Harry Potter started out as a small spark in the imagination of J. K. Rowling and has grown into an empire. That empire encompasses seven books, eight movies, and several theme park lands spread all over the world in places such as Orlando, Hollywood, Beijing, and Japan. Each story in the Harry Potter series includes adventure, heartwarming lessons, and symbolism. Even something as simple as the Hogwarts’ house colors hold a special meaning to the author and the fans that are young as well as those that are young at heart, like my wife and I.
Hogwarts is a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Young witches and wizards are invited to the school by special request, and when they arrive, they are ushered into the main hall for the welcoming ceremony. Students immediately see this great room decorated in banners and flags that represent the four houses; Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff. These banners are colorful and festive as they sport each house’s traditional colors.
Students are sorted into their separate houses during the welcoming ceremony. The sorting hat announces each child’s house, but the hat doesn’t make the decision. It is each witch and wizard’s character, bravery, and personality that determines such an important assignment. A student’s house dictates where they will be sleeping within the castle, which fellow students they will spend the most time with, and even which Quidditch team they will be rooting for.
Nothing in J. K. Rowlings’s writing is random. This is an author that created a list of students’ names to use long before she created the actual characters. She knew from the beginning of the first book the exact role Professor Snape would play in Harry’s life as well as how the entire saga would end. So it is no surprise that she had a definite reason for using the colors she did when assigning each house two colors to represent them.
J. K. Rowlings’s Element of Surprise
The most highly regarded theory of how each Hogwarts house got its colors will come straight from the author herself. Rowlings used certain colors to create specific emotions or traits in her writing. This is how many authors use color within their writing. When asked about the house colors, she remarked that the colors are loosely connected to the four elements. She used the idea of fire, water, Earth, and sky as inspiration for both the school’s house colors as well as to identify what type of witch or wizard would belong in them.
Gryffindor’s Colors Are Red and Gold
This represents fire. Gryffindor students are brave and daring. They have plenty of nerve when needed, but they don’t use these traits to control others. Instead they show chivalry by using their strengths to be helpful to those around them. Rowlings compared these characteristics to the power of fire which can be both destructive and respected all at the same time. With members like Harry Potter and his parents, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, you can see how the element of fire compliments this house perfectly.
Slytherin’s Colors Are Green and Silver
These colors represent water. Water is thought to evoke love, purity, and mystery. Remember how Voldemort’s followers wanted a pure wizard world without muggles or half bloods? Slytherins are thought of as ambitious, cunning, and resourceful with great leadership qualities. After all, the sorting hat almost placed Harry into this group. Unfortunately, members like the Malfoy family and Tom Riddle used their characteristic traits for malicious achievements rather than good. This has left Slytherin with a reputation for being evil.
Hufflepuff’s Colors Are Yellow and Black
This represents Earth. Hufflepuff’s traits include loyalty and a strong work ethic, while the element Earth is often connected to practicality, thoughtfulness, stability, and hard work. With members like Cedric Diggory and Nymphadora Tonks, you can see how Rowlings easily used the reference of Earth when writing about Hufflepuff. Sadly though, Hufflepuff is often considered the least clever of the houses. This has more to do with how a true Hufflepuff never boasts of their good deeds than their actual achievements.
Ravenclaw’s House Colors Are Blue and Bronze
These colors refer to the sky. Ravenclaw’s traits are wisdom, cleverness, and wit. They tend to be creative witches and wizards. When it comes to their academics, they stop at nothing to achieve greatness. The sky is said to be indestructible, infinite, and boundless. These are all terms that can easily be applied to any loyal Ravenclaw such as Luna Lovegood or Mister Ollivander.
The Olympian Theory
Many fans of Harry Potter have made a connection between the Olympic games and the house colors. The five rings of the Olympic flag share the same colors as Rowlings used for the Hogwarts house colors. This includes red, blue, yellow, green, and black. Her characters certainly performed Olympic feats throughout the series of books. It would only make sense that she would draw inspiration from the actual Olympic games all of us muggles enjoy so much.
She also mixed in metallic colors like gold, silver, and bronze. In the Olympic games, the gold medal goes to first place, the silver medal to second place, and the bronze medal is awarded to third place. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore awards points to each house as part of the competition for the house cup. The final tally ends up being 482 points for Gryffindor, 472 points for Slytherin, and 426 points for Ravenclaw. Gryffindor wins the house cup, or gold position. Gold being one of their house colors. Slytherin has silver as one of their house colors and wins second place, while Ravenclaw with its bronze color comes in third.
Many argue that this is too much of a coincidence. It must have been well thought out by the author when coming up with the house colors for each group. You will also notice that this award-winning order also reflects the amount of attention each house receives throughout the Harry Potter series. Poor Hufflepuff, the least boastful house, is often seen as nothing more than an afterthought.
Warner Brothers Changes House Colors
Much to the dismay of Harry Potter fans from around the world, the house colors in the movies don’t match the description of these colors that you will find in the books. Three of the houses are the same whether you read the stories or see them on the big screen, but Warner Brothers changed Ravenclaw’s colors from blue and bronze to blue and silver. They also decided to make their mascot a raven instead of an eagle, but they didn’t find it necessary to change Gryffindor’s from a lion to a griffin.
When asked about this decision, the movie studio said it was simply a design decision. They found it to be more pleasing to the eye to use silver. It matched Slytherin’s colors better. Especially when you see that both Gryffindor and Hufflepuff share a yellow/gold hue in their colors. They also managed to change Hermione’s elegant blue dress robes for the yuletide ball from blues to a more prom-like pink dress.
These subtle changes often goes unnoticed, but for the truly dedicated fans that are stickers for detail, it is an outrage. For one thing, it means they can’t buy the traditional blue and bronze house colors on items found in theme park gift shops. It also ruins the entire Olympic theory when it comes to the symbolism of the house colors.
Color Theory and Emotions
Every color has a meaning behind it as well as emotions that we have attached to it over time. Wanting to express the true personality of the characters, Rowlings may have considered this when choosing the house colors.
Gryffindor – Red
Gryffindor uses red. Red is an energetic and bold color. It is often used to represent war with a focus placed on the courage and danger found in battle. This fits in perfectly with the many times Gryffindor fought Voldemort throughout the series. Dark red is associated with rage and determination, but red can also be an attractive color. It is used to represent passion, love, and friendship. This is certainly our hero, Harry.
Slytherin – Green
Green represents Slytherin. This sounds contradictory at first when you consider green as a passive color that stands for stability and tranquility. All of these are positive traits. So, why Slytherin? The answer lies in the alternative view of green. Green is powerful. It is also envious. Have you ever been green with envy? Now you can begin to see the relationship between this chameleon color and the members of Slytherin.
Ravenclaw – Blue
Ravenclaw uses blue as a house color. Blue is associated with a delicate balance between obsession and devotion. It brings to mind confidence, trust, and contentment, but it also refers to smugness and a truthfulness that can come across as criticism. This constant balancing act of traits will eventually lead to sadness. Have you ever felt blue? Doesn’t this describe our most lovable Ravenclaw, Luna, perfectly?
Hufflepuff – Yellow
Finally, we have yellow for Hufflepuff. Energetic and bright comes to mind. Do blondes have more fun? This stereotypical phrase may rub many the wrong way, but its origins match the ideals associated with yellow. Yellow, as a color, works beautifully with many other colors. Red and yellow are regal together, blue and yellow are peppy, green and yellow are playful. It only makes sense that the one house that seems to get along with everyone, regardless of their house, should use yellow as their color. Of course, Hufflepuff also uses black. Black can be evil, but in this case, black is used more like it would be for a ”black tie” affair. For Hufflepuff, black evokes strength and authority.
The Symbolism of the House Colors
The next time you read a Harry Potter book or sit down to enjoy one of the movies, pay attention to those house colors. They are much more than an afterthought. These amazing colors foreshadow events in the story, perfectly represent the characters, and help define the courage and strength of each team. Regardless of which theory works for you, we can all agree that J. K. Rowlings knew exactly what she was doing when she first described those Hogwarts house colors in that very first adventure.