One of the things I love most about Harry Potter, as you can maybe tell, is the fact that there is so much you can debate about the series even years after the final book was published.
A topic close to my heart, even though I am a Ravenclaw, is the sad story of Slytherin.
The house that is, not Salazar Slytherin.
(This ended up being a lot longer and rambling then I meant it to be. I was reading a lot of Slytherin based discussions on Reddit and it just was a lot of different opinions about Slytherin that came to my mind. This post probably makes 0 sense but it ended up being 3000 words long and I felt I owed it to myself to post it instead of just delete it. I worked hard on it for about 3 hours people.)
So the majority of dark wizards came from Slytherin, this is a fact that we can’t hide from. Slytherin’s reputation was earned through not only Salazar Slytherin and his action but the actions of those who came after. This can not in any way be denied, if you are put in Slytherin in the eyes of everyone else there is a decent chance that you’ll end up on the wrong side of things.
I’m not really debating that, I mean you just can’t can you?
What I find interesting though is whether Salazar Slytherin and his reputation upon leaving the school and the way the other Founders as well as the students who were there before and just as Slytherin left actually made this fate themselves…
Out of story for one second and its just easier story telling to have a House that has a history of spawning bad guys. For a start the whole families being sorted pretty much into the same House thing would play a part but its just easier to have the good guys vs bad guys right from the start. Rowling retroactively tried to clean up Slytherin’s reputation and even in the books themselves we see Slytherin’s doing good deeds and who aren’t bad in any way but can you blame her for having a House based in the dungeons with a “evil” past and a snake for a mascot?
Its just easier that way.
Story telling wise its interesting though.
From what I know/remember, and I could be seriously wrong, Salazar Slytherin and the Founders of Hogwarts had to live during times when Muggles were burning Witches and Wizards. So in their time they were prosecuted for being Witches and Wizards so personally I can’t really blame anyone in those times from turning around and being all “actually nah thanks I don’t want anything to do with you either?”
I mean after Voldemort if the Wizarding world was exposed and the families of those who lost loved ones in a war they didn’t even know about turned their backs on Wizards would you blame them?
As readers its easy NOT to have sympathy for Slytherin personally because we don’t really know much about him. If he was alive when Witch hunts were a thing, and lets face it in our history it was horrible enough let alone a fictional world where it would have been a much bigger thing because Witches and Wizards are real, its very likely people he knew and cared for could have been killed. He could hold a very passionate grudge against a group of people who have actually done harm to him personally. Now that is wrong, you can’t tar every Muggle or Wizard with the brush of those who do wrong, but are you going to be the person that tells that to someone who personally had to suffer at the hands of one of these groups?
Now Slytherin might never have had ANY problem with these people and just got on his high horse and declared the Wizarding world as being superior. My point is that even from that very long ago time the blood purity thing would have been a very personal political point and whilst he was in a minority of the Founders if that was the time period he was apart of I can’t really blame him for not wanting Muggle born’s in the school.
He was wrong but you can see where he was coming from thinking of the political situation of the time. In fact Rowling would have been extremely foolish NOT to have had at least one of the four Founders being anti-Muggles even WITHOUT any Witch hunting going on.
So Slytherin hand picks his students and makes sure they are from Pure Blood families.
Being Pure Blood doesn’t mean that you hate Muggle born’s. From the moment he started hand picking Pure Blood students to Harry’s group of first years, not all Pure Blood families will feel that way. Even if the Sorting Hat continued to only sort Pure Bloods into Slytherin, which at least in modern times it didn’t, not all those families are going to believe that Pure Bloods are superior.
I promise I’m getting to a point.
Thing is if Muggles are killing Wizards and the pool of Pure Blooded Wizards and Witches is dying of COURSE there is going to be a small group who are going to become prominent voices basically agreeing with Slytherin. Why? Because as a social grouping they are dying and when humans of any sort are facing disasters they look for someone to blame. The Pure Bloods, not all Pure Bloods mind you, looked to Muggles. ESPECIALLY back then they’d look at Muggles killing them and their need to hide their society within the Muggle society as a reason that Pure Blood Wizards are dying out.
Back to writing and Rowling in the books focused on such a small world to detail, the only things she got into were those important for the story and to flesh out the outlines of the world that Harry was growing up in. I didn’t really follow Pottermore or read any of her interviews where she goes into details about other things so most of my knowledge comes from the books and there isn’t much to go on in there.
So Storywise from what we know Slytherin hand picked Pure Bloods for his House. Its obvious that to a point families get put into the same House (see Weasleys and Blacks for example) so we can assume that when his original students had families, which were more then likely going to be Pure Blood, their kids would be in Slytherin. Those who didn’t believe in the Pure Blood nonsense would still be there but so would families who were slowly growing to resent the Muggles more and more.
Thing is the Pure Bloods as long as they are producing children will always have a family member being Sorted at Hogwarts, Muggle born’s, by their nature, won’t have. So whilst Non-Pure Blood students could go to Slytherin, like Snape, the major families left in the time that Harry was going to school would have been pretty much in Slytherin since its inception and the likelihood that those kids parents are outright supports of Voldemort, a half blood and another Slytherin, is pretty high.
So of COURSE the Slytherin House was always going to home those who had prejudice against Muggle’s and Muggle born students. In all the time between the school being Founded and Harry’s time at Hogwarts absolutely nothing had changed really politically. All that had changed was that Wizards like Grindewald and Voldemort had come along and for small periods of time reignited that hatred amongst those families.
BUT the very first thing Harry really learns about Slytherin in the books is basically that Slytherin = bad. Hagrid tells him, he meets Pure Blood and snobby Draco Malfoy and equates him and Slytherin instantly with negative vibes EVEN THOUGH the Sorting Hat thought to put him in Slytherin. The only reason he didn’t want to be in Slytherin is because he learnt before even getting to the school that Slytherin = bad.
THAT is where I believe the other three Founders failed the school.
Stick with me.
Personally I have always been under the belief that kids aren’t born racist or sexist or Pure Bloodist or whatever. We’re a product of our times, the things we see and experience and of our parents.
For example my history teacher was one of those teachers that taught me never to just label someone. She always said it was sloppy to look at someone in history and just say that guy was evil or that guy was a hero because those words had a lot of meaning behind them and when, and only when, you dissect those people fairly and unbiasedly would you learn what MADE them evil or a hero and how to stop others from ending up like them or indeed being like them.
She always said you can never put yourself in someone else’s shoes so you shouldn’t judge them until you knew enough about them. Usually this was about equating the whole of Nazi occupied Germany with being evil, but that is a discussion I don’t want to get into even though its interesting in its own rights.
I don’t really want to go into any real life person so we’ll stick with Snape, as he’s a controversial character and a Slytherin to boot.
Its easy for fans of his to say he was a hero because of his actions at the end of the second war. Its easy for haters to say he was evil because of his involvement with Voldemort.
Thing is he was abused as a kid by a Muggle. He fell in love with a Muggle born who he then was separated from at school. The Slytherin/Gryffindor rivalry was around then so instantly the only friend he had was in his rival House.
As a abused kid I don’t think Snape would have been mentally strong enough to not crumble under peer pressure and why would he want too? Imagine knowing that your mother is from a Pure Blood family but you yourself aren’t Pure Blood because of the man who abused you? These Pure Blood families around you are going to fill you with more hatred for the world your father, the root of all your abuse, belongs too because they themselves are part of families who harbour a them vs us attitude. Just unlike them who probably never in their recent histories had any kind of dealings with Muggles that would make them so sour you HAVE that history.
Calling Lily a Mudblood was in the heat of the moment. It was wrong, I’m not saying what he did wasn’t wrong before ANYONE goes there, but he sounds like the kid that would have been bullied by anyone anyway. I doubt his “friends” in Slytherin were really friends, he was so used to being bullied and abused that anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest in him for any reason would have been welcomed.
I know for a fact this happens. I’ve been there. My friend group at school were “friends” that only wanted me around because I made them feel better. It made them feel better that they at least weren’t me.
In any other House he might have found a group who saw his talents and befriended him because he was smart. He might have found people who saw goodness inside of him and brought it out. If he had never been separated from Lily she might have been able to bring a better side to him to light.
He didn’t. He was Sorted into a House where a underlying hatred for Muggles brought on from years of childhood abuse was welcomed and turned into something else. Because Slytherin’s were then the family he now had he had to play up to what they believed in and their beliefs, which would have been more then likely based on what the most Pure Blooded students believed, would become his. Its apart of survival at school and whilst its wrong its a atmosphere that was fostered by the Founders and subsequent Headmasters all the way to Dumbledore.
Proof of this?
Is that the rivalries still existed!
That Hagrid told Harry that there isn’t a Witch or Wizard who went bad that didn’t come from Slytherin.
The fact that Harry was only put in Gryffindor because he asked to be in any House OTHER then Slytherin!
The password to Slytherin’s common room being Pure Blood IN HARRY’S TIME!
When Slytherin walked away never to return to Hogwarts the Founders could have changed EVERYTHING. They could have made sure that Muggle Studies was a compulsory lesson to bring children from Pure Blood families closer to those they hated. They could have made it a thing to have students talk openly about how they feel. They could have done so many more things to have stopped, at the root level, the hatred to build to the point that YOU WALK INTO A SCHOOL IN 1992 KNOWING THAT ONE HOUSE IS EVIL!
Would this have done much?
Because its really the outside political state of the world that really made all this happen. Again reaching for a example we see Draco Malfoy. For the majority of the books he’s just a big mouth, he’s a rich and spoiled kid who thinks the world of his parents so spouts what his parents believe thinking it makes him better then others because he loves his parents and his family.
Sure their views on the world are fucked up but it doesn’t make Malfoy wrong to be that way.
I don’t think between Voldemort coming to power and the second war against him we would see any real change because of the political climate itself but there could have been steps taken to educate the Slytherin’s and others into making rash decisions and thinking for themselves. There isn’t. There are a few warnings from the Sorting Hat to stick together in tough times but that’s just a hat. There might be other times when Dumbledore tried to make this point but as I can’t remember any it was obvious it wasn’t enough.
The evil that came from Slytherin could never be undone. Salazar Slytherin and his Pure Blood nonsense, the Chamber of Secrets and Voldemort… All those things will forever stick to the House that those people belonged too.
In story though if you were sorted into Slytherin there was a childish, and OK they are children I get it, biased against you because you now became the enemy to the rest of the school. It very much felt like Slytherin’s were looked down on because they would be the bad guys from pretty much the first book and if you can’t make friends outside of your House because the rest of the world judged you before they even knew you can you blame the majority to follow the same path?
I mean it was paved by all those good guys for them.
Thing is Rowling never needed or probably wanted to go into detail about any of the other students in any of the other Houses. Potter/Malfoy was the Slytherin/Gryffindor rivalry in flesh, that was enough. She did after the fact say that Slughorn did in fact bring some Slytherin’s back who wanted to fight with Harry in the final battle, Slughorn himself as well as Regulus Black and to whatever extent you’ll give it to him Snape all showed that Slytherin’s could and would tread the “right” path as it were. Sirius proved that you could actually break traditions so that without a all powerful evil Wizard popping up every now and again maybe given time Slytherin would have naturally became a more neutral and happy House. We never saw or heard of a proper revolution of belief, hell its taken until 2018 for people to really start challenging openly and loudly the toxic beliefs and actions in the world at the moment, Sirius was one person who without the war and with the help of his friends could have ended up turning Hogwarts on its head when they grew up.
We never got that because Voldemort came to power.
We also never got it because no Headmaster or group of adults ever thought to change the status quo.
EVEN when Harry is a adult his last discussion with his son in the books shows there is STILL that biased OPENLY in Hogwarts so even after all this no one has learnt that maybe, just maybe, not trying to stamp this kind of hatred out at a root level is harming them more then helping them.
SOO I have given you nearly 3000 words of absolute nonsense I guess I should sum myself up.
Salazar Slytherin was a product of his time. His belief of Pure Blood supremacy never became outdated because the Wizarding world hid itself away, which allowed hatred to bubble in a ever decreasing circle of people that Slytherin belonged too and which was never really, truly challenged at Hogwarts.
There were no steps to stop kids from believing that Slytherin House = Bad Guys or for the Pure Bloods with supremacy problems to have what at the age of 11 could only really be their families belief’s challenged it harboured even AFTER HARRY’S TIME AT SCHOOL a them vs us feeling towards Slytherin.
That meant that people like Snape who were mentally weak, looking for people to blame and somewhere to throw their anger and hatred were in some ways blocked from healthy relationships outside of a House that was tarred from the moment a student walked into it as evil.
Whilst its undeniable that Slytherin is a House that was always going to suffer from a outstanding number of dark Wizards it is also a product of bad fortune.
In other words I have no real point other then isn’t it more interesting to think about why Slytherin ended up the way it is rather then just tar it with being evil and not thinking about it? Just the way that opinions must have formed, the ever decreasing pool of Pure Blood families, the social structure of the Wizarding world and how evil people will always rise to the top and stop real progress ever happening. The unhealthy way that people are Sorted into Houses in the books, the fact that families that would have had ancestors going back to the Founding in one House never really getting to mingle with different people and thus a sharing of differing opinions being more open. The fact that even after Voldemort’s fall there has been no reform at Hogwarts to try and open Slytherin up or try and change the attitude of them vs us.
Its easy to see them as the House that Rowling made evil to keep the story easy for young readers.
I find it fascinating thinking of the social and historical reasons as well as the way Hogwarts is run in why Slytherin ended up basically being the House that breeds dark Wizards and Witches.