Once upon a time, many years ago, there lived a beautiful fairy princess…….ok, I lied, she was a heavily pregnant, rather harassed 29-year-old British woman! In order to placate the princess, (just go along with me here), the handsome prince handed her a book called Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K. (Jo) Rowling. The fairy princess thought about throwing this kids’ book back at the prince, (hormones you know), but instead she put her feet up and started to read.
24 hours later the book was finished, and the fairy princess was hungry for more. “The Chamber of Secrets” was devoured as quickly as the first. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” meant all and sundry around her kingdom were ignored, and the “Goblet of Fire” almost sent her into premature labour. She was smitten, in love with Remus Lupin, (now there is a real prince). She cared about Harry, Ron and Hermione almost as much as her own children, and she wished she had gone to Hogwarts with its moving staircases, portraits and ghosts.
BUT, there was an evil schemer in this tale. A wicked, vile and malevolent individual who caused much distress to our fairy princess. When she discovered the wonderful world of online fandom and realised that some people regarded this evil-doer as “misunderstood,” nay, actually “good,” then she threw down the gauntlet and vowed to not rest until the world agreed with her and with the statement that “Professor Severus Snape is evil and must be boiled in shampoo!!”
Back to reality now and the cold, hard facts of canon. In this essay, I will attempt to truly dissect the myth around Severus Snape. I will start with the Philosopher’s Stone and the very first time Harry sees Snape.
It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.1
That scar is like a sixth sense to Harry; it is his connection to danger. In later books it hurts him almost constantly as Voldemort is returned to physical form But the first time, the very first time, Harry feels pain from the scar is when Snape looks into his eyes. Now later on in the book, I am sure many believe this was because Snape was sitting next to Quirrell and the turban-that-must-not-be-named! That is not what I believe. I believe that in this very first instance, Jo was giving us a subtle clue that Snape was evil. At the end of the chapter “The Sorting Hat”, Harry has a dream that he is wearing the turban; it becomes tighter and tighter; Malfoy is laughing at him; Malfoy turns into Snape who gives a high, cold laugh and then there is a flash of green light.2 In the morning he doesn’t remember the dream. Could this sequence be foreshadowing the events of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince? In my opinion, yes.
To truly dissect Severus’s character, one must look to his past, and in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we see for the first time, events that may have shaped the individual that Snape is now. Page 521 (British Edition), the following happens during an Occlumency lesson:
Snape staggered - his wand flew upwards, away from Harry - and suddenly Harry’s mind was teeming with memories that were not his: a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a dark-haired boy cried in the corner….a greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies….a girl was laughing as a scrawny boy tried to mount a bucking broomstick -
These memories, although brief, give the reader a real insight into the type of events that have shaped Snape’s character, and together with information we gain from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, can be analysed further. For example, we know from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Snape’s mother was the witch, and his father a Muggle.4 Yet in his memory, it is the witch who is in fear of the Muggle. Could this event have determined Snape’s decision to join the Death Eaters? Was his hatred of Muggles predetermined by his Muggle father’s abuse? That memory also showed that Snape was a loner, but one who hated to be mocked. The Marauders mocked Severus as we saw to devastating effect in the chapter “Snape’s Worst Memory.” His hatred of the Marauders is well known, and in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Snape is willing to hand both Sirius and Lupin straight to the Dementors for “the kiss”— judge, jury and executioner in one go.5 It shows an utterly ruthless streak in Snape and a disregard of the law.
Disregard of wizarding law? This brings me onto, without a doubt, the most heinous of Snape’s actions—the murder of Dumbledore. And murder it was. Avada Kedavra is the killing curse and the event that starts off the whole series, with the murder of Lily and James Potter at the hands of Lord Voldemort and the rebounding of the killing curse on Harry. At no time during any of the six published Harry Potter books, has Avada Kedavra been referred to as anything other than the killing curse. The reason I state this is because of the belief of some that Snape was “doing Dumbledore a favour,” that they had planned this, and that Dumbledore was dying anyway because of the potion he drank in the cave. I disagree most fundamentally with these views. Avada Kedavra is not the euthanasia curse, it is not a curse one uses to put someone out of their misery. To use it in that context now would make a mockery of the heinous aspect of it. It is the killing curse - pure and simple.
Some have also questioned as to why Dumbledore had his eyes closed at the bottom of the tower, when usually victims of Avada Kedavra have their eyes wide open in shock. I think this can be explained quite rationally. Severus Snape was a skilled Occlumens. He was able to close his mind to those who could perform Legilimency. Dumbledore was able to perform both of these skills. It is my contention, that whilst Snape has been working at Hogwarts, he has been performing Occlumency whenever he was with Dumbledore; therefore, Dumbledore trusted him—a fatal mistake. At the very moment on the tower when Snape had to summon at the feelings of hatred needed in order to perform the Avada Kedavra curse, then Dumbledore was able to finally see into his mind. He realised his mistake, his enormous mistake and he knew he was going to be murdered. He could not fight and so he closed his eyes and accepted death. When he pleaded with Severus, he was not pleading for his life. Dumbledore would never do that. He was pleading for Snape to do the right thing, to not commit murder.
I want to elaborate on the mistake of Dumbledore in trusting Snape. In her excellent interview with Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz, Jo Rowling spoke at length about Dumbledore’s failings. This extract is from that interview:-
ES: I know Dumbledore likes to see the good in people but he seems trusting almost to the point of recklessness sometimes.
[Laughter] Yes, I would agree. I would agree.
ES: How can someone so -
JKR: Intelligent -
ES: be so blind with regard to certain things?
JKR: Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him . . . 6
In my opinion, a Dumbledore that makes mistakes is a more human wizard. He wasn’t omnipotent, he had failings and I strongly believe that his biggest mistake was in trusting Severus Snape.
I also believe that the Harry Potter movies have helped shape some opinions on the Potions Master. In all 4 released movies, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which is currently in production, Severus Snape has been played by Alan Rickman.7 Alan Rickman is an outstanding actor; he is also very attractive. He may wear a frown and a greasy black wig, but there is an undercurrent of, dare I say it, sexiness there. But canon Snape is most definitely not sexy! Described as having sallow skin and yellowing teeth, not to mention the hair, there is nothing attractive about Severus whatsoever. When reading these books, one should think of the child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, not the dead hunk from Truly Madly Deeply!
To conclude this essay, I would like to quote Jo Rowling herself. These are verbatim quotes she has said about the Potions Master. They speak volumes:
It's fun to write about Snape because he's a deeply horrible person.8
Snape is the … very sadistic teacher loosely based on a teacher I myself had, I have to say. … Children are very aware - and … we're kidding ourselves if we don't think that they are - that teachers do sometimes abuse their power and this particular teacher [does] abuse his power.9
Why do people love Snape? I do not understand this. Again, it’s bad boy syndrome, isn’t it? It’s very depressing.10
And so, the fairy Princess retires to her castle, but not before stoking the fire and placing a large bubbling cauldron filled with shampoo on it. For she knows that one day, not only will her Prince Lupin come, but also that Book 7 will be released in this wonderful series and that people will know, once and for all, that Severus Snape was truly the bad guy. And we all know what happens to the bad guy in fairytales!!!
1. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 94.
2. Ibid., 97.
3. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 521.
4. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 594.
5. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 264-265.
6. Anelli and Spartz, “TLC/MN interview Part One.”
7. The Leaky Cauldron, “Movie 5.”
8. Abel, “Harry Potter Author Works Her Magic.”
9. Lydon, “J.K. Rowling interview.”
10. Rowling, “J.K. Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.”Bibliography
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part One,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005 /features/interviews/jkr1.
7. The Leaky Cauldron. Movie 5 Actors. 16 April 2006. /films/5
8. Abel, Katy. "Harry Potter Author Works Her Magic," Family Education, Summer 1999. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/1999/0999-familyeducation-abel.htm
9. Lydon, Christopher. J.K. Rowling interview transcript, The Connection (WBUR Radio), 12 October, 1999. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/1999/1099-connectiontransc2.htm
10. Rowling, J.K. J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Sunday, August 15, 2004. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2004/0804-ebf.htm