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.