Sorting Hat’s Gotta Sort

by Belle Waring on December 13, 2013

OK everyone, important moral questions here! Set your trifling trolley tracks and trickery to one side! IF you were set under the Sorting Hat in Hogwart’s Academy for Witchcraft and Wizardry, would you be a Hufflepuff, a Slytherin, a Ravenclaw, or a Gryffindor? Now, it’s important to remember that the books are all about a bunch of Gryffindors who save the world a British boarding school from evil. And that Ms. Rowling, though awesome in many many ways, suffers from world-building problems in others (she is free to tell me my 7-book series, which unites all the children of the world in the love of reading, is conceptually flawed as well.)

There are larger problems, such as the eensy-weensy “er, not to Godwin your whole series, and I know your evil wizard from the 30s backstory was going there, but, um, why aren’t wizards ruling the world, with Voldemort having a continental empire, full of Muggles whom he has shuffling off, of their own accord, under the imperius curse, quite horribly with no need for guards or jailers or even wizards to construct the camps…?” Naturally in a book for children one would put it more, “why aren’t wizards trying with a bit more of a ‘can-do spirit’ to take over the world, I wonder?” Setting that aside, within Hogwart’s itself: we get Cedric Diggory to remember, and he’s super-hot and everything in a pale, unhealthy way, but otherwise, Draco Malfoy’s initial pronouncement that he’d rather not be in the school at all than be a Hufflepuff is not really gainsaid, leaving you with the impression that they are a bunch of morons. Not so! The eventual TOTAL FAIL fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, while written in some wiki fashion by libertarians, or possibly by the character Randy in Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (which some of you may have heard of from Stephenson-quoter-kun) has some very good features (I realize it does not sound at all plausible when I have laid it out like that but it really does have its moments). Fine, technically it’s written by the Less Wrong people. Waaaay different.

In any case, this is their rubric (I am quoting all this from memory, obviously, as I think Draco may aver he prefers death to Hufflepuff, but—) clever kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hufflepuff. This is right, in re: Hufflepuff. And Neville Longbottom should be a Hufflepuff for this reason. Not because he’s stupid, or isn’t brave! That’s not true! He is brave, and if he has trouble learning at first because he’s anxious, he comes out a fine wizard! But he does what he knows to be right, all the time, and he supports his friends with all the power he has at any time, and when those two things conflict he thinks of what’s right for the other students, and the school, and not just Harry and Ron, who want to go have a thrilling adventure under the invisibility cloak, failing ever to consider that Harry is basically a sitting duck, in a pot, with a bay leaf, and probably some leeks are in there, to any Death-Eater of any stripe lurking around in one of the 200 forbidden areas they enter.

This brief statement still gets something wrong that the book seems at least to consider before going off the rails. Something so obvious it’s silly. Even stipulating they are all evil, (which they are not) some of the Slytherins are smart enough to be on the side of right out of pure self-interest, in case the side of right should win. Which, OBVIOUSLY! A good one-third of them should have made just this calculation! Unless we are to think that (as HPMOR stipulates) only “pureblood” wizards have been going to Slytherin, and its enrollment has been dropping precipitously (and this would be an excellent place to teach Draco, and your child, about Mendelian genetics BTW). In this case, if all the families are very closely intertwined, there is the possibility for massive, disproportionate retribution against others as well as yourself. But you’re a Slytherin—perhaps you don’t care! Or, you should at the least make an arrangement for a last-minute side-switch, keeping one valuable piece of Death-Eater information in reserve, in order to show up with it when it is juust clear they are doomed, and claim to have been on the side of right all along, working as a mole, hmm? But separately, we know from our experience with characters in the book that people with essentially good natures can be sorted into Slytherin. A talented, brave, ambitious, good child may get sent there, and then there’s no reason why he should become a Death-Eater by his O.W.L.s, is there?

Ravenclaw is for book-studying smarty-pants types even in the Rowling. And Hermione isn’t here because…? She’s too brave to be anything but a Gryffindor? Do all the other three branches of the school just suck? That seems like bad organization.

Our family:
John: Ravenclaw duh
Zoe: Ravenclaw duh, but with extra duh
Violet: Hufflepuff! (Asked why she chose this (she having had the books read to her and seen some of the movies) she said, “I like helping people and making friends. Like how me and Man Xin like to stay after class to sweep the classroom!” She’s just as smart as her sister, it’s only that she has an extraordinarily bubbly, cheerful, friendly, silly, happy personality. May it remain ever so. When I see that great broad brow wrinkle even slightly at its lower edge with unhappiness I want to fix everything broken in the world.)
Belle: Slytherin FTW OH YEAH!1

To be fair, this isn’t entirely my fault. I had a difficult home life! My family’s been Slytherins for like ever. And why am I a Slytherin? It’s because I suffer from a failure of morality in which I privilege in-group members and tell everyone else in the world to fuck off. I recognize this is bad. It doesn’t make me cheat on my taxes or anything, because I support robust social services and see the need to pay for them. If I see you, in front of me, on the street, having a problem, I absolutely will help you. You’ll be right there! If I know you, and you’re having a serious problem, I will loan you money (don’t y’all all hit me up for money now, that would be tasteless). This is not always good though, not even if you say ‘dude, I’m just giving you that money’ at the start. People still can’t be friends with you sometimes. Often. Even if you make them promise! If you say, ‘look motherfucker, I’m giving you $1,000, and you don’t have to pay me back, but you do have to look me in the eye ever again.’ No. On a more problematic in-group morality note, if you were a beloved family member, truly within the magic circle, and through some really unfortunate series of events that was not entirely your fault, you needed help hiding a body…and it wasn’t your wife or anything (unless I hated your wife), and you hadn’t, like, killed a drifter for thrills or something. Most people would say, I wouldn’t even consider doing that for a second. I would say, I’d feel like I was pretty much obligated to do that. I’d be thinking, is there anyway I could say no to this and still feel OK. Sure I say this now but I’d feel different if there were an actual dead person yes, sure. But laws in principle? Again, I’m not trying to get anyone killed, and I certainly don’t even jaywalk in Singapore, because there are CCTV cameras on the streetlight poles. But, like—normal people say they think US laws that criminalize possession of small amounts of drugs are idiotic, but when they hear of someone getting caught with 20K of marijuana on the I-95 North they’re like, well, fuck that guy. No! It depends who that guy is! Maybe not fuck that guy! Maybe, rather, he should have done this and that beforehand, and you should always get off the highway in that part of North Carolina, and it was just shitty luck, and fuck the police? Also, separately, people can buy their way out of reasonably serious crimes as a minor in America if they’re white. Hm. OK, quite serious crimes depending on how one looks at things. This is not me, mind. Hmm. Even if a person is of age, but just presents themselves very well, and has had the foresight to be white and have money and have influential relatives, they can get out of things like that also. Even if it is simply a case of the no-getting-arrested in the first place (so crucial to further positive outcomes in the justice system.) I bet you guys knew that already. Is that bad? In principle it’s manifestly, horribly unjust. In practice, though, it’s like dancing to God’s own sweet music, I will tell you that.

{ 192 comments }

1

maidhc 12.13.13 at 5:12 am

If the proportion of wizards in the population were sufficiently small, they might find it difficult to rule overtly. Despite their powers, the Muggles could overthrow them by sheer force of numbers. It would be more efficient to rule indirectly by controlling banks, corporations, mass media and political parties, Illuminati-style.

There’s more than a little hint that wizards by nature find it difficult to act co-operatively. Hence conspiracies by wizards normally tend to fall apart because of internal squabbling. Thus Voldemort’s cabal and Harry and his friends’ opposition are both introducing new concepts into wizardry.

I think Ravenclaw is certainly the coolest-sounding name.

2

Gareth Wilson 12.13.13 at 5:31 am

That sounds a little like Pratchett’s reason why the wizards haven’t taken over the Discworld. One of the books says that if you hand two wizards a rope, they’ll instinctively start to pull on either end of it.

3

kent 12.13.13 at 5:32 am

I almost never read fanfic of any sort. But Harry Potter & the Methods of Rationality is awesome. Simply and truly awesome. It’s not always awesome in the ways it is trying to be awesome! But there is something to be learned on an ongoing basis from that lovely piece of fanfic.

For instance, one critical element it identifies is that the magical world is freaking EVIL — not just the bad guys, but the good guys too, what with the Dementors being used on the prison population even though the legal system is far too poorly run to guarantee that everyone in jail has committed any crimes at all — let alone crimes awful enough to be Dementor-ed.

I don’t know what the “eventual total FAIL” in the original post refers to. I have to admit, I haven’t read any updates to “HP & the M of R” in at least a couple of years, so maybe I missed where it went off the rails. I’d love an explanation of the fail. Or maybe I should just get back to reading it.

I guess it’s Ravenclaw for me too. We academics (and wannabes and used-to-bes) like to pretend that being smart is really what matters in life, not that other stuff like winning or being brave or standing up for your friends.

I wonder what kind of marriage would be the worst. Ravenclaw-Ravenclaw? Slytherin-Slytherin? Hard to imagine any marriage with a Hufflepuff being too awful.

Thanks for inspiring these thoughts and more, Belle.

4

onymous 12.13.13 at 5:43 am

As I have said elsewhere, under my elsewhere-pseud, the obvious failing of HPMOR from the very start is they rewrite Harry’s personality so he can be the hero when the obvious hero they wanted from the outset is Hermione. She’s the rational, problem-solving, bookish type they like. And it is utterly characteristic of the Less Wrong types that they would fail to consider this just because she is a girl.

5

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 6:06 am

Who was it who says philosophers are like spiders and they are each in their little web alone, because they would be killing one another if they got too close? Let’s grant witches and wizards want to kill one another all the time. But do they want to kill one another to gain power so very much more than humans want to kill one another to gain power? So very much as to make cooperation in any endeavor literally impossible? Because if I chose a group at random, let’s say, ordinary humans who live in Madagascar, and I gave them the powers that wizards have, I feel pretty confident in saying they’d take over the world in short order for some value of “Malagasy people have taken over the world,” even if they were stabbing one another in the back and getting into pointless wars all the time. And no, I didn’t choose that because he who controls Madagascar controls the world, in Risk, it was chance. I considered and rejected Chad (too poor) and Congo (too currently embroiled in wars to serve as a good control).

They can impersonate human political leaders perfectly with Polyjuice Potion, and slowly control the inner circle of ministers/advisers/lobbyists for that party, and put up their own candidate next, and put charms on her such that she is irresistibly charismatic, and let her drink the felix felicis potion on election day, and on and on. They could take over easily even if they were massively outnumbered, so you would only need to get fifty or a hundred of them together. They can make people walk where they wish like puppets! All it takes is the slightest agreement (‘you take Brazil and I’ll take the rest of South America’) and we’re off to the races, even if both intend to go right to war when control is solidified. Humans with nothing but internal security forces–who may have become disloyal to them!–have managed to rule countries of tens of millions and hundreds of millions and bleed them white white while a tiny few drink crimson at the top. Are wizards so much less intelligent, or so much less naturally charismatic, or so much less variable in power, or so much less adept at treachery, that they cannot manage to do the same thing when they have human bombs of infinite power teleporting from place to place under their orders?

6

Collin Street 12.13.13 at 6:06 am

If the proportion of wizards in the population were sufficiently small,

Average lifespan 150 years, 60 replacements/year [four houses, fifteen -- say -- students/house]. Population estimate about 9000, UK-wide. Probably a bit higher than that, with the demographics-being-the-way-they-are, but still.

They don’t need a minister of magic, they’re lucky to need a shire president. Unless there’s, like, Diagon Alley Comprehensive or something that all the council-flat wizards go to or something.

7

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 6:40 am

onymous: PREACH! They have enough sense to write the scene in which Harry meets Ron on the train platform, has nothing in common with him since Ron is basically a jock who sneers at Harry’s willingness to talk to Draco, and says goodbye to Ron forever. They have that, but they can’t just notice that the rational, scientific, judgment-reserving, research-doing person they want is there, before their very eyes? She has been there all along? Hallo, it’s me, to the left, with the bushy hair? No, your other left? Potter must be the protagonist in some sense. But they are quite willing to foreground Draco massively, to the point where we learn about his interior life and have chapters written from his POV, because it interests them to have two intelligent boys of differing type engage in a long-running battle of wits. But Harry sneers about Hermione, that he knows pi to however-many significant digits because he calculates it as he’s going along, while she knows it to a specific point because it was on the back of her math textbook. She merely memorized it. And it’s not even that they never have her do anything important–it’s difficult to describe…they have set out to change Harry Potter so that it is a different way, oriented on a rational, scientific axis, and the fact that they already have a character 100% ready for this makes no impact on them, and when they try to insert her it’s very obviously forced, poorly written, and just…about a girl by someone who’s never been a girl in a huge salient way that may be difficult to describe. It’s a recapitulation of the giant blow-up like 2 years ago about whether LessWrong might be somehow, in some way, unwelcoming to women, because OH HEY WUT 90% of contributors are male. Yudkowsky comports himself much better in this regard than his contributors.

kent, others: HPMOR actually is an excellent piece of fanfic in what is an extra-Sturgeon’s Law genre. It does expose a lot of the horrible, barbaric things about the magic world, to which all the otherwise kind-seeming adults seem totally inured. It also genuinely allows you to teach your child about a number of scientific concepts: how to run an experiment with controls, how Mendel discovered the workings of inheritance, and so on. I felt it went off the rails in what would correspond to the ending bit of the first book, when [not spoiling an actually different and clever plot] they are in Azkhaban. Part of this was that Zoë at that age couldn’t be read that section at all, so I felt annoyed that I had to stop her on the iPad and say, don’t read anymore, and I won’t read further, etc. What follows with Hermione again is over the top and takes the book so far away from the premise that I found it ceased to be interesting; now it was only a fantasy novel that wasn’t very well-written.

maidhc, Gareth Wilson, onymous: you have not announced the results of the sorting hat, so we do not know which table should have all its occupants stand up and cheer in welcome, toasting you and shaking your hand heartily and/or kissing you on the cheek two/three times depending on a. your gender b. whether the kisser is French of Italian. ANNOUNCE. SHOW YOUR WORK. ALL FUTURE COMMENTERS: DO LIKEWISE. You will all be Ravenclaws, obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Nonetheless, you must tell us. Also, there is me! Maybe you are like me! No, probably not. I am a weird person. Zoë says, “your family is weird.” “Who the fuck else’s family do you think they are?” I say. Now that she’s 12 she’s old enough to use bad language in front of, sparingly, with the explicit instruction that I can say whatever I want and she and her sister are not allowed to swear at all, except in Mandarin because I can’t stop them. But I often guess right and at the very, precise right moment, making them nervous. In fact they have been known to express the opinion that “mommy is scary.” This isn’t super-cool of me. I shouldn’t be scary.

8

Gareth Wilson 12.13.13 at 6:40 am

I gave up on HPMOR as too bloated, but one thing I did like is that Hermione is obviously better at magic than Harry, and perhaps smarter too. It’s just that she’s not as obsessed with rationality as Harry is. The fundamental problem with the fanfic is the idea that you could get such a different central character from just a change in upbringing. It’d be much easier to believe that “Harry” is literally a different person, with a different heritable component to his personality.

9

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 6:45 am

Collin Street: that’s all very good, but what House were you in at Hogwart’s? Also, that’s just the UK. Diagon Alley Comprehensive, hmmmm I hadn’t thought of that. Does seem sort of odd that they all go into civil service (Weasleys) or being an aristocratic asshole (Malfoys)

10

Gareth Wilson 12.13.13 at 6:45 am

As for the sorting hat, I suspect J K Rowling would put me in Slytherin.

11

Collin Street 12.13.13 at 6:48 am

Ravenclaw. Do you need to ask?

[clever & completely useless.]

12

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 6:58 am

Gareth Wilson: that’s true insofar as he keeps saying, about some aspect of magic, “that’s not possible!” Hermione’s immediate, successful, bland performance of the spell wordlessly says “everything actual is possible.” Recently on Adventure Time, Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum got into trouble in the Diagon Alley-esque headshop/magic-store in which they were attempting (illegally) to purchase a spell, disguised as wizards. It was due to her excessive love of science. “What’s in the spell?” she kept pestering the shopkeep. “Magic.” Then she grabs his collar and yanks him half-way over the counter so she can stare him right in the eye. “What’s the magic made of, ding-dong?!” At that point, his reaction is natural. “Y’all’s fakes!” And then he calls the Wizard cops.

13

Danny 12.13.13 at 7:17 am

I believe that 4 houses correspond exactly to the 4 temperaments of the ancient theory of humours: Gryffindor – Sanguine, Slytherin – Choleric, Ravenclaw – Melancholic, Hufflepuff-Phlegmatic.

14

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 7:24 am

Yay Gareth Wilson! Come over to our table and meet Professor Snape! We substitute the beverage of your choice, alcoholic at dinner only but for Slytherins of all ages provided you do not abuse the privilege, for the revolting pumpkin juice the other students have been served. Between the house elves brought to school by posh Slytherins, and bribery in the form of butterbeer, we control the service at the entire table, and generally eat whatever we please. Professor Snape has affixed to the table itself (and its location) a glamour of quite amazing power, so that we always seem to be eating whatever swill the other students are eating! It’s true that service at the other tables suffers, of neccesity, but we spread the pain around, generally stiffing the Hufflepuffs and then sending one of the house elves up to say it’s very sorry but they have been so busy and would they please forgive her. Hufflepuffs eat that shit up. Only four professors at Hogwart’s can see through the glamour. Simply say what you want in a low but distinct voice, and it shall be yours. There is no end of caviar. Really, no end! We experimented. I myself am having cold matcha-flavored soba with yuzu dipping sauce. Malfoy’s house-elf makes excellent noodles, I should tell you. He does a Hokkaido black soup ramen that is also delicious. Slytherins know how to enjoy life, because we are not idiots, and have noticed that we have rather incredible magical powers.

PS: why, do you think? The Sorting Hat’s choice in your case? If you’ve actually gone and had to hide the body already I’ll understand your keeping quiet on the subject and alluding generally to ambition or something.

15

Niall McAuley 12.13.13 at 9:12 am

I think a lot of the problems with sorting that we see in Harry Potter are a viewpoint thing.

We see Gryffindor Brave, Slytherin Evil, Ravenclaw something, Hufflepuff fat and jolly and a bit dim. This what we see because our viewpoint characters are all Gryffindors (who don’t seem to know much about Ravenclaw).

If our heroes were Ravenclaw, we’d see: Ravenclaw Brilliant, Gryffindor knuckleheads, Slytherin Evil and Hufflepuff nice but dim.

If Slytherin we’d see Slytherin Conservative, Gryffindor Bleeding Heart Liberals, Ravenclaw eggheads, and Hufflepuff Useful Idiots.

If Hufflepuff, we’d see Hufflepuff Sensible, Ravenclaw Ivory Tower Types, Gryffindor Jocks, Slytherin Can’t Be That Bad, Surely?

But the hat is actually dividing the school into four equal sized houses for administrative purposes, and the dormitories and common rooms are not changing over the years (Dumbledore was in Harry’s dorm more than a century earlier). It also tends to put siblings together, like the Weasleys (even when one is obviously a Slytherin), and it allows people to wish for a house, too.

So actually, we are going to see a mix of types in all houses.

I still think Rowling made a typing error, and Dumbledore was a Slytherin.

16

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 9:23 am

Niall McAuley: there’s no need to be ashamed about being a Slytherin. Like, half the people on this thread are Slytherins! Or, at least, they will be after I have a private chat with them in a short while. Or your Hufflepuffery! The name of the House is silly but the ideals are noble, and while we all see in our children countless endearing acts, MeiMei’s unquestioning, immediate assertion that she’d be a Hufflepuff because she likes making friends and helping people made me go “awwww,” just as if I had seen a video of a kitten on the internet. She has Hufflepuff socks, and she wears them to school! So, you, in the comments box: make with the House already.

I cannot help but feel people are not entering into the spirit of the thing. [Steepled fingers of regretful yet severe disappointment.]

17

Phil 12.13.13 at 9:50 am

Let’s face it, the house system is a total mess. Neville = Hufflepuff and Hermione = Ravenclaw, obvs. (There’s a sketchy attempt later on to redefine Ravenclaw as Deepio Thoughtio, with Luna & so on, which wouldn’t be Hermione’s bag – but the thought of an entire house (an entire quarter of the school) of otherworldly chin-strokers doesn’t carry conviction; apart from anything else, who is Luna getting bullied by?). Ron’s entire function in the series is to be wrong over and over again and then do something which helps Harry; I don’t think he’s particularly Gryffindor either, unless you redefine “brave and true and loyal” to mean “not too bright”, a la Neo.

But really the other two houses are there to make up the numbers – and Gryffindor is there to be not-Slytherin, and vice versa. Which is where the real problems start. Start with the final ‘Sorting’, the “who’s with us?” moment at the end: not one Slytherin? After we’ve had six books’ worth of explanation that Slytherins are clever unscrupulous ambitious ect ect but NOT just plain evil, it turns out that they are – every last one of them? You could say that Slytherins are all about the magical dominance and the blood purity, but that doesn’t really help – firstly, conceptually it’s got nothing to do with being unscrupulous ambitious etc, and secondly we know that not all purebloods are Slytherins & not all Slytherins are purebloods. (By the last book there’s actually quite an interesting Third Reich dynamic developing around this point, with cracks beginning to show between those Death Eaters who thought it was all about putting the right people back in charge and those who are just about the eating of death – the latter group being where Voldemort’s own sympathies appear to lie.) So, at the end of the day, you’ve got a group that’s been selected for legitimate & sometimes useful personal qualities (lack of scruples etc) rather than deep inner blackness of heart, but when the balloon goes up they all turn out to be bad to the bone, with the possible exception of Mr and Mrs Malfoy.

But in any case, if being Slytherin means being unscrupulous (etc etc), why on earth isn’t Harry in Slytherin – and his arrogant bully of a father before him? A scene that gets played out two or three times involves Snape denouncing Harry for acting as if the rules don’t apply to him – and we’re supposed to sympathise with Harry. Snape’s personal issues with Harry aside, he shouldn’t be ratting on Harry so much as trying to poach him – and Dumbledore & McGonagall shouldn’t endorse Harry’s rule-breaking, they should drum him out of Gryffindor.

The only way the Gryffindor/Slytherin split makes narrative sense is if it’s actually not about being brave and loyal vs being weaselly and ambitious, it’s just about a vague long-term belief in goodness, kindness and human equality (which is compatible with any amount of nastiness in the short term) vs a positive commitment to the triumph of evil, cruelty and racism – in which case we’re basically saying that Slytherins are Nazis, and it’s quite hard to believe that 25% of the wizard population would naturally gravitate that way.

18

Phil 12.13.13 at 9:53 am

Oh, and 1000% Ravenclaw. If that were mathematically possible. 100% x n representing currently unrecognised dimensions in which to extend current three-dimensional plenitude. Been looking for Ravenclaw all my life.

19

Anders Widebrant 12.13.13 at 10:34 am

Well-let’s-see. Hufflepuff absolutely not. I don’t know whether I’m less jovial or industrious, but for any practical purpose the needle’s on empty in both meters. Gryffindor not so much. I have the sense of justice, and the willingness to act on it, but not the required passion for righting wrongs, I think. Ravenclaw is certainly where I would have expected to go, and I would have been happy for a while until I caught on to the fact that I’d never be more than a mediocre ‘claw, which would have eaten me up.

Slytherin, on the other hand, would have been initially very intimidating but eventually the place where I could have been both ambitious and successful. I think it’s the only house that really rewards lateral thinking, which is actually what I’m inherently good at, as far as I can tell. So I hope the hat would have put me with the snakes, in its wisdom.

I’ll admit to not having read the books (I must have picked up one or two at some point, but I can’t remember), but I did read enough of HPMOR to be first excited about the premise and then disappointed with what an absolute cockhole they made of Harry. Spare Hermione that fate, if you ask me.

20

Phil 12.13.13 at 10:43 am

those Death Eaters who thought it was all about putting the right people back in charge and those who are just about the eating of death – the latter group being where Voldemort’s own sympathies appear to lie

Or, in fact, a three-way split between the old-school reactionaries, the “crush, kill, destroy” tendency (Greyback, Bellatrix), and the full-on weirdness of Voldemort himself (“I shall conquer Death! Death Itself, I tell you! They said I was mad – mad I tell you! (continues for some time)“). Which is also very Third Reich.

21

Stephenson quoter-kun 12.13.13 at 10:43 am

Belle @5

Because if I chose a group at random, let’s say, ordinary humans who live in Madagascar, and I gave them the powers that wizards have, I feel pretty confident in saying they’d take over the world in short order for some value of “Malagasy people have taken over the world,” even if they were stabbing one another in the back and getting into pointless wars all the time

This has always bugged me. When I was in high school, I had a friend who argued quite convincingly that even the most pathetic wizard imaginable (in terms of their ability to do magic) ought to be able to take over the world, because almost any superhuman ability could be leveraged into a world-taking-over scenario (he had a particularly well-worked example involving the magical power of being able to make other people evacuate their bowels at will, but I considered various other options and came to a similar conclusion). Once you start out with maniacal ambition and some very minor ability to do magic, it’s quite hard to imagine not taking over the world in fairly short order. Perhaps things are different when there are many wizards, where the less-ambitious wizards are able to restrain those with imperialist tendencies, by threatening to oppose them if they get too big for their pointy boots, somewhat akin to anti-monarchism in the Roman republic (though we all know how that ended up).

I suppose we have to imagine that the wizards exist in some delicate symbiosis with the world outside, and that – like any privileged minority group – they must be careful to hide their power and influence, lest they become targets of the envy of the masses. And given that the muggles have guns and bombs and aircraft carriers, perhaps that is wise, although that really just makes it more difficult to understand why the wizards didn’t take over the world before those things were invented. (I suppose one could argue that maybe they did, and all of our folk tales about magic are from the days when the wizards actually did rule the world, before something caused them to withdraw).

22

Z 12.13.13 at 10:52 am

Quite obviously a Ravenclaw.

some of the Slytherins are smart enough to be on the side of right out of pure self-interest, in case the side of right should win. Which, OBVIOUSLY! A good one-third of them should have made just this calculation!

But they did! Snape, Regulus Black, Horace Slughorn fought on the winning side and the first two accomplished (way) more than any Gryffindor save Dumbledore and the trio.

Or, you should at the least make an arrangement for a last-minute side-switch

That’s exactly what most of the original circle did, actually. But I think Phil is right and that a big mistake would be to think of Voldemort as the quintessential Slytherin. Not so at all: he is only for himself and doesn’t care at all about any pureblood cause (he is too clever to care in the beginning and too soul-atrophied in the end). The quintessential Slytherin is Horace Slughorn, with all his virtues and flaws. In normal regime, that’s what being Slytherin means (cultivating talents and networks, always looking for a good opportunity and enjoying life), but we only get to witness one of the worse crisis in the History, glimpse at another, and all this through the eyes of a not especially perceptive child.

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Adam 12.13.13 at 10:57 am

Another Ravenclaw here. Bookish, not super worldly, not brave, definitely not ambitious. (But I would love the shit out of herbology, so maybe the sorting hat would suss out a tincture of Hufflepuff.)

The reason why Neville belongs in Gryffindor is that, at heart, he’s brave. We see this manifest most clearly in the later books, after he’s finally got his own wand (before book 6, his Gran has him using his dad’s wand, for chrissake) and acquired some confidence. Why didn’t it show up sooner? Well, it kind of did, a little bit, e.g. when he tries to stop Harry and crew from sneaking out of Gryffindor tower in book 1. But the prophecy about Voldemort’s downfall was strictly ambiguous between Neville and Harry, and only Snape’s incomplete report of it made V believe it to be about Harry in particular. The implication is that had things gone only slightly differently, V would have gone for Neville. His parents couldn’t have protected him, but presumably his Gran could. Suppose Neville’s Gran was killed by V à la Lily Potter, and Neville got the lightning scar and the shitty orphan upbringing and his wand chose him à la Harry. Would Neville’s essential bravery have manifested earlier? Rowling means to imply ‘yes’, I think.

Dumbledore should have been a Slytherin, yep. The quest for the Hallows makes that pretty clear.

Re: Slytherin house, I think the majority of students, and the majority of students’ parents, aren’t actually evil, or even admiring of Voldemort or the Death Eaters. Slughorn is a prominent data point here; he likes influence and the feeling of importance, but is generally nice and good, even if not as stern as one would like in the face of dark magic. Dude just likes to rub elbows with quidditch captains, and a spot of oak-matured mead now and then (Belle, the Slytherin table glamour bit is brilliant and spot-on). But anyway, think about how, at the beginning of book 6, the other Slytherins in Malfoy’s compartment react when he implies he’s a bona fide Death Eater with a secret mission from Voldemort. They’re fascinated, admiring, but scared. Even Malfoy is scared. It’s not like they’re all hoping to join the club.

Remember too that it’s McGonagall who ejects the Slytherin students after Pansy Parkinson appears willing to turn Potter over to V. Who among them is going to stay behind after given the chance to leave? Proximally, it saves their skins. After the battle is over, they can always tell whichever side wins that they got told to leave. Only the really evil-dedicated (or implicated) kids stay behind: Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle.

Finally (god this is dorking out like none other but also this is the most fun thread on CT maybe ever), I must sadly admit that Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are undertheorized, or anyway underdeveloped, in the books. Part of me wants to insist that the Sorting hat’s different beginning-of-year songs fill out the houses more than you’d think, but I can’t actually remember. But we do get some minor characters to help. I don’t think Hufflepuff can be The House That Gets Shit Done, because Zacharias Smith is an obstructionist and snide pain in the ass, and Ernie MacMillan (and other Hs IIRC) resist Harry’s claim that V has returned. For Ravenclaw we get Luna of course, but also Cho, her sneak friend Marietta, Prof Flitwick, and Penelope Clearwater, which, I guess the idea there is she snogged Percy Weasley and that’s a serious error of judgment. Bad judgment all around, really: Cho dates Cedric (died), Harry (insensitive and kind of an idiot); Marietta rats on the DA; and Luna won’t give up believing in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks even after the horn destroys her house. Oh also the Grey Lady gave up the secret location of the lost diadem of Ravenclaw to Tom Riddle, which was also bad. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember a Ravenclaw doing anything smart ever, at all, in any of the books…

24

Kieran Healy 12.13.13 at 11:27 am

25

oldster 12.13.13 at 11:50 am

The authorized French translation of HP does relatively little of the punning and portmanteau’ing that JKR enjoys so much, but one thing it does rather nicely is the name of the Sorting Hat: le Choixpeau.

Belle, in the last half-dozen sentences of your OP, you allude to cases like the recent one of Ethan Couch of Texas, a sociopathic teen who has killed 4 people and will escape any punishment because of his family’s wealth. And you end by saying, “Is that bad? In principle it’s manifestly, horribly unjust. In practice, though, it’s like dancing to God’s own sweet music, I will tell you that.”

Is that really where you wanted your train of thought to end? That while, in principle, we are all opposed to rich white teens getting away with murder, in practice you strongly favor it? I somehow imagine that either I missed a switchback or negation in your rant (it has many hairpin turns) or that you forgot to add on a surprise reversal at the end yourself. Or that you strongly favor rich white teens getting away with murder?

My house? I’m a muggle, thanks. Even in the HP world.

26

Philip 12.13.13 at 11:53 am

None of those houses sound good to me, but then I wouldn’t like the idea of having to belong to a group because a hat told me to. So I’d go for Daigon Alley Comp.

27

bill benzon 12.13.13 at 11:57 am

I’m thinking I’d get shuffled off to Slytherin. Why? Because I know the not-so-seKreT meaning of “muggles” and I can’t for the life of me see why, given that not-so-seKreT meaning, the book ever got past the USofA censors. It is, after all, a book for kids, no?

Louis Armstrong wrote a blues he called “Muggles” and it was NOT at tribute to squares. Old Pops loved his daily intake of muggles, and of Swiss Kriss too. At least one of our former Presidents of the USofA is familiar w/ muggles, though he swears up and down on a stack of Bibles a mile high that he never inhaled. BTW, there’s a move afoot to legalize the growing of hemp in New Jersey, not so one can then partake of the afore-mentioned seKreT substance, but so they can manufacture rope.

Also, in 2nd grade I fidgeted once too often and got a D in conduct.

28

Shatterface 12.13.13 at 12:39 pm

It’s muggle-centric or muggle-normative to assume that wizards, because they have power, would act in the power-hungry way that muffles do.

You are showing your muggle-privilege.

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Shatterface 12.13.13 at 12:41 pm

None of those houses sound good to me, but then I wouldn’t like the idea of having to belong to a group because a hat told me to.

It seems at least a rational way of deciding destiny as that used to choose the Dalai Lama.

30

Shatterface 12.13.13 at 12:43 pm

None of those houses sound good to me, but then I wouldn’t like the idea of having to belong to a group because a hat told me to.

It seems at least a rational way of deciding destiny as that used to choose the Dalai Lama.

31

Z 12.13.13 at 12:49 pm

BTW

Zoë says, “your family is weird.” “Who the fuck else’s family do you think they are?”

That’s Belle Waring paging Madame de Sévigné-voluntarily I would venture, especially as this is the basis of a famous reboot in A la recherche du temps perdu which I seem to recall you enjoyed, Belle-though in full fuck else mode.

32

Hector_St_Clare 12.13.13 at 1:06 pm

The fundamental problem here (well, one of many) is that the behavioral biologists tell us that tpersonality doesn’t become (mostly) fixed till the early 30s. The sorting hat sorts at. 12. People undergo a huge amount of change from 12 to 18, a fairly large amount of change from 18 to 24, and then a still pretty big amount from 24 to 32 or so.

Native intelligence becomes fixed much earlier (it’s largely due to heredity, prenatal effects and early childhood environment) so it might make sense to sort into Ravenclaw, but not the other houses.

33

Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 1:22 pm

oldster: I explained I have a serious and quite genuine moral flaw. I absolutely think that wretched kid in Texas should have been replaced on the stand and in all legal documents with a black kid of the same age, and then re-inserted at the punishment stage. But the thing is, he’s just some fuckhead in Texas I don’t know. I am too superstitious to reveal any particular degree of relation for family members, or closeness of childhood friends, or siblings’ childhood friends for whom this feeling would be instantly swept aside, but they are not few in number taken all together, and they include myself. For these people, selfishly, for them, and for myself, I would want them to be able to buy their way out of serious jail time. It has happened in the past that some of these individuals have…’bought’? More, ‘had strings pulled’ to remain in the clear and not in, say, some juvenile detention bullshit. Some shit has gotten ‘talked our way out of’ (speaking collectively) that seriously should not have flown, at all, and involved flirting with cops more than anything else, but that’s a dicey business, innit. I think more people should be able to weasel out of property crimes that didn’t cause anyone any physical injury, and that drugs should be decriminalized. That rich people are currently doing all the weaseling and poor and particularly minority people are not is obviously unjust and should be changed. Nonetheless, things being as they are, I would strongly prefer a very happy result for the people I care about most. God willing and the creek don’t rise etc. this will never be tested again [she said, actually knocking on wood, again]. But in the past some rather spectacular scot-free-ness was gotten away with, and I was not only happy but overjoyed on these occasions. Because I am a bad person, as I explained.

Z., OK, that’s right about the defections in the older generation; it’s less obvious because of the rank-and-file adherence to evil displayed by the Slytherin kids in Harry’s cohort. But they didn’t have defection plans worked out as a back-up. The Death-Eaters claimed to have been under the imperius curse and then Lord Malfoy and others (to a lesser degree) smoothed the situation over with dolla dolla bills y’all.

Adam: totally agreed on the books–the well-thought-out characterization is from HPMOR and makes much more sense of things. Why would a Hufflepuff represent Hogwart’s in the Tri-Wizard Tournament? He’s been diligently doing his homework, carefully practicing his spells, and, in pitching in where it’s needed, learned a lot of things that a mono-maniacal Potions fanatic would never know–he’s become an all-’rounder, right? It’s the only thing that makes sense. Well, plus he’s hot, but.

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bill benzon 12.13.13 at 1:24 pm

“…they have set out to change Harry Potter so that it is a different way, oriented on a rational, scientific axis …”

This is just plain wrong. OTOH they love the HP books so much that they write a really long piece of fanfic. And in that fanfic they gut a fundamental of the series. Are these the kind of super-rational people who pray for the coming Singularity so they can live in blissful immortality while whizzing around in the circuitry of their Beloved Computer Overlords?

35

onymous 12.13.13 at 1:25 pm

I see that I went on about the HPMOR thing more than I remembered at the other place. No, other other place, which I won’t link because reasons.

Given the university I went to I think I have to admit I’m Ravenclaw. Not cool enough for the Slytherin table.

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Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 1:41 pm

Part of me wants to insist that the Sorting hat’s different beginning-of-year songs fill out the houses more than you’d think, but I can’t actually remember.

I really have to go to sleep. If my husband can convince people to sync up a 5/4 Fred Astaire clip with a Radiohead song, surely I can lazyweb my way into this one? Somebody, in the sung words of Jack Black’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” parody: “check this shit oouuut.” Please! With chocolate sauce! With whipped cream on top! But not with a nugget of red, quickly-decaying plutonium molded coarsely into the shape of a cherry, but rather a real cherry that was tart when picked, and then pitted without removing the stem, and then soaked in maraschino for 8 months! And slivered almonds–unless you have a nut allergy. And one of those mysterious rolled wafflewafers!

Hector St Clare: masterful trolling. I really didn’t think there would be any way to work the veldt in, here, but you did it. +10. You may withdraw from the bank of interpretative charity micro-loans at a later time. Points not redeemable in the same thread.

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oldster 12.13.13 at 1:46 pm

Thanks, Belle.

Your OP makes it look as though you have one serious and quite genuine moral flaw, whereas in fact you have a distinct serious and quite genuine moral flaw.

The flaw you have is partiality to self and kin. That is a serious and genuine moral flaw, but universal to the species, amenable to channeling into non-flawed manifestations, and implicated in character traits that are also admirable, e.g. concern, compassion, loyalty, etc.

Your OP makes it look as though you have the serious and genuine moral flaws of racism and plutocratic elitism. These flaws are not universal, less amenable to re-purposing for good uses, and pretty thoroughly unadmirable.

Your post says you think that the kid *should* get off, because he’s white, and because he’s rich. Not good. Your response to my query says you would like the people close to you to get off, because they are close to you, you care about them, and you don’t want to see them suffer. Not so bad.

The second stance is less reprehensible, and indeed rather banal. It’s merely what humans do (not that it guarantees morally ideal outcomes of course), and indeed any human who lacks all inclination to do it is probably psychopathically incapable of compassion. I’m afraid it’s rather weak stuff to put on your super-villain resume. If that’s the best you can do as a recommendation for getting into Slytherin, then you’ll never get in–no matter how much you badger them.

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Niall McAuley 12.13.13 at 1:47 pm

Given how I think the Houses look to the people in them, I’m a Hufflepuff, but the Hat might put me in Ravenclaw.

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MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 2:08 pm

Belle you have just described how I think about myself better than I have ever been able to. Do I believe in justice and society pitching together to care for each other and provide social goods? Oh course! I am a Canadian social democrat.

However, if the people closest to me call me in the middle of the night for help burying a body there is no way in hell that I am not going to help. To me some people are just so much more important than any abstract concept. If that makes me a Slytherin so be it. Needs must when the devil drives and all that.

/Which is funny as I always assumed I would be Hufflepuff before I read your post. Not super brave, not super ambitious and only middling smart. Plus I tend to get along with people in real life pretty well.

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Anders Widebrant 12.13.13 at 2:20 pm

“Your OP makes it look as though you have the serious and genuine moral flaws of racism and plutocratic elitism.”

You know, I didn’t see that at all.

And as far as the sin of nepotistic elitism goes, it’s one thing to succumb to it with a view to the resulting benefits (thank god N won’t go to jail), but quite another to enjoy it for its own sake (suckerrrrrrs).

41

Z 12.13.13 at 2:22 pm

it’s less obvious because of the rank-and-file adherence to evil displayed by the Slytherin kids in Harry’s cohort

Not sure about that at all, though. The only really actively evil Slytherin kids are Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle; and the first one makes amend in the end (and is never really enthusiastic when the real deal starts anyway). There are many many other Slytherin mentioned and though they are usually unpleasant, nasty, prejudiced and (generally) stupid, they do not take side with Voldemort. I mean even Theodore Nott, the son of an active Death Eater, just stays on the sides and waits. None stay to fight (the utterly hopeless) fight for Hogwarts, but (almost) none stay to fight for Voldemort either. I wouldn’t call this rank-and-file adherence.

So I think that one could read the first 2 books and conclude that Slytherin’s house is the house of the bad guy, after book 3 and 4 that is very debatable (not only is it more and more heavily hinted that Snape is on the good side, it also appears that just about everyone has a dirty little secret), after book 5 this is untenable (the real evil guys in book 5 are not obviously Slytherin) and after book 7, it verges on the misunderstanding.

All in all, enjoy being in Slytherin with Snape with no misgiving, JKR wanted it this way.

God this thread reminds of my youth…

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Ronan(rf) 12.13.13 at 2:22 pm

I gave up digging in my early 20s so wouldnt be much use at a night burial. I guess I’d be the person *you had to kill* to stop from (mistakenly) blabbing about the whole situation.
Though I’d try and help out, as best I could

43

Greg Sanders 12.13.13 at 2:24 pm

Ravenclaw, methinks.

I think the late plot twist with Hermione does have a greater than 50% probability of ruining the ending of HP:MOR for me. That said, I’ve still enjoyed the thing enough to throw a bit of money their way in thanks for the reading experience, flaws and all.

The one thing I’ll say for the fics depiction of Hermione is that they actually don’t have to rewrite her so much as have her react to a different Harry. The ending I’m hoping for would actually acknowledge MoR-Harry’s incredible hubris and acknowledge that she’s the one with the highest probability of achieving heroic deeds.

I think there’s been enough nods in that direction, in text and comments, that it’s a possible ending, even if that late Hermione twist makes it unlikely, hence greater than 50% chance of terrible ending even assuming certain things are undone.

But even if the ending goes all Breaking Bad on us, I think much of the story allows for that reading, which counts for something to me. Breaking bad side note, despite being rather political, I’m just not inspired to watch television dramas about mobsters, hence despite being a sell-out think tanker I figure I may not qualify for Gryffindor but I don’t place enough weight on in-group loyalty to make Slytherin.

44

The Modesto Kid 12.13.13 at 2:41 pm

Doesn’t the sorting hat ever just kick anyone right out? “Sorry Modesto Kid, you’re not up to snuff for any of our houses. You’ll have to build a lean-to against Hagrid’s hut.”

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Brandon 12.13.13 at 3:12 pm

The books make clear that while there’s a default House for everyone, the Sorting Hat actually takes into account the preferences of the student, as well. We know for sure this is why Harry is in Gryffindor rather than Slytherin, and while it’s only mentioned in passing, it’s pretty clear that this is also why Hermione is not in Ravenclaw. The only pure Gryffindor in the main group is Ron, whose primary characteristic is loyalty and who, coming from a Gryffindor family, wouldn’t have been able to bear not being Gryffindor (and probably knows that his brothers would never let him live it down) — he fits Gryffindor naturally and desperately only wants to be Gryffindor. And, of course, as some commenters noted above, given Neville’s interests and how easily he gets along with Sprout, it seems very likely that he is an almost-Hufflepuff Gryffindor.

Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin seem to be Houses that are each marked by a sort of ambition for greatness, for a certain kind of status, whereas Hufflepuff seems to be the House for those with smaller ambitions. Each House is consistent with any particular kind of person; it’s their driving motivations that are actually in play — not what they are, but what they most want to be. (The fact that it takes into accounts personal preference complicates the matter, but given that we are talking school children, it just adds the clause ‘or what is most wanted by the kind of people they want to be with’.) Thus Ravenclaw is not the House of smart people but the House of people whose primary ambitions are in some way concerned with intelligence (thus Luna is a perfect fit, since she is entirely invested in understanding the way the world is, and just has weird standards for what counts because of her upbringing); Slytherin is for those whose ambitions are concerned with power (which is why we get Malfoys and Goyles); and Gryffindor for those whose ambitions are concerned with heroic deeds (none of the Weasleys are ambitious in the way the Malfoys are, or for the same thing, but they are all of them ambitious in their own way and have a taste for jumping in and doing something). The reason it makes some sort of sense for Hufflepuff to be thought of as ‘the House that Gets Things Done’ or as the House for nice, quiet people, despite the obvious exceptions, is that it’s the House for people whose lives revolve around, or who deeply want their lives to revolve around, smaller and simpler motivations and goals than glory, whether that glory comes from great power, or great deeds, or great intellectual accomplishments. (And in a sense it’s an interesting commentary on how our major ambitions can be internally or externally driven: Ron was an inevitable Gryffindor, but Harry is a natural Slytherin who takes on Gryffindor ambitions because he can’t stand Slytherins, and Neville, it seems, is a natural Hufflepuff who gets his Gryffindorish drive from the fate of his parents and his relation with his Gran.) We see this all reflected in the Heads, too.

So says this Ravenclawish Hufflepuff, anyway.

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Trader Joe 12.13.13 at 3:14 pm

I had always inferred that the Sorting Hat looked through to the aura or essence of the person, moreso than necessarily the acts and deeds they might display during the period of their years in Hogwarts. As such one could have a person whose core resides in Slytherin, but might never summon the right amount of gumption to really act that way.

Belle’s description calls it true – one might put on the public face of a Ravenclaw or any of the other houses for day to day getting on, but if the chips were down – whether it was for family, country, religion or any other cause – the true nature would shine through. Aurors apparently can detect some of this as well, which is why I never thought Harry would make a good auror. He never knew the nature of himself or those immediately around him, let alone being able to detect it in others.

In my opinion, the “aural” aspect is shown most clearly in Neville – who surely seemed miscast as a Griffindor – but who managed to step up to the plate and act the hero when it proved necessary. Ron was much this way as well, never really showing the right stuff until absolutely put to the test. Ron really had all the outward appearance of a Hufflepuff.

Auspiciously the Sorting Hat considered putting Harry in Syltherin rather than Griffindor, perhaps sensing that the will to act in a self-interested or malevolent way was only separated by a narrow band from the will to act heroically or for others. I’d cast Harry’s father right near that same boundary and Professor Snape similarly near that edge, albeit apparently just a bit more on the Slytherin side.

P:utting myself under that hat I fancy I’d have behaved much like Harry – hoping to be deemed a Griffindor, but fearing that that my core is really Slytherin, which is where I expect the hat would in fact put me.

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Metatone 12.13.13 at 3:21 pm

Is it Slytherin behaviour to note that when you get tired of reading HP to the kids, a Stephen Fry read audiobook makes a very good option?

I think the reason the wizards don’t just “take over the world” can be looked at two ways:

1) There are some who want to, but they are opposed by others on moral grounds. As a matter of strategy and emotion this leads to a decision to win the wizard war first.

2) In the end, humans don’t have anything much that wizards want. If you don’t need technology and you can magic up just about any material thing, then what does power over humans get you? Isn’t it like power over cats? Vaguely interesting for those who like to be pet owners, not that interesting for everyone else?

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Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 3:27 pm

Some thoughts:

The best interpretation of the Sorting Hat that I’ve ever heard came up on a fan fic board way back when: Rowling’s Houses dimly echo what was likely a rough presumption that many English people carry in their heads when thinking about the elites of pre-modern time–you’ve got the royalty (Slytherins), the church (Hufflepuff), the scholar-monks (Ravenclaw), and the knights (Gryffindor). There’s all sorts of ways that interpretation makes sense: the Slytherin obsession with pure-bloods, the fact that the Hufflepuff House Ghost is the Fat Friar, etc.

I could never get into Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality because 1) I could never shake the feeling that the authors weren’t actually fans of HP, but instead were using that world to demonstrate some kind of preferred story-telling technique, and 2) they dumped on Ron Weasley right from the start and didn’t let up, and I have a very hard time getting myself to enjoy any fic that treats Ron so dismissively. I realize that 1) makes me sound like those people back in the 80s who dissed Talking Heads because they were supposedly only “playing” at being a pop band, and that 2) is just my R/H shipper hear speaking, but there it is. (Western Dave has told me before that I ought to give HPMoR another try, as Ron is eventually redeemed in Harry’s eyes, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

As the years have gone by and I’ve re-read the books (both to myself and out loud to my younger kids), I’ve become more and more convinced that, at some point between the beginning of Goblet of Fire and the conclusion of Half-Blood Prince, Rowling’s story, intentionally or otherwise, turned from a Roald Dahlesque hero’s tale to a young adult fantasy, and that by the time she was writing The Deathly Hallows and realized (again, consciously or unconsciously) what she had on her hands, it was too late to change back, even though she couldn’t (either because of lack of desire or lack of skill or both) end the story any other way. And so the whole thing is–delightfully, wonderfully: I mean, I still love the books–is wrestled into what is essentially a Charlie in the Chocolate Factory framework, even as the story being told by that point involves murder, child abandonment, the sins of the fathers being visited upon the next generation, sexual longing, inexplicable and creepy magical weirdness, after-death experiences, and all sorts of other elements typical of fantasy novels, but not children’s books. We can accept–and delight in!–the Sorting Hat and the house rivalries in the first books (Gryffindor good! Slytherins bad!), but by the time the story has grown so sprawling, and the cast of characters so huge, we can’t help but scratch our heads. Rowling kept giving us characters that, had she been willing or able to tell a different kind of story, could have opened up the whole fictional creation of the Hogwarts houses, and Slytherin House in particular (Theodore Nott, Horace Slughorn, even Victor Krum–who was presumably a Slytherin sort). But in the end, that’s not what we got.

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Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 3:35 pm

Metatone,

I think the reason the wizards don’t just “take over the world” can be looked at two ways: 1) There are some who want to, but they are opposed by others on moral grounds….2) In the end, humans don’t have anything much that wizards want. If you don’t need technology and you can magic up just about any material thing, then what does power over humans get you?

Good explanations, though mine is more Jared Diamondesque: in my private fictional elaboration of Rowling’s universe, the numbers just don’t work out. For whatever reason (and getting into this would be some seriously deep speculation), the wizarding world doesn’t reproduce: members keep killing themselves off in bizarre accidents, small numbers of children (note that probably half of Malfoy’s attacks on Ron have to do with him coming from a freakishly large family, something that is, by the evidence of the books, profoundly unusual), etc. There is also the open question of whether the “magical gene,” if there is such, is dominant–one might think so, because we keep reading about wizards and witches being born to Muggle and mixed-Muggle parents, but then, the stories are being told at Hogwarts, so of course we wouldn’t hear about the thousands of squibs out there, would we?

50

Random Lurker 12.13.13 at 3:39 pm

[Ravenclaw]

I have three distinct (mutually exclusive) theories of how the sorting hat works:

1) The hat really just casts a 4-sided dice and determines the house completely at random. The kids (who are 12 and thus whose personality is not yet formed, as per Hector 31) are told what their main traits are supposed to be, they believe it, and, as they are part of a group that self-identifies on one trait, they unconsciously develop it as a way to achieve in-group status. This means that the hat actually assholeizes all kids sent to S.
This process is known to evolutionary biologists as “adolescence”.

2) While the S clearly are supposed to be sort of aristocrats, the G are supposed to have all those positive traits that actual aristocracies pretended to have, as they where warrior castes (hence honor, loyalty, and courage). Thus we can see that the houses represent the ancient tripartite indoeuropean system of peasants (H), priests (R, intellectuals, priests, they are all eggheads), and warriors-landowners (G-S).
G and S are the same, we just happen to see the story from the point of view of the G.

3) In Potter’s world, all the mages represent a small group that is clearly biologically superior to the muggles. Syltherins realize this, and have the most rational worldview of all, mantaining a master morality; but mages are immersed in muggle-culture and therefore have a lot of complexes due to the influence of muggle-slave-morality, thus develop the other three houses that represent three fictitious ways to hide to themselves their own superiority, the hat just helps them to retain their psychic equilibrium.

On a different level, I don’t like the moral codes that expect people to be saints, so since it is natural to care more for friends than for unknown people (within limits) I hope that you (Belle Waring) are joking when you say that you are “evil” for this reason.

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Katherine 12.13.13 at 3:44 pm

I think I’m Gryffindor edging towards Ravenclaw.. In a recent “which literary character are you?” quiz I got Eowyn. That’s Gryffindor-ish, no?

And if a family member or friend called me to bury a body, I’m afraid I’d spend the next forever trying to persuade then to hand themselves in. I don’t think that makes me a bad friend/family member, but I think it disqualifies me from Slytherin. Where I think I’m much too practical to be pure Ravenclaw and not nice enough to be Hufflepuff.

52

Katherine 12.13.13 at 3:52 pm

Frankly though, I think the whole of the wizarding world (UK branch) is f’ed up by the fact that all their children have to compulsorily attend boarding school from the age of 10, wherein they spend not a jot of time on English, Maths, History, Geography, languages, art etc etc.

They only learn various flavours of magic, a bit of botany and one sport. That does not a rounded person make. They rely on magic and thus are educationally stunted.

53

Zamfir 12.13.13 at 3:54 pm

@Random, you’ve cast the Hufflepuffs and the muggles as peasants. Or so you mean that Hufflepuffs are members of the master race who deny their nature?

54

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 3:57 pm

For what it’s worth, we’re a very divided family: the oldest daughter and I are Ravenclaws, my wife and our third daughter are Hufflepuffs, the second daughter is a Slytherin, and the youngest is a Gryffindor. I think we decided this by taking that Sorting Hat test on Pottermore when it first went online, but that was a couple of years back, so I’m not sure.

55

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 4:04 pm

Katherine,

They only learn various flavours of magic, a bit of botany and one sport. That does not a rounded person make. They rely on magic and thus are educationally stunted.

True–though you could make the argument (and why shouldn’t we? we’ll all being nerds here anyway!) that actually the students learn a hell of a lot of composition and math and science (or at least chemistry, astronomy, and botany) through their classes. I mean, think of those long rolls of parchment they have to turn in to the teachers on this subject or that, or think about the basic calculations that they’re presumably obliged to run through on the way to turning in their homework on the planets or poisons. (And you know that McGonagal and Snape, at least, are probably hard-ass graders when it comes to grammar.) As for extracurricular activities, yes, they’re lacking, at least from Harry’s immediate social environment: but then, the films teach us that there’s a school choir, and from the books we know there’s a Gobstones and a Charms club at least, so maybe there’s more going on for all that.

56

Random Lurker 12.13.13 at 4:07 pm

@Zamfir 53

The explanations are mutually exclusive, so in explanation 2 the Hufflepuffs are peasants, while in explanation 3 the H are trying to negate their nature.

[anti-HP rant]
I saw the first 3 movies and read the last 4 books of HP, and enjoyed it, but there was something that I didn’t like that I couldn’t really explain that has to do with my explanation n.3. I mean, in HP’s world, the S are correct to consider the muggles as inferior, aren’t them? The 4 houses are supposed to be on equal standing, but G are clearly better than all the others and the world would be better without the S, and so on – there is a lot of hipocricy because the apparent moral of the book is negated by the view of the world the book has.
[/rant]

57

MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 4:08 pm

“I’m afraid I’d spend the next forever trying to persuade then to hand themselves in.”
Why would you want someone who you care about to spend the rest of their lives in jail? It won’t bring whoever they killed back and, unless the person is a serial killer, it won’t protect anyone else. Now if they ARE a serial killer that makes the whole thing more difficult. I guess I would have to turn them in….

58

Random Lurker 12.13.13 at 4:11 pm

Also, if I understand it correctly, quidditch is a game where there are two team of 11 people composed as such:
1 main player that scores point, and
10 players basically useless, that only score advantages that are useless unless the two main players score a tie.

Who would ever play this kind of sport??

59

MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 4:15 pm

” Also, if I understand it correctly, quidditch is a game where there are two team of 11 people composed as such:
1 main player that scores point, and
10 players basically useless, that only score advantages that are useless unless the two main players score a tie.

Who would ever play this kind of sport??”

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfCool

60

Cranky Observer 12.13.13 at 4:20 pm

Quidditch is very similar to the original game of Rollerball as described in William Neal Harrison’s short story “Roller Ball Murder” (1975), except played in three dimensions and with less (overt) intent to maim opponents. When I first visualized quidditch I immediately wondered if JKR had read that story somewhere along the way.

Cranky

61

Pub Editor 12.13.13 at 4:25 pm

Brandon @45:

The books make clear that while there’s a default House for everyone, the Sorting Hat actually takes into account the preferences of the student, as well. We know for sure this is why Harry is in Gryffindor rather than Slytherin, and while it’s only mentioned in passing, it’s pretty clear that this is also why Hermione is not in Ravenclaw.

Exactly right. Hemione mentions in Order of the Phoenix (#5) that the Sorting Hat almost placed her in Ravenclaw.

Beyond that, consider that there are mathematical constraints placed on the Sorting Hat’s ability to perfectly match each student with his or her “ideal” House. Assuming that each class cohort in each House in approximately the same size (and I believe this is so, because otherwise class schedules would be too variable; in the first five years, it appears that most classes include about 20 students, which encompasses the entire year cohorts for two Houses), then every year the Sorting Hat has 40 new students who must be sorted into 4 Houses, with each House accepting 5 boys and 5 girls. In cases where a student could flourish in either of two or three Houses, the Hat may have to assign a student to balance numbers. Cedric Diggory probably would have flourished in whichever House he went into; the Hat may have sorted him into Hufflepuff because there were other boys in his year that were better fits for Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, and the Hat was running up against the quotas for those Houses.

All that said, Dumbledore once told Snape, “Perhaps we sort too early.” Indeed.

62

UserGoogol 12.13.13 at 4:25 pm

Random Lurker: The game ends when the snitch is caught and a stupid number of points go to that team. But if the other team can rack up a large lead in advance, they still win. Also, the metagame seems to favor ranking up as many points as possible, instead of merely a win-lose metric. So it’s still strategically stupid, but not quite as obviously so.

63

Neel Krishnaswami 12.13.13 at 4:26 pm

Are these the kind of super-rational people who pray for the coming Singularity so they can live in blissful immortality while whizzing around in the circuitry of their Beloved Computer Overlords?

No, the LessWrong crowd are (a) absolutely certain the Singularity will come, but believe that (b) due to programmer error, the resulting artificial intelligences will likely engage in a project to convert the entire mass of the solar system into paperclips or similar, resulting in the extinction of the human race. Their fanaticism and intensity arise from their belief that the catastrophic extinction of all life on earth is the most likely outcome of the computer revolution, but that sufficient hard work may make it possible (but not certain) to avert doom.

64

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 4:36 pm

Pub Editor,

Hemione mentions in Order of the Phoenix (#5) that the Sorting Hat almost placed her in Ravenclaw.

Yes, and there are multiple examples of this; Seamus Finnegan, for example, sat on the stool for over a minute before he was placed in Gryffindor, so one can image that there are, presumably, more than a few students who have the sort of inner conversation with the Hat which we see Harry have in the first book.

Assuming that each class cohort in each House in approximately the same size (and I believe this is so, because otherwise class schedules would be too variable; in the first five years, it appears that most classes include about 20 students, which encompasses the entire year cohorts for two Houses), then every year the Sorting Hat has 40 new students who must be sorted into 4 Houses, with each House accepting 5 boys and 5 girls. In cases where a student could flourish in either of two or three Houses, the Hat may have to assign a student to balance numbers.

That would seem reasonable, but unfortunately I don’t think it works out, not without insisting upon an interpretation of the books which is simply incompatible with any kind of charitable treatment of Rowling as an author. Yes, there are numerous details in the books that would suggest a standardized admissions policy, but assuming that leave far too many holes–the largest being, who are the Gryffindor girls in Harry’s year? We only ever learn of three: Hermione, Lavender Brown, and Parvati Patil. Are we to assume that there are two others that, in seven books, are never mentioned, because Harry never once noticed them? It makes no sense. So for that reason, and others, we have to assume–unless we just want to chuck Rowling entirely–that class sizes vary, depending on how many magical students come of age in any given year, and that therefore there’s no reason to believe that the size of the Houses are equal.

65

Asteele 12.13.13 at 4:37 pm

Are we all so unwilling to claim Gryffindor? I know that if magic was an actual skill I’d be obsessed with mastering it in an actual rather than intellectual way, I’m also sure I’d be one of those annoying types stopping wizards from conquering the muggles. We can’t even run a single boarding school in a way that isn’t insane, how are we going to manage the NYPD.

66

Asteele 12.13.13 at 4:38 pm

The less wrong people are of course total loons. For all their talk of “existential threats”, and rationally evaluating threats to humanity, go do a search for global warming on their site.

67

Agog 12.13.13 at 4:47 pm

Never read the books, and fell asleep during a French-language showing of the 3rd (I think) film whilst far from home with nothing better to do. But probably Ravenclaw, because the name has the nicest ring to it, but temperamentally too, albeit with phlegm ascendent (so to speak).

Also I like ravens, since reading The Grey King, and since they fly together so joyfully around mountaintops.

68

Katherine 12.13.13 at 4:53 pm

“I’m afraid I’d spend the next forever trying to persuade then to hand themselves in.”
Why would you want someone who you care about to spend the rest of their lives in jail? It won’t bring whoever they killed back and, unless the person is a serial killer, it won’t protect anyone else.

Several reasons:

1. Principle. No I don’t want the person I care about to spend the rest of their lives in jail. But they killed someone. That someone deserves justice. The person I care about who did it, having done some terrible, shouldn’t compound that and I shouldn’t help them. See, for example, Maxine Carr, who did a terrible albeit understandable thing.

2. Practicality A Just because a body was buried doesn’t mean it stays buried. The perfect murder, even assuming it could be done, is less and less likely. Better for my loved one, and me, that they hand themselves in than are caught later.

3. Practicality B. The existence of a body doesn’t necessarily mean murder. It could mean perfectly legitimate self defence + panic. If there’s justification or mitigation, that’s going to c0me out a whole lot better if the body isn’t whisked off and buried.

Note, I said I would try to persuade them to hand themselves in, not that I would turn them in myself. But yes, under certain circumstances I’d do that too.

69

Lawrence Stuart 12.13.13 at 4:53 pm

Me? Hufflepuff with delusions of Gryffindor.

70

Anderson 12.13.13 at 4:54 pm

Pretty sure I’m in Slytherin, since that seems to be the house for those who’re watching others save the world and making sarcastic remarks about them. Plus, I’m a lawyer, so, duh.

(And my best friend really *did* write of me, some time back, that I was the person she would call if she needed to hide a body. This was in an actual newspaper column.)

71

soru 12.13.13 at 4:55 pm

[ravenclaw]
Good explanations, though mine is more Jared Diamondesque

I prefer ‘they already did it, 300 years ago’. It was called the British Empire, or the Enlightenment. Just instead of Guns Germs and Steel, it was really based on Wands, Charms and Schools.

There’s another fanfic out there where a burnt-out Harry is on leave from fighting carpet-jockeys in Afghanistan, and meets up with Ron and Hermione for a drink. Except Hermione can’t make it, and Ron only pays lip service to Harry’s tales of the glory days at school, and leaves before closing time.

72

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 4:59 pm

There’s another fanfic out there where a burnt-out Harry is on leave from fighting carpet-jockeys in Afghanistan, and meets up with Ron and Hermione for a drink. Except Hermione can’t make it, and Ron only pays lip service to Harry’s tales of the glory days at school, and leaves before closing time.

Dammit, Soru, I have grading to finish today, and now I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to track that fic down.

73

Zamfir 12.13.13 at 5:07 pm

AFAICT, individual elements of the HP world are each fairly coherently wizardized versions of elements in our muggle world, but the wizardization doesn’t preserve the structure that exist in our world between those elements. And in many cases, there is no alternative structure either, the elements just kinda float in nothing.

So wizard kids have wizardized school subjects, and their parents have wizardized office jobs. But where our school subjects are kinda-vaguely preparing for that office work, the wizardized school subject do nothing like that for wizard office jobs. The Malfoys are wizard-rich and the Weaslies wizard-poor, but there’s no economic or social structure behind that, it just is that way. And Harry is wizard-star player on a wizard rest-of-team, aloof like a striker in a catenaccio soccer team. But there’s no single game in which those roles fall, it’s just two games played in paralel,

That’s OK, isn’t it? The structure that misses in the books, still exists in the minds of the readers. It only becomes a problem if fictional worlds are supposed to be coherent on their own, plausible to in-game characters who don’t know it’s fictional. But why should they.

74

Western Dave 12.13.13 at 5:08 pm

Pottermore told me I’m a Hufflepuff. Which makes sense because I was doing useful things before that artsy-fartsy Ravenclaw Russell Arben Fox messaged me and told me I had to come over here and be sensible with all you Ravenclaws and Slytherins.

First off, I adore HPMoR. It actually gets the houses right from the beginning. As opposed to us having to figure it out along the way. We Hufflepuffs appreciate clarity. We like Haikus not Pound in our poetry. We prefer history to philosophy. And you know, the thing about Hufflepuffs is we think about consequences, we care about who might get hurt along the way (unlike those damn fool Slytherins and Gryffindors who are always going on about their plans and schemes and such). You won’t catch a Hufflepuff making the same mistake twice. We teach HS not college because it’s better to teach people skills rather than stuff. (I coulda been a Ravenclaw! Really!).

The rest of you can debate the morality of trolley car scenarios. Me and my Hufflepuff buddies are going to go design a better switch. Now excuse me, I have obligations to other people just now. People with less power than me (ahem, Gryffindors and Slytherins). And let’s be clear about this: it’s not that we Hufflepuffs are nicer than our people (clearly I’m not), it’s that we are better than the rest of you.

75

Zamfir 12.13.13 at 5:09 pm

Oh, and Ravenclaw, obviously.

76

Western Dave 12.13.13 at 5:13 pm

“Nice than other people”. Dammit.

77

Ronan(rf) 12.13.13 at 5:15 pm

‘ Better for my loved one, and me, that they hand themselves in than are caught later’

Yeah this strikes me as the main point. They’re going to get caught eventually/be overcome with the guilt, much better to throw yourself at the mercy of the court (though if I lived in Texas I might think differently)
A drugs offense we could have a whip around and help them move to Spain.
But burying the body seems the worst of all worlds

78

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 5:19 pm

It’s not that we Hufflepuffs are nicer than other people (clearly I’m not), it’s that we are better than the rest of you.

Western Dave is certainly correct in so far that wizard rock songs and fan videos about Hufflepuffs have tended to be the cream of the crop (and yes, I am that dorky).

79

Jenna 12.13.13 at 5:42 pm

I would probably have ended up in Hufflepuff, unless my younger self talked the sorting hat into putting me in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor.

When I was younger I had ambitions and read enough heroic things that I might have ended up in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor, but, my perception of Slytheryn would have made me resist being sorted into that house. What I have ended up actually doing, and how I have been living lately is much more in line with Hufflepuff.

Oh, and the Slytherins may have a table glamour that gets them all the goodies in the main hall, but, I bet Hufflepuffs are better cooks and have hot chocolate, toasted marshmallows, and cozier blankets in the dorms.

80

dn 12.13.13 at 5:42 pm

Brandon’s take @45 is pretty much the one that makes the most sense in relation to the book world. Rowling constantly tries to make the point “predestination is bullshit” (although she unfortunately rather muddies it by ending Prisoner of Azkaban the way she did – I suppose the fact that I choose to dwell on Rowling’s confused quasi-compatibilism in the midst of all the drama makes me a Ravenclaw).

Dumbledore actually doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me as a Slytherin; he’s too much of a masochist when he’s not off in his own world. He seems like a natural Ravenclaw who’s been strongly influenced by personal trauma – first obsessed with justice for his sister and his dad, which pushes him into Gryffindor, then later briefly corrupted by the ambitions of Grindelwald. Had he not suffered as a youth, he would be a Ravenclaw through and through. (Dumbledore’s biggest internal conflict during the timeframe of the books themselves is whether or not to reveal to Harry his calculations about Harry’s eventual fate. He frames it to himself as a moral question and then blames himself for getting it wrong, but all the while he’s engaging in deeper and deeper rationalizations. Neither a natural Gryffindor nor a natural Slytherin would do this; a natural Gryffindor would eventually spill his guts, while a Slytherin wouldn’t be so eaten by the moral question in the first place.)

81

mud man 12.13.13 at 6:01 pm

I’m pretty sure I’m a Muggle. I’ve slept in a closet under the stairs my whole life, although well fed. Does the Sorting Hat never send some particularly talented and beautiful child home? “You were meant to be loved by your parents, to help with the dishes, and someday become a crafter of furniture?”

82

somebody 12.13.13 at 6:04 pm

ravenslaw

83

ChrisTS 12.13.13 at 6:23 pm

Ravenclaw with a nod towards Gryffindor, I think.

And, like Katherine, I would not help a loved one bury the body. I’m not sure I could even do that for one of my kids.

84

kent 12.13.13 at 6:26 pm

re: asteele @ 66,

I searched lesswrong for global warming, expecting in light of your comment to see a denial of global warming or some such. Nothing like that. The first result argues that denial of global warming is a clear sign of irrationality; the second and third are short but seem to take for granted that global warming is a real thing; and the fourth argues that global warming is a huge risk to the planet, with the only question being whether it is likely to wipe out all human life (which appears to be their definition of ‘existential risk’) or only most of it.

Several of the commenters on the 4th link say that global warming is a huge threat but they feel that they know more about computers than ecology and that thus their time is better spent on this other existential risk.

None of it comes across as particularly “loony” to me. For what that’s worth.

85

kent 12.13.13 at 6:30 pm

More on topic: Belle, you’re absolutely right that I had not noticed the assumption that Harry Potter has to be the hero. A default sexism does indeed seem to be part of HPMOR, and apparently a part of me as well.

However! I like the Hermione in HPMOR — much more than I like the Harry Potter: she’s a much better human being by my moral standards, no matter how much the author of HPMOR might disagree. I don’t think making her the slytherian rationalist would have improved the story: most likely Harry would become as secondary to the story as Ron.

86

mds 12.13.13 at 6:33 pm

Okay, according to initial kneejerk reaction and to Pottermore, Ravenclaw. Which, given that “knowing stuff for its own sake rather than for practical application” is a pretty central character trait, I could probably live with it.

On the other hand, I also thought about how I would approach being a wizard living in a largely muggle world. Faced with the Weasleys’ lower-middle-class-at-best existence as an example, I would probably prefer to find ways to live more comfortably in the muggle realm. At first, I thought this sort of “make my life more posh via magical cheating” would be a Slytherin sort of thing, but perhaps a proper Slytherin would find getting ahead in the muggle world to be beneath ver. The characterization of Hufflepuff by Brandon @ 45 as the house for those with “smaller ambitions” suggests that might actually be a plausible choice for someone whose ambitions didn’t go much beyond making one’s own family free from care.

So, I guess the upshot is, the Sorting Hat and I might end up having quite the conversation … and it’d probably eventually mutter “selfish” and dump me in Slytherin. Go, green and silver!

87

christian_h 12.13.13 at 6:41 pm

When I was that age, I’d probably have been sorted Gryffindor: arrogant prick from an academic but neither rich nor “old” family, with an acute sense of fairness (well, as far as I perceived it of course, see arrogant prick).

Now I’d go with none of the above. Which brings me to something curious/disappointing about the politics of HP (I say this as someone who loves the books in general): there is no political left. There are those defending the kinda-sorta liberal establishment, and then there are the reactionaries and fascists who want to overthrow it. But there is no organized opposition to it from the left, whether viewed as a positive or negative by the main characters. There are individual instances of questioning how things are run (Hermione – to me the true hero of the books anyway – whose stance comes from being an outsider; and Mr. Weasley come to mind), but nothing organized or sustained.

88

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 6:55 pm

Christian_h,

There are individual instances of questioning how things are run (Hermione – to me the true hero of the books anyway – whose stance comes from being an outsider; and Mr. Weasley come to mind), but nothing organized or sustained.

Well, SPEW was organized, but it wasn’t sustained through the crises of books six and seven. Rowling has implied that Hermione went on to make some big changes through the Ministry of Magic, and it’s plausible that some sort of faction built around SPEW, or something like it, was central to such changes.

89

mds 12.13.13 at 7:18 pm

Hmm, political left in Harry Potter. I could certainly see it entirely within the wizard world: Why are some wizards rich, and others poor, in an even more arbitrary and resource-unconstrained system than the muggle one? What makes it harder to develop into a genuninely egalitarian movement is the fact that it’s a world in which a tiny minority has an inborn power to do magic. I mean, the Dungeons & Dragons movie [shudder] had the magician queen blithely declare that the people of “Magicianland” were all equal whether they were magicians or not, but obviously didn’t bother to consider the possible complications.

On the other hand, I like the idea of a non-reactionary resistance movement. True Gryffindor / Deep Hufflepuff / whatever, an intrepid band of rebels who magically provide food and medicine to muggle shelters, intervene in drought-stricken regions, apparate people out of burning buildings, etc, all while staying one step ahead of the wizard world authorities, who obviously disapprove of that sort of thing.

90

Adam 12.13.13 at 7:33 pm

Ok, I dug up the Sorting Hat’s songs.

Book 1.
Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see,
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat then me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry,
Set Gryffindors 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,
Where you’ll meet your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means,
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don’t be afraid!
And don’t get in a flap!
You’re in safe hands (though I have none)
For I’m a Thinking Cap.

Book 4.
A thousand years or more ago,
When I was newly sewn,
There lived four wizards of renown,
Whose names are still well-known:
Bold Gryffindor from wild moor,
Fair Ravenclaw from glen,
Sweet Hufflepuff from valley broad,
Shrewd Slytherin from fen.
They share a wish, a hope, a dream,
They hatched a daring plan,
To educate young sorcerers,
Thus Hogwarts school began.
Now each of these four founders
Formed their own house, for each
Did value different virtues,
In the ones they had to teach.
By Gryffindor, the bravest were
Prized far beyond the rest;
For Ravenclaw, the cleverest
Would always be the best;
For Hufflepuff, hardworkers were
Most worthy of admission;
And power-hungry Slytherin
Loved those of great ambition.
While still alive they did divide
Their favourites from the throng,
Yet how to pick the worthy ones
When they were dead and gone?
‘Twas Gryffindor who found the way,
He whipped me off his head
The founders put some brains in me
So I could choose instead!
Now slip me snug around your ears,
I’ve never yet been wrong,
I’ll have a look inside your mind
And tell where you belong!

Book 5.
In times of old, when I was new,
And Hogwarts barely started,
The founders of our noble school
Thought never to be parted.

United by a common goal,
They had the selfsame yearning
To make the world’s best magic school
And pass along their learning.

“Together we will build and teach”
The four good friends decided.
And never did they dream that they
Might some day be divided.

For were there such friends anywhere
As Slytherin and Gryffindor?
Unless it was the second pair
Of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw,

So how could it have gone so wrong?
How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there, so I can tell
The whole sad, sorry tale.

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry’s 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.”

These differences caused little strife
When first they came to light.
For each of the four founders had
A house in which they might

Take only those they wanted, so,
For instance, Slytherin
Took only pure-blood wizards
Of great cunning just like him.

And only those of sharpest mind
Were taught by Ravenclaw
While the bravest and the boldest
Went to daring Gryffindor.

Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest
and taught them all she knew,
Thus, the houses and their founders
Maintained friendships firm and true.

So Hogwarts worked in harmony
for several happy years,
but then discord crept among us
feeding on our faults and fears.

The Houses that, like pillars four
had once held up our school
now turned upon each other and
divided, sought to rule.

And for a while it seemed the school
must meet an early end.
what with dueling and with fighting
and the clash of friend on friend.

And at last there came a morning
when old Slytherin departed
and though the fighting then died out
he left us quite downhearted.

And never since the founders four
were whittled down to three
have the Houses been united
as they once were meant to be.

And now the Sorting Hat is here
and you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses
because that is what I’m for.

But this year I’ll go further,
listen closely to my song:
though condemned I am to split you
still I worry that it’s wrong,

Though I must fulfill my duty
and must quarter every year
still I wonder whether sorting
may not bring the end I fear.

Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
the warning history shows,
for our Hogwarts is in danger
from external, deadly foes

And we must unite inside her
or we’ll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you…
let the Sorting now begin.

91

L33tminion 12.13.13 at 7:36 pm

> The only pure Gryffindor in the main group is Ron, whose primary characteristic is loyalty

Odd statement, since “loyalty” is pretty much the by-word of Hufflepuff. Come to think of it, it’s sort of interesting that the trio of protagonists are all Griffiodors who could have been in another house. Ron could be a Hufflepuff, Hermione a Ravenclaw, and Harry a Slytherin. Ron’s perspective on the issue is pretty obvious (so is the Hat’s, it says, “Ah, another Weasley. Well, I know just what to do with you.”). Harry’s perspective the readers get to see first-hand. Do the books ever mention what went on between Hermione and the hat? It’s clear from what the hat says that something she said (or thought, rather) persuaded it to choose Griffindor.

As for me, probably Ravenclaw, maybe Hufflepuff. (Though that’s me today, at 11 it would have been a toss-up between Ravenclaw and Slytherin.)

92

Phil 12.13.13 at 7:39 pm

It only becomes a problem if fictional worlds are supposed to be coherent on their own

They aren’t? Show me a successful but incoherent fictional world and I’ll show you a fabulist like Kafka, or a fantasist like Anna Kavan or Christopher Priest. Even Narnia’s coherent…ish. (Well, after the first book.)

Brandon’s thoughts on the Sorting process @45 addresses a lot of my earlier criticisms. I still think the Rowlingverse is a bit jerrybuilt, though; you don’t feel she had any great curiosity to find out how this world worked. I like Russell AF’s Dahl analogy @48; the first quarter of the first book is pure Dahl, and Dahl in the larky “let’s see what happens next” mode of Marvellous Medicine or Giant Peach, rather than the more worldly and moralising tone of Charlie or Matilda.

93

Phil 12.13.13 at 7:55 pm

Adam – thanks! So that’s

Gryffindor: “the brave at heart”, “the bravest”, “the bravest and the boldest”
Ravenclaw: “those of wit and learning”, “the cleverest”, “those of sharpest mind”
Slytherin: “cunning folk [who] use any means,/To achieve their ends”, “those of great ambition”, “only pure-blood wizards/Of great cunning”
Hufflepuff: “just and loyal/[...] true,/And unafraid of toil”, “hardworkers”, “the rest”.

That’s really interesting. No surprises on the Ravenclaw front – JKR quite likes geniuses (Dumbledore, Tom Riddle) but she’s not terribly interested in clever people. I’d misremembered Gryffindor’s attributes as being something to do with being just & true & loyal; in fact it’s all about bravery – or wanting to be brave, which would let Ron and Neville in. Not sure about Hermione, though.

But it’s with the other two houses that the goalposts really start creaking. Slytherins are cunning, then they’re ambitious, then they’re cunning again and pure-bloods. That really has the air of authorial afterthought (maybe ambition‘s not so bad… really should have mentioned the pureblood thing…). And poor old Hufflepuff! They start out with all the ethical virtues plus hard work, then they’re relegated to hard work and finally to “the rest” – everyone who isn’t particularly brave, clever or cunning. (Which presumably should make it the biggest house in the school.)

94

Agog 12.13.13 at 7:58 pm

If that third song was written by the author of the first two I’ll eat my hat.

95

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 8:01 pm

Phil,

I still think the Rowlingverse is a bit jerrybuilt, though; you don’t feel she had any great curiosity to find out how this world worked.

That’s kind of what I was getting at in my final paragraph in #48, though I would amend this slightly–Rowling didn’t have any great curiosity to work out how the world worked, because in books 1-3 there wasn’t, at least not in any that was relevant to the stories she was telling us through Harry’s eyes, any wizarding world at all. I mean, sure, Diagon Alley and Cornelius Fudge and Azkaban Prison, but still–it was beyond him. Hogwarts was all that mattered (and Hogwarts, of course, was a glorious creation!). From books 4 onward, though, the wizarding world beyond Hogwarts became progressively more connected to the whole structure of Harry’s stories, and thus the fact that Rowling herself hadn’t given much thought to it–and, I think, when push came to shove, actually didn’t want to tell the kind of stories which obliged that she think about it, even though that’s where her tale ultimately led anyway–starts getting troublesome.

the first quarter of the first book is pure Dahl, and Dahl in the larky “let’s see what happens next” mode of Marvellous Medicine or Giant Peach, rather than the more worldly and moralising tone of Charlie or Matilda.

Very true, though I would argue that the Dahlesque tone continues into the second book, and even into the third.

96

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 8:04 pm

Agog,

If that third song was written by the author of the first two I’ll eat my hat.

Just another reason why book five, despite having a lot of stuff going for it, is the poorest written of the lot.

97

Cyan 12.13.13 at 8:19 pm

For what it’s worth, HPMOR is written entirely by Eliezer Yudkowsky. For some reason he chose the pen name Less Wrong when he started, but that stab at authorial anonymity didn’t last long.

98

MLF 12.13.13 at 8:22 pm

Having read HPMOR through the most recent update, I was both surprised and somewhat bothered by the small role played by Hermione. When I saw that the premise was to focus on a character who was intelligent, logical, studious, and intent on making the world a better place I expected more of the character who was like that to begin with. I can think of four possible explanations. One, sexism on the part of the author. Two, a bias towards focusing on Harry, which could have multiple causes including the author expecting the audience to be too sexist to read a story where Hermione was the main hero. Three, the author believing that Hermione would not be allowed to get away with the things Harry does due to lack of fame, muggle-born status, and possible sexism in the wizarding world; this could be supported by the school administration refusing to believe Harry was not involved in the first two times Hermione’s group won a badly uneven fight. Four, the author believing that growing up in a muggle world of deeply entrenched sexism would prevent Hemione and/or Harry from believing she could play the role Harry does, which could be supported by the scene with Hermione’s parents at Christmas dinner.
It has been too long since I read the books for me to remember whether Hermione’s romantic thinking is out of character but, if it is, it could be a sign of sexism, fanfiction’s bias towards romantic plots, or a deliberate send up of fanfiction’s romantic plots.
I tentatively suspect explanations three and four for the first question and explanation three for the second but I may be proven unhappily wrong.
I am also bothered by the Hermione plot twist but my annoyance is tempered because I was introduced to fanfiction by way of Stargate SG-1 where such plot twists are rarely permanent and I am, not necessarily rationally, assuming Harry will succeed in undoing it.

99

Western Dave 12.13.13 at 8:22 pm

YOU TAKE THAT BACK RUSSELL ARBEN FOX! Everybody knows book 5 handles the love subplots the best and has some of the best writing of all. The ill-fated Hogsmeade date? Priceless. Just because the immediate villain in 5 is weak, (it’s all downhill after the “I must not tell lies” episode) doesn’t mean the writing is overall bad. It’s book 2 that’s the most poorly written.

100

MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 8:30 pm

” That someone deserves justice. The person I care about who did it, having done some terrible, shouldn’t compound that and I shouldn’t help them”

You see this is where you lose me. Of course you should help them! Just because they did something terrible doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help them. You love them!
/Just to be clear your take is probably much more ethical. I just wouldn’t do it.

101

Cyan 12.13.13 at 8:31 pm

bill benzon@34

Actually, I think Yudkowsky has said he hasn’t even read the whole series. He set out to (i) write a story that would serve as an exposition of his ideas about rationality and simultaneously (ii) write the most-reviewed (which is a proxy for most-read) fanfic on fanfiction.net. (He’s got a bit of a competitive streak.)

102

Anderson 12.13.13 at 8:35 pm

I liked book 5 the best – dark, emotionally affecting, and Rowling’s self-taught writing course was finally paying off by then. Even a Slytherin like me was teary-eyed in Dumbledore’s wrap-up chapter at the end.

(Someone needs to write the Malfoy p.o.v. version of the series, correcting some of the hateful caricatures, etc. by the author, obviously a Gryffindor stooge.)

103

Russell Arben Fox 12.13.13 at 9:00 pm

David (and Anderson too),

YOU TAKE THAT BACK RUSSELL ARBEN FOX! Everybody knows book 5 handles the love subplots the best and has some of the best writing of all.

Hey, I said Order of the Phoenix had a lot of stuff going for it, didn’t I? In particular, Hermione was never better written than in book five (rather than being Harry’s ever faithful crutch to lean upon, she pushes back at his constant moodiness; the dark side of her busy-bodyness, which had always been played for laughs–usually at Ron’s expense–in the first couple of books is brought back and given the full treatment, as she is confronted with both Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge). But I’m sorry, I stand by judgment: the book just wastes time, throwing around all sorts of never-developed plot points; the number of guns which don’t go off in that book could arm a small militia. And the Sorting Hat’s song is itself a tip-off; Rowling has grabbed a hold of tiger of a plot–a rising civil war between wizards!–and the most she can do is clumsily ride it. I like OotP very much (and I would argue the film adaptation is actually the best of all the HP films), but if I have to choose a wink link out of the seven, five is it. (Second weakest is The Chamber of Secrets, I’ll give you that.)

104

Katherine 12.13.13 at 9:02 pm

Of course you should help them! Just because they did something terrible doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help them. You love them!

Y’see, to my mind, I am helping them. I’m just not helping them hide the body.

105

Katherine 12.13.13 at 9:04 pm

Perhaps this hopelessly naive of me, but I’m helping them do the right thing.

106

Anderson 12.13.13 at 9:12 pm

Katherine just doesn’t have what it takes to be a Slytherin.

107

Amdijefri 12.13.13 at 9:23 pm

The best guess says that HPMOR!Harry is the Horcrux which is why he acts, in every way, like a memory-wiped Tom Riddle given his upbringing, not like Harry Potter given his upbringing.

The author put out a loud plea for everyone to please not try to judge Hermione’s character arc until it’s over, which kinda implies it’s not over. Though he might have been joking when he said Hermione would come back as an alicorn princess.

108

Gareth Wilson 12.13.13 at 9:39 pm

Another possibility is that “Harry” in HPMOR is actually the biological son of his adoptive father – his mother had an affair and the original Harry was never born. Sure, his father isn’t nearly as aggressively rational as Harry, but he could have mellowed with age.

109

Niall McAuley 12.13.13 at 9:44 pm

When Rowling came up with Quidditch, she wasn’t trying to devise a magical sport with sensible, playable rules. She was trying to devise a game which combined the legal violence and variety of body types seen in Rugby with the incomprehensible rules and silly vocabulary of Cricket, because Rugby and Cricket are what you get in an English boarding school story.

110

oldster 12.13.13 at 9:55 pm

“the legal violence and variety of body types seen in Rugby with the incomprehensible rules and silly vocabulary of Cricket”

So Mornington Crescent, with clubs.

111

Adam 12.13.13 at 10:01 pm

She was trying to devise a game which combined the legal violence and variety of body types seen in Rugby with the incomprehensible rules and silly vocabulary of Cricket, because Rugby and Cricket are what you get in an English boarding school story.

That makes 100% sense, thank you. (Though maybe it’s obvious to English readers? American here.)

But even with that explanation, I still hate all the quidditch scenes; they have all the boredom of play-by-play commentary, applied to the absurd spectacle of like 9 people trying to score 10 points a pop while the seeker can win the game in a single catch.

Although I guess now that I think of it, the one where Luna becomes the announcer is actually really good. Lays bare the absurdity of sports commentary.

112

Asteele 12.13.13 at 10:01 pm

@kent. well it’s been a while since I’ve looked, but I remember a post asking if we should consider global warming a existential risk, followed by lots of comments saying the possibility of rouge AI destroying humanity in the singularity, was a much better use of one’s effort. That sounds loony to me, YMMV.

113

Sumana Harihareswara 12.13.13 at 10:04 pm

I feel like I’m better at picking fights than I am at scheming, toil, or pure abstract thought, so it’s Gryffindor for me!

Amends is the HP fanfic I recommend a lot. It’s Hermione’s POV, starting immediately after the end of the war, and it addresses:
* wizard reproductive rates
* the magical job market
* Harry’s and Ron’s flaws, which mostly cut along loyalty to the Weasleys and disrespect for Hermione’s skills
* database design
* use of Polyjuice Potion for sexual experimentation
* the virtues of Slytherin witches

and more. I love it. Unfinished, though.

114

Barry Freed 12.13.13 at 10:18 pm

(Someone needs to write the Malfoy p.o.v. version of the series, correcting some of the hateful caricatures, etc. by the author, obviously a Gryffindor stooge.)

A Flashman to Harry Potter’s Tom Brown. I’d read that.

115

Anderson 12.13.13 at 10:35 pm

Barry: exactly!

116

Greg Sanders 12.13.13 at 10:38 pm

@Sumana That sounds fun, I’ll check it out, thanks for the plug.

117

kent 12.13.13 at 10:45 pm

@Asteele, thanks for the clarification. I don’t have a strong opinion as to the likelihood of true AI being created and becoming dangerous, because frankly I’ve hardly thought about it (beyond watching a couple of silly SF movies). But I’ve been influenced by (among others) Kevin Drum to put “true AI is on the way and we don’t know what will happen afterwards” on the list of “things that seem weird to me but that seem possible to at least some smart people who appear non-crazy.”

(sorry to all again for the off topicness)

118

MPAVictoria 12.13.13 at 11:20 pm

“Y’see, to my mind, I am helping them. I’m just not helping them hide the body.”

Helping them by putting them in jail? Colour me unconvinced.

119

dn 12.13.13 at 11:39 pm

L33tminion @89 – well, of course part of Rowling’s point was that virtually any character could be in any House; that a character’s choices were more powerful than any inborn tendency. Virtually every character of significant interest is someone who had reasons to end up in a different House, but didn’t. Dumbledore and Snape, of course. Sirius, who consciously rejects his family’s Slytherin tradition out of loathing. Peter Pettigrew, who idolizes James and Sirius but is himself a notorious coward. Lupin, whose patient Hufflepuffian temperament masks an inner conflict between courage and self-loathing (in which courage seems to ultimately win out).

The only undeniable Gryffindor I can think of in the series? Hagrid.

120

Phil 12.13.13 at 11:58 pm

With its division of teams into players picked for speed and for size, not to mention its extreme physical brutality, Quidditch clearly owes a lot to rugby. Not sure about cricket, though – the rules aren’t nearly arcane enough. If anything it’s more like lacrosse.

I think it doesn’t make sense for the same reason the school curriculum and the magical criminal justice system don’t make sense – it’s not meant to make sense in its own terms or stand on its own feet (I agree to this extent with Zamfir @73, although I think that the fact that it’s not meant to do these things is a major flaw). Or you could say that when JKR designed it she was working on the yarn-spinning principle (“make some stuff up, make up some more stuff, give Harry something special and heroic to do, job done”).

121

MPAVictoria 12.14.13 at 12:29 am

“The only undeniable Gryffindor I can think of in the series? Hagrid.”

Hagrid is a Dangerous maniac! The fact that he was allowed near children is criminal negligence on Dumbledore’s part.

122

bianca steele 12.14.13 at 1:14 am

in fact it’s all about bravery – or wanting to be brave, which would let Ron and Neville in. Not sure about Hermione, though.

Nah, assuming Hermione wants to be a character in a boarding school story it makes a lot of sense.

123

dn 12.14.13 at 1:52 am

MPAV @121 – Ah, but “dangerous” is part of the appeal for Gryffindors ;) That’s pretty much why I could never be one, I’m way too risk-averse.

(It strikes me that it’s kind of a bad idea for the school to put all the “daring” kids in one House. Seems like a recipe for disciplinary problems – many of the Gryffindors seem to have a distinctly bad influence on each other…)

124

dn 12.14.13 at 1:56 am

Adam @111 – That scene with Luna as Quidditch commentator is one of the funniest in the series. Luna’s pretty much my favorite minor character.

125

Anderson 12.14.13 at 3:06 am

124- mine too, and perfectly cast in the films.

126

Russell Arben Fox 12.14.13 at 4:23 am

DN,

That scene with Luna as Quidditch commentator is one of the funniest in the series. Luna’s pretty much my favorite minor character.

Another reason why Half-Blood Prince is probably the best written of the books. (And, along wit Anderson, I agree: the casting of the talented fangirl Evanna Lynch was probably the single truest bit of casting in the whole series.)

127

Western Dave 12.14.13 at 4:27 am

@dn,
Are you not familiar with how schools work? Of course it’s a bad idea. But TRADITION! See also, football teams.
@Russell Book 5 is better than Book 2 because Hermione is mostly petrified for a good chunk of Book 2.

128

Belle Waring 12.14.13 at 4:58 am

You guys, I never said we were going to bury the body.

mds, others: both the Malfoys’ complaint to the Weasleys about the excessive number, and their comparatively exigent life, are due to their status as fictitious Irish people. The red chair, too many children to feed, etc etc., no? It’s not about wizards reproducing slowly, it’s just a way for Draco to needle Ron, and a way for the prospect of material inequality to be brought into the magical world where it doesn’t belong at all, seriously what the fuck. You can turn a raven into a pencil case and so on, and you can’t turn grass into food? I know transfigurations wear off, but after a while, and you learn them in first year; they only need to last long enough to get well through your insides. You can set knitting needles up on their own, but you cannot make a shabby robe identical to a lovely new one?

Stephenson-quoter-kun: first, I should say that my 12-year-old actually jumped up in the air slightly and started laughing when she saw your continued use of the handle. That’s right, you continue to make actual children on another continent happy by commenting on the internet. That’s how awesome you are. I think I may have to post a picture of Mind-Reader-kun and Fox-Eye-kun to explain the wonderment. Secondly, she objected that even Voldemort would fare ill trying to cast the imperius on a stadium of two million humans. But when I pointed out that he would only have to do it a little at a time, using Polyjuice Potion to impersonate others where needed, and so on, she agreed it was quite possible. Others–as to why the wizards would want the humans–I don’t know, armies of slaves? Rowling has established that wizards suffer from material want, like the Weasleys.

129

dn 12.14.13 at 5:03 am

Dave @127 – touche.

(I’m also with you on Book 5 vs 2. Number 2 has always been my least favorite, but now that you mention that about Hermione I finally realize why. 5 is kind of hard to judge: definitely sprawls too much, but its good points are really good.)

130

TheSophist 12.14.13 at 5:23 am

Anderson #102: maybe the guy who wrote The Last Ringbearer (Yeskov) could do the Malfoy pov.

Anyway, I’m a Brandybuck (willing to occasionally venture into the Wild.) That was the question, wasn’t it?

Isn’t HSC aware that all of the evo-bio schtick is only true of muggles? He really shouldn’t generalize where he has no data.

131

Stradlater 12.14.13 at 5:43 am

Could any philosophers or other qualified individuals advise us on whether it makes sense to suppose that magical ability is hereditary? My naive view of ‘magic’ is that it is the cause of supernatural events, i.e. events that cannot be explained using our received scientific knowledge because such events contradict some axiom thereof. But if it turns out that there’s a ‘magic gene’ (or some combination of genes that might produce magical ability; it really doesn’t matter), then does magic not have a naturalistic cause?
In a related question, to what extent is it meaningful to call a unicorn or a hippogriff a “magical creature”? Is a magical creature just a creature that muggles think is mythical?

132

Peter T 12.14.13 at 7:32 am

Ravenclaw here. Outside of comics, people in the real world don’t seek WORLD DOMINATION just because it’s there. They do it out of fear (Hitler was: Either we Germans rule the world or we end up like Tasmanian aborigines; Stalin, Cromwell and co were: if I don’t seize control some other bugger will, and either stuff it up and kill us all, or just kill me….). Or they do it because of the thrill of winning: Lance Armstrong with an army (definitely Alexander the Great, probably Genghis). Muggles don’t threaten the magical, so there’s no fear factor. And they can’t fight back very well, so there’s no real sport in conquering them. Unless you enjoy committee meetings and ceremonies, why bother?

133

Belle Waring 12.14.13 at 8:16 am

Stradlater: some of the “magical/mythical animals” in the world of Harry Potter do have magical powers–the blood of unicorns can keep you alive if you are willing to be an awful, ghoulish vampire, and their hairs can be used at the center of otherwise wooden magic wands that are necessary for most magic use. Others appear only to be unknown to non-magic-users, such as the gross leech-like creatures the students are forced to study after Hagrid’s “let’s all pet a Hippogryff” plan goes mysteriously awry: Flobberworms, I think.

As to the heritability of magic powers, it’s presented as being something similar but not identical to a recessive gene: white man, black woman, black baby; black man, white woman, black baby–wait, that’s actually “Fear of a Black Planet,” sorry. No, as shown, two magic-users almost invariably have a magic-using child, with non-magic-using children (Squibs) being presented as something like children with a birth defect. By contrast, two non-magic-users may rarely give birth to a magic-user, as in Hermione’s case. I always imagined it being something like two brown-eyed people who hadn’t had anyone with hazel eyes in the family for ages, but both carrying a recessive gene for it, rolling the dice and coming up with a child who was light-eyed rather than brown-eyed. We aren’t really given a lot of specific information about characters in the novels who have one magic-using parent and one muggle parent. But the Death-Eater’s “pureblood” madness only makes any sense in a context in which there are many, many, many families of mixed heritage.The purebloods are very much a minority, implying that most families have quite a few muggles in their family trees, and thus that the gene is pretty dominant in the muggle/magic-user pairing. Does it make sense to think of DNA for magic? Well, no. Naturalistic explanations of the supernatural are…mmm..impossible in a boring and tautological way, right? Yours, With Fondness, a Philosopher.

134

Belle Waring 12.14.13 at 8:27 am

Having said that, should you wish to read a really extraordinarily well-thought-out explanation of the heritability of magic use, read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. And, as I said, if you have a child, and you wish to teach her or him about Mendelian genetics right along with Draco Malfoy, you will find this section of the book genuinely and interestingly instructive.

135

Murc 12.14.13 at 9:12 am

One of the few who would be a Gryffindor here, I think, just because I lack the intellectual rigor to be a Ravenclaw, the work ethic to be a Hufflepuff, and the cunning to be a Slytherin. Combine that with my combative attitude and I’m basically in Gryffindor.

On the subject of HPMOR… does anyone have trouble drawing a bead on what the narrative is trying to tell us?

Most of the time, I am deeply convinced that its all about how Harry is right and the fucked-up society run by fucked-up people he lives in is wrong and we should all embrace hyper-rationality as espoused by an eleven-year-old polymath. He’s the kind of hyper-competent protagonist you expect to find in, say, a military sci-fi paperback with a Baen logo on it.

But… well, some of the time I’m wondering if the narrative isn’t subtly implying that Harry is a big huge idiot who both isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is and still needs a lot of seasoning. He understands the scientific method all right, and has a basic grounding in philosophy. But he doesn’t seem to have more than the most superficial grounding in the social sciences or in political economy. (This actually seems realistic; a lot of people who are way, way into the hard sciences seem to regard the social sciences with either contempt or bafflement.) The conversations Harry has with Quirrell read very much like a freshman poli-sci major who thinks his ideas are revolutionary and ground-breaking being ruthlessly manipulated by a politician who actually, as opposed to just theoretically, understands how people and systems work. When Harry seriously considers whether a benign dictatorship is an optimal solution (with little thought given as to failure states or the warping effects that the ancillary structures a dictatorship requires to function has on a society) its very “guy in a dorm room thinks he just solved politics forever.”

(His parents, by the way, were absolutely right to try and keep Ayn Rand away from him.)

But then it goes back to Harry being awesome and everyone else being wrong and dumb, and I just don’t know.

It would also be nice if Eliezer had stretched out his timeline a bit. Harry is still eleven, and despite his very petulant grousings about how unfair it is that he isn’t treated like a fully paid-up adult, there’s a reason eleven-year-olds aren’t given full agency over their lives. It would have killed him to extend this out into later years a bit?

136

Murc 12.14.13 at 9:19 am

@Belle-

By contrast, two non-magic-users may rarely give birth to a magic-user, as in Hermione’s case…. But the Death-Eater’s “pureblood” madness only makes any sense in a context in which there are many, many, many families of mixed heritage.

We have, I believe, Word of God from Rowling that the ratios in any given generation are something like 25% pureblood wizards (defined as the children of any two wizards; Hermione and Ron’s kids would be considered pureblood despite Hermione herself being muggleborn) 50% mixed (children of wizards and muggles) and 25% muggleborn.

This seems like BS to me; I would like to know how wizards associate enough with muggles enough to be producing that many children with them. But I think those are the numbers we have been given.

137

Gareth Wilson 12.14.13 at 9:36 am

Combining the two threads, it was interesting that Harry in HPMOR didn’t know a bit of real-world science that was relevant to the argument he was making about magical genetics. It wasn’t just missed either, the narrative says that “crossing over” of chromosomes makes the situation more complicated but he knows nothing about that. It’s a nice bit of realism to have your supergenius character ignorant of something.

138

Phil 12.14.13 at 11:02 am

Hermione and Ron’s kids would be considered pureblood despite Hermione herself being muggleborn

And yet the young Snape thinks of himself as a ‘halfblood’ – which certainly seems like the kind of term that would be available to people who habitually prefixed the word ‘blood’ with the words ‘pure’ and ‘mud’. I’d expect a grandparent rule at the very least, and a ‘one drop’ rule wouldn’t be implausible (AIUI the only reason the Nazis stopped at two generations was practicality, which wouldn’t seem to apply in a small and well-documented society like that of the HP wizards).

139

Walt 12.14.13 at 12:36 pm

Gryffindor all the way. I’m a born hero.

140

Metatone 12.14.13 at 12:53 pm

Murc @136
Clearly all that wizard/muggle slash fic was more accurate than we thought?

141

Greg Sanders 12.14.13 at 1:35 pm

@Murc That’s my take as well. With the recent Hermione plot twist, I definitely fear its more of the Harry is the big hero who will save the day. That said, I think fundamental tension about where the plot is going, when combined with a solid ending, can be a great thing. That’s why the series still has me. I suspect I’ll be disappointed, but I’m mostly enjoying the journey, so that’s okay.

I completely agree on expanding things across multiple years, but I’m guessing they couldn’t figure out a structure for that.

I think this also gets to why the writing has slowed down substantially. I think there’s a lot of conflicting forces at work and with edits to prior pieces being troublesome actually getting to a good ending is pretty hard.

142

Greg Sanders 12.14.13 at 1:37 pm

@Sumana, in the first half-dozen or so of Amends, Harry and Ron don’t manage to stay sympathetic characters for me. Does that change over time? HP:MoR definitely had a similar Ron problem for quite a while, though I think they fixed that after the halfway point.

143

mds 12.14.13 at 2:51 pm

Murc @ 135:

But… well, some of the time I’m wondering if the narrative isn’t subtly implying that Harry is a big huge idiot who both isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is and still needs a lot of seasoning.

So, same as in Rowling’s treatment, then.

144

Sumana Harihareswara 12.14.13 at 3:36 pm

@Greg: yeah, in “Amends”, eventually both Harry and Ron make up for their missteps.

I infer from “HP:MoR definitely had a similar Ron problem” that you think it is a problem that “Amends” shows Harry and Ron’s less attractive sides? I think it’s fantastic and realistic. Yes, given the circumstances, canon Ron would not be a thoughtful or sensitive boyfriend and canon Harry would be oblivious to Hermione’s predicament. Do you disagree?

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kent 12.14.13 at 3:52 pm

Kinda stunned there are so mant people in the set (reads crooked timber) (reads HPMOR). I kind of expected it to be Belle (who reads everything), me, and maybe 1-2 more ….

146

kent 12.14.13 at 3:53 pm

Oops missed the ^ symbol between the 2 sets obviously

147

Katherine 12.14.13 at 8:13 pm

Well, this thread alone has added one more (me). My impression so far is that Harry is an insufferable prick, and I haven’t even got to Ron and Hermione.

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Michael Cain 12.15.13 at 12:23 am

Slytherin, almost certainly. I think of myself as the sort of wizard who builds superb wands, suspect that given a sufficiently long career I wouldn’t stop short of something like the Elder Wand (just to prove I can), and who but a Slytherin would do that?

I’ve always been disappointed that so few people read the story the way I did. That the battle is between Dumbledore and Voldemort, and while Harry is an important tool — the single most important tool, as he’s the repository for one of the Horcruxes — he’s still only a tool. As is the Sorting Hat, whose abilities Dumbledore uses to assemble a team to (unknowingly) help shape Harry into the right tool. As the story progressed it became clear that the kindly old headmaster bit was a cover for a pretty ruthless fellow playing a long and involved game to do away with Voldemort. Dumbledore may have been on the right side, but that didn’t make him any less ruthless or manipulative.

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bianca steele 12.15.13 at 12:47 am

I’ve actually only read the first Harry Potter book. I didn’t like what I suppose are the Roald Dahl elements–though I can’t imagine Dahl so emphatic about the plain superiority of some group that’s putting one over on the mundanes–which I didn’t like either. Speaking of Stephenson, what the description of wizards (from H’s uncle’s POV) in the first book really reminds me of, now that I think of it, is the monks in Anathem. I mostly assumed the book would posit magic ~ science and show m/s getting their comeuppance. (But Maguire does not have magic ~ science, more like magic ~ rhetoric at least from Lir’s POV, so maybe Rowling doesn’t either.)

It occurs to me though that in the Magic Treehouse series, the older brother is Ravenclaw (always wants to look things up in books and make methodical plans before he’ll brave the real world) and his younger sister is Gryffindor (always telling her brother to look up from his books and experience things). (So far the heroine of the books is Morgan Le Fay so there might be an idea there.)

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John Quiggin 12.15.13 at 2:35 am

Haven’t read carefully, but no one seems to have made the analogy with the Blues and Greens in the Byzantine hippodrome. The Reds and Whites (IIRC) were only there to make up the the numbers, and were eventually dropped altogether.

Count me as a Green/Monophysite, BTW (please don’t tell me Graves got this all wrong, I don’t care!).

151

Nancy Lebovitz 12.15.13 at 6:05 am

I second the recommendation for _Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation_– it’s centered on a brilliant Hermione for the year after the end of canon. I’m hoping it will be finished, but it’s solidly worth reading as it is.

Part of the moral center of HPMOR is children’s rights. Eliezer hate’s Snape’s bullying and Hagrid’s carelessness, and Dumbledore’s failure to be a good administrator.

Unfortunately, HPMOR compresses the social hierarchy (low-status characters from canon pretty much fall out of the story) and has little about non-humans.

I’m a huge Slughorn fan. I believe he’s true Slytherin, and Death Eaters are a bunch of nitwittedly idealistic faux Slytherin poseurs.

Wizards like being wizards. They want to putter along in their half-assed low tech pre-modern illegible fashion, and not take on the huge unnecessary job of ruling billions of muggles. All that’s needed is enough magic to prevent big wars. (This suggests that there are few wizards living in conflict zones, which requires some back story I can’t figure out.)

I wouldn’t at all mind a spin-off fic where muggle/wizards relations are handled more convincingly. I’m convinced that muggles really know a good bit about the existence of wizards, but don’t talk about it.

In re Hermione in HPMOR– I’m not crazy about her, but the relevant difference between her and Harry is that she (like the vast majority of people) don’t have huge innate ambitions. For what it’s worth, Eliezer makes it clear that she’s the moral brakes that Harry desperately needs. Not a job I want, but Hermione’s character has developed in interesting ways. I’m wondering about a transhumanist ending for her and Harry.

I find the Harry/Quirrell relationship deeply squicky, and I’m not talking about sex. Quirrell is almost certainly very bad news, and Harry (thinks? there may be some magic involved) he’s bonded to Quirrell because Quirrell the only one Harry can talk with easily.

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Phil 12.15.13 at 9:16 am

I’ve always been disappointed that so few people read the story the way I did. That the battle is between Dumbledore and Voldemort, and while Harry is an important tool — the single most important tool, as he’s the repository for one of the Horcruxes — he’s still only a tool

That’s not so much your reading as JKR’s writing, surely – it’s spelt out in the last book (and suggested as early as the last chapter of GoF).

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David Duffy 12.15.13 at 11:02 am

I can’t resist conflating this thread with

fanac (?) in a different mythology
. What will Slytherin sympathisers get up to when they reach their majority…

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Neville Morley 12.15.13 at 11:37 am

I’m really not sure; elements of Ravenclaw (bookishness), Hufflepuff (reasonable amount of down-to-earth practicality) and Slytherin (ambition), probably too much of a weasel to be anywhere near Gryffindor. Having a Sorting Hat to resolve the conundrum and set me on one path rather than another might have made life a little easier…

Why don’t wizards take over the world? In Rowling’s universe, it is indeed a puzzle. Precisely one of the reasons why I prefer Earthsea, where Le Guin makes it clear how every bit of magic has costs and consequences, whereas in Potterland the only magic with serious side effects seems to be necromancy and related practices.

As for whether all Slytherins are inherently evil, surely we need to add a serious discussion of whether, as tends to be presented, everyone else is inherently good, and at best guilty of a certain amount of keeping one’s head down in the face of serious consequences. Seems to me that more or less the entire wizarding world is inherently conformist and conservative, and hence willing to accept whatever regime protects their privileges and helps hide their existence from the Muggle hordes who might otherwise rise up and overthrow them, or at least demand that they make more of a contribution to society.

It’s only Voldemort’s fanaticism (especially the pure-blood obsession) that alienates the Ravenclaws who’d otherwise be developing sophisticated justifications for his rule so they were left in peace with their research and the Hufflepuffs who’d happily keep the Night Bus running on time. As for the Gryffindors, they’re just behaving like any other aristocratic order that believes it has a traditional right to rule. The fact that they’re brave, loyal, pig-headed etc. doesn’t imply that they’ll always put these qualities in the service of the good. If anything, Voldemort’s un-Slytherin fanaticism and radicalism suggests that he should have been put in Gryffindor…

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Neville Morley 12.15.13 at 3:31 pm

Well, well. Went onto the Pottermore site for an official ruling, as many people on here seem to have done, and have been put into Gryffindor. That’ll learn me; not sure if the main issue is my self-awareness or their algorithms. I suppose someone has to be Percy Weasley…

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bianca steele 12.15.13 at 5:04 pm

helps hide their existence from the Muggle hordes

I guess I’m just reading it wrong–and I’m not English, which probably doesn’t help–but in the first book there’s a sense that the wizards, at least of the time of Harry’s rediscovery, want to be able to walk freely among Muggles, dress in their characteristic way, and so on. A parallel seemed to me to be if one was to suddenly see larger numbers of women in shopping malls in Massachusetts going on in the hijab. And a parallel between wizards and Muslims is obviously totally wrong. So probably I’m just overreading that bit in the first book.

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Lawrence Stuart 12.15.13 at 5:59 pm

Ugh. As a Hufflepuffian, I must contest Rowlings narrative logic. She sees only a battle between good and evil, whereas as a down to earth badger boy, I see things from a temporally much longer, and ethically more nuanced perspective.

Hufflepuff is the house of spring, of Romance and the sunrise.

Gryffindor is of course the house of summer, of comedy and the shadowless noontide.

Ravenclaw is the house of autumn, of tragedy and the sunset.

Slytherin is the house of winter, of irony and the dark midnight.

Seen from my perspective, the battle between Gryffindors and Slytherins is pure idiocy, and arises from your simplistic natures. Poor creatures fighting a stupid Manichean battle over nothing at all. Because as both Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs know, both the noon and the midnight will pass. The great cycles turn, and it is in fact the great cycles that constitute truth. We (Huffs and Ravens both) know this because complexity is baked into our Weltanschauungen.

You poor Gryffs and Slythers (and Rowlings, it seems), see only black and white. We see the whole of the prismatic spectra, though from opposite ends.

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Michael Cain 12.15.13 at 6:09 pm

That’s not so much your reading as JKR’s writing, surely – it’s spelt out in the last book (and suggested as early as the last chapter of GoF).

You think that, and I think that, but you don’t see much in the way of literary critics that think that. You see criticism that Harry doesn’t go through the moral development classic heroes are supposed to — but that’s a feature of the story of Dumbledore as the master manipulator, not a bug. Dumbledore doesn’t need a moral Harry, he needs a Harry that will respond in certain ways given certain circumstances (also a Neville Longbottom). You don’t see any discussion about the moral questions inherent in Dumbledore’s “ends justify the means” manipulation of children and teenagers.

Of course, I read LoTR as Gandalf running around like a madman trying to maneuver all of his pieces into the right places at the right time in order to defeat Sauron.

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Consumatopia 12.15.13 at 6:32 pm

I thought the wizards basically already did rule the world. They can rewrite the UK Prime Minister’s memories, can’t they? Is there any reason to think that any other muggle leader is less vulnerable to them?

The wizards don’t seem to be pushing the world that they rule to maximum capacity. They aren’t living on magic plantations with muggle slaves (though maybe they did?). They aren’t having muggles doing the hard labor of building magic rocket ships so they could rule time and space like Time Lords (maybe Voldemort would if he won?).

My explanation is that they’re afraid of doing anything that might result in shifting power among wizards. If I’m a wizard, nothing is going to frighten me more than the possibility that other wizards will mind-rape me. If you have any power in the wizarding world, that sort of thing has to be your primary concern. Exploiting muggle labor is too much of a distraction, perhaps even a vulnerability.

I thought it was pretty clear that Rowling/Dumbledore/Harry hated the Dementors, Azkaban, the wizarding justice system, and the basic barbarisms like that. I’m not sure if there was any explicit connection made between the wizarding world’s habit (even among the good guys) of deceiving and mind controlling muggles and the ease Voldemort has in subverting magical institutions, though that’s fairly obvious.

re:sorting, Ravenclaw just because wizarding politics is even more annoying than muggle politics. Feeling obligated to pick a side when Gryffindor and Slytherin squabble would get really irritating.

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onymous 12.15.13 at 6:42 pm

The recommendation of Amends somehow got past my I-am-not-a-person-who-reads-fanfic self-image (as HPMoR did before) and my plans to do some useful things this weekend are totally shot. That is some really absorbing writing.

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dn 12.15.13 at 11:39 pm

On reflection, it kind of seems to me like Rowling’s four-sided adjectival descriptions of the House traits are actually cover for a much simpler classification on two axes:

Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs are noble do-gooders, Slytherins and Ravenclaws aren’t.
(Substitute “preachy busybodies” if you are in one of the latter two.)
Gryffindors and Slytherins are daring adventurers, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws aren’t.
(Substitute “inconsiderate troublemakers” if etc.)

Ravenclaw is supposedly the House of clever people, but the actual Ravenclaws in the books mostly aren’t noticeably smarter than the rest; they just tend to be solipsists or wallflowers or otherwise aloof. Hence why Ravenclaw is (as I think someone noted somewhere way up the thread) the most ill-developed House; they are the most un-Gryffindorish, and such alien beings are likely not to feature much in such a Gryffindor-centric story. (G and S are natural antagonists, G and H natural allies, but G and R just kind of ignore each other.)

Harry and company’s best friends outside of Gryffindor seem to be the pompous-but-likeable Hufflepuffs like Ernie Macmillan or Susan Bones, while the main group tend not to match up well with Ravenclaws (see: Cho Chang, Marietta Edgecombe, Michael Corner, Padma Patil). The exception is Luna, whose unconventionality makes her sympathetic rather than cold-seeming. Luna is also distinctive in that her dedication to the DA, more than anyone else’s, is based on intense personal loyalty to Harry and company rather than interest in the actual activity.

(Yep, upon review I’m still a Ravenclaw, although now I have delusions of Hufflepuff too. Still no great desire to be a Gryffindor, though. In hobbit terms, I’m distinctly un-Tookish; would like to be a Brandybuck, probably am more realistically a Baggins.)

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Steve Williams 12.15.13 at 11:43 pm

re Quidditch, Cricket & Rugby

As a Potter-reading, football-loving teen, Quidditch was always the worst bit of the books for me. To say Quidditch is a cross between rugby and cricket is wholly unsatisfactory – both of these sports have scoring systems entirely logical to the effort required to score the points. Manifestly, Quidditch doesn’t.

The most interesting comparison are to the Association and American brands of football – in both of these sports tactical formation changes comprise a large element of the skill in producing a winning team. I seem to recall that Quidditch has set numbers of players in any one role, or at least that’s how it’s introduced, but how does the referee actually enforce this once the participants have taken off? The most logical formation would be to have 2 or 3 skilled dodgers of Bludgers playing the Quaffle game, whose role is not even to do much of anything except keep your team’s scoring deficit to less than 150 points, and have everybody else looking for the Snitch. Maybe it’s not very sporting, or in the rules of the game, but what can the ref do about that when you’re on your broomstick?

Of course, playing the game like this would make this bizarrely popular spectator sport worse for viewers on the ground, but it’s a real oversight to imagine that teams would care about this. At the very least it shows a blank unfamiliarity with the work of Tony Pulis.

To anticipate the obvious objections, yes it’s just a made-up sport and generally irrelevant to the overall story arc, and obviously Rowling just isn’t that interested in sport and that’s fine and dandy, but nobody forced her make this stupid sport such a centrepiece of the Potterverse, and it’s not like she couldn’t have introduced another one later when it’s manifest inadequacies were being pointed out. Instead, we’re to believe that 100,000 wizards and witches place themselves in actual danger to watch a World Cup final where all of the real action takes place out of sight.

I guess at least this helps explain why so many children are born to one-magic-one-muggle pairings – the sport-loving wizards and witches are meeting muggles at Barcelona home games when they pop back to muggle-land.

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Greg Sanders 12.16.13 at 12:13 am

@Sumana 144:

Basically Ron as of chapter 5 wasn’t just not husband material, or not boyfriend material, he wasn’t really friend material. Not to say that the downsides can’t be addressed and given new prominence from a different point of view. But one of the things I do want from fanfic is a feel that the piece covers in an interesting manner even the characters it doesn’t particularly like. If Ron’s flaw is loyalty, he should at least be showing some loyalty to Hermione and her troubles.

I’ve got no trouble breaking them up, but I do want a feel for what she saw in him in the first place.

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Sumana Harihareswara 12.16.13 at 1:33 am

@Greg 163: Totally reasonable! Thanks for your explanation.

I think the Hermione of Amends got together with Ron basically in the passion of wartime, because they were soldiers in arms together, and because she found him physically attractive. And, given that Hermione made herself an orphan by sending her parents away, perhaps she, like Harry, really sought the comfort of having parents-in-law in Molly and Arthur. But perhaps Ron was a lot more independent-minded, or at least reasonable to talk to, away from his family than he is at the Burrow.

This isn’t spelled out in Amends, but I think the fic’s Burrow ends up as a cauldron (ha!) of dysfunctional relationships; Molly, George, and Ron, who really make it their home, don’t come off well. The Weasleys who show much more sympathetic sides — Percy, Bill, Arthur, and (eventually) Ginny — are the strivers who often escape the Burrow for business away. My hypothesis is that Vera Rozalsky is portraying Ron as someone who reverts to childishness and unthinking prejudice when living in his old bedroom and coming down to breakfast with jerky George and busybody Molly every day.

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Belle Waring 12.16.13 at 2:23 am

The movies created a separate looks problem. I remember before the 1st one came out, there was a lot of expectation/advance-kvetching. (The series wasn’t done so I guess we were all worried the movies might affect the books somehow?) When the announced the casting of the three unknowns, as far as I remember, everyone in the world was like, “shiiiit, that’s Harry, Hermione, and Ron, right there!” But then time passed and as the series of movies was ending everyone in the world felt that Ron was punching waaaay above his weight class.

158: I felt the people in the poisoned cup Dumbledore had to empty in order for he and Harry to get the Horcrux were the casualties of this long-term manipulation, right? Even the future casualties, perhaps?

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Greg Sanders 12.16.13 at 2:28 am

@Sumana 164

Thanks for the hypothesizing. That does fit with what I read.

My preferred approach would probably be a Burrows that was stifling for Hermione, a lovable striver to the bone, versus being just straight up objectively unpleasant. That said, some of the virtues of the series still sound pretty cool and were already being hinted at in the early parts, so I’ll give it a bit more time.

Do you recommend any particular chapter as the “if this doesn’t hook you, nothing will” point?

167

shah8 12.16.13 at 3:07 am

Alexander Hamilton–Slytherin
James Madison–Ravenclaw
George Washington–Gryffindor
Thomas Jefferson–Hufflepuff

168

Mark Field 12.16.13 at 3:25 am

Jefferson was definitely a Slytherin. I can’t see characterizing any successful politician as a Hufflepuff.

169

Sumana Harihareswara 12.16.13 at 4:58 am

Greg, I’ll think about that!

170

clew 12.16.13 at 9:48 am

I also think I would feel obliged to turn in a friend who had killed someone — and then stick around for all the legal support, prison visiting, paperwork wrangling, jobsearching (?) afterwards. Which would be complicated by the fact that I think nearly everyone would disapprove of this strategy.

tl;dr: Hufflepuff.

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Phil 12.16.13 at 10:47 am

Hence why Ravenclaw is (as I think someone noted somewhere way up the thread) the most ill-developed House; they are the most un-Gryffindorish

So it’s not (pace the Sorting Hat) Hufflepuff that takes ‘the rest’, it’s Ravenclaw. If, deep down, you answer No to “want to have adventures?” and “want to make the world a better place?”, then your role in this school is (just) to read books and learn stuff. Bor-ring! (As I said earlier on, JKR is fascinated by geniuses but doesn’t seem to have any interest in clever people, or in writing them in an interesting or convincing way – along with team games, political economy, criminal justice, magic, boarding schools etc.)

OK, so why isn’t Hermione in Hufflepuff?

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Z 12.16.13 at 2:14 pm

That the battle is between Dumbledore and Voldemort, and while Harry is an important tool… That’s not so much your reading as JKR’s writing, surely… You think that, and I think that, but you don’t see much in the way of literary critics that think that

I think the canonical reading is that Dumbledore saw it this way, at least in the beginning, but that this is why he failed, ultimately. In JKR’s fantasy world, wisdom, power, heroism, knowledge, cleverness etc. etc. amount in the end to nothing: the only way to a good life (and to defeat evil) is to care for the other (that incidentally makes the Harry Potter series quite faithful to the spirit of the original late medieval literature it draws its iconography from; holy grail and all that). Of course, Dumbledore’s failure is not complete, because he learned to care about Harry, Snape or even Malfoy in a way that he never did towards Harry’s parents, or his sister for instance. But in the end, it should be understood (I think, but that is explicitly spelled out in the otherworldly encounter with Dumbledore in book 7, as well as very strongly present at the end of book 5 and 6) that JKR wants us to realize that Dumbledore’s plan failed in spirit, if not in fact. BTW, the only non-failing character in that respect are Harry (of course), Lily (doubly of course) and Snape (of all people).

In LoTR, I think the authorial intent (even more explicitly laid out in the appendix) is indeed that Gandalf succeeded, perhaps even to a wider extent than he himself assumed.

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MPAVictoria 12.16.13 at 2:18 pm

“that JKR wants us to realize that Dumbledore’s plan failed in spirit”

Just curious how you think he failed? Didn’t his plan succeed or did I miss something?

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Z 12.16.13 at 2:37 pm

Just curious how you think he failed? Didn’t his plan succeed or did I miss something?

His plan succeeded in fact, but for JKR (not a Slytherin at all, obviously), it succeeded despite Dumbledore’s flaws and thanks to Harry’s greatness (not the other way around). If you want pages and verses, it is straight from DH chapter 35 (“I crave your pardon [...] you are a better man [...] I was no better than Voldemort” etc. etc.) as well as (in good part) in DH33 and HBP26 (“it’s my fault [...] don’t hurt them [...] I am not worried, I’m with you” etc. etc.). Dumbledore’s plan (in his youth) was to establish himself as philosopher king of both wizards and muggles, and in that he failed dramatically killing (directly or indirectly) his sister in the process; in its old age, his plan was to engineer a perfect weapon against Voldemort, but Harry did not succeed by virtue of being a carefully honed weapon, he succeeded because he cared enough for others to face death for them. Not flight from it, as Vol de Mort tried, not try to dominate it by power and knowledge, as Dumbledore did, but face it as a simple human being.

That I think is the intended reading. Of course, anyone is free to recast the story as a masterplan carefully orchestrated by Dumbledore, but that interpretation would left many strange things unexplained. If you are familiar with the medieval literature I alluded to above, you can compare with Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, which follows the same emotional logic.

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MPAVictoria 12.16.13 at 3:30 pm

Thank you Z! I will have to think about all of that.

176

DaveL 12.16.13 at 3:31 pm

The explanation for quidditch and for wizards not ruling the world is similar: wizards are almost all nutcases who can barely cooperate with each other. That means the quidditch matches are not between teams so much as individuals, one of whom is the hero. If a wizard started to conquer the world, another wizard would fight him, etc.

The houses seem to me to mirror 19th-20th century British class structure: aristocrats (Slytherin), entrepreneurs (Gryffindor), intellectuals (Ravenclaw), and the rest of the middle class (Hufflepuff). Muggles are the lower classes, as they are almost beneath contempt.

Ravenclaw with a touch of Gryffindor, here.

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dn 12.16.13 at 4:36 pm

Phil @171 – It’s kind of hard for me to suss out what Rowling thinks of clever people; on the one hand she seems to not have much to say about them, on the other she rather seems like one herself given the evidence of the books (much longer on clever humor than on philosophical nuance).

It may be instead that she really just doesn’t get introverts. (How is it that the only way she could think of to make a Ravenclaw sympathetic was to make her a space case who gets bullied all the time?) Or it may be that she wants to write a ripping good adventure yarn and it’s hard to do that when your characters just want to read a book or play Dungeons and Dragons all evening.

I think in the case of Hermione it’s very much a case of her being consciously written by Rowling as a younger version of herself. She really wants Hermione to reflect herself, but also naturally portrays Hermione a little more idealistically than she would another character. In the first book there was a theme that Hermione really wants to be more like Harry, which was pretty quickly resolved by Hermione’s casting off her aversion to rule-breaking and risk-taking whenever she judges it morally important (which is whenever it really matters, her being the smartest and most perceptive and all). Hence, a Gryffindor. (I’m being a little uncharitable here, of course. Hermione is certainly more complex than this. But I think it is reasonably true.)

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dn 12.16.13 at 5:30 pm

TL;DR: Rowling can’t treat Ravenclaws as good guys unless they first become honorary Gryffindors. (Hence, both Hermione and Dumbledore. And Luna, really.)

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JanieM 12.16.13 at 7:04 pm

Z: Harry did not succeed by virtue of being a carefully honed weapon, he succeeded because he cared enough for others to face death for them. Not flight from it, as Vol de Mort tried, not try to dominate it by power and knowledge, as Dumbledore did, but face it as a simple human being.

This. It’s a wonderful framing, and it articulates something I’ve never been able to put clearly into words: the reason why the ending was so powerful for me, and made me reassess the whole series.

The first Harry Potter came out when my kids were young/old enough to enjoy it (10 or 11). I read the first five more or less in parallel with them, getting over my urge to say “Well, it isn’t Lord of the Rings” long enough to recognize that JKR certainly knew how to make me keep turning pages. But I got bored with #5 and didn’t read the rest.

Years later, my by-then-grown daughter dragged me to the first Deathly Hallows movie and I ended up liking it a lot. (I’m not much of a movie person, to put it mildly.) Wanting to pick up what I’d missed, I went back and read 5, 6, and 7, then immediately reread the whole series all in a row. (And I’ve rereread 7 a couple of times since then.)

It’s possible — see this long thread — to pick away at the books from any number of directions (I’m reminded of how much unhappiness there was over The Silmarillion when it came out, a lot of which could have been boiled down and translated as “It isn’t LOTR”). But here we all are talking about it, and besides, as Belle said, she is free to tell me my 7-book series, which unites all the children of the world in the love of reading, is conceptually flawed as well

[Ravenclaw, at least according to Pottermore. But I flipped a coin on more questions than just the coin flip, and I’m the last person to be unmurky enough to belong to just one box.]

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JanieM 12.16.13 at 7:27 pm

I’m reminded of how much unhappiness….

This was just a side note about critiquing a book because it wasn’t a different book; I didn’t mean to say that people are critiquing JKR because she didn’t write another LOTR.

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Phil 12.17.13 at 9:59 am

she rather seems like one herself given the evidence of the books (much longer on clever humor than on philosophical nuance).

Depends what you mean by ‘clever’ – given the second half of your sentence we may be violently agreeing. (Calling a spell ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ is clever in one sense and not in another.) I guess I’m saying she doesn’t have much time for the Life of the Mind, except in those rare, freakish cases where it develops to the point of changing the world. So Dumbledore and Voldemort are yer proper mages, but all the other characters who display an interest in thinking about things are either figures of fun (Flitwick, Xenophilus Lovegood) or hiding something (Lockhart, Snape). The key qualification for coming out well as a teacher seems to be “good with animals” (Hagrid, Lupin, Dumbledore).

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Phil 12.17.13 at 11:06 am

Also, Pottermore puts me in Ravenclaw! Ha! ‘Fresh parchment’ was a dead giveaway, but I’m not sure how (if?) the other questions worked.

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dn 12.17.13 at 4:18 pm

I think we’re violently agreeing. Rowling’s cleverness is the kind that comes up with character names like Voldemort or Remus Lupin, rather than the kind that can make any sense of the time-travel paradox at the end of book three. As I say – to really be a good guy in Rowling’s universe you have to become an honorary Gryffindor, or at least a Hufflepuff (either by being unaccountably Sorted into one of those Houses, or by acting in such a manner that you should have been). For instance, as I recall there are a couple of Ravenclaws who are DA members in the later books. Their personalities are entirely blank. The only thing we know about them is that they’re in the DA, which ought to make them Gryffindors by default; there’s no discernable reason why Rowling would make them Ravenclaws except so that the forgotten House would be represented. Most of the named Ravenclaws who actually have personalities clash rather spectacularly with the Gryffindors. (There are some seemingly really smart characters who are unambiguous good guys, like McGonagall or Kingsley, but the salient characteristic that makes them good guys is still their moralism and their daring rather than their smarts.)

Rowling’s just not much of an “idea” person. Because she has no interest in Big Ideas beyond her basic moral messages, there’s no reason for her to portray those ideas, and hence no reason for smart people to exist in her stories except as a mechanism for exposition, or as a deus ex machina whenever Harry finds himself in a sticky situation.

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MPAVictoria 12.17.13 at 10:52 pm

Going to once again take this opportunity to plug her new book, The Cuckoo’s Calling published under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”. I very much enjoyed this mystery novel. It had interesting characters and better than average writing. Check it out.

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Doug K 12.18.13 at 5:24 am

too dim for Ravensclaw, too lazy for Hufflepuff, me for Dog Boy in the lean-to against Hagrid’s shack..

parts of HPMOR are excellent, but the Hermione offing rather soured it. He is promising a grand reconciliation of all the plot lines in 2014.

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Collin Street 12.18.13 at 7:39 am

(There are some seemingly really smart characters who are unambiguous good guys, like McGonagall or Kingsley, but the salient characteristic that makes them good guys is still their moralism and their daring rather than their smarts.)

… but this is true of all people, surely? Being smart isn’t in-and-of-itself enough to make you a good guy, last I checked: it’s what you do that you’re judged on.

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Phil 12.18.13 at 9:19 am

Spoken like a Gryffindor.

Being intelligent doesn’t make you a good person, but it does offer ways of being good which don’t depend on doing stuff. Look no further than the end of HPatPS, where the bold knucklehead Harry only reaches the prize thanks to Ron and Hermione thinking their way through – an effect that’s undercut rather by Hermione describing ‘her’ puzzle (correctly) as childishly simple and Ron being Ron (and never being portrayed as a chess whiz ever again). Perhaps JKR thought that having a real puzzle would involve her in too much irrelevant exposition (“You see, Harry, what Miss Grainger understood is that the angle subtended at the centre of a circle is always double the size of the angle subtended at the edge from the same two points”). But it didn’t have to be that way…

The room was full of darting, fluttering shapes. With a jolt Harry realised that they were all keys – keys, bewitched with a Flying Charm to fly around the room, fluttering like small fluttering flying things [Not as easy as it looks, this stuff.] “Numbers!” Ron called out suddenly. “They’ve all got numbers! And look, there’s a sign on the far wall…

“THE NUMBER OF THE KEY YOU SEEK
IS NOT TO BE FOUND BY INNUMERATE BOOBS

["RUBES" in the American edition]
‘TIS THE LOWEST NUMBER EXPRESSIBLE TWICE
AS THE SUM OF A PAIR OF CUBES.”

“1729!” Hermione squealed. Harry and Ron stared blankly. “Oh, come on – obviously it’s 1729! Hasn’t either of you read… oh, never mind.”

Hermione does occasionally use her mysterious art of book-larnin’ to get the gang out of scrapes, but her expertise usually just consists of finding the page headed Here Is The Solution – and by the fourth book they’re all at it, leafing doggedly through ancient tomes until the answer jumps out, much like the Scoobies in Buffy.

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dn 12.18.13 at 4:02 pm

Collin @186 – No, no, you misunderstand me. It’s not “morality”, it’s “moralism”. These are people who never have to think about right and wrong. Right and wrong are built into the Potterverse in such a way that thinking about it is seldom needed. That way “daring” becomes the most important virtue. (Obviously magic is what makes this possible and convincing in our irreligious age. Rowling can just invent a category of “dark magic”, obviously a bad thing, and have it be taken for granted; if this were a naturalistic tale that would never fly.)

One of my favorite quotes is from the Japanese philosopher and proponent of folk art Yanagi Soetsu: “If we see clearly, there is no time to hesitate.” In real life, seeing clearly is a great challenge, but seldom for Harry and friends; only in Book 7 when he’s confronted for the first time with the idea that Dumbledore might not always be right. And ultimately he succeeds not because he really thinks it through, but because he is an essentially good person, and therefore his guess, by the laws of magic, can’t go wrong.

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onymous 12.20.13 at 1:29 am

Now I found time to finish reading Amends and it’s really annoying that it isn’t finished and may never be. Arg.

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Collin Street 12.20.13 at 1:41 am

@dn: ah I see. yes.

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Bostoniangirl 12.20.13 at 3:03 am

I took an online sorting-hat personality test. It told me that I am definitely not a Slytherin which I knew. I am basically tied between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, but I think that I *want* to be in Gryffindor.

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Mark Field 12.20.13 at 4:04 am

@189: I found an update on the author’s page dated Sept. 2013 in which she says she’s still working on it. Keep your fingers crossed.

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