House Talk: Slytherin

I’ve been a self-Sorted Slytherin for a while now. This might seem odd coming from someone whose favourite characters are mostly Gryffindors, but various things about the House of Snakes has convinced me, over the years, that this is where I truly belong. Here I present my reasons for loving Slytherin, apart, of course, from its beautiful underwater dorms.

Slytherin_by_SherlingtonDunnenWhat’s it mean to be Slytherin?

Before I begin, I should come clean about something. I didn’t always consider myself a Slytherin. In fact, when I first read the books, I told myself that of course I was Gryffindor. There could be no doubt about it. My conviction was based purely on the fact that Harry and his besties were in this House, and I, as the rightful Mrs. Potter, belonged there, by his side.

And obviously I was brave, and ‘chivalrous’, whatever that was.

But now that I think of it, even the reasons I wanted to be in Gryffindor were very, well, Slytherin. I saw the House as a means to an end, a way to fulfill an ambition (ie, declaring myself like Harry and therefore heroic), a means of living up to a desired image in my own head. I didn’t honestly relish the idea of living by a set of ideals that, at the age of 11, I would have been in no position to understand. I am not entirely fond of being thrown into the centre of attention anywhere, and was certainy not at the forefront of social activities during my middle and high school years. In short, I was not really cool enough to be a Gryffindor.

But still, why Slytherin? Why not Ravenclaw, full of smart kids? Wouldn’t I rather be considered a nerd than a slimy megalomaniac?

I think it’s all too easy to forget that when it’s first introduced by the Sorting Hat, the Slytherin quality that is emphasised in ‘cunning’ and a certain kind of ruthlessness—these are the people, the Hat stresses, who use ‘any means to achieve their ends’. It also says, strangely enough, that this is House where you’ll meet your ‘real friends’. A rather odd choice of words for a place we later find out is filled with Death Eaters and bigots, isn’t it?

Slytherin definitely suffers from bad press. Given the thousands of students who have no doubt passed through its watery common room, a few have made themselves so infamous that their actions overshadow any other achievements the House might have made. And because of the pure blood mania, we forget that what really defines Slytherins, from Draco to Snape to Voldemort, is a desire to prove onself, to be tenacious enough to succeed at something that they have set their minds to.

This, really, is what pulls me towards this House, and makes me want to be a part of it. Slytherin has no moral illusions—the things its members want vary from protecting a child to killing just to make a point—but what its members learn is that while ambition and grand dreams are all very well, it takes tremendous work and dedication to pulling them off. Whatfacts-about-severus-snape-severus-snape-391241 gives these people the drive to do those things is not just bravery or loyalty or smarts, it’s tenacity. And coupled with that a quality that none of the other Houses demonstrate as ably: an ability to admit wrong and turn around and start again, with just as much drive as before.

What else would you call Snape’s switching over to Dumbledore’s side? Or Narcissa Malfoy’s near-suicidal declaration that Harry was dead, all evidence to the contrary? Regulus’s suicidal mission to get revenge on the Dark Lord? They show that people change—like a moulting snake, you can cast off an old set of ideals and move on. And sometimes you should, because that’s just how life works.

What Slytherin and its tenets taught me was that you should dream big, but sometimes, you’ll find out that you’ve been incredibly wrong. People make terrible mistakes, but you can always be humble enough to turn around and try to set them right. The energy that you bring to ‘achieving’ your ‘ends’ will be undiminished, no matter what those ‘ends’ are.

I’m not idealistically convinced of the strength of my own morality and convictions, like a Gryffindor. I like glamour and charm way too much to not receive adulation and praise, which disqualifies me from Hufflepuff. I’m not happy just being the smart kid, and don’t see learning as an end in itself, so no airy Ravenclaw towers for me.

But I can choose a goal and bend my ambitions towards it, and if the need arises, change myself or my circumstances to ensure its completed. And if I change my mind and decide to go another way? No one can fault me for it. Slytherin promises its denizens that freedom, and embraces the possibility of change, which makes it, for me, really the most realistic House of them all.

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House Talk: Hufflepuff

Since the blog has largely been, thus far, a smorgasbord of my opinions on various aspects of fantasy, pop culture and assorted superhero stuff, I thought it might be a change of scene to open up the floor to other fans. In this series, I hope to profile the Hogwarts houses, each in the words of a reader/fan/student who sees themselves as belonging to said house, identifies with its tenets in some fashion, and seeks, through the post, to explain what makes it the fit they most wish to see.

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What is interesting about the Hogwarts houses is how they communicate a certain identity to the larger world, and it amazes me, time and again, how so many people (me included) Sort themselves and hold to their chosen house with such conviction, never minding that this is an imaginary space, and the name really doesn’t correspond to anything in real life. Except it does, evidently. It shapes a person’s view of themselves, and I think it’s fascinating to take a peek into what goes into that sort of self-identification. How much of an impression must these books have made, to have such a powerful effect on how a reader sees herself?

So, presenting the first speaker for the House (I can’t resist bad puns sometimes), Shreya Jindal. Shreya is one of my closest friends, and the first person I met who proudly declared herself a Hufflepuff (you know, before it was cool). She is currently pursuing an M.A.T in English Education at Brown University and apart from being a devoted teacher, she is a fanfiction-ophile, and particularly loves a good Hurt/Comfort fic.

Without further ado, I’ll turn the floor over to her!

hufflepuff_flag_by_kooro_sama-d3x64p7As a proud and self-proclaimed member of the House of Hufflepuff, I occasionally get odd or amused looks, even from the ranks of Harry Potter fans who engage in this kind of discourse on a fairly regular basis. And in truth, I can’t say I blame them, for Hufflepuff has always been the most overlooked, underrated House in the books.

As a teenager, when I first recognized myself as a Hufflepuff, it was with a sense of acceptance as opposed to the kind of pride I have now. I knew I was “unafraid of toil” as well as “loyal” and “patient,” but none of these values seemed particularly glamorous or exciting. I would never have dreamed then that I would one day tattoo a badger on my shoulder, and announce to Facebook and the world at large that I was “Hufflepuff and proud.”

The fact is that I have chosen a lifelong allegiance to the values of Hufflepuff House, and as with all successful Sortings, this was something I chose of my own volition. Part of it was seeing the results of hard work in my own life. Every time I have worked hard for something I truly cared about, I have usually gotten favorable results.

This is not to say, of course, that “hard work pays off” is a universal truth. I am fully aware that some successes are down to luck and others to circumstances, but I do think that people sometimes underestimate how powerful hard work, and equally importantly, being seen to be a hard worker, can be. In the workplace, hard work impresses everyone if it is undertaken with sincerity and genuineness. It is, I think, a secret weapon for those of us who don’t, or can’t, navigate politics in the workplace.

But the real moment when my membership in the House of Hufflepuff became not just a fact, but also a matter of pride, occurred two years after I started teaching. I was re-reading the Harry Potter books for probably the hundredth time, and I came across this quote from the Sorting Hat’s song in The Order of the Phoenix, “Said Hufflepuff, ‘I’ll teach the lot, and treat them just the same.’” In that moment, I instantly recognized in these lines the golden standard for all educators, something we are supposed to aspire to, even if, as human beings, we often fall short of the ideal.

I realized then that besides being a land of adventure and romance, magic and ghosts, Hogwarts was first and foremost, supposed to be a school, and that of all the four Founders, the only one who any sane parent would want to be teaching their kids was Helga Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw wanted the clever ones, Gryffindor wanted the brave ones, and Slytherin wanted the ambitious ones, but Hufflepuff knew she wouldn’t be doing her job right if she didn’t try to educate all of them, regardless of blood, status, or temperament.

From that moment on, I have tried to live by the ideals of House Hufflepuff in my personal as well as my professional life. Today, I wear the badger tattoo on my shoulder with pride, a lifelong reminder of the things that really matter to me both as a Harry Potter fan and a teacher.