I’m rereading the Harry Potter books–I just finished Prisoner of Azkaban last night. This is the first time I’ve read all the books straight through, from 1 to 7. I’m really enjoying noticing all the details that continue from book to book, and the foreshadowing I never saw before.
I also recently started playing Pottermore, an online Harry Potter game that allows you to unlock new information about the wizarding world. There are also achievements and Houses and points and whatnot, but I don’t really care about those, especially since I was sorted into Slytherin.
As I’ve discussed my dismay over my sorting with friends, it’s grown abundantly clear that I am the only one who finds this bothersome. I’m hoping as I reread the books that I will come to a new understanding of Slytherin, at least enough so that I can understand why Pottermore would sort people into it rather than leaving it as the antagonist group it was in the books.
Friends tell me not to look at it in black and white, that of course the books are prejudiced against Slytherin because they’re written from Harry’s perspective. I can understand this argument, but I’m not sure the text backs it up. Ideally, if Slytherin had good people in it, we would see them. All the Slytherins I can recall seeing in the books turned out to be jerks, if not entirely evil. While you can argue that we simply didn’t see the good Slytherins, I would counter that this omission is a flaw. If there are good Slytherins, we should see them. At least a few examples. Something to demonstrate that the world isn’t black and white. But all I remember from my first and second readings of the later books is that all the Slytherins turned out to have Death Eater parents. Everyone who was remotely antagonistic in the books–even the executioner from the Department of Magical Creatures, who really should have been anonymous and unbiased–seemed to be a Death Eater. So sure, you can argue that being a Slytherin doesn’t automatically make you a Death Eater, but it dramatically increases the chances. And meanwhile we never see, that I recall, a Death Eater who is from a house other than Slytherin.
I am paying close attention to the Houses this time around, hoping to find some evidence to counter my prevailing impression. For example, I never saw any mention of which House Peter Pettigrew belonged to. It seems logical for him to have been in Gryffindor (thus making “all evil comes from Slytherin” false and also making “all Gryffindors are brave” false [Edit: I've just started Goblet of Fire, and you could argue that briefly standing up to Voldemort on Harry's behalf is brave...maybe]), but as far as I’ve seen, there is no evidence of which House he was in. Pottermore may have this information; this essay seems to indicate so. It also states that Quirrell was a Ravenclaw, which I don’t remember from the book, but that’s also counter evidence if true.
But if all the information that would redeem Slytherin comes from sources other than the actual books, I will be disappointed. I would hope, that as the years pass and Harry grows up, he would start to recognize gray areas. Surely our hero isn’t so myopic that he would never see a good Slytherin or a bad member of another House, if those allegiances actually exist.
So yes, I’m keeping my eyes open as I reread. If I come across any good information from the original source material–the books themselves–I’ll update this post.
In the meantime, I’ve pretty much decided not to play Pottermore anymore.
Edit 03/03: I am now into Order of the Phoenix. This book, along with Dumbledore’s speech at the end of Goblet of Fire, contains the first broad-spectrum view of the wizarding world, exhortations for the four Houses to unite. Harry is of course still anti-Slytherin and can’t imagine working with them. In Half-Blood Prince will come the examples of “good” Slytherins Snape and Slughorn (or at least, Slytherins with whom people from other Houses can work). I’ve already mentioned my problems with Snape and Slughorn; I’ll keep my eyes open for other Slytherin examples. It would be nice if my memory is wrong or incomplete and there is more to this than simply “work with whoever you can get, even the lesser of two evils, even if you have to spend copious amounts of time keeping them on track.”