When it comes to reading, I find it exceptionally interesting to take the concepts or the worldviews found in one work and transpose them into the world or reality of another work and see what happens as a result. When toying with the idea of writing this entry, I was unsure as to whether or not it would work, simply because the two works I am going to be drawing ideas from are so far removed from one another, to call them the same genre is a considered a deftly loaded remark. The two worlds in question are that of Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. Any sane reader, who knows these two works at any shallow level, will now be thinking: This is going to be awful. Well, it might be, but I suppose we shall have to roll with it and find out.
So, the concept that I am going to be taking from Harry Potter are the four Houses of Hogwarts, or more specifically the virtues that each of these Houses seem to embody. I will attempt to highlight these virtues within an Aristotelian structure and then I will combine them with the element I am taking from A Song of Ice and Fire, which is character. A Song of Ice and Fire has some of the most psychologically and morally complex characters from any work that I have ever read. Therefore, I will be taking characters from this world and seeing how they fit into the virtue model which is provided by the Harry Potter system.
This could be awful.
The Four Houses
If you have read Harry Potter (and let’s be honest most of us have), then you will be familiar with the Four Houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. I found that within the work, these Houses were not used to their full potential, with the majority of the “good” characters hailing from Gryffindor and the antagonistic ones hailing from Slytherin. However, I do find the concept of categorising a whole institution on the basis of which of the virtues are most exhibited by the people who join it to be an interesting one. So, here I shall write a little about which of the virtues are found in each of the Houses.
A note on the Aristotelian structure of virtue. Aristotle categorised the virtues as being the halfway point between two vices of extreme. That is to say that a virtue is a quality which must be possessed at exactly the right level, too much (excess) or too little (deficiency) and it is a vice. Whereas a virtue is a positive character trait which will help an individual flourish and lead a full life, a vice is the opposite and only serves to hinder.
Gryffindor, the first House, actually has only one central virtue to its name: courage. This is one of the virtues that Aristotle himself has written about, and it is fairly easy to identify the vices which stand either side of courage, namely cowardice and rashness. If one is too courageous, one becomes rash and headstrong, does things without thinking and will generally only make matters worse than they already are. If one is not courageous enough, one lives in cowardice and in fear and this limits their life, preventing flourishing. Aside from this, we could argue that Gryffindor also possesses the virtue of chivalry, which we can consider to be an umbrella term which contains within itself many other “knightly” virtues such as courtesy, generosity, valour, and dexterity in arms. If we were to break each of these down, we would see how these also fall into the Aristotelian structure. Courtesy in excess means that one is more preoccupied with keeping others happy than doing what is right and in deficiency means that one is unable to truly enjoy bonds of fellowship. Generosity in excess leaves an individual unable to support themselves in terms of resources and might even foster apathy in others, whereas in deficiency, it becomes greed. Valour is the same concept as bravery and dexterity in arms is more of a skill than a virtue. So much for Gryffindor.
Hufflepuff, our second house, has three virtues which are key to it. The first is dedication, which I take to be the ability to remain focused despite setbacks. In excess, it becomes obsession, where things take on more importance than they perhaps should and in deficiency, it makes one a “quitter”. Second is patience, which as everybody knows is a virtue. In deficiency, it leads to rash action but it when it is in excess that it makes an individual truly apathetic. Finally, we have tolerance, which is the willingness to “put up with” that which opposes you. In excess, it essentially turns a person into a doormat. In deficiency, it makes a person judgemental. I do not list loyalty here as I do not consider loyalty to be a virtue.
Ravenclaw, the third house, has three virtues. Intelligence or wit, which I take here to be the logical thinking through of a problem to find a viable solution, has a vice of excess as much as any other virtue. In excess, wit causes an individual to over-think something and in doing so, be made less practical overall because of it. In deficiency, it makes an individual ignorant and overly physical, perhaps even rash. Secondly, we have creativity, which is the ability to be novel in one’s ideas. If deficient, one is unable to come up with anything new and is constrained by what there already is. If in excess, one might end up creating for its own sake, and become less practical. Finally, there is individuality, which is the ability to be yourself whilst also recognising the good traits you can share with others. In excess, an individual essentially becomes unable to actually function within society, because they are constantly asserting how different and alien they are. If deficient, one is not an individual, but a societal construct or a robot.
Then we come to our final House, Slytherin, the home of three virtues. Firstly, we have cunning, which is similar to guile, which is the ability to employ ones skills shrewdly and slyly. Deficiency of cunning renders one unable to use ones other skills as one should and excess leads an individual into immortality, when they are using their cunning and their skills to manipulate others for their own gain. Ambition is the second virtue and it is highly important, for it means that one has a sense of direction and a desire to improve. It is a basic human imperative, though in excess leads to “power-hunger” when one seeks power for its own sake. If deficient, one is locked in stasis, unwilling to try and improve. Thirdly is determination, which is the same as the Hufflepuff dedication, with the same vices in play.
The Characters of Westeros
I will now list several characters from A Song of Ice and Fire by the House which they most closely resemble. Characters can be sorted into a House because they possess the vices of that House, it’s not all about the virtues.
Daenerys Targaryen – Daenerys is braver than most other characters. She lives in the shadow of her brother, is practically raped by, what she sees at the time to be, a savage barbarian chieftain and yet she goes on. She rarely laments, considering the amount of darkness that is in her life, but she goes on and she does so in spite of whatever fears she has. She is also chivalrous, for she prevents the Dothraki from raping women, she actively tries to temper their culture and turn them into something better. As the series goes on, however, Daenerys becomes far more cunning and ruthless, though not without necessity. She therefore moves far more towards Slytherin.
Jaime Lannister –I can already hear people gasping and crying out in shock that I have dared to place Jaime in beloved Gryffindor. To be honest, he could very well be a Slytherin or even a Ravenclaw. So, why Gryffindor? Jaime is brave and, as the story goes on, he has to carve out his own identity, pushing himself away from his family and their struggles. His complex relationship with his family and with the concept of loyalty make him an odd choice for Hufflepuff, though his family does define him throughout the first parts of the book. However, he is not cunning as Cersei or as Tyrion. Therefore, I think Gryffindor is the only fitting place.
Robb Stark – Who better serves as the epitome of a Gryffindor if not Robb Stark? He has the loyalty of a Hufflepuff and their dedication too, but he has enormous amounts of courage to not only go to war for his father, but to sustain this war and lead the people of the north as a monarch. He has none of the cunning of a Slytherin, though he is not the overly-virtuous and dutiful person his father was. Robb is a hardcore Gryffindor.
Sansa Stark – At the beginning of the series, many people take a dislike to Sansa. She is an idealistic girl, innocent, yet firm in her convictions about a world she knows nothing about. Why do we dislike her? Because she represents the very essence of a sheltered childhood. Not all of us have had such childhoods, but all of us were at one stage far more innocent than we are now. Why Gryffindor? Because Sansa is brave without being manipulative. She is loyal to her family, though she has to face so much on her own, forcing her to carve her own path. Though she has some dedication, it is her courage which defines her.
Brienne of Tarth – Brienne is highly individual, a woman in a man’s world. So why is Hufflepuff so suited to her, the House which tends to favour the conformist? Well, though she does not confirm, she is a loyal and dedicated character. She knows what the world is like, how men will treat her for being as she is. Yet, in the face of it, she remains resolute and firm. She will not allow that to stop her. This, coupled with her dedication for Renly and then Catelyn mark her as a true Hufflepuff.
Catelyn Stark (Tully) – Catelyn serves the needs of her family first and foremost. She is loyal to them and, though brave and reasonably cunning, it is her loyalty and dedication to her children that make her character what she is. In this, she is the epitome of a Hufflepuff.
Eddard Stark – Some might argue he is a Gryffindor, but I think that Eddard is a typical Hufflepuff. He remained focused and dedicated throughout the war against the Targaryens, despite the setbacks and remained dedicated when trying to uncover the truth about Queen Cersei’s children, despite the fact that people actively moved against him. Eddard shows patience with his children and with those around him and he is exceptionally tolerant of the condition of the capital and the Lannisters which swarm around him there, but he is not so tolerant as to allow them to go unchecked. Yes, Eddard is brave, but it is his dedication to his family and his friend, not his bravery, which I find to be his defining feature.
Jon Snow – There has never been a character more focused on duty and honour (save, perhaps, Eddard). Jon is completely wrapped up in the ideal of what the Night’s Watch should be that he, to an extent, seeks to make it so. He is intelligent, but not necessarily witty and though brave that is not his greatest virtue. His loyalty and devotion to the Crows is such that he is marked as a Hufflepuff, through and through.
Renly Baratheon – Renly is loved by other characters and he displays the traits of this House most clearly. His dedication is shown in his willingness to fight against Stannis and then lay siege to King’s Landing in order to reclaim the Iron Throne, for despite the knowledge that he might be slain in battle or otherwise defeated, Renly is resolute. In his interactions with others he seems to be both patient and tolerant, though not in such a way that he is prevented from doing what he must in order to flourish.
Arya Stark – Arya is beyond doubt a Ravenclaw character. She is perceptive and intelligent, but she remains practical, as is illustrated by her interest in sword play. She may not be the bookish type, but she has proven herself to be witty in the rapport she has with several other characters, as well as highlighting her creativity. Also, who better to express individuality than she, who outwardly tells her father that she is not to be a lady, she would prefer to live a “masculine” life. She is, however, exceptionally brave, thus making her secondary house that of Gryffindor.
Tywin Lannister – Though he is shrewd, Tywin is not necessarily manipulative. Whereas Cersei and Tyrion work in secret, moving the pieces on the board with unseen hands, Tywin tends to be more straight forwards about it. He is, however, exceptionally intelligent and witty, not to mention logical. Tywin knows his goals and knows how to achieve them.
Cersei Lannister – Cunningly manipulative more so than any other character, Cersei is a devil dressed as a mortal woman. She is exceptionally perceptive and driven. Her ambitions are boundless, though she is prone to indulging in them in excess, for she seems hungry for power. She is definitely determined and she seems unswayed by attempts to stand in her way.
Petyr Baelish – There has never been a greater Slytherin than Lord Baelish. The master of coin and expert player of the Game of Thrones, Petyr is a contender and not a minor one either. He has spies everywhere and can manipulate others to serve his goals. He has shown how easily he could play Eddard Stark and even Varys as he wished to do so, subtlety influencing them to get what he wants. Ambition is a virtue of Slytherin and ambition is much of Littlefinger’s character.
Tyrion Lannister – He is the most cunning of characters and he knows it. He uses his sharp mind to collate his skills into the most effective they can be. He is witty and good a manipulating others through speech, which are traits one might expect from a cunning individual. He is determined and despite the trials brought before him by the enemies of his hours and by his sister, he remains undeterred without becoming entirely driven by them. He has ambition, but he knows what is realistic and practical and knows what he wants to achieve.