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Actually, there's a few parts to this question. When the Sorting Hat was on Harry Potter, it picked up the part of Voldemort's soul and suggested Harry would do well in Slytherin, but went with Harry's interest in Griffyndor instead. This shows the Sorting Hat does not always have a quick and easy answer and that some decisions are more difficult than others. That leads to several questions:

  • Does the Sorting Hat take into account the student's stated desires when make a decision?
  • Does the Sorting Hat ever get stumped on where to put a student?
  • Does the Sorting Hat ever ask for a student's preference to resolve an "even-split" decision?
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    I just found it interesting you noted that the consideration of Slytherin was due to detecting the piece of Voldemort's soul. Is there a canon reference to that? I'm just stretching my memory of it but it's coming up blank at the moment. I've always taken it to mean that Harry, being talented and driven, could have been suited to the "who you know" angle of Slytherin. – dlanod Feb 15 '12 at 5:37
  • @dlanod: It's been referenced in other questions on this site. I don't know the canon reference, but it has been sited as canon, either as in the book or Word of God. – Tango Feb 15 '12 at 5:40
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    "I always imagine that the Sorting Hat detected the presence of that piece of soul when Harry first tried it on, because it's strongly tempted to put him in Slytherin. So that's how I see it." JK Rowling - Pottercast 12.23.07 - The Leaky Cauldron – dlanod Feb 15 '12 at 6:31
  • The magical instrument in Professor Dumbledore's office has represented the Dark Lord's soul as being divided to two snakes. Would that make him an even split between Slytherin and Slytherin? – b_jonas Jan 24 '14 at 15:07
  • As for the hat getting stumped, Harry was certainly affraid of this before he got sorted. From Stone ch. 7: “A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you're very nervous. What if he wasn't chosen at all? What if he just sat there with the hat over his eyes for ages, until Professor McGonagall jerked it off his head and said there had obviously been a mistake and he'd better get back on the train?” – b_jonas Jan 24 '14 at 21:16
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  • Does the Sorting Hat take into account the student's stated desires when make a decision?

    Yes. It did with Harry Potter, when he asked to be in Gryffindor.

  • Does the Sorting Hat ever get stumped on where to put a student?

    Yes. It took a long time with both Neville (src: PotterCast #122) and Hermione.

    UPDATE: According to Pottermore, this situation actually has an official name in-universe: Hatstall.

  • Does the Sorting Hat ever ask for a student's preference to resolve an "even-split" decision?

    Yes. Hermione. Or Harry if you consider his case to be "even-split".

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    It's interesting that all the special cases you cite (Neville, Hermione, Harry) ended up in Gryffindor. Is there maybe something special about Gryffindorians that makes them particularly hard to sort? – Iszi Feb 15 '12 at 5:39
  • @Iszi: Maybe they're just a sorded (oops -- did I misspell that?) bunch? – Tango Feb 15 '12 at 7:09
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    I found it more apt that Hermione and Neville are often sorted into different houses in fanfiction; many feel Hermione is more Ravenclaw than Gryffindor, and that Neville would make a great Hufflepuff. Maybe it takes a few minutes for the hat to determine you ought to be a main character? >.> – Yamikuronue Feb 15 '12 at 20:48
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    @Iszi, Yes. It's where Rowling put all the main characters ;) – Brian S Jan 24 '14 at 14:54
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    @Iszi Gryffindor is a tricky one to sort into, since one of the main aspects (definately not the only one) is courage. How do you put a worth to courage, especially against something so easily measured like 'wit beyond measure'... – Möoz Apr 29 '14 at 5:50

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