Harry Potter and the Crisis of Sorting

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Image from bustle.com

It’s safe to say that Harry Potter blazed many paths. It brought life to a dying publishing industry, it launched the young adult and children’s genres into the mainstream, and it gave adults and children alike an outlet for their imaginations. But perhaps most importantly, it spawned one of the most important debates of our era: which Hogwarts house is best? (It’s Ravenclaw)

Being sorted into a Hogwarts house is both a serious privilege and a touchstone of identity for characters in the series and readers alike. Take the traditional Gryffindor pride shared by the Weasley clan, or Harry’s fear of ending up in Slytherin. As any Potter reader would know, this enthusiasm doesn’t just stay in the pages. If you haven’t deliberated seriously over which house you belong in, are you even a real fan?

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Image from mentalfloss.com

Later young adult books have tried to capitalize on this notion of self-identification by means of community, but none of them have been as popular or long-lasting as the Hogwarts houses. For The Hunger Games, it’s a matter of choosing one’s district, which differ in terms of main exports and class distinctions. For Divergent, you choose one of five factions, each placing priority on a different personality trait. But being part of one of the four Hogwarts houses goes beyond these other choices. Choose your Hogwarts house, and you will be part of a lifelong community that shares your values and ambitions.

The introduction of Pottermore made this choice a reality, as readers could take an official online test that would sort them into their house. But wait—there’s more! Did you think that the customization of your wizard identity starts and ends with your Hogwarts house? Pottermore also offers the chance to get your wand (which, remember, chooses you), featuring different lengths, woods, and cores that vary in accordance with your personality. Then you can take the test to find your Patronus—your magical guardian, able to be summoned at will, representing you in animal form (good luck not getting a wild boar… not that it’s supposedly my Patronus or anything). Then, finally, head on over to Ilvermorny, the USA’s own wizarding academy, to be ceremonially sorted once more.

After taking all these tests, based on your favourite book series and developed by the brilliant J.K. Rowling herself, you may feel slighted by the results. Perhaps you’ve considered yourself a Ravenclaw your entire life and have now been declared a Hufflepuff. Maybe your Patronus ended up being a wild boar (I am, ahem, not speaking out of personal experience for either of these things). Don’t throw out your prized Ravenclaw scarf just yet—you may be curious to know what your sorting reveals about you.

A recent study using 132 Pottermore test-takers has shown that what house you prefer reflects your real personality. Those who choose Slytherin, for example, are more likely to exhibit narcissism, while those who prefer Ravenclaw display a higher need for cognition. Hufflepuffs are found to be more agreeable, and Gryffindors are the most extroverted. For this study, the chosen house aligned with the candidates’ inner selves more so than what the digital Sorting Hat said.

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Image from harrypotter.wikia.com

Unhappy with the results of your sorting test? Rest easy knowing that the house you belong in is the one you want the most. As Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

-Contributed by Julia Bartel

Homestuck: The Future Of Fiction

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Let me tell you about Homestuck.

Homestuck: the monolithic webcomic that inspires eye-rolling in some, fond nostalgia in others, and confusion in all the rest. Reactions to Homestuck are as varied as the content and history of the piece itself. Clocking in at over 8,000 pages, it is perhaps the first piece of great literature based on and created on the internet, hailed by some as a Ulysses for the internet generation.

In short, Homestuck is a story by cartoonist Andrew Hussie, about four friends who play a game together and unwittingly bring about both the creation and the destruction of their world. Its long, convoluted plot features over 100 main characters, told through multiple timelines and intergalactic settings. Humans and their alternate versions—grey-skinned aliens called “trolls”— animated chess pieces, and winged dogs all play a role in the story, which is told through still-images and GIFs, flash animations with original music, interactive games, and lengthy text chats between characters, known as “pesterlogs”.

Homestuck‘s massive success lies in its ability to tap into a uniquely millennial humour that many books or films fail to understand. Its diversity is its strength—it is a parody of every genre: from film-noir, to comedy, to sci-fi, to everything in between. Moreover, its characters are vastly different, featuring personalities and interests so varied that it’s easy to keep reading Homestuck.

It was ‘Rose Lalonde’ who stuck out to me: a witty violinist who loves wizards and knitting. In fact, Rose Lalonde was my first and only cosplay. It was Homestuck that encouraged me to emerge from my shy nerd shell and unite with other shy nerds at an anime convention.

This is another quality of Homestuck: it is unifying in its strangeness. If you like something as weird as Homestuck, you want to find people who also enjoy something as weird as Homestuck. It is because of this that the fandom flourished at incredible speeds. At the comic’s peak, the phrase “let me tell you about Homestuck” actually became a meme, often superimposed over photos of confused civilians watching the antics of Homestuck cosplayers.

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Homestuck is undeniably influenced by the internet and pop culture. Its characters know each either chiefly through the internet. Though they do eventually meet in person, their friendships are established through an online bond.

The comic contains countless allusions to literature and film; evidenced, for example, by John Egbert’s obsession with the hilariously terrible Nicolas Cage movie Con Air. John’s interest in this film is ridiculed by other characters and by Hussie himself. Hussie is poking fun at the fixation many fans have on the comic—a running theme that wouldn’t be possible if the piece were found anywhere but the internet.

It is this interactive quality that makes Homestuck so innovative. In the very early stages of the comic, Hussie was able to take fan advice in naming characters and creating the plot. Once this became impossible due to the sheer scope of the fandom, the comic continued to feature fan-contributed music and artwork, blurring the line between reader and creator. The fandom became known for throwing together cosplays and fanart mere minutes after an update (or “upd8”, as per the tumblr tag) was released.

I speak of this in the past tense because Homestuck finally ended on April 13 of this year, seven years to the day after it began. But the legacy of Homestuck is nowhere near complete. In 2012, Hussie launched a Kickstarter to fund Hiveswap, a computer adventure game precluding the events of Homestuck and following a human girl who finds herself transported onto the troll planet of Alternia. The campaign raised upwards of $2,000,000 dollars in support and the game is slated for release in early 2017.

For a quick taste of the absurdity of Homestuck, check out the Kickstarter trailer. Or, if your schedule is cleared for the next few years or so, you can read (or reread) Homestuck here.

 -Contributed by Julia Bartel

“The Raven Cycle” Might Be Exactly What YA Lit’s Been Missing

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image source: readbreatherelax.com

Go to Chapters, and take a book from the nearest Young Adult bookshelf. Flip to any page that does not involve a dance, a love interest, a clique or a “queen bee”. The more you read, the more you may notice that today’s YA genre is inundated with books by authors who no longer remember what it was like to be a young adult.

Or, if they do, they do a terrible job of writing about it.

In these books, high school is reduced to trope-y cliques. Characters are slaves to the whims of their hormones, and often two-dimensional. Even speculative YA fiction often falls to these clichés.

However, there are a few books that break this teenage drama mould. In Maggie Stiefvater’s 4-part series The Raven Cycle, the high school-aged characters are written with their intended readership in mind. Not only are Stiefvter’s characters dimensional and captivating, but they deal with real issues, garner sympathy from the reader, and meddle in magical realms to boot. And that’s only a small part of what makes The Raven Cycle so incredible.

Blue Sargent, the non-psychic daughter of a clairvoyant mother, has been told for as long as she can remember that her kiss will kill her true love. But being a sensible person, she disbelieves the idea of true love at all and lives by the policy of avoiding all boys. In particular, she ignores the boys who attend Aglionby Academy, a private boys’ school near her home in rural Henrietta, Virginia.

It isn’t until she sees the soon-to-be-dead spirit of a boy named Gansey — and that very same Gansey shows up at her door for a psychic reading — that her world becomes tangled in the odd, magical world of the Raven Boys.

The series deals heavily with themes of identity — found through struggles in class differences, sexual orientation, and realizing how to discover one’s meaning. Gansey, a product of old Virginia money, desperately wants his over-privileged life to be worth something. This something, he believes, will be discovered as soon as he can find Glendower, an ancient Welsh king rumoured to be buried in the mountains of Virginia. Without the psychic abilities of her mother, Blue Sargent is driven to seek out her own future.

Adam Parrish, who accepts help from no one, just wants to find a bigger and better life outside the walls of the trailer home where he is abused by his father. Ronan Lynch, still reeling from the mysterious death of his beloved father, struggles to contain himself within the confines of academic, monolithic Aglionby Academy. United by unlikely bonds of friendship, this group embarks on the quest to find Glendower and, on the way, end up on individual paths toward their own destinies.

This sharp characterization is my favourite thing about the series. Stiefvater excels at writing characters who feel real, whose descriptions stick in the mind for all their uniqueness, whose backstories provide them with clear, urgent motivations, and whose struggles draw in the reader. Each character carries, in equal parts, both a sense of relatability and a touch of extraordinary magic — making them people who objectively could never exist in the real world, but who really feel like they could.

Just like Blue, I fell in love with the raven boys. Years after reading the first novel, I still can’t choose a favourite. More than anything else, I love the way this series portrays friendship as a bond that is sometimes thicker than blood. In finding your identity, you might just find your family.

Stiefvater’s gorgeous prose is another thing that makes this series so good. Just as the sentient trees in the magical forest of Cabeswater speak to our heroes in a language too The_Raven_King_Cover_Officialstrange and beautiful to be understood, Stiefvater’s writing seems, at times, to transcend the boundaries of what is real and what is magic. Her masterful control over language contributes further to the dimension she adds to her characters, and her own quirkiness and sense of humour always shines through.

After the release of book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I waited a year and a half for the fourth and final installment of the series — The Raven King — to be delivered into my hands on April 26th of this year. I’m not quite sure yet if the finale lived up to everything Stiefvater promised it would be, but don’t let that discourage you from reading this series. The Raven Cycle is a jewel among the many thorns of the young adult speculative genre. If Blue Sargent’s clairvoyant mother could see my future, I’m certain she would find me constantly returning to the thrills and chills offered to me by the denizens of this series’ tiny Virginia town.

-Contributed by Julia Bartel