Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What is Severus Snape's Patronus?

I touched on this the other day when I posted something about the title for the 7th book--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I like saying the name--somehow it feels right, even though we haven't a clue--well, no certain clues--what it's meaning holds. And as many thoughts about the Harry Potter books does, I'm led once again to thinking about Severus Snape--who is he, what is his role in the book, what was his real relationship with Dumbledore--the list of unanswered questions is long.

One of the unanswered questions is just what would Severus have for a Patronus. In answering a question about Patronuses, Rowling told us that each person's Patronus is unique, just as each of us is unique, and that the person doesn't choose which Patronus he or she has.

The subject of what Patronus Snape would have is a long one over at the Leaky Lounge. The following is my post in the discussion.


In re-reading part of Order of the Phoenix, I was struck by the description of thestrals. Even though we saw thestrals, along with Harry, when they returned to Hogwarts, we first learn what they are in Chapter 21, "The Eye of the Snake", when Hagrid takes the COMC into the forest for a lesson.
But I found it useful to look at the different times we saw thestrals, and their description. Harry first saw them pulling the carriages when they returned to Hogwarts, but didn't know what they were. He's quite surprised to learn that he could see something that Ron and apparently most of the others, couldn't--except Luna.

OP, p. 196-7, US version:

There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts; if he had to give them a name, he supposed he would have called them horses, though there was something reptilian about them, too. They were completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons, of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish, and their pupil-less eyes white and satring. Wings sprouted from each wither--vast, black leathery wings that looked as though they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet in the gathering gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinsiter.
And on page 199, when Luna says she can see them too, and that Harry is not going mad, he says:

"Can you?" said Harry desperately, turning to Luna. He could see the bat-winged horses reflected in her wide, silvery eyes."

We've heard Snape described as bat-like often enough in the books that quite a few people thought he must be a vampire bat, until Jo shot down that theory. But with all the swooping about that he does, and the sinister manner he has, he is very much like the thestrals--giving the first impression of something mysterious and eerie.

The next time Harry sees a thestral, it is flying over the Forbidden Forest--he has gone to the Owlery to send Sirius a letter, and as he looks out towards the Forest he sees it(OP, p. 282):

A great, reptilian winged horse, just like the ones pulling the Hogwarts carriages, with leathery black wings spread wide like a pterodactyl's, rose up out of the trees like a grotesque, giant bird. It soard in a great circle and then plunged once more into the trees."

But as Cho then enters, that's as much attention as Harry pays to the strange winged horse that he just saw.

(OP, p. 444, US)
When Hagrid takes them into the forest for a lesson, Harry sees them again:

A pair of blank, white, shining eyes were growing larger through the gloom and a moment later the dragonish face, neck, and then skeletal body of a great, black-winged horse emerged from the darkness. It surveyed the class for a few seconds, swishing its long black tail, then bowed its head . . .

Snape has black eyes, rather than white, but his eyes are closed and expressionless and unreadable to Harry, just as the thestral's eyes give no clue to its thoughts or intentions. Snape very often observes what Harry and the others are doing--sometimes commenting, sometimes not.

(OP, p. 446, US):
Hagrid tells the class that Hogwarts has a whole herd of them.Parvati says they are "really, really unlucky! --They're supposed to bring all sorts of horrible misfortune on people who see them."

Hagrid assures the class that that's just superstition--

"they aren' unlucky, they're dead clever an' useful! 'Course, this lot don' get lot o' work, it's mainly jus' pullin' the school carriages unless Dumbledore's takin' a long journey an' don' want ter Apparate--"

Hagrid tells them that the thestrals won't hurt them, and then talks about who can see them and who can't. (Only people who have seen death can see them, which explains why Harry, Neville, and Luna can see them, and most of the rest of the class cannot.)

After a frustrating interruption from Umbridge, Hagrid tells the class more about thestrals.

(OP, p. 448-9, US)

"Well, once they're tamed, like this lot, yeh'll never be lost again. 'Mazin' senses o' direction, jus' tell 'em where yeh want ter go--"

While all this is a great set-up for Harry's later need of quick reliable transportation to London, the description kept making me think that it was also a great metaphor for Snape.

Snape has always seemed sinister to Harry and to the other students. Yet, he has not (until the end of HBP) done anything to harm anyone (as Quirrell told Harry in Philosopher's Stone--Snape hated him (Harry), but he never wanted to kill him), only to save them; he tries very hard to teach them things that will be useful. His talents are likely under-used; he'd prefer teaching DADA because he is an expert and has been since childhood. But he's also quite good at Potion making, and Dumbledore has chosen to have him remain in that position--just as the thestrals are used for transportation and mundane things, rather than being used for their full potential.

Dumbledore sometimes uses a thestral for a trip to London when he doesn't want to Apparate--that makes me wonder what he has Professor Snape doing other than teaching Potions. Oh, wait--we know that one. He's turned spy for the Order of the Phoenix, often at great personal risk.

If the Patronus gives us clues about what the person's true character and nature are, then a thestral seems a strong possibility for Snape, who remains an enigma to the students and to the rest of the teachers. His appearance isn't warm and cuddly and never will be; he has an air of danger about him, just as the thestrals seem menacing, even though they make no move to attack any of the students. The thestrals can be relied on to take a person where they need to go, with very little or no direction needed. Severus Snape, as a spy, has been in much the same postion--he more than likely would need to rely only on himself in spying on Voldemort and the Death Eaters, all the while needing to have a clear idea of his destination.

Even the very last time we see Severus, he is continuing to do the task Dumbledore set for him--protect Harry (and the other students), and guide and teach Harry so that he is prepared to face Voldemort. On Dumbledore's word we accepted, as they did, that Snape was highly useful--guiding the Order in the fight against Voldemort--never losing his way, as it were.

I do like the idea of Snape's Patronus being a gryffin (see the comments for the post on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--the title for book 7), because of the Christ symbol, but I think it's possible that Rowling is using Snape's Patronus to give us a clearer picture of his character--and we may find those Christ-like connections in his actions rather than his Patronus.


Pauli said...

Excellent post. I love the idea of the human characters having close connections or "affinities" to certain beasts. We discussed that a little bit here. I'm going to link to this post -- again, excellent!

Eeyore said...

Thanks, Pauli. I will check out the link you included later.

Felicity said...

Great post, Pat! Nice pick-up on the bat imagery--there has to be a reason for it, and as you noted, Snape is not a vampire (and I'm ruling out the half-vampire fudge as well).

Why don't you cross-post your stuff over on the HP_Essays board on LJ? That's an essay resource I check frequently and you'd get more readers.


Torill said...

I can't understand how you can say that Snape has never done anything to hurt the students. As far as I am concerned, he has done that on a regular basis through all the six school years we have seen him in the series. He bears a not insignificant part of the responsibility for why Neville is still nervous and an underachiever - and he does all he can to make Harry's life as miserable as possible. He is systematically trying to undermine the selfesteem of all the Gryffindors - the way he coldly remarked he could see no difference when Hermione was growing her front teeth down her chest for instance - just plain cruelty if you ask me!

It is a great mistake to think that verbal abuse is not abuse and has no effect on the victim. Systematic and continuous sarcastic and mean putdowns and disrespect from an authority figure - as Snape is - may be just as damaging, just as undermining to a kid's self esteem as being hit occationally. Sometimes even more so. As far as I am concerned, adult Snape is among the worst of bullies, and a coward to boot, as his form of bullying is about a grown man attacking children - even children trusted into his care as a substitute parent, in his role as a teacher of a boarding school. "Protective" would be my last choice of adjective to use about his conduct towards the kids!

As long as he shows no regret for this - and he hasn't yet - no stunt he could do as an agent for the Order will redeem him in my eyes. To allow yourself to bully children, and be smug and smirking about it, as we so regularly see Snape is, is a dead giveaway of character to me - and it will not be a character I am willing to call "good" in any meaning of the word...

No, he has not been willing to see Harry being killed. If he is a DE, this mystery is explained by himself to Bellatrix in the "Spinner's end" chapter. I don't think he has been a DE until very recently, though. I believe he turned back to the Dark Side when he took that infamous Vow.

And he has not been "underused" by Dumbedore. DD thought teaching the Dark Arts would bring out the worst in him, that's why he has not been allowed to do it for so long. This is Jo's own statement, outside the books. Not because he was needed for more "mundande" work, if potion teaching can be called that. I believe being among the DE's, pretending to be one of them, which is bound to have involved performing Dark Arts, is what has now exercised its Dark pull on him, and made him fall yet again. I do believe he may do one redeeming act before the end though, because I do not think he is happy with his choice...

I do not consider to be able to say: "not killing or allowing someone to be killed, when you have the chance" about someone, is enough to say that that someone is good and protective and absolved from all blame. You really will not consider it to be ok in any way for a teacher to allow his students to be killed in front of his eyes if he has the means to hinder it, will you? Even if he has the best reasons in the world to loathe those same kids and see them as arrogant little snots in need of a put down for their own good, you will not see his allowing them to be killed to be even an option, I'm sure! So why should it be seen as remarkable or even significant that Snape doesn't do this?

Snape's "not killing them" does not excuse or redeem his bullying of the kids in any way whatsoever as I see it. Quite frankly, I find this line of reasoning very hard to understand. "Not to kill" is just the lowest degree of a decent moral standard you could expect from anyone!

As for patronuses as a give away of characters, I think it should be seen as significant that James' animagus form is a noble stag. It does seem that the patronus and the animagus forms are related - both are forms the performer cannot choose, and both seem to be hinting about the character of the person. Peter turned into a rat, while the fiercly loyal, "blood traitor" Sirius turned into a huge, potentially scary mongrel. I think James turning into a proud deer with impressive antlers is a giveaway that he was not really the bad bully he seems to be in the pensieve scene. See my discussion of that in the comment above, lol. As for Snape, I wouldn't be surprised if his patronus turned out to be a huge black bat....

merlin said...

At the risk of sounding like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, I am going to say "both of you (Pat and Torill) are right." (at one point in a group two characters consecutively express two opposing opinions, both of which Tevye replies to by saying they are right, and a third character interjects, "wait ... he is right, and he also is right? they can't both be right!" ... to which Tevye replies, "you ... are also right." which, from what I have been able to get a feel for in my wanderings in such regions, is actually a very Jewish approach to handling "inconsistencies" ... the movie/film does a very good job of bringing out a very traditionally Jewish "hermeneutic" in a richly humorous way in a lot of places)

I myself am officially in the "good Snape" camp (on which I, like a good many of us, could be simply entirely wrong) but NOT in the "nice Snape" camp, or more accurately here, the camp of "the fact that Snape is a white-hat at core and working for the main goal of that camp (and, I would guess, doing so rather effectively, for that main goal of that camp) THEREFORE all of his actions contribute concretely to that goal, or are at least neutral and do not contribute in any fashion at all the goal of the black-hat camp." It is my opinion that that is pert of the richness of Rowling's work - the breadth of character and the way in raises very real-life issues.

There are two incidents that come to mind that correspond to the 2 things that seem to me to be the major factors in this one. The first is what I would call the "true grit" factor. In favor of what we might call Snape's, um (for lack of a better handle) "philosophy of education" there is the argument that "it's a rough world and if they (these kids) are going to be able to endure the kind of battle the dark lord and the DEs are definitely going to throw at them, they are going to need thick skin to do it ... 'and he says there's no need to bring protective gloves' (HBP 236)." I think we see some of this in other characterizations in the works. When Ginny confronts Ron after he and Harry happen upon her kissing Dean, she is somewhat brutal on him (HBP 287-288) ... she goes pretty hard and pretty obviously for a pretty sure insecurity. The thing is that, in order to handle the battle ahead, she is going to need to be that tough ... as will Ron (insecurities such as his can provide a pretty decent weapon for DEs, in whom I think we have seen as much of a predilection for taunt as an auxiliary weapon as for magic as a main weapon, which can have a negative impact as we have seen in psychological factors impacting a witch like Tonks' magical powers [assuming she isn't Bella with poly-juice, which I will grant is possible, but for my tastes the PJ party of "everybody is a poly-juiced DE in HBP" got a little out of hand]

Now, the second thing to note on this first point is that it can seem a gray area. Even given what I just said (or maybe precisely because of the import of that toughness) ... it is rough and can be brutal .. in fact in the Ginny and Ron instance I just noted, it's fairly harsh for Ginny herself, "who sounded close to tears now." (HBP 288).

In regards to Snapes favored approach to "educating" students other than those from house Slytherin ... I think that Torill's points are ones that deserve real consideration. I'm not saying that I think they're "definitively canonically right" in a way that you can point to canon instances and say "see ..." Rather, they're like the real world, they're a judgment call - not a light or insignificant judgment call, but a judgment call. I think this is part of JKR's depth and greatness as a writer is her ability to bring out nuanced areas of issue like this. Like I said, the kids will need to be tough and a decent argument can be made for Snape validly and intentionally being the catalyst for necessary calluses (and Harry definitely has certain very acute sensitivities ... such as his heightened experiences of/reaction to the sensation of apparating, versus say Fred and George who are [in #12 GrimPlace in OotP, I believe] popping in and out of Ron and Harry's bedroom just for the fun of it). But "the truth," I would argue, also requires taking into account the concerns Toril brings up ... the rips on Hermione's teeth in the instance cited, and there are places in POA that seem to me, regardless of the level of misdirection in Harry's limited omniscient perspective, to at least greatly support (if not prove) Lupin's statement in HBP that "Snape hated James!" ... evidenced in the fact that, even taking into account the limited omniscience, that Snape really would like to see James' buddy Sirius get soul-snogged (if we take DD at Harry's word [i.e., if we accept some reliability/accuracy in the view from atop Harry's shoulder, as John Granger puts it], DD straightforwardly seems to admit in the "DD's denouement description" scene of OotP, that there is some real deep-seated animosity there ... and in regards to its effect, it is a contributing factor, although obviously not, by far, the only factor, in Harry's poor performance in occlumency, which leads to Sirius being in the MOM that night)

On that matter I will say that I think Granger's notes on "narrative misdirection" and "limited 3rd person omniscient" seem to be pretty unarguably the case, but that I don't think that that means we can disregard everything (which I'm not saying that JG is saying that ... just that it is sometimes entirely easy to follow that that, or any observation, to an extreme that does not mirror reality) ... and I'm not sure I buy the "scripting" at the level it seems to me would be necessary for everything that has occurred to be "on DD's orders ... for intentional lessons for Harry to learn." In other words, I think that when Snape jabbed Sirius about "staying safe" at #12 GP it seems to me like a genuinely uncharitable taunt and that there is some accuracy/truth in Harry's feeling that the taunt had concretely contributed to Sirius making the rash dash to the MOM (a feeling that is noted, at least from his perspective, as coming from a process involving longer and more in depth deliberation than his usual, sometimes rash, judgments [HBP 161]).

ANYWAY, on to the second of the two instances/points that I spoke of: the efficacy of Snape's teaching. Somewhere in HBP(I think several places but I'm not sure on that), Harry notes/says that he has learned more from the HBP's potion book than Snape managed to teach him in 5 years. This, again, is, I think, meant to be a hard judgment call for the reader to make, as to whether or not he is right in that (and that this creatively mirrors the difficulty of nuances and judgment calls in real life, where there are many "gray areas" ... not that the truth itself is gray, but that the discernment of it is genuinely very tricky business at times).

There is a consideration that without Snape's caustic presentation/persona it might be easier for Harry to connect with the basics of potions or other magic that it really would help him to have a better grasp of going into the final sequence of fighting Voldy. On the other hand, Hermione would have a very strong case to make that Harry did not really learn from the HBP potions books - that Snape actually had the insight to make those brilliant annotations to potions processed but all Harry really got out of his use of the book in potions class was helpful shortcuts, not any real further understanding of the magic involved (as evidenced in the fact that we the reader, at least adult readers of a certain level of learning, can at least discern the age-old principle of "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" in Golpalott's 3rd law [HBP 374], whereas Harry interiorly admits, via the narrator, that he couldn't understand a word of it).

I suspect that the book will come back into the story (whether the book itself actually "onscreen" or not I don't can't guess) in such a way that we find out that, not to sound to aphoristically trite, Harry actually "learned more than he learned" (that in the process he took in certain information from which he will only later realize and appropriate certain principles and understandings that are helpful in the fight against Voldy, and thus contribute to the meaning of the works as a whole as literature) ... but I think Hermione's (hypothetical) point (that at this point in time Harry has not really learned anything from the prince)deserves genuine consideration too.

(it is kind of ironic: Hermione's hypothetical point [meaning that I didn't actually see her say this particularly but it is close enough to her actual "canon" thoughts and statements that I would have to put it closer to "canon" than to being my own "deductive work" ... which is admittedly usually not very clever, not to mention not very concise] would yield that Harry actually underwent more of the valid learning process from Snape as potions master, which might seem to undercut Toril's reading of Snape's character in the books ... but that is only in relation to the subject of potions itself and Hermione really does not ever, that I can remember, give a definitive thumbs up OR down on Snape's efficacy in teaching potions in the classroom [and from his treatment of her, she would have genuine reason to give a thumbs down at least in some respects], and thus if you take her comments on the prince being a "dodgey character" as applying in general to Snape, she agrees more with Toril's assessment of Snape's character ... although it seems to me possible that we may find out in book 7 that some of the annotations came not from Severus Snape but from Eileen [Prince] Snape: evidence in favor of this would be the conspicuous mention of the publication date of the book - obviously Snape did not purchase the book new, and probably not used from another source, but from his mother. Specific mention is made of the books date as being 50 years ago [Lupin suggests looking up the date in "a very frosty Christmas" and then Harry finds it is 50 years old] but not mention is made of the date of the Eileen prince picture in the prophet, but it is "very old" [paper yellowed by age - HBP 537] and so it is at least possible, if not probable, that she fits the 50 yr time frame. There is also Hermione's intuition, earlier somewhere in HBP, that the handwriting looks more like a girls. Evidence against this would be that some of the work [particularly Levi-Corpus] seems fairly certainly to be Severus' work, yet there is no indication given anywhere that I remember of Harry noticing a difference in handwriting anywhere in the annotations. One way or another, I strongly suspect that at the very least, EP was the original owner of the book and that the 50 yr time frame will be significant. First that she was indeed at Hogwarts 50 yrs ago and that this relates to the repeated mention [most particularly in regards to the COS pairing with the other 50 yr old book, Riddle's Diary ... making another books 2 and 6 pairing, which have been noted by a number of people, although with varying structural interpretations] that Riddle was at Hogwarts 50 yrs ago ... I think that, whether through Snape himself or through Hermione's search through old Prophets in the library, Eileen Prince/Snape will be a source of some important information or other on Riddle/Voldy. This also ties into the main debate of the present debate between Pat and Toril in this post, lest I get too divergent [I know I'm divergent, just trying to keep at least a little on course], in that Eileen's being a contemporary of Riddle places the age difference between Voldy and Severus as distinctly that of father-son. I think we will find out in book 7 that Snape has some "father issues" and that part of the magnetism of Voldy for Snape [whether Toril be right and he has never stopped succumbing to that pull, and thus continued to be a bad guy, or Red Hen be right that he never was a bad guy at all and it was all simply part of DD's plan to draw Voldy out ... at least that is how some of RH's comments in the recent Who Killed Albus Dumbledore seemed to read to me ... and thus he has always resisted that magnetism] ... these father issues would be right up the alley of Voldy, who is obsessed in a love-hate relationship with his own parentage.

So, again, on both these counts, I think there is a validity in both perspectives: seeing Snape's valid and concrete positive role in the fight against voldy, but also not "flattening" his character in light of that. And I think the possible ambivalence lends a real-world breadth to the works that is part of what makes them so great as literature.

But then, "I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron." (HBP 197)

Methodological Consideration:
Just wanted to add a note here concerning the way I cite stuff above. My aim is not to "proof-text." In considerations like the above I'm mainly offering passages that I think contribute concretely to discernable tenets in JKR's writing and constructing of her world (ie the "Potterverse"), characters and narrative events (which seems to me to be a main question in the difference of responses to the canon-character of Snape, such as between Pat and Toril's responses ... the question of "what exactly is the nature and effect of this thing we call 'Professor Snape? ... taking into consideration that he has several inter-related goals to fulfill: the direct war on Voldemort, but also the education, including the formation, of youth who will go on to engage themselves in that war, either effectively or poorly ... and symbolically in what that fictional war literarily represents, i.e. the war against evil in the real lives of we the readers." ... and the questions of "how well does he do each of these tasks and how do the tasks impact each other?"

I am also not a detective writer ... to be honest, I am nowhere near clever enough. However, I also don't prize clever detective work in isolation of other "what does the work mean on a moral/foundational level" considerations ... but I also don't think such detective work meaningless or "trivial ... quaintly and pleasantly trivial, but trivial at best, none-the-less." I think it is integral to symbolist literature (and Granger does much better job of expounding the nature and wonder of symbolist lit in The Hidden Key ... than I ever could) that the "deeper meanings" play out in the concrete material details of the plot (which is, I would argue, a very "Incarnational" with a capital eye nature in great literature). And I think there is real virtue in the kind of careful detective work and attention to detail some have and practice on the works (I say "real" in contra-distinction to what I would call a concept of "mechanical" virtue, as in "yeah ... you serve a purpose, but simply a mechanical one in digging up raw material for the people who can analysze the 'deeper meaning' etc").

On the other hand, I think some of the theories get kind of extravagant ... which is what I was getting at in comments above about the level of concrete "scripting" that it seems to me would be necessary on the part of Dumbledore to make them plausible(which I believe you, Pat, mentioned recently over on the HogPro blog in comment concerning some theories that would simply require a very heavy level of "manipulation" on the part of Dumbledore)

I think the plot elements and possibilities uncovered by the detective work have to have some congruity with "meanings" that take into account the psychological realism and real breadth of character that are part of JKR's genius and part of the meaning of the works(meaning characters in the plural ... with Harry not being the only character development we ever see ... via the changes in the observations of his limited omniscient narratorial input) ... Tolkien notoriously distrusted "drama" as a genre in general and had beefs with Shakespeare in particular ... but JKR is not JRRT - and she is a noted fan of Shakespeare.

On the one end I think not giving the detective work not only its value for predicting plot elements, but moreover its dignity as a legit part of the broader literary enterprise would be to get into what Tolkien rightly criticized as "allegory" (and slight the full literary value of good detective writing done by greats such as GK Chesterton and, as mentioned by JKR herself, Dorothy Sayers). By the same token, at the other end of the spectrum, to limit the consideration of the works to only the detective work on plot prediction etc would be to limit the value of the works to the level of mere "cipher" literature (I'm drawing those definitions in part from Granger's very thorough and good exposition of symbolist literature via the categories of Eastern Orthodox Iconography in The Hidden Key to Harry Potter ... an Excellent example of a work [which I will not refer to as "literature"] that is "mere cipher" in nature is Dan Brown's controversial "novel," as evidenced, for me, in the fact that, having recently read it, I must say that I have encountered better characterization and dialogue in some first-person-shooter video games).

Anyway, that is, in any event, my take on it.

Torill said...

I am not sure if I understand your arguments correctly Merlin, so I will try and repeat what I think they are here. If I have misunderstood, I apologise for my stupidity, and then you can disregard my counterarguements...

1) If Snape's teachings in potions are effective, and Harry has learned more from him than from the Potion's book, then Snape has achieved his goal in preparing him for the war against Voldemort, so is therefore no bully.

I disagree with the last premise of this argument. Wholeheartedly. Teaching a subject efficiently does not mean that the bullying you may also target certain students with, in or outside of class, is of no significance or has no effect. The concept of 'bullying' is not in any way synonymous with, or even remotely related to, the concept of 'poor teaching'. You can have your self esteem undermined even if you learn your lessons - your trust in yourself as a good and valid person who deserves respect from other people can be efficiently undermined no matter what level of academical achievement you are able to reach.

I also disagree with the first part of this argument. Snape is not very efficient as a teacher because he makes some of his students too nervous to learn efficiently through his continuous putdowns; while at the same time he is too lenient with other students, ie the Slytherins, who get away with too much. Harry discovers in the end of book five that he performs a lot better on the exams than he does in class, because Snape is not there to make him nervous - the same goes for Neville. The fact that Harry has been able to pick up some things from potions classes in spite of Snape's poor teaching, enough to get a decent grade, is more a tribute to Harry's learning skills than an excuse for Snape's teaching skills... In the case of Neville, it is clear that Snape is ruining his chances of learning this subject at all - Neville is horrible at Potions - and Snape is even his boggart.....

2) The students need to be prepared for the worst because the war against Voldemort is coming, so it is Snape's job to "toughen them up", thus his bullying is not bullying because it serves a noble purpose.

I do not believe this is the function Jo has meant for Snape to have in the books. I do not believe it is within her moral beliefs, that it is ever right to bully someone. It could certainly be right to be strict and demanding at times, like McGonagall is, or to tell young people the harsh truths both about themselves and the world if they misbehave or are too self-indulgent or ignorant. This could be seen as moral teachings, and could be planned for by a good teacher who would not spontaneously behave like that in class.

But bullying which is not in any way contingent on your misbehaviour or laziness or whatever, but happens no matter what you do or don't do, as is the case with Snape's bullying of the Gryffindors - this will have absolutely no educational or character building effects whatsoever. You may be resilient enough to resist the potential negative effects of it, but it will not in and of itself have any beneficial effects on your character. That is my firm belief.

I think this is clearly shown in the books as well. Harry and Neville have very different reactions to Snape the Bully. Neville is of course the weaker one in this respect, who clearly has his self esteem seriously undermined. Harry is the stronger one who learns to disregard Snape more and more, until in the end he has absoulutely no respect for him and is no longer afraid of him. But this does not mean that the bullying has any beneficial effects on Harry's character. On the contrary. Harry learns to hate and despise, this contributes to his arrogance problem, and it also encourages some of his darker, more scary sides. At the beginning of book six, he wishes for Snape to die, at the end of the book, he is even willing to torture Snape with a Crucio. A rather shocking effect of the "tough love" threatment, if that is what it is supposed to be...

This is my main reason for not believing Jo will turn out to support this kind of morale in her books. You can "toughen up" young people with the aim of making them hard and efficient soldiers, able to perform the worst of acts against an enemy without flinching, because they have learned to be callous towards both their own and other people's feelings. But should this really be the aim of a teacher at a general school for students from the age of eleven and up, war times or not? Snape, after all, is NOT an instructor at a boot camp for adult recruits!

Remember, one thing is to be subjected to bullying yourself, another thing is what you learn from authourity figures as role models. If you see them bully the weaker ones of your peers for no reason at all, you will learn that compassion with the weak is silly, and that it is ok to torment others for no other reason than the possibility your position of power gives you. This kind of teaching may make you grow up to be an efficient "killing machine" against your enemies; but it will not make you a good person.... and it cannot be the plan of Dumbledore or his maker JKR to have Snape do this to the Hogwarts students...

In the first chapter of the first book, McGonagall tells Dumbledore that he is just as powerful a wizard as Voldemort is, the difference between them is only that there are certain methods Dumbledore will never use, no matter how efficient they may be (paraphrasing here of course..) To turn the Gryffindors into efficient killing machines through teaching them that bullying is ok, is one method I firmly believe Dumbledore would never plan for. One thing is to allow Snape to stay on as a teacher - and I am in the camp that thinks this is one of Dumbledore's mistakes. But to actually instruct a possibly reluctant Snape to use methods like the ones we are discussing here, now that would be a different story altogether...

Just for the record: I do not believe that Snape has always been on the "bad" side, just because he has always felt the temptation of the Dark Arts. On the contrary. I believe the function of Snape in the story is precicely to show the pull of the Dark Arts on a person who struggles. I believe he genuinely did change sides at the end of the first war, and that for a long time he really was Dumbledore's man. But he allowed himself to be corrupted again through his nurturing of hatred and vindictiveness, his personal agenda of getting his own back from Sirius and Lupin, the remaining of the Marauders and James' friends. I believe he has fallen again, and is now working for Voldemort. But he is not happy with this, his reason for turning away from Evil the first time is still active in him - he is still struggling, and the death of Sirius gave him no peace. I believe he will come back to do one last redeeming act towards the end of the last book.

Perhaps he will even come to regret some of his hatred towards Harry. I hope so. This is what would redeem him in my eyes - that he finally saw the difference between Harry and James - and gave up his old grudges. I am not sure this will happen though...

And finally - to discuss whether someone is a Death Eater or not, is not a discussion of whether they are Good people or not in my opinion. Umbridge is not a Death Eater, but she is certainly not a good person! And you can even be patriotic and work for the right side in a war, and still be more of a bad person than a good. This last option is my general take on what Snape was before his recent fall....

Eeyore said...

Merlin, if I understand what you are saying, you aren't condoning Snape's behavior, just showing what he might be using as the reasoning for his nasty teaching techniques.

Let me say (to torill, especially), that I, in no way, approve of Severus Snape's teaching methods. He's horrible. We do see though, that some students learn quite a bit from him--Hermione, who routinely gets picked on (and the teeth remark was so cruel that it wouldn't have been out of line for her to stop listening to him at all), has learned a lot from Snape. She is even able to properly brew potions in class, even while Snape is taking out his hostility on her and everyone else. That shows how talented and dedicated Hermione is that she can get past horrible teaching.

Slughorn, though, has the students in Advanced Potions--and granted there aren't many--who seem to do well, and they were all taught by Snape. So, even though Snape is a nasty piece of work as a teacher, he does still teach them what they need to know.

I had a teacher who was rather like Snape--not as nasty, but she graded me down because I could do better, while she favored the football players by giving them A's on their papers. I saw what they wrote and was so angry at her that I tuned her out--much the same reaction that Harry has. But some teachers think that if they are extra hard on students, or a particular student, that it will make them try harder or prepare them for more difficult work ahead. Snape, like my idiot literature teacher, is sadly mistaken. Harry just gets angry, Neville is so terrified he can't do anything, and who knows about some of the rest of them.

The only redeeming thing about Snape's teaching is that when they take their OWLS, Harry finds he does reasonably well, as does Neville. So the two of them did learn something from Snape, in spite of the nasty treatment.

None of that excuses Snape for the way he treats any of the students--playing favorites is wrong, and bullying students is wrong. It's a wonder that Dumbledore lets him get away with it. Rather apalling, actually--I would think the headmaster should have some sort of control over the way his staff teach.

I still think, though, that Snape had many opportunities to actually physcially harm Harry, yet he didn't do it. Has he harmed him emotionally? Yes--if he'd been even a little nicer to Harry, then the Occlumency lessons might not have been such a disaster. But it all goes back to what happens to a person who is bullied when they are young. While it does not excuse the kind of actions we see from Snape, it does explain it--he has never been able to put it in the past where it should be, and it colors every interaction he has with students (especially those who remind him of his own tormentors) and even with other adults. Snape is as emotionally stunted as Sirius, who also never really grew up, because of his time in Azkaban. Both are (were) victims of their past--trapped in their own prisons.

Gotta go for now--

Eeyore said...

felicity--thanks for your comments. I like the idea of cross posting, but I barely have time to keep up with things here, as you can see. So at the present, I think I'll pass on the HP essays part. Maybe later, when things kind of get back to normal, whatever that is.


Torill said...

I am very sorry Pat, but I cannot see adult Sirius as being in the same league as Snape. At all. Sirius' life as a whole has not been very much easier than Snape's. I see Sirius as the most heavily traumatised of all the characters in the books, without comparison, counting both his childhood and his Azkaban experiences. (That was not only twelve years of imprisonment, that was twelve years of daily torture!) Given this background, Sirius' level of personal integrety, fairness, loyalty, self control (yes, you read me correctly, self control!), love and devotion is nothing but remarkable. Of course he had his flaws as well, but they were more in the self-destructive department than in the cruelty one, which is where you find Snape's flaws. The two of them just don't compare in my opinion. If we talk about moral development, Sirius is just miles ahead of Snape, while Snape has less excuses than Sirius had, as far as I am concerned....

And I do maintain that the conflict between James/Sirius and Snape was a conflict where each gave as much as he got, not a story about a victim being picked on by his bullies. They taunted and humiliated him because they could, he cursed them because he could - and he was probably smart enough to do this without witnesses....and none of them was right in doing any of these things, of course not! That is not what I am trying to say.

What I can't understand is why Snape is to be understood and excused for creating the Sectumsempra to use against them, since they used the Scrougify on him - but they cannot be understood or excused for using the Levicorpus on him, since he used curses on them! Instead, they are to be called bullies of a victim, and be held responsible for Snape's DE days and his later cruelty to children? I don't follow this line of reasoning, I'm sorry.

Sirius probably also had quite a few horrible memories from their confrontations with Snape, as much as Snape has from confrontations with them - but when did Sirius ever use that as an excuse to attack anyone but Snape himself?

No, Snape never hurt Harry physically. That is a negative, it is not equal to a protective attitude. Like I said earlier - for a teacher to not physically hurt the children in his care is not remarkable, not even laudable - it is just selfevident, to the point of being not even worth mentioning. It may be part of an argument of why Snape was not a DE when Harry started school, but not part of an argument of whether he is a beneficient force in Harry's life or not. If all it takes to be a benefical influence in someone's life is to not kill them, then I am a beneificial influence in the life of all mankind.....

My take on Snape is that he was not a DE after Voldemort's fall, not until very recently, and that he is a very negative influence in Harry's life.

Eeyore said...

I'm sorry, torill, I don't have time right now to do justice to a reply. I do see the point you are making about Sirius having a hard time as a child. However, we don't know that he was actually abused--just not liked much, which can be damaging in other ways. However, when Sirius went to school he fell in with James and was one of the stars of the school--for one thing, he was better looking, and seemed to know it.

Once he was fed up with his family, he made the choice to leave and was taken in by James's family--so he wasn't left on his own in the world. And he had money from his uncle, so he wasn't poor either.

I will have to come back to this later--have to get ready for choir.

Take care.

Torill said...

It is ok, Pat - we both have busy lives - I am just happy you find the time to answer me at all! :-)

I agree that we don't know whether Sirius was abused, any more than we know whether Snape was. All we know from canon is that once Snape's father yelled at his cowing mother while little Snape cried in a corner. But we think Jo showed us this particular memory for a reason; and that it is highly unlikely this memory should be about something trivial.

It doesn't have to be about abuse, though, it may as well be about conflict - about Snape growing up in a home where his parents were constantly fighting - perhaps over his mother teaching Snape about the Dark Arts?

Even so, I am quite willing to accept this as evidence for Snape being abused as a child - to believe that what we see in this memory is a woman so scared of her violent husband that she cowers in front of him when he yells at her, as if expecting more than verbal abuse. This gives some background to understand how Snape could have turned out to be as horrible as he is as an adult, and I think Jo wanted us to have that information.

My point is that we have just as much information about Sirius' background as we have about Snape's - perhaps even more - to justify the same assumption in his case. We know that Sirius came from a home where the Dark Arts were worshipped - his mother didn't just keep Dark Instruments hidden in a drawer somewhere in case she should need them against intruders or something - she kept them at pride of place in glass cases next to the mantelpiece in her drawing room! We may wonder where - or even if, as some do - Snape was exposed to the Dark Arts before he started school. But we know that Sirius was exposed to them at home - and we may even assume, without too far a leap of imagination, that Sirius was taught in his home how the use of the Dark Arts was justified and even noble. He may even have recieved practical instructions in their use... Yet he took a very early and firm stand against them.

We may also wonder about Eileen and her character, but we have a pretty good idea about Sirius' mother and her character. If the activities of portraits are supposed to be based on catch phrases and key character traits of the person they portray - then imagine the reactions of that horrible woman, with her terrible temper tantrums, when her firstborn came home from school at the age of eleven and had chosen a half blood as his close friend! A friend he never abandoned, no matter what she did to him. To me, it seems more than higly unlikely that cool dislike would have been her only reaction!

I believe it is more than likely that this woman came down on her son with the harshest of punishments, calling it discipline, whenever he crossed her will. I also believe clashes of their wills happened much earlier than when Sirius started school. This is both due to Sirius' hotheaded temper - he wouldn't have been an easy and placid kid to discipline for any parent! - and also to his ability at the early age of eleven to take a firm stand against his parents' central teachings. I think he must have been hardened from numerous earlier harsh conflicts with them.

Add to this Sirius' own remark that his mother had no heart, but lived on from pure spite, his remark that the thing in the writing desk was probably a boggart, but, knowing his mother, it could be something much worse, so better check before opening it....I think an assumption of child abuse in this home is not in any way more far-fetched than the same assumption where Snape is concerned.

I believe Sirius learned very early on that he could not rely on his parents for any guidance or comfort whatsoever, to say the least, but on the contrary could expect anything in way of "discipline" from them. His choice was to abandon them, which he did mentally many years before physically leaving their house. But you can see the reflection of his mother's temper even in adult Sirius, the edge in his character, the wild temperament and his quick and not-so-wise rise to challenges....

He chose early on to fight back, and completely disregard the consequenses. This gave him the general attitude of not caring very much what would happen to him when he chose how to act. As in thinking, the consequences will probably be horrible anyway, so never mind, have fun while it lasts..

So the abuse and horrible punishments he probably suffered left their profound marks on his character, even though he might himself have thought he had survived completely and could basically take on anything, Voldemort included. The bitterness with which he speaks of his mother is a dead giveaway though - he was hurt a lot deeper than he admits.

So there you have these two boys, Snape and Sirius, both coming to school from dysfunctional, abusive homes, both having been exposed to the Dark Arts at an early age. But they chose very different coping strategies to survive this fate. And this is what I think Jo intended by giving us enough clues to appreciate the paralells in their backgrounds. (Which does not mean that I see them as wholly parallell in every respect, of course not!) This is another example of how the inportance of choosing Love over Power is underlined in the series.

Snape was drawn to the Dark Arts and their promise of revenge and defense, seeing the world organised in victims and abusers, where not to use any means to defend yourself would appear simply stupid. That attracted the attention of the later DEs, and the crowd of people he chose to hang out with at school did not do very much for his character development, to say the least... until he finally ended up choosing to join the Death Eaters himself.

Whereas Sirius, who had already chosen to fight his parents, chose a very different path. He refused to succumb to the temptation of the Dark Arts - being exposed to them daily when at home as he was, they must have presented no less of a temptation for him than they did for Snape, as he, too, must have been so angry so often.... Instead, he sought company with, and offered his deep and unwavering loyalty to, one of the most prominent Dark Arts-haters in school: James Potter.

I am not willing to describe this as simply a strike of luck on Sirius' part because he was good looking - this is not the quality of the friendship between James and Sirius. I see it as a result of Sirius' conscious choices. He did not choose to try and get what he wanted from others through threats and the seeking of power over them, which is what the Dark Arts is all about. He could so very easily have chosen this path, given his extraordinary magical powers and early exposure to that kind of practise. Instead, he tried to get what he desperately needed by offering friendship and love - to the point of being willing to die for his friends.

This made the great difference between Snape and Sirius. Sirius got better school days than Snape because of his choices. Basically, Sirius created the environment he needed at school, by offering and maintaining a very profound and real friendship with James. This, too, was the reason why James' parents were willing to take him in as a son when he ran away from home. It was not just luck.

We have absolutely no information of whether Snape's family was rich or poor - I don't accept Spinner's End as proof. I don't believe this was Snape's childhood home. Hogwarts professors are hardly given such poor wages as to make it impossible for Snape to improve
that place, or move to a better one should he wish... If Snape lives in poor conditions now, it is because he chooses to do so! Spinners End seems more like a hideout than a home to me... Snape, it seems, doesn't care about "animal comfort" or where he lives, but he does care about not being found. And it works, too, Bella couldn't imagine he would choose to live in a place like that...

As for looks, yes, Sirius was handsome. That was an advantage he had that Snape didn't, true. This always helps when it comes to popularity. But it cannot make up for an abusive home and hateful parents who do their best to introduce you to evil at an early age; it will not reduce this to nothing. The popularity and admiration Sirius got because of his looks and his brightness, was not what nurtured him at school.

But it was what Snape envied and wished that he, too, could have. From Snape's point of view, James and Sirius couldn't possibly have any problems, anything to complain about at all, strutting about being popular and bright and getting all that attention from both students and professors as they were, seemingly without having to do anytying to get it. So unfair!

But without James' true friendship, based on more profound things than this, Sirus' looks and popularity would not have made very much of a difference for him. They could even have hurt him, corrupted him even further, if he had chosen to follow the path of evil wizards, and experienced how he could get away with it and be popular all the same, because of his good looks...

This is not to say that Snape's school days could not have been better, and that he probably not had any real friends. There is reasons to pity Snape, absolutely. Could he have become just as popular as James and Sirius did, had he chosen other ways of achieving what he needed than to impress others with his Dark Arts knowledge? No, probably not. Could he have had better school days? Yes, I think so. Instead of trying to find real friends of his own, ignoring those arrogant prats, Snape allowed himself to be drawn into a bitter, violent conflict with them, always trying to better them by coming up with worse curses than they used, seeking to find ways to get them expelled, doing everything to justify this by the ill-deserved nature of their popularity. Allowing himself to sink deeper and deeper into bitterness, hatred and dreams of vengeance. I think Snape, too, to a certain extent, created the environment he hated at school.

Not that he understood this himself at all. Not that I cannot pity him, seeing how he had a harsh and difficult start in his life, and attracted very bad company. But this pity makes me admire Sirius evem more...

As for their adult lives, there is no doubt who had the worst fate. I don't think I have to spell that out, lol. Snape as a respected teacher of Hogwarts, with all his old enemies having come to a bad end - and Sirius in Azkaban..

Yet, Snape as an adult is bitter, vindictive, hateful, horrible - while Sirius is still offering love, friendship, loyalty, and is not abusive or cruel. Having bouts of depresssion and self-destructive traits, yes, certainly, not necessary easy to live with, but still...

Torill said...

I am sorry for some of my grammar mistakes in the above - ran out of time, so did not proof read properly - and now I have to run! Looking forward to your reply, whenever you find the time for it!!