If you’ve ever read JK Rowling’s now famous Harry Potter series, you’ll probably know a lot about the universe she constructed, where wizards and witches attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and learn magic. There are four houses that students can be sorted into when they arrive at Hogwarts; these are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
From the time Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts, he is presented with the glaring fact that people in Slytherin are bad people. This does not just mean they are nasty – they are genuinely evil, with Ron telling Harry that most of them end up as Death Eaters, followers of the Dark Lord Voldemort.
When reading the books I accepted this view of Slytherin with complete blindness. Why would I bother asking questions about Slytherin’s supposed badness when I was too busy rushing from page to page, frantically trying to stay awake so I could read another page?
And then it was all over. JK Rowling published Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. It was the final installment of the series of books. Just like that, my childhood wilted and everything seemed to change.
Needless to say, I was delighted when JK Rowling announced the birth of Pottermore, a website that would allow readers to experience the books in an interactive way unlike ever before. I was one of the first people to join, and plunged into the journey, which would allow me to get my first wand at Ollivander’s and, most importantly, to get sorted into a house at Hogwarts.
This was determined by a personality test, of sorts. I didn’t think too much about what house I would end up in. I assumed it wouldn’t be Gryffindor. It was the house that Harry, Ron and Hermione were in, and bravery was one of their greatest traits. I’m not brave, and anyway, Gryffindor seemed a little bit overrated. Not to mention the fact that Ron Weasley was one of the most undesirable, immature teenagers ever encountered. If Gryffindor would allow him into its ranks, then Gryffindor could keep their common room empty.
During the test, I started to wonder where my answers to the questions might lead me. They were difficult to gauge, and weren’t like the usual ‘sorting’ tests found online, where you could predict what house you would end up in just by looking at the answers. I thought maybe Ravenclaw, or *shudder* Hufflepuff. I decided that Ravenclaw would be grand. Kind of nice to be in with a bunch of smart people. Pretending to know what I was talking about had defined my entire education, so I figured Ravenclaw could be an interesting place to spend my time.
Hufflepuff was, of course, my last choice. Well at least it was my last choice along with Slytherin, which never even really entered my head. I knew nobody who could be in Slytherin as I knew nobody who was genuinely evil. Hufflepuff was my worst nightmare, simply because it seemed to be the house where the personality-lacking, squid-like blobs ended up. No, Hufflepuff would be a disaster. So as I waited for the page to load, and waited to see what house colours would erupt onto the screen, I hoped I wouldn’t see a badger and a yellow background.
Green burst onto the screen accompanied by a serpent, and indeed, the serpentine sibilance of Slytherin greeted me. I was shocked. Slytherin? The house of Draco Malfoy, the selfish, stuck-up rich kid who characterised the nature of ‘my father will hear about this’ politics in the Harry Potter series? I then laughed, called my sister and told her the news. She too was shocked, and concluded that I must be secretly evil or deranged.
That night, I thought a lot about what Slytherin as a house stood for. I had always accepted the evidently biased assertion made by JK Rowling in her writing of the Harry Potter series that Slytherin was a cesspit of badness. But when I started to look at what they stood for, I understood everything so much more clearly.
Some of the main characteristics of a Slytherin are that they are cunning and ambitious. I had always been reluctant to call myself cunning, but when I considered what the word truly meant, I realised that I was a little bit cunning. And that was not a bad thing. Cunning people can be selfish and self-absorbed, but what they are really trying to achieve is success in life. And what’s wrong with a bit of success? If you have to push a weaker squid from Hufflepuff beneath the water to get to where you want to be, who’s going to object? Nobody, surely. The fact of the matter is that the blob from Hufflepuff has no traits, and therefore there’s no point in giving credence to any of them.
And what about ambition? In our western world, we have deemed ambition to be a bad thing. Why is it such a bad thing for somebody to want to achieve great things in their lifetimes? It’s not vanity, and it’s certainly not greed. We all have a short time on this earth, and in that short time, we want to make an impact, whether that be in loving and appreciating those around us (if this is you go join the Hufflepuff squids) or becoming a bestselling writer and having your name remembered for possibly hundreds of years.
And what is so unusual about this is that JK Rowling is the latter of these. She is the world’s richest author. Seven hugely successful books combined with eight enormous blockbuster films have cemented her place in the world as the most famous writer of our time. So why did she portray Slytherin as being so bad? I would hazard a guess that JK Rowling could have been left shocked if she had been a student of Hogwarts when the sorting hat belted out the word Slytherin.
If you are wondering what house you would be in at Hogwarts, log on now to Pottermore and do the test. And don’t be afraid of Slytherin – despite what the scrunched up face of Draco Malfoy might tell you, ambition is a good thing. When you think of the house, try to think of Snape, the double-agent who devoted his life for the cause of good, rather than the bratty child who bought his way onto the Slytherin Quidditch team. And if you’re a Hufflepuff, try your best to alter your personality so everyone else won’t have to endure it. Happy sorting!