Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Where the Sorting Hat Placed Me

This is the week my children's literature students have looked forward to since the start of the semester almost seven weeks ago: our three classes discussing the best-loved text of their childhood, Harry Potter.

We're situating the series within the genre of the British boarding school story, which first began with Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857 - a book that featured life at a boarding school (the actual, real-life school of Rugby), with competition between houses to excel at a relatively novel sport (guess which one?) under the guidance of a charismatic headmaster. We're also analyzing striking parallels between the opening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the opening of Peter Pan, with the Darlings and the Dursleys both obsessed with respectability before some magical force "breaks through" into their humdrum reality. We're talking about Harry Potter as a Cinderella story with one student also uncovering similarities between Harry Potter and Snow White. And we're seeking to understand the series' unprecedented worldwide popularity.

As part of our foray into the universe of Harry Potter fandom, we all trotted home after Monday's class to get ourselves sorted into Hogwarts houses on the Pottermore website, which the most die-hard fans among us declared to be the best. I had never done this before, confident that I would be placed in Ravenclaw, "where those of wit and learning will always find their kind." After all, young Rebecca who came with us on our Winter Term Enchanted Spaces trip had assured me I was definitely a Ravenclaw, because I'm so smart and creative (thank you, Rebecca!).

But when I took the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz, the hat did not place me in Ravenclaw.

It did not place me in Hufflepuff, although I consider myself to be loyal and true.

I doubted it would place me in Gryffindor because I'm not particularly brave of heart, and sure enough, it didn't.


The Sorting Hat placed me in Slytherin.


I couldn't believe it. So I scurried over to a competing Potter fandom website and took a different quiz for my house placement.

Slytherin AGAIN!

I took a third quiz on a third website and finally, FINALLY, got Ravenclaw, but I have to admit I didn't give the answers that first popped into my head, but strained to find the ones that seemed most Ravenclaw-ish.

Worse, when I confessed my result to the students today, several of them said that they could "totally see it"!

Now, I was comforted by noting a number of other Slytherins in the class. Indeed, we seemed pretty evenly sorted, with perhaps a small edge for Ravenclaw and a slight paucity of Gryffindors. And my fellow Slytherins don't seem at all like Draco Malfoy and his thuggish sidekicks, or like greasy Snape, or the dazzlingly evil Voldemort.

But still.

I've been rethinking the quiz questions all day. What made the Sorting Hat choose as it did? What question most marked me? I think perhaps it was my answering that I wanted to be thought "original," when I could have answered "intelligent" (thereby sending me to Ravenclaw?). I've never sought power, or at least I don't think I have, but I've coveted fame, as a writer, panting after starred reviews and placement on "best of year" lists. I don't think I've ever done anything untoward to secure these accolades, and goodness knows, I've secured very few of them. But I've yearned for glory, I know I have.

Oh, Sorting Hat, do you know me better than I know myself? I have to admit I'm taking this quite hard, pondering my entire life in light of two verdicts from a series of half a dozen multiple choice questions on two fandom websites.

Slytherin.  Well, well.


  1. Your books don't seem like the kind that a Slytherin would write. :-)
    But even Harry could have been placed in Slytherin, if he hadn't been set against it; it ties in with Dumbledore's statement that our choices make us who we are. And there's the scene at the end, in which Albus confides to Harry his fear of being in Slytherin, and Harry tells him about a certain Slytherin who was "the bravest man I ever knew," but assures him that the Sorting Hat " takes your choice into account."
    So you're actually in good company. You just need to talk to the hat.

  2. Thanks, Julie! I think the Sorting Hat also made Harry realize that we're all more complex than we might think we are; in his case, it DID recognize his Slytherin potential and proclivities, which DID exist. But yes, I will hold on to Dumbledore's wisdom here!