When the Sorting Hat first uttered the words “those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends” way back in PS/SS, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Slytherin was doomed to a misunderstood existence. Finally, after years of pondering why I felt that way, I’ve come up with a decent answer: It’s the word cunning. It bothers me.
Why does cunning bother me? Well, here’s a dictionary definition:
Cunning(n): Skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile; adeptness in performance; dexterity.
Skill. Shrewd. Sly. Deceiving. Craftiness. Guile. Adeptness. Dexterity.
Not so bad, right?
Here’s another one:
Cunning (n): Skill in achieving one’s ends by deceit.
Skill. Achieving. One’s (read: selfish) ends. Deceit.
It’s the second definition, the simpler one, that most people ascribe to Slytherin, but I say that there are no simple Slytherins. They are, almost by definition, a complex House. Perhaps the most complex. So why do people insist on describing Slytherins using that ridiculously shallow definition?
I think that has much more to do with the people labeling than the people getting labeled.
Anyway, I think there is a definition of cunning that is being overlooked here. If you look up synonyms for cunning in a thesaurus, you’ll find a selection similar to this:
Machiavellian, able, acute, adroit, artful, astute, cagey, canny, clever, crafty, creative, deep, deft, dexterous, foxy, guileful, ingenious, insidious, keen, knowing, masterful, sharp, shifty, shrewd, skillful, slick, slippery, sly, smart, smooth, street-smart, streetwise, subtle, tricky, wary, wily
Did you see it? Alright, pay attention because this is the crux of this article: I think that cunning is just a skewed way of saying creative.
Let’s look at the dictionary definition of creativity, shall we?
Creativity(n): The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.
Sounds like a Slytherin to me.
For those of you making whiny noises somewhere along the lines of “but Ravenclaw is the creative House!” right now, sit down. Yes, okay, Ravenclaws are creative, too, but not in the same way. Ravenclaws are known for their studiousness, their genius, but Slytherins are known for their street smarts, and that requires an altogether different kind of creativity. Ravenclaws are the House best known for their intellect, and yet intelligence is one of the most basic traits of Slytherin House. There’s bound to be some overlap of traits, but I think Slytherin’s got Ravenclaw beat when it comes to creative exploits.
Mostly because Slytherins are boss at creativity. Here are some examples:
- Horace Slughorn doesn’t like the spotlight, but he likes the perks that come with fame and fortune, so he creates the Slug Club to reap the benefits of giving young witches and wizards bound for power and success their beginning. He uses his connections to help others achieve their goals and secures himself a steady supply of crystallized pineapple and Quidditch tickets.
- Tom Riddle needs to find a scapegoat for the Basilisk when he opens the Chamber of Secrets and Headmaster Dippet confesses that Hogwarts may close if the culprit isn’t caught, so he blames Hagrid, who is conveniently obsessed with monstrous magical creatures. Now that’s crafty!
- Draco Malfoy comes up with the idea to use a set of Vanishing Cabinets to open a secret entry into Hogwarts.
- Severus Snape is creative enough to invent new spells from scratch and make improvements on Potions instructions in his textbook.
- Salazar Slytherin manages construct the Chamber of Secrets and to hide its existence from the other Founders even after he left Hogwarts by concealing its entrance under the sinks of a girl’s bathroom.
- Merlin. The end.
With all of these examples and many more from Canon, how can it be argued that Slytherins aren’t a creative bunch?
Still not convinced? I present to you the HPFandom.
A huge majority of artists and writers in the HPFandom were either sorted into Pottermore as Slytherins or grew up identifying with Slytherin. Why is that? Well, we can attribute it to that titillating so-bad-we’re-good persona for which Slytherin is known OR we could look at it like this:
As the number of Pottermore-sorted Slytherins increases, we have a broader pool of people to examine for common attributes. We’re no longer limited to Death Eaters and bullies, a near Slytherin-wide failing in Canon. We can see the sheer number of creative people (writers, artists, musicians, etc.) who are recognized as Slytherins every day. With over 800,000 Slytherins sorted on Pottermore alone as of this posting, I think it’s high time we stop shouting cunning and start cheering creative!