Ode to Slytherin part 2: To Define a Slytherin
26 March 2019
Welcome to the 3 part series where I will be discussing J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, and how much I love Slytherin. This is part 2 of the series. If you haven’t read the previous post, you can do so by clicking part 1 to read the previous installments. I decided to write on this topic in honour of Slytherin Appreciation Day, March 21st, but the initial post that I wrote became so long that creating a multi-part series became the best solution. So Slytherins and non-Slytherins alike, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Slytherin gets a bad rap, I know. Buy-in-large, this could be blamed on how Slytherin is portrayed in the Harry Potter series. But I think it is important to remember that throughout the Harry Potter series, readers are seeing Slytherins through the eyes of Harry, a Gryffindor, who immediately developed a prejudice towards Slytherin house based upon the statements of a friend he had only met a few hours prior, and meeting a rather rude boy who happened to be sorted directly into Slytherin. This, of course, is going to affect the way that Slytherin is portrayed to the readers.
Slytherins are described as being ambitious, resourceful, and cunning or shrewd. These are often mistaken as cut-throat, manipulative, and deceptive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. From the outside, it is easy to see these traits as being the perfect brew for an antagonist, but it is important to take a closer look at what these traits really mean.
Being ambitious means that Slytherins are driven, and yes, competitive. Similar to their Gryffindor counterparts, Slytherins like to win, and like to be on top. This often can be misunderstood as cut-throat and vicious, but that is just looking at passion through a dirty lens. It can be easy to forget that Slytherin was on a seven year house cup winning streak before Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts, and that they won the first ever house cup in Hogwarts history. According to Dumbledore, one of the traits that Salazar Slytherin valued in his students was determination. The determination to be the best, to be on top, to succeed, to be great. Are these not the same traits that are valued in the most skilled of athletes? In the greatest artists? The most heroic of heroes? Ambition is just as much a driving force for good as it can be for evil.
Slytherins know how to be resourceful, and probably the best example of resourcefulness in a Slytherin is in how Horace Slughorn networked his way through the most elite of the wizarding world. Muggle born or pure blood made no difference to him, contrary to what many would expect from a Slytherin, what mattered to him where the connections. He had an eye for talent, and he knew how to utilize that to not only benefit himself, but to lift those people with potential up as high as they could go. He loved to see people succeed as much as he loved to stay connected to those who did succeed. Resourceful indeed.
Some of my favourite synonyms for cunning and shrewd are astute, calculating, perceptive, and clever. Many Slytherins have a brilliance to them that rival that of Ravenclaw. But Ravenclaws are book smart, while Slytherins have a sort of innate street-smart savviness to them. It is a quality that makes so many Slytherins fit naturally in positions of power and authority. They can be hesitant to act, weighing out options and outcomes before making decisions. A good Slytherin is a strategist, perceiving each player on the board, and orchestrating each piece accordingly. It is a quality that made Voldemort so formidable, but makes many other Slytherins so reliable and admirable.
What is the favourite trait of your Hogwarts house, or any Hogwarts house for that matter? Or do you fancy yourself an Ilvermorny alumni? Let’s be positive about all the houses and wizarding schools in the comments below.
In part 3, I will be discussing my four favourite examples of Slytherins who broke the mold in the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts stories.