Sorting Hat Sunday: Charlotte’s Web

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Sorting Hat Saturday – or anything, really – on this blog. But I realized the other day just how well the four main characters of Charlotte’s Web fit the four Hogwarts houses, and naturally, I just had to write about it.

Wilbur is a Hufflepuff. When Charlotte describes him as “humble”, she’s absolutely right – he’s humble in the best way. Even as he rises from runty pig to celebrity, he remains grounded and down-to-earth. He is a true friend to Charlotte and her descendants and is even polite to Templeton, although the rat does not return the favor. What’s truly extraordinary about Wilbur is the way he sees everyone in the barn as a friend and an equal, and brings them all together where they had been indifferent to each other in the past.

Fern is a Gryffindor. Nothing will stop her from standing up to injustice and doing what she thinks is right. Like many Gryffindors, she instinctively protects the weak, such as the runty piglet her father intends to kill. She is not afraid to stand up to those she loves, and as Dumbledore reminds us, that takes even more courage than standing up to your enemies.

Charlotte is a Ravenclaw. She is wise, helpful, and extremely intelligent. Not only does she fulfil the role of the wise mentor for Wilbur, giving him good advice and guidance, her attempts to save his life are also a good example of Ravenclaw heroics. As a spider, she is small and seemingly insignificant, unable to physically protect her friend, but she uses her intelligence, creativity, and inner strength in a very selfless way to save him.

Templeton is a Slytherin. While he sometimes helps out Charlotte and Wilbur, he looks out for himself first, plain and simple. He’s concerned with having plenty of food to eat and hoarding things in his den under Wilbur’s feeding trough, and usually has to be manipulated into doing anything for others. This often comes from the goose, a very different kind of Slytherin, who is not greedy and gluttonous like Templeton, but recognizes those as his weaknesses and uses them to threaten or tempt him into helping.

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My Hogwarts House

I’ve written a lot about the Hogwarts houses, and I think I’ve mentioned that I see myself as a Ravenclaw, but until now I haven’t written much about why. So this weekend, I’m going to explore that a bit.

I think a lot of people who know me in real life would assume I’m a Hufflepuff. In many ways, I could be. I do take a lot of pride in my work ethic, and I’ve said many times that my good grades in school were due to hard work as much as intelligence. Like a Ravenclaw, I never want to stop learning about the things I’m passionate about, but like a Hufflepuff, I care enough to keep trying even when I’m not passionate at all.

There’s some Slytherin in that, too. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m never happy with less than what I know is my best. And in my own way, I’m ambitious. My goals are more typical of Ravenclaw than Slytherin (ie. “I want to write a novel”, “I want a college education”, or “I want to find a fulfilling career”), but I’m all about thinking things through, making long-term plans, and taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I find that I over-analyze Slytherin perhaps more than any other house, and that’s probably at least in part because I see ambition as a positive trait, essential to society, and only evil if taken to unhealthy extremes.

However, I’m not a Slytherin. I value ambition, and I’d probably describe myself as resourceful, but I’m not really cunning. I’d drive myself crazy trying to fit in with all the subtle manipulations and mental chess games of Slytherin. I’d much rather be in Ravenclaw, where the emphasis is more on sharing knowledge than using it as a weapon, or Hufflepuff, where community and teamwork prevail. The other big reason I’m not a Slytherin is because I wouldn’t “use any means to achieve [my] ends”. When I have to make a choice between what I want and what I believe to be right, I sincerely hope that I would always choose what’s right.

Does that make me a Gryffindor? The main Gryffindor trait is bravery, which – if you define it as thrill-seeking, looking for dangerous or scary situations just for the sake of it – I don’t have much of. On the other hand, if you define bravery as doing the right thing even when it’s not easy, or making a choice even though it scares you, then I certainly hope I’d be able to be brave, and I believe I have been in the past. However, bravery is not the focal point of my life in the way that it would be for a Gryffindor. Hogwarts houses are all about what you value most, and for me, both Ravenclaw’s lifelong learning and Hufflepuff’s fairness come in ahead of Gryffindor’s courage.

So, back to Hufflepuff. On Pottermore, the Hufflepuff mascot – the badger – is described as “an animal that is often underestimated, because it lives quietly until attacked, but which, when provoked, can fight off animals much larger than itself.” This is very much how I choose to live my life. I try to get along with everyone and stay out of drama. I am deeply loyal to those I care about, and I try to be polite even to those I don’t like. Because of this, and because I look younger than I am, I think people tend to underestimate me.

On top of all that, there’s a side to me I’ve only had a chance to start discovering this past year. For most of my life, I’ve been a student, but now I’m a teacher, and as a teacher, I aspire to be more like Helga Hufflepuff than any of the other founders. She was the only one to take all students, including those rejected by her three colleagues. While I don’t find all children easy to deal with, I want them all to feel welcome and supported in my classroom. In fact, I often find that the kids I like the most are not the academic superstars or the most popular kids, but the Hufflepuffs of the group, who are kind and respectful and always try their best.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t see myself as a Hufflepuff. I interact with the world around me in a way that may look Hufflepuff, and perhaps even is Hufflepuff, but that barely scratches the surface of who I am. The rest of me – the way my mind works, the reasons I do what I do, the things I pursue in my free time, the person I am when I’m alone, everything that makes me me on the inside – is Ravenclaw. Maybe it’s an introvert thing.

I’d actually be very interested to know: are introverts more likely to choose a Hogwarts house based on who they are inside, as opposed to their actions or outward selves? Are extraverts more likely to do the opposite? I would guess so, but I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m definitely a Hufflepuff on the surface and a Ravenclaw deep down, and that it’s my Ravenclaw traits that fuel a lot of those Hufflepuff ones in the first place.

It’s not just that I’m smart. I mean, I think every nerdy middle-schooler wishes for a place where their intelligence would be valued instead of mocked, and that’s where I was when I first started to think of myself as a Ravenclaw. But, as Hermione proves, members of any house can be intelligent. If book smarts and middle school wishes were the only thing tying me to Ravenclaw, I’d probably have started to see myself as a smart Hufflepuff by now, which would be no more of a contradiction than being a smart blonde.

That’s not the case. If Hogwarts houses are based on what you value most, the passion that drives you in life, then I absolutely am a Ravenclaw. I am constantly curious, constantly questioning and looking for answers. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be done learning, because there will always be something I don’t know and want to. When I have a passion for something, whether it’s Harry Potter or a foreign language or a time in history or whatever, I want to learn absolutely everything about it. I devour books, fiction or nonfiction, classics or new releases, anything and everything that intrigues me enough to want to pick it up.

It doesn’t matter to me whether what I’m learning is “useful” or not. For example, when choosing a college major, it never occurred to me to specialize in field with higher paying jobs or better prospects; I thought carefully about which major to choose, but only considered ones that I have a passion for. My academic success is driven primarily by my love of learning (even Hufflepuff work ethic comes in second to that), so I knew I’d have a better chance to succeed if I was truly driven to learn more about what I was studying in my classes.

I try to embody Hufflepuff values as a teacher, but I was drawn to teaching in the first place for very Ravenclaw reasons. There’s nothing more fulfilling for me than sharing what I know and love with others and learning more about it along the way. I love teaching actual lessons, but I also love preparing them and figuring out the best way to teach something, making connections that escaped me when I was an elementary school student myself. I love that it’s different each day and that I have to be creative and adaptable in order to make things work. And I love that look in a kid’s eye when something finally clicks. I don’t think I could stand to do a desk job in an office. I would go crazy without something to stimulate my mind.

I would like to think that I make wise choices, and that I learn from my mistakes in order to become wiser as I grow older. Part of this, I think, is listening to both my head and my heart when I make a decision. I don’t like to make split-second gut instinct choices. I want to know all the facts first, and I also want time to consider my emotions and listen to my conscience. I find it easiest to solve a problem when I have the chance to “sleep on it” and process all the information.

In fact, processing and analyzing comes as naturally to me as breathing. Even when it comes to fictional stories, I can never just watch a movie or read a book, then put it down and forget about it. I have to overanalyze. I have to pick apart the details, the characters, the subtle uses of foreshadowing or horribly obvious plot twists, the themes and questions interwoven throughout. Everything that I read, I read it as literature, whether it’s Shakespeare or just some kids’ series about a wizard. 😉

I connect things. My mom calls me a “creative connector”, and she’s not wrong. I spend a lot of time thinking, for example, about what Hogwarts houses characters from other works of fiction would be in. As a teacher, I try to draw connections between different subject areas, because everything is connected, especially in the broad ways things are taught at the elementary school level. And as a student, I used to find those same sort of connections between my college classes, when – for instance – the same topic came up, from different perspectives, in a communications class, a linguistics class, and a foreign language class. The whole world is a huge web of connections, and …

I’m sorry. You were here to hear me talk about my Hogwarts house, not go off on a tangent about everything being connected. But do you see why I’m so sure I’m a Ravenclaw?

Don’t pinch me. I don’t want to wake up.

I think I must be dreaming, because today, I got to teach a Harry Potter lesson to the kids at school.

Let me back up. It’s the last week of school, and with sixth grade graduation on Thursday and – unlike most middle and high schools – no final exams to worry about, this week is an exercise in finding something for the kids to do. One thing we came up with is to get the 4th through 6th graders together for a movie and then plan a special lesson around it. As you might have guessed, that movie was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and as the resident Harry Potter nerd, I got to be in charge of it.

I suggested making it a character education lesson based on the Hogwarts houses, circling back to how they started the year (with character education, not Hogwarts). We talked about the virtues of each house, with emphasis on the idea that everyone has different strengths, but everyone’s strengths are important. In the case of Slytherin, we talked about positive ambition and holding yourself to high standards, versus selfish ambition and taking what you want at any cost. They then wrote a paragraph about which house they thought they would be in, while I helped those that were not sure or weren’t very familiar with Harry Potter.

Did I agree with all of their self-assessments? No. But then again, Hogwarts houses are about what you aspire to be even more than what you are. I think it was definitely a worthwhile project to do. They all got a chance to think, first of all, about what it means to be a good person. Just as importantly, they got to take a look at their own best qualities and strongest values, and what they bring to the table. Hopefully they also learned to appreciate each others’ strengths a little more. A child who is kind to others and a loyal friend is just as important as one who is athletic, does well academically, or is a natural leader among their peers.

We had about as many kids pick Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff as Gryffindor, which I see as a sign that the message got through. Only a few picked Slytherin, and I didn’t try to dissuade them from doing so. Instead, I thanked them for their honesty and emphasized that ambition, turned toward positive goals, could take them far.

The kids loved it. Most of them are Harry Potter fans, anyway, and I think even those few that weren’t ended up enjoying it. As for me, I still don’t believe this is real life. Surely, in just a few minutes, I’ll wake up and find out that it was all just a dream. But for now, please don’t pinch me. I want to enjoy this.

Hogwarts Houses and Graduation

What would members of each house be the most proud of at their graduation – whether it be high school, college, or even Hogwarts?

Gryffindor: the risks they’ve taken that have paid off, the crazy adventures they’ve had, the people they’ve stood up for (or to), the ways they’ve grown, and the confidence with which they now face the future.

Hufflepuff: the people they’ve grown close to, the relationships they’ve formed, the dedication with which they’ve worked to get to this point, the kindness they’ve shown to others, and the ways they’ve helped make their school and community a better place.

Ravenclaw: the things they’ve learned, the new passions they’ve discovered that go beyond what they learned in the classroom, the notes they’ve let their friends borrow and the study sessions they’ve led, the books they’ve lost and found themselves in, and the questions they’re still asking.

Slytherin: the great things they’ve achieved, the trophies and awards, the late nights of studying, the blood sweat and tears that it took them to get here, the people they’ve impressed, the goals they’re one step closer to, and the knowledge that they will never, ever give up.

Camping with the Hogwarts Houses

I’ve pretty much run out of steam on the whole Sorting Hat Saturday thing, which is probably pretty obvious since it’s been a month since I’ve posted one. So until I’m struck with new inspiration for that, I’ve got a new idea: how would people from each of the Hogwarts houses react to ordinary – or extraordinary – circumstances? I kind of did this once before when I talked about how each Hogwarts house would choose to use time travel, but this week will be more ordinary: four people, one from each house, go out into the woods on a camping trip.

The Gryffindor sees the whole thing as an adventure. They want to go rock climbing, bungee jumping, hiking through uncharted parts of the forest, etc. If the group runs into a snake or hears the growling of a wolf outside their tent, it’s the Gryffindor who jumps forward to confront the threat. They’re brave, protective of their fellow campers, and never stop looking for the next thrill.

The Ravenclaw brings along a favorite book or two to read beside the campfire each night. They probably did a lot of research in the weeks leading up to the trip, because they’re full of trivia. They can tell you what kind of a tree that is, what sorts of birds are common in this area, how best to prevent bug bites, and anything else you might – or might not – want to know. Don’t bother bringing along a guide book; they’ve already read and practically memorized it.

The Slytherin wants to be in charge. As far as they’re concerned, it’s up to them to make a plan for the day and make sure everyone else follows it. What’s for dinner? Whose turn is it to do the dishes? How far are you hiking today? The Slytherin knows, and they’ll make sure you do, too.

The Hufflepuff looks at it as a bonding experience. They’ll leave the micromanaging to the Slytherin and do anything that’s asked of them without complaining. But what they’re really there for is to braid each other’s hair, share secrets, and sing campfire songs all night long. Anything that will bring them closer to their friends.

Sorting Hat Saturday: High School Musical

High School Musical came out when I was in sixth grade, and a couple of years later, I was in a local theater production of it. I have to admit that still love it, even as an adult. It’s cheesy, it’s unrealistic, but it’s sugar-coated in nostalgia for me. I think I still know every word of “We’re All in This Together”.

Anyway, I decided to sort the characters into Hogwarts houses this week, and here’s what I came up with.

Gabriella: Ravenclaw. Not just because of her exceptional intelligence, but because her first priority is always to stay true to herself. At her old schools, where she was ostracized for her intelligence, she still continued to embrace it; at East High, she’s accepted by a group of fellow “braniacs” but risks losing them as friends to pursue her growing interest in theater. Ravenclaws are independent thinkers who don’t tend to cave in to peer pressure, as seen in the extreme example of Luna Lovegood. Gabriella is smart, creative, genuine, and totally Ravenclaw.

Troy: Gryffindor. His storyline in each movie is about finding courage to stand up for what he wants in increasingly difficult circumstances, and while he has his moments of weakness, he always rises to the occasion in the end. Unlike Gabriella, he doesn’t find it easy to simply be himself. But he finds it within himself to stand up to bullies, defy expectations, and do right by the people he’s close to. He would be a Gryffindor, not because bravery is easy for him, but because he always pushes himself to make the brave choice and clearly values courage more than anything else.

Sharpay: Slytherin. There’s very little she won’t do to get what she wants. Sharpay is sneaky, ambitious, and overly proud – all typical Slytherin flaws. I mean, her solos/duets are almost always about how big her dreams are and how much she wants to accomplish. Bop bop bop, bop to the top …

Ryan: Hufflepuff. This is a hard one, but I feel pretty confident. Ryan is not a typical Hufflepuff, no stability or steadfast loyalty here. In fact, he spends a lot of time wavering back and forth between supporting his egomaniac sister and standing up for the other kids. But once he does have a chance to develop, he shows himself to embody Hufflepuff virtues. He cares enough about what’s fair and what’s right to not be okay with Sharpay’s schemes, and he works very hard on projects that won’t benefit him, like doing the choreography for a musical in which he himself only plays a small part.

Chad: Hufflepuff. Chad is a team member before he’s an individual. While Troy and Gabriella stand up against peer pressure, Chad gives into it without even noticing that he does and takes part in it without seeing anything wrong with that. His friendship with Troy is genuine, and his loyalty to his team is absolute, but he rarely shows any independence.

Taylor: Slytherin. For the same reasons Chad is a Hufflepuff, Taylor can’t be a Ravenclaw. She’s certainly intelligent, but her first reaction is to discourage a friend from exploring new interests because it will interfere with her own goals. She prioritizes winning above all else. Even in the third movie, her level-headed decision to go to Yale – across the country from Chad – is contrasted with Gabriella and Troy’s anguish at the thought of being separated by a much shorter distance. Her ambitions and goals come first.

Sorting Hat Sunday: Les Mis Part II

One of the most perplexing things about trying to fit the Les Mis characters into Hogwarts houses is that they’re so different across different iterations of the story. Sure, Valjean and Javert are pretty similar, and the Thenardiers are just funnier in the musical, but keep most of the same personality traits. But when it comes to the younger generation of characters, that’s not the case. The musical versions of Eponine, Marius, and Cosette are so different from their book counterparts that it’s almost impossible to decide on a definitive house for them.

Eponine: Gryffindor/Slytherin. In the musical, Eponine is a good-hearted and courageous young woman in a horrible situation. In the novel, she’s a desperate girl doing what it takes to survive, who is loyal only to Marius and will do anything for him. She is more involved with her father’s criminal activities than the musical suggests, and her actions at the barricade are less noble, since she brought Marius there in the first place hoping that they would both die together. Both versions love Marius, but in the novel, she loves Marius the way that Snape loves Lily: genuinely, one could even say selflessly, but with a mindset that is entirely fixated on him and wouldn’t care if the rest of the world burned to the ground. I would put the musical version of Eponine in Gryffindor and the book version in Slytherin; I guess it’s true that the two houses are two sides of the same coin.

Marius: Gryffindor? In the musical, Marius comes across as a brave, honorable young man fighting for a cause he believes in. In the novel … not so much. I think the best way to describe book Marius is “wishy-washy”. While his friends plan their revolution, Marius’ attention is easily diverted by Cosette, and soon, he barely cares about their ideals at all, only rejoining them at the barricade once he thinks he’s lost her. Likewise, he turns on Jean Valjean when the latter reveals himself to be an escaped convict, while in the musical, it’s only Valjean’s own insistence on leaving that separates him from Cosette. I’m not actually sure what house I’d put book Marius in. He’s not particularly loyal to anyone besides Cosette, and far from being ambitious or cunning, he’s easily tricked and can’t read people to save his life (for instance, he thinks Thenardier is a hero and Valjean a no-good criminal). Nor is he especially studious or intellectual, despite being a law student. Perhaps I would put him in Gryffindor, for the way he constantly speaks his mind and follows his heart, but it’s a vague, fickle sort of bravery.

Cosette: Hufflepuff/Gryffindor. Like Marius and Eponine, Cosette is very different in the musical and the book. The former doesn’t have much personality beyond being kind and sheltered, while the latter is outspoken and spirited, with a hidden longing for adventure – and for a sheltered girl who grew up in a convent, a secret romance with a young revolutionary must seem very adventurous indeed. She’s not involved in the more dangerous parts of the novel, but she speaks her mind and refuses to be ignored, silenced, or pushed into anything she doesn’t want, even by those she loves most. As Dumbledore once said, “it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”