Foil Houses

It occurred to me a while back that, as much as Gryffindor and Slytherin are sometimes portrayed as two sides of the same coin, Slytherin is just as much a foil to Hufflepuff as it is to Gryffindor. After all, ambition and work ethic go hand-in-hand. Both houses are more practical and focused on the real world, whereas Gryffindors and Ravenclaws tend to be more abstract and idealistic. And while Slytherins tend to be ruthless and harsh, whereas Hufflepuffs are kind and selfless, that’s certainly not universal. Zacharias Smith is far from selfless, and there’s nothing harsh or ruthless about Professor Slughorn. Both houses are even defined by their loyalties – or, rather, Hufflepuffs are defined by their loyalty, while Slytherins are the opposite: not necessarily disloyal, but very selectively loyal, fighting amongst themselves to prove themselves to Voldemort or betraying their side for a single person.

Couldn’t we also say, though, that Slytherin is a foil to Ravenclaw? Both houses value intelligence. However, with Ravenclaws it’s creativity, wisdom, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake that is valued. Slytherins, on the other hand, are sly and cunning, using their minds as weapons and their knowledge as a tool to help them get what they want. When I did my Divergent Sorting Hat Saturday posts, I found that most Erudite characters fit into Slytherin, even though their Faction aligns more closely with Ravenclaw at first glance. Even the mascots each reflect the other house’s traits if you know your heraldry: the snake was a symbol of wisdom, while the eagle represented power.

Is it fair to say that Ravenclaw and Slytherin represent two ways of valuing intelligence, that Hufflepuff and Slytherin represent two types of hard work and loyalty, and that Gryffindor and Slytherin represent two ways of taking action for what you think is important?

I talk a lot on this blog about how Slytherin doesn’t have to mean evil. I’ve sorted a lot of positive characters there (and a lot of negative ones into other houses). But within the series itself, looking at the contrast between the different houses, does it make sense to say that Slytherin is the “dark side” to all three “good” houses? I would say so.

The Sorting of Newt Scamander

I’ve talked about the Hogwarts houses I would sort the Fantastic Beasts characters into, but there’s one we know for sure: Newt Scamander is a Hufflepuff. Except … he doesn’t quite fit the stereotype, does he? The stereotypical Hufflepuff is a “people person”, someone who gets along easily with others and enjoys being part of a group, perhaps to the point of being a conformist. Newt, on the other hand, admits, “People tend to find me annoying”. I would also say that Hufflepuffs are thought of as not being very smart, while Newt is a highly intelligent wizard best known for having written a textbook. He seems more like a Ravenclaw at first glance, doesn’t he?

But no, I’m not going to argue that Newt should have been a Ravenclaw. He actually fits the Hufflepuff traits very well, in a bit of a non-traditional way. We’ve only seen a few well-developed Hufflepuff characters, but it stands to reason that there would be as many ways to be a Hufflepuff as there are to be a Gryffindor or Slytherin, and Newt provides a glimpse of what an introverted, intellectual Hufflepuff might look like. Let’s take a look at the Hufflepuff traits as they’re introduced in Sorcerer’s Stone:

You might belong in Hufflepuff
Where they are just and loyal
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil

Newt is not a strict rule-follower, but in the movie’s themes of justice and injustice, he always falls on the side of doing right by others, both humans and magical creatures. The whole point of his trip to America was to release a thunderbird into its natural habitat after finding it, chained and mistreated, on the other side of the world. He attempts to help his fellow wizards understand magical creatures rather than simply being afraid of them, and along with Tina, he is one of the only characters to show compassion for Credence once his obscurial nature is revealed. Furthermore, he views the harsh American laws against interacting with muggles as “backwards” and therefore unjust.

He has few people to be loyal to in the traditional sense, but he’s fiercely loyal to his magical creatures. He genuinely cares for them and goes to great lengths to keep them safe, even seeming to care more about them than himself when he’s arrested by MACUSA officials. He’s patient enough to spend months and even years studying the creatures with few immediate rewards, and “unafraid of toil” certainly applies; collecting and caring for all those creatures can’t possibly be easy. Finally, “true” is difficult to define: if it means “honest”, he’s not always. However, if it means “genuine”, he definitely is. Everything he does is done with good intentions and to the best of his abilities.

Later Harry Potter books emphasize further Helga Hufflepuff’s willingness to teach all young wizards, not just those with the extraordinary qualities the other three founders valued. Newt certainly isn’t a “process of elimination” Hufflepuff; while he has few Slytherin traits, he’s both intelligent and courageous. However, his own attitudes line up well with Hufflepuff’s. Although he claims to struggle to relate to people, he shows genuine kindness to everyone he meets, whether they are witches and wizards, no-majs, obscurials, or fantastic creatures.

If Hufflepuffs Had Time Travel …

If I handed you a time machine, good for one and only one round trip to the past, what would you go back in time to do? This week’s Sorting Hat Saturday made me think about how those impulses fit into the Hogwarts house system, and that got me thinking about time travel in the Harry Potter series itself, and how characters from different houses would use it. Here’s what I came up with:

Gryffindor: to right a wrong. This is the easiest; Harry and Hermione travel back in time in Prisoner of Azkaban to save an innocent man condemned to a fate worse than death. Their use of the time turner is all about righting a wrong. They barely knew Sirius and had spent the year thinking he was a murderer, but they put themselves at risk to help him escape. It’s the Gryffindors who think about traveling back in time to prevent tragedies, whether that means stopping a war or just saving one person’s life.

Hufflepuff: to help others. I know, that sounds a lot like what I said for Gryffindor. But the approach is different. Gryffindors would be more likely to risk paradoxes to follow their heart, whereas Hufflepuffs would change things for the better in subtler ways, with more focus on the people they’re helping rather than the gut instinct to fix things.

Ravenclaw: to learn the truth. The past is full of unanswered questions, and a Ravenclaw might choose to observe and discover rather than change the past. Much like real-world historians, they would believe that understanding the past is important to make good choices in the future. If they did decide to change things, they would be careful, thinking about the bigger picture and making sure that their actions didn’t cause a paradox.

Slytherin: to get what they want. That sounds harsher than I mean it. A lot of people, given the option to change the past, would probably think of something that benefits them. Maybe they would buy a winning lottery ticket with numbers they memorized in the future, or leave a note to their younger self with advice to help them succeed. Maybe “what they want” is to prove a point, like Albus in Cursed Child. Maybe it’s to see a loved one they’ve lost again. Or maybe it’s world domination. My point is, Slytherins would see time travel as a way to achieve their own goals, with anything coming in second.

The Hogwarts Pensieve Sorting Hat

The Hogwarts Express leaves on September 1, and in honor of that, I’m going to finally release something I’ve been working on for weeks: my own Sorting Hat quiz.

Yes, I know. There are a thousand sorting quizzes out there, not to mention an official one on Pottermore. But I just had to try my hand at making one of my own. This isn’t one of those “what’s your favorite color/animal/character?” quizzes. All the thought I’ve been putting into my Sorting Hat Saturday posts and theories about the Hogwarts founders has gone into the quiz as well. I ask questions like:

How do you react to unexpected challenges?

  • Take a step back, look at the facts, and brainstorm solutions
  • Go with my first instinct and tackle the problem head-on
  • Come up with a strategy based on the situation
  • Give it my best effort using tried and true methods
  • Try to make it work to my advantage

And:

You just made your house’s quidditch team. Which of the following is most important to you?

  • Winning at all costs
  • Playing fair and doing my best
  • Fighting as hard as we can in each match
  • Having a good time and keeping in mind that it’s just a game
  • Coming up with a good strategy
  • Becoming team captain in a few years. This is just the beginning …

Nothing’s quite like a magical mind-reading hat, but I think I did a pretty good job and I hope you’ll agree.

Edit: Well, I was trying to embed it, but that didn’t work, so here’s a link

Four Founders, Four Visions

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same.”

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like odd things for a school’s founders to say. Hufflepuff, sure, she valued fairness and wanted to educate everyone. And Ravenclaw’s vision was different from Hufflepuff’s, but there are plenty of private schools that have academic criteria for the students they accept. But Slytherin’s obsession with ancestry seems out of place, and ambition – cited in the Goblet of Fire song – seems more like the sort of thing you demonstrate to get into an exclusive university, not a secondary school. And as for brave deeds, how many eleven-year-olds have done anything very brave? Modern-day Gryffindor certainly selects for potential, rather than choosing only kids who already have “brave deeds to their name”.

It’s almost as if the four founders had very different ideas about what kind of school Hogwarts was going to be.

Remember, Hogwarts was founded 1,000 years ago, in the early middle ages. Even muggle education did not look a thing like it does today, and was not widely available to ordinary people. Magical education was nonexistent in Britain. Ravenclaw may very well have seen Hogwarts as an elite school for the most intelligent students of magic, rather than a public institution where nearly every witch and wizard in Britain would be educated.

Slytherin, on the other hand, might have seen Hogwarts as a place to train magical leaders, since he valued ambition and cunning in his students. In a time period where positions of power were inherited, his obsession with ancestry actually makes a certain amount of sense; he was probably looking to form his own magical aristocracy. Although, of course, sending a basilisk to kill the muggle-borns was uncalled for.

And Gryffindor? A school for the bravest students may seem odd by modern standards,  but the middle ages were a bloody time, when the unforgivable curses were not yet illegal and most wizards’ duels ended in death. Gryffindor may have wanted to take the most courageous young witches and wizards and teach them combative magic, in order to turn them into warriors and protectors, essentially the knights of the magical world.

None of those attitudes would be out of place in their era, but it’s Hufflepuff’s vision for Hogwarts that survives in the present day. Hogwarts takes any student with magical abilities, and they are all given access to the same education. No one, from muggle-borns to werewolves to students who don’t quite fit into any of the houses, is turned away. I think it’s fair to say that, without her belief in fairness and acceptance, Hogwarts wouldn’t be what it is today.

Hogwarts House Coats of Arms

Because no, four different official versions are not enough: I had to design my own.

 

Being the Ravenclaw that I am, of course I had to make it into a huge research project on heraldry. I learned a lot, including the fact that J.K. Rowling probably didn’t do much heraldry research. Did you know that snakes stand for wisdom? Yeah, me neither, and I’m not sure it’s what Salazar Slytherin would have intended.

In terms of the great Ravenclaw color debate, both the movies and the books completely ignore actual heraldry. The two metals are or (gold) and argent (white/silver). Bronze isn’t used as a metal but the movies’ black raven on blue breaks the rule of tinctures. Black and blue are both considered colors, whereas coats of arms usually put colors on metals and vice versa. I could have done a blue and silver design, but what can I say? I’m attached to the blue and bronze eagle.

On a different note, what Harry Potter fans often refer to as a “house crest” is actually the shield part of a coat of arms, or the whole coat of arms. The crest is actually the thing that goes on top:

Women’s arms are typically displayed on a lozenge – a diamond – while men use the more well-known shield shapes. I thought about doing lozenges for Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but in the end, I went with shields for all four.

The shield divisions I used are meant to be very symbolic. A pale, or a stripe down the middle like I did for Gryffindor, represents bravery and military strength, while a chevron, the triangular division on the Hufflepuff shield, stands for protection. The chief – the top third of the shield being a different color – stands for rule and authority, which seems fitting for Slytherin, but could also be given as a reward for prudence and wisdom, which makes me think of Ravenclaw. The different lines used in the divisions represent the four elements, which Rowling has said she had in mind when she created the Hogwarts houses.

As for the other elements that I added, I think the swords are a fairly obvious reference to the Sword of Gryffindor. The scales represent justice (“where they are just and loyal”), and the quill and inkwell stand for educated employment (“wit and learning”). For Slytherin, I decided on a tower, which stands for grandeur and protection, and also tried to make it look something like a chess rook, to represent strategy.

Sources: