Every "Harry Potter" fan -- of the books, the movies, or a combination of both -- learned the same old story when it comes to Hogwarts house assignments.
Gryffindors, for example? They're the brave ones. Hufflepuffs? Nice kids, totally harmless, maybe just a little bit boring. And those Ravenclaws love books... and some other stuff too, I guess. (Ravenclaw was not exactly the most fleshed-out house in Hogwarts, you guys.)
Then of course there's Slytherin -- the evil ones. The blonde ones. The kids who won't fight in the Battle of Hogwarts, because they're too busy counting all of their money. The kids who, according to J.K. Rowling herself in a recent tweet, are racists. All in all, it's just not a good look.
However, doesn't there have to be more to Slytherin than what initially meets the eye? Isn't it borderline impossible, from an optimist's perspective, for one-quarter of a school's population to be "evil?" And given the pervasiveness of racism -- both overt and casual -- in our own country, isn't it a bit ridiculous to assume that only the Malfoy, uber-Republican types of the world can be racists?
Here at MTV News, we think yes. We think Slytherin has gotten an unfair rep over the years, which is why we consulted with John Granger -- the "Dean of Harry Potter Studies," according to Time -- to break down which popularly held Slytherin assumptions are real, and which are stranger than fiction. Here's what he had to say:
ASSUMPTION 1: All Slytherins are evil.
Much like we suspected, the assumption that Slytherin is the "evil" house is a bunch of garbage -- remember Severus Snape, bro? AKA "one of the great heroes of the series," as Granger refers to him?
In fact, according to Granger, the misconception that Slytherin house is evil came from two things -- A, Rowling's own value system, and B, the need for Harry to have a foil (in the form of Draco Malfoy), which is a longstanding schoolboy novel trope.
"They're just ambitious," Granger told MTV News over the phone. "It’s not a quality which is considered a virtue by the people who write the books... "[Rowling's] big thing is courage, not self-interest. [When] we start off the stories, we’re being taught to sympathize with Harry... Then we meet Draco Malfoy and he’s a little git; we just intuitively despise him. That’s the necessary foil in every school boy novel. Because Draco Malfoy is in Slytherin House and he’s got Crabbe and Goyle with him, everything we see... bleeds through that filter."
However, Granger says it's important to remember that even despite Rowling's distaste for the purely ambitious, she still gave some small shout-outs to decidedly un-evil Slytherin characters.
"We get people like the potions teacher, who tried to discourage Tom Riddle from exploring horcruxes, [and] tried to help Harry -- he comes back in the Battle of Hogwarts at the end with Slytherin helpers and stuff."
So there you have it, folks -- just because you're wearing green, doesn't mean you're evil. Moving on.
ASSUMPTION 2: Slytherins can't be brave.
Now, it's definitely true that a whole bunch of Slytherin sat out the Battle of Hogwarts. (I probably would have stayed home with a bottle of wine and some Netflix too, but what can you do.) However, does this necessarily mean that they're incapable of being brave? Not so much, according to Granger.
"Narcissa Malfoy saved the day in that grotto in the Forbidden Forest... she has her moment where she’s punished by the Dark Lord, and sent up there to do a quick check to see if Harry Potter is dead," Granger explained. "She finds out that he’s alive; she gets the answer that she wants. Now her son is alive, and she doesn’t reveal that Harry Potter is alive. It could conceivably cost her her life but courageously, she says, 'I’m going to let this boy live.' She’s the archetypal Slytherin woman... but that’s a very courageous act that saves Harry from being murdered on the spot."
Acting in one's -- or one's family's -- own self-interest is definitely not the same type of bravery that defines a Gryffindor, but the actions of a Narcissa Malfoy should not be forgotten when you look at the bigger picture. And like, I'm sorry, but if you were put in Slytherin house, would you want to fight Harry Potter's battles for him? Seems like a pretty thankless job, if we're being honest.
"When people start talking about Slytherin, they try to overlook the instances where, in their self-interest, they act heroically," Granger continued. "[Narcissa] is a lot like Lily Potter... she’s able to stand up to the Dark Lord. It’s very staggering in the books. Even Narcissa Malfoy, in her love for her son, is going to protect Harry Potter in front of the Dark Lord. If [Slytherin] are really all bad, Harry dies there right on the spot."
In other words, bravery has different meanings for different people, folks. MOVING ON.
ASSUMPTION 3: All racists are in Slytherin.
This one drives me insane. INSANE. Because again -- given the insidiousness of racism in our country and all around the world, it's borderline irresponsible to ask children to associate it with only the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Republican stand-ins that occupy Slytherin house. The world just doesn't work like that.
But lucky for me, according to Granger, my insanity is well-warranted: other "Harry Potter" characters in other houses clearly displayed racist tendencies throughout the series.
"[Rowling] tweeted any racist would be sorted into Slytherin... This is when Ron thinks all giants are necessarily evil, despite his experiences with Hagrid?" Granger said. "So he’s not a racist? What does that make him? I don’t know if you want to call giants a race, but what else would you call them?"
Granger added that Ron judging Harry's parseltongue is just as damning, as he's "got all these prejudices from his childhood that are just as ingrained and unexamined as Draco Malfoy’s blood purity fixation." It's just that, you know, Draco's racism is far more overt, and against real human beings instead of giants and house-elves.
Oh, and another thing? Arthur Weasley's fetishization of muggles can be seen as an allegory for positive racism, FOR SURE.
"The enlightened figure of the book, Albus Dumbledore, is the one who says that there shouldn’t be prejudice against muggles," Granger said. "But people who aren’t prejudiced against muggles, like Arthur Weasley... he’s fascinated by all this, this and that, always wants to talk to muggles. He’s sort of like the white liberal that likes to hang out with black people because it’s cool. He has all these bizarre conceptions of what it’s like to be a muggle, but he doesn’t actually know any of them.
"So it’s a prejudice but, in a way, an innocent prejudice. It’s like Harriet Beecher Stowe, if you read 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin'... the Weasleys are positive racists in terms of the muggles."
ASSUMPTION 4: All blondes go to Slytherin.
This one is clearly bullsh-t -- Pansy Parkinson, anyone? -- but according to Granger, there's a pretty darn interesting reason for the bullsh-t.
"[Rowling] is trying to make this Nazi [connection]," he said. "It’s an easy win for a writer, if you want to identify the bad guys -- especially in the United Kingdom, to identify the bad guys, you make Hitler connections. Yeah, it’s been 70 years since the war, but that’s just a given in the United Kingdom that Nazis are bad, and those who resist the Nazis are good, and an easy token for Nazis is being blonde haired and blue eyed."
So, yeah -- once again, Draco being our entry point into Slytherin house has clouded our judgment, as most of the folks that populate Slytherin house do not look like Nazis.
ASSUMPTION 5: Slytherins only care about money.
This one is insane to me, because A, everyone cares about money, and B, we really only think this because, again, Draco Malfoy has money and he's our main entry point into Slytherin house. We know very little about the finances of the rest of the (very few) Slytherins Harry actually speaks to.
"The wealthiest person in this story, [Justin] Finch-Fletchley, he’s in Ravenclaw," Granger added. "He cares about money -- he comes from money, I should say. Harry and the Weasleys are consumed by money, and their lack of it -- [they] wish they had more of it all the time. The twins basically forsake the family tradition of studying magic to make some money."
According to Granger, the villains of a story being part of the gentry class is yet another trope, and one that can be traced back as early as the 1850s.
"This is actually a schoolboy novel trope... this decadent gentry, they have their money and privilege from land they’ve inherited, [and] they’re the bad guys," he said. "Rowling, she rolls that into her story. She has the Slytherins be that gentry, [while] the Weasleys are middle class and blue collar/white collar workers, but they have the real virtue, and the intelligence. That’s keeping in line with the demands of the story."
Basically, if you want to let the audience know straight away that a character is going to be the schoolyard bully, make him or her rich -- and blonde, if at all possible.
ASSUMPTION 6: Slytherin does not work with the rest of Hogwarts.
Let's let Albus Dumbledore (and Granger) clear this one up once and for all -- because every house thinks they're the best house, and every house is necessary if Hogwarts wants to thrive.
"Remember that comment that Dumbledore makes at the first sorting feast? He says, 'Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak,'" Granger said. "Those four words are what each house thinks of the other houses from their own prejudices. If you’re a Ravenclaw, everyone else is a nitwit. If you’re in the jock palace at Gryffindor, everybody else is blubber -- you know, they’re overweight, they’re not athletic enough. Oddment is what the purebloods in Slytherin think. And the last one is tweak, which is the position of the humble people in Hufflepuff... I mean, they’re proud of their humility. And so Dumbledore is saying right after the sorting, understand that you being sorted into houses already made you into little monsters. You’re already taking on these identities which are going to be the prejudices that shape your whole life."
Don't you see, guys?! We read these books from Harry's perspective, so when we're reading -- no matter what house Pottermore sorted us into -- we are all experiencing the world from the prejudiced angle of a Gryffindor. And Gryffindors, despite their do-gooder reputation and their heroic qualities, do not like the people in Slytherin.
Let's be better than those Gryffindors, then, and give the Slytherin folks -- minus Draco Malfoy, of course -- a fighting chance to prove us wrong. Due to the bravery of Severus Snape, Narcissa Malfoy, and that dang potions teacher, they at least deserve that much.