Most of us are probably familiar with the Harry Potter franchise, if even peripherally. I happen to be a huge Harry Potter fan, and I’m not simply referring to my frame size… I’ve even taken online tests to see where I’m “sorted” and, according to most, I’m a Hufflepuff. However, employees at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter don’t have the benefit of a sorting hat when they’re assigned a Hogwarts House to represent. Instead, they’re issued robes based on their approximate size and body shape, based on the reports of a recent park visitor who asked an employee.
Is it possible that, as far as practical operations are concerned, the four Hogwarts houses might be best described as Small, Medium, Large and X-Large? That seems over-simplistic and not an altogether smart move, but perhaps might be a simpler and more cost-effective one than letting employees choose, or just issuing them randomly.
Mother and Harry Potter fan Lindsay Fisher, who has visited the park twice, wanted to know. Her reasons for asking: she works with kids, has a child of her own, and she knows firsthand how important the books and their themes are to people, most particularly, young ones. She also knows that the park claims to represent an accurate picture of the fictional world of Harry Potter.
She was surprised when an employee told her that she was representing the Hogwarts house, Slytherin — not because of personal choice, or even a random selection, but because of her body size. “I asked her if she meant that all that was left after the robes were handed out were the ones in her size,” says Fisher, “but, no. The employee basically said, ‘that’s not it — it doesn’t break up that way. People are sorted by size’.”
So I asked. The official word from the Public Relations Department representative at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to me was, “While we are happy to share details about the land and the unique experiences for our guests, we don’t generally discuss operational details such as those you are asking about.” Fair enough.
If it’s true that the park issues each house robe in one size, it might make sense from the perspective that it ensures a more even distribution of the different houses throughout the park. It’s hard to say — the park hasn’t issued a statement explaining how the robes are distributed, and some Harry Potter fans are curious. If people are encouraged to interact with employees, and if the employees are expected to act like characters from the fictional world of wizards and witches, it’s probably safe to assume that people will ask questions.
Fisher’s feeling is that a park based on a children’s book series ought to present itself in way that is both consistent with the stories and responsible to their young audience. “Even somebody who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, in my opinion, would notice that all the people who look a certain way are all wearing the same colors. It’s like saying, ‘OK, all the robes in extra-large are going to be the yellow Hufflepuff ones, for example. If that’s the case and you’re a larger person, you’ll be a Hufflepuff.”
She added, “I can understand if it’s a business decision on the park’s end. The problem is that some kids are going to notice this. It doesn’t represent the books if that’s how they’re going to do it. And that’s just not a good message to send out.”
I asked mother of two and Harry Potter fan Tiffany Gould, who has not yet visited the park but has plans to do so, whether she thinks it matters how the robes are chosen and distributed to employees at the Wizarding World. “Yes, I think it matters, ” says Gould. “I think it should be done fairly, and that there should at least be a bit of consideration given to the employees’ preferences.”
Would anyone else notice if people in Hogwarts robes of a similar body type all wore the same house colors? I asked some Harry Potter fans who have yet to visit the park, but who plan on making the trip.
Lola Shaffer, a Harry Potter fan who has followed the books for years, thinks that the children most likely to notice are those kids who are perhaps most sensitive to issues involving body image. “Kids who’ve been picked on or teased because of size might be more likely to notice something like that.”
Shaffer’s daughter, Whitney, who is also a fan and is even taking a university course that discusses the books at length, said, ” I believe, to a certain extent, that it’s important the robes are distributed in a diverse way. If a person of a certain height, weight, ethnicity and/or gender are put into a certain house, it’s making assumptions about the personality and even history of that house. I think part of the magic of Harry Potter is the fact that each person can be put into a house that suits them the best. If the park looses sight of this the magic surrounding it could be lost. The houses are such a big part of the story and the magic, it should be as authentic as possible.”
Mother Roxanne Taylor likes the idea that some park employees wear house robes, and thinks that they ought to be randomly distributed, rather than assigned a specific house based on a group generality.
Pat Varner has been to the park on more than one occasion — and she dresses the part: while she’s not a Wizarding World employee, she wears her own personal Hogwarts robes when she visits. “When I go, I am in robes and am treated very well, with lots of respect. I represent Gryffindor as Professor Hooch. Tourists think I am a cast member and play the part.” She loves the fact that guests seem to be encouraged to interact with park employees, because it makes the Hogwarts experience seem that much more real to everyone.
Others doubt most people would notice much about who was wearing the robes or what they might look like. Jennifer Amlie, a Harry Potter fan and theme park enthusiast, says, “that place was so packed, kids would be lucky to recognize their parents in the mobs of people. I’d rather they focus on making the park bigger than anything else.”
Whether or not the park distributes costume pieces based on body size, it would probably be in the best interests of both curious and impressionable young guests and the park itself to decide how they do their own “sorting” — and to be consistent in how it’s communicated.
Whitney Shaffer summed up her feelings about the books and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this way: “I have loved the world of Harry Potter for years and I’ve recently found myself immured in it yet again. These stories are so well structured and everything is put together with careful detail. A page doesn’t turn without something deeper and more fascinating appearing on the next one. These books have been carefully constructed and every little thing has a meaning (even the minor characters have birthdays and their names can be researched to find it’s perfectly matched with their character). I can only hope the park follows this tradition, even with something as simple as who wears which house colors.”