Sunday, July 3, 2011

Harry Potter: The Four Hogwarts Houses

All students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are sorted into one of four houses before they begin their first year of study. The house sorting is done by the Sorting Hat, an old conical hat that is set upon the head of each student in turn and that shouts out the name of the student's house. Below are the four houses.

  • Founder: Godric Gryffindor
  • Head: Professor Minerva McGonagall
  • Ghost: Nearly Headless Nick (Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington)
  • Colors: Red and gold
  • Animal: Lion
  • Characteristic: Courage

  • Founder: Salazar Slytherin
  • Head: Professor Severus Snape / Professor Horace Slughorn
  • Ghost: The Bloody Baron
  • Colors: Green and silver
  • Animal: Serpent
  • Characteristic: Ambition

  • Founder: Rowena Ravenclaw
  • Head: Professor Filius Flitwick
  • Ghost: The Grey Lady (Helena Ravenclaw)
  • Colors: Blue and bronze
  • Animal: Eagle
  • Characteristic: Intelligence

  • Founder: Helga Hufflepuff
  • Head: Professor Pomona Sprout
  • Ghost: The Fat Friar
  • Colors: Yellow and black
  • Animal: Badger
  • Characteristic: Loyalty

The main characters of the Harry Potter novels are Gryffindors. These include Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and the entire Weasley family, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, James Potter, Lily Evans Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew.

The house to which I most gravitate is Ravenclaw. I would love to be in a house that values intelligence and learning. My favorite color is blue, and I love Professor Flitwick. The Ravenclaw common room is in one of the Hogwarts towers, possesses a light and airy atmosphere, and overlooks a gorgeous mountain view.

Harry Potter: The Magic of House-Elves

House-elves are non-human, intelligent, sentient, magical beings who appear in the Harry Potter novels. House-elves appear to be lowly creatures. They serve witches and wizards and seem perfectly content to do so. A house-elf's highest purpose is to obey his or her master's or mistress' command. Lowly as they are, house-elves have magic peculiar to themselves and unavailable to witches and wizards. The magic of house-elves is wonderfully illustrated in this story of Kreacher, as told by Kreacher to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Kreacher is a house-elf in the Black family household. The Black family, except for Sirius Black, Harry Potter's god-father, are all enamored of the Dark Arts and of Lord Voldemort. Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, has become one of Voldemort's Death Eaters. Regulus is also very fond of Kreacher.

One day, Regulus tells Kreacher that Lord Voldemort requires a house-elf for some particular task and that Regulus has volunteered Kreacher. Regulus explains to Kreacher what an honor this is, for both Regulus and Kreacher, to be chosen for special service to the Dark Lord. Regulus tells Kreacher to go with Lord Voldemort, to do all that Voldemort requires, and then to come home. Kreacher obeys.

Lord Voldemort takes Kreacher by boat out to an island in the middle of a lake deep within a cave. Voldemort intends to hide one of his horcruxes there, surrounded by spells and curses that will prevent anyone getting to it. This horcrux contains a piece of Voldemort's soul within a gold locket. Voldemort plans to place the locket at the bottom of a basin filled with cursed liquid and to place a powerful spell upon the locket so that it will not budge unless someone drinks the cursed liquid first. Kreacher's role is to insure that the cursed liquid works.

Once they reach the island, Voldemort commands Kreacher to drink the cursed liquid within the basin. The liquid causes the drinker to experience mental horror and tremendous thirst. Kreacher drinks the liquid and experiences these tortures before the cold eyes of Voldemort, whose only concern is to ascertain if the liquid works as it should. When Voldemort sees that the liquid works as expected, he departs the cave in the boat, leaving Kreacher in agony on the island.

Voldemort knows that the horrible thirst will eventually drive Kreacher to drink from the waters of the lake. This will trigger the Inferi. The Inferi are bodies of dead people who are buried underwater and who will drag down anyone who enters the lake. The Inferi will drag Kreacher to his death, and there will be no living witness to the hiding place of Voldemort's horcrux.

However, Kreacher comes home. Harry, Ron, and Hermione simply cannot understand how Kreacher can possibly have escaped the Inferi. Kreacher, for his part, cannot understand why Harry, Ron, and Hermione are astonished. Master Regulus had told Kreacher to do the Dark Lord's bidding and then to come home. Master Regulus had said, Come home. Kreacher obeyed his master. Kreacher came home, as Master Regulus had told him to do.

Clearly, Kreacher had used magic peculiar to house-elves. The house-elf's highest purpose is to obey his or her master's or mistress' command. Master Regulus had said, Come home. Kreacher's purpose was to obey his master, and this activated powerful magic that allowed Kreacher somehow to escape the Inferi and to come home. Kreacher doesn't seem able to explain this. It seems self-evident to him: my master told me to come home, so of course I came home.

This cold-hearted use of Kreacher is what turns Regulus against Voldemort. Regulus procures another gold locket and asks Kreacher to take him to the island in the cave. Kreacher does so. Regulus then tells Kreacher to wait until the basin is empty, to remove the gold locket horcrux and replace it with the fake gold locket, and finally to return home and destroy the gold locket. Regulus drinks the cursed liquid, knowing it will bring about his death, but willing to sacrifice his life to destroy Voldemort's evil horcrux.

Kreacher sees Regulus suffer from the mental torture of the cursed liquid and finally succomb to the horrible thirst by trying to drink from the lake, which triggers the Inferi, who drag Regulus down under the water to his death. Overcome with horror and sadness, Kreacher nonetheless obeys Master Regulus, exchanges the lockets, and goes home. However, try as he might, Kreacher is unable to destroy the gold locket because a horcrux cannot be destroyed by ordinary means. (Much later, Ron is able to destroy the locket, using the Sword of Gryffindor.)

This story shows that non-human creatures have powerful magic of their own and that love can lead to incredible acts of heroism.

Harry Potter: Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters

The Death Eaters in the Harry Potter novels are followers of the evil Lord Voldemort.

Lord Voldemort was born Tom Marvolo Riddle. (The letters in the name "Tom Marvolo Riddle," when rearranged, also spell "I am Lord Voldemort.") Tom's father was a Muggle (a non-magical person) who abandoned Tom's mother while she was pregnant with Tom. Tom's mother, a witch, died shortly after giving birth to Tom, who was raised in an orphanage. Tom never felt at home until he began attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (a boarding school) at age eleven.

Tom made it his business to learn all he could about the Dark Arts. He wanted power. He wanted to be the most powerful wizard who ever lived. In fact, he wanted to overcome death and live forever. He kept pushing the boundaries of magic, achieving more magical power than had ever been achieved and then pushing for even more.

Voldemort's followers, the Death Eaters, seem to me to fall into three types.

FULLY COMMITTED. A few Death Eaters are fully committed to Lord Voldemort and his evil ways. When Voldemort loses his power after trying to kill the one-year-old Harry Potter, these Death Eaters remain faithful. They are ever alert for a sign of Voldemort's return to power and are always ready to help and support him. Two such Death Eaters are Bartemius Crouch (son) and Bellatrix Lestrange.

WISHY-WASHY. Most Death Eaters are of this type. They are attracted to the power and evil of Voldemort, but they will support Voldemort only as long as he remains powerful. When Voldemort loses his power, this type of Death Eater "repents" of having followed him so as to be in the good graces of the kinder and saner wizards now in charge at the Ministry of Magic. When Voldemort regains his power, these Death Eaters "repent" of having defected and return to Voldemort's side. These Death Eaters would like to follow Lord Voldemort, but their main concern is to stay in the good graces of whoever is in power at the moment.

DISILLUSIONED. A few Death Eaters follow Lord Voldemort because they are attracted to power and to the excitement of pushing the boundaries to see how far magic can go, but they retain a core of goodness within themselves that causes them to turn away from Voldemort's evil in the end. For a while, this third type of Death Eater is able to deny or excuse the evil in Voldemort. When Voldemort ruthlessly punishes one of his followers for a mistake, this third type of Death Eater initially justifies the cruelty by telling him- or herself, Of course Lord Voldemort had to punish So-and-So. The Dark Lord cannot allow such mistakes to hamper the quest for power, which, after all, is for the greater good of all.

Eventually, though, Lord Voldemort's cruelty reaches someone whom this third type of Death Eater loves. That is what makes the difference: this type of Death Eater can still love. Voldemort knows nothing of love. This happens with Severus Snape, when Severus sees that Voldemort has killed the woman whom Severus truly loves--Lily Evans Potter, Harry Potter's mother. It also happens with Regulus Arcturus Black, when Regulus sees that Voldemort has callously used Regulus' beloved house-elf, Kreacher, as a guinea pig and left Kreacher for dead. Both Severus and Regulus are suddenly and completely disillusioned with Voldemort and break away from him. In both cases, this eventually results in their deaths.