SUPERVERSIVE: So You Made It Into Hufflepuff

Tuesday , 9, February 2016 28 Comments

Hello again, and Happy Superversive Tuesday! To continue my theme from last post, I’m going to talk about something completely different. Something personal. Namely…

J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site has sorted me into Hufflepuff.

Hufflepuff is noteworthy in the Harry Potter series for being supremely un-noteworthy (“A Very Potter Musical” famously lampshades this after the end of its opening number “Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts” with the immortal line “What the hell is a Hufflepuff?”). The Hufflepuff we know the best is Cedric Diggory. Diggory is a fine character, but he probably doesn’t even rank in the series’ top twenty most interesting. Even in “Goblet of Fire” we just don’t learn that much about him, except that he’s apparently an honorable man, a hard worker, and a capable wizard. Besides that – nothing.

But I’ve always had a soft spot for Hufflepuff, and always thought of myself as one. Besides the fact that yellow is my favorite color, its description in “Philosopher’s Stone” always appealed to me: Hufflepuffs are just. Hufflepuffs are loyal. Hufflepuffs are patient. Hufflepuffs are honest. Hufflepuffs are hard workers. The “Goblet of Fire” Sorting Hat song brings up hard workers again but also makes a point of saying that Helga Hufflepuff is “sweet” – so we can probably safely add kindness to the list of Hufflepuff traits.

So far, this all sounds reasonable, and fits into Rowling’s world well. Patient, kind, honest, hard-working, and just are all the sorts of non-flashy qualities that could theoretically give Hufflepuff the reputation as the “loser” house, but unfairly. They’re not flashy, but they’re good qualities to have. The world is a better place for them. They’re the types of qualities I tend to admire even if I don’t have all of them myself (all of my friends who see the word “kind” on this list are laughing right about now).

Don’t get me wrong – I value bravery, intelligence, and…okay, I don’t value Slytherin. Ambition, I guess? I’m not ambitious. But those other two! I just think that the sorts of qualities Hufflepuff House supposedly represents don’t get the respect they really deserve. Kindness is underrated.

So, I’d be quite pleased with my pick as a Hufflepuff House member….If not for this, from the book five Sorting Hat song:

For instance, Slytherin

Took only pure-blood wizards

Of great cunning, just like him,

And 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

Retained friendships firm and true.

“She took the rest”

“She took the rest”

Okay. So maybe Hufflepuff doesn’t pick students with dependable, useful, non-flashy but underrated qualities. Apparently, Hufflepuff just takes the rejects.

Yeah.

We’ve hit, by the way, on the biggest flaw of Rowling’s House system. She pays lip service to people overcoming the expectations set by the house they’re sorted in, but in reality characters who are part of Slytherin are evil, characters who are in Gryffindor are good, and the middle two houses don’t matter. Rowling at least has the decency to add in Luna Lovegood, a Ravenclaw and one of the series’ most interesting and beloved characters, but in Hufflepuff…well, there’s Tonks. Except that we’re never actually told Tonks is a Hufflepuff until after the series is over. And let’s not even get into all of the problems with Rowling’s portrayal of Slytherin House.

Perhaps the worst line in the entire series comes from one of the best chapters in the series, “The Prince’s Tale” from Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore is talking to Snape about Voldemort’s impending return:

[Snape said] “Karkaroff’s Mark is becoming darker too. He is panicking, he fears retribution; you know how much help he gave the Ministry after the Dark Lord fell.” Snape looked sideways at Dumbeldore’s crooked-nosed profile. “Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns.”

“Does he?” said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. “And are you tempted to join him?”

“No,” said Snape, his black eyes upon Fleur’s and Roger’s retreating figures. “I am not such a coward.”

“No,” agreed Dumbledore. “You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I think sometimes we Sort too soon….”

There you have it. One of our three semi-sort-of-kind-of heroic Slytherins in the series (along with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy – four if you count Regulus Black) is told that he is too heroic to be a Slytherin. Rowling’s utter contempt for Slytherin House couldn’t be any clearer.

Rowling also has an unfortunate tendency to shoehorn characters in where they don’t belong to fit her pre-ordained roles for each House. Take Remus Lupin. Lupin is a Gryffindor, but…come on. Remus is clearly a Hufflepuff. He is kind, he is a diligent worker, patient with students (and Snape), and unflinchingly loyal, literally to a fault. Sure, he does lie to Dumbledore a couple of times, but ultimately his guilt lead him to confessing both times, and in any case I don’t think this really does any more to disqualify him from Hufflepuff House than being too afraid to call out his friends’ bullying behavior or tell Dumbledore his suspicions about Sirius Black disqualify him from being a Gryffindor.

Remus is certainly brave. But when you think of the qualities that most define Remus Lupin, you think of his kindness towards Harry and his steadfast loyalty to his friends, his two most admirable traits. You don’t think of his bravery. Remus Lupin very obviously should have been a Hufflepuff. He even marries a Hufflepuff. The problem is that this wouldn’t work in Rowling’s world, because Remus is friends with James. In the Potterverse somebody who became James Potter’s best friend had to be a Gryffindor.

From another perspective, Luna Lovegood can be a Ravenclaw, but Hermione Granger cannot be, because it destroys Rowling’s concept of Gryffindor as the house with all of the most important positive characters.

Book five is where Rowling finally admits all of this. She doesn’t even attempt to give the Slytherins positive traits (pure-blooded and cunning?), and by the time she reaches Hufflepuff she admits what has always been the implication and flat-out states that it’s the reject house, for the people too unexceptional to go anywhere else. It’s gym class all over again: These are the students who weren’t picked for dodgeball.

What’s disappointing is that there’s no real reason Rowling had to go in this direction. Remus could have been a Hufflepuff. Warrington, the Slytherin, instead of Cedric could have been the Triwizard Champion, giving Slytherin House much more nuance if Rowling decided to portray him as something other than a pure villain. Slytherin as the house for the ambitious and crafty (people who are creative problem solvers and who always manage to land in advantageous positions) and Hufflepuff as the house for dependable people who don’t have easily noticed good qualities are good ideas as-is, but Rowling unfortunately never follows through.

And so, we come around back to me: A Hufflepuff. What should I think about this?

The Honey Badger is not impressed

On reflection, I’m still pretty happy about it. Maybe Rowling eventually came to see it as the reject house, but you know what? Badgers are badass. Don’t underestimate us. And those qualities that Hufflepuff originally stood for, kindness, loyalty, patience, truth, and diligence, are still qualities that I admire. Rowling might think we’re losers, but I don’t think we have to be. I think that potential is still there. And that’s the type of Hufflepuff I want to be.

There’s another dimension to Hufflepuff’s decision to take in the rejected students. In one sense, it makes Hufflepuff the loser house – but there’s more to it than that. It also makes Hufflepuff the wisest house.

Hear me out here. Is it really a good idea to be telling children exactly what their strongest and most important qualities are at the age of eleven? Is this healthy? Think of all of the trouble this causes at Hogwarts. In book five, the Sorting Hat warns the student body to come together in the face of the impending threat, and even questions the wisdom of sorting itself. Slytherin has the reputation as the house of dark wizards, so why would you wants children to grow up with that type of stigma?

The issues surrounding sorting didn’t even seem to occur to the most intelligent of the founders, Rowena Ravenclaw…but they did occur to one founder: Helga Hufflepuff.

Hufflepuff didn’t see students as a sort of symbol of her favored characteristics. She saw them as people – as individuals. Hufflepuff wasn’t interested in sorting them – in dividing them based on things they couldn’t choose rather than things they could. Because, again, while Rowling pays lip service to choice – after all, one of the most famous lines in the series (and rightly so) is “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” – the entire concept of the Sorting Hat is inherently anti-choice, if not at that moment, then in the long term. What characteristics are supposed to define you are to be discerned at the age of eleven and are to follow you for, at least, the rest of your time at Hogwarts. Your choices after the Hat sorts you don’t matter.

Hufflepuff didn’t put that sort of pressure on her students – and in that very real sense Hufflepuffs have the most potential of any of the Hogwarts Houses. To misquote Dumbledore, in Hufflepuff it is our choices that make us who we really are, far more than our abilities.

You can actually “logic out” Hufflepuff’s traits from there. What sorts of students would the other three houses reject? Why, the ones who aren’t obviously extraordinary, who aren’t necessarily world shakers, but whose best qualities are quiet strengths like hard work and kindness. So of course that’s what Hufflepuff house came to represent.

I’m digging the common room too.

And you know what? The world needs more Hufflepuffs. There’s more to us badgers than meets the eye.

(Would you believe that there’s remarkably little Hufflepuff merchandise out there? Shocking, I know. All I wanted to do was get a lousy backpack, and the only one I could find was 60 dollars! Yikes. Maybe I’ll spring for a snow cap one day.)

28 Comments
  • VD says:

    You have inadvertently stumbled upon the dirty little secret of the astonishingly successful Harry Potter series.

    It is exceedingly stupid.

    Consider the rules of quidditch. I mean, think about them. It’s not a functional sport. It would be as if, during an NBA basketball game, one member of each team stood at the far end of the court throwing tennis balls at the hoop.

    If the tennis ball goes in, that team scores 100 points and the game ends. Thereby, you will note, rendering all the other activity moot. So, quidditch is really just hunt-the-whatever; all the other activity is totally irrelevant.

    Rowling’s gift is vivid characters. I believe that is what accounts for the larger portion of her success. But her world-building and her plots are so illogical, so impossible, as to be self-parody.

    • Anthony M says:

      I had a long comment that got deleted, but the short version is that the series seems smart when you first read it and is mostly well-executed, but it falls apart completely with 30 seconds of thought. Still a lot of good stuff in there though.

  • Alex says:

    On the other hand, having House Villain makes it easy to round up the usual suspects or keep any potential trouble makers on lock-down in time of crisis. At one point, don’t they give the order to basically lock up everyone in House Slytherin? The world of Harry Potter is a frightfully authoritarian one.

    You might get a kick out of this. It’s one of my favorite pieces ever written on the subject of inexplicable system of government in the wizarding world.

    https://gtourial91.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/harry-potter-and-the-politburo-of-magic/

    • Anthony M says:

      The impression I got is that there were elections. And the Wizengamot was supposed to be a sort of combination parliament/judicial system to keep a check on the Ministry.

      • Alex says:

        I’ve only seen the movies; in the books, is the Ministry of Magic answerable to the British Parliament? Parliamentary elections in the wizarding world certainly would’ve made for a great subplot, one that would certainly justify all of the bureaucratic conspiracies post-Goblet of Fire.

      • Anthony says:

        No, they were not subject to the muggle parliament. There’s an entertaining scene in one of the first two chapters of “The Half-Blood Prince” where Rowling explains the relationship between the muggle Prime Minister and the British Minister of Magic – essentially, the Minister of Magic keeps the muggle Minister abreast of goings on in the wizarding world.

        My impression with Fudge was this: Fudge was mid-term in office. When he was sacked, a replacement was appointed rather than voted on for the simple reason that Fudge was not voted out, but impeached (as he put it, sacked).

        At least, that’s how it seems to me. According to Pottermore the Wizengamot is older than the Ministry, which is why it also works as a partial check on its power (it’s why, even when the ministry was totally stacked against Harry in book five, the Wizengamot still acquitted him).

    • Anthony M says:

      (It is funny, though.)

  • I agree, the Hogwarts House System is great in concept and sadly lacking in execution. The Slytherin House–of which I am a proud member–is portrayed as being evil for the sake of being evil.

    The scene in the last movie where the House Slytherin is rounded up and imprisoned en masse is, in my opinion, where the whole structure falls apart.

    Not one Slytherin could be loyal to Hogwarts, and not a single member of any other house could doubt the wisdom of a group of students holding off an army of experienced wizards?

    Slytherin doesn’t even get to claim the “virtue” that Rowlings tells us was the house’s founding principle. In theory, Slytherins should be the most talented and powerful wizards, but in the books all of the best wizards are in Gryffendor. (With the exception of Tom Riddle–who shouldn’t have been sorted into Slytherin in the first place, if all they take are purebloods.)

    There is not one single positive Slytherin character. (And no, Snape doesn’t count–his 11th hour heel/face turn is pure Twilight Zone ending and implies nothing good about the character.)

    Sigh. I may have to write “So You Made It Into Slytherin”.

    • Alex says:

      Once you get past the colored glass, it ends up looking as stupidbad as castes in Divergent!

      On the other hand (and this is probably giving Rowling way more credit than she deserves), the sorting hat could be a riff on the old line about how Hollywood figured out they could save a lot of time on exposition by putting the bad guys in black hats.

      “Hmmm, I wonder if Harry Potter will end up in House Bad Guy!? I bet he’d be good at being a bad guy! Nah, he’s the main character; Harry Potter – House Good Guy!”

      To me the biggest crock was the House Cup. “And because Harry and his friends are the main characters, 5 points Gryffindor! In a surprising turn of events, House Gryffindor wins!”

    • Anthony says:

      Please, write that article! I’d love to see it.

  • Koanic says:

    If people actually detected the stupidity behind superficial appearances the world would be a very different place.

  • Anthony says:

    I want to make it clear that my critique is made with much fondness. I actually think the books are, overall, very good. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to their flaws either.

    • Alex says:

      Picking things apart is a special kind of nerd-love; if you weren’t invested, you wouldn’t notice all of the things that irk you!

  • Astrosorceror says:

    The issue with the sorting is that it is rather superficial.

    For example, I could be sorted into nay of the four. I enjoy a good contest against evil, I have ambitions, a love for knowledge, and a desire to protect and care for people. Were we to go by what was dominant, it would very depending upon my circumstances.

    All of the main trio have major aspects of the other houses. Hermine is almost a perfect Ravensclaw, and the young Ron is a near perfect Hufflepuff with his compassion. Harry’s ambition to better his circumstances, and relentless self-confidence would make him an excellent Syltherin.

    I presume Rawling may have meant to have heroes of several different houses, but sadly simplified it to Gryffindore: Good, Slytherin: Evil, Others: Irrelevant.

    • Anthony says:

      I presume Rawling may have meant to have heroes of several different houses, but sadly simplified it to Gryffindore: Good, Slytherin: Evil, Others: Irrelevant.

      Well, yeah. That is literally exactly what I’m saying.

  • Mary says:

    The problem with the Houses is that the change of tone in the work meant they were straddling two tropes. There’s the Evil Side which can be fun in light works while being philosophically incoherent; there’s the serious treatment of a school where different wizards emphasized different virtues.

    I had fun once speculating about the Houses as the cardinal virtues. Courage is Gryffindor, of course, and Ravenclaw, Prudence (the ability to judge between good and evil — in general and in specific).

    Which leaves Justice and Temperance (also known as Self-Control). After re-reading and noting Cedric’s just behavior — when Harry told him about the dragons, he also had to assure Cedric that the other two know, and at the end, their argument turns on justice — and then noting that taking all the rest would be a willingness to render all students the education they are due — I conclude that Hufflepuff would be Justice, which leaves Temperance for Slytherin. And certainly if you squint at it, you can see how that House might turn on self-mastery.

    Squinting is, however, necessary.

    • No, I would say that Hufflepuff is Temperance and Slytherin is Justice. Temperance to me implies moderation and balance, and that fits the “all the rest” line–Hufflepuff is the house for those who are too even-tempered and well adjusted for the other houses.

      And Justice, in its most basic sense, is a desire that each person receive what she or he deserves. The Slytherin ideal (if not the execution) is a pure meritocracy. Power should be vested in those who have shown the ability to wield it. It is implied (if not stated directly) that the Ministry of Magic has a disproportionate number of Slytherin graduates–otherwise how could there be so many former Death Eaters in the ranks?

      While it’s clear that corruption and favoritism rotted the Ministry from within, I’d like to believe that most of those who originally sought a career in public service did so because they wanted to work for justice.

      • Mary says:

        As one of the cardinal virtues, Temperance means self-control, which includes all the moderation and balance stuff. (And not an intemperate denunciation of temperate drinking.)

        And power should be vested in those with ability is not justice except in Thrasymachus’s definition — which was pulled apart as long ago as its first appearance in Plato. Especially since we are explicitly told that they will use any means to get what they want — there are other factors besides ability in that.

    • Anthony says:

      Oh, there’s a ton that can be said at how the tonal change in the books affected the series as a whole.

      Both the lighter and darker halves of the series are well-executed, but taken as a whole it results in some jarring plot holes and inconsistencies, as well as some things that, while technically not contradictory, jar badly with the more realistic take of the second half of the series. One of the best examples is the House system: When the book is for kids, the House system works as a fine shorthand for good and evil, but when Rowling aged it up the Houses badly needed nuance that they never got (also, Dumbledore’s actions regarding the House Cup in book one look very bad when the series is looked at in a more serious light).

  • GRA says:

    Excellent article. Fun and insightful. Good job.

    I was sorted into Gryffindor. I know, be jelly. Honestly, I have a fondness for Hufflepuff and I would rather be sorted there instead.

    • Anthony says:

      Compliment appreciated! I must confess to some surprise at the overwhelmingly positive response. I originally wrote it as a “puff piece”, but kept going in and adding more pieces to it as ideas occurred to me. That people got so much out of it is a pleasant surprise.

  • Dyskord says:

    I think it was stated by Dumbledore that in the end its the student who chooses. As Harry was considered best for Slytherin but rejected the idea so the hat shouted Gryfindor as the second most suitable choice.

  • Deuce Richardson says:

    Good post, Anthony. An admirable defense of the “unsexy” virtues. Without Hufflepuffs, our world would grind to a raging, bloody halt in short order.

    Rowling’s half-ass world-building (along with other factors) irritated me so much, I never read beyond the first book. Somehow, I’m still able to sleep every night.

  • Christopher says:

    Anthony hits on flaws in Rowling’s series deftly – I’ve read the series, and when it first came out I was already older than the target demographic by a wide margin, but I was curious enough to see what all the hype was about. As much as I think the books were enjoyable overall, and if they got a lot of kids into reading that might not otherwise have been encouraged to start, then great. But on closer examination, the structural flaws have made it such that I haven’t felt any need to revisit them. The house structure and where the characters fit into that, especially has always seemed “off.” BTW – the pottermore site put me into Gryfinndor, with an elm wand with a unicorn hair – actually the wand description wasn’t a bad fit personality wise, so I’ll take it.

  • Marissa says:

    Frodo and Sam would have been Hufflepuffs.

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