Thoughts on Severus Snape

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about Severus Snape a fair bit lately. Per Rowling, he is portrayed as an essentially good guy who made some bad decisions early on, had a prickly personality, but was ultimately courageous and redeemed by love. Being portrayed by Alan Rickman certainly didn’t hurt either.

After a lot of thought, I don’t really buy that assessment. Was Snape courageous? Perhaps at a couple points, in planting Gryffindor’s sword and his final scene with Voldemort. Do those moments redeem him? Do they make him heroic, good, or even sympathetic? I don’t think so.

First and foremost, Severus Snape should never, ever, have been teaching. From what we see of his actions and his statements throughout six books, he clearly hates teaching. He may even hate children. And he tends to target the weakest subjects (Neville, Hermione the Muggle-born, at first). His attitudes and behavior are right out of a Pink Floyd song (you know the one).

Compounding this is his blatant use of favoritism, which we do not see among the other teachers. In fact, Ron specifically states that he wishes McGonagall would cut them a little favoritism. And we can’t say that Snape does it because of being Slytherin. Slughorn, so far as we see, never plays house favorites—despite his talent or connections based favoritism and his casual “You mustn’t think me prejudiced” racism. This behavior is a continuation of his childhood vendetta against a particular group based of stereotyping.

In his silence regarding Malfoy and others in Chamber and onward, it is also possible that Snape retains a portion of his childhood racism. That he had the seed, we see in his treatment of and language with Petunia during their childhood. It fully germinates at school when he joins the Death Eaters (his memories).

But, we know Dumbledore uses teaching posts to protect assets, regardless of their actual teaching ability (ref. Trelawney).

Second, I think Snape’s connection to Lily was not love. I’m sure I’ll catch some flack for that. But, I think he became fixated on the first, and only, person who ever showed him kindness without ulterior motives. While we know little about his childhood, what we do see implies that he was probably poor and, unlike the Weasleys, likely abused, possibly even witness to domestic violence. Then he met Lily at the age of 10, give or take a bit. And she was fascinated by what he was able to do, and she looked past his oddities and economic status, and treated him well.

Dumbledore was, of course, somewhat kind too. But, Dumbledore had other motives—his desire for a double agent and his recognition of Snape as an early warning system (since he was certain Voldemort was not gone) that led him to keeping Snape close.

The Malfoys are also relatively kind to Snape. But, they see him as a useful tool, or a servant, someone to whom they go when they need something. The class issue is always there between them.

Lily is the only one who interacts with Snape in a positive way without ulterior motives. In return, he continually tries the “Nice Guy” routine (or Syndrome) with her. Even when she brings up the Death Eaters-to-be whom he hangs out with, he falls back on “You’re different. I’ll protect you from them.” He seems to assume that because she’s nice to him, she is attracted to him. And that simply being nice to her cancels out anything else he’s done and should make her attracted to him. It’s not love. It’s a form of possessiveness. He wants the one person who has been kind to him to be his and never leave. It’s really not a healthy relationship, on his end. (On Lily’s end, she eventually sees that Snape’s treatment of Petunia, and the attitudes that underlie his actions, is not something he’ll grow out of. So, she moves on.)

Ultimately, Snape is, developmentally, stuck in childhood, despite his claims to logic and reason. He is stuck in a fixation on the only person who showed him kindness (his patronus is a doe, which Rowling implies indicates his love for Lily, but, I’d argue, indicates his happy memories of someone being kind to him). As part of this, he is mired in a childhood feud (like Sirius, who also remains stuck in his childhood glory days, for different reasons) turned vendetta due to a sense of entitled possessiveness.

The Modern Literary Werewolf

Time for a reblog of the shameless self-promotion. 🙂

Barnes & Noble

McFarland Publishing

And Gen Con at the McFarland booth.


The Modern Literary Werewolf


The book is now available through both McFarland and Amazon!

(shameless self-promotion plug)

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Styles of Evil (Repost)

(Repost from 10/26/07)

On the day that a French philosopher made the “startling” conclusion that the Harry Potter books have a political element (well, duh!), I figured it’s time I typed up some of my other thoughts about the books. These actually come, in part, from teaching Prisoner of Azkaban again. In preparing for the class and finishing up the second or third complete draft of my dissertation, I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil in Rowling’s work. That thinking has led me to the conclusion that she (unsurprisingly) looks at good and evil as a continuum rather than a binary. More importantly, she presents at least four major examples of different types of evil in the books (in order of threat):

1) The Malfoys, a.k.a. Safe Evil

— The Malfoys, I think, represent safe evil. That is, they are very vociferous in their racism, classism, and arrogant manner. However, they are all talk and no action whatsoever. They’re the sort of “evil” that readers can safely find “cool” because it’s “bad” but never crosses the line into total and utter social reprehensibility. For all that Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco posture and protest, the reader knows they’ll never really do anything truly evil. In fact, the worst thing they ever do (directly) in the books is kick Dobby around. The rest is just empty threats and mummery.

2) Voldemort, a.k.a. Overt (but ultimately powerless) Evil

— Probably the most obviously evil character is Voldemort. However, Rowling paints him—whether inadvertantly or not—as being ultimately powerless. Sure, he kills people and tortures others. He’s certainly racist, unless it suits him not to be (he does seek out Giant, Werewolf, and Dementor allies after all). But, he is ultimately powerless. Nothing he creates or builds ever lasts. More importantly, Rowling leaves clues about his lack of power. In Half-Blood Prince, she makes a point of Dumbledore referring to Voldemort’s protections around the locket horcrux as being crude (the blood price protection). Does such a protection require power? Certainly. But, does it require understanding of what one does or how magic works? In Dumbledore’s opinion, the answer appears to be no on both counts. Lots of raw power, but no understanding. Harry also refers, obliquely, to Voldemort’s powerlessness when he recalls (in book six or seven) that the only times he’s seen flashy magic—lights and bangs, the impressive stuff—is when someone really doesn’t know what (s)he is doing and screws up. When we look at Voldemort, we see that he favors the flash-bang magic . . . his most often used spells being Cruciatus and Avada, both designed for flash and to be seen, and both likely crude by Dumbledore’s measure. Even his ability to fly is part of this flash-bang style of magic. And then there’s the fact that a single boy (sure, Harry’s “of age” in wizard society at 17, but in the reader’s, he’s still a kid) defeats him utterly with a simple spell that nearly anyone at the school can perform. Admittedly, there are some extenuating circumstances surrounding Harry, but the point remains.

3) Dolores Umbridge, a.k.a. Insidious Evil

— Umbridge, I think, Rowling would bring up as the most dangerous sort of evil. She represents the sort of evil that creeps in under the guise of protecting the best interests of society and the weak. The Trojan Horse or wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing of evil. Of course, this is also the most difficult type of evil to defend against (because it cloaks itself in a veneer of nationalism, patriotism, and righteousness) and the one that typically has the greatest effect. This is, in many ways, Hitler’s evil. And it is likely no mistake that many of Umbridge’s actions can be seen as representations of Hitlerian programs.

4) Fenrir Greyback, a.k.a. Unrestrained Evil

— Less concerning, to some extent, than Umbridge’s form of evil, Greyback certainly sets his own standard. He has no limits, social mores and whatnot don’t affect him. Of all the types mentioned above, his is the most unrestrained. No matter what they do, there are certain social morals that restrain the Malfoys. No matter how many people he tortures or kills, even Voldemort has his limits. Case in point, he never actually kills a child “on screen”, as it were, even Cedric Diggory was of age. Moreover, he’ll use Fenrir and the Giants, but neither the werewolves nor the giants will ever have a place in Voldemort’s new society because they are far to violent and lacking in restraints to function in any even moderately reasonable society. Umbridge too has her limits as well, usually involving remaining within the laws of society—even if she has to make new laws to legalize whatever she’s doing. Greyback, on the other hand, obeys none of this. The only limit on what he’ll do is the serious threat of personal pain or death, which he apparently feels can only be meted out by Voldemort and his highest lieutenants of the week. This is certainly the gravest threat for society. Umbridge’s evil only threatens a single society, and even then it only changes the society. Greyback’s attacks the very root of civilization, the foundation upon which all societies are built, that is law and some sort of moral guide (whether religious or secular).

My Book

My Book

Now that there’s an official release date, my publisher would probably like it if I shamelessly self-promote the book.  🙂

Due out 30 June 2013.

Just FYI, it discusses the werewolves of Jack Williamson, Terry Pratchett (Discworld), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Charles de Lint (Newford, Wolfmoon), and Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood), with a miscellaneous chapter for a few others in relation to each other and Classical, medieval, and early modern werewolves.

(Sorry for all the edits to this, I’m still figuring out WordPress.)