In Defense of Hufflepuff

The much-maligned house of the Harry Potter series doesn’t get nearly enough attention or praise for its egalitarian ethos.

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“Nobody wants to be Hufflepuff.” It’s a fairly common sentiment, but when Mindy Kaling tweeted it on Wednesday, she brought to mind Draco Malfoy’s first appearance in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, when he chats with the book’s hero about the four houses of Hogwarts. “I know I’ll be in Slytherin, all our family have been—imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?” As even the normally benevolent Hagrid puts it, “Everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o’ duffers.”

To her credit, the Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling makes plenty of subtle efforts to elevate the house through the admirable actions of its less-heralded students. Hufflepuffs are supposedly defined by strong loyalty, disinterest in public glory, and a hardworking spirit. Perhaps that’s why they don’t stand out: Hufflepuffs have an ethos of self-improvement, while Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws preternaturally smart, and Slytherins deeply ambitious. When translating the four houses into vague personality quadrants for us non-magical Muggles (as many websites do), Hufflepuff comes up especially short. Not extroverted, or cunning, or inherently intelligent? Then you must belong to the other house, which, as Kaling joked, nobody wants. But that doesn’t make much sense considering how much she herself values hard work.

Kaling is certainly not the only person still rolling her eyes at Hufflepuff nearly a decade after the series ended. Covering Wednesday’s Republican debate, The New Republic sorted each candidate into a Hogwarts house, and everyone sorted into Hufflepuff apparently resented it. There was Marco Rubio (“a Hufflepuff who keeps trying to hang out with the kids from Gryffindor, even though they pick on him”), Scott Walker (the same, but for Slytherin), and Ben Carson (who “would beg the sorting hat to be put in Slytherin before being told to take a seat ... at the Hufflepuff table”).

Within the context of the books, the houses aren’t just divided by personality—if so, a place like Slytherin would make no sense. A club full of Machiavellians would just be constantly plotting to stab each other in the back, but Slytherin’s members include pliable bullies like Draco Malfoy’s lackeys Crabbe and Goyle, who seem to have no ambition and carry out whatever awful tasks they’re ordered to. As Rowling built up the expansive universe of her books, she revealed that Slytherin’s founder Salazar was a bigoted old wizard who wanted to only admit “pure-blood” families to his school, and resigned in fury when he was overruled. The series is very conscious of the rigid British class system, and Slytherin is populated with the snobbiest rich kids, disinterested in mixing with anyone outside of their tight circles.

Hufflepuff, on the other hand, apparently accepted all kinds of students from the start, placing less emphasis on specific attributes or social backgrounds. One imagines a large portion of “scholarship kids” (represented best within the books as Muggle-born witches and wizards) going to Hufflepuff to find their place in the world free of prejudice, an egalitarian vision that even the brashly heroic Gryffindor seems to lack. The books’ most prominent Hufflepuff is Cedric Diggory, a paragon of modesty who’s named as the school’s representative champion in the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where he competes with Harry and others in a wizarding tournament. He (spoilers) eventually loses his life because he offers to share the championship with Harry, modest as ever, and thus inadvertently gets drawn into a plot to resurrect the evil Voldemort. (Other notable Hufflepuffs include Nymphadora Tonks, Newt Scamander, and the Herbology professor Pomona Sprout.)

The Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s eulogy for Diggory is one of Rowling’s better pieces of writing in the entire series. “Cedric Diggory was, as you all know, exceptionally hard working, infinitely fair-minded, and most importantly a fierce, fierce friend,” he says, lionizing every quality Hufflepuff House members could brag about, but of course, never would. In the series’s climactic battle with Voldemort, Hufflepuff is the house with the most students (outside of Harry’s own) taking part, though Rowling takes pains to note that they did so not for personal glory, but for the greater good.

Who would be some real-life Hufflepuffs? According to the actor Tom Felton (who played Malfoy in all eight Harry Potter films), Kanye West is a shoo-in, surely in reference to his tireless work ethic. The author John Green said he was sorted into Hufflepuff on Rowling’s Pottermore website; Rowling herself has said she’d love to be one. Of course, the idea of sorting any celebrity into Hufflepuff might be foolish, since shunning excessive attention is part of the point. In that sense, Kaling is half-right: Nobody in her line of work should want to end up in the house that calls the badger its mascot.

But for everyone else, as Rowling’s eldest daughter Jessica put it, “I think we should all want to be Hufflepuffs.” And for the recently converted, the timing seems about right. Rowling recently declared on Twitter: