Are You Hiding-Out in Harry Potter Land?
Though I’m a true Gryffindor, I work in the House of Slytherin. You might not believe this, but my boss is the Evil Twin of Severus Snape. Several of the people I work with make Pansy Parkinson seem sweet-tempered and rather uncreative, as far as nastiness goes. And, since I’m no coward, I’ve been spotted as a Gryffindor. As a result, I’m less popular than a blast-ended skrewt with the Slytherin crowd. If I were still 13, I wouldn’t resist the temptation to give them a good smack about the face. But, there’s a catch…I’m all grown up now. I graduated from college, and I have this job because someday I hope to be the boss and do some real good. Of course, I’ll be a great boss and my staff will never include any Slytherins – unless they can behave themselves. But for now, I need to do a good job. If you can believe this though, sometimes doing a good job just isn’t good enough. To really succeed, it seems as if I also have to win the approval of my boss and co-workers. And how can I possibly get them to like me when these greasy-haired gits don’t play by any rules recognized as fair or nice?
In the meantime, I read a lot of Harry Potter. Actually, I listen to it on tape because I barely have enough time off from work to do my laundry. I just can’t decide what J. K. Rowling would think of this. Some days, I think she’d be pleased when I start doing my dishes, turn on my HP tape, and stop fussing and worrying and plotting to get that wretched Rita Skeeter if it’s the last thing I do. She’d be proud to see me put things in perspective and realize that I’m bigger than that. But other days, I suspect she’d be a bit upset with me for hiding in her books rather than getting out there and solving a problem. So, I often wonder, am I finding solace and setting the world aright, or hiding-out in Harry Potter Land?
“Whether we be old and bald or young with scabby knees,” we are all forced to visit the House of Slytherin too often for our own comfort. When you are in the House of Slytherin, the people around you aren’t nice or fair. You can be disliked for doing the things you believe and know are right, and often times someone in authority like your teacher or your boss is just not being fair, knows it, and doesn’t seem to care. That last bit, the part about the unfair authority-figure, is the critical difference between being stuck in the House of Slytherin and just having to put up with gits.
When you are stuck in the House of Slytherin, the world seems to be turned upside down – you are punished for being nice or fair (or even smart, successful or good at your job!), and those who are cruel or unfair are rewarded. But you can’t always leave. You can’t go racing up to the head of the class and bring your cauldron crashing down on Snape’s greasy head. When all the imaginary Snape-faced-scarab-beetle mashing in the world just isn’t enough, what can we do?
If you are reading this, I suspect that you, like me, have a tendency to read Harry Potter books when the world goes all topsy-turvy. But, after a few (hundred) chapters, let’s say we’re ready to put down HP and do what J.K.R. intends us to do – to get out there and make the world a better place for our having lived in it. That brings us back to the question at hand – how do we do this when the world seems so jammed packed with the likes of Pansy Parkinson and Cornelius Fudge?
The funny thing is that each and every one of us knows exactly what to do in this situation (it’s doing it that’s hard). C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, points out that there seems to be such a thing as “human nature,” the rules of which we all seem to know. He goes so far as to suggest that these rules are innate. In other words, we are all (Christian or not, I would like to emphasize) born with this rulebook inside of us. Now, I was not raised Christian (actually, my parents were Dentists), but I think we can all see how interesting this idea is, because we all recognize that it has some basis in truth. When you were a little kid, and somebody took your toy, or your turn, you cried bloody murder, right? Have you ever had to explain to a little child why the world isn’t fair? Little children (and a healthy group of adults, too) have a very hard time accepting unfairness in the world. That, Lewis would suggest, is human nature. Although the world isn’t fair, we have some sense of what is fair inside us – the rulebook of human nature. And when the world is wrong (especially to us), that little rulebook starts screaming bloody murder. Unfortunately, it’s easier to ignore the rulebook when it concerns your own unfairness to others, but I’d argue it’s still there. As you can imagine, I love that we all have this rulebook that we can follow, it’s just unfortunate I can’t read it to learn even more!
Thanks to the rulebook, we all know what to do when we visit the House of Slytherin. We just have to keep acting true to our House, be it Gryffindor, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, and true to ourselves. We have to keep intoning, under our breath, “ignore them, ignore them, ignore them.” We have to stalk by with our heads held in the air, pretending as if we cannot hear them. Now, (not that I’d ever let on when the Slytherins are around, because they’d love to know they’d got to me) that’s much, much easier said than done. Don’t you remember what Dumbledore said? We have probably all experienced one of the greatest powers of Slytherin house – the power to create discord and enmity. Salazar Slytherin, Lord Voldemort and even that little cockroach Draco Malfoy manage to do incredible damage to the friendships and bonds of trust between those around them. Remember the “Potter Stinks” badges worn by Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs in GoF? Good people are sometimes so hurt and upset by unfairness or cruelty that they forget to be true to themselves and start acting like Slytherins without even meaning to. I mean, even Professor McGonagall can be a bit uncharitable and overly severe at times.
But my point is that even if Slytherins don’t follow the rules, and the world isn’t always fair, in some ultimate reality, things really are fair. You might believe in an ultimate reality governed by principles described by a major religion, or just believe in your own sense of what is fair. I believe and need to believe that our ultimate reality is fair, and therefore I love HP books. The fact is, when everybody else is confused or bamboozled or just wrong, Ron and Harry usually know what’s right. We all need friends like that. It’s true that sometimes my friends aren’t around to talk to. So, it can be lonely as one of the few Gryffindors in the HoS.
That’s why when the Slytherins (or the Muggles) have got me down, I like to remember that doing what’s right really is its own reward. Sometimes I remember how much I admire others who chose to do what was right, rather than what was easy. For example, I remember the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once stood outside the small house where he, his wife and their young children lived after a bomb blast had shattered the walls of that home. People loved Dr. King, and they were angry that anyone had tried to hurt him and his family (as angry as Hagrid was when that Auror stunned Fang). When they heard the bomb, they came running to his aid, and they brought with them guns and knives. But Dr. King stood in front of the ruin of his house and asked the crowd to please forgive the men who had bombed it. I think Dr. King must have felt very sad and angry too – his wife and their baby were in the house when the bomb blast went off! But he said to his friends, “Put down your guns and your knives,” and go home to your families – we are not like the men who set off this bomb. We are better than that, and will not stoop to that level.
How hard was that? And, of course, he was right. Just like Dumbledore is right to forgive and trust, and Professor McGonagall was right to help Professor Trelawney when Umbridge tried to throw her out. Even though, thanks to the rulebook, we all know that we should act like Dr. King – or Professor Dumbledore – sometimes we fail to do so. It’s pretty hard. As for the people around us, it can sometimes seem like there are a lot more Slytherins than there are Dumbledores.
I read Harry Potter books because they remind me that the world can be, and should be, right. It lightens the burden a bit. For that, I hope that J.K.R. will be pleased. And when I’m ready to square my shoulders and head back to the House of Slytherin, I take a bit of HP fairness with me, in my head. If I ever need to explain to J.K.R. just what I am doing hiding-out in Harry Potter Land, I hope she’ll approve of my answer. I’m not hiding – I’m on a mission. I’m committing parts of Harry’s world to memory and to heart, so that I can bring them with me when I have to go back into the House of Slytherin!