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Sorting Out the Sorting

Yes, I am still bothered about the sorting on Pottermore, mostly because as you guys noticed in the comment section of that post, a simple change in the program would erase at least some of the subsequent frustration.  I’m also aware that you’re probably gaping at the screen and thinking, haven’t we moved on from this?  Obviously, I haven’t.  Mostly because I think that Pottermore has been a gateway to other thoughts for me.

Everyone is correct who said that the sorting hat takes into account your preference when sorting you.  So why doesn’t the program simply ask the person what house they believe they’ll be sorted into prior to launching the questions?  Different requests (in addition to a person answering, “no idea”) would lead the computer algorithm to ask different questions to confirm whether the person really would be a good fit for that house.  And either you’d be placed where you’ve always imagined yourself as you read the books, or you’d be guided into a different house, but either way, there would be room for dialogue of a variety with the hat prior to sealing the sorting.

See, simple fix.

*******

I know exactly why this is bothering me, and it’s part of the danger of breaking that figurative fourth wall, which can bring both huge rewards and huge disappointments depending on (1) how it goes and (2) how emotionally invested you are in the story.  The concept of the fourth wall originally comes from theater, and it refers to the invisible wall between the stage and the audience.  We understand that we’re the audience, silently observing, but when the actors recognize us, address us directly, it breaks the illusion of us vs. them and mixes our two worlds.

It happens all the time in fiction within the story — the narrator addresses the reader directly, recognizing that there is someone reading the book — but it also happens at this very different level when the reader gets to enter the story.  I’m not talking about Choose Your Own Adventures (though that’s certainly an example).  I’m talking about this new trend in the last 50 or s0 years to actually place the reader in the story (or the viewer in the movie/television show) though ideas such as amusement parks or characters in costumes or anything that allows the reader (or fan) to interact on some level with the object of their affection.  It can be as simple as getting to meet the author or read an article where the author gives you more information on the world beyond the story by answering reader questions, and it can be as messy as getting to go to Disney World or Sesame Street Place or ComicCon and “meet” the characters.  Which leads us to Pottermore.

Pottermore has the potential to make readers even more invested in the story.  Or it has the potential to be a huge turnoff if the interaction doesn’t reflect the expectations the reader carried into the experience.  It would be like finally getting to Disney World after being in love with the Peter Pan movie, and as you are walking onto the ride, the operator purposefully trips you and says, “have a great fucking adventure in this stupid fiberglass boat.”  You would be so stunned by the behaviour, it would possibly change how you felt about Peter Pan as you transferred all the hurt from being tripped and yelled at to the unfortunate boy-who-never-grew-up who did nothing wrong but was ruined a bit regardless.  You would never be able to watch the movie again without thinking about how you spent all that money and emotional energy to get to a place where you were treated poorly.

Or it would be like finally getting to meet Harry Potter and having him be a bit of a dick.  We forgive a lot of his behaviour in the books because we get the story through his eyes.  It makes us sympathetic to him because we know why he does the things he does.  But if we met him face-to-face, we would be getting his behaviour in the moment through OUR eyes.  And that has the potential to change everything.  To either have him live up to the pedestal we’ve placed him on (because while I don’t believe in putting people on pedestals, characters and imaginary worlds are unfortunately fair game) or having him fall to injury.

For the record, I think the same minefield exists for meeting bloggers.  Either it can be the most wonderful experience ever as you get to sit in the same room with someone who you started a friendship with over words, or you may discover that you really have nothing in common once you leave the computer screen and it’s painful to spend two hours with them face-to-face.  Meeting people has the potential to bring you deeper happiness and a lasting friendship, or it has the potential to undo the warmth online.  You just never know how it will go.

*******

The sorting then becomes a confirmation of what you’ve been thinking for the last 15+ years as you’ve read the books.  I am a Hufflepuff.  I am maybe a Ravenclaw.  I am definitely not a Slytherin or Gryffindor, equally.

If we break this down into a simple formula of X = Y, we know that

  • Hufflepuffs are all about “hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play.”
  • Ravenclaws value “intelligence, knowledge and wit.”
  • Slytherins all show “ambition, cunning, and resourcefulness.”
  • And Gryffinors exhibit “bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry.”

I think we all contain all four qualities of the Hogwart houses, and that one or two rises to the forefront while the others fall behind.  Am I sometimes brave?  Sure.  I was brave when I got over my fear of needles and gave myself injections.  Am I ambitious?  Sure.  In the sense that I was going to become a parent come hell or high water.  We had plans A to Z mapped out which is fairly ambitious.  But in my day-to-day world, I am neither brave nor ambitious, and I am okay with that even if others would see that fact as my foibles.

I am comfortable describing myself as loyal and hard working.  And I’m certainly bookish and enjoy learning of learning’s sake.  So I expected to be sorted into Hufflepuff (most likely) or Ravenclaw (somewhat likely) when I got to Pottermore because that.is.how.I.read.the.books.all.these.years.

See, great potential to ruin the illusion by inviting people to interact with the world.  Or Pottermore could have cemented and reinforced the illusion.  It could have gone either way.

There is a scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where Alice is arguing with a bird who insists she is a serpent because she has a long neck and likes to eat eggs.  Like a serpent.  And Alice keeps insisting that she’s a girl even if she does share these qualities with snakes.  The whole conversation is ridiculous because we know Alice is a girl and not a snake, even if the bird can form an argument that she has the qualities of a snake.  And as Alice insists that it matters to her whether someone sees her as a girl or a serpent, it matters to me how the computer sorts me.

Especially because it all comes down to the structure of the program.  I was sorted into Slytherin not because I made choices that exhibited ambition.  My questions were dusk or dawn (dusk); black or white (black); ocean, forest, or castle (ocean).  Because I picked dark or water-based choices, I got sorted into Slytherin.  The second time I got sorted, I randomly received questions that had multiple choices and were somewhat ethically based (rank the items I would save in a fire) or asked me point-blank what I valued in myself (intelligence).  This time it sorted me into Ravenclaw.  In order to get into Hufflepuff, I would have needed to choose the animal-based answer in all the questions.  So if I had lied and said that I’d love to be able to take care of animals at Hogwarts or have the power to speak to animals, I would be in Hufflepuff.  Even though nowhere in description of Hufflepuff is an extraordinary love of animals.  A deep like, sure.  But caring about animals to the exclusion of everything else?  Not quite.  And while I love Cozy Jackson very much, I can’t say that I’d choose the ability to speak to animals over something like the power of invisibility.

*******

The only way I could explain it to Josh is through a what if.

If they divided up all the parents in the twins’ school into four categories — Fertile Myrtles, Bookish Barneys, Athletic Abbys, and Serene Susans — I would expect to be a Bookish Barney.  I’m not athletic even though I run.   I’m not very serene even though I do yoga.  And I’m certainly not fertile.  But what if the criteria for being sorted into Fertile Myrtles was simply having more than one child.  Anyone with two or more children are Fertile Myrtles, with no regard to how that family was built. (Ah, it sounds a bit like how we sometimes have passing thoughts about someone pregnant without really knowing their story or whether they’re all that fertile at all.)  What if my bookishness was ignored simply because I have twins?

I know the first question is “who cares?”  Well, I care.  Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland cares.  I care even though I’m sure the people in the Fertile Myrtle group are wonderful people that I would also have something in common with (parenting multiple children, let’s say) if I stayed in that group.  Some of my favourite people in the world are incredibly fertile.  But at the same time, we all know that there are places where we feel as if we belong and places where we don’t, and those places are all determined on an individual level and can’t be determined by an outsider to the situation.

Being in Ravenclaw is low-stakes since I’m not likely to have deep conversations with my fellow Ravenclaws in the commons room (mostly because they’re probably 14-year-olds), and being in the imaginary Fertile Myrtles is low-stakes (even if they say things such as “my husband just has to look at me and I fall pregnant!” or “is a miscarriage when you misplace your stroller?”).  But feeling as if you belong is important in your face-to-face world, from the partner you pick to share your life with to where you work and whether you feel as if you’re in the right position to your friendship circles and how comfortable you are with the people in them.  No one wants to feel discordant.

We can’t control some of those things in the last paragraph — so much of that sense of belonging is a two-way street that is paved with random circumstance.  We choose our partners before we know how they’ll react to a host of situations life throws our way.  We choose our job without knowing how we’ll interact with all our colleagues.  Friends come and go, and we interact differently with people as life circumstances change, bringing us closer together or farther apart.  And some of it falls to us, to being open to letting people in and allowing ourselves to belong.

But Pottermore I can control.  I can control whether I feel as if I belong or if I feel discordant.  And being in Slytherin felt too discordant to leave alone.  Hence why I deleted the account even though I’ve had strange regrets since deleting the account.

*******

I do think that it’s interesting that the majority of the people who mentioned being sorted on Pottermore all ended up in Slytherin.  Are we really that ambitious as a community?  Or do we all just like dark colours and nighttime and water?  And if that is the case, why aren’t we planning our own ALI retreat to the beach?  We could have a bonfire at night, reveling in our Slytherinness.

I am only half-joking.

I would have been that child who quaked walking up to the sorting hat upon arriving at Hogwarts, who would have spent many sleepless nights worrying about where I’d be sorted.  So it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve given it this much thought.  But thank you, nonetheless, for indulging another post on the matter.

11 comments

1 a { 01.03.13 at 10:32 am }

The thing is, based on the books, you only have a vague understanding of the realities of all the houses except for Gryffindor. You get an overview of the other houses, the barest attributes…and then you deal with the characters. Cunning and ambition can be good and useful things, but since they’re associated with snakes and vile people in the books…well, Slytherin seems an unpleasant place. The characters from Slytherin barely evince any depth, except for a couple who play major roles. My point is, taking a skewed perspective into a “reality” leaves little room for anything except disappointment.

I guess that’s the problem with classifying people (and things) – for an efficient system (or when there are only a few categories), you have to ignore some features and focus only on the most dominant ones.

2 Chickenpig { 01.03.13 at 11:07 am }

I’ve always thought of you as a Hufflepuff. You have incredible honesty, loyalty, and compassion. I would think that for kids to be successful at a private school of this caliber they would ALL have to be intelligent and at least a little bit bookish, so I tend to put those traits last because they are all equal on that score. Maybe Ravenclaw kids are just a little bit geekier than the rest?

Anytime we put something on a pedestal we are likely to be disappointed in some way, or at least struck by reality. For example, all of us here are trying or were trying with all our might to achieve the illusive goal of parenting. But when we get there, we are shocked by the hardcore reality of it. I really do feel like when I got to the ‘parenting ride’ I was tripped and smacked down HARD. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t find the rest of the park rewarding and that I didn’t get over it, enough to want to get back on the ride again in fact, but it was a terrible shock all the same.

3 Lisa @ hapahopes { 01.03.13 at 11:25 am }

Reading these has brought back memories of dating through eHarmony. I felt like I needed to answer all of the profile questions, or whatever they were called, in a way that would bring me to the partner I thought I would fit with. No matter how much I manipulated my answers, the algorithm kept matching me with people I didn’t feel I’d connect with so I switched to another site before even giving them a try. In the end, I met and married a guy who was completely not what I thought I fit with. Thankfully, I was wrong and the computer was more right than my noggin. I’m glad I started to just roll with it. Maybe you would have felt more comfortable in Slytherin than you expected. Maybe it would have been a different ride than you thought, but fun nonetheless?

4 Kathy { 01.03.13 at 11:58 am }

I love the way you think and process your experiences. I don’t have a lot to say about this post, but wanted you to know that I was here and read it. I appreciate your thoughts on all of this and the comments others have left for you.

5 Tigger { 01.03.13 at 12:10 pm }

If I look at the descriptions you have above, I would have pegged myself as being in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. Slytherin was chosen for me, though, and I can see how: I do strive for resourcefulness and cunning. Ambition maybe not so much – but I AM a parent who is going back to school so she can get a decent job and help support the family, so maybe? And yet, I desire to be nothing more than an office grunt. I like making things run smoothly. I do not want to be the person at the top – I want to be the one behind the scenes.

My husband also ended up in Slytherin, although I would have definitely pegged him as a Ravenclaw. The description the author gives of Slytherin, however, does NOT fit what we are led to believe in the books…which makes things very interesting indeed!

6 jjiraffe { 01.03.13 at 7:11 pm }

I am afraid to go on Pottermore after reading this! The WB movie site offered a sorting service, but it wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as this, and I was pronounced a Griffindor, which I suspected. (I have both the positive and negative qualities and I probably value bravery too much.) I think by rejecting your initial sorting you showcased Rowling’s main theme that it is our choices that define us, not our abilities. I love that message. And I’m sure this has been pointed out already, but the sorting hat wanted Harry to be a Slytherin, a choice he rejected.

I’m sorry the experience left you feeling this way. I rather worship the series too (it’s sort of my I Ching in a way) and it would be difficult to have any of my associations with it dashed.

7 Queenie { 01.03.13 at 8:24 pm }

I’m so fascinated to see that you’ve approached the books in a completely different way from me. It never occurred to me to Weiner which house I’d get, because it has always been so obvious tome that everyone should want Gryffindor, and that I would end up there. It’s like a self_evident truth.

8 Justine { 01.03.13 at 9:50 pm }

I just love this: “so much of that sense of belonging is a two-way street paved with random circumstance.” I may be thinking about that little gem for days. ;)

And yet … once we’re sorted … into wherever … we also make ourselves belong, don’t we? We accentuate our whatever-ness, even in the face of random circumstance?

And even in Pottermore (where I have no account), aren’t you tossed into the same house with people that may make you feel more or less like you belong?

Still mulling this over …

9 persnickety { 01.03.13 at 10:24 pm }

The perspective we are given does play such a huge role in how we perceive the fictional world. With first person narratives it is easier to perceive the bias- with third person ones less easily so. I have found that some of my favourite authors are very good at presenting the same event(s) from differing points of view, and providing the opportunity to see how different people interpret a particular moment. We don’t get that in Harry Potter, so we do have particular views of people and Houses.

I had such a well thought out response written in my head this morning, but I needed to work before I replied. Now it is just a mish mash of competing ideas.

It will be very interesting to see whether anyone writes the equivelent of Wicked for the Harry Potter series. (eventually) There is certainly scope.

It is interesting that Slytherin and Gryfindor share at least one chracteristic- a tendency to break the rules in pursuit of their goal- a belief that in some ways the rules do not apply to them, or to their goals.

10 Jamie { 01.03.13 at 11:43 pm }

I have enjoyed reading your posts related to Harry Potter! It is an indulgent fun break and I think it highlights that we are all more than one dimentional. If I were to play the game, I think I would also hope to be sorted into Ravenclaw. I can understand how the sorting into Slytherin may feel uncomfortable after reading the books and digesting it all along the way. It seems normal with that type of book to wonder or picture where you may find yourself if you were in that fictional word. It seems like a conflict of identity, which is really up to the individual to figure out. The relating of the game experience to Alice in Wonderland is a good one, where perception and separate realities are illustrated and the conflict that may come with that.

11 FrozenOJ { 01.04.13 at 6:09 am }

I was also sorted into Slytherin. Did you read the welcoming letter? I read it and it just did not fit me at all. I was shocked when I first got sorted, but was prepared to accept it until I read the letter. It proved to me that my perception of what Slytherin is was correct and I did not fit there. I didn’t think about deleting the account and starting over, I just didn’t go back. After reading your post the other day I did go back and was sorted into Ravenclaw. Like you I would have been comfortable with either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. I actually didn’t read or interact with any of the pages prior to the sorting (unless I had to in order to continue) so that I wouldn’t waste time on the account until I knew I wouldn’t have to delete it too. =D

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