The Basilisk and Nagini Were Probably Quite Nice
The symbolism of the Slytherin serpent has been talked about many times, but what about the actual snakes? There are three prominent snakes in Harry Potter: the boa constrictor, the Basilisk, and Nagini. Considering all three had their free will compromised, what were they really like? And why does Harry only attempt Parseltongue with the boa constrictor?
Our first introduction to a snake is the boa constrictor in the London Zoo, who has a chat (albeit very short) with Harry. It seems to be a pretty civilized conversation, even if it is small talk, and Harry establishes that the boa constrictor would probably like to go to Brazil to see its family.
This shows the snake is polite (it says, “Thanksss, amigo”), cares about its family, can read (it jabs its tail at the sign), and certainly isn’t a two-dimensional slave to wizards’ bidding. Snakes come across, at least in this first instance, a bit like Hedwig does: a creature able to communicate with wizards but also quite independent of them with glimpses of a personality we only get to see the surface level of. The boa constrictor is quite a sympathetic character, so much so that after the scene, you find yourself hoping the boa constrictor did make it to Brazil.
So what happened with the Basilisk? Why is it so two-dimensionally evil? Even Aragog got more of a personality.
The Basilisk is meant to be a thousand years old and has spent most of it presumably asleep until Tom Riddle comes along, but this narrative has always felt discordant or lacking. The Basilisk is a magical creature on par with the phoenix for magical power, longevity, and rarity. Considering this, the Basilisk’s life of being born, presumably taught/charmed by Slytherin to only obey him and his heir, and then being asleep for a thousand years before being woken up again only to be stabbed doesn’t make sense. So what happened if the Basilisk wasn’t stuck in extended hibernation?
We know the Chamber of Secrets was connected to the school plumbing system, and we know that system was connected to the lake thanks to Moaning Myrtle. Snakes are capable of swimming, sometimes for many miles (although this is normally on the surface of the water). So, maybe the Basilisk wasn’t seen by anyone for hundreds of years because it spent all its time in the lake, presumably hanging out with the giant squid. The giant squid and the Basilisk are both powerful magical creatures that are very old, and squids don’t have eyes, so there’s no risk of accidental petrification. It’s a match made in heaven! (There are weirder ships, so sue me.) There are other possibilities as to what the Basilisk did in its thousand years of spare time, but this is my favorite theory. If you have one, let me know in the comments.
Out of the three snakes we meet in Harry Potter, the boa constrictor, the Basilisk, and Nagini, Nagini is the most mysterious.
We know where the boa constrictor and the Basilisk were born, but we know nothing about Nagini. We don’t even know exactly what type of snake Nagini was. In the books she is venomous, but the movies use a Dumeril’s ground boa and a reticulated python, both of which aren’t.
Also, we don’t know how Nagini met Voldemort. Did Nagini meet Voldemort in Albania? Had they met before? Did Voldemort charm Nagini just like he charmed Slughorn (but in Parseltongue)? Or did he suddenly possess Nagini without Nagini’s knowledge?
Nagini is essentially the snake version of Harry. Voldemort undoubtedly coerced Nagini once she was a Horcrux into doing his bidding, especially since Nagini didn’t have the advantage of Occlumency lessons. Nagini, as a snake, was a casualty of the war, but her plight is completely ignored. She was the only other living creature who was a Horcrux, but Harry had no qualms about her death. The loss of Nagini should be equal to the loss of Hedwig.
Nagini’s plight and the plight of snakes in Harry Potter makes me think of Hagrid. They are “seriously misunderstood creatures.” I wish Harry had spoken Parseltongue more often.
Do you think snakes are evil or just misunderstood?