Can We Take Fiction Too Seriously?

I am, I admit, a Potterhead. I love the entire Potter empire (books, movies, what-have-you). I’m not as hard-core as many, but I do have great affection for the world of Harry Potter. So, when time came to “win” a spot in Pottermore (in beta), I put on my competing fingertips and waited for that magical window to open up so I could spot the quill and grab my place on Pottermore early. When it came time to try out the site, I gamely went through the chapters needed until I reached the Sorting Hat… which was the experience I most wanted.

I chided myself as my stomach flopped and I grew nervous. It was like opening acceptance letters from colleges; waiting to see what your future held. Ridiculous, right? (Or maybe not… read on.) There is a quiz you take (made by J.K. Rowling herself) that determines your house. Before you are put through to be sorted, the system even asks you to double check and make sure you’ve answered the questions exactly how you wanted to — this will determine which house you are in for the rest of your time on Pottermore… there is no changing.   

Anything that permanent always makes me nervous, even with a computer game (yes, I have self-diagnosed acute commitment-phobia, which is why I read multiple books at a time as well). I was sure, however, that I had answered the questions correctly — but I was nervous. I really wanted Gryffindor, if only because we have been taught that it is the best house to be in; the house of the “Golden Trio” (Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley). I also knew which house I did not want to be part of: Slytherin. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff would have been okay, but I wanted the BEST (it’s part of my nature, along with a strong desire to win everything I play). That said, the house that I was placed in maybe should’t have been a such a surprise.

To my horror, I was placed in Slytherin; as in the-house-of-the-most-evil-wizard-ever (and that of his minions as well). All I could think was, “What does this say about me?!?! Did I answer the questions in a way that made me seem evil?! Am I taking this too seriously?!?” Was it ridiculous to be in a panic? I think not, and I’ll tell you why. Most literature (and art for that matter), is more than entertainment – it reveals something about the beholder (as best said in the cliche, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”). As most readers know, no two people can read the same book. The same words, yes, but we are all coming at the work with our own sets of beliefs, experiences, neuroses, etc. Those of us who have gone through the experience of Harry Potter and Hogwarts have not only been shown a world with certain rules, reputations, and ideas, but have also created our own biases. Believe it or not, not every fan wanted to be in Gryffindor… plenty wanted to be in other houses – including Slytherin (and not for the evil-type reasons you might think)!

So, instead of writing it off as a stupid quiz on a fan site, I decided to think about what it meant about me as a person and me as a reader. Why, on one hand, was I so horrified to be lumped in with a house that has an evil (even if fictional) reputation, while, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but smile at the description of a Slytherin student. Is the world of Harry Potter more real than I had thought?

I took to the Internet to find out more about the other houses (i.e. to read the welcome messages for each house, which have been posted in various places… you do not get to see the welcome messages of any house but yours on the Pottermore site). I wanted to know why I, a person who is known to friends and family as a bookish homebody who is more teacher (which I actually was) than corporate, manipulative power player, was put into Slytherin. Then, after thinking about it and reading the house welcome messages, I couldn’t help but realize some things about myself.

Ravenclaw touts being the cleverest house. In fact, their prize of learning is so great that the door to their house isn’t even enchanted, but rather in order to get into their common room you have to answer a question (which no one but Ravenclaws have succeeded in doing in over a thousand years). They are also widely known to be quite eccentric… one overflow of that is that they produce wonderful wizarding inventors. Though I consider myself smart, I’m not a genius by any means (not even close), and though quite quirky, I would never be called eccentric.

Hufflepuffs are known for being trustworthy and loyal (both of which I think/hope I am). They are also humble and like to lie low (though both of these can be true at first meeting, I’m not known for these qualities with close friends and family). Though coming across as shy, they can easily defend themselves and are not intimidated by others (not exactly me either).

So onto Gryffindor… why, oh why wasn’t I placed here? The house of the brave and the bold (ok, not always and no… so I get those parts). Dumbledore (the most famous modern wizard) was part of this house (but he is also known for his patience and good timing, both of which I have little). Of course, I wanted to be in the house of the Golden Trio, but I also don’t like attention being called to me specifically, and all of their friends were in the spotlight often.

That leaves Slytherin. I’m about to admit some things (a few which I’m not always proud of) that make sense. Slytherins are known to be elitist though they (supposedly) are working on chilling a bit; check (I’m no Draco Malfoy, but I can be elitist about certain things). When they play, they play to win (and aren’t exactly the best sports when they don’t); check. They care about honor and tradition (some might call it stubborn and unyielding); check, check. Powerful and sleek (I don’t know about that, but I’d like to be). Often misunderstood; check (I’ve been told I can come across as unapproachable, when really I’m just sizing up a room/ person/ situation before diving in). Not to mention that Merlin (the most famous wizard in history) was in Slytherin… I can’t say I wasn’t excited about that part, as I have already admitted I like being associated with the best. So, maybe I am more Slytherin than I thought. And, to be fair, it’s not the only house to produce evil wizards by any means… it just happens to produce really evil wizards (hey, if you’re going to do something you may as well do it properly, right?).

Am I taking this too far? Is it possible to get wrapped up too much in literature? Maybe. Maybe it’s also possible to get wrapped up too much in someone’s career, a therapy session, a relationship, or anything else that we use to define ourselves. Maybe it’s more than a silly quiz or a cast of characters or a fantastic plot. Perhaps it’s a mirror in which we can better see ourselves. And I’m not just talking about the Harry Potter site (or series for that matter). In each book that we find a character to relate to, don’t we learn a little more about ourselves? And when we find characters and plots that resemble other people and situations in our lives, don’t we understand them a bit better? For many of us, isn’t this part of the point of reading? Perhaps you aren’t realizing it while being entertained with the prose, but you may just be learning more about yourself and the way you interact with the world with each book you read (or extension of it that you participate in), for better or for worse… no matter the genre.

I hope so.

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