Page and Screen: What is the real legacy of Slytherin from Harry Potter?

Warning: This article contains spoilers that may induce suicide

When I finally saw Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part2, just a few days after its release, I was ecstatic to find that the franchise bowed out by reclaiming its magical mojo. For me it was the best film of the series by a long way. Debating my enjoyment with friends I conceded it may just be that I have forgotten the omissions from the books that used to irritate me or that I simply no longer care as long as the film is good. And this was definitely good, so good I’m tempted to use the word “sublime”.

The tone was perfectly judged. The film starts with a tense and atmospheric scene of dialogue, still drenched in the grief of Dobby’s death and the impending doom. From then on the contrast is expertly maintained, with unique action sequences following moodily shot moments of explanation and reflection. There are clichés and cheesy emotional dramas aplenty but the successful history of the series earns its self indulgent payoff. Well for someone of the Potter generation like me at least.

I simply cannot cram in everything I liked about The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. As a film experience it seems to have everything, from a dark and beautiful style, to gags and heartbreak. I rarely feel completely and utterly amazed and transported in the cinema, but I did watching this. I don’t want to diminish my enjoyment by writing a proper review, which would be biased by my personal Potter journey as well as inadequately conveying its many, yes magical, moments.

Besides there were only two moments I can remember that irritated me. One of these was when Harry grabs Voldemort and they fly about for a bit pointlessly (Voldemort is too powerful to grab!). The other was more puzzling than annoying. It wasn’t the epilogue, in which the actors play their older selves on the platform at King’s Cross. I simply laughed for the entirety of that.

It was a throwaway moment in the Great Hall, when Harry reveals himself to Snape and the Death Eaters now in charge of Hogwarts. Voldemort quickly knows Harry is there and uses some wonderfully sinister and psychological scares on the students. He speaks to them from inside their heads, assuring them that they’ll live if they give him Harry Potter but if they fight they will die. At this point some girls from Slytherin house demand Harry is seized. Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall, head of the courageous and good Gryffindor house, then orders the whole of Slytherin to be confined in the dungeons until the battle is over.

Now the Harry Potter series is well known for its moral messages and Voldemort’s hatred of half bloods. There are some far from subtle Nazi parallels as the bad guys constantly insist that Muggles (non magical folk like us) and half bloods (children with only one magical parent) are inferior to pure bloods of true magical families. J.K. Rowling appears to be sending the typical “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “everyone deserves a chance” messages. But these common goods have always been at odds with the Hogwarts tradition of the Sorting Hat.

For the uninitiated, when first year students join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry they are “sorted” into houses by a magical hat placed on their head. Every house is associated with different attributes. A quick (and simplified) summary would read as: Gryffindor = brave, Hufflepuff = kind, Ravenclaw = clever and Slytherin = evil. Yup essentially if you’re in Slytherin you turn out to be bad.

And yet there is the ending to this conclusion to the series, which reveals the true intentions of slippery Severus Snape. If you ignored the spoiler warning at the top and you haven’t either seen the last film or read the last book, now is the time to abort. Snape basically loved Harry’s mother Lily. He has been looking out for Harry all along. But wait…he killed Dumbledore! Yes technically, but Dumbledore was already dying from a wound he sustained destroying a part of Voldemort’s soul called a Horcrux. Confused? Very sorry if you are, I’ll get back to my point about inconsistency.

In the epilogue Harry’s son worries about getting put in Slytherin, before he sets off to Hogwarts for the first time. Harry reassures “Albus Severus Potter” that one of his stupid names belonged to a former head of Slytherin, who was the bravest man he ever knew. Both Rowling’s books and the film series end by hailing nasty Snape’s undying unrequited love as the true, silent hero of the whole thing.

In a recent interview for Empire Magazine, Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves admits his favourite character is not Harry, but Hermione. If your favourite character is Harry you’re a bit weird and boring. My favourite character was always Snape, first for his vile putdowns and mystery and finally for his valiant but unrecognised and unrewarded selfless sacrifice in the name of love, a love that was never realised. He is a bitter dreamer so easy to sympathise with.

We are left with two very different legacies for the house of Slytherin. On the one hand the people that appear to be the villains on the outside can sometimes be the greatest heroes of all. On the other, never trust a rotten apple, even if it has the potential to taste great with a bit of work.

I’m sure some of you are probably thinking that it’s a bit stupid to be ruining a great film and phenomenally successful series with such picky analysis. I do not intend to spoil the enjoyment of the last film, which is a fantastic and fitting ending as I have said, or the creative achievement of the whole Harry Potter universe. Rowling’s muddled messages over genetics and the morals of condemning someone over something other than their actions, does illustrate that Harry Potter’s magical world is far from perfect though. Her imagination is superb and she is capable of powerful poignancy and elegance, as illustrated in the largely unaltered scene in the final film when Dumbledore praises the magical power of words. But perhaps Slytherin was her Achilles heel.

Or maybe she was also capable of realism as well as fantasy. Maybe she meant that some people are always more likely to turn out “bad”. But that makes the achievement of those who come good in the end all the more admirable. Slytherin’s ultimate legacy doesn’t matter. It will be dwarfed by the ongoing impact of the whole world of Hogwarts, Hagrid and Harry. I’m just reluctant, like everyone else, to stop talking about it.

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