Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Do House Systems in Fiction Appeal to You?

Historic Milling Town of Falk
Flickr Credit: blmcalifornia
House systems make me suspicious.

I’m not against dividing students. In both my high school and university, colleges separate students so they take classes according to their desired career—STEM, business, healthcare/service, or arts. These allow students to specialize, which is a good thing in our world! Thus, I can understand why fictional schools or organizations have houses. Individuals have a personal “group” to whom they can be loyal. It forces team dynamics. It can be nice.

At the same time, at my schools we aren’t differentiated by uniforms with our house sigils. We aren’t always divided. The point is specialization, not group (read as: mob) loyalty that defines student relationships. We can even participate in more than one “house” if we want to! It happens in books, though. House systems manipulate kids. By blocking certain interactions or exchanges of information, these houses can lead to terrible, terrible things. So I thought I’d look at a few.

Harry Potter’s houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw
Percy Jackson’s cabins: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Dionysus [and more]
Shadow and Bone’s Grisha Orders: Corporalki, Etheralki, Materialki
H.I.V.E.’s streams: Alpha, Henchman, Political/Financial, Technical
39 Clues’ branches: Lucian, Ekaterina, Janus, Tomas, Madrigal

via Goodreads

Who is allowed to join this house?

HP| the virtuous—houses distinguish students by their value for bravery, honesty, cunning, or wit
PJO| the heirs—cabins distinguish campers by their godly parent
Grisha| the heirs—orders select students by their innate ability for the small science
H.I.V.E.| the skilled—streams divide students based on a propensity for leadership, tactical skill, social orders, and technology
39C| the heirs—branches claim talented members of a certain bloodline

via Goodreads

Do students take classes together?

HP| sometimes—younger students are more divided; older students with similar career goals intermix
PJO| yes—most activities are open to everyone, though cabins do dictate teams sometimes
Grisha| sometimes—Grisha specialize within the small science, but they might go over history, etc. in groups (we don’t really know)
H.I.V.E.| sometimes—all streams require some classes; older students take specialized classes
39C| no—family secrets must stay secret, so no intermixing is allowed (at first)

via Goodreads

Are students allowed to interact outside of class?

HP| sometimes—most of the time, yes, minus mealtimes; during an emergency or a dark wizard takeover, houses are kept separate
PJO| yes—everyone has friends outside their own cabin
Grisha| yes—everyone must team up for the war effort, after all
H.I.V.E.| yes—streams intermix in dormitory blocks, the dining room, and all other activities (the one time they separated the streams was to aid a mass murder plot and kill an entire stream)
39C| no—branches try to keep separate and when they meet it is usually to kill or betray each other

via Goodreads

What level of rivalry exists between the houses?

HP| a lot—through Quidditch and the point system there are major rivalries between G/S and H/R
PJO| some to a lot—there’s regular competition, and then there’s Greek mythology’s daddy issues made manifest on earth
Grisha| little—while there is a lot of individual competition, the orders are for the most part unified
H.I.V.E.| some—it’s mostly individual competition, but the Alpha and henchman streams do not get along
39C| a lot—they’ve been trying to kill each other for six centuries, and those wounds don’t heal easy

via Goodreads

Is there a class/moral association with any houses over the others?

HP| moral—the books characterize Slytherin as evil, period; they are Hogwarts’ general enemies
PJO| class and moral—certain houses bring great esteem (Zeus, Poseidon, etc.) while others are considered less (Hermes); some houses have dubious morality because of their values (Ares) and others because of their occupants (children of the Big Three)
Grisha| class—the Darkling and Sun Summoner are at the top of the pyramid, certain orders have more respect than others, and some individuals are considered less by their profession (like Genya)
H.I.V.E.| class—Alphas and Political/Financial students are expected to become the world’s next leaders; henchmen have comparatively little esteem or wealth to look forward to
39C| moral—some branches have a more sinister nature, Madrigals are perceived as good, and everyone is good compared to the Vespers


I don’t know if I think one of these is the “best” of them all. Ultimately, I have a lot of problems with the house system—it’s because of houses that so much injustice occurs in Harry Potter’s world, and a magical serum justifies centuries of murder between the Cahill family branches.

I mean, I think The 39 Clues branches are the worst. That’s something I’m willing to say. They are the most divisive and unjust, so. Yeah. That does it for me. And if I wanted to choose somewhere for myself, it would be H.I.V.E. Dr. Nero has structured his school like, well, a real school. And I like that best.

Which house system appeals to you the most?


20 comments :

  1. The housing system in Harry Potter has always been my favorite, even though I do have some major problems with it. Like you said, Slytherins get the short end of the stick constantly, and I honestly feel like it's a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy--if all the other houses treat them like crap and assume they're evil, they shouldn't be surprised when the Slytherins turn on them.

    I've also heard that Rowling's American wizarding school, Illvermorny, uses a houses-type sorting system, which just doesn't seem right to me. I might be wrong, but I don't think that's as much of a thing in America....

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    1. That's a good word for it: self-fulfilling prophecy. And like, if you brainwash all these kids to value this ONE PARTICULAR THING for seven years, is it any surprise that they feel excessively loyal to that thing? And that it creates bad relationships within the school?

      It is not a thing in America, and that's why a lot of people were criticizing Ilvermorny. Because they basically did no research on what we actually do in America. Or our history. Or the history of African Americans or Native Americans.

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  2. Ooh this is very interesting! I have SO MANY thoughts on Hogwarts Houses -- because on one hand they're cool and can make you feel at home, but also I feel like they do create a lot of divisions and negative stereotypes. And it's very interesting to look at the different effects of house systems in fiction. I hadn't actually thought that much about the Grisha divisions!

    We actually do have houses at my own school -- although those can be absolutely awesome & really make you feel part of a family, we don't actually spend THAT much time together. (It doesn't affect your actual classes at all, so.)

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    1. They do do both of those things. I think it's always a matter of whether people are more influenced by the divisions or the connections, and it just doesn't seem like there's anything that attempts to connect the houses back together again in Harry Potter.

      *nods* And that I think is how it is for most people out there. I mean, I've never been to boarding school or anything, so I can't say a lot about what I do or don't know. But I've always thought that Hogwarts as a weird, extreme example.

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  3. I like the Harry Potter housing system because it's the only one I fully recognise xD

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  4. I actually reeally love reading about house systems...as long as they don't get too cliche!! Like sometimes I think it becomes a bit of a trend and everything starts sounding like a re-run of Harry Potter. #NotAFan Buuuut, I do like the dystopian ones! With the Districts in The Hunger Games and the Factions in Divergent. And Divergent has the same issues that HP does with casting one "House" in particular as evil. Slytherin/Erudite. Which is kind of annoying, because, like it's kind of saying if you have a certain personality, you'll be evil! THANKS FOR NOTHING, BOOKS.šŸ˜‚ But anyway! It's generally fun to read about. And I love the Percy Jackson cabins so much because they definitely do a lot of mingling and a quest never involves kids from just one house. :')

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    1. Yes, we need a different trendsetter than Harry Potter making a decision for a few years. XD But you're right, making one group the "evil" one is dangerous. Now that I think about it, it's a way to alienate a particular group of people for the union of many other groups—which is something that Adolf Hitler did by "othering" Jewish people so that everyone would bond over their alienation. So.

      And yes, Percy Jackson does a pretty good job with the cabins! And I think it helps that Percy doesn't have a sibling other than Tyson; he really HAS to go outside of his cabin to like, do anything.

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  5. Yeah I do hate that it's always the Gryffindor characters who are the greatest in HP. Where are my badass Hufflepuffs? But I do like them. I think there's just something really appealing about them for some reason.

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    1. Right? Give us the badass Hufflepuffs! I don't blame you, though. I think those house systems are a great deal of the motivation behind Harry Potter's success.

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  6. I feel like PJO is probably the best, but I'm also probably biased, lol. This was a really interesting post; would you ever expand and compare a few more, like Divergent or the Hunger Games districts?


    Alexa
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    1. XD That's okay, there are plenty of people biased towards Harry Potter, too. I found Hunger Games SO BORING and I can't imagine Divergent being any better, so probably not. If you want to give it a go, you can, though.

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  7. Harry Potter houses are so peculiar to me. My school has houses, but it only really matters on sports days, otherwise no one cares. I think house-style systems manifest in literature as one way to show how humans divide each other (by class, by values, by skills etc) I think there's also the Divergent system, which is highly divisive, stereotypical and discriminatory. I like Percy Jackson, and also the collaborative nature of the small science divisions in Grisha. Also, I have to read H.I.V.E. (have you ever read catherine Jinks Evil genius? it sounds like a similar sort of premise)

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    1. *nods* Seems like houses are just as much a part of Rowling's fantasy world, huh? But it is an interesting way to talk about discrimination. I think the only problem with HP is that it seems like such discrimination is considered a GOOD thing. PJO and Grisha are good. I have started Evil Genius, but it was really boring and nothing happened in the first half of the book, so I just stopped reading. :P

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  8. (^ I was going to say something about my school's housed, but Shanti already did. Dangit). I guess that to me, house classifications kind of reflect the many, many other classifications in the real world, from race to socioecoomic status to caste to gender, but in a more extreme way. And I would also say that house classification isn't necessarily bad, in the case of, say, HP, but what is made of it, say, 'All Slytherins are definitely evil' can be. In other cases, like with race or gender or wealth, the Grisha and the 39 clues and the demigods don't get a choice about their classification. Again, this is just like the real world. In some ways, classifying someone by something they didn't choose can be useful. Grishas/demigods have similar talents. H.I.V.E streams become different things. To me, houses only become a problem when they lead to rivalry and class differences where my argument fizzles out-all the houses you named do at least one of these things. Am I being a devil's advocate? Maybe. I have no idea what I'm saying at this point. Therefore, I will stop.

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    1. Sisters, right? Well, I just sort of said this up above, but yeah, I think that the problem with Harry Potter and other house systems is that discrimination by that house/class/whatever is considered a good thing. And, I mean, it all depends, but still. Harry Potter just frustrates me a lot. XD Still, you do make plenty of good points about how houses can divide people a lot.

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  9. The house systems have kind of always annoyed me because while they'd be fun I personally wouldn't fit right into one house, and I doubt many others would as well. And within the HP world, they have enough conflict and rivalry going on without another house issue. Like for goodness sakes, the Dark Lord of All Evil has come back and they're still worried about the Quidditch game! And in something like Divergent, I think they stop people from developing into a whole and rounded person because if you're told that you're only allowed to be strong, then you can't be smart as well. If you're told you're only peaceful then you can't always stand up when you need to. Divergent factions really bug me because they're dragging society back (in my humble opinion).

    However, I did have a house system in my school and it was pretty fun, mostly because we weren't really separated. We wore different sports uniforms and the only time we really competed was during sports carnivals and stuff.

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    1. Right? I don't like house ideas. They seem too definite for my preference. And that's another good point; it's hard to do something like a liberal arts system when there is such divisiveness among character and lessons. And perhaps that is the point in Divergent?

      *nods* I'm hearing that from other folks so it sounds like fictional houses are quite different from those irl.

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  10. Hm. I've only read two of these (the Grisha books and the first Percy Jackson book), so I'm not really sure about "house" systems. On the one hand, I can see the pros—a group with similar interest/traits/skills can be a huge help, but the cons do make things a bit too clique-ish. It's an interesting idea though. Of the ones listed here, I'd probably say the Grisha is most appealing? For the most part, the different orders have a similar goal and need to work together, instead of constantly fighting against each other. (Although I do think it's interesting how in The Lightning Thief, there was also the basic idea of "each group has skills that we all need for this quest so we really should work together."
    Great post, Heather!

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    1. Clique-ish is a good way to think about that stuff. I do like the way the Grisha do it, even though it's very nationalistic and whatnot. And Percy Jackson did a pretty good way, too.

      It's also interesting to have a perspective from someone who hasn't read Harry Potter, so thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

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