Saturday, April 5, 2008

Snape and. . . no, it's mostly Snape

Over at the Leaky Cauldron, there is a post about a recent interview by J.K. Rowling in which she says that Dumbledore and Snape are the most important characters, aside from the trio. It was nice to hear her say that, as so many of us have thought just the same thing. The ensuing "conversation" however has turned into the silliness that prompted me to stop posting on several forums where I had once been very active. So I won't provide a link. If you want to wade through all of it, you'll have to find it on your own.

However, it did get me started on posting some of my thoughts about the series. My current reading is in Order of the Phoenix, a little more than half-way on. (Harry has just seen the initial response to his interview published in the Quibbler.) So, the following is what I wrote, which intentionally doesn't respond to the poster who is only interested in irritating people and in arguing.


Rhiannon said: "Eeyore It is good to see you again. I thought you had left us."

Thank you and no, I haven't left. I actually check for news here every day. I don't comment much anymore, but sometimes read through the comments. In reading through the comments on this one, I'm reminded of the reason that I am not active on the forum any longer. After I finished Deathly Hallows, it was so complete for me, and I found the ending so satisfying, that I had to stop reading all the criticisms from others. Yes, I had my little nitpicks, but they weren't important enough for me to ruin the feelings I had at the end of my favorite series of books. And I read all the time, and have all my life.

I think that one of the things that bothered me the most was Harry's use of the Unforgivables toward the end of DH. But when I started thinking about it, it was a vivid picture of the horror of war. They were fighting for their lives and watched others being tortured or senselessly killed, and they reacted in whatever way they could think of. War has a way of dehumanizing even the best of people. Was the use of Unforgivables right? No. But that does happen in war; good, moral people make bad choices that they would ordinarily never consider. At the very end, though, in facing Voldemort, Harry did not use an Unforgivable Curse. Instead he didn't even use a curse that was intended to harm, but used a defensive spell. A spell that would protect him, and interestingly enough, it was a spell that he had first learned from Snape. Nice touch, that one.

I found Snape to be one of the most fascinating of Rowling's characters, because he was the most complex and his story unfolded so slowly for us. But the clues were there from the beginning. If there wasn't something hidden in Snape's past concerning Harry, why would Snape hate him from the first book. It was in rereading POA, though, and especially in OP that I started to see that people who saw that Snape loved Lily were right. Snape always raged against James and Sirius, sometimes against Lupin by association, but never once said a word against Lily. Harry was the one who made those jumps, assuming that Snape also hated his mother.

Snape very much resembles the character of Sydney Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities" by Dickens (another literary character who is rather nasty to others and not very likeable), and once I saw that, I knew that Snape was on some sort of sacrificial path because of his love for Lily, just as Carton willingly sacrificed himself to save Lucy and her family. That book has the best redemptive ending of any book I've ever read.

Lily befriended Snape when he was younger and looked a bit odd, when Petunia saw him as "that awful boy" (the other thing that convinced me that Snape loved Lily). I was glad to see that Lily returned his friendship, and that it wasn't completely one-sided. She tried to stand up for him, and was called a horrific name (the wizarding version of a racial slur), and she did listen to him later. But in the end, she chose her own path in life just as Snape did. She saw her childhood friend getting in deeper and deeper with dark wizards that she saw as being on an evil path, and even after she talked to Snape and tried to warn him , he refused to veer from his own chosen path.

It was one of the saddest things in the books for me. Snape, with his unhappy childhood, ended up being influenced by those in his house who were happy to use his considerable talent to their own purposes. I can't imagine that they really liked him as a person, given that he was from a poor family and was not a pure-blood. But people who have been bullied for so long and pushed out sometimes will follow anyone who gives them the promise of power. And those who are bullied sometimes become the bully, which is just what we saw with Snape. Like Dumbledore, I have to wonder, would Snape have turned out differently had he been sorted into Gryffindor or Ravenclaw? (yeah, I can't see him in Hufflepuff at all. LOL) I think it could have made the difference because he might have been more influenced by Lily and wouldn't have had the opportunity to spend so much time with the Lestranges and future Death Eaters.

Once he knew that he was the one responsible for Lily's death, he did repent (just as Sydney Carton did), and then Snape spent the rest of his life trying to atone for his part in the death of the only person he ever loved or respected. But he was still the solitary soul he had been as a child and he'd never learned how to reach out to others. He still saw any emotional vulnerability as a weakness because he knew how Voldemort would use it.

And what does Snape have every day of the term for seven years (well, six really)? He sees the face of the student who bullied him just because he could, and the eyes of the one person he loved. Instead of seeing that Harry was much more like Lily than like James, Snape is stuck in that adolescent hatred. Sirius was no better, as he was never able to let go of his hatred against Snape. Neither of them had the chance to "grow up" because of the circumstances surrounding the death of Lily and James. Because of that one tragedy, Sirius ends up in Azkaban for twelve years and then in hiding for two more; Snape ends up truly regretting the part he played and repents and does what is right in trying to protect Harry. But Snape was never really able to forgive himself.

Are there any perfect characters in Harry Potter? No. That is the brilliance of the books. Jo gave us heroes and villains who are all flawed and so very human. Just as we are all flawed and very human. Jo gave us something much better than cardboard cut-outs of good guys and bad guys. In giving us realistic characters, she has also given us the opportunity to explore how people in real life interact. And she has pointed the way for seeing the wrongs in our own world through not resolving all the issues in hers.

Sorry to run on so long. I promise I won't do it again. Well, I'll try to refrain from it anyway. ;-)