In a previous post, I talked about the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw traits and how they could be corrupted. For Slytherin, I’m going to do the opposite. Slytherin house is inarguably portrayed as the worst of the four, and is the one from which almost all of the Harry Potter villains come. But what traits actually define Slytherin, and is there any way to imagine them as positive qualities?
I’m going to assume that any good Slytherin would be put there for their personality, and not because they share the founder’s prejudice against muggle-borns or feel attracted to its aura of darkness. There are reasons why Slytherin has its negative reputation, but this doesn’t mean that Slytherin and evil are synonymous. Ambition is a generally positive quality that can be taken to unhealthy extremes, but as I pointed out in part 1, the same could be said of the other houses’ traits as well. Cunning is often associated with villainous characters, and implies dishonesty, but it could also describe someone who is very resourceful, clever, and able to outwit more powerful enemies. The love and loyalty of a Slytherin is not easily won, but they will do just about anything for those few people, although their methods may be different from a Gryffindor’s. And yet, while I find it hard to believe that one out of every four eleven-year-olds is destined to be evil, and can imagine what the good side of Slytherin house might look like, it doesn’t really show itself in the books.
It’s not as though there are no decent Slytherins; they are just very few and far between, and still fall somewhere in the moral gray area. Snape, for example, is a nuanced character whose true loyalty is always in question, and does turn out to have been on the right side in the end, but the way he treats his students leaves a lot to be desired. Professor Slughorn, on the other hand, is kind, warm, and easy to like, but also plays favorites among his students and is easily manipulated by Voldemort. Then there’s Andromeda, Sirius Black’s favorite cousin, who must have been a Slytherin since he was the first one in their family not to be. She was disowned by the family after she married a muggle-born, and her daughter joined the Order of the Phoenix, but she’s a minor character who only appears once in the books and is not in the movies at all. More recent developments, like the founder of the American school of magic being a descendant of Salazar Slytherin, and Merlin being a famous Slytherin alumnus, seem designed to show a different side to the house. But it’s hard to put behind-the-scenes details on the same level as what was actually shown in the books.
So, what would a fully-realized heroic Slytherin be like? I suspect we’ll see that in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I do know that the Sorting Hat makes an interesting decision with one of the next generation kids. In the meantime, I’m going to do what I did with the other three houses and turn to other literature. I think Odysseus is the perfect example of what Slytherin traits would look like in a hero. The Odyssey is basically one long string of sticky situations that Odysseus gets out of by being clever and cunning. They call him “the man of twists and turns” for a reason; he’s known for being a skilled liar, something that is not portrayed as a negative. He’s even the one who came up with the idea for the Trojan Horse! Granted, the ancient Greeks had very different ideas about what made someone a hero than we do today, but I find Odysseus to be a quite sympathetic character, and definitely a Slytherin. His wife, Penelope, who tells the suitors she can’t remarry until she has finished weaving her father-in-law’s burial shroud, and then undoes her work each night, is another character who uses cunning and trickery for a positive goal.