Last week I told you how I think J.K. Rowling’s bias toward Gryffindor established an inherently flawed Sorting system that has been reformed by fans.
This week, I’m here to give you textual evidence that the books themselves both explicitly and implicitly lead people to believe Gryffindor is superior.
Ready for your evidence? Great! I’ve sorted it by Hogwarts house.
Why do people think Hufflepuffs are “a lot o’ duffers” (Hagrid, The Sorcerer’s Stone)? Because at least in the first half of the series, Gryffindor is Hufflepuff 2.0. Hufflepuffs value justice and kindness, but Gryffindors value justice and kindness enough to fight for what’s right and stand up for others in difficult situations. (For those of you bringing up Cedric Diggory, Tonks, and the Battle of Hogwarts right now, remember that I say “the first half of the series”).
First, remember that the Sorting Hat considered Ravenclaw and Gryffindor for Hermione (and McGonagall) but apparently didn’t seriously consider Hufflepuff in either case. And we can’t chalk up the lapse to Hermione’s own prejudices or that of her parents. Hermione, a Muggle-born, asks many students about the various houses. Yet she concludes that “Gryffindor is by far the best,” despite the fact that she values hard work, justice, and loyalty.
Hermione undeniably has traits that Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin value (yes, Slytherin — she’s Muggle-born, but she’s also ambitious, determined, and resourceful), but she’s Sorted into Gryffindor. Given her parentage and the Slytherins’ prejudice, I understand why the Sorting Hat wouldn’t consider Slytherin. But I see no pretty explanation for the omission of Hufflepuff.
Draco Malfoy considers being Sorted into Hufflepuff an unbearable shame, and Ron distinctly prefers Gryffindor to Ravenclaw and especially Slytherin: “I don’t suppose Ravenclaw would be too bad, but imagine if they put me in Slytherin” (Sorcerer’s Stone). Hufflepuff doesn’t get consideration.
While Pomona Sprout is generally good, the first major Hufflepuff character is Cedric Diggory, whom we meet in the fourth book. Tonks isn’t introduced until Order of the Phoenix.
The Hufflepuff characters we meet in previous books — for example, Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, and Justin Finch-Fletchley — don’t play a role that shows Hufflepuff virtues. Mainly we interact with the Hufflepuffs when they falsely accuse Harry of being the heir of Slytherin.
And despite how hard-working Hufflepuffs allegedly are, their work ethic apparently hasn’t brought them victory in classes, Quidditch, or whatever else in large amounts. Hufflepuff is mad when Harry becomes a Triwizard Tournament participant because they want Cedric Diggory to earn them the kind of glory Hufflepuff house hasn’t had “in centuries” (Goblet of Fire).
By the time we get to the Battle of Hogwarts, Rowling’s understanding of Hufflepuff values has developed to the point where more Hufflepuffs than Ravenclaws or Slytherins stay to fight, but that’s the furthest we get in the books.
It’s not really until the advent of Pottermore and Fantastic Beasts that Rowling redeems Hufflepuff.
Slytherins are thought of by many as evil because they are resourceful and ambitious but don’t use their talents for the benefit of others. Phineas Nigellus says that Slytherins are brave, just not stupid (Order of the Phoenix), but we see few Slytherins who do morally courageous things without being spoken of as lost Gryffindors.
We learn about Regulus Black’s courage in The Deathly Hallows, in which we also see Horace Slughorn duel Voldemort. Finally, Potter nerds know that Merlin was a Slytherin. But notice that none of this information is established in the early books.
Consider Snape. In Goblet of Fire, when Snape prepares to eventually face Voldemort after betraying him, Dumbledore says, “sometimes I think we sort too early.” In other words, Dumbledore thinks that Snape may have been a Gryffindor if he had been Sorted later in his school career.
Snape was daring before he turned spy for Dumbledore, but once he starts being daring for good, he becomes brave and a possible Gryffindor. The key to being a true Gryffindor is Hufflepuff values, but Hufflepuff is never considered as Snape’s “true Sorting.”
Another example is Peter Pettigrew. Pottermore lists his Sorting into Gryffindor as a possible mistake by the Sorting Hat, but Peter never stops being daring. He’s just self-serving and evil. Pottermore even suggests that perhaps Peter should have been a Slytherin because he wasn’t good.
Percy is very ambitious, but he’s a Gryffindor, and when he gets to the point where he has to choose between his family and values and his ambition, he chooses his ambition, as Ron predicted in The Goblet of Fire. Still, he’s not an incorrectly Sorted Gryffindor who would have been in Slytherin were it not for his family’s prejudice toward Gryffindor. He’s just a Gryffindor who has lost his way for a bit, until he joins his family in the Battle of Hogwarts.
Finally, Bellatrix Lestrange has nerve, daring, loyalty, and a flair for brash dramatics, but no one ever considers that she could have been Sorted anywhere but Slytherin or maybe Ravenclaw. No Gryffindor here.
Sure, we eventually get immature Gryffindors like James Potter and Sirius Black, but I can’t think of a Gryffindor who is both evil and never mentioned by JK Rowling as possibly Sorted incorrectly.
If a character is brave and wants to make a difference in the world, then they’re likely also determined, ambitious, and at least somewhat resourceful. So in most of the books, the difference between Gryffindor and Slytherin is that Slytherins are evil.
It’s not until we see Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy in Cursed Child — a play most rabid fans don’t consider canon and that came out after the advent of Pottermore — that we see Slytherins who aren’t at some point deeply racist or otherwise terrible.
Ravenclaw is, as Ron describes it, “alright, I guess.” Ravenclaws are potentially talented but not generally thought of as evil. They’re morally neutral as a whole but still considered special.
With Ravenclaw, we have Cho Chang and Luna Lovegood. Cho is at least theoretically brave, but she doesn’t play a major role and has that whole issue around Marietta Edgecombe. Luna Lovegood is smart, kind, and brave, but you’ll notice she doesn’t play a role until the fifth book, when Rowling has taken notice of the flawed system she’s created.
I can’t even say much more about Ravenclaw because it plays a relatively small role in the books.
A New System
Because of all these inconsistencies, I don’t think that we can simply Sort people based on what values they’ve previously shown or what they claim to value most.
The Sorting system from the beginning of the series obviously doesn’t work: we can’t have a system where we label an entire group of people dunderheads.
The Sorting system of the end of the series doesn’t work either. By the end of The Deathly Hallows, we have brave people from houses other than Gryffindor, but we have no explicit way to tell which of them are Gryffindors. The good characters have traits of two or more houses.
For example, Luna loves the quote, “wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” but I’m sure that forced to choose between standing up to genocide and seeking learning, she’d do the first, as she did when she chose to rebel even though doing so took her away from her studies and led to her imprisonment in Malfoy Manor. If she were asked whether it’s better to be clever and evil or stupid and good, I imagine she’d pick the latter.
Based on this information and the traditional system, she and every good character would be in a combination Gryffindor-Hufflepuff house. And yet, everyone is not.
In the early novels, Gryffindors really believe in kindness and justice, and Hufflepuffs are generally nice. In the first part of the series, Hufflepuffs are seen as people who don’t stand out either in terms of talent (like Ravenclaw) or in morals (like Gryffindor). Sure, they’re not evil like Slytherin, but they’re just kind of there.
As a result, Harry Potter fans were initially prejudiced toward Gryffindor, not just because the characters were but also because Rowling herself set up a system that favored it.
So if we want to Sort ourselves into the four Hogwarts houses just so we can, then we have to look outside canon (which to me is the seven Harry Potter novels).
Enter Pottermore. Next week we’ll talk about how fans took over the Sorting system.