ABSTRACT: An essay questioning whether Gryffindor House really has a place at Hogwarts, or whether it was just a convenient place where Rowling could put the main characters together.
Ah, Gryffindor, "where dwell the brave at heart" (page 88, Philosopher's Stone). When we were little, I'm sure all of us felt some leaning towards the house, wanting to be a part of it just so we could be like the trio. As we grew older, some of us spiralled off towards Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff (and rightly so; they're perfectly good Houses); others slipped away into Slytherin. But I imagine most Potterheads, as kids, wanted at some point to be a part of that great House where Harry, Ron and Hermione - not to mention Neville, Ginny, Dean, Seamus, the twins, and so many other great characters - belonged.
Now I'm older, though, I can't help but feel a bit suspicious of Gryffindor House. I'm not exactly a jaded old woman, looking back on the series I liked so much when I was a kid with a smirk; I'm only seventeen and still adore Harry Potter to the fullest, as I'm sure many of us do. But I can't help but question the purpose of Gryffindor. I can't help but feel it's not really got a place in Hogwarts the way the other Houses do.
Don't get me wrong; I totally respect Rowling's decision, but when I look at it more skeptically, it seems to me that Gryffindor is just a bit too convenient.
Here's my reasoning: Due to the nature of the series, most of the main characters would have to exhibit enormous amounts of bravery (and those who don't are cowardly to illustrate a point). This was constructed so that almost every major character could be classified as 'brave'. Therefore, when looking for a House that would unite Harry, Ron and Hermione (bearing in mind that there is no doubt that Hermione should have been in Ravenclaw), it would make sense for that House to unite all its members on the basis that they are courageous. There is little doubt that almost any character in the series could have been in Gryffindor: Cedric Diggory, Luna Lovegood and Draco Malfoy are just three examples of characters that exhibit enormous amounts of courage but don't come into Gryffindor. So, when wanting an incredibly intelligent character to be in the same House as Harry, but not to put her in Ravenclaw, Rowling can use the basis that she is brave to ignore her intelligence in the final decision of her Sorting.
By using a trait that the series would ultimately demand of every character, Rowling could put any person she so desired into Gryffindor without challenge. True, characters like Neville and Harry are definitely braver than intelligent or cunning, but that's not true for every character in Gryffindor. I'm not criticising Rowling, exactly, for this, because it would have been incredibly difficult for Harry and Ron to forge the relationship with Hermione that they do if she had been put in Ravenclaw, without Ravenclaws suddenly appearing on every lesson in their timetable and having a common room just down the corridor, but this does (in my opinion) undermine Gryffindor's credibility as a House.
If a girl whose bravery, whilst great, does not necessarily outstrip her intelligence in terms of which trait is most dominant, still ends up in the 'brave' House, then surely you could Sort pretty much anyone into Gryffindor? It's just a convenient way of getting the main characters in the same place.
Similarly, look at Peter Pettigrew: a man whose cowardice caused the deaths of not only Lily and James Potter, but hundreds of other innocents as he helped Voldemort to power. Of course, the Sorting Hat makes mistakes and puts people in the wrong Houses; nothing is infallible; but cowardice which prevails to that extent must have been taken into account. For those who want to defend Pettigrew (and for that I admire you, for I've little time for the man), I ask you this: is Pettigrew braver than he is cowardly? Because, on the basis that Hermione can be Sorted into Gryffindor despite the overwhelming evidence of her intelligence because her courage EXCEEDS that intellect, the only way Pettigrew could end up in Gryffindor would be if he was more courageous than he was spineless. We see little evidence of this. It would be easy to bleat that the Sorting Hat can't see into the future, that the reasons we are given to think he isn't brave all occur long after his Sorting (and, indeed, you could support this theory with the fact that Snape exhibits far more bravery than his standing as a Slytherin should, stereotypically, allow, giving people reason to believe he should be in Gryffindor and that the Hat does indeed Sort wrongly once in a while), but I don't believe this is a strong enough argument. For Pettigrew to be so cowardly later on, that cowardice must already have been, in some part, inherent to his personality. It must have already been there somewhere. The Hat should have acted on this, if Gryffindor wasn't just a convenient place to put main characters together. It did not, so this leads me to question Gryffindor's viability. Similarly, Hermione's bravery occurs just as far into the future as Pettigrew's cowardice, and the predominant trait of her character at the time of Sorting is almost certainly her intelligence. Hence, she should have been in Ravenclaw, and Pettigrew, perhaps, in Hufflepuff or Slytherin (for he certainly always does "choose to save [his] own skin" (page 437, Order of the Phoenix), a trait named for Slytherin by Phineas Nigellus). Yet, for the convenience of a) the Maraudersâ story, and b) the Golden Trio, they are put into Gryffindor, where they are kept in close proximity to the characters Rowling wants them to be.
Moreover, what place does bravery hold in a place of learning anyway? Intelligence (Ravenclaw) is clearly important in a school; as is ambition (Slytherin), and tolerance (Hufflepuff). But bravery? Everyone has to be a bit brave to face exams, I suppose, but there is nothing in a school that demands any particular brand of courage. It's an honourable personal attribute to have, certainly, but whilst the other Houses are clearly relevant to a learning environment, Gryffindor seems a bit out of place. This leads me to believe that it was just put there to help the story along, rather than to create the most convincing environments.
On the other hand, Godric Gryffindor does strike me as the sort of person who wouldn't give a toss how people did at school as long as they've got the guts to follow what they want to do, so it's not utterly random and pointless.
In conclusion, although I'm pleased we get to see so much of Hermione, Gryffindor just seems too convenient for me to buy into it entirely. Put me in Ravenclaw any day.
March 2003 - The cover art for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is released in the United States and United Kingdom. It was the first cover to create lots of hype in the Harry Potter fandom, because at that point fansites were flourishing.