Gryffindor House vs. Delta House
by Convalleria Gladiolus
It is no wonder why the famed Harry Potter books have become a global phenomenon. The adventures of the boy wizard and his friends have captured the hearts of millions of readers. I have been a Potter addict for nearly six years and every time I re-read the books I am just astounded by the creativity and intensity of the plotline, the eccentric characters, and, most of all, the setting. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is not only an entertaining place to read about, but, to myself and countless others, it is a place of escape and refuge from the Muggle world of school which can be dull and difficult, both academically and socially.
Harry Potter is a very unique portrayal of the scholastic universe, very different from portrayals of school such as “Boy Meets World” or “Saved by the Bell.” Alas, beneath the uniqueness of the books the depiction is almost the same — just ingeniously hidden by J.K. Rowling’s incredible talents. Almost all of the shows and movies out there set in school are pretty much the same, and they all basically have the same plotlines. But with Harry, the schoolish drama is not the main focus of the story. The school subplot just adds to the intensity of the general plot, which, without Hogwarts, would probably be another Good Guy vs. Bad Guy series. Harry’s story is more profound, meaningful, and moving when compared to shows like, for example, “The OC,” whose general theme is in a nutshell, “Who’s dating who, like, oh my Gawd.”
That is what I personally get out of shows of that kind. The shows that we (mainly girls) watch on TV reflect who we become. Young people who watch shows that depict all popular girls in school as superskinny and beautiful will be quick to compare themselves to them. Also, a girl who wears dark-framed glasses may see a girl on TV wearing the same ones labeled as a nerd! and may look down on themselves and start thinking that they are nerds as well. The dark-rimmed glasses issue is a personal favorite of mine. I proudly donned dark-rimmed glasses for a number of years. Of course I was fully aware that I had, by popular culture standards, a dorky exterior, hence the reason why I was always an outcast. Then I met Harry.
Isn’t it ironic that the most powerful boy of his age wears these un-cool round spectacles as well? This whole stereotyping cycle is unfortunate because pop-culture TV shows and movies appeal to pre-teenagers who are having a hard enough time with getting accepted and issues like this are not helping. In fact, Harry Potter seems to contradict the entire pop-culture representation of academic life. This is why Harry Potter is superior in representations of school. Harry, the nobody, is the hero. Hermione, the “braniac,” doesn’t even look like the typical braniac. These are only two of many examples.
Firstly, I want to point out that Harry Potter is not an exact portrayal of school from an Americans point of view because the books are British and therefore based on the stereotypes of the traditional British boarding school. The upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the first of the movie series to have a British director, is said to really capture the image and feel of British boarding schools in a light and comical matter.
British boarding schools are said to be strict, have uniforms, and are very big on tradition and honor. Hogwarts meets all of these qualifications. There are a number of strict disciplinarians such as Professor McGonagall and Mr. Filch. The students have to wear uniforms, and Hogwarts is very big on honor. Students are divided into four houses that sort the students based on the virtues they possess, all of which deal with honor. Gryffindors are noble and brave, Ravenclaws are wise, Slytherins are pure and cunning, and Hufflepuffs are accepting. Most people would find this a bit out of the ordinary, but the college I am attending now, for example, revolves its teaching around core values also. This is actually quite common with high schools and colleges.
Although debated, that general theme of Harry Potter is fairly simple: choices.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
—Chamber of Secrets
This is probably one of the most important quotes in the series. This quote, stated by Albus Dumbledore, defines what I think is the trump theme of the book. Another pivotal quote, also stated by Dumbledore, tells the students of Hogwarts to:
Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort.
—Goblet of Fire
Using this quote we can explore my thesis even more thoroughly. Upon coming across this quote one can say that the theme is actually about making the choice between what is right and what is easy. You can argue, but think about school. Isn’t school all about choices? Better yet, isn’t school about choosing the easy path or the right path? Students can easily go through high school or college by not challenging themselves, thus picking the easy path. In contrast, aspiring students will be ready for challenges and ready to fight the battle for knowledge. Students make choices everyday in school; choices that reflect who they are and shape their lives without them even realizing it.
A perfect example of this is when Harry first meets Draco. These two were not even sorted yet, and Draco warned Harry not to associate with the wrong crowd (meaning Ron) and asks Harry to join him. Harry could have easily chosen to be buddies with Draco. We now know that this was a smart move of Harry’s. He may not have known it then, but siding with the likes of Draco would have been a terrible idea. This choice is now affecting Harry’s career at Hogwarts. Muggle students make choices as to who they want to be seen associating with, and who they associate with reflects a number of things about them.
Another important choice was made soon after the encounter with Draco. While sporting the Sorting Hat, Harry asked the hat not to place him in Slytherin. This also turned around everything Harry goes through at Hogwarts, and it is also what makes Harry such a good Gryffindor. The other underlying themes in the books are themes we see everyday in the Muggle world and in fantasy stories. These themes are the basic battle between good and evil. The reason, Harry is finding out, that some wizards and witches go bad because they choose that path. Lord Voldemort was not simply born evil. He made that choice. The Death Eaters made the choice to turn to Dark Magic. This good vs. evil genre applies to the many plots in the books that all have been formed by people making a choice: (Harry vs. Voldemort/Order vs. Death Eaters); student rivalry, (Harry vs. Draco); student vs. teacher, (Harry vs. Snape); and political issues, (Dumbledore vs. the Ministry).
As for the students, J.K. Rowling does a very good job of covering pretty much every kid you see in school. Harry’s story is pretty much the zero to hero concept, following the model of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, a boy who thought he was normal grows up to become a powerful Jedi Knight. J.K. Rowling very cleverly did not give her hero the usual image we see in characters like our friend Luke, who is physically fit and handsome. On the contrary, Harry is described as very short and scrawny. Beneath his scrawny appearance though, Harry makes up for his modest image with heroic values and traits: bravery, intelligence, determination, love, curiosity, and extreme power. Harry can be a hero to anyone because he has to deal with so much — the tragic death of his parents, the torment of Voldemort, and of course, you cannot forget that he has to keep up with his school work. A guy just cannot carry all this weight on his shoulders. That is where the importance of friends comes in.
Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger are Harry’s two best friends while at Hogwarts. He confides in them everything he feels and thinks, and goes to them whenever he needs support and/or guidance. Ron and Hermione are two very important and complex characters. Ron is basically Harry’s sidekick, the Robin to the Batman. He is insecure, good-natured, and often intimidated by his five older brothers and even Harry. Ron has always been shoved to the side whenever Harry unwillingly is in the limelight, yet he has stuck with Harry since day one. He is also the comic relief of the three. Hermione, however, is extremely clever, witty, and is a hard worker. She is always harping on Harry and Ron about the importance of school work and grades. In a word, she is the brains of the trio. Its interesting, though, that Rowling did not give her brainiac the typical image of the smart kid. The smart kid on television and movies is almost always shown as unattractive, wears black-framed glasses, and is usually insecure and gets beat up. Though hardly insecure of herself, she sometimes does experience teasing from other students who look at her as nothing else but a bossy know-it-all. Fortunately, she shrugs it off and hardly lets any of that get in her way of being top of the class.
Of course, there are always a few rotten apples in the bushel. Draco Malfoy is the short, blonde bully that everyone loves to hate. He is sneaky, snobbish, and a slick brown-noser. It seems as if his ultimate goal at Hogwarts is to torment Harry and his friends as much as possible. Draco indulges himself in the fact that Harry is always a target for unwanted attention. Draco is probably the way he is because of the influence of his rich and politically powerful father, Lucius, who also treats Harry and many others he considers lower than he is with the utmost disrespect.
Along with these important characters, other students typically found in school corridors are also thrown into the mix, such as Luna Lovegood, the zoned-out loner, Cedric Diggory, the popular jock/pretty boy, and the girly girls such as the Patil twins, who sneer at Hermione. There are Ron’s brothers, twins Fred and George Weasley, who are the class clowns. There are Crabbe and Goyle, Draco’s henchmen, and another Weasley, Percy, who is a Prefect, or putting it in American terms, the pompous, smug, dorky hall monitor everyone hates, even Ron.
Then there is Neville Longbottom, the round faced, clumsy, skeptical, forgetful boy who is barely making it at Hogwarts. Most people read about poor Neville and pity him. He does not exactly fit in with anyone, and from what we see, is not having a very pleasant time at Hogwarts. So what is he doing in Gryffindor?
We surprisingly see Neville take a stand to Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the end of Sorceror’s Stone. Neville stood up for Gryffindor and tried to stop Harry and his friends from going out after hours, not realizing, of course, that they were planning to save the Stone. This courage was literally shot down with Hermione’s speedy Petrificus Totalis charm. Nonetheless, as Dumbledore said:
“…it takes a great amount of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
Neville also bravely accompanies Harry to the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix and actually confronts the evil woman who tortured his parents. It is rightly assumed that there are many Muggle Neville’s out there who find that they can relate to him and may follow the example Neville sends out to kids. It surprisingly turns out that this loser kid emerges as a prominent piece of the primary plot.
Hogwarts is also the home to a very zany and eccentric faculty. Almost every teacher has an important role in the series. The most important by far is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts. Dumbledore, which is the Old English word for bumblebee, can be absent minded, wise, and impeccably true to the image of the wise old man found in fairy tales. He is tall, thin, dons a white flowing beard — very a la J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf. Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard in the world, and is Harry’s mentor. Harry talks to Dumbledore about his issues with Lord Voldemort, and since Harry’s first day at Hogwarts, Dumbledore has been guiding Harry, keeping a close watch, and knowing more about Harry than, well, maybe even Harry does. Another influential teacher in Harrys life is Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress, and also keeps a close watch on Harry. McGonagall is also the disciplinarian of Hogwarts, and is very stern when she needs to be.
As the same with students, there is always a bad teacher. The one at Hogwarts is Professor Severus Snape, the Potions Master, who, aside from Voldemort and Draco, makes Harrys life even more difficult. Snape is the usual image of evil with greasy dark hair, empty eyes and is very vengeful. The bloke does not think twice about giving Harry a lousy grade for no reason. The animosity between Harry and Snape has grown more and more profound since Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, and is an important element of the plot. As with every show about school, there is always that one teacher that creates a conflict in the story. Other stereotypes of faculty found in Hogwarts are Madam Hooch, the Quidditch coach, who can be compared to as the jock gym teacher, Mr. Filch, the creepy old janitor, and Madam Pince, the vulture-like librarian who hates to see students touching her books.
Another thing that I find funny at Hogwarts is the idea of O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels). These are tests that students have to take at the end of their fifth year at Hogwarts, and there are also the N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests), that the students take at the end of their seventh year. These two examinations are immensely important, and could have a huge affect on a wizard or witch’s career after they graduate Hogwarts. These tests cause students to stress out and get frustrated. Strangely similar to the SATs and ACTs that we American Muggles have to take, wouldn’t you say?
Another thing to point out is that fact that Harry Potter is set in modern times, yet the students go to a school where they still use quills, parchment, and torches. However, the issues both inside and outside of school are very modern. There is corruption in the magical government which affects the students of Hogwarts and especially Harry. Even the way journalism is shown in Potterverse is very much like the way it is portrayed in pop-culture in our world.
The most important thing in Harry Potter is that it shows school in a whole new outlet. It shows kids that really grasp the value of life, friendship, commitment. Harry is a true inspiration to young people out there, showing that almost anyone can be a hero. Hermione’s nagging about how important schoolwork is can be reflected in a students academic performance. Ron’s never-ending loyalty teaches kids to always stick by your friends and always support them. And Neville’s perseverance is an inspiration for kids who never feel like they can get anything right. The professors of Hogwarts can also be an inspiration to teachers who read Harry Potter.
I believe that Harry Potter is a wonderful and different depiction of school and it can be healing as well as entertaining. It covers everything in school but adds an adventurous twist, which makes the books and movies so different and a good outlet of educating kids about school and what to expect of it.