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Written byScarlett CayfordScarlett is a New-Zealand born writer, now in London, who specialises in entertainment culture, book reviews and lifestyle.
Published on Sep 24th 2019
Being sorted into Gryffindor felt a bit like sending away for one of those DNA analysis kits and finding out that I was 80% Viking; like I had fundamentally misunderstood the very bones of myself.

With no science or Sorting behind it, I had always identified as a Ravenclaw. I’m the person who excelled in school and coasted off that one prize for First in English ever since; the voracious reader who would really struggle to correctly identify more than 10 flags. Both brazenly brainy and secretly petrified that one day someone might discover that I have never, not once, spelled “guard” correctly the first time around. It’s important that people think I’m smart, so they remain a bit scared, and never find out that I have no idea whether Germany has a sea border. Let’s put it another way: Hermione would have seen through me in a heartbeat. As would the Sorting Hat.

And so: Gryffindor. What does it even mean as a classification?

Once upon a Wizarding World, Gryffindor was considered elite. Hung about with gold and scarlet (undeniably the superior colour combination). Emblazoned with that proud lion. Gryffindors are associated with bravery and courage and daring and nerve, which sounds brilliant up top - but as any good Ravenclaw would point out, thesaurus in hand, all those words are pretty much synonyms, and shouldn’t 25% of the magically-endowed population have more than one dominant character trait?

It’s very hard to objectively consider your own bravery, unless you are a firefighter. My life is not rife with danger. There have been no recent situations of mortal peril into which I have contemplated whether or not to thrust myself. Sometimes I get the train at rush hour (brave). Sometimes I leave the house for ten minutes to buy an ice cream when a package delivery is due (brave, reckless). I like to think that I would save my cat from a burning building, but until I’ve truly faced the flames I don’t really know whether I’d behave like Harry-in-the-Fiendfyre or err on the side of Snape-with-his-robes-ablaze.

The Sorting Hat doesn’t sing about it, of course, but Gryffindors have been externally judged to have other, less favourable characteristics. Notable Slytherin, Severus Snape, considered certain Gryffindors to be self-righteous and arrogant, with no regard for rules. They’re the sort of qualities that go hand in hand with ignorant bravery, running headlong into battle safe in the knowledge that you’ll likely be saved from harm by the power of privilege and/or the love of your parents and/or the superior wit and talent of your friends.

If forced to sit down and think about it (a Ravenclaw would never have to be forced), I have to confess some serious similarities to the most famous of the Gryffindors circa Order of the Phoenix, during which Harry is, yes, brave, but also a tiny whiny Mandrake of a human, hurt and strung out and sore in a very identifiable muddled Millennial Muggle way. Ron is often guilty of the same kind of hurt, jealous effrontery; Hagrid too. It’s not what I’d like to see in the Mirror of Erised, but it’s not an inaccurate reflection of behaviours and vulnerabilities I’ve been guilty of.

Gryffindors distinguish themselves by being highly motivated by a crisis. There’s a reason they made up the backbone of Dumbledore’s Army: because it was necessary. If we’d encountered the Hogwarts crew during peacetime, I’ve no doubt that Ron and Harry and their posse of lionhearted pals would have spent all the years of their schooling playing Gobstones and Quidditch lakeside, with nary a care given to personal development or career progression. I identify with that.

Ultimately, the way in which Gryffindors most frequently set themselves apart isn’t bravery, but loyalty. Harry’s a flawed hero, but he’s defined by steadfastness, from pulling Godric’s sword from the Sorting Hat in the Basilisk’s lair to easily laying down his life along with a seventh of Voldemort’s soul. Dumbledore’s formidable intellect is only thwarted when matters of the heart interfere, as in the case of his sister, Grindelwald, and Harry himself. And Hermione, who could probably have recited Hogwarts: A History from memory by the time she sat under the hat and went the way of the lion, is a Gryffindor because she prioritises loyalty over learning, and when push comes to shove chooses to go camping on a desolate hillside rather than attend school.

And then there is Mr Longbottom, another interesting leonine-leaning case study, because his brand of bravery wasn’t one readily noticeable at the outset. Uncertain and odd, he took a while to lean into boldness, first by standing up to his friends, then by standing up to his enemies, and finally by beheading a snake with a sword. He was proof that courage and daring aren’t necessarily evident from the first but might grow in you, quietly, like Gillyweed in a dark lake. He is cut from Creevey-cloth: awkward and annoying and anything but a hero, until struck by a monster after risking death to sit by the bedside of a friend, or lifeless in a school hall after fighting in a doomed army.

So, while I have no doubt that Gryffindors are often bullish, somewhat arrogant, and rather too convinced of their own importance, I’m OK with professing my allegiance. Partly because the common room really does sound great, partly because I look good in red, and partly because loyalty is a character trait worth being proud of; but mainly because if it’s good enough for Hermione and Professor McGonagall and little Dennis Creevey, then it’s certainly good enough for me.


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author-square-scarlett-cayford
Written byScarlett CayfordScarlett is a New-Zealand born writer, now in London, who specialises in entertainment culture, book reviews and lifestyle.

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