Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One Last Thing J.K. Rowling Wrote that She Totally Wish She Hadn’t

This week, I've been talking about aspects of the Harry Potter series that I believe J. K. Rowling grew tired of, found problematic after a book or two, or radically changed in tone as the series developed.

3) Sorting Hat — and the Houses in General

The Sorting Hat is a big deal in book one — and then is promptly overlooked for a few books because (hey) the sorting hat is boring if it isn’t sorting your main characters… and we know they all end up in Gryffindor anyway.

I like that Rowling brings the Sorting Hat back later, only to give the hat a new song. It’s a clever aside and something of a lampshade hanging — remember, the author is admitting that even the hat is bored of itself!

But on a larger note, I do wonder if J.K. Rowling regrets making the Hogwarts Houses so impermeable and unbalanced. All the sympathetic characters fall into Gryffindor — and all the evil wizards (who are ugly!) fall into Slytherin.

We all know that Hermione belonged in Ravenclaw — and Ron and Neville in Hufflepuff, right? I wish that there had been one or two sympathetic Slytherins — maybe ambitious, maybe Republican, but still overall nice guys.

Would it have improved the books, do you think, to have the house lines force us to think about cooperation, rather than the loyalty to House? It would also have spared us those terrible scenes where Gryffindor wins the House Cup literally through brazen acts of Dumbledore Intervention in the early books. By the time you get to book 4, Dumbledore basically says, "It's kind of bad taste to be thinking about House Cup scores when a classmate is dead." And the House Cup more or less vanishes from the books after that.

Cooperation across houses is a message that Rowling turns to only in the later books. As the series progresses, she turns to creating a strong Hufflepuff in Cedric, a strong Ravenclaw in Cho (kind of), and a strong Slytherin in Draco, though I find his redemption a touch anticlimactic. On the whole, however, I wonder if the four houses remain a little underdeveloped. What are your thoughts?


These critiques probably sound like sour grapes. I recognize how difficult a thing it is to write seven books, one after the other, written over twelve years. But I'd prefer to admit that the seams in a grand tapestry are not flaws — they’re signs that they were woven by a single person, and that she herself adapted and grew along the way.

Next week: I'll talk about some of the most nuanced aspects of the Harry Potter series, and why they couldn't have been written in any other time period than this one.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the houses were underdeveloped. She (kind of) tried to create that camaraderie in the 4th book I think. But I agree that it could have gone a long way into helping hit the point home that it's about unity, not about being superior (which is Voldemort's thing, right?).

    As for wanting a more relatable Slytherin, I suppose we should remember that Harry was supposed to be in Slytherin. So in a way, none of the main characters really fit into Gryffindor. But, then we wouldn't have a story...