Peter Pettigrew Is a True Gryffindor

Ever since we became acquainted with him, a long-running question among Potterheads has been, “Why Was Peter Pettigrew a Gryffindor?” By all accounts, Pettigrew’s Animagus is an accurate reflection of his rat-like personality. There’s nothing redeeming about Pettigrew whatsoever; his character isn’t fleshed out in the books and is used as a source of comic relief in the films. Despite this, from the little we know of him, I’d suggest that he’s a true Gryffindor.

 

 

The way that Pettigrew is portrayed seems irreconcilable with the qualities we would associate with Gryffindors. However, it’s important to remember that our perception of what Gryffindors ought to be is biased because we see Hogwarts through Harry’s eyes. There’s nothing noble or heroic about being in Gryffindor, just like there’s nothing ignoble or villainous about being in Slytherin. It just so happens that the way the series is structured tempts readers to categorize Gryffindors as being good and Slytherins as being evil. This dichotomy between good and evil is especially evident in Deathly Hallows when Neville slices off Nagini’s head using the sword of Godric Gryffindor. Not all Gryffindors are pleasant people — Cormac Mclaggen is a jerk, as were James and Sirius. I’d like to say the same of Slytherins based on the series, but it’s slim pickings because there are almost no likable Slytherins in the Harry Potter novels.

Pottermore describes Gryffindor as the House that “most values courage, bravery and determination,” According to Godric Gryffindor’s own Sorting Hat, Gryffindors are set apart by their “daring, nerve, and chivalry” (SS 7). Although Gryffindor’s sword is visually synonymous with virtuous and heroic deeds through our perception of medieval knights, there is nothing in the novels that suggests that Gryffindors have to lead lives consistent with social notions of morality. If we discount moral behavior from being a requirement of one being a true Gryffindor, then Pettigrew’s questionable life decisions would not disqualify him from being a true Gryffindor.

 

 

Peter Pettigrew displays a lot of the qualities that we associate with Gryffindors, and even Harry — bravery and recklessness. There’s nothing to suggest that bravery and heroism are mutually exclusive, and so if we examine Pettigrew’s behavior, he’s a true Gryffindor in the sense that he’s courageous and determined in his actions. Sirius suggests that Pettigrew remained in his rat form for 12 years because he was afraid of facing retribution from his old school friends or the Death Eaters. Although Pettigrew lived in the shadows until the events of Prisoner of Azkaban forced him out of them, his behavior may not be indicative of his cowardice. If Pettigrew truly feared for his life, why would he have chosen to live with the Weasleys? The more logical decision would’ve been to flee the country entirely, take on a new identity, and assimilate himself into a new environment. This would also have been the logical decision to make at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. However, Pettigrew chose to seek out Voldemort in Albania, displaying a lot of determination because it could not have been easy to track down Voldemort’s exact location.

McGonagall describes Pettigrew as being an incompetent wizard, and Madam Rosmerta’s description of him as “that fat little boy” (PoA 10) is even less flattering. However, people, like books, can be deceiving. Pettigrew was skilled enough to become an Animagus, and he was an accomplished potions maker based on his ability to return Voldemort to a rudimentary and full body by concocting potions that would have required extremely advanced Dark magic. He’s also evidently a very good actor, and this would’ve been why the Order of the Phoenix was unable to detect that he was the spy in their ranks. Pettigrew’s whole persona may be a calculated decision, similar to Quirrell’s, and so as readers, we might not know what he’s really like.

Pettigrew displayed an enormous level of courage and determination in cutting his finger off to fake his own death and then slice his own hand off to resurrect Voldemort. It seems that he’s not averse to extreme pain. For this, and the reasons described above, Peter Pettigrew is a true Gryffindor.

  • Iain Walker

    I’ve always been suspicious of terms like “true Gryffindor”, and I find it particularly unhelpful when it comes to analysing character. And I think you’ve just demonstrated the pitfalls of attempting to do so. Here’s why:

    The artificial nature of the Sorting, when imposed upon the variation and complexity of human personality, pretty much guarantees that the term is almost impossible to define in a consistent and useable way. Most people exhibit the traits of all the Houses to one degree or another, and at different strengths and at different times. Being a Gryffindor is simply a matter of the Sorting Hat taking a snapshot of the statistical mess of traits, values, hopes and fears of a child at age eleven, and spitting them out into a particular box of convenience. It tells you far less about the person concerned than the in-universe House stereotyping would have you believe.

    A good illustration of this is the fact that a given trait or behaviour in a character can be attributed to more than one House stereotype. In your article, you cite Pettigrew’s determination as marking him out as a Gryffindor. But Gryffindors don’t have a monopoly on determination – it is also a Hufflepuff and a Slytherin trait. And all the “courageous” things that you claim that he did were motivated out of fear – desperate measures committed for the sake of self-preservation. And a well-developed sense of self-preservation is (stereotypically and perhaps not entirely fairly) a Slytherin trait.

    See what I’m getting at? Look at Pettigrew through Gryffindor-coloured spectacles and you’ll see a Gryffindor. Look at him through Slytherin-coloured spectacles and you’ll see a Slytherin. Both views are reductive. Look at him as a person, and you’ll see a complex individual who doesn’t fit into the neat, artificial categories of the Hogwarts House system.

    So, a less reductive reading of the character might be that eleven year-old Peter Pettigrew wanted to be brave, and the Sorting Hat gave him the chance and Sorted him into Gryffindor. But when push came to shove, twenty year-old Peter Pettigrew (no longer quite the same person as he was at eleven) bottled out. But he was still a Gryffindor – not because he exemplified some unique Gryffindor virtues (which he didn’t), but because that was where the Hat put him. And where the Hat puts you, is the only thing that makes you a Gryffindor, or a Slytherin, or a Hufflepuff, or a Ravenclaw.