Hogwarts Math: How many wizards are there?

September 8, 2010

Its always around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I start tilting my head sideways and wondering about how many witches and wizards there are in the wizarding world anyway.  Up until this point I, at least, didn’t think too hard about the world as a whole – Harry had enough going on just with his own circle at Hogwarts.  At this point though, the book starts opening up a lot of new possibilities – other schools of magic, foreign wizards speaking other languages (and casting spell in them?).

Rowling also starts throwing numbers around all over the place … numbers which don’t always add up.  Here are a couple of key numbers that can be used to come up with different overall populations from different places in the cannon:

Five beds in Harry’s dorm

We know that when Harry comes to Hogwarts, there are five Gryffindor first year boys.  We actually only ever learn the names of three girls in his class: Hermione, Lavender and Parvati but this may be because he’s not paying attention to them. I assumed, based on this, that there were roughly ten students per house per year.  This is born out by Harry’s first flying lesson; for Gryffindor and Slytherin first years there are twenty brooms laid out.

This assumption means there are about 280 students in the school.  That seems like a realistic number to me and tallies with the one-teacher-per-subject system and with Harry’s sense of the size of the world around him.  However if Hogwarts is the only school of wizardry in Britain it yields a very small magical population.  That’s maybe 3200 witches and wizards in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  It seems like a pretty small population to me.  Although we know they are pretty scattered and Ron tells Harry that wizards had to marry muggles or die out (suggesting a small population), they also have a sizable Ministry of Magic bureaucracy, at least 9 professional quidditch teams in their league (Ron’s team, the Windborn Wasps are 9th).  Its all a little unclear.

Two hundred fans in green at the quidditch match

Later the books describe the fans at a Hogwarts quidditch match siding with Gryffindor against Slytherin.  A sea of red and gold opposes 200 screaming fans in green.  We have no reason to believe that anyone is in attendance other than the student body – not only to we never hear it mentioned but the Weasley family never comes to a match … and they certainly would.

A thousand students in the school

In a 2000 interview JK Rowling that there were about a thousand students at Hogwarts.  This number makes a lot more sense with the overall wizarding community and with some of her later numbers (a hundred tables seating twelve at the Yule Ball) but doesn’t tally well with the idea that it means a class size of about 140 which is both inconsistent with Harry’s experience and pretty unrealistic considering that there is only one teacher per subject wrangling the entire school.  Imagine grading 1000 final exams – even with magic!

One hundred thousand wizards at the Quidditch World Cup

And at the beginning of Goblet of Fire, Mr. Weasley tells Harry that the stadium seats a hundred thousand. Perhaps there are a lot more foreign wizards than British ones.  It seems like a very large number in comparison with the other possibilities thrown out in the books.

Factors that could explain the discrepancies:

  • Although they are never mentioned in the text, perhaps there ARE more wizarding schools in Britain.
  • Its unlikely that each class is broken out with perfect balance so it could be that there are fewer Gryffindor (and perhaps also Slytherin) students than there are in some other houses (Hufflepuff for example).
  • There is almost certainly fluctuation in the number of students per class and Harry may belong to a particularly small one.  After all in the year of his birth the wizarding community was being terrorized (and killed off) by Death Eaters – it would not have been an ideal time to give hostages to fortune so there might have been far fewer students at Hogwarts during his tenure there than in decades before or after.    (This actually seems very logical to me all things considered.)

Or it could simply be that JK Rowling never really thought this one through that clearly – the possibility has to be acknowledged.

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3 Responses to “Hogwarts Math: How many wizards are there?”

  1. Lucy Says:

    In the section 5 beds in Harry’s dorm you say there is around 40 people per year. But in the books there can’t be only 280 people in the school because it says that he walks into the halls and hundreds of people are sitting at 4 long tables. Hundreds implies more than 300.

  2. Jessica Says:

    JK did acknowledge that the numbers don’t add up. She said people ask her all the time but – now paraphrasing, I think what she said was- I’m not good at maths, it’s just not my thing.
    I remember watching it and I have not watched much docos on JK so I think it was ‘J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life’ that came out before the last book.

  3. Aline Says:

    I agree with most of your remarks. the numbers dont seem to fit, but because people are making the wrong maths: considering the same number of students per house and considering the same number of students of every year. the two factors you showed explains it

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