The Sorting Hat
chapter seven of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Harry and his classmates enter Hogwarts for the first time and are sorted into houses; Harry becomes a Gryffindor when he requests not to be placed in Slytherin. The students then join the feast, where they meet their housemates and a few other Hogwarts characters, discuss their professors and classwork, and sing the Hogwarts school song before being ushered to bed at the top of Gryffindor Tower.
The entrance hall was so big you could have fit the whole of the Dursleys’ house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.
Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment. “When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted.”
(by Laurence Peguy)
“Potter, Harry!” As Harry stepped forward, whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall. “Potter, did she say?” “The Harry Potter?”
(by Hala Zabaneh)
“I don’t think I’ve introduced myself? Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington at your service. Resident ghost of Gryffindor Tower.”
(by Laurence Peguy)
It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes – and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.
Everybody finished the song at different times. At last, only the Weasley twins were left singing along to a very slow funeral march.
“Oooooooh!” he said, with an evil cackle. “Ickle Firsties! What fun!”
At the top of a spiral staircase they found their beds at last: five four-posters hung with deep red, velvet curtains…. Too tired to talk much, they pulled on their pajamas and fell into bed.
about the chapter
Just as an aside – if you’ve never been in a large hall in which hundreds of people simultaneously attempt to sing the Hogwarts school song to their own individual tune, it’s an experience. Having done it once, I can confidently list “utter chaos” among the things that Dumbledore enjoys (enough to be “wiping his eyes” after it’s done!).
The Wizarding World
The first years’ reaction to the ghosts entering the room is interesting. They’re all so startled that it’s clear even those raised by wizards have probably never before come across one. So then, are there other ghosts in Britain? And if so, where do they live (or haunt)? Sadly, we’ll only ever hear about others in passing, so it’s hard to know the full story.
Another insight into the workings of the Wizarding World comes through Harry’s conversation with Neville, where Neville explains how scared his family was that he “might not be magic enough to come” to Hogwarts. Though the story is little more than a humorous aside for the eleven-year-olds at the table, it’s also an early inkling of how deep the prejudices of the world really are. After all, the Longbottoms nearly killed Neville trying to “force” magic out of him. Malfoy has already shown us that wizards descended from Muggles are considered lower-class; now we’re seeing that other “deformities” can turn even a child into an extreme outcast as well.
Life at Hogwarts
How many students are there at Hogwarts? It will become clear over time that there are precisely 40 in Harry’s year, or ten per house (which, if it’s the case for every year, would mean a school of just under 300). But in an early interview, Rowling claims the school to have “about a thousand” students, and other estimates based on any number of other lines from the books and interview tidbits place the numbers somewhere squarely in the middle of those two estimates. It is worth remembering that Harry and his classmates were born during the height of a war, and thus at a time when there were likely to be fewer children coming around; so it’s reasonable for his class to be smaller than most, perhaps even by a significant margin. But probably a more important thing to remember is Rowling’s frequent assertion (backed up by her writing) that she struggles mightily with numbers, and we probably shouldn’t put too much stock in any one number she gives us. My best guess is that there are around 400 or 500 students at Hogwarts, generally speaking, which is based on lots of different facts. But an educated guess or gut instinct is almost certainly the closest we will ever get to having an actual figure.
The Boy Who Lived
Though his dislike for Slytherin isn’t founded on much – hearsay from Hagrid and Ron, and a couple of encounters with Malfoy – Harry trusts his instincts enough to avoid the house. Notice that he doesn’t specifically ask for Gryffindor, though, despite hearing nearly as many negatives about Hufflepuff as he has Slytherin. In other words, it’s not Harry’s normal fears of acceptance that drive his choice (even Hagrid said that Hufflepuffs are “duffers”). Instead it’s his gut feeling about Slytherin specifically – and quite possibly the air of presumed superiority that surrounds the members of its house. Knowing full well what it’s like to be treated as an inferior, Harry wants no part of that game.
Something to Remember
The Sorting Hat very nearly placed Harry in Slytherin, despite the fact that, at least from Harry’s perspective, he doesn’t have much in common with any of the Slytherins he ever meets. Harry will later wonder why the Hat nearly made this choice, but it will be a long while before he discovers what it was the Hat was seeing inside him when it considered placing him there.
The Final Word
(When asked, “Where did you get the idea for the Sorting Hat?”)
“That was a bit of hard work. First, I considered the many different ways we sort things. Pulling names out of a hat was the one that kept coming back to me. So I twisted the idea around and came up with a talking hat that could make decisions.”–J.K. Rowling, October 1999
“My favourite book was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge…. And perhaps more than any other book, it has a direct influence on the Harry Potter books. The author always included details of what her characters were eating and I remember liking that. You may have noticed that I always list the food being eaten at Hogwarts.”–J.K. Rowling, November 2002