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Ambitious and Pure, Our Greatness is Sure: A Defense of Slytherin

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Spoilers for the Harry Potter series as well as light spoilers for The Odyssey and the Foundation series to follow.

I love the “Harry Potter” series. But one of the things that always bothered me about it was how Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin got kind of screwed. Aside from Luna Lovegood and teachers who were alumni of different houses, there are no main or even secondary characters from any of the Hogwarts Houses other than Gryffindor.

To some extent, this makes sense. Gryffindor is the house of the brave and the bold. The non-conformist, the artist and the one who boldly draws their name across the ordered lines of history in letters of fire come from Godric’s house.

However, this still does a disservice to the other houses. After all, without the kindheartedness of Hufflepuff, the Gryffindor risks running over innocents and innocence in the name of justice. 

Without the wisdom of Ravenclaw, the Gryffindor risks losing sight of the greater goal. Lacking their foresight, they risk becoming a mindless weapon to be aimed by the demagogue du jour who is best able to persuade them. 

However, this disconnect between the heroes we were given and the heroes we might have had is nowhere clearer than in the lack of cunning and resourcefulness of Slytherin among the cast.

In fiction, this could be explained by the corrupting influence of blood-purism which is rife among Slytherins. After all, if most wizards aren’t blood-purists and know Slytherin as the house of the hateful and intolerant rather than that of the ambitious and the cunning, non-blood-purists might not want to go into Slytherin (as was the case with Harry). 

This combined with the fact that the Sorting Hat tries to maintain numerical balance between the Houses means that only the hateful and intolerant go to Slytherin, and the “prophecy” fulfills itself.

This vicious cycle is the sickness of Slytherin. It is why we see Draco Malfoy wearing Slytherin green despite the fact that he rarely displays any cunning or resourcefulness, let alone determination. 

The example held up by Rowling of the virtuousness of Slytherin is Snape’s love for Lily Potter. However, even here we never see the shrewdness or ambition which is the hallmark of Salazar’s chosen.

Even the antagonist, Lord Voldemort, has little which would truly recommend him to his ancestor. After all, his servants bore a large, easily identifiable mark in a standard, easily checkable location. What’s more, he didn’t take over the Ministry approximately instantly using polyjuice, the imperius curse and legilimency.

No, to see those who truly embody the virtues and grace of Slytherin, we must look beyond the Harry Potter canon.

“Violence… is the last refuge of the incompetent” said Salvor Hardin, first mayor of Terminus City. This hero of Issac Asimov’s “Foundation” played the enemies of the eponymous organization against one other and brought them to heel without firing a single shot. At the same time, he uses the power of the press to hamstring the reactionary forces of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. 

In a galaxy aflame, it was the Anacreonian (another faction from the “Foundation” series) Gryffindors heaping fuel on the fire while the Ravenclaws on the Board of Trustees sat and watched. In a crisis where Gryffindors would have done no good, and may have done much evil, it took the cunning manipulations of the Slytherin Hardin to weather the storm.

Back on Earth, Odysseus’ many adventures certainly required the courage, strength of will of a Gryffindor but also a Slytherin’s cunning and ability to think in order to put out Polyphemus’ eye. Furthermore, only the shrewd Slytherin Penelope could have manipulated the cultural norms and expectations towards women found in Ithaca to ward off the suitors’ advances until Odysseus’ return.

Again, I want to repeat that I love the “Harry Potter” series. I love it so much that my phone’s case and my laptop’s wallpaper are both “Harry Potter” themed. However, both of these feature the heraldry of House Slytherin. The crafty and shrewd Slytherins make very different heroes from the Luke Skywalkers and Harry Potters we’re used to, but they are no less great because of that.

Though it is right and proper that Gryffindors fill the halls of heroes, Slytherins should stand among them. If J.K. Rowling wants to cement her place among my top ten favorite authors, when next she writes about the adventures of Hogwarts students, she would clad the hero in the silver and green of Slytherin.

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