Have you thought about your Hogwarts house recently?

Maybe it’s time you revisited that topic.  If you’re even moderately involved in online or in-person Harry Potter fan discussions, today’s post isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but I hope my personal examples will make reading it worth your while.

You’ve probably heard it said that your Hogwarts house (whichever house you identify with most–whether selected by you or by Pottermore) is more indicative of what you value than of the person you currently are.  That statement now seems incredibly obvious to me in light of not only the books (e.g., Harry’s choice not to be placed in Slytherin) but also my own house and those of my friends and family, but I had never heard the idea articulated until recently.

Let me illustrate it with my own story.  If you’ve been reading this blog long enough–or if you go back through the archives to around 2012-13–you may know that I used to consider myself a Ravenclaw (and still have a Ravenclaw blog title and tagline, which probably won’t change) and had a bit of an identity crisis when Pottermore placed me in Hufflepuff.  But over the years since then, I have become a very proud Hufflepuff.  There’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here–did I realize that I was really a Hufflepuff all along, or did I accept the Pottermore pronouncement as fate and write myself a personal narrative to fit?  Or–a third option–did my house identity lead me to aspire and strive to become a person who belongs in Hufflepuff?  I think this last theory best explains what happened.  Before being sorted, I already valued loyalty, hard work, and kindness (a quality not specifically mentioned by the Sorting Hat but popularly associated with Hufflepuff) to some degree–otherwise I wouldn’t have answered the sorting questions the way I did–but being sorted into Hufflepuff pushed me to articulate these values more clearly than I ever had before and to begin consciously striving to emulate them.

Now, here’s the key–I don’t always exemplify these traits, but I strongly admire them when I see them in others, more than I admire traits associated with other houses.  I think that’s a big reason why I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than a lot of people did–because, as I argued in this post, it’s a movie about one actual Hufflepuff and (as I see them) his very Hufflepuff-like friends.  People don’t necessarily think of Hufflepuff when they think of me, but when someone does place me in the correct house (this happened a couple of weeks ago), I’m very happy, and I take this as a sign that I am becoming the kind of person I want to be.  We see this with Harry Potter.  He probably could have fit into any of the houses, but his choice placed him in Gryffindor.  And throughout the series (especially in Chamber of Secrets, but later too) we see him worrying about whether he’s really brave enough to be in Gryffindor or whether, instead, he’s simply foolhardy.  I think we see it with Neville too–he doesn’t immediately appear to be a brave person, but being brave is important to him (because of his parents, we later learn), and he eventually becomes brave.  We could think of it this way: If you’re constantly thinking, “I don’t deserve to be in this house,” you’re probably in the right house.

This theory explains why I know some very sweet people who strongly identify with Slytherin–maybe they’re tired of being pigeonholed as sweet people.  It probably explains a lot of other things that I haven’t thought about yet.  How about you?  Do you think you belong in the house where Pottermore placed you, and why or why not?  I know this topic gets discussed a lot, but I never get tired of it, because I think it can be a fascinating and useful tool for understanding who we are and who we aspire to become.

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my favorite fictional couples that never happened

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and some of you may be feeling like your true Valentine is out there somewhere (maybe in a very specific location whose exact address or coordinates you know) and just hasn’t found his or her way to you yet.  This is kind of the way I feel about Tom Hiddleston, and I now know, since I read that article about him in GQ that came out last week, which part of London he lives in.  (Like Charles Dickens, he comes straight outta Camden.)  In honor of all of you who are feeling frustrated in love, here are a few fictional couples who never get together despite my best shipping efforts.

  1. the unnamed narrator and Frank Crawley in Rebecca.  *spoilers ahead* My book club just read this 1938 Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier.  I described it as “creepy Downton Abbey,” so if you like stories about rich people with no jobs, and their household staff who know way too much about the family, you will probably enjoy this book.  (I also thought the writing style was beautiful, the setting haunting, and the human psychology spot-on.)  I had several theories about what was going to happen in this book, some of which were based on superficial resemblances to Jane Eyre, and all of which turned out to be wrong.  The theory that I clung to the hardest was that the narrator’s husband, Maxim, was going to either go to jail or get the death penalty for having killed his first wife, the narrator was going to realize that he never really loved her but was just using her to try to have a normal life, and she was going to end up with the longsuffering and loyal estate agent Frank Crawley, whom I pictured as the subdued and diplomatic Tom Branson of the later seasons of Downton Abbey.  It just seemed so clear to me that the narrator was much more comfortable around Frank than around her preoccupied and moody husband.  I went so far as to go back and make sure the first chapter, which occurs chronologically at the end of the story, didn’t have any proper nouns in it–“We thought she was talking about Maxim, but she could have been talking about Frank!”  I was wrong; she stuck with the wife-killer.  Poor Frank.
  2. Liesel and Max in The Book Thief.  I’ve read Markus Zusak’s remarkable Holocaust-era novel in two different book clubs, and both times some people, including myself, have stated that we wished Liesel, the book thief, and Max, the young Jewish man who hid in Liesel’s family’s basement, had gotten together at the end.  I get all the reasons why that relationship wouldn’t work: he’s older (not that much older, though); she sees him as a brother; it’s not really a book about romantic relationships, but at the same time Liesel will always carry a torch for Rudy.  I do get all that, but I can’t stand to think of Max being all alone for the rest of his life.  Liesel, we learn, marries some random guy and ends up having a bunch of grandchildren, so I’m not worried about her.  But Max is such a lonely figure throughout the book–he arrives alone; he leaves alone; he has to stay in the basement when everyone else is going to the air-raid shelter.  It breaks my heart to think he’ll have to stay that way forever.  He made you a book, Liesel.  Did your random guy do that?
  3. Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood. Speaking of the trope of marrying a random-guy-ex-machina, I’m sure I’m not the only Harry Potter fan who used to think it was a total copout when J.K. Rowling declared that Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, ended up marrying some guy named Rolf Scamander.  Now that I know and love Newt Scamander, I guess I’m okay with Luna marrying his grandson.  But still, like everyone else, I wanted her to get together with Neville.  And yet, there’s a part of me that also thinks Harry and Luna would have been a great couple.  I think she would have helped him not to take himself so seriously, and he would have helped her get some street cred at Hogwarts (not that Luna cares what people think of her).  They have some sweet exchanges in the books (like when Luna tells Harry about her faith that she’ll see her mother again) and the movies (like when Luna says that hanging out with Harry is “kind of like being with a friend,” and Harry says, “I am your friend, Luna”), and I think this mutual kindness and confidence could have gone somewhere romantic.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in shipping.  Meanwhile, don’t forget that chocolate goes on clearance February 15!

LeakyCon Portland 2013

This past weekend my mom and I attended the fourth annual LeakyCon in Portland, Oregon.  (This year there is also a London LeakyCon.)  LeakyCon began as a Harry Potter convention (named for the website The Leaky Cauldron, which in turn is named for the tavern that marks the boundary between Muggle London and the magical shopping district Diagon Alley), and while it now represents a number of fandoms, it’s still a Harry Potter convention to me.  The following is simply a highlight reel representing one person’s experience of the convention.

Best chance encounter: My mom was buying a pop at a concession stand and I was playing Wordsmith on my phone* when Mom said, “Hey, that guy’s wearing a cardigan like Neville’s.”  I quickly noticed that he also had the Sword of Gryffindor hanging from his belt and was indeed cosplaying, quite convincingly, as Neville Longbottom, who, as you probably know, is my favorite character.  We asked him for a photo, and he ran to retrieve the Sorting Hat so that his costume would be complete.  On Facebook and Twitter you can see a picture of me standing next to a very BA “Neville” as he draws the sword out of the hat.

*I’m calling this the luckiest five minutes of my life because in addition to the encounter I’m about to describe, I played my highest-valued word to date, for 98 points.

Most heartwarming story: We got to attend a panel featuring three actors from the movies: Devon Murray (Seamus Finnegan), Scarlett Byrne (Pansy Parkinson), and Ellie Darcey-Alden (young Lily).  They all seemed like good quality people, but Devon was (predictably) the scene-stealer, telling story after goofy story from both his personal life and his on-set experience.  One story, though, was just plain sweet: Devon confessed that he didn’t read the Harry Potter books until after he finished filming the movies, explaining that he has dyslexia and wasn’t into reading as a kid.  While he still isn’t an avid reader, he credits what interest he has in reading to his costar Matthew Lewis (Neville!), who dragged Devon along to a bookstore and got him started on the same series that Matthew was reading.  Introducing someone to reading is one of this greatest kindnesses a person can show, in my opinion.

Most informative session (and best souvenir): My favorite regular session that we attended (a close second would be the live episode of the MuggleNet podcast Alohomora!) featured still frames and script excerpts of scenes that weren’t included in the movies, along with discussion of why they might have been left out.  Not only was it a fascinating session, but I also won a bottle of pumpkin juice because I started following the presenter on Twitter.

These were my favorite moments from the convention.  As I recall other events and conversations that made an impression on me, I may add them here.  If you were there, tell me about your favorite experiences!

Seeking unlikely hero who’s good with plants

I realize this morning’s post was probably a bit of a snooze for people who haven’t read The Rise of Silas Lapham (even though the novel itself is not a snooze–I’ve been flying through the last hundred pages this afternoon and evening), so this evening I decided to write something more fun, or something that at least nerds like me will consider fun.

I was thinking earlier about the two fictional characters I’m most in love with.  One, Sam Gamgee, I’ve loved since I first read The Lord of the Rings at age 13; the other, Neville Longbottom, I’ve loved for a shorter time but no less fervently (I have a larger-than-life-sized representation of him in glossy cardboard).  The similarities between the two are significant: both appear somewhat incompetent on first impression but turn out to be undeniably capable and even heroic, and both have a knack for botany (or Herbology, in Neville’s case).  Also, now that I think of it, both are intimidated by angry wizards.  But who wouldn’t be?

Based on these ideal figures, I’ve compiled a list for the reference of any guy who may, for whatever reason, want to impress me.

1. I would be really impressed if you could slay something, preferably something that urgently demands to be slain, such as a squadron of orcs or a snake that’s actually a Horcrux.

2. You need to be able to locate plants with magical properties in case I need them in an emergency.  For example, if I am stabbed by a Morgul blade, I will need you to find me some athelas, also known as kingsfoil.  Or, if I need to spend a prolonged period of time underwater (I was thinking about visiting the Titanic site with James Cameron), I will require gillyweed.

3. It would also be nice if you had some skill with regular, non-magical plants, particularly edible plants like po-ta-toes and strawberries (do you remember the taste of strawberries, Mr. Frodo?).  Here Sam has a decided advantage over Neville.  I guess it’s possible that Neville is cultivating a little kitchen garden next to his venomous tentacula plants, but we know for a fact that Sam cooks (unintentional 1960s popular music reference!).  But if we’re talking about advantages and disadvantages, let’s be fair: Neville owns a pair of shoes.  Also, Neville is human; technically, Sam is not.  But this isn’t a competition.

4. If you have a domineering older person in your life, such as your old Gaffer or your Gran, you will always have someone whose good opinion you strive to live up to or whose poor opinion you strive to prove wrong.  This will play a large part in your emerging heroism.

5. I don’t mind if you say lots of ridiculous things; in fact, I will probably find it endearing.  But try to come up with at least one awesome line to deliver at a tense moment.  For example, if someone asks you how your parents are, try saying, “Better, now they’re about to be avenged.”  Or, here’s one that works in all kinds of different situations: “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!”

Well, that should give you something to work with.  If you think you could live up to my exacting standards, and especially if you’ve ever had your Remembrall stolen or gotten excited about seeing an oliphant, please inquire.

Harry Potter humor

Despite its title, I’m trying to make sure this does not become a Harry Potter blog, and I intend for my next few posts, after this one, to have nothing to do with HP.  (For example, I’m planning to review the final David Crowder Band album, Give Us Rest, which was released last week.)  But I couldn’t resist sharing a thought I had the other day: What if every bestselling novel and series released since J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter was actually about Harry Potter?  Here are some hypothetical synopses.

1. A Series of Unfortunate Events. The life of Neville Longbottom.

2. The Hunger Games. An account of the brawl that inevitably ensues when a meal is served at the Weasley home.  First come, first served.

3. The Help. A socially conscious young woman named Hermione Granger meets two house-elves, Dobby and Winky, who will change her life forever.

4. The Shack. An allegorical story set in the ramshackle structure outside Hogsmeade where Remus Lupin (see Twilight below) can ride out his lycanthropic fits without hurting anyone.

5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Never mind, this is the one about Neville.  (I love you, Neville.)

6. The Half-Giant Man with the Dragon Tattoo. Things you didn’t know about Hagrid.

7. Eragon. A spin-off series in which the tattooed half-giant’s dream comes true: he befriends a talking Norwegian Ridgeback named Norbert.

8. Percy Weasley and the Ministry Aides. Ambitious Hogwarts grads take on stacks of paperwork of Olympian proportions.  Olympian.

9. Left Behind. What happens to Harry when he has to stay at school because he didn’t get his Hogsmeade permission slip signed.

10. Twilight. Nymphadora Tonks has to decide whether she wants to be with Remus Lupin or a nattily dressed vampire who looks like Cedric Diggory.