From character archetypes last week to character analysis this week. One of the favorite pastimes of Harry Potter fans (other than complaining about Harry Potter stuff) is sorting characters who are not in Harry Potter into the four Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. There are a few schools of thought as to how to go about this. The simplest is the way that it appears to happen in the books — heroes in Gryffindor, villains in Slytherin, smart people in Ravenclaw, everyone else in Hufflepuff. This, to many, is quite reductive and does not fully encapsulate the complexities of what the houses have come to represent. However, this is also how the houses are seen within the general public due to the nature of how the books were written. Sorting characters is as much literary analysis and, specifically, character analysis, as much as it is kinda fun.
Short intro because we have a lot to cover.
Basis in Literary Analysis
To accomplish a sorting that isn’t reductive requires two very standard tools in the literary analysis tool set — close reading, and the Death of the Author. Close reading is self-explanatory; it’s going over the text with a fine-tooth comb to find any scrap of evidence that you can. The Death of the Author is a concept that does not require any actual death, but was introduced by Roland Barthes in his essay La Mort de l’Author. Its premise is that a work stands on its own, outside of the author and the author’s statements. Basically, you have to separate Hogwarts from J.K. Rowling and just look at the text within the 7 books. The mechanics of sorting within the book are the sole responsibility of the Sorting Hat, who is as much a character as it is an enchanted object and plot device. We learn the most about how sorting happens in its songs, as that is where the sorting hat describes the houses. Over the past 20 years, fans from all around the world debated and argued over how to interpret the qualities of these houses, how they worked within and without the school environment, and, yes, how characters from other works might fit within this system.
Of course, this leads to varying thoughts about how the sorting is done. Likewise, literary analysis as a whole has factions and camps that academics will either utilize or naturally gravitate towards and there are certain works that lend themselves to certain readings. From New Criticism, to Psychoanalytical and Feminist criticism, to analysis through the lenses of Biographical, Historical, and Cultural contexts, there are a great many ways to look at a work. When it comes to sorting, it generally comes down to four different interpretations. The first is character traits; if a character is particularly brave, loyal, intelligent, or ambitious, they might naturally gravitate towards a particular house. The second is character motivations; what a character wants, be it glory, justice, knowledge, power, etc, can often be as revealing as what they do to get there. The third is what characters admire in others; perhaps they don’t have a particular trait that stands out, but they want to have that trait, or they admire that trait in others very strongly. And the fourth is essentially taking into account the previous three and using some combination thereof. I tend towards the fourth myself, but with bold strokes of character traits and motivations coloring that opinion.
Of course, once you’ve decided how you are going to do the sorting, you need to decide on what the traits of the houses actually are.
“What the Hell is a Hufflepuff?”
While the sorting procedure can vary wildly, the major traits of the houses are pretty commonly agreed upon– mostly because they are explicit within the text. The Sorting Hat’s songs give quick and easy descriptions of what each of the Four Founders desired in a student and valued as character traits, even Hufflepuff, who was easily the least exclusive founder out of the four of them. What causes trouble is overlapping traits, expressions of these traits, non-expressions of these traits within the text, and the natural extremes of these traits. As many people who do this would tell you, the books don’t necessarily give the reader the most nuanced view of each of the houses. This is partly intentional– Harry has natural biases towards Gryffindor and against Slytherin, which is a result of the actual culture of many British public schools, as well as the genre of books based on actual British public schools. But even beyond the books (despite the fact that we will mostly be sticking with the books, but this is an important aside) Rowling’s house assignments to characters who were not explicitly sorted aren’t always the most nuanced. So the fans do what they always have done and taken it into their own hands.
Canon v Fanon
Before proceeding to the house descriptions and example sortings (oh, yes, there are examples), here are a two terms that are not very well known outside the realm of fandom– ‘canon’ and ‘fanon’.
Now, ‘canon’ was originally used to describe which books of the Bible were officially part of the Bible and which were not. The books that are not are called ‘apocrypha’, which is a term that should be used more often in fandom as well. Something that is ‘canon’ to a franchise means that it exists within the universe of that franchise. For example, in the Star Wars franchise, all films and TV shows are considered ‘canon’, but books in the Thrawn Trilogy (which are part of the old EU and formerly canon) are not.
‘Fanon’ is a term that is used to describe a piece of information about a franchise that is agreed upon by a large section of the fandom. Depending on the fandom, fanon can someday become canon. For example, in Jim Croce’s song “Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, he states “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.” Nowadays, Superman will get angry at you for messing with his cape. His mother made it for him.
There is less fanon for Gryffindor than the other three, mostly because most of the characters we meet, including Harry, are Gryffindors, so we have a pretty good idea as to who gets sorted into it. The others have much more room for interpretation, however.
We’ll start with Gryffindor, because it’s the easiest. The Sorting Hat describes the students of Gryffindor as being brave and bold and daring, possessing a lot of nerve and chivalry. It is very easy to see how this would come to be the house with all the heroes. And we see all sorts of students go through the house– Harry, who is the star athlete of the school and sort of got chosen to save the world on a technicality; Hermione, who is book crazy, but ultimately believes that bravery is far more important; Ron, who might not be the best student, but is fiercely loyal and would do anything for his friends; and even Neville, who went from a hatstall because he wanted to be in Hufflepuff to drawing the Sword of Gryffindor from the Sorting Hat. What is generally agreed is that Gryffindors are the risk-takers and action-oriented, and they allow their actions to speak for them.
Hufflepuff is easily the least defined house in the series– partially due to the fact that the Sorting Hat itself describes Hufflepuff as saying “I’ll take the lot and treat them just the same”. ‘Miscellaneous’ is not a character trait. However, there are a few canon traits. Loyalty, for one, is paramount to the Hufflepuff house. While Gryffindor and Slytherin have their own versions of it, Hufflepuffs are describes not just as loyal, but true, which is another way to say loyal. The Sorting Hat also uses the descriptors patient, just, and unafraid of toil. But if we’re going to talk about fanon traits, we need to talk about A Very Potter Musical. In the clip at the beginning of this section, Cedric Diggory (yes, that’s Cedric) exclaims that “Hufflepuffs are particularly good finders.” That statement alone might just be the most widely accepted piece of fanon since Sherlock Holmes was first drawn in an deerstalker. And what’s great about it is that it was the start of giving Hufflepuffs an identity outside of ‘miscellaneous’ which, again, is not a character trait.
This is my house, so I might have a bit of a bias, but Ravenclaws are more than just “the smart people”. The Ravenclaw values stated in the books are a bit more brain oriented than the others. They include intelligence, wit, cleverness, wisdom, and a desire to learn. However, you can also take into account the characters that were sorted into Ravenclaw and what they are like. The four most prominent Ravenclaws in the books are Luna Lovegood, Cho Chang, Professor Trelawny, and Gilderoy Lockhart. This shows Ravenclaws as having varying degrees of eccentricity as well as obliviousness. We also learn that to enter the Ravenclaw dorms, you have to answer a riddle, as opposed to Gryffindor and Slytherin which require passwords. There is also the implication, that was later mostly accepted as fanon, that Ravenclaws posses unique creativity, which goes along with their canon trait of cleverness.
The most maligned of the Hogwarts houses, Slytherin is the house of ambition, cunning, and blood purity. See, it’s that last one that is canonically and explicitly stated to be a trait of the house that causes all of the problems with everyone making the villains Slytherins– mostly because you can’t throw a rock in a major franchise without hitting a villainous Nazi allegory. And it’s not even supported by the text– Voldemort, Severus Snape, and Harry are all half-bloods, and were all at least considered for Slytherin. Fanon treads lightly around this trait. There’s no question that there are half-bloods and muggleborns in Slytherin, but the legacy of the prejudice that Slytherin fostered within his students is pretty lasting. However, for the purposes of intertextual sorting, blood purity is very much ignored, because it doesn’t really apply outside of the context in which it was written. The key traits that are focused on instead are, as stated earlier, ambition and cunning, but also as Dumbledore described “a certain disregard for the rules”.
So to really understand sorting in practice would be to practice it. Now, I can’t sort every character that has ever existed, but we should start with at least a moderate sample size. Maybe something with a lot of iconic characters that most people recognize, something that’s proven to be successful, both in the real world and on this blog–
Sure, that’ll work.
- Snow White — Hufflepuff
- Snow White is almost a stereotypical Hufflepuff. Her first instinct is always, always, to care for other people and be kind. But she also has rules and will have them followed. On top of that, her faith in others, from her Prince to the Dwarfs, is endemic of the kind of loyalty that Hufflepuffs pride themselves on.
- Cinderella — Ravenclaw
- Cinderella was a bit difficult to sort at first, but I tried thinking about what traits she shared, if any, with Harry Potter characters and found she was most like Luna Lovegood and the traits they shared were very Ravenclaw traits. Because Cinderella couldn’t live her life outside of the manor she was trapped in, she started living her life in her head. Cinderella is eccentric, making clothes for and talking to the mice and birds in her attic. Cinderella is also often absentminded (a trait shared with Ravenclaw head of house Professor Flitwick), shown to daydream and sing to herself as she works.
- Aurora — Slytherin
- Aurora was the most difficult to sort because in her entire movie she has two scenes with dialogue. I went with Slytherin because her one (1) entire act in the film where she has any agency is to find a work around for a rule that Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather gave to her about talking to strangers so that she could flirt with Phillip.
- Ariel — Ravenclaw
- The most common house that I see Ariel sorted into is Gryffindor, which I get. But for Ariel, her actions aren’t nearly as important as her motivation to do those actions. Ariel is an anthropologist in the most literal definition of the word, and is actually in the perfect research position as the humans don’t even know she’s observing them. The key is her “I Want” song, “Part of Your World”, which happens before she sees Prince Eric for the first time. Her desire to join the human world comes from her studies, Eric just gives it a final push.
- Belle — Ravenclaw
- Like Snow White, Belle is a pretty stereotypical example of her house. Her cleverness and intelligence are played up as some of her defining traits as a Disney Princess, as well as her love of reading. Also, like Cinderella, she relies on escapism to get through the tedium of her provincial life. While she does long for adventure, which can lead a character more towards Gryffindor, her character arc doesn’t really expand on this desire as much as it does her reading habits.
- Jasmine — Slytherin
- Jasmine is possibly the most cunning of all of the Disney Princesses. She is very quick on the uptake, immediately following Aladdin’s excuse that she’s crazy as to why she stole the apple and also immediately improvising a distraction for Jafar in the final fight. She is also able to see right through Aladdin’s disguise and is very outspoken against her father’s attempts to marry her off.
- Pocahontas — Gryffindor
- Pocahontas’ daring and bravery are self-evident– she’s a thrill-seeker, and longs for adventure and to find her destiny. Her “I Want” song, “Just Around the Riverbend” is all about how she doesn’t want to stop looking for adventure.
- Mulan — Gryffindor
- Mulan’s first trait as a Gryffindor is actually not bravery or daring, but chivalry. In the West (and because Mulan was made by Disney, it is a westernized version of the Chinese folk tale), chivalry is most associated with the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France and comes with a high importance placed on piety, duty, and honor. Even before she drafts herself, Mulan’s priorities are to serve her family within the constructs of the society she lives in by observing these values. She only fails because she doesn’t fit within the constructs of the society she lives in. Mulan’s quest to find herself and save her father is the epitome of “loved I not honour more”.
- Tiana — Hufflepuff
- While Snow White is on one extreme of the Hufflepuff stereotype, Tiana is on the other. The diligence of Hufflepuffs are present right from the start, as the Sorting Hat describes them as “unafraid of toil”. Tiana’s work ethic is to the point of being a workaholic, and her talents for cooking and baking line right up with Helga Hufflepuff’s function as head of the Hogwarts kitchens.
- Rapunzel — Gryffindor
- Rapunzel takes to action like a horse to sword-fighting– surprisingly well considering the amount of frying pans. While Rapunzel certainly has the creative capacity of a Ravenclaw, her thirst for adventure and any sort of life outside her tower is very much a Gryffindor aspect. She also stands up to her abuser after 18 years of grooming and offers to go with her in return for saving Flynn’s life, both of which take immense courage.
- Merida — Slytherin
- Yes, I realize that the title of her film is Brave, but bravery to the point of recklessly turning your mother and siblings into bears? On the other hand, Merida’s ambition and tenacity drive her character through the entire film– she is determined to get what she wants and she will, by any means necessary. Not that she doesn’t immediately regret many of her actions, but she certainly commits to them.
“And I can cap them all.”
Sorting as a form of literary analysis is, thus far, a very pop kind of analysis. It’s mostly for fun and arguing with your friends about whether Spock should be a Ravenclaw or Slytherin (the answer might surprise you!). But it lends itself very well to learning how to use the tools of more traditional methods of analysis, as well as practicing once you’ve learned. Plus, the intertextual nature of it means that you’re also thinking about the works in context with each other, which can lead you to other things you might not even have thought of. So, sure, it’s just for fun. For now.
Disagree with my Princess sortings? Have other shows/films/franchises that you’ve sorted that you want to share? Leave a note in the comments! Also, like if you can, and subscribe– or follow us on Facebook!— so you don’t miss any new content.
04/06/2018 @ 4:23 am
I love this!! First I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. Now I feel as though it may be time to go read the books again for another perspective! I can’t help feeling I will be sorting everyone, characters and people I know, now!!