So, apparently I’m a Slytherin…

For those of you who have been living under a rock or who just don’t care about these things (in which case, why are you reading this blog? Not that I’m not glad to have you…), J.K. Rowling is in the process of unveiling her new website Pottermore. It won’t be open to the public until October, but a few people have been given early beta access, and I, being weird and obsessive, stayed up until 3 in the morning to find and levitate the magic quill (which was surprisingly hard, by the way) and *voila* I got beta access and got in a few days ago. So the idea is that you go through these “moments” form the Harry Potter books, and in each moment you can explore characters, creatures, spells, etc., you can learn to cast spells and brew potions, you can collect items for your trunk, you can buy stuff in Diagon Alley, etc. It’s actually quite fun. You also get chosen by a wand (mine is black walnut and dragon heartstring, 13 inches, hard) and get sorted into your house. Now, I have always identified most closely with Ravenclaw: I’m a total nerd, I like knowledge for its own sake, I’m obsessive, I like solving puzzles, I’m a bit of a loner. I’m basically your quintessential Ravencalw, right? So imagine my surprise when the Sorting Hat puts me in Slytherin.

Slytherincrest

Now, I’ve never been one of those people who thinks all Slytherins are evil and should be kicked out of Hogwarts, but I’ve never really liked them, either. So, my sorting has inspired a bit of soul-searching.

I could go into a little rant here about virtues and how all virtues have the potential to be abused and turned into vices, and how all the Hogwarts houses have their good side and their bad side, and thus Slytherin’s crappy reputation is not entirely fair, blah blah. But plenty of people have done that already (I present exhibit A and exhibit B). Instead I’d like to look at why Slytherins are viewed to be bad in the first place, how that affects the moral landscape, and how I might fit into the picture.

Really, it comes down to perspective. We see the story through Harry’s eyes, and Harry has had a few bad experiences with Slytherins even before coming to Hogwarts, he gets a highly biased summery of the houses from Hagrid, who exaggerates Slytherin’s bad reputation, and then he becomes a Gryffindor, Slytherin’s eternal rival. So, obviously, he’s not going to like Slytherin very much, and by extension neither are we.

The obvious irony is, of course, that Harry very nearly became a Slytherin. The less obvious irony is that Harry’s hatred of Slytherin becomes the very thing he hates them for: prejudice. Harry assumes that Slytherins are pureblood elitists, and he allows that assumption to turn himself into a bit of an elitist: “You’re worth twelve of Malfoy…. The Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn’t it? And where’s Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin” (SS p. 218). So, not only is Harry’s criticism of Slytherin inaccurate, it is also hypocritical: Harry made Slytherin into the prejudicial scapegoat, and accused them of scapegoating (which was at least partially true, but still…).

I think that this is deliberate on Rowling’s part. It is a bit of a theme with her that nobody is exempt from prejudice, even if they are fighting against it (Sirius and Kreacher, Dumbledore’s past, Hermione’s misguided assumptions about house-elves, etc.). It also fits in very nicely with her whole postmodern vibe about how perspective skews our relationship to the Other, and the need to understand your enemies. Harry needed to hate Slytherin for thematic purposes, and he also needed to be wrong about that hatred. Harry’s eventual acceptance of Slytherin is the biggest sign of his maturity.

The thing is, although most readers seem to get that Harry was wrong to hate Slytherin, they don’t seem to get that we were wrong, too. We made the same mistake that Harry made, but we don’t seem to have recovered from it the way he did (I include myself in that “we” by the way). Some prejudices are a result of fear, or of misunderstanding, but the prejudices born out of “righteous” anger may be the hardest to purge because we think ourselves moral for holding those prejudices, and they may be based in a genuine moral concern. Harry’s hatred of Slytherin wasn’t completely without justification: Slytherins had done some pretty nasty things to him, but his mistake was attributing that nastiness to the whole house.

So what am I, as a brand spankin’ new member of the proud Slytherin house, supposed to do with all of this? Well, I suppose that I should be sure to watch myself to see if my cunning, my ambition, or my resourcefulness are getting out of control or are being directed towards the wrong things, since that seems to be the Slytherins’ weakness. I don’t really see this as a problem, since I don’t see myself as particularly cunning or ambitious (really, why aren’t I in Ravenclaw?), but keeping an eye out for red flags in this area can’t hurt.

Secondly, and more interestingly, being a Slytherin puts me in the position of a disliked and occasionally oppressed minority. This is a new experience for me. I am a middle-class, well-educated, white girl with very little experience of being in the minority or of being oppressed. Being a white person in southwest Houston and being a Christian at UPS might have qualified me as a minority, but neither of those times was I a disliked minority. I suppose that I should take being a Slytherin with a grain of humility, but also that I should refuse to allow the majority to define for me what it means to be a Slytherin.

Now, I am aware that this is all a little bit silly. I know that nobody is actually going to judge me based on Pottermore’s sorting, and that the website doesn’t really define anything about me. But the thing is, that’s what fiction is for, isn’t it? It allows us to put ourselves in a foreign situation, and to use that situation to draw conclusions about the “real” world. So God bless Pottermore, and God bless Slytherin.

slytherin-slytherin-2070065-405-300

On a related note, I thought I would share an incomplete but very well-done fanfic showing what the harry Potter series could have been like if Harry had been a Slytherin.

Advertisements

~ by ntertanedangel on September 10, 2011.

7 Responses to “So, apparently I’m a Slytherin…”

  1. Hey there, saw a link to your blog on the “Last Muggle” blog and thought I would check it out. You basically have Bellatrix Lestrange’s wand, did you know that? (Hers was 12 3/4 inches, walnut, dragon heartstring, “unyielding”).

    I think you are spot on with what Rowling tried to do, regarding Harry, Slytherin, and prejudice. Harry was prejudiced, and there are little moments that she shows that, like his immediate reaction when he learns Slughorn’s Hosue, or his assumption that Regulus Black made Kreacher drink the green potion in the Cave a second time… I think it took Harry seeing how very wrong (on the all-important Voldemort vs. Good Guys question) he had been about Snape, to finally see it and get past it.

    If you don’t mind, I would be curious to read what your Sorting questions/answers were. The House descriptions coming out of Pottermore seem in some ways a bit different from fan ideas about the Houses, and I think the Sorting questions are another clue to what Rowling thinks of them all. (I’m a Day 5 signup…still waiting. )

    • That’s true, I really liked all your ideas also. 🙂

    • Oh, great, I’m a Slytherin and I have Bellatrix’s wand? I’m basically doomed, aren’t I? ;-P Thanks for checking out my blog.

      I do wish that Rowling had shown more of the process of Harry accepting Slytherin. He hates them, and then in the epilogue he doesn’t, but I would have liked to see the little steps along the way. That might be a separate story, I suppose.

      Umm, I can’t remember all of my sorting questions. Here’s what I can remember:
      Heads or tails? (I chose tails)
      Asked which magical creature I would most like to study from an assortment (I chose vampires)
      Do I go on the path to the sea, to the forest, or to the castle? (I chose castle)
      Asked which object I would choose from an assortment (I chose a dagger)
      How would you like people to remember you when you’re dead? (I chose miss me and smile)

      Sorry, I can’t remember the other two

      • Thanks!

        I think you’re safe – by the time she was a young adult, Bella had surely acquired an unusual tattoo on her forearm and had probably killed her first Muggle… Clearly you are not following in her footsteps. Maybe you share some of her positive traits, though. (She did have them, she just directed them towards evil ends. She was loyal to Voldemort, for example, even when it seemed he was dead and his cause, lost).

  2. One factor that you didn’t mention but which should be considered is: Many of the students were sorted into their Houses (in the books) according to the House their parents or other relatives may have been in. So, it could be seen either that they were biased because of their upbringing, or, especially in the case of the Slytherins, that if they already identified with “dark wizards” they would be drawn to Slytherin and the traits associated with that house, making their assignment into Slytherin a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is even possible that it could become a vicious circle: “I am in Slytherin, more dark wizards are in Slytherin, so I might be bad. I am associating with bad people, good people don’t want to associate with me, so I must be dark I think I am a dark wizard so I must belong in Slytherin,” etc.

    But in Pottermore, everyone is born Muggle, so being sorted into Slytherin becomes more of a mystery and less of a statement as to a person’s moral tendencies. What will Slytherin House be known for once more innocent Muggles get sorted into it?

  3. Your ‘article’ is really interesting, and I just wanted to say that I am in the same situation.
    I have wanted to be a Ravenclaw my whole life, but Pottermore sorted me as a Slytherin.
    But something different happened.
    Actually, I USED TO BE a Ravenclaw. I was sorted as a Ravenclaw at first, in Pottermore. A few seconds later, the website ‘died’. It was ‘overwhelming demand’.
    When I logged in again, I had to do the Sorting Hat ‘test’ AGAIN !
    There were different questions and now, I’m a Slytherin.
    It’s a great house, but I don’t feel comfortable there. It’s like…I don’t fit.
    Whatever the virtual Sorting Hat says, I was, am and always be a Ravenclaw ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: