The Better Side of Slytherin
by Black Lily
No one really wants to think of his or herself as a Slytherin. Every Slytherin weve met in the books has been cruel, nasty, and if nothing else, in a family of Voldemort supporters. But arent we all just stereotyping? I’m a Slytherin student, and it’s about time one of us stood up for the house.
Let’s start symbolically, shall we? The animal representing Slytherin House is a snake. Snakes have always been associated with evil and such. But then, snakes have always been misunderstood, haven’t they? A quick google search (snake symbol, first hit) reveals that snakes, while indeed being symbols of destruction, also symbolize strength, protection and rebirth. That’s not so evil, now is it? That puts the whole house in a different light. Perhaps, instead of being its downfall, we Slytherins are the ones who will save the school! Next, I’d like to keep in the mold and examine the Sorting Hat’s songs. It’s been done, of course, but it helps an argument a lot. We’ll start with Harrys first year-
Or perhaps in Slytherin you’ll make your real friends, Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends
So, what does this mean? Slytherins are first described to the school (not to Harry, since he had already talked to Hagrid about it) as cunning, and somewhat ruthless. Cunning, we should know, has a few meanings: someone who is cunning, deceptive and subtle (but interestingly enough, another meaning for cunning is pleasing and cute). Cunning in itself as a noun is skill in deception, or skill in performance of anything (definitions in my own words from dictionary.com). I tell you this to be sure we all know that cunning isn’t necessarily evil. Neither is ruthlessness. After all, Harry Potter would have done anything at all to save Sirius, no matter what he had to do. Perhaps determined is a better word than ruthless to describe someone who would do anything to reach his or her goals.
Moving on. In Harry’s fourth year, the song isn’t quite as easy to divide the way the first one was, so I’d like to take two parts of it for my analysis. This song tells us more about the founders of the houses than the houses themselves. Salazar Slytherin, founder of Slytherin house, is described as shrewd. If I may bore you with more definitions, shrewd means aware, intelligent, and practical, as well as cunning and tricky. It paints a far better picture than we first had of Slytherin; the intelligence that makes a good wizard is tempered by the practicality that won’t let said wizard do stupid things. The other part of the song is this –
And Power-hungry Slytherin loved those of great ambition.
Not quite so nice. An ambitious nature can cause some serious problems, if you let it (coughPercycough). But where would any of us be without our ambitions? We’d be wandering the world, not knowing who we are or where we are going. Finally, the song in Book 5. It doesn’t help us out as much in any regard to the houses, Hufflepuffs in particular seem to be upset about this song: where before they were hard-working and true, now they’re simply the lot. Again, we have two places to look at:
Said Slytherin, Well just teach those whos ancestry is purest
For instance, Slytherin, Took only pure-blood wizards of great cunning, just like him
Well, that’s very annoying. Now, the defining trait of the house is being pure-blood. From what we know and who we know, we assume Pure-bloods to be, like the Malfoys, cocky, rude, and considering themselves superior. This, however, is another stereotype. I need only point to one person to destroy that vision of Pure-bloods in general– Sirius Black. He came from a family of Voldemort supporters: a pure-blood family going back generations and generations, a family that disowned anyone who didn’t think the way they did. Sirius was a pure-blood, and he was a fine, upstanding, good person. The Weasley family is another good example; they’re pure-blood and they’re completely tolerant of those who arent. It doesnt really matter to them. I would also like to point out that nowadays, the old dream of an entirely pure Slytherin House is shattered. Tom Riddle was only a Half-blood, and he was the most famous of any Slytherin to date (he also happened to be Head Boy, and one of the best students in his year.) So what have we learned by looking at the songs? Slytherin students are characterized by intelligence, practicality, ambition, and determination. Not one of these qualities says evil in any way.
I’d like to take one more quote from Book 5, said by Phineas Nigellus, former Slytherin and former Headmaster of Hogwarts, around Christmastime:
We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid. For instance, given the choice, we will always choose to save our own necks.
What does this tell us? Slytherins are more interested in their own survival than that of others. I think that rings true for a lot of people, even if they would’nt admit it. People in general can be selfish.
People have pointed out before to me that the Sorting Hat said to unite together, and that Slytherins are the people least likely to do this. The most obvious piece of evidence is that there were no Slytherins in the DA. But think about it– did any Slytherins even KNOW about the DA? Hermione told the people that she knew about her plan to have Harry teach, but she doesn’t hang out with Slytherins. And even if any of them had shown up, would they have been allowed in? Gryffindor house in particular seems to be biased against the Slytherins. Perhaps if someone reached out to the Slytherins in the background, the ones who don’t make enemies for themselves, we would have far more unity within the school.
There is one last point to make to show more of the good qualities of Slytherin House. If I remember correctly, Slytherin had won the House Cup several years running before Harry and Draco arrived at the school. House Points are given for good behavior and knowledge, and taken away for bad behavior and rule-breaking. Slytherins, on the whole, cant be that bad to have won the cup so many times. Perhaps its only a question of knowing when to keep their mouths shut, and not doing anything in front of a teacher, but that takes intelligence and skill, even if it’s not the best thing to do.
I doubt that I’ve changed many minds about my house, but I felt it was time for someone to point out what others must have missed. Draco Malfoy and his goons are hardly the only representatives of Slytherin. There are plenty of students weve never met because Harry and company do not associate with Slytherins. Think about the things I’ve said, and see if you can’t think a little differently about the students sent to Slytherin. Who knows, you may be one of them