If you’re anything like me, you went to a school with an unimpressive cafeteria. Sure, it was big, but only just enough to hold a portion of your rude classmates. It wasn’t lined with gigantic, gaudy windows, large oaken tables, or contained magical floating candles. I also bet your school’s dining hall didn’t feature all your teachers sitting at the front of the room, elevated like Gods above you mere mortals.
So, Hogwarts has different ideas of what it means to dine. This is fine. But you knew this already. What you didn’t already know, though, is that this style of dining hall has existed for hundreds of years.
Maybe you have said to yourself, “…this kind of hall?” Maybe you have even asked yourself how it is different from a conventional dining area. To answer this, let us carefully examine the hall. What do we see? Long tables—check! Lots of chairs and windows—check! But, what else? That is right, the teacher’s tables; this is different, right, and adds a bit of a cultured, foreign flare to the Harry Potter. But, it’s not normal to what we have experienced—why do the teachers have their own table in the students dining hall?
To answer this question, we must consider history. Remember that dining customs change over time and these customs reflect the culture and period of the practitioners. Helen Cooper, a medievalist researcher, writes on this subject, “the high table, reserved for the head of the household and the highest-ranking guests, was placed at the end of the hall where the floor was slightly raised (an arrangement still in operation at Oxford and Cambridge colleges). This was the normal medieval hall layout,” (91). Amazingly enough, this is something reflected wholly in the world of Harry Potter.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling curtly but unambiguously writes: “These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting” (116). The key word here is top. In this context, it means elevation, it means a slightly raised platform at the end of the hall. Go back and look closely at the tables…
We can see in the film adaptation that the teacher’s table perfectly aligns with both Rowling and Cooper’s writing and statement. Now, that is an eye for detail!
What does this mean, though? Why does it matter? If this raised table means anything, it is likely this: that Hogwarts prides itself on rank and order. It defines itself in relation to its tradition; a tradition, mind you, which we know—thanks to Hermione’s constant reading from “Hogwarts: A History”— spans over a thousand years. It is a tradition seeped so deeply in a medieval reflection that even the tables retain their tether to the past. Moreover, it means that if simple ideas like the dining hall maintain their near ancient heritage, then we can expect many more facets of Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe to fascinate us with its medieval legacy.