Monday, May 1, 2006

People sometimes think that I like Severus Snape, the person (that's only true when I think about Alan Rickman playing the part), but in truth, I just find him the most fascinating character because we don't really know much about him. We know what Harry thinks, what Sirius and Lupin think, and even Dumbledore, because they all talk to Harry. Severus Snape spends a great deal of time with Harry, but we never hear directly from him. The only exchanges of information we get between the Snape and Harry are during the Occlumency lessons, which ultimately end in disaster. Too bad--there were a few moments where it seemed Snape might answer a question honestly, or where Harry sees some of Snape's childhood memories (not the Worst Memories, but the ones of his parents) that might have helped us understand him better.

On another forum, we were discussing Snape and Harry and the other adults. I am going to put some of what I wrote here, because it explains why I keep going back to Snape in trying to figure out what is going to happen with Harry.

I always think it's interesting when you take a close look at the adults in HP. Lupin is my favorite adult, though he is by no means perfect. Far from it, as has been pointed out. Yet he is the one that seems to me to have the most potential to be a mentor to Harry. He is caring and sensitive, has suffered persecution and isolation because of his werewolf problems, which allows him to understand some of the isolation that Harry has always dealt with. He is loyal and in the long run, stands up for what is right. As a teacher, he took the map from Harry in POA, realizing that, because of his knowledge of it, it had such potential danger for Harry. Yet he shielded Harry from Severus's wrath--which in this case, was well-founded for a change. For whatever reason, Lupin didn't reveal his close friendship with Harry's parents until the Shrieking Shack--something that I always thought would be a natural thing for him to do. (In the POA movie, my favorite scene is the one where Lupin tells Harry just that--it seems such a normal thing to say to Harry, and that seems like the appropriate time.)

Lupin shows the complexity of what it is to be an adult, working with youth. It's never easy, and it's never black and white, no matter how much people want it to be. Life is not like that, and part of what Lupin does is to help Harry come to more mature decisions on his own, with a minimum of adult interference. Why is that better than Snape's method of trying to thwart Harry's every step towards danger? Because the lessons that Harry learns on his own will be his--he won't resent someone else once again telling him what to do. We very often learn more from our own mistakes than from the lectures of adults who are just trying to keep us from making those mistakes. Eventually Harry will realize, should he live long enough, the kind of influence Lupin had on him, and will respect him all the more for his guidance and for his trust in Harry's intelligence and true nature. Severus Snape does not have a good understanding of what it takes for a teenager to become a mature adult--he has never really become one himself. He accepts adult responsibilities, of course, but he does not understand that one can be caring and considerate; Snape sees that as a great weakness that will make Harry vulnerable to Voldemort. The contradiction is that Dumbledore tells Harry that it is just that tendency that will help Harry defeat Voldemort. It makes me wonder what happened to Severus in his childhood that left him so hardened to any kind of human kindness.

Sirius, on the other hand, was never one of my favorites, once I thought about it for 5 seconds. Harry idolized him as an older brother or an older best friend, but Sirius was always rash and self-important and a show off. Not to say that he wasn't brave or working on the right side--he certainly was. But he was a bit full of himself when he was in school, as we see by the way he and James acted, and in his reaction to the story about his part in tricking Severus and endangering his life. Even as an adult, Sirius didn't regret his part in that, and that shows a lack of maturity and a lack of a strong moral code. It was one thing to be irritated by Severus sneaking around, but it's entirely another to knowingly endanger the life of someone else. The worst of it was, Sirius was old enough to know that the prank was dangerous and foolish--he's lucky that James had a little more common sense and did something about it. From what we see, though, James was not that far behind Sirius in making poor choices--they were best friends who brought out the worst in each other in regard to the way they treated those they didn't like. Hexing people just for the fun of it, or because they could, hardly speaks well for their character.

Sirius's time in Azkaban was more than likely responsible for stopping him from growing out of that being the bully that he was in school. From all accounts, James must have improved, if not by his 7th year, at least by the time he was married and had a child. Lupin, however, was left to grow up, much as he'd always lived--alone. Lupin's greatest fault was always that he was insecure and wanted desperately to fit in and to be liked. To find friends at school who still liked him after they knew the truth was liberating and imprisoning for Lupin though. He must always have wondered if they would have ditched him had he stood up to them when they were doing stupid things. We learn that Severus had friends, mostly Slytherins who later became Death Eaters--not too much chance of his learning any useful human relations lessons there, among a group that became part of a group led by Voldemort, who couldn't even be trusted enough to know who all the others were. So while some of that generation grew up, others for various reasons, did not.

We see that in the way Lupin treats Severus, and everyone else, that he has learned from his isolation. He is very kind and respectful to others. Of course, there is the way he and Sirius treat Pettigrew, but they are talking to someone who knowingly and consciously betrayed their mutual friends, resulting in their deaths, and who is working with Voldemort. Severus also seems to have led a very isolated life, but the choice of his friends shows how detrimental poor choices can be. Instead of learning to trust, Severus's sense of not trusting was reinforced, and that led him right into the clutches of Voldemort, who didn't want friends at all, just people he could use for his own purposes.

Again with Lupin we see that he is willing to move on from the past relationships that were part of childhood, while still holding people accountable for the choices they make as adults. The one thing preventing Lupin from telling Dumbledore the truth was that old insecurity that if Dumbledore knew all the truth that he wouldn't like him or trust him anymore either. And Dumbledore's trust, as he said, was more important to him than anything. Again, Lupin is an example of real people, doing things that seem right for the wrong reasons, because none of us are perfect. Yet, typical of Dumbledore, he forgave Lupin--and probably would have much earlier had Lupin confided in him.

The same fault that we see in Sirius is the same one we see in Severus--the inability to move beyond a childhood hatred. It colors everything he does, regarding Sirius or Harry--or even Lupin. Sirius's emotional growth was stunted by his years in Azkaban, and Severus's emotional growth was stunted by his self-imposed imprisonment. Severus only seems to have opened up to Dumbledore, but even Dumbledore's understanding has not been enough for Severus to let go of those past horrors of his school days.

After the end of HBP, it was hard to know where to put Severus Snape--on the side of good with Dumbledore or on the side of evil with Voldemort. Or is it that he doesn't trust anyone enough to be on either side and is really playing both ends against the middle, do what he thinks will help him survive? My personal opinion is that Snape will ultimately be on the good side and loyal to Dumbledore, though I've still not figured out what happened on the Tower. I do think that because we only get the story through Harry's eyes, that we are not getting the real story behind what we all think we saw. Harry has a blind spot where Snape is concerned, and in asking questions at the end, he doesn't really get confirmation from anyone that Snape was definitely with the Death Eaters. He didn't seem to know that they were coming or that they were there. His look of hatred and revulsion mirrors the same reaction that Harry had in the Cave when he was following Dumbldore's orders and forced him to drink the poison. I don't think that is a coincidence. It's one of the things that makes me think that there was some sort of promise that Dumbledore exacted from Severus (when Hagrid overheard them arguing) that is like the promise that Harry made to follow Dumbledore's instructions, no matter what.

By the end of Order of the Phoenix, I was completely convinced that Snape was working for the Order and loyal to Dumbledore. To have that set-up taking 5 books, then tearing it apart in the second chapter just seemed like a smoke screen to me. There were truths in what Snape said to Bellatrix, but we need to remember that at Spinner's End, if Snape is loyal to Dumbledore, he's outnumbered with Bellatrix, Narcissa and Pettigrew. And above all, Snape is a survivor. He would not have lived this long if he were not good at saying the right thing at the right time. Either Voldemort would have killed him when he left, or Dumbledore would never have taken him back. So that leaves us with a very complex person--very good at being a spy, whichever side he's on, but lacking the skills to truly understand interpersonal relationships as an adult.

Well, sorry that's so long. But I do think that Rowling is using some of these characters to make some particular points about childhood relationships, bullies in particular, and how that can affect who we become as adults, and how our choices impact the lives that we end up leading.


Edmund said...

From all accounts, James must have improved, if not by his 7th year, at least by the time he was married and had a child.

IMHO, this will be one of the chapters in book 7. We will learn about why James went from being a bullying jock to a powerful and wealthy wizard. One of the factors may well have been the animagus spell/potion that he and Sirius (and probably Lily) worked on.

Eeyore said...

Yes, I do hope that those are some of the questions that she answers in book 7. When Harry asked the question about why his mum married his dad in OotP, he really didn't get a very satisfactory answer from Sirius and Remus. They both tried to pass it off as the foolish behaviour of youth, but Harry didn't seem very comfortable with that, and I don't think most of us were either.

There has to be something that improved Lily's opinion of James before they were out of school--maybe it was working on something together that let her see a different side of him.

Thanks for the comment.

Pat (Eeyore)