Not much biographical information is given about the founder of Ravenclaw House, Rowena Ravenclaw. However, it is her philosophy that ultimately governs centuries of Ravenclaws: valuing intelligence above all other attributes. While this may at first seem wise and harmless, there is evidence throughout the series that perhaps solely striving for intelligence can in fact be detrimental. Take Rowena’s relationship with her daughter Helena. It is revealed in Book 7 when Harry is searching for the diadem, and finally gets the information from the Grey Lady, AKA, Helena. Rowena’s diadem was said to give wisdom and intelligence to whomever wore it. Helena, in a fit of jealousy, stole it from her mother and ran off to Albania. Rowena, ashamed of her daughter, hid the fact that she no longer had the diadem. It was only when she was on her deathbed that she sent the Baron to bring Helena back, ending in the deaths of both the Baron and Helena, who rejected his affections.
Perhaps if Rowena hadn’t been so intent on knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence, she would have been able to have a relationship with her daughter that was built on something more concrete than pursuit of wisdom. While JKR never goes in depth, it is clear that Rowena’s intellectual pursuits built up a jealousy within her daughter that could never be fixed. The constant pursuit of intelligence over all things perhaps doesn’t leave room for much else, like love. While this is a bold statement, and certainly not true of all Ravenclaws, it is an interesting perspective to explore. Voldemort, for example, while not a Ravenclaw, valued intelligence and wisdom perhaps just as much, if not more, as Rowena did. He was constantly seeking ways to increase his magical knowledge, and telling Dumbledore that he has “pushed the boundaries of magic further, perhaps further than they have ever been pushed,” (HP and the Half-Blood Prince). His pursuit of knowledge led to splitting his soul, through cold blooded murdering, into 7 different pieces. Rowena didn’t push magic quite like Voldemort, and she most likely would have been disgusted by the fact that Voldemort used his knowledge for such evil. And yet, it is important to note that too much knowledge can turn destructive, or perhaps hinder what is truly important and right.
JKR reveals this in an interesting way in the Battle of Hogwarts. When Snape vanishes after fighting McGonagall in the Great Hall, Voldemort then makes an ominous announcement echoing throughout Hogwarts. If Harry turns himself in, everythings good and will go back to normal. “Give me Harry Potter,’ said Voldemorts voice, ‘and none shall be harmed…”(HPATDH 610). Pansy Parkinson, in typical Pansy Parkinson fashion, immediately rises up and yells,”But he’s there! Potter’s there! Someone grab him!”(610). In an epic fashion, all the Gryffindors rise up, wands raised, and block Harry from Slytherin. JKR writes, “Then the Hufflepuffs stood, and almost at the same moment, the Ravenclaws,” (610). Everything JKR writes has some meaning, and the fact that Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw did not stand at the same time shows that perhaps the Ravenclaws were apprehensive about choosing sides. Their intelligence and common sense was probably telling them that Harry had a very slim chance of defeating Voldemort. And that is okay. Because they eventually did stand. But they hesitated, and JKR wants to make it clear that they hesitated.
Furthermore, when McGonagall orders all the students who are not of age to leave Hogwarts, all of the Slytherin table emptied, “a number of older Ravenclaws remained seated while their fellows filed out, even more Hufflepuffs stayed behind, and half of Gryffindor remained in their seats,” (610-611). Once again, JKR is subtly pointing out that by all means, intelligence should be holding people from joining in the fight. Yes some Ravenclaws remained, but not as many as Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors. Intelligence prohibited them from seeing what was truly important: defeating Voldemort, who also valued intelligence.
Rowena set the standard for Ravenclaws. Intelligence and the pursuit of intelligence are ordinarily very valuable attributes in a person. But when they are put on a pedestal above all else, they can lead to destructive ends. Whether it is Voldemort’s quest for conquering all types of magic, or hesitating to doing the right thing, or shoving aside familial relationships, too much emphasis on intelligence can sometimes bring out the stupidity in people.