In Too Deep: How Does The Sorting Hat Work (And Should Hogwarts Have Houses)?
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Before we begin, let me just get this out of the way: I’m ripping off Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. At least in part. I highly recommenced that anyone that likes reading my blogs read the story, since it deals with the same ideas I deal with (while being really funny). With that admittance of plagiarism out of the way, lets begin.
So there you are. An 11 year old boy or girl who’s just been told about Hogwarts. You’re all ready to go there and start learning magic. Only you have to be sorted into a house. Now if you’re from a Wizarding family, that’s fine. That’s no big deal. But what if you’ve just gotten into the wizarding world. What do you pick?
Recently I joined Pottermore on a whim, to see what house I would get. First time round I managed to get Gryffindor, which struck me as odd. I’m not brave, and while I may be polite I’m not chivalrous. No I’m a cunning evil little git with a lot of imagination, so I’m like an evil Ravenclaw. But no, Pottermore thinks I’m a Gryffindor (though I got asked almost the exact same questions the second time round and I got Slytherin, so it’s a pretty crap test considering it’s meant to be ‘the best’). But how does the Sorting Hat work? And should Hogwarts have houses to begin with? Well join me as I work it out.
First, lets look at how much we know about the Sorting Hat. From the little I’ve researched, it’s meant to have its own sentience. But how does it chose the house? Well the first theory is that it can see the future and knows what’s best for the person. This is, of course, an incredibly stupid theory. Surely the second the Hat went on Tom Riddle’s head it should have yelled out â€œAZKABANâ€ and saved us quite a lot of time. Or whispered to Dumbledore â€œyou know that evil looking kid that probably killed a few kids? Yeah saw his future, turns out he’s gonna be a Dark Lord and lose his nose. Might wanna kill him now. Just saying.â€ So the Sorting Hat can’t see the future, otherwise it might try to do good with such knowledge (unless the Sorting Hat is evil. That’d make us much sense).
Okay, so what else could the Sorting Hat’s secret be. Perhaps it instead weighs people up via a survey of past applicants. It’s been going for centuries now, it just takes the student and measures them next to the other statistical numbers. He has a +5 in smartness but only a +2 in foolhardiness? Well according to the numbers, he has a 89% of fitting in with Ravenclaws. However the downside to this is that you can quite easily get statistical anomalies. A Gryffindor that was cowardly, a Ravenclaw that was stupid, a Hufflepuff that actually did something of any sort of significance besides die. But surely you’d want a system that’s perfect? And if it did come down to numbers, how could personal biases effect them. Perhaps there’s a second, more important aspect to the Sorting Hat.
Perhaps the Sorting Hat is a person’s subconscious brought to life. That would make the most amount of sense. You judge yourself about what you’re best qualities are. If you’re like Draco Malfoy, you already think consciously and subconsciously that you want to be in Slytherin. No big deal. But what if you consciously want to be in one house? Like Hufflepuff, where Neville Longbottom wanted to be in. However the Hat determined that Gryffindor was better. Now it’s not too much of a stretch to think that he subconsciously wanted to be a Gryffindor to please his parents and grandma. But the question moves from ‘How the Sorting Hat works’ to ‘Should it exist in the first place’?
Why does Harry Potter not want to be a Slytherin. I guess your knee-jerk reaction is ‘because they’re evil’. But lets look at it from Harry’s view. Hagrid tells him Slytherin is bad, he dislikes meeting Draco; and Ron says how good Gryffindor is. Now lets imagine an alternate world where Hagrid hadn’t said anything Houseist, Harry had missed Draco, and it didn’t occur to Ron to mention the Houses. Lets say Harry goes into Hogwarts with no prior misconceptions. When offered a place in Slytherin, why would he turn it down? It seems to offer him everything he’d want; and he wouldn’t know about its evil reputation. Now the flip side of this is wondering why on Earth did Crabbe and Goyle get into Slytherin. They’re not cunning or ambitious, they’re Malfoy’s lackeys. If anything they’re hard-working and loyal, making them perfect Hufflepuffs. But since Slytherin is bad and everyone tries to avoid it, they don’t care about the bad reputation.
But what if no one wanted to be in Slytherin? And lets face it, why would you? The most infuriating scene in a Harry Potter film is in the eighth one, where ALL of the Slytherin were sent to the dungeons. Including the 11 year olds that did nothing wrong. Ignoring the fact that you’ve raised a bunch of children that will now hate the other houses, why would they want to go there in the first place? Any Muggleborn that does the slightest bit of reading will read that evil wizards = Slytherin. Anyone from a Wizard family will try and avoid Slytherin unless their parents were in it. It’ll come to the point where they’ll be less Slytherins, with those in it either being those that want to be there, or those that don’t know better. On the flip-side everyone would want to be a Gryffindor, since Harry Potter was in it. So you quickly have an unbalanced school. Plus who’d want to be a Hufflepuff? I’m surprised they get anyone in their House, since it’s known for jack-all.
So lets move it onto the crux of the argument: Should the Houses at Hogwarts exist? One friend said they existed so people could interact with people like them. But honestly, would you want to hang out with a bunch of ambitious, cunning Slytherins? Or over-competitive Ravenclaws? It’s not like you can’t have friends in other houses, but you gotta live with these people. And would you want to live with Slytherins, even though you are one? (I’m pretty evil and smart, so I know I’d hate to be around people like me). Perhaps it’s just a filing system then, to make it easier to organise the students. But there’s only 400 or so students; so it’s not like there are too many to organize. (Although I will admit, my school had houses for administration reasons only). But lets say it’s to foster healthy competitiveness when it comes to stuff like sports and house points (although how the wizards only have one sport when Muggles have hundreds confuse me). But it came to the point where Gryffindors and Slytherins were attacking each other in the corridors. Surely that isn’t reason enough to abolish the House Cup? The hat continues to promote unity, but the houses are more then willing to fight amongst themselves. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of unity? Surely it’d be smarter in the long run to get rid of the houses, or not try to get them at each other throats.
So here we are at the end. The Sorting Hat probably works by both using statistical analysis and reading one’s subconscious, but the Houses themselves make little sense to keep. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.