Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Sorting Hat

So after a week of packing, toting, and sweating, I'm all moved in to my new place, mostly unpacked and ready to dive back into Harry Potter. Interestingly, Harry has just arrived at his new home as well, so we have a little something in common at the moment.

This chapter is a great example of Rowling's ability to make something seem innocuous or funny when in fact she's setting up the future of the story. I've found four examples, though each pays off to varying degrees. As always, feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say, especially if you share your thoughts in the comments!

Ghosts: Though the ghosts initially seem as though they're just a fun way to highlight the difference between Harry's new world and his old world, in subsequent books they become integral to the plot. Harry and Sir Nicholas will begin to build a rapport in Chamber of Secrets that pays off in Order of the Phoenix. Even more than that, it's a ghost that helps Harry to an important clue in his search for Horcruxes in Deathly Hallows. To go from such a seemingly silly introduction, complete with Nick pulling off his head (as much as is possible) to the story the Grey Lady tells Harry shows the care of planning Rowling devoted to the series.

The Sorting Hat: Initially the Sorting Hat seemed to have the unenviable job of exposition. When I first read this chapter, I know I thought the Sorting Hat was a mildly clever device for telling us what we needed to know about each house and getting everyone into their houses with a minimum of fuss. Of course, in the next book, the Sorting Hat comes to Harry's rescue and helps to save his and Ginny's lives. Is Rowling done with the hat after that? No! She continues to use him in his role as exposition and conscious. Where I think Rowling is particularly clever however, is how she withholds the Sorting Ceremony from the reader for the next two books, sure it saves her from having to write a new song every year, but it keeps us interested when Harry does finally make it to another ceremony in Goblet of Fire, we're just as surprised as Harry to discover that the hat has a new song every year and thus far more likely to pay attention in Order of the Phoenix when the hat gives its warning. Had we had time to get used to the Sorting Hat's songs, we may not have been as attentive to his new style.

Of course we've seen and heard about Harry's scar before this point, but it's never hurt him before. We all have scars, do they ever hurt? No, not really, which is what makes Harry's scar having any physical effect on him at all so interesting. As we delve deeper into the series, there'll be a lot more discussion about his scar, so I won't go too in depth here, but I think it's safe to say that Harry's scar hurting and the meaning behind the pain or lack of it, is a major plot point throughout the series.

Dreams: Here we also get Harry's first semi-prophetic dream. They'll get far more accurate and realistic as we move through the series and Harry will begin to remember them, but here we get a little taster of what's to come.

Those are my four, arguments could be made that some are more important than others, but they'll all make multiple appearances over the next 7 years.

One last thing, I'm hoping someone (or multiple someones) will help me come up with fun and/or plausible explanations for why the Sorting Hat took so long with Seamus, "Sometimes, Harry noticed, the hat shouted out the house at one, but at others it took a little while to decide. 'Finnigan, Seamus,' the sand-haired boy next to Harry in the line, sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor." Seamus might be the Gryffindor boy in Harry's year we know the least about, I thought it might be fun to try and figure out what took the hat so long. Did he, like Harry and Hermione, have other character traits that would have made him equally well-suited for other houses, or was his level of bravery in question? I have a few theories, but I'd love to hear what my readers think!


  1. Hi, bib. I didn't remember that the hat took longer to place Seamus in Gryffindor, it is interesting. Something occurred to me while reading your question about Seamus, the hat took longer on Harry because he was torn between placing him in Gryffindor or Slytherin, with Hermione the hat was torn between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor and Seamus seems to me to have very strong Hufflepuff traits, I mean he is a very good friend and never jumps to conclusions too fast so he is quite fair in that way and he doesn't strike me as a Ravenclaw (I mean he isn't exceptionally brilliant at any subject...and the picture that always comes to my mind right now is when the cauldron explodes in his face although that's the movie and not the book) and he wouldn't be in Slytherin because he is half and half. So those are my thoughts. Keep the posts coming!

  2. I would actually argue against Seamus' loyalty and unwillingness to jump to conclusions, in OotP, he's the one who has fallen for the Daily Prophet's lies and it takes an exceedingly long time for him to come around. My theory is more that he didn't really fit into any of the four houses all that well, but perhaps had a smidge more bravery than any of the other traits and thus ended up in Gryffindor. While movie Seamus might belong in Hufflepuff, I don't remember anything in the books that would put him there. Do you have any examples?

  3. The one thing about the sorting hat that bugged me is the Weasley parents' admonition not to trust something if you can't see where it keeps its brain; Harry thinks back to that advice when he receives the marauder's map, so it's something that clearly sticks in the minds of those in the wizarding world. Granted, the hat was a product of the school's founders and the teachers must trust that it isn't full of dark magic, but Slytherin had as much to do with its creation as the others....