We have pondered the possibility that Harry is to Gryffindor what Voldemort is to Slytherin - his last surviving 'heir.' JKR seemed to negate this theory, though inconclusively, when Emerson and Melissa interviewed her:
MA: What about Harry's family - his grandparents - were they killed?
JKR: No. This takes us into more mundane territory. As a writer, it was more interesting, plot-wise, if Harry was completely alone. So I rather ruthlessly disposed of his entire family apart from Aunt Petunia. I mean, James and Lily are massively important to the plot, of course, but the grandparents? No. And, because I do like my backstory: Petunia and Lily's parents, normal Muggle death. James's parents were elderly, were getting on a little when he was born, which explains the only child, very pampered, had-him-late-in-life-so-he's-an-extra-treasure, as often happens, I think. They were old in wizarding terms, and they died. They succumbed to a wizarding illness. That's as far as it goes. There's nothing serious or sinister about those deaths. I just needed them out of the way so I killed them.
MA: That sort of shuts down Heir of Gryffindor [theories], as well.
JKR: [Pause.] Yeah. Well - yeah.
There is some speculation about whether Melissa jumped the gun, and whether JKR's answer was a bit ambiguous. Melissa and Emerson are far more qualified to make that judgment than I, since they had benefit of JKR's tone and body language as clues. I only have her words. I do have a sense that JKR was confirming Melissa's view that Harry is not a blood descendant of Gryffindor, and I'm not surprised. I think that the pause and the "well..." were an indication that there may be a little more to it than meets the eye, but JKR decided not to elaborate too much. This makes a lot of sense to me.
Bloodline would not figure prominently in Gryffindor's mind when choosing those to whom he would impart his skills and gifts - those he would consider his 'heirs.' Given what we can discern about him from clues given thus far in the series, Godric Gryffindor had other priorities. It would be contrary to his very nature (and to the themes on which JKR has built the story) to say that the most worthy Gryffindor would have to be a blood relation. I believe that the most worthy Gryffindor would have to be the one with the most courage. It makes perfect sense that the Heir of Slytherin had to be a blood descendent of Slytherin - blood was what Slytherin valued most highly. Gryffindor had different values. Harry is enough of a 'true Gryffindor,' according to Dumbledore, to have drawn the founder's sword to him in a time of extreme need. Harry is evidently in possession of some special connection, either to Gryffindor himself or to what Gryffindor stands for. Who was Godric Gryffindor, and what made him tick? What is the significance of his influence over Harry's strengths and personality? Godric Gryffindor is almost assuredly related to Godric's Hollow, but how? Could it be his ancestral home? Or does it refer to his later years? Did he, like St. Godric (more on this below), live his old age in quiet and reflective solitude? If so, was the small "Hollow" where he settled named for him when a village ultimately grew on the site? Were the first residents of Godric's Hollow brought there by the power and magnetism of this great wizard? Most importantly, will knowing something about him help us to understand more about Harry's challenges and assets in the final episode of the series?
Gryffindor was one of the four greatest wizards and witches of his time, which was approximately a thousand years ago. He came from 'wild moor.' He believed that those of the greatest courage would make the greatest wizards. He possessed a fantastic, ruby-encrusted sword, and adapted as his colors crimson red and gold. He founded Hogwarts with three good friends whose magical powers equaled his own: Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. Together they built the Hogwarts castle, which protected young witches and wizards from the hostile interference of the muggles of the day, and taught them magic. When strife between the founders, particularly he and Slytherin, threatened the future of Hogwarts, Gryffindor took off his hat and used a powerful enchantment to turn it into an astute judge of inner character and desire. This hat became the Sorting Hat, and the wishes of the Four Founders with regard to the future inhabitants of their various houses are preserved in the Hat. At a certain point, Slytherin left, unable to accept the criteria by which the other founders chose the wizards they wanted to teach. From what we know, Gryffindor stayed on, and continued to work with Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw to create the finest school of magic in history.
Did he and Slytherin ever patch up their quarrel? Did they die without reconciliation? Did Slytherin die before Gryffindor made a truce, and did Gryffindor then retire to the Hollow that now bears his name to live out his life in solitude? Let us look to the clues in Godric Gryffindor's name to see if we can learn something about him.
Griffin of Gold Who Rules With God
Gryffindor (or griffin d'or) means "Griffin of Gold." A griffin is a legendary creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Sometimes, it actually has the tail of a serpent or scorpion, in which case it includes some bit of every Founder's House symbol except Hufflepuff's badger. It varies considerably from one reference to the next - sometimes having equine ears, sometimes without wings, etc. In all renderings I have found, we have a powerful creature with at least the characteristics of two of nature's most powerful animals - lion and eagle. It is widely used in English heraldry, as are both the lion and the eagle. It represents strength and wisdom. Of course, the lion is the symbol of Gryffindor House, and a widely accepted symbol of Courage.
Godric is a very old, English name (there are Celtic variations as well) which means "he who rules by God" or "he who rules with God." This is certainly a compelling reason to believe that we are to assume that Gryffindor was a wise man who was an excellent leader, and who kept his priorities and loyalties in the right place. It conjures a man who was strong and confident, while also remaining humble to a power greater than himself, and counting on that power to support and direct his leadership.
Godric in History
The name Godric is also shared by a renowned Saint: St. Godric lived from c.1065 - 1170, around the same general time period that the Founders would have lived, interestingly. His approximate dates, above, show us that he lived to be a very old man, particularly given the typical life spans of his era. He had a wild youth, and traveled extensively as a merchant. Later in his life, he gave away all of his hard earned and rather abundant wealth and became a hermit, when his earlier choices failed to bring him the spiritual understanding he desired. He maintained an austere life from then on, living in the Finchale woods north of Durham, in northeastern England. He was devoted to meditation and prayer. According to surviving accounts (which may or may not be accurate) he was not tall, but was a powerfully built man with long hair and grey-blue eyes. He was described by a contemporary as strong and agile, with a venerable appearance, sparkling eyes, a long nose and long, thick beard. (Aside from the height, the description sounds a bit like our favorite late Headmaster.) He was well known for his connection with wild animals (a touch of Hagrid, also a Gryffindor), and is usually depicted in old age with a stag next to him (James' Animagus form and Harry's Patronus).
He also had a great reputation as a Seer, and was known for his gift of prophecy, visions of the supernatural and the ability to see things that were happening far away from him. Harry hasn't shown much in the way of seer gifts. But he did experience the death of Frank Bryce, and the scenes with Voldemort and his Death Eaters through dreams and inexplicable knowledge about what was happening miles away - including the attack on Arthur Weasley. This is due to his connection with Voldemort (whether Harry is a Horcrux or not, it is indisputable that he has a connection to Voldemort and Voldemort's thoughts and emotions). It is also a parallel to what we are told of St. Godric, and his ability to envision happenings far away.
Finally, St. Godric was said to have the ability to subdue snakes and keep them as pets. This last seems particularly pertinent, given the battle that Harry faces and Slytherin's symbol of a serpent. We know that Harry speaks Parseltongue, but will that help him subdue Nagini? Voldemort seems very confident of her loyalty, just as the Diary Tom Riddle was confident of the Basilisk's obedience. Harry didn't really challenge that confidence. Harry saw the Basilisk begin to emerge from its lair and he ran. (Not that I blame him. I would have run too. Courage doesn't mean stupidity.) He never spoke to the Basilisk, so we don't know whether he would have been able to exert control over it. He certainly had no trouble having positive communication with the snake at the zoo or the snake that Malfoy conjured in dueling club practice. It makes one wonder: will this affinity with snakes help Harry to "subdue" Nagini, some other of the Dark Lord's forces - or even the Dark Lord himself - without killing?
I have always been partial to JKR's use of names. Godric Gryffindor is no exception. In the symbols associated with the name, we find wisdom of the ages, affinity with the stag symbol and animals in general, control over snakes, strength, courage, fierceness, discipline, self-knowledge and spiritual wisdom that constitutes that wonderful alchemical pursuit - inner gold.
When choosing the characteristic that he desired in future students who would carry on his legacy and name at Hogwarts, Gryffindor chose Courage over all other qualities. Consider the following ideas:
The word Courage comes from the Latin root cor, which means "heart." The word itself is of French origin. JKR was a French teacher and knows her etymology quite well. To this day, inner strength is often referred to as "heart." By stating (in OotP) that it is Harry's heart that saved him, Dumbledore alludes not only to Harry's capacity to love, but also to the inner strength, or courage, which allows Harry to love. Courage is very akin to love. One must have great courage in order to be able to love fully and without conditions.
Harry is a Gryffindor - a true Gryffindor, according to Dumbledore (after the Sorting Hat provides Harry with Godric Gryffindor's sword in CoS).
In the first Sorting Hat song, in PS/SS, Gryffindor House is described as follows: "Where dwell the brave at heart." [italics added]
The symbol of Gryffindor is a Lion. When someone is considered brave or courageous, they are said to have Coeur de Lyon, or Heart of a Lion.
When asked whether she values courage above the attributes of the other houses, JKR replied, "I value wit and kind heartedness a lot, but yes, I think bravery would get my vote in a contest." (B&N Online Chat)
When asked on her website which Hogwarts House she would be in, JKR replied, "Gryffindor, I hope. I value courage above practically everything." (JKRowling.com)
When asked, "Harry's sheer courage is, in my view, something which also appeals to many readers. Would you agree?" - JKR responded: "I would. Despite his very young age, Harry has tremendous courage. I think Harry's bravery impresses both young and old(er) readers alike, because, although he is full of anxieties, he never gives up and gets by on a combination of intuition, sheer nerve and a fair bit of luck." (Toronto Star Online)
The ideas of Heart/Love/Courage are carefully interwoven in the tapestry that makes up Harry's character. Lily's Love required tremendous Courage, and Harry has demonstrated the connection between the two qualities on many occasions as well.
Who are the other Gryffindors in the series, and what can be said about them? Gryffindor House has produced Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, James and Lily, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Wormtail, Percy and all other Weasleys, the Creevy brothers, Seamus, Dean, Parvati, Lavender, Alicia, Angelina, Katie, Oliver Wood, Peakes, Coote and McLaggen, to name the obvious ones. Of the ones we have gotten to know well, each can be said to have a certain kind of Courage. They are all different. Even Wormtail and poor, misguided Percy stood up to the status quo of their lives in some way, though I think their Gryffindor natures have yet to present themselves. McLaggen's courage isn't particularly effective or attractive, so we definitely see that a misdirected idea or use of Courage isn't a good thing. Aggressiveness does not equal courage. Some of these people, though certainly brave, seem no more brave than, say, Luna, or Professors Flitwick or Sprout. Yet their courage must be some internal, guiding factor in their lives. Otherwise, for example, Hermione would have ended up in Ravenclaw with her brains.
The Sorting Hat must see many students who are both intelligent and loyal, both brave and witty, both shrewd and hard working, etc. How does it decide where a student belongs? It must connect to the deepest guiding factor it can find in a student. Again, Hermione is the best example. By all obvious standards, Hermione does belong in Ravenclaw. Her intelligence and love of learning are indisputable. And the one course that she did not receive an Outstanding OWL in was Defense Against the Dark Arts. We have seen her freeze up when thrown into great physical danger. Yet she is a Gryffindor. You have to look closely to see why. Hermione's Courage is of a different kind than Harry's - or Ron's, for that matter. She is never the very best in battle, and I wouldn't have wanted to see her handle the Horntail. Hermione has the nerve to "stick it out" no matter what. She stands with Harry, whether he is the 'Chosen One' of the Day or the Pariah of the Wizard World. She takes whatever comes with that choice, and she suffers the consequences. So does Ron, of course. I use Hermione as the example because of her obvious Ravenclaw tendencies. Hermione also is willing to go into dangerous situations when it is the right thing to do, even though she is terrified and she knows that quick battle under pressure isn't her strong suit. So, though she loves knowledge and learning, she values bravery even more, and she strives for it. She says so in PS/SS - there are more important things than books... like friendship and bravery. I believe that these values make a Gryffindor. Much the same can be said of Ron, Neville, and many other Gryffindors - look at Seamus, finally standing up to his mother and doing what he believed was right. It took time, but ultimately, Seamus made the Gryffindor choice.
Harry, too, demonstrates traits of more than one house, and the Sorting Hat sensed his own shrewdness and ambition when he was only eleven. But Harry's desires were clear, and the Hat respected them.
Harry has demonstrated courage on many occasions since we met him in PS/SS. He has also learned a great deal about different kinds of courage. Some kinds of courage come more naturally to Harry than others. Courage isn't always about taking a sword to a basilisk, or flying into the blazing nostrils of a Hungarian Horntail, though both of these challenges certainly require a great deal of one kind of courage. St. Godric demonstrated a rare kind of Courage by leaving a life of wealth and comfort to seek spiritual enlightenment. Godric Gryffindor's own brand of Courage seems to be emulated by Neville, of all people, in PS/SS. Gryffindor stood up to his friend when he believed that Slytherin was making the wrong decision. Neville does the same thing with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and Dumbledore especially cites and rewards him for that effort.
It also requires great Courage to trust, to love, to make ones self vulnerable, to admit when one is wrong, to forgive, to grieve, to bear loss and pain while continuing to do what is right, to withstand criticism, cruelty and the judgment of others in order to follow one's own path, etc. Harry is learning each of these lessons as his story progresses, and is growing and expanding his own Heart, each time he confronts a new challenge. And this growth of Heart is making Harry stronger by the day. It was gratifying to see the changes in Harry by HBP. The suffering he experienced in OotP began a transformation of Harry that was beautiful to witness. This transformation will assuredly continue into Book Seven, as Harry processes what he learned and went through in the past year.
The Sword of Gryffindor
Why did Godric Gryffindor's sword sit in Dumbledore's office? It doesn't seem to have appeared there or anywhere else before Harry pulled it out of the Hat. Did Dumbledore have it before and we simply weren't told of it? Did it come to the aid of Dumbledore when he was fighting Grindelwald? Or was it waiting for someone else to come along? Dumbledore could certainly be seen to be carrying on Gryffindor's legacy of courage and wise rule "with God." Is Harry meant to be the next great leader of wizardkind, in the same fashion as Dumbledore? Did Harry pull the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Hat for the same reasons that the future King Arthur pulled Excalibur out of the rock? Because he carries within him a power that is unique and strong enough "rule with God," no matter what? I believe that the Sword will figure prominently again. While it's possible, as some readers have suggested, that it is the Mystery Horcrux, I tend to think not. As sensitive as Dumbledore was to magic, I find it hard to believe that he could have held that sword in his hands and not realized it was a Horcrux - or at least that there was more than Gryffindor's traces of magic about it. I rather see it as an ally in Harry's quest. Will it sit in the Head's Office until Harry needs it in a crisis and come to him magically at that time? Or did Dumbledore have it all along, and will it be bequeathed to Harry at the beginning of the book, to travel with him and aid him on his quest? To give him Heart?
Brave Gryffindor From Wild Moor
Gryffindor is described as coming from 'wild moor.' Interestingly, the moorlands of Great Britain (according to Wikipedia) are found mostly in the north and west. Their climate is colder and wetter than traditional, dry heathlands. So, though they produce a great deal of heather, they also grow a wide variety of flora and fauna - including, interestingly, a breed of falcon called Merlin. Wikipedia specifically states that reptiles are few, since the weather is cooler and wetter than heathlands - not a place for serpents.
And there is another interesting corollary: the Finchale and Durham areas of northeastern England, where St. Godric became a hermit and where pilgrims traveled in hopes of speaking with him, are in the middle of England's northern moorlands. Could the village of Godric's Hollow be in one of Gryffindor's wild moors? Might it be in Finchale? We know that Hagrid had to fly over Bristol to get Harry from Godric's Hollow to Privet Drive, but we don't know if he came straight from Godric's Hollow or made a detour to Wales for some yet-to-be-divulged reason. So, we really cannot begin to speculate where Godric's Hollow actually is. However, I expect it to be in moorland. Harry intends to go to Godric's Hollow. We have all speculated what he might learn of James and Lily there. I also wonder what he might learn about his House Founder.
The Legacy of Godric Gryffindor
Who is to say that bloodline is what would make Harry the Heir of Gryffindor? What if the Heir of Gryffindor is decided not by bloodline, but by Heart: Courage? Perhaps there are no more living wizards who are related by blood to Godric Gryffindor. Or perhaps there are many. Harry could even be one of them. But perhaps, in order to become the Heir of Gryffindor, there is another qualification: the Courage of Godric Gryffindor. A Courage that is deeper, stronger and more profound than that of any other wizard. And perhaps Voldemort, who will do anything to stay alive, will somehow, in some way, miscalculate that Courage. Or, perhaps he will be unable to withstand a confrontation with that profound Love and Courage, much as he was unable to withstand possessing Harry in the Ministry.
While Those Who Remain...
I don't believe that the idea of the Heir of Gryffindor will be prominent in the last book, the way the Heir of Slytherin was prominent in CoS. Perhaps the actual title will never even be used. But I do think it's probable that Harry will carry on a legacy that Dumbledore carried on before him. I believe that Harry will live and carry into the wizarding world the inner strength to be a leader in the same vein as Godric Gryffindor. And Harry's Courage, so important in every book in the series, will have a major impact on his final confrontation with Voldemort. The Courage that Harry needs goes beyond the sheer guts to wield a sword and fly into the face of danger, though that will be part of it. I suspect that Harry will complete the transformation that Dumbledore helped him to begin over the past six years: he will learn to rule wisely, bravely and with God. Dumbledore will not be dead, nor will Gryffindor. Because, as Dumbledore said, he will never be gone while those who remain are loyal to him. By embracing the values and legacy of Gryffindor and Dumbledore, Harry keeps them both very much alive, in himself and the world around him. Dumbledore was right in OotP - it was Harry's strong heart that saved him - his Coeur de Lyon. Perhaps, being the true Gryffindor that he is, it will be strong enough to save the world.
Dear SE Readers,
I want to drop you a quick note before we get on to October's Spinner's End article, because I owe so many of you return emails - pardon me (muggle moment) - owls, and I have been woefully lax at returning your posts.
I have been quite busy with a variety of projects. The first is the Shakespeare company alluded to in my Lady Lupin bio. I am asking all of your good thoughts and wishes as I tear my hair tackling the age-old question: How to get the money to present creative and artistic endeavors in today's world? I am in fundraising mode and sitting up many a long night strategizing and proposal writing. Please keep our company in your thoughts and prayers as we struggle to bring the plays of Shakespeare to audiences who might otherwise never hear these great and important works.
On another front, thank you to all of you who have inquired about my progress with my book. I am well into it. It's a first draft, and it's... let us say, very drafty at the moment. It will be some time before it's ready for anyone's eyes but mine. Many of you have asked what it is about. I don't want to talk much about it at this point, but I will simply say that the paragraph above this one should tell you something about my interests.
Finally, for those who have inquired, my health is much better, and my absence from email is due to an active life at the moment, and not one compromised by illness, as was the case before. Thanks for your concern. It means a great deal to me.
Of course, the above activities take place after a full work week, so I beg your forgiveness on my email - drat it! OWL - tardiness. I will begin answering today, and I will get back to everyone eventually, I promise. Thanks for reading, writing and your kind interest.