Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Severus Snape--just who is he, anyway?

All Harry Potter conversations seem to eventually get round to Severus Snape. Who is he? Whose side is he really on? Is he still a Death Eater? Was he ever really a Death Eater? Is he loyal to Dumbledore and the Order or only to Dumbledore, and where will his loyalties lie, now that Dumbldore is dead?

I'm not going to tackle all of those questions, but we have been having an interesting discussion on the comments section of the Lexicon, ever since they posted a Happy Birthday to Severus Snape. Go to the HP Lexicon, and scroll down to the January 8 posting about Severus Snape's birthday wishes on JKR's site, and read the discussion going on in the comments section--long and lengthy, but very interesting.

Following are some of the things that I've posted, in response to some of the other comments. But mostly, I'm trying to sort through my own thoughts about Severus Snape and really want them all in one place--this seemed to be the best place to sort things out.

(Even though it was posted on January 8, Snape's birthday on J.K. Rowling's official site is listed as January 9.)

I’m on the side that thinks that Snape will ultimately turn out to be Dumbledore’s man–whether he has always been or not, is still not at all clear. But that being said, I could be totally wrong.
I have noticed that we now know Tom Riddle’s birthday, but he didn’t show up on the birthday calendar, did he? So maybe that exclusion tells us more about Snape than Snape’s inclusion.
I also think it’s interesting to note that those two birthdays are in “mid-winter”, and the description that Trelawney gives of a dark young man (in GOF?) (well, Voldemort wouldn’t be considered young any more, I wouldn’t think) and later in HBP of the one who dislikes her could apply to Snape as well as to Harry. It could be a very clever misdirection on Rowling’s part that we assume that both times Trelawney is making some sort of prediction about Harry, when it may refer to Snape instead.
— January 8, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

There is an explanation that shows that Dumbledore’s death was inevitable–actually had already happened–and that Snape wasn’t killing him on the Tower, but releasing him from the “Stoppered Death” that had happened when Dumbledore destroyed the ring Horcrux.

Here’s a link that explains it more fully:

It was also discussed at the Leaky Lounge, though I don’t think quite as in depth as the Barnes and Noble class that I was part of the July and August after Half-Blood Prince came out. Basically, Cathy Liesner’s idea was that Snape was able to do something to prevent Dumbledore’s death when he destroyed the ring Horcrux, but that it didn’t heal him–it only delayed his imminent death. All of that goes back to the first Potions lesson where Snape tells the class that he can teach them to “bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death–if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.” (PS/SS, US version p. 137)

We’ve seen other things from that lesson become very important–that bezoar keeps showing up–but we haven’t seen or heard any more about stoppering death.

One of the things that makes this theory so plausible is the drastic change in Dumbledore’s approach to Harry. He spends most of Harry’s 6th year teaching him and showing him all that he knows, as if his time is limited. He can’t seem to wait for Harry to figure all this out on his own–likely, because he won’t have unlimited time. That withered hand is prominent throughout the book–I think it’s there to remind us that Dumbledore is mortal and there are some injuries even beyond Dumbledore’s power to heal or change.

When Harry and Dumbledore returned from the Cave, Dumbledore insisted that Harry find Severus–no one else. Why? Because Dumbledore knew that he was near death and wanted Severus to try to prolong his life a little bit. However, he hadn’t counted on Draco mucking things up by actually letting Death Eaters into the castle. And the agreement that Dumbledore had with Severus (not the formal Professor Snape), was that if the time came that Snape had to fulfill the Unbreakable Vow that he would do it–Dumbledore wanted very much to protect his students, even one as disloyal as Draco. If Snape merely released Dumbledore from a spell that was buying him some more time, then Snape didn’t murder him either. and by preventing Draco from doing the killing, Draco’s soul is not damaged.

Yes, Dumbledore is important to Harry, but if you remember, there were other times when Dumbledore was not at Hogwarts and Harry muddled through. He is now much better prepared, thanks to Dumbledore having had nearly a year to teach him a lot about Tom Riddle, the Horcruxes, how to trust his own abilities and instincts.

Torrill, you are right–Dumbledore doesn’t fear death as the worst thing out there, but he did what he could to buy some time to give Harry the information that he is going to need. I don’t think that Dumbledore really expected that whatever Snape did when that hand was damaged and he nearly died was going to last a long time. I agree that Snape and Dumbledore didn’t want things to unfold the way they did on the Tower, but that the look of revulsion was because Snape had promised that if it became necessary, Snape would release the spell that would then allow Dumbledore to die.
Dumbledore was dying from the potion he drank in the Cave, and he knew that. What would have been the point of having both Dumbledore AND Snape end up dead, which would have happened had Snape refused to kill (or appear to kill) Dumbledore with the Death Eaters right there, willing to do the killing themselves. Draco had the chance and couldn’t do it (much to his credit, and possibly his ultimate redemption), but Greyback would have relished the opportunity to kill Dumbledore.
So rather than Dumbledore pleading for his life, that “Severus please” was a plea for Severus to let him go–something that must have been so painful as Dumbledore was the only one who really trusted Snape, and the only one who knew why Snape left Voldemort in the first place.

As for the Unbreakable Vow, I don’t think that Snape did have any other choice. Perhaps if he had had a day or two to think about it, he could have come up with some reason not to take it, but Bellatrix was just waiting for him to show that he wasn’t trustworthy after all. She would have run straight to Voldemort with news of that one–any opportunity to show LV that she was his most loyal follower and not Snape would have given her the greatest satisfaction. I don’t think that Narcissa really had any idea of the trap that the UV set for Snape, though–only Bella could see that one. But once the Vow was made, Snape didn’t have any other choice.

Someone else mentioned that it would take something very powerful for any of the Order, and especially Harry, to ever trust Snape again. I know I’m not the only one to come up with this, but isn’t it possible that if Harry sees Fawkes, who was so loyal to Dumbledore, show loyalty to Snape that Harry would finally get it? I actually don’t think it can be anything less than that. Fawkes may very well spend his time with the two people who showed Dumbledore the strongest loyalty–Harry and Severus Snape.
— January 13, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

It could be that Lily was Snape’s only friend–and for a kid who was such a loner and so picked on by the brightest stars in the school, that could have been enough. Yes, he hung around with Bella and her crowd, but whether they were really friends of Snape’s or whether they just found him useful because of his extensive knowledge of the Dark Arts is questionable–my guess is that they didn’t really consider him a friend either.

I’ve thought for a while that Petunia was referring to Snape as “that awful boy”. Snape, after all, is a half-blood, and would have had no trouble figuring out how to visit a fellow classmate who was muggle born–and if Lily had been nice to him in Potions class, or they had become friends, it’s possible he might have wanted to talk to her over the summer. Whether it was a romantic attachment or just a friendship, it doesn’t much matter; finding out that he (Snape) had betrayed the one friend he had might have been enough to make him go to Dumbledore.

When Snape first looked at Harry, the pain was from the back of Quirrell’s head facing him where Voldemort was residing. The reason that Harry felt Snape looked at him with hatred probably had a lot more to do with Harry looking just like his father–a topic which always seems to send Snape off the deep end. Harry would be a constant reminder of the student who made his life miserable and the one who made his life tolerable.

Friendship or love of Lily must make Snape’s feelings very conflicted every time he sees Harry, who seems to Snape to act more like his father. Too bad the two of them can’t ever seem to talk about what they are really thinking, as we’re guessing that Harry is really more like his mother–especially after Harry’s foolish entry into Snape’s memories in OP–if Snape had only let him apologize, as he seemed about to do, a lot might have been cleared up between the two of them. At some point, I really hope that they are both able to forgive one another, and that Snape is able to forgive the marauders. There’s a lot of need for redemption before Harry can use that power of love to defeat Voldemort–and most of it involves Harry coming to terms with his feelings for Snape–whenever Harry is blinded by his hatred, he makes some very poor choices. He needs to come to terms with Snape, who he now hates more than Voldemort, before he can face the task of defeating Voldemort.

Well, that’s water under the bridge now. We can only wait to see what happens with all of them in Deathly Hallows. But I still think there is much more to Snape’s tortured response when Harry called him a coward out on the grounds. Imagine being called a coward for doing the thing that Dumbledore wanted him to do, made him promise to do.
— January 13, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

Have you ever done a search on the Lexicon for “Snape”? It’s clear, when there are so many links to him, that we all find him to be the one character that is the most interesting–and the one that we cannot figure out.

I think, Nannette, that your assessment of Snape at Spinner’s End is just what we see on the surface, and it is what Snape wants Narcissa and Bellatrix to see (and where Rowling tries to mislead us into mistrusting him after she brilliantly made most of us trust him after OP).
But he is a spy, after all–I tend to think he is loyal to Dumbledore and to the Order. But it is the job of a spy to get the enemy to trust him and to give him information that he can’t get any other way. That comment that Snape made that he already knew the plan was a way of getting the sisters to go ahead and say more than they might have otherwise–and it worked on Narcissa. She didn’t give him all the information (as to who Draco was supposed to kill), but enough. However, Snape is good enough at reading other people to know that he still had not won Bella’s trust. He had no way of knowing that Narcissa would come up with the Unbreakable Vow or what conditions she would impose. So when he agreed to it, I don’t think he ever intended it to go that far. But once they had started and he had agreed to the first two, he was trapped into the third one of completely the task if Draco could not–saying yes was his only way of ensuring that Bellatrix would not run to Voldemort with evidence that Severus Snape wasn’t loyal after all–which is exactly what she wanted to do. After all, Snape seems to have replaced her in being the “Dark Lord’s” favorite–at least, that’s what Snape led her to believe.

When he looked out of the window after the sisters arrived, I think he was likely looking to make sure there weren’t a whole host of Death Eaters out there waiting–or could there have been some members of the Order, keeping watch, and that was a signal?

The point is, that everything the man does and says can be taken either way, and that’s the job of a spy, to appear loyal to whatever side he is dealing with at the time. One other odd thing about that scene at Spinner’s End, is that at one point Snape refers to himself in the third person, something about the Dark Lord knowing that he could trust Severus Snape. I heard once that when politicians do that, it’s a sign that they shouldn’t be trusted–it’s a way of detaching oneself from the persona that they put forth. And I wondered when I first read HBP if Snape said it that way intentionally, to call attention to who Voldemort thinks he is, rather than who he really is.

I do think that our best clues are in the things that Snape hasn’t done–he didn’t provide Umbridge with real Veritaserum when she tried to get information out of him and he did get the clue from Harry about Sirius and the Ministry, cryptic as it was. All he had to do in that instance was absolutely nothing. How easy would it have been to let Harry and the others trundle off to the Ministry to the waiting arms of Lord Voldemort, with no one the wiser. All he would have had to do later was to say that he had no idea what Potter was talking about.

He did try to protect the trio from Lupin, the werewolf–by going to the Shrieking Shack. But that image of him standing in front of them once they were back out and Lupin transformed was from the movie, not the book. However, he had another opportunity to get rid of Harry, while Harry was still unconscious (and so was everyone else) after all the dementors showed up. It was Snape who came to and transported them all back to the castle–were he truly evil, he could have got rid of Harry and Sirius at that point.

And of course, as Ellha David points out, Snape is still trying to teach Harry what he needs to do to protect himself–and there was another opportunity when he could have either harmed Harry or kidnapped him for the “Dark Lord”. Yet he didn’t–by fleeing, he got the Death Eaters away from the castle and all the rest of the students, he will be able to protect Draco (maybe), and Harry is still alive and out of the clutches of Voldemort.
The whole question of bullying is one that I think Jo has included intentionally. We are set up to admire and like James and Sirius–the stars of the school. Why do other people ignore their awful behaviour? Well, that’s what happens with bullies very often. As long as someone isn’t their target, they don’t try to stand up to them, feeling that if they don’t make them mad, then they won’t be on the receiving end of the bullying–and there’s Snape, the loner, getting picked on. Most teens don’t want to risk their own popularity or acceptance by standing up for the person who is the target of the school heroes. It’s to Lily’s credit that she at least tried. But I agree with Lisa Marie, that Lily probably did have a crush on James even then. Once he seemed to be better behaved, then she wouldn’t have found him so irritating. Many people who are bullies do finally grow up and turn out to be fairly decent people.

The question, really, is what happens to the victims of the bullies. Some of them are able to put it in their past and move on, and others are so deeply scarred that it affects everything they do for the rest of their lives. And I think that is what we see with Severus. There is also some indication in the memories that Harry saw of his childhood that Snape may have been abused as a child. Perhaps that’s the reason he knew so much about the Dark Arts before he came to Hogwarts–either he was taught by his mother or he learned it on his own to defend himself against his father. I remember when I was teaching there was a little 7 year old boy who would fight anyone over anything. He did come from an abusive home, and it was his way of protecting himself–strike first, at the slightest provocation, before the other kids had a chance to get the upper hand. That’s very much what I see in Severus Snape.

I can’t quite get to the point of saying that he loved Lily romantically. Though, if she did befriend him–perhaps in 6th year Advanced Potions–Snape might have felt the love of friendship for her or even had a crush on her. There was so much mention of Lily being so good at Potions, and being Slughorn’s favorite, that I just think that Snape, who we know is also very good at Potions, may have been thrown together with Lily, and they became friends. That could have been the reason he went to Dumbledore–finding out that his best friend, perhaps the only true friend he had at school, had been betrayed on his information.

There is a bitterness and cynicism in Snape’s admonitions to Harry during Occlumency about fools wearing their hearts on their sleeves being prey to the Dark Lord that have always made me think that it is just that sort of thing that trapped him into joining the Death Eaters in the first place. And as others have mentioned, in all the times that Snape lashes out at or against any of the marauders, and especially against James and Sirius, there is not one time that he includes Lily. Harry is the one who makes the assumption that Snape hated his mother as well–Snape never says that. Lupin was so distraught at the end of HBP that he let that comment go by, but I’d guess that when he really thinks about it, he knows that Snape didn’t hate Lily either.

Sorry for the length, but you all brought up such interesting things about our enigmatic Severus Snape.
— January 17, 2007 @ 3:35 pm


Torill said...

Hi Pat, great to find your blog here!
I have posted another comment on the Lexicon thread, looking forward to discuss more with you there! Have you visited the Snape thread on the Lexicon forums? Great thoughts there too, but of course - lots to read up on....

I will come back to the idea of Snape as the loner picked on daily by the cruel bullying Marauders... I don't really think this is the story. We have enough character witnesses regarding James - and Sirius too - to doubt that story. Remember - what we saw in the pensieve was ONE scene from a conflict we know had lasted since their first year at school. This scene is Snape's worst memory, so we see a situation where he is the victim. Then everybody jumps to the conclusion that this was how it always was, Snape never really hurt anyone, and we are led to construct this bullying as a reason and excuse why he turned a Death Eater....

But first impressions are so powerful! What do you think would have happened if Jo had given us our first "live" glimpse of the Snape/marauder conflict where James was the victim of one of Snape's curses, sent at him only because Snape saw a chance to do it? As Lupin told us Snape did all the time? Not only would many of us very likely have been excusing James in the pensieve situation we do see - but also: none of us would have thought twice about what happened at the tower. Think about it: Snape killed Dumbledore himself with a look of loathing on his face, and we are still discussing whether he is good or bad! That is brilliant writing - and one of the means Jo has used to achieve this, is to show us this carefully selected pensieve scene from the many years long conflict between James and Snape. Even when we afterwards learn that the Levicorpus James used was Snape's invention - and we can't really see him use that one against others in any playful way, can we? - and that he had invented the awful Sectumsempra spell at the age of fifteen already - we still hold on to our first impression: that Snape was the poor loner and James the bad outcast......

Ok, now I am writing too much here - this was supposed to be for the lexicon, lol! You will have to go there to read more... ;-)

Anyway - great to see you again online!

Torill said...

Oops - typing too fast - should have been James the bad bully, not bad outcast - sorry!

Eeyore said...

Torill, thanks for your comments. Glad you found your way here. I rather hesitated to put the link at the Lexicon, just because there are so many who go there, and it feels a bit too public, sometimes.

I do see your point about our view of Snape. That is just the thing that makes him so interesting. It's nearly impossible to know from Rowling's carefully selected images that we get just what Snape's intentions and true character are. I agree--it's brilliant.

However, where I do find fault with James is that Lily (and Sirius and Lupin later) said that he went about the halls hexing people just because he could. That takes it out of the realm of James just going after Severus because of the grudge the two had.

Still, there is the matter of the sinister nature of things that Severus came up with at a young age--but I still have to wonder if it had more to do with an abusive home life and it was his way of retaliating or trying to protect himself. We might never know that, unfortunately.

But the thing that Rowling has done, that is even more brilliant, is that she has opened those doors to discussion about the behaviour of bullies, the resultant effect that it has on the victims, and about abusive parents and how that changes who a child will become.

Those are all definitely things worth discussing--and especially good for children and teens to look at how our actions and words can have lasting, sometimes devastating effects on others.


Torill said...

I am sorry, my life at the moment only permits me to go online at irregular intervals, so I am not the most interesting of discussion partners these days....

I agree with you that Snape is very likely an abused child - as I think it is also very likely that Sirius is one, given what we are shown of his home and his mother.... I definitely think Jo gave us those glimpses of Snape's memories for a reason, and my theory is that she did this to give us a background to understand why Snape turned out the way he did. But I don't really understand what you mean when you say: I think the horrible Sectumsempra spell is more about retaliating or protect himself - you mean he never was the first one to attack, he never did anything to James if James had not attacked him first? But we know he did this, if we believe Lupin as a source - and I don't think Jo has written Lupin to be a liar - Lupin says Snape cursed James whenever he had the chance. Cursed, not hexed.
And "whenever he had the chance" does not mean "only when he needed to defend himself." I think what we have is a conflict that started in their first year already, probably with nothing more than snide remarks and scowling - and then escalated by each of them giving the other back a little worse than they got, until it all got completely out of hand. Until at the age of 15 and 16 none of them sees the other one as worthy of any respect or decent behaviour whatsoever, until one of them is willing to use both curses and potentially lethal spells against the other, or the friend of one is willing to send the other to a dangerous werewolf... The shocking thing is that the teachers at Hogwarts allowed this to develop, that they never did anything to stop it earlier. But the Hogwarts faculty does seem a bit lax when it comes to supervision and care for the students, to say it mildly...

I see one major reason why this conflict became so violent. These were the days when Voldemort was at the height of his powers the first time. The worshipping of the Dark Arts by some wizards, had the rest of the wizarding community living in terror, with the possibility for anyone to be subjected to murder, torture, evil curses, inferi and angry giants anytime and anywhere. A student coming to school in those days with a deep investment in the Dark Arts, would be seen by his fellow students as not worthy of respcet or any decent behaviour whatsoever. It is as if someone shortly after 9/11 should come to an American school and say that they thought the methods of the terrorists where brilliant! Imagine how they were able to sneak by airport security, I wish to learn how to do that! If that student got involved in violent conflicts with other students as a result of this, it wouldn't be good, it wouldn't be patriotic and it should certainly be stopped by teachers - but it would hardly be fair to describe those students involved in the conflict as bad people, forever responsible for the conduct and choices of the terrorist-admirer...

As for hexing people in the corridors just because he could. First - it is hexing, not cursing, which is what Snape did. Second: this seems to have been more of a rule than an exception at Hogwarts in their days. Lupin says for instance that in a period of several months in their fifth year, you could hardly walk the corridors without being levitated by your ankle. (So more or less everyone who watched Snape dangling upside down had themselves been subjected to the same thing...a "thing" that was Snape's invention..) Even in Harry's days, people are subjected to things like the Bat Bogey Hex, and Harry himself wonders whether he is going to try a toenail-growing hex on Crabbe one of these days - just because he can. A hex that was also invented by our very own Snape...

Hexing people in the corridors in a school environment where everybody have their own wands and can fix most mild hexes pretty easily, and also give the same back just as easlily - hardly makes a real bully in my opinion, and I doubt very much it was seen like that by James' fellow students. I see this more as James' way of showing off. I think it is clear that James in many ways was an arrogant jerk in his teen days - or, to use Sirius' words - an arrogant little berk. But it was not all he was about - his animagus form is a noble stag, after all! - and he grew out of that. I really do not believe he is written to be the bad bully responsible for Snape's later bad choices. And this story is all about making the right choices, not about the inescapable faith of a hard background. That is not the function of the Marauders in Rowling's story! Sirius - who, like Snape, was probably abused at home - came from the darkest, most horrible of places and still turned out to be Harry's hero, willing to risk everything for him, death included - and it was Harry's Love for Sirius that saved him from Voldemort's posession. That is not the story of a bully in the series.

Torill said...

Typing too fast again - it should of course be the FATE of a hard background, not faith - that doesn't make any sense at all.... So sorry, but hopefully you can find my typos mildly amusing! ;-)

Eeyore said...

torill, sorry I've not responded sooner. I've been tied up with RL--and will be for some time. And then yesterday when I actually had some time, our server was down most of the day, by which time I had to leave.

Anyway, let me explain a bit about my view of Snape. I do think that he was likely abused by his father. I've wondered, as have others, if he learned some of the Dark Arts early on from his mother--perhaps she felt helpless to protect him and taught them to him as something he could use to defend himself. Who knows what goes through the mind of a child who is being abused, but is magical.

As for the sectumsempra spell, I've wondered if that was something that he invented away from school. His notation was that it was for enemies--an abusive father? James and Sirius? We don't know. Yes, it is horrible, and a terrible over-reaction to the kind of stuff that we heard James was doing. However, it's the same kind of over-reaction that happens when a kid is constantly picked on by peers, regardless of whether or not he is the only victim, and then the same child takes a gun to school to shoot those who have bullied him. Sometimes, the kids doing the bullying aren't even aware of how much hatred they have caused in the person they pick on--just because they can and because the person exists.

I really do think that was the purpose of having James, who later grows up and moves on, be the bully, while Snape is the victim. It's the victim of the bullying who sometimes has trouble moving past the incidents that seemed so unimportant and minor to the bully.

Does it make Snape's response excusable? Absolutely not. But it might explain it. And that was what I was looking for.

Have to go for now, but I'll come back later and do some re-reading to see if I missed anything else--which I very likely did.

mary said...

Hello. Pat and all - this is an interesting conversaton, and I'd like to cite it in a paper I'm writing. May I?

Will be happy to send you a copy or a link (you'll be getting the link anyway, Pat.)

I hope things are going well


Eeyore said...

Mary, that's fine if you want to use some of this about Snape. I'll be interested to read what you are writing.

Whenever I think about Snape it makes me realize how much I want to read Deathly Hallows and find out all about Snape--I just hope that the book answers all--well, most--of our questions about him.