Salazar Slytherin was a bigot, end of story.
Okay, I know HP fandom hates the way Slytherin was treated in the books, with all its implications. I know JKR’s belief that all blood supremacists go to Slytherin sounds implausible and dodgy. I know there are kids who have been mocked/side-eyed for being Pottermore-sorted into Slytherin. Hell I know that I’m pretty ehhhh on JKR’s Pottermore reveal that Peter Pettigrew was actually probably a Slytherin. There’s a lot of worthy criticism to be made there & an understandable instinct to want to redeem the house from its less than savoury reputation.
Wizarding culture is fucked up and we shouldn’t shy away from admitting that. There’s a difference between being a Slytherin in our world and being a Slytherin in their world. You are not part of wizarding culture and not subject to the problems that comes with that.
Which is a position really worth keeping in mind in any fandom discussion, especially one concerning Slytherin and its position in HPverse.
2) There have been a couple of posts floating around, defending Salazar Slytherin that I’ve seen lately (x, x), claiming that canon + history are somehow ‘evidence’ that Salazar Slytherin had the ‘right’ idea - and that therefore, canonically, Slytherin was a nice guy and not a bigot. And that is complete and utter bullshit. The rest of this essay is a copy of a response to the original post that I’ve made before, but I’m posting it again because apparently this idea refuses to die a permanent death.
There’s a distinction to be made between headcanon and canon here. You’re free to headcanon Salazar Slytherin however you want, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that there is ‘canonical proof’ for a headcanon when the bulk of canon, well, contradicts it. However, it also pays to be critical about how you’re headcanoning something and to ask yourself why you’re headcanoning Salazar Slytherin’s racism/bigotry away & what you achieve by it - and even more importantly, what real world issues does it feed into/reflect?
3) JKR wrote the persecution of muggleborns as a really really clear parallel for anti-semitic persecution through the ages. It’s really hard to ignore that when you have things like the Muggleborn Commission (and Mary Cattermole’s trial in Deathly Hallows), propaganda titled with things like “Muggleborns and the Threat they Pose to Wizarding Society”, or hell, even the twisted version of muggle studies the Carrows teach the kids in DH - muggles are wild animals etc. Now, suggesting Salazar Slytherin’s views made ‘sense’ because witches were being persecuted c. the 10th century is
- a) historically inaccurate, therefore, completely baseless,
- b) is canonically inaccurate because wix in canon have used a variety of spells to save themselves from death, notably, Wendelin the Weird who used Flame-Freezing charms to save herself from burning & the Duc de Trefle-Picques who escaped beheading (and faked his death) using a Disillusionment charm on his head and
- c) it suggests that his assertion that muggleborns were a ‘real’ threat were right and by extension, that that language of justification is all right, as long as a ‘case’ can be made for a ‘threat’ - which has all kinds of really messed up implications re. the real world where the language of ‘threat’ is used repeatedly to justify violence against immigrants, racial minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, sexual minorities and yes, was used to justify the Holocaust (this is basically the thesis of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that the Jews were behind some big ‘conspiracy’ to take over the world, which is one of the texts Hitler built his campaign on).
- d) the real world implications are important here because HP has a huge social element to it and if HP fans are going to pat themselves on the back for being more socially aware & tolerant than other fans, then its worth being aware about what kind of views in our society Salazar Slytherin’s declaration that muggleborns were a threat to wizard society (despite them being a relatively powerless minority) is meant to reflect.
- e) in doing so, you’ve actually fallen hook, line and sinker for Salazar Slytherin’s own propaganda.
And now, the really long essay in which I cover all the arguments I’ve seen in favour of Salazar Slytherin in depth using canon, Pottermore & historical & academic sources to talk about why Salazar Slytherin has no foot to stand on. A summary of the arguments I make:
A bigot is always a bigot, no matter how much they talk about ‘threat’ and ‘risk’. This language has been used in the past to exclude minorities, Salazar Slytherin uses it to exclude muggleborns - there’s a really clear principle here.
Salazar Slytherin lived in the 10th century, the witch hunts did not start until the late fourteenth century and really only intensified during the 16th and 17th centuries. Incidentally, the worst of the hunts took place in Germany and not in Britain, though the Scottish witch hunts of the 17th century were pretty bad.
The people of the middle ages held a lot of contradictory views on magic and religion, so even though a bunch of texts concerning folk religious and magic practices were destroyed (though there are lots of exceptions to this) they weren’t only a) studying the Bible and nothing else and b) folk magic really was a thing even during the medieval period.
Witch burnings were mostly to do with getting rid of unwanted people/people who were felt to be ‘burdens’ or ‘undesirable’ but had no real ‘crimes’ that they could be put away for. Socially marginalized groups usually bore the brunt of this persecution. A lot of money-making was involved as well. Actual magic was not always the point of contention.
- JKR has independently confirmed that a) Salazar Slytherin’s views were statistical outliers for his time and b) that the belief that muggles were dangerous really only gained traction after the establishment of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692.
- JKR has also independently deconstructed the idea that witches and wizards had anything to fear by the way persecution in the 14th century, using the character of Wendelin the Weird to do so.
Cuthbert Binns is an unreliable narrator, the wizarding world is highly corrupt and prejudiced - JKR literally spent seven books telling us this was so.
- JKR independently confirmed, on Pottermore, that Salazar S. placed the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. Also, really, there’s a big difference between a safety room (e.g. a nuclear fallout bunker) and a room that has stone pillars made of snakes, snakes with emeralds for eyes and one giant statue of Salazar Slytherin whose mouth opens when you say “Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.” in Parseltongue. Sounds more like a shrine to myself, made by Salazar Slytherin to me tbqh.
David Cameron, Donald Trump & Tony Abbott use this same language of ‘risk’ and ‘danger’ to society to explain why immigrants shouldn’t be allowed into their countries; that’s ba s i c a l l y what Salazar Slytherin’s views boil down to in the end.
Hit read more because it’s really long. Feel free to reblog this.