movies

"In defence of Hufflepuff: the Hogwarts house no one wants to belong to."

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it is statistically certain that you did an online quiz to sort you into a Hogwarts house. (Anyone who didn’t can see themselves out quietly).

Most likely, that quiz isn’t the first time you’ve considered where the Sorting Hat would place you. As a child – and again, frequently, as an adult – I have been consumed by contemplation of the four Hogwarts houses: brave Gryffindor, clever Ravenclaw, ambitious (and occasionally evil) Slytherin, and Hufflepuff, which apparently bundles up all the students with no real skills in any useful areas and softens the blow of their rejection from the better houses by telling them they’re really “nice”.

Harry Potter might not have been kind enough for Hufflepuff. (Image via Warner Bros.)

It is, therefore, not surprising that the normal response to being sorted into Hufflepuff appears to range between anguished outrage (“I’m a Gryffindor! I’m so obviously a Gryffindor!”) to devastated acquiescence (“I guess I am a bit useless”).

It’s true that the books do a poor job of fleshing out the nuances of what it means to be in Hufflepuff house.

Those glimpses we do get are often of a house that’s a little down on their luck – they’re a laughing stock at Quidditch, they never win the House Cup, they had a single hero who died in the same book he was introduced in (poor, dear Cedric, may he rest in peace) and even the Sorting Hat doesn’t have anything particularly rousing to say about them – Hufflepuffs are “just and loyal”, “patient”, “true” and “unafraid of toil”.

(So to be clear, Gryffindors get “daring, nerve and chivalry”, and Hufflepuffs get… working hard in the fields? Is there anything less sexy or inspiring than being “unafraid of toil”?)

ADVERTISEMENT

Listen: Meshel Laurie speaks to children's author David Walliams. (Post continues.) 

But the assumption that Hufflepuff is the worst of the four houses – compared, might I add, to Slytherin, a house made up of literal pureblood supremacists – misunderstands the value of those characteristics.

In the Sorting Hat’s next song, it describes the attitudes of the Hogwarts founders towards which students they should teach at the school. Although readers are used to seeing the three “good” houses played off against Slytherin, the Sorting Hat notes the commonality between Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. All were only prepared to teach a select group of students at Hogwarts (those of pure blood; those who were clever; and those who were brave, respectively). And Helga Hufflepuff? Well, she declared, “I’ll teach the lot, and treat them just the same.”

You see, the thing that most people miss about Hufflepuff house is that the traits they’re assigned aren’t just “leftovers”. Being fair, and treating people equally and with respect, aren’t throwaway traits that just anyone can possess.

"I implore you, fellow Hufflepuffs, to wear that yellow and black scarf with pride."

Just because our hero Harry was chosen for Gryffindor – admission to which ostensibly requires more skill and strength of character than entrance to Hufflepuff – we shouldn’t assume that he also possesses the “basic” characteristics of kindness and fairness. In fact, his interactions with Neville in the early books suggest that these are traits he is often lacking. As we follow Harry’s story throughout the books, we learn that it is not always easy to be brave, but we should not neglect to also learn the complementary lesson – it is not always easy to be kind, or to be loyal, or to work hard without taking shortcuts.

ADVERTISEMENT

The truth is, if you don’t appreciate the value of Hufflepuff, then it’s quite possible you’re missing the point of Harry Potter altogether.

The fight between good and evil isn’t won on cleverness, or bravery, or blind ambition. It couldn’t possibly be, because the bad guys are often as smart as the good guys, and regularly as brave, and overwhelmingly more ambitious. The villain of the Harry Potter series wasn’t foiled because he was too stupid to succeed, or too scared to do what needed to be done. His downfall wasn’t a reflection of the quality of the skills he possessed, but a commentary on the abilities he lacked: humility, and respect, and above all, love.

Cedric Diggory was a champion, after all. (Image via Warner Bros.)

If the Harry Potter books taught us anything, it’s that bravery and cleverness and ambition doesn't mean all that much in the end. In fact, the only thing that truly sets us apart from the bad guys – when all is said and done – is our ability to be kind.

So today – and tomorrow, and all the days after that – I implore you, fellow Hufflepuffs, to wear that yellow and black scarf with pride.

And if you don’t have a scarf? A small act of kindness will do.

Are you a Hufflepuff and proud of it? Tell us in the comments below.