The Sorting Hat Is 'Harry Potter's Most Tragic Character

Every person in those stories was lucky if they escaped with only mild PTSD, but the most tragic character in the Harry Potter universe isn’t a person.
The Sorting Hat Is 'Harry Potter's Most Tragic Character

Considering it was written for middle-schoolers, the Harry Potter universe is bleak as hell. There's people trapped in paintings, forests full of rapists, and semi-regular battles with various wizard Hitlers, and that's just at the school. Every person in those stories was lucky if they escaped with only mild PTSD, but the most tragic character in the Harry Potter universe isn't a person.

Created by the founders of Hogwarts and imbued with their wisdom, the Sorting Hat is the most criminally underused magical object in the Potterverse. It's basically wizard AI that's been "programmed" to read people's minds, and all they use it for is to decide which dorm 11-year-olds should sleep in and occasionally deliver a sword. You'd feel bad for it if it had feelings ... which it clearly does. The song it sings in Order of the Phoenix (it sings a song before every sorting ceremony, an element bafflingly omitted from the movies) suggests that it's actually gained full sentience. In fact, it's decided that this whole sorting business is kind of ruining society, what with the wizard race wars and all, but it's resigned to the fact that it will be forced to do it anyway.

And now the Sorting Hat is here And you all know the score: / sort you into Houses Because that is what I'm for, But this year I'll go further, Listen

And everyone is just sort of ... fine with this. No one cares that they're forcing an intelligent creature to do a job that it's morally opposed to against its will. Keep in mind, this is at a time when most of the wizarding world is still in denial about Voldemort's return, to the point that the state-run media is verbally crucifying their own Jesus, but the goddamn Sorting Hat knows what's up. It's obviously not programmed with that knowledge and it can't just crawl Wizard Google News, so the only way it can know that is if it's actually omniscient or, more likely, it hears everything that happens in the Headmaster's Office, where it's stowed away the other 364 days of the year. Where it's been stowed away most of the year for hundreds of years.

The Headmaster's Office at Hogwarts is basically their Oval Office, so think about how much history that hat has witnessed. But does anyone ever ask the Sorting Hat what they should do about the series of potentially world-ending catastrophes going on around there? Of course not. And they would have to ask -- the Sorting Hat appears to only communicate, outside of shouting house names, telepathically with the person wearing it, so it can't just be like "Hey guys, pretty sure it's that Riddle kid opening the Chamber of Secrets. 'E's the heir of Slytherin. Saw it in his head." Instead, it's forced to just watch these people make one terrible decision after another, knowing that it could help if they would only listen.

It doesn't appear to even have the free will to refuse their orders. It describes itself as "condemned," and that's exactly what it is. What if Hogwarts had permanently fallen to the Death Eaters? The Sorting Hat would have no choice but to participate in whatever nefarious uses they might have for a mind-reading hat. After all, you can't bite down on the cyanide capsule if you don't have teeth.

But sure, Snape liked a girl once.

Manna thinks about Harry Potter a lot on Twitter.

Top image: Warner Bros.


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