Campus Life Editor
As I have mentioned before, I am a big Harry Potter fan. I have spent countless hours reading the books, watching the movies, looking up headcanons, and spending money on merchandise. I generally like the fandom; I mean, like every fandom, there are good and bad parts. For more of my thoughts on the franchise, see “Alohomora: unlocking the themes behind J.K. Rowling’s fake diversity,” at the Quaker Campus website. However, there is one thing that becomes a constant point of conflict in my experiences with other fans — the metaphorical cruciatus curse looming over my head: having to explain why I am in Slytherin.
The main fictional wizarding school in the Harry Potter franchise, Hogwarts, divides its students up into four houses based on traits the students value. Gryffindor claims bravery, nerve, and chivalry; Hufflepuff claims loyalty, hard work, and patience; Ravenclaw claims intelligence, creativity, and wit. Last — but, as I will explain, not least — Slytherin claims determination, ambition, and resourcefulness. There are a number of additional traits for each house, but these ones sum them up pretty well.
I should admit that I actually always get sorted into Slytherin or Hufflepuff. It is cannon that people can choose between houses. People are more complex than most books with a personality-based sorting system show — I’m looking at you, Divergent. And, as Harry chose Gryffindor over Slytherin, I chose Slytherin over Hufflepuff. I do love the traits of Hufflepuff, but Slytherin ultimately felt right. Whenever I tell people my beloved house, they tend to say: ‘you don’t strike me as evil, so why are you in Slytherin?’ I have flair for the dramatic, and, as much as I would love to pull back some curtain and reveal that I am secretly evil, that isn’t true. I’m just a pretty determined and ambitious person. Actually, most Slytherins aren’t evil at all.
First of all, it isn’t your fault if you believe Slytherins are evil; author J. K. Rowling actually set you up to believe that. Literally, the first time we see the word Slytherin in the books is in chapter five of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Hagrid is explaining the Hogwarts houses to Harry, “Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin . . . there’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one.” She sets you up to hate Slytherin by including false bias, that every evil wizard is from Slytherin and mentioning that Voldemort, the main villain of the series, was part of this house.
The previous quote is often thrown around, but as much as I like Hagrid, it is simply a false statement. The biggest example of a non-Slytherin bad wizard is Peter Pettigrew. He was placed in none other than Gryffindor, the literal golden house. He betrayed Harry’s parents — prompting the entire series — and later brought Voldemort back amongst other things. Two more examples are Gilderoy Lockhart and Quirinus Quirrell, who were both Ravenclaw. Those are the only examples the books give, but the time period the books cover are a short glimpse into wizard history. Some good Slytherins are Regulus Black, a former Death Eater who attempted to destroy a horcrux, Horace Slughorn, the Head of Slytherin Potions Professor who sided with the good guys during the battle of Hogwarts, and Merlin, the greatest wizard who ever lived.
Of course, there are Slytherins who are naturally evil, but I think many do not start that way and are pushed into that. Imagine this: you’re 11 years old, a small, impressionable child, and you board the train to Hogwarts just as excited as everyone else. You get to the dining hall as your hands shake in anticipation while you wait for your name to be called. You witness everyone else get cheered for as they join their new families. Suddenly it’s your turn and you walk up wondering where you could possibly be sorted. You stood up to a bully recently, so maybe Gryffindor. Your test scores are good, so maybe Ravenclaw. You would do anything for your friends, so maybe Hufflepuff. But your determination places you in Slytherin. The cheers from the Slytherin table are drowned out by the booing of the rest of the hall. You’re discouraged, but you’re determined to show people your heart and character. Although nobody outside of your house wants to get to know you, and even call you evil. You decide to stick with other Slytherins because they’re the only people who give you a chance. You graduate after years of bullying over a decision a hat made when you were 11 years old, and a group called the Death Eaters approach you saying that they understand you; they faced the same discrimination; that they love you; and they can give you a home. So, you join the Death Eaters because you’re in desperate need of acceptance
and they’re willing to offer you that.
Let me clarify: I do not support the Death Eaters. I do not like the Death Eaters. I would not be a Death Eater. However, I understand how Slytherin that are canonically bullied would become Death Eaters after graduating from Hogwarts.
Another thing that often comes up is that Slytherin didn’t fight in the battle of Hogwarts. Actually, a lot of Slytherins did fight with Slughorn on the side of the defenders of Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling herself said, “A part of the final battle that made me smile was Slughorn galloping back with Slytherins . . .they’d gone off to get reinforcements first...” Slytherins are known for being resourceful, so they didn’t just charge into the battle blindly. They went with Slughorn to prepare and get reinforcements so they could properly help the good guys win. And I can’t blame the ones who didn’t fight.
Slytherin students are the most likely to have relatives on Voldemort’s side. I’d find it hard to fight to the death against my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., so given the choice between fighting against Hogwarts, fighting against relatives, or going home, I think going home does the least amount of damage.
I do not think that Slytherins are inherently evil, but the traits attributed to the house are the most easily corruptible. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, determined, or resourceful. However, bad people tend to value those traits. Remember that there are good and bad people in every group, not just Hogwarts houses, and it isn’t okay to stereotype a whole group of people. Stereotypes lead to ignorance and a lot of other problems. There are bad Slytherins, but there are also good ones and, chances are, you know some.