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While we know Parseltongue brings all the Basilisks to the yard, Parseltongue is kind of presented in canon as this edgy, somewhat cool ability that very few wizards (who are direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin himself) possess.

So, is Parseltongue actually a useful skill? If so, in what way? Why?

Aside from Tom Riddle using Parseltongue to control the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, does canon show any other instances of Parseltongue being a useful skill?

Or is Parseltongue just a vaguely interesting novelty?

Is Parseltongue a useful skill?

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Snakes of all kinds can prove to be useful tools if you can befriend them, as seen with Riddle and Nagini. –  ZenLogic Aug 8 at 12:53
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I think it can be rather useful, if you plan to kill Muggles or something. –  T2o Aug 8 at 12:54
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Also quite useful if a snake is about to kill a swotty little Hufflepuff boy. –  Mac Cooper Aug 8 at 12:55
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Or if you're interested in a career as a zookeeper in the reptile wing... –  rand al'thor Aug 8 at 15:15
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Obviously, it would depend on what sort of interaction you plan to have with snakes. I suspect this question is less about "is parseltongue useful?" and more about "are snakes useful in the Harry Potter universe?" After all, if snakes were actually just paperweights, then parseltongue probably isn't very useful. –  Ellesedil Aug 8 at 15:25

5 Answers 5

It's incredibly useful, especially in warfighting:

  1. Due to its rarity, it's a useful battle language (think Navajo). For example, Gaunts communicated with each other in Parseltongue and nobody save Harry and Dumbledore could tell what they were saying.

  2. Snakes are a great weapon: humans are naturally afraid of them, and many species are quite dangerous (poison, bites, physical crushing for large snakes, restraining a person for smaller snakes). As such, an ability to control a snake and tell it what to do harnesses that weapon.

  3. Modern combat tactics is extremely heavily reliant on intelligence. Snakes are great at observing and reporting things you don't know about.

    As two examples: Nagini told Voldemort that Frank Bryce was listening in at the door at the beginning of GoF; and (similarly in concept, even if different animal) ability to talk to rats allowed Pettigrew to find Voldemort in Albania.

  4. The cool/dangerous factor. Yes, Harry was dismayed when his classmates started being afraid of him once they learned he was a Parselmouth... but fear can be a useful and powerful tool for the initiated.</ras_al_gul>

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Well, I suppose it depends on your locale. It'd be pretty useless in Iceland and Ireland, but more useful in Australia. In the UK, most snakes are pretty harmless.

But really, Parseltongue is pretty useless in general. Assuming that one comes across a snake in the wild, there is no lack of spells that would allow the wizard to take control of it, destroy it, change it into a coffee mug, put it to sleep, etc. The only extremely dangerous magical snake-- the Basilisk-- is extremely rare.

It's only useful in the books because the villain takes his snake motif to an absurd level. If Voldemort had been the heir of Hufflepuff, Harry would have spent half the books on his knees talking to badgers.

The only useful instance of Parseltongue that ISN'T in reaction to Slytherin or his descendants is when Draco Malfoy summons a snake in a duel. But again, there are plenty of ways of dealing with snakes without carrying on a conversation with it. I imagine that even if Harry had retained his Parselmouth abilities, he would have probably never used it again in his entire life, except maybe at parties.

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this answer makes the most generalized approach towards the question, considering that in HP universe only 4 parseltongue speakers were known and 3 are dead and 1 lost his ability. Now it will be pretty useless apart from amusing others. –  Sp0T Aug 9 at 8:22

It has been useful to:

  • Open locks intended to be openned only by those of your bloodline (who are more likely inheret your skill)

  • Tell magically summoned snakes not to murder your classmates

  • Tell snakes to kill those who can be killed by snakes

  • Listen to snakes to learn what they might observe that you didn't/cannot

  • Hear giant magic snakes looking for lunch rather than it being a complete surprise

  • Use it to have/control the closest thing to a familiar in the series (I remember)

  • Have a nice chat with a random snake in the zoo

So is it useful...I guess it has shown to have many sporatically useful applications that J.K. Rowling placed in there intentionally but it is no where near as useful as the basic magical skills learned at Hogwarts. Without it Harry would have been less successful. After lossing it, however, he didn't miss it.

That being said: you're Slytherincess...you know all this already...

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Note: you can also use it to become the patron saint of Ireland and get a nice drinking holiday named after you... –  anotherguest Aug 8 at 13:14
    
You may want to add the quotes of specific uses for each bullet point (e.g. who and when listened to snake to lean?) –  DVK Aug 8 at 13:46
    
Can't access my books where I am. Answered it on a "coffee" break. –  anotherguest Aug 8 at 14:58

It can be very useful indeed, but situational.

Parseltongue is one of those character traits that can be very useful if you design your character around it and make sure you get into situations where you're useful. It is not useful if you want a character that just hits everything in melee with brute force without having to think about tactics or strategy.

Here are some examples for uses of Parseltongue other than what you and anotherguest have mentioned.


Firstly, in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the Little Prince, the snake gives the Little Prince some advice, and lets him return home when he eventually wants to leave. Although in this book, the Prince uses ordinary human language to speak to the snake, it is clear that he understands the replies of the snake but the pilot narrator does not, so understanding snakes is a special ability in this universe.


Secondly, in Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, Mowgli can speak to snakes, which has helped him many times. Quoting The Jungle Book, chapter "Kaa's Hunting" first:

Then he [Baloo] turned aside to tell Bagheera how he had begged the Master Words from Hathi the Wild Elephant, who knows all about these things, and how Hathi had taken Mowgli down to a pool to get the Snake Word from a water-snake, because Baloo could not pronounce it, and how Mowgli was now reasonably safe against all accidents in the jungle, because neither snake, bird, nor beast would hurt him.

Baloo can speak in general, but cannot pronounce the words of water-snakes, whereas but Mowgli can do both. Thus being able to speak to snakes is clearly a special ability in the Jungle Book. This ability is useful because now snakes would not hurt Mowgli. Indeed, in the same chapter, Mowgli uses the Master Word in the ruins and it protects him from the venomous cobras living there.

Mawgli had previously befriended Kaa, a large python snake, who rescuse him from the monkeys in the very same chapter. Kaa's friendship becomes useful again in The Second Jungle Book chapter "Red Dog", for fighting the dholes. Being able to understand snakes' speech was probably necessary for befriending Kaa. Finally, speaking to cobras comes up in the chapter "The King's Ankus" too, though it's debatable how useful it is for Mowgli.


Update: you might want to also check the S.W.I.T.C.H. series by Ali Sparkes, featured in the question Children's book series, schoolboy twin protagonists retrieve formula that lets them transform to insects . In this series, the protagonits boys (and sometimes other humans) can transform to various insects and reptiles, including snakes, and while transformed, can talk to other animals of the same species. This means they can talk to snakes when transformed to snakes.

I'm not sure how useful this ability is, because I'm not really familiar with the plot, and have read only one of the books ages ago. The boys seem to learn a lot from it, and, if I understand correctly, it helps them save people from great danger that occurs in first place because the magic that lets humans transform to animals can be misused. Or something like that.


Update. Consider now Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In this story, a man attempts to assassinate a sleeping woman in a locked bedroom by sending a venomous swamp adder, "the deadliest snake in India", through a small hole in the wall. Had the plan succeeced, the truth about the murder would never have been found out, for the snake would return to his owner through the hole and never be found.

This man did not speak Parseltongue. Although he could handle the snake enough for this attempt, due to Sherlock Holmes's timely intervention, the angry snake returned through the wall and has killed the man. Now imagine what weapon such a venomous snake could become in the hands of someone who does speak Parseltongue and can control snakes! For one, this man would probably not be killed by the snake, though he might still go into prison. But if you can control a snake, you could probably use it as a weapon in a more clever way than just sending it through a hole, and assassinate people without anyone being able to trace the snake back to you.

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The OP was asking about Parseltongue within the HP franchise, rather than the ability to speak to snakes in general. –  Richard Aug 8 at 15:54
    
@Richard: are you sure? Most of these conclusions still apply in the Potterverse, because the ability behaves in a similar way. Even in the Potterverse you could make a venomous snake kill a particular target then disappear, and if you don't show off with the snake like the Dark Lord did with Nagini, they'll never be able to trace the murder back to you. You could become friends with a large snake so he can help you out in a battle or rescue you when you get captured (like Dobby rescued Harry). –  b_jonas Aug 8 at 16:15
    
None of these are wrong, but by widening it out to other canon universes, you run the risk of answering the wrong question (e.g. what use is talking to snakes? vs. what use is parselmouth?) –  Richard Aug 8 at 16:16
    
And if the Philosopher's Stone happened to be guarded by snakes and by doorkeys fishing in a pool like swamp, controlling the snakes or having a friendly snake would help you out there too. –  b_jonas Aug 8 at 16:16
    
@Richard: yes, that is exactly why I'm trying to explain how Mowgli's ability is similar to being a Parselmouth: it lets him not only talk to snakes but also control them to some amount, and it's not one of those universes where just anyone can talk to snakes. –  b_jonas Aug 8 at 16:17

I would think that yes Parselmouth is a useful skill, to only you. I mean by that statement that Parselmouth can only be to help yourself, as it is not very well known, you can't do much with it:

  • can't communicate with others, because there are no others.

  • It scares people

These are both shown below in my list of how Parselmouth can help you and hinder you.

Fear:

Most of the people and one of the most feared wizards ever spoke it. So if people know you speak it then they will be scared of you and possibly respect you more.

"The boy can talk to snakes, Dumbledore, and you still think he's trustworthy?"

—Cornelius Fudge and his prejudice against Parselmouths


"Hannah, he’s a Parselmouth. Everyone knows that’s the mark of a Dark Wizard. Have you ever heard of a decent one who could talk to snakes? They called Slytherin himself Serpent-tongue."

Ernie Macmillan


An unknown member of the Dark Force Defence League once stated when asked regarding the matter by Rita Skeeter - "Personally, I would be highly suspicious of anybody who could converse with snakes, as serpents are often used in the worst kinds of Dark Magic, and are historically associated with evildoers."

Skill:

Knowing it gives you another skill.

This site gives you examples of why it is important to learn knew languages.

Also, Health from the above article.

To keep your mind healthy (from Harvey Schmidt) Learning a second language has been proven to delay the onset of dementia.

Food

If you are in the wilderness and cannot find food and you have misplaced your wand you could summon a snake by talking to it and luring it over.

Shelter and assistance

I will get a canon quote, but remember when Voldemort was using the snakes bodies to survive after he killed Harry's parents and he needed a body so he used a snakes body.

And when he interacts with Nagini, Parseltongue probably makes it possible for him to talk to her properly and get his thoughts across.

So in the 2 above instances having communication(parseltongue) was necessary.

Opening things

This can only be shown in a few cases and has its limits. With the use of Parselmouth you can seal things that can only be opened with it. And since few people can speak it, the thing you seal is basically unpenetrable.

From here:

The Heir of Slytherin was in fact Voldemort, but Harry was able to gain access to the Chamber by speaking the password in Parseltongue, and subsequently killed the basilisk within. It was shortly after this incident that Harry learned how he acquired the ability.

And later Ron was able to do it, but only because he saw Harry do it.


So besides having only selfish reasoning for it be helpful to somebody. Parselmouth is probably not useful anymore or even spoke that widely.

Most of the known speakers and people that understand it are dead or lost the power.

  • Voldemort

  • Harry

  • Dumbledore

So what use is a language that no one else speaks (except for the personal points above) it is worth nothing.

I would say you could learn it to speak in a language only you and your friends know, but alas no one speaks it.

So while Parselmouth is of significance to personal survival, it is only novelty in society and a scary one at that.

My above statement means:

  1. Parseltongue speaking scares people.

  2. If you know how to speak it, it will only benefit you for the above reasons, health, shelter and assistance, food, etc.

This has a interesting point of view and it appears that they got most of their facts right.

Aside from serpent-based creatures, Parselmouths can communicate with each other with the language

When the wizarding world discovered Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue, courtesy of Rita Skeeter, people began to doubt his words, as Cornelius Fudge refused to believe Harry's claim of Voldemort's rebirth partially due to being prejudiced to Harry's ability to speak the language

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I'm not sure what you mean by saying Parseltongue is useful "only to you" -- what are you saying by that? I also don't understand what you mean by your last sentence at all. Maybe clarify a bit? –  Slytherincess Aug 13 at 4:20
    
@Slytherincess I added quite a lot of text. But my recent edits should answer your questions. –  iliveunderawesomerock Aug 13 at 4:52

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