Brett Michael Orr is a blogger from Australia who writes YA Science Fiction novels. His latest manuscript is The Bureau of Time, currently in beta-stage and soon looking for a publisher. You can follow him on Twitter, or visit his blog.
The Harry Potter community is a diverse and complex one, bonded by twenty years’ worth of kids and adults alike delving into J.K. Rowling’s rich world of magic, friendship, and adventure. Like many fandoms, Harry Potter fans enjoy forming teams and alliances, moreso than any other fandom due to the nature of Hogwarts itself – of course, I’m talking about houses.
Here, Put This Hat On.
Even before the official Pottermore site, there were literally millions of ‘House Quizzes’ available on the internet, but Pottermore brought a unique element to the Houses – essentially, it stopped people repeating the quiz again to get the house they wanted. It revealed our true personalities and house suitability.
With Houses comes House Rivalry. Like the characters we followed for 7 books and 8 films, Houses mean more than just arbitrary association – each house has its own values and morals (not markedly different from common personality tests), and these qualities have led to fierce rivalries and loyalty among fans.
Slytherin is, however, the most divisive of the houses.
Where the other houses value bravery (Gryffindor), intelligence (Ravenclaw), or loyalty (Hufflepuff), my own house Slytherin values cunning, resourcefulness and ambition.
Snakes and Chambers.
The ‘heroes’ of Harry Potter are from Gryffindor, and Harry’s immediate enemies come from Slytherin – so it’s natural for most fandoms to jump to the conclusion that Slytherin is bad.
There is, however, a problem.
Readers do not ever experience a Point-of-View from a Slytherin. Admittedly the same can be said for Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but those two houses aren’t painted in the same distasteful light as Slytherin.
Even worse, Slytherin’s bad reputation comes largely from the terrible actions of a single man – Tom Riddle, or Lord Voldemort.
There are uncomfortable real-world parallels to this — in the real-world, entire religions and nations have been tarnished via the actions of a few rogue elements, whose power and fear was so great that the ‘regular’ members could do nothing but stand by out of fear for their own lives.
This is clearly shown multiple times throughout the novels – the Malfoy family, for instance, was harassed and threatened by Voldemort, coerced into helping advance the Dark Lord’s plans until eventually they were of no further use to him. Draco Malfoy, in particular, during the events of The Half-Blood Prince, was being routinely threatened by Voldemort – but despite his inherent nasty streak, Draco was unable to carry out the final deed of killing Albus Dumbledore.
But wait – doesn’t Slytherin despise half-bloods? Don’t they champion Blood Purity?
It’s true, Salazar Slytherin fell out with Godric Gryffindor over the issue of Blood Purity – Salazar was attempting to maintain the strength and purity of magical blood.
Isn’t that terrible? Shouldn’t Slytherin have welcomed Half-Bloods and treated them as equals?
They did. The most famous Half-Blood Slytherin of them all was – did you guess? Tom Marvolo Riddle.
I’m not suggesting that Slytherin was right to pursue blood purity, but in an ironic twist, if Slytherin had enforced blood purity, Tom Riddle might never have joined Slytherin and may never have pursued his ancestor (Salazar Slytherin)’s dark arts. We’ll never know.
Being Cunning Isn’t a Bad Thing.
Slytherin’s personality traits have been criticized before – but there is nothing inherently wrong with being a little cunning. In fact, there have been ‘good’ Slytherins, such as Horace Slughorn and Andromeda Tonks; and Slytherins who redeemed themselves – such as Severus Snape and Regulus Black.
Gryffindor isn’t perfect either. It has been tainted with evil too: Peter Pettigrew was directly responsible for the death of James and Lily Potter, and allowed Voldemort to attack Harry Potter, beginning the entire saga in the first place.
For some Slytherins, it’s simply a matter of self-preservation above reckless bravery:
“We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid. For instance, when given the choice, we will always choose to save our own necks” – Phineas Nigellus.
Slytherin has great magical traits too – they have dabbled in Dark Magic, it’s true, but their resourcefulness and cunning has always seen Slytherin rise to the top of potions making. Additionally, many Slytherins are skilled in Occlumency, a very rare and powerful type of magic for protecting one’s mind. Notice the emphasis – this is a defensive spell, not an aggressive spell.
The Good with the Bad.
Slytherin is a complex house. You can’t accept it and be part of it without acknowledging its checkered past — but when you take a harder look at Slytherin, the discrimination and negative views against it start to fall away.
Not every Slytherin was involved with the Dart Arts or agreed with Voldemort, and many were forced against their will to join the Death Eaters. They’re fascination with the older elements of magic was misconstrued, and in the process, their natural aptitude for useful arts like potions and occlumency, among other areas, was somehow forgotten.
Slytherins deserve as much as respect as any other house – our personality traits complement the other houses, and our self-preservation (and ambitious) streak has seen our house always battling at the top of the House Cup for years, striving to continually better ourselves.
It’s time to shrug off the bad reputation and negative image. Slytherins need to unite, stand together and be proud of their house, and they need to show the other houses that being a Slytherin is more than just being ambitious or cunning, but about battling through a long history, against continual stigma, and rising out of that better than ever.
I’m pride to be Slytherin – and perhaps, if you join this house with me, you’ll find your real friends too!