What if Helena Ravenclaw was Slytherin’s protégé?

Silly question, I know. She wouldn’t have even been in his house; she was a Ravenclaw, after all. But they have a lot in common. They both played a direct part in the founding of Hogwarts, Slytherin as one of the founders, Helena as a founder’s child and part of the first generation of students. They both grew apart from the other three founders and eventually fled the castle, never to return. They both did something or took something with them that left Hogwarts in a fractured state. And they both played an unknowing role in Voldemort’s rise to power, Slytherin as his ancestor and inspiration, Helena by telling him where to find Ravenclaw’s lost diadem.

Helena didn’t have the greatest relationship with her mother, so perhaps there was another teacher she saw as a role model instead – and there’s not much Gryffindor or Hufflepuff about her. Perhaps she looked up to Slytherin and wanted to be more like him; perhaps he even told her that if she weren’t Rowena’s daughter, he would have picked her for his own house. The lover who comes to find her when she runs away was a Slytherin, so perhaps she associated herself with Slytherin house in other ways as well.

Depending on the timing, her decision to steal the diadem and flee might even have been influenced by Slytherin’s own departure. She didn’t steal it out of longing for the wisdom it could bring, but rather, because she thought it would help her become greater than her mother. That’s pure ambition right there. If she witnessed Slytherin’s fight with Gryffindor and subsequent departure, if she knew what he had left lurking inside the school, if she saw the growing fracture between the houses and perhaps felt torn between her mother and her mentor, she might not have had much reason to want to stay.

Advertisements

Taylor Swift Playlist: Ravenclaw

None of Taylor Swift’s songs are strictly about knowledge or wisdom, but plenty of them deal with dreams and fanciful ideas, fairy tale and literary allusions, truth and sincerity, and individuality. These are the songs – in contrast with the realistic and down-to-earth Hufflepuff ones – that speak most to what Ravenclaw house is about.

A Place In This World

“I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me,” this song begins. “Cause I’m still trying to figure it out.” With Luna Lovegood in mind, I think it makes sense to say that young Ravenclaws are all about figuring themselves out. All that introspection and exploration takes some time, and Ravenclaws might be more willing than others to accept that they don’t have all the answers yet, as long as they’re looking for them.

The Outside

Ravenclaws are individuals who march to the beat of their own drum, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be loved and accepted. Many Ravenclaws can understand trying to “take the road less traveled by” and ending up as outsiders.

Love Story

There’s nothing intellectual about this song. It’s one misaimed literary allusion after another, from Romeo and Juliet to The Scarlet Letter. However, the dreamy fairy tale feel and desire for an epic literary romance is definitely strong, even if the comparisons fall short.

Hey Stephen

This is another of Taylor Swift’s early love songs, but what stands out about it to me is the way she lingers over tiny details: “The way you walk, way you talk, way you say my name”. Even more important is the line, “I’ve never seen nobody shine the way you do”. I talked in an earlier post about Gryffindor love being bold and fearless, and I think maybe Ravenclaw love would be perceptive and insightful.

Enchanted

“Walls of insincerity / shifting eyes and vacancy / vanished when I saw your face”. Enchanted is a more grown-up love song, and one that values the genuine over the fake. Yet the song is whimsical, taking the listener on a sweeping journey of enchantment and infatuation. The connection between the two lovers is intellectual as much as anything else: “The playful conversation starts / counter all your quick remarks / like passing notes in secrecy”.

Starlight

This song is about chasing after dreams even when they seem far-fetched. “He was trying to skip rocks on the ocean, saying to me / Don’t you see the starlight, starlight? / Don’t you dream impossible things?” The song is bubbly and larger than life, overflowing with imaginative ideas and crazy dreams.

Out of the Woods

Any song that declares, “The rest of the world was black and white / but we were in screaming color” has got to be a Ravenclaw song. It doesn’t shy away from darkness, but it doesn’t embrace it, either. On the contrary, it’s all about finding a way “out of the woods”. The idea of “monsters” that “turned out to be just trees” speaks to a danger that is conquered by understanding it, not overcoming it.

Wildest Dreams

“Of course it is happening in your head,” Dumbledore tells Harry at near the end of Deathly Hallows. “But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Although the line is delivered by a Gryffindor to a Gryffindor, there’s something distinctly Ravenclaw about the idea. That’s the same kind of idea reflected in this song, in which Taylor Swift begs her lover to “Say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams”.

Delicate

This song is soft, quiet, and tentative. “Sometimes I wonder when you sleep / are you ever dreaming of me?” Remember what I said about Ravenclaws being perceptive? We also tend to overthink things, and there’s definitely a lot of overthinking going on here. “Is it cool that I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head?” But more importantly, the chorus keeps on emphasizing a need to be loved for oneself. Ravenclaws, who tend to be the most individualistic of all the houses, could definitely identify.

Call It What You Want

All the crumbling castles and “flowers [growing] back as thorns” are a clear reference to Taylor Swift’s earlier, more whimsical type of songs. The clever title suggests that – instead of insisting that “it’s a love story” or “today was a fairy tale” – we can decide what we want to call this strange sort of romance, while the subtle references to much older songs make this story almost like a riddle to be solved.

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?

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.

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.