Why Does Everyone Gotta Do Slytherin so Dirty?

Originally published on devineteawriting.wordpress.com

I have loved Harry Potter ever since I first read about the boy under the stairs. Hermione taught me being a bookworm was cool, and gave me my first introduction to social justice (leaving SPEW out of the movies was a travesty). Harry turned me into the sarcastic adult I am now (It’s a tie between ‘There’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ professor’ and ‘That’s my nickname’ [re: Roonil Wazlib] for what will be written on my tombstone), and Ron showed me how to be an individual, and how to feel like a king (or queen!). So, when Pottermore came out, I was so excited to be sorted. Buzzfeed quizzes are amazing, but to have a canon house… well, it was the most exciting thing since “Not my daughter, you bitch!”

I went through every chapter until I could finally get to the Sorting Hat, took the quiz and got… Slytherin. I was heartbroken. I thought I would be a Hufflepuff, for sure, but the hat had spoken. I was the bad house. I was a Malfoy, a Pansy Parkinson, a person who was away during the Battle of Hogwarts. Fortunately, not that much of my identity was tied up in this, and it simply became a fun topic of conversation, when friends compared houses and I was a Slytherin.

Years passed, and in grad school I was inspired to try the Pottermore test again, due mostly to procrastination and boredom. I searched deep in my soul for the answers to the questions the Sorting Hat presented me, and again- I was a Slytherin. Something had changed, though, since 2011 when I took the test for the first time. I had grown as a person, stopped being a Snape apologist (a dark time in my life, to be sure), and grown a more critical view of media, including my beloved Harry Potter. Now, I am proud to be a Slytherin. I am an ambitious and cunning person, and just because J.K. wrote the house in such a one dimensional way, doesn’t mean that’s how we have to interpret it.

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of the app “Hogwarts Mystery,” and I of course told the Sorting Hat I wanted to be in Slytherin. While the game itself is lackluster, it’s fun to see the areas of Hogwarts I’d only ever imagined, and the Slytherin common room was a nice design, with the lake outside and crackling fire. Your character can even get a line about thinking it’s sad that people view Slytherin as all bad news! And then, the weirdest thing happens. If you don’t have a high enough courage level for a particular mission, a conversation with your prefect goes quite wrong. You’re plotting against Gryffindor, and your previously very supportive prefect snaps at you, saying that he can’t believe you’d been put into Slytherin, you’re a shame to your house, and that he would do anything for the house, unlike you.
I was actually a little disappointed (before remembering that this wasn’t real life). Why is it, so many years later and after so much criticism of this lackluster writing, that Slytherin is still just the big meanies? This gets at an issue of characterization that not just Harry Potter falls victim to; it’s a trope in many a novel. When you create a group that your antagonist hails from, they shouldn’t be a faceless and mono-trait group. Even having one exception from the rule isn’t enough. It isn’t realistic, and isn’t a particularly interesting plot device. Your antagonists should be varied and diverse, and there shouldn’t be a a Bad Guy Central™ without some serious world building that makes it a unique and interesting setting.