fierce proponent of storytelling. But this system is potentially hazardous to the youth of this fictional wizarding world. You can take that feedback all the way to the bank!