Most things in our lives don’t seem to have an overwhelmingly long shelf-life.
When I was in kindergarten, Pokémon had just come to the United States and taken the entire popular culture scene by storm. From ages 5-8, I spent untold hours enslaving?…capturing?…imprisoning?…catching? Catching! Yes, *catching* tiny little elemental monsters in baseball-sized stockades, using them to beat up on and rob young children, and ultimately pursuing my dream of becoming a world-champion cock-fighter sitting atop the hallowed halls of the Indigo Plateau. Truly nothing could stop the momentum of this fantastical freight train bearing down on the free-time of my elementary school classroom….until by age 9, when everyone in my class, myself included (*social chameleon and proud of it*), had moved on to Yu-Gi-Oh, a franchise focused more intently on the power of friendship and the ever-present risk of losing your soul to a creepy Egyptian.
When I was in middle school, my best friend was a guy named Nick. Something about his short stature, Italian sensibilities, love of age-inappropriate video games (and admittedly attractive sister) drew me in like a well-organized spreadsheet ensnares an accountant. We played football together (Well, he played. I stood on the offensive line and took up space. I may not have been swift of foot and sure of hand, but dammit I was wide), worked our way through the collective volumes of Grand Theft Auto, and sat together through three years of emotionally repressive Catholic middle school education. After the eighth grade, he moved to Atlanta. He visited once or twice in the couple of years following the move, but we ultimately ended up losing touch. I probably haven’t spoken to him in over a decade.
When I was in high school, I was something of a tennis savant. Having *just* recently become less of a…well…less of a fatty fatty fat fat, I was ready to meld my naturally innate talent with a newfound speed and agility that years before had seemed so far away from me. I ultimately played 4 years of varsity tennis, performed fairly well at tournaments and within our conference, and had a fantastic time playing with other like-minded racquet enthusiasts. When I ultimately went to college in Madison, I started to play far less often – really just on occasion when I would be home in Milwaukee, particularly over the summer. And as college wore on and my life in corporate American began, I stopped playing altogether. It’s now been well over 5 years since I’ve picked up a racquet (or as I douchily called it at the time – “My stick”).
But there is one thing that truly has stood the test of time. When I was in the third grade, my teacher Mrs. Welch began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to the class during our assigned reading time. I still don’t know exactly why Harry Potter ended up making such an instant and profound impact on my young psyche. But hearing Mrs. Welch wax poetic on the well-meaning snafus of Hagrid the Groundskeeper, the petulant sneers of Draco Malfoy, and the exquisitely detailed descriptions of the world of magical candies and confectionaries (Remember, still fat at this time) struck a chord in me that would never stop vibrating.
I remember how later that same year most of my third-grade class would dress up in fake glasses and temporary lightning bolt tattoos and go to the local AMC movie theater to watch the first movie. For most of the next year, my friend Charlie and I would spend our time after school playing the Harry Potter computer game, while also drawing and trying to recreate the books’ chapter illustrations and cover art. In fact, I still have some of these – my 3rd grade artistic style could best be described as “well-meaning abstract”. In the summer of 2005, I stood in line until midnight at Barnes & Nobel to pick up “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” on its release date. I did not ultimately dress up in the fake glasses and tattoo again, although at the time secretly resented that I hadn’t. In the summer before I started high school, I spent the entirety of my family’s annual trip up to the North Woods locked away in my room, eagerly consuming the final pages of the final book that had come to define so much of my childhood (Before I moved onto *True Adulthood* in 9th grade). To this day, I will still set aside a few weeks every year or two to re-read the books, watch a few of the movies, and drudge up some old early-2000’s video games to capture that heady pre-pubescent childhood high.
And I’m not alone in this feeling. If anyone reading this blog is a) Over the age of 35 and b) Has at times found themselves wondering why grown men and women still sometimes like to dress up in quidditch scarves and eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, just try to empathize with the important role this franchise has played in the collective development of an entire generation. And if it helps, try to think of something that was of equal importance to all of you growing up, something that to this day resonates with you strongly. Like Ronald Reagan. Or Little House on the Prairie.
But for all that I hold true and dear with this series, there is one thing that I have always taken some fault with – J.K. Rowling’s casual dismissal of Hufflepuff.
For those of you unfamiliar with Harry Potter, it primarily takes place at a school for young magically-gifted children called “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”. Within this school there are 4 Houses that kids get sorted into. Think of these Houses as their “Dormitories”. Each of these Houses is defined by a set of core characteristics that best define the “kind” of student that belongs to it, and students are selected into these houses based on which of these characteristics they best exemplify (Incidentally, this sorting is done by a magical talking hat, but we do not need to dissect that in detail here). The Four Houses are as follows:
Gryffindor: “Where dwell the brave at heart”
Ravenclaw: “Where those of wit and learning will always find their kind”
Slytherin: “Those cunning folk use any means, to achieve their ends”
Hufflepuff: “Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest, and taught them all she knew”
So as a recap, we have a house of valiant and courageous heroes, a house of sage intellects, a house of cunning and ambitious go-getters, and a house of….well, the rest I guess.
Like, what? Really? This is the eighth grade “C” level basketball team all over again. Like gee, great to still get to play, but awesome to figure out I don’t have any real skills in the process. Now to be fair, this isn’t the only description of Hufflepuff. The other distinction it gets is being “Where they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and unafraid of toil.” So I mean, nice try on trying to save it there Rowling, but some words just can’t be unsaid. And if you truly meant it, you would have given Hufflepuff *Some* chance to truly shine within the books. But in the end, all you ever gave them was a mediocre quidditch team, a dead Tri-wizard champion, and Susan Bones. Who the fuck asked for Susan Bones?
Now based on my biased ramblings, it should perhaps come as no surprise that I myself am a Hufflepuff, both self-identified and Pottermore.com verified (*Sips from Hufflepuff cauldron mug contentedly*). And as such, I take offense to not only the author’s refusal to give my House a single untarnished moment in the sun, but also to the general perception of Hufflepuff as the weakest, and most easily forgettable of the four Houses. For in the end, I truly believe that Hufflepuff is the best House, and those that think otherwise have drunk a bit too deeply from that cauldron of Gryffindor Kool-Aid
To demonstrate this, let’s maybe take a deeper look at each of the four Houses.
Gryffindor: “Where dwell the brave of heart”. Anyone who’s read Harry Potter can tell you how much of a double-edged sword this can be. There is a fine line between courage and mindless bravado, and the cast and crew of Gryffindor pass over that line frequently. At least half of the trouble that Harry and gang cause for themselves is rooted in an inability to calmly think things through and to be okay *for once* not playing the hero. The entire rising conflict of the first book could have been entirely done away with if they had literally just stayed in their dorm and diddled their wands.
Ravenclaw: “Where those of wit and learning will always find their kind.” I would like to finally dispel everyone of the notion that intelligence is inherently a positive personality trait. It’s not. How many intelligent people have you met that are either a) Clueless in social interactions b) Arrogant and self-absorbed or c) Kind of just an overall jerk. Hell, “Smart Asshole” was my high school English teacher’s nickname for me. So, I can tell you – intelligence without additional context really doesn’t get you very far.
Slytherin: “Those cunning folk use any means, to achieve their ends.” I’m not even going to go into too much detail on this one. This House is literally a rat’s nest of wizard-racists, mass murderers, vagabonds, thieves, and bullies and yet they *Still* get a more meaningful House distinction than Hufflepuff. We’re talking about a House that has fed every evil wizarding organization and bureaucracy since the time of Merlin (Think of it as the wizarding world’s Ivy League), and they’re still just lovable, cunning fellows. Absurd.
Hufflepuff: “Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest, and taught them all she knew.” “Where they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and unafraid of toil.” But let’s now unpack the best House. One really important thing that sticks out to me about the first three Houses is that many of the characteristics that they value are fairly intrinsic. Namely, they’re traits people are just kind of born with. People who are born naturally outgoing and extroverted likely find an easy home within the tower of Gryffindor. Those who just happen to come into the world with a greater level of intellect (“We can’t all have parents who are cardiologists, Carl”) will naturally gravitate towards Ravenclaw. Snotty little brats born into a life of privilege and plenty fit in naturally with the aristocratic airs of Slytherin. But Hufflepuff? Hard work, kindness, and loyalty? I personally have never met a child who wasn’t just a little bit mean (intentionally or otherwise), wouldn’t far rather be playing video games than doing their chores, and wouldn’t trade their best friend in a heartbeat for a chance to play with the cool kids.
In short, these are traits you actually need to prioritize and work on. Everyone probably thinks of themselves as “Kind” for example, but we all know this clearly isn’t true. How many adults do we need to see talking about someone behind their back, being rude to a waitress, or engaging in “polite and civic online discourse” on Facebook before accepting this. People everywhere “Appreciate the value of a hard day’s work!”, but I’ve seen too many co-workers log off their computers at 2 pm on a Thursday to truly believe it. And in terms of loyalty, everyone is there for people when it’s easy and requires no effort or sacrifice. But how many of us *truly* are there for people when things turn south? Not as many as we’d like, I think.
Most of the good and evil in the world plays out within the tiny scale of our own individual lives. We have all likely had dreams of our own heroic courage, world-class intellect, and strategic cunning playing out at scale on the macro, world stage. But let’s be real – the largest stage 99% of us are ever going to get to is our 112 (and counting!) Instagram followers, or our 7 blog followers (c’mon guys, *Step* *Up* *Your* *Game*). We likely can do a whole lot more good for the world by being decent people than by swinging a sword at a basilisk, or by being there for people when they need us than by attempting to overthrow the underground government leading the English wizarding world.
Which is why it’s such a damn shame that J.K. Rowling never really gave Hufflepuff their moment to shine. I get that it’s a story, and in a story everyone wants the brilliant feats of heroism, and the stunning displays of wit and logic to overcome the crafty villain. But I for one am deeply proud to be a Hufflepuff (*Cringes slightly at taking pride in a fictional dormitory*), and I encourage all my fellow Badgers to feel the same.
And if you’re a Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin reading this and have become offended at what I have to say about your respective houses, please just chill. You guys have had 7 books (and 8 movies!) to bask in the limelight. Give us our moment.
(Plus, it’s *Just like a Gryffindor* to need to play the self-righteous, offended bystander.)
Have a magical morning, all (And rest in peace, Cedric).