So “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” came out this past weekend and as expected, the world is going nuts! Now I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but one complaint I’ve heard that really stuck with me was that once again, J.K. Rowling made the Slytherins look terrible. Having no context for that statement, I simply must assume that in some way, the villains of this new story are from Slytherin. And you know what? That really bothers me.
I’m not a Slytherin, I’m a Ravenclaw. But one of my brothers is a Slytherin. And one of my best friends at college is a Slytherin. They’re not bad people, they’re not evil, so why does J.K Rowling keep making them the villains?
I get it, because Slytherin has, technically, produced more dark wizards than the other houses, we assume that makes Slytherin the go-to bad guy. But if there’s something that the real world (and J.K. Rowling at times) has taught me, it’s the dangers of classifying an entire group of people under the same umbrella. And Harry Potter fans, the demonization of Slytherin house needs to stop.
Okay, so Salazar Slytherin himself was an elitist snob. And sure, some of that elitism may have continued to be a pervasive attitude within the house over the years. But aren’t we all elitists for something? Maybe we’re elitists for the college we attended, our favorite sports teams, our country, our states, even our religions. I attended UNC Chapel Hill, and I don’t care what you say or who you are, if you support Duke, you’re the enemy. (See? I’m a Tar Heel elitist but I’m not evil….unless you went to Duke, then you might have a different opinion.)
So let’s look at some of the members of Slytherin house that we know the most about who are decidedly NOT evil. In doing so, I think we’ll notice a trend.
First up, we have Severus Snape. In hindsight, everyone loves Snape. (I admit, I do too.) We all love a redemption story. But let’s not forget, the important part of a redemption story is, in fact, the REDEMPTION. Yes, Snape was a Death Eater, but after his involvement with dark magic had essentially sentenced the woman he loved to death, he realized the mistakes he’d made. He would spend the rest of his life, and ultimately his death, making up for the mistakes he made in his youth.
Does Snape’s good-guy status excuse him for his cold and sometimes cruel treatment of his students? Of course not. But once we know his history, we realize that his cruelty came from a place of self-loathing and regret for past mistakes. When you don’t respect yourself, how can you respect others? And his particularly cruel treatment of Harry? Harry was the child of the man who bullied him mercilessly for seven years at Hogwarts and the woman he was in love with. And it was his own desperation to fit in that led him to alienate Lily, his only real friend.
And yes, Snape showed favoritism to the Slytherin students. Slytherin was his house, of course he favored them. Contrary to popular belief, McGonagall showed favoritism to Gryffindor students. Take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for example. After catching Harry breaking rules and riding a broom without teacher supervision, McGonagall put Harry on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Because McGonagall wanted HER house to have the best Quidditch team, she bent the rules for Harry, telling him that he better train hard or she “may change [her] mind about punishing [him].”
Next up, there’s the Malfoy family. The Malfoy family were elitists in an entirely different way. They wanted money and reputation. They looked down their noses at anyone who was less pureblood or less wealthy than them. And anyone who snubbed them as Harry did to Draco on their very first night at Hogwarts? They treated with contempt and disdain as a way to make themselves look better. As Voldemort’s reign of terror got more and more out of control, they become less and less comfortable with the way events were playing out. And in the end, none of the Malfoys could bring themselves to stand with Voldemort. They realized that their wealth and reputation were not worth sacrificing their lives or family for.
Then there’s Sirius Black’s brother Regulus. He followed the same path as many of his schoolmates probably did. He became a Death Eater. But eventually he realized that his decision to follow Voldemort was a BAD idea. In fact, Regulus was smart enough to figure out that Voldemort’s biggest secret was his creation of horcruxes. Regulus then embarked on a mission to hunt and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes, a mission he would give his life for. Although he never managed to destroy a horcrux, Regulus serves as yet another example of a Slytherin sacrificing his life in an attempt to prevent evil from prevailing.
Finally we have Horace Slughorn. The Slug Club was most certainly an elitist group. Slughorn only invited those students with the greatest promise of fame and fortune to join. Slughorn enjoyed the perks of being a “favorite” teacher for some of the most famous and successful witches and wizards of his day. He was a brilliant potions master who felt great remorse over his teaching a young Tom Riddle about horcruxes. From then on, he always ardently refused to join the Death Eaters. And in the Battle of Hogwarts, Slughorn fought valiantly with the Order of the Phoenix to bring Voldemort down.
I could easily list more great (not evil) Slytherins who deserve better than to be labelled “villains.” However, that would turn this post into something more akin to a novella, so if you’re interested in learning more about some of the great wizards Slytherin house has produced, head on over to this link.
Every single one of these Slytherins were imperfect and made mistakes. But what sets them apart from the other houses was their ability and willingness to acknowledge their mistakes and do something to change them. Slytherins seem to have an amazing ability to feel remorse and to learn from past mistakes that just doesn’t seem to exist in the other houses. It’s a quality to be admired.
And let’s not forget that Professor Quirrell, a follower of Voldemort, was a Ravenclaw. Peter Pettigrew (aka Wormtail) was a Gryffindor. And even Dumbledore, who we learned had a history of dark magic and a thirst for power, was a Gryffindor.
The Sorting Hat was right in his song during Harry’s sorting ceremony:
“Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.”
“Any means” can be used for good or it an be used for evil. Although there were many Slytherins, like Voldemort or Bellatrix, who chose to use dark magic and evil to achieve their ends, there were also Slytherins like Slughorn or Regulus Black or Snape who were willing to give their lives if it meant defeating Voldemort.
I don’t know why Rowling’s writing seems so contradictory in regards to Slytherins. I don’t know why they’re the perennial bad guys but also some of the most brave and self-aware people in the books. I don’t know why Rowling gave Snape such a beautiful backstory and yet right before the Battle of Hogwarts had all three of the other houses turn on the entire Slytherin house because ONE Slytherin wanted to turn Harry over to Voldemort. There’s so much I just don’t know about how Rowling perceives the Slytherins and why she writes them the way she does.
But one thing I do know, is that there’s a lot we can learn from the Slytherins. They’re brave. They’re wicked smart. And they learn from past mistakes in attempt to become better and stronger people. So I stand with the Slytherins. Do you?