Illustration of someone wearing the Sorting Hat in front of 4 flags representing each house
Without this question, Sorting Hat quizzes undermine a critical "Harry Potter" theme. (Illustration by Olivia Luo, The Ohio State University)
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Illustration of someone wearing the Sorting Hat in front of 4 flags representing each house

They may be fun, but they are missing an important question: Which house do you think you belong in?

I have been going through a bit of an identity crisis. I am not sure which Hogwarts house I should be in. Nearly every millennial and Gen Zer knows the story of Harry Potter. A boy finds out he is a wizard at age 11 and enrolls in Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, and then he goes on an epic adventure through the wizarding world to defeat a dark lord. I’m certainly not the biggest Potterhead. In fact, I find them to be annoying at times. Nevertheless, I had my “Harry Potter” phase in elementary and middle school, and like everyone, I was immersed in the phenomenal story.

One reason that fans love the series so much is because of Hogwarts’ sheer detail — details that allow readers to see themselves in the world. Another important aspect of Hogwarts is the fact that, upon entry, each student is placed by the Sorting Hat into one of the four schoolhouses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.

For those unfamiliar, these houses are distinguished by the unique personality traits that define their students. Gryffindor students are known for being brave and daring. Hufflepuff students are described as patient and compassionate. Ravenclaw students are known for having great minds and an eagerness to learn. And Slytherin students are known for their “cunning” determination to achieve their goals by any means necessary. They also have a reputation for being pretentious, dark and scary, which makes Harry want to avoid them, despite the Sorting Hat stating that he would do well there. Nevertheless, Harry asks to be placed in Gryffindor to which the Hat complies, but this incident later sparks a conflict within Harry about his identity.

A common practice among Harry Potter fans is to discuss which house they would belong to if they went to Hogwarts. I myself have participated in my fair share of these conversations. Wizardingworld.com is a website where Harry Potter fans can engage in all sorts of personalized activities, including creating a “Wizarding Passport,” which includes your favorite foods, your wand type, your Patronus and, most importantly, your house. There are quizzes for each of these subjects, and I took the Sorting Hat quiz. It asks strange questions about which pet you would bring to Hogwarts, whether you prefer dawn or dusk and what scenarios bother you the most. It does not ask about which house you feel you belong in.

When I took it, I got placed in Ravenclaw. However, as I thought more about it, I wasn’t completely comfortable with the selection — I feel like I am also extraordinarily cunning and determined, which would put me in Slytherin. I consulted some of my Potterhead friends about the selection and they agreed with the wizarding world assessment. I was extraordinarily confused and didn’t know what to do.

But then I came to a realization: The only factor that really matters in your house selection is which house you feel you should belong to. This is a clear theme throughout “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” where there is this conflict within Harry about whether or not he was correctly placed in Gryffindor. Dumbledore himself emphasizes that Harry has many Slytherin qualities like resourcefulness, determination, the ability to speak Parseltongue and a “certain disregard for rules.” Harry then ponders whether he should have been placed in Slytherin, but Dumbledore explains the reasoning for why the Sorting Hat makes these possibly odd selections: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

That is one of my favorite quotes in the entire series because it emphasizes the crucial theme of individual choice over societal pressure. Many readers can be inspired by Dumbledore’s wisdom because many have experienced a tension between what we succeed at and what we want to do, and there is always pressure to follow the path of success. In reality, people can choose to follow a path that makes them happy.

Furthermore, Harry is not the only example of a student whose traits did not perfectly match their house; characters like Hermione Granger could also do well in other houses. Hermione is the smartest student at Hogwarts, and yet she is not in Ravenclaw — the house with students known for their intelligence. But she ends up in Gryffindor because that is where she wanted to be. Now getting back to the original focus of the Sorting Hat quizzes: The Wizarding World quiz does not ask the quiz-taker any questions about which house they feel they should belong to. The absence of this question completely undermines the crucial theme of choice.

So, what should we take away from this? Harry Potter fans should stop giving these Sorting Hat quizzes so much power because they ironically re-establish the problems with society that the novels criticize. As mentioned previously, many of these quizzes do not include questions about your actual house preference, so the quiz algorithm contradicts what is seen in the novels.

Additionally, don’t let anyone ever tell you what house you should be in. There are plenty of examples within the novels of students placed into houses that are not perfect matches. Nobody knows you better than yourself, and your choice of house is only yours to make. At the end of the day, the best process of house selection is to look up the history and traits of each to get a sense of what each house entails, then choose which one you want to be a part of. So don’t forget when someone asks “why that house?” you just have say, “I chose it.”

Writer Profile

Elliot Jackson-Ontkush

Skidmore College
Economics

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