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05 August 2007 @ 11:03 pm
Snape essay  
This is my first essay on this community, based on my frustration with some recent remarks made by J. K. Rowling about the character of Severus Snape, and explains why I think he is such an interesting character, and why he is important to the themes of her books.  (The title, by the way, has been lifted shamelessly from a series of concerts by the early music group Liber UnUsualis.)

Virtue and the Viper: the Heroic Severus Snape.

Lady Snape: Come  Back to Mesevstrueluve on August 6th, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC)
Tear Tracks on My Heart
When I read his Death scene and the subsequent chapter I couldn't stop sobbing. And now with your essay the tears are still leaving tracks upon my heart. I agree with most of your reasoning. But, I still believe that Ms. Rowling has not revealed everything concerning the relationship between Lily and Severus. In my opinion, there was more than just friendship between the two. That his obsession with the Dark Arts drove a wedge in betweeen the two. Which probably helped to propel Lily into James' arms.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Tear Tracks on My Heart
There's plenty of room here for essays/fanfics, isn't there? I'm very much looking forward to reading them!
Nobody tells me anythingkatiemorris on August 7th, 2007 10:59 am (UTC)
I do so agree with boltonia above - all the messages through the years from the sorting hat saying the houses should unite in order to conquer evil, "united we stand, divided we fall" and then not a single bloody Slytherin was allowed to even appear to be pleasant, let alone want to join in the fight for Hogwarts. Cowards one and all - what a cop-out Ms. Rowling.

Apart from that I have to say I did love the book. I also loved your essay. Extremely well-written and carefully thought-out and a pleasure to read for all of us who are left feeling poor Snape got a raw deal come the finish. I, too, would have loved to have seen Harry have an epiphany where Snape was concerned when he learned the truth. Or even to have known some of his thoughts on the matter. The "bravest man I ever knew" was not quite enough for me. Too little, too late.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
The 'bad Slytherin' thing just annoys me more and more! Even Slughorn seemed to play such a minor role in the battle, compared to Flitwick and Sprout. And I was furious that Dumbledore's response to Snape's courage was 'you should have been in Gryffindor, really': why does being ambitious (which I take as the main Slytherin trait) mean that you can't be brave (or principled, or kind, or honourable) as well? As someone on another board said, there are some compliments that are worse than insults!
Amyfiera_316 on August 7th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to see another well-written Snape essays, I've been reading them almost non-stop since the last book came out. I'm not even much of a Snape fan, really, but I liked how this was all put together, and you said a lot of things that made sense. I definitely agree that, out of the entire series, Snape is the prime example of someone choosing between what's right and what's easy.

On how JKR perceives him, though...I know it's caused a lot of upset, but I can't help but agree with her when she seems reluctant to label him as a hero. I would call him an antihero, perhaps, but I'm still not sure how well the term applies to him (mostly because the term of antihero has always been shifty to me). Snape's done a lot of heroic things -- certainly the fact that he's protected Harry makes him noble, and that was obvious since book one. But personally, I can't help but feel that SOME sort of...moral choice, or personal decision in Snape's mind, should have given indication of heroism. I don't think I'm explaining myself too well here, but when you said this:

If there is a character who is an example of the transformative power of love, it is Severus Snape.

...this is what gets me, what I think a lot of other people had trouble with, too. I thought the Snape/Lily storyline was very cute, but as far as explaining Snape's heroism...I guess what I'm trying to say here is, though I know that there are several stories of love transforming people for the better, does that then make those people heroes, or simply examples of the power of love? Because JKR said in her interview that, had Snape not been in love with Lily, he would not have cared a bit for what happened to Harry. We know that his perceptions changed, that he still tried to protect the students at Hogwarts as best he could (Ginny, Neville and Luna, anyway), that he felt guilt over merely watching Voldemort's victims -- yet we know that all this came down to one thing (as even Snape himself demonstrated): Lily. Love for Lily, repentance for her death, perhaps a desire to make himself worthy of her even after her death...essentially, it makes him a great man (especially since there was never anything more than friendship toward him on her side), but does it make him a hero? Whereas Harry, for all his flaws and moral ammbiguities, did not act out of a second agenda; not even hatred or vengeance (there are a few people who Harry's hated far more than he's ever hated Voldemort). He acted on Dumbledore's orders, but he knew what Dumbledore asked of him was crazy, and he wasn't acting out of a desire to please him or anyone else. I guess it's definitely all subjective, what it is that matters to make someone a hero, but from JKR's emphasis on Snape's unpleasantness and on the fact that he wouldn't have changed if it weren't for Lily, I can only guess that he doesn't quite fit the criteria for her.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
That is very interesting - I hadn't thought of it like that at all. I suppose my answer would be that if a hero to JKR is someone who does what is right purely because it is right, without being influenced in any way by anyone else, then I am not surprised that she is so sparing in her use of the term! I'm not even sure that it applies to Harry, absolutely: I think he has often been encouraged to do what is right by the thought of his parents, or the words or example of Dumbledore/Hermione/Ron etc. Indeed even when he is going to his death, which he does do, very heroically, purely because it is the right thing to do, he is buoyed up by the presence of his parents, Sirius and Lupin, and by their approval - would it have been the same if they had all cried "Don't do it"? And if Snape has the thought of Lily to inspire him, that is all that he has - he is getting very little encouragement from Dumbledore, and he can expect no reward. I don't think I am saying that Snape is more heroic than Harry - I'm not really sure that comparisons of this kind should be made, even if they could be - but I do think his creator could show a little more appreciation for the very thankless task she has given him!
Alena: chaos1alena_hu on August 7th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this beautifully written and clear-headed essay.

One (among several) thing troubling me about Dumbledore and his "minimal support" of Snape is that you'd think that after all the revelations about his own youth, he'd at least have some understanding toward Snape. He could have given Snape some indication that despite terrible past mistakes, repentence is possible and worth it. But one does not see this at all: that sort of opening up is reserved for Harry. Again, to me it feels like yet another instance of how characters are treated differently depending on whether they are in Gryffindor or Slytherin.

And coming to her treatment of the Slytherin house: I agree absolutely there, too. The worst thing about it is that the way one becomes a Slytherin, essentially in her eyes condemned to lesser moral character, is simply by putting on a hat for a few minutes at age eleven. This I firmly believe to be wrong. The fact that the whole house system was still there was, I think, the most disappointing thing to me about the epilogue.

(I am also wondering, would it be okay with you if I try to translate this essay to Chinese?)
zanesfriendzanesfriend on August 7th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
Back when I took Developmental Psychology. . . .
. . . we were told that a person's basic character was set by age five. Hence, eleven is not too early. We are told quite clearly that the Hat does not put students into Houses--students put themselves. The Hat wanted to put Harry and Hermione in Slytherin and Ravenclaw respectively, but they chose Griffindor. We can assume that Draco, as the hat descended on his head, was thinking, "Slytherin, please let it by Slytherin!
Singer of Unheard Songs: Snapebluestocking79 on August 7th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)

Two people recc'd this essay to me([Bad username: mary_j_59"] and sydpad), and I'm so glad that they did. You eloquently describe the dissatisfaction that so many of us feel in the wake of DH.

There is no character who embodies the 'easy v. right' conflict more fully than Snape, and yet his creator seems wholly unaware of it. She gifted him with a deprived, abusive childhood and an unrelentingly bleak, barren life, and yet she seems to hold him in contempt for developing in a way that is psychologically congruent with that life: bitter, harsh, spiteful and jealous. That he overcomes these trials and limitations is awe-inspiring, yet for JKR, one gets the sense that this achievement pales in the face of his lack of "niceness."

I suspect that for her, he deserves to be condemmned for the unforgivable crime of failing to laud Harry's awesomeness to the heavens.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)
I'm very glad you liked it. And I'm as disappointed as you are that adoring Harry seems to be the important criterion after all - I had thought that in Snape we were getting the much more unusual example of someone who is firmly on the Young Hero's side, but without thinking that he is the best thing since sliced bread!
(no subject) - grave_alice on August 11th, 2007 06:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - grave_alice on August 11th, 2007 06:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - anne_arthur on August 11th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Julilla1julilla1 on August 7th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
Great analysis!
This is why people think that she hates Snape. There is not a moment of rest for him, he is pretty constantly emotionally and mentally tortured. She minimizes the amazing things he does, and she calls him a bully- yet his rival in love is the sainted James Potter, a bully of such proportion that I am stunned that he would ever win any woman's love (and it says very much about Lily's taste in men that she'd end up with the man who humiliated her best friend in such a way, I mean, my Gods, could anyone ever get over that? I couldn't!). We are just supposed to accept James' transformation to "good guy" without any demonstration of such, yet the things we actually see Snape do and the ways in which he grows are disregarded as selfish or his motives are not good enough.

It seems, IMO, JKR does not care about Snape because the only heroes she can imagine are Golden Gryffindors, Quidditch jocks and other idealized teens who not only "fit in" properly, but who carry the proper amount of "love" for Harry that she believes is appropriate. It doesn't make a difference whether Harry has jumped to every wrong conclusion about Snape for six years and treated him accordingly, of course, what matters is that Snape does not love Harry the way she thinks he should, period. I think there are definite indicators that in the end Severus does come to love Harry for Harry, and I've read various META in which others point out the way in which his actions and words lead them to the same conclusion. It's almost as if JKR can't see the emotional journey that Snape has made, even though she herself friggin' wrote it.

As far as I can see, she did not start to backpedal in her comments about Snape's heroism until after her first statements came out, and the HP forums and LJs fairly exploded in disbelief. Now she's qualifying her answers, which says to me that she still, mindbogglingly, doesn't get it. In a bizarre twist, I think Harry Potter gets it (his conversation at the confrontation with Voldemort and his comments to the son he named after Severus), but JKR does not.

How this is possible I don't know, but I've been wondering on it for two weeks now, it's just the biggest pile of "WTF?" in author/literary psychology that I can imagine. You could almost believe that Severus Snape and his character arc are something she had nothing to do with. It's like someone apparated Severus into the books and the only way she could make him out was through a glass darkly.

anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Great analysis!
Glad you liked it. I'd also noticed that her comments seemed to be getting a bit warmer, and also that she had discovered the word 'antihero'. It's nice to think that we are having SOME effect . . .

But, like you, I am having great trouble reconciling the character she describes with the character she depicts. If I had written this man, you wouldn't be able to stop me going on about what he represented to me, and why I thought he was important, and how glad I was that he had turned out so well, and that so many people saw the good in him! I suppose we should just be glad that we have the book Snape - but her lack of appreciation of him is astounding!
(Anonymous) on August 8th, 2007 12:14 am (UTC)
VERY GOOD ESSAY! Found it from a link on Leaky. I agree I agree I agree that there should have been more reflection on Harry's part on Snape's passing or at least after he sees the memories. And really I would have just loved more Snape in DH in general.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
Very glad you liked it. And that there's a link from Leaky - I didn't know that!
slick969 on August 8th, 2007 01:13 am (UTC)
Such a wonderful analysis. This really encapsulates the collective head scratching that goes along with JKR interviews about Snape. I wonder if someone, during an interview, will finally ask her this question pointedly. Doubtful it will come from any of the obvious choices.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
It would be interesting if she were finally put on the spot, wouldn't it? But I'm not holding my breath. Glad you liked the essay, anyway.
(no subject) - slick969 on August 8th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
kadaj010 on August 8th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)
Thank You for the essay,

Lily Evans clearly liked him - as a friend - but even when they were children there were reservations, and it is very clear that she was never going to feel about him the way he so obviously felt about her.

This has been bothering me. Why would Snape still hold on to the idea Lily 'liked' him when we see in SWM that she didn't even act in the way a 'true' friend would act. A 'true' friend would instantly have pulled out their wand and defended their buddy ( even if they was wrong) and remove the spell cast on them. Just as we see the trio do against Malfoy time and time again. Lily was clearly stalling James, almost flirting with him ( that smile), instead of brandishing her wand. Someone refered to this scene as the 'James and Lily mating dance'. Did Snape not see what was going on? Lily was totally not interested. Not even as a 'friend'. So for him to be nursing this 'love' for her for all these years...I don't know. I felt it was somewhat obsessive.

Although I can understand if he repented for what he had done in his DE days because of Lily, if she was the only one to treat him as an equal, and saw him for who he was. The intelligent, introverted, negected person he was. But to change his ways because he 'loved' her I can't really believe that, and that's how the author portrayed of him. That he deeply 'loved' Lily.

So after seven books, I don't believe she executed the character's storyline very well.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 8th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
That is interesting, isn't it? As I was walking to work this morning I was playing with the idea that one of things that gets Snape upset enough to call her a 'Mudblood' is that in earlier encounters she would have attacked Potter, rather than just stalling him - and, as you say, almost flirting with him - so I was very pleased to read this.

I suppose I think that the fact that he was the one who betrayed her to Voldemort might be a factor in his love - he would suddenly remember that she was - once - nice to him, and that she was the only person who was. It would be very interesting to know what his attitude was in sixth or seventh year, say at about the time when she began to go out with James.
(no subject) - julilla1 on August 9th, 2007 05:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kadaj010 on August 10th, 2007 11:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - julilla1 on August 10th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - fiera_316 on August 11th, 2007 07:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - julilla1 on August 12th, 2007 03:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kadaj010 on August 11th, 2007 11:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - julilla1 on August 12th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
sephiaowlsephiaowl on August 10th, 2007 02:01 am (UTC)
I am not sure why I feel the need to echo what everyone else said, but...

That was a fantastic essay. i agree completely with all your points and am glad that someone else pointed out the fact that Harry (et al) were using Unforgivable Curses lightly, without any problems and no guilt (not to mention robbing banks and Obliviating innocent muggles and sending them to Australia...that REALLY got to me).

Snape is probably the bravest person in this series...unlike Harry, who rushes into situations unprepared and oblivious, he goes into danger knowing the worst. He has long been my favorite character and I am still not sure if I approve of JKR's dismissive treatment of that. As well as her approval of all that Harry does, even the wrong...

Thanks again for a fantastic essay.
anne_arthuranne_arthur on August 13th, 2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
I'm very glad you liked it. I love your icon - who is she?
(no subject) - sephiaowl on August 19th, 2007 01:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - anne_arthur on August 22nd, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The Goddamn Wolf Womanslythwolf on August 10th, 2007 02:19 am (UTC)
*standing ovation*
anne_arthur: All is wellanne_arthur on August 13th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Much appreciated.
(Anonymous) on August 17th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
</i>Perhaps he could have done more to make himself nicer.

I don't see how Snape could have been nicer, certainly not to Harry. Harry is everything he despises (James) and everything he lost (Lily) all rolled into one, a living, breathing constant reminder of Snape's Worst Memory.

Harry is pre-disposed to hate and mistrust Snape as well, stretching all the way back to first year, Sorting Feast. When Harry blames Snape's presence for his scar hurting, never imaging that Quirrell (or rather Voldemort) is the cause. There is every reason to believe that Snape feels Voldemort the same way Harry does through his Dark Mark and therefore knows even then that Voldemort is returning.

Harry is Dumbledore's man. Snape because of Lily by way of Dumbledore is Harry's man. Despite of all he does for Harry's benefit and safety over the years, Harry never knows where Snape's true loyalties lie. How could anyone else ever be certain, except for Dumbledore and Snape? What possible cover is better for a spy than hating and being hated by the one person to whom he is most loyal?

Snape can't afford to be nice to Harry (even if he were emotionally equipped to do that) and can't afford for to Harry like him, not even a little bit. Increasingly, as the books progress, as Voldemort comes to trust Snape less and less, as Harry's connection to Voldemort becomes clear, both their lives depend on that mutual hate.
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 21st, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC)
I suppose I meant that he could have been nicer generally - as regards his behaviour to Harry I quite agree with you. But of course if he made himself too well liked, that too would have made it harder for him to be the perfect double agent . . .
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2007 10:48 am (UTC)
It's great!
Your essay is awesome!!!

I thought the last moment of Snape is enough. When he told Harry to look at him through the eyes. Isn't that showing a bit of affection to Harry? And with Harry staring back as Snape's request shows some good feeling towards Snape? Or even sympathy....

(I know Harry inherits Lily's eyes and Snape probably wanted to see his only love's eyes before he died but it could have some hidden meaning as well)

I really hate James >"<


I was very disappointed since book 5 (Harry's personalities seemed to has changed >"<) but I guess the character Snape makes up for it.

I love the last book not because of Harry's glorious victory, Hermione's awesome brain but because of Snape.

I can't believe JK made Ron looks like an idiot. Ever since the 1st book, Ron doesn't help much and it's always Hermion who made a great discovery. At first, I don't really care but Ruper Grint does a wonderful job so I thought JK was not being fair there.

In the end, I guess she's not really a great writer, there are some flaws and unfairness but overall it was good enough that she can create such a "controversial - character" (quote from my friend ^^) such as Snape.

There's another good point in DH. Draco isn't completed bad as a Slytherin. Remember when Crabble set the Room of Requirements on fire while the Goyled was Stunned. Draco didn't abandon his friend.

Malfoy grabbed the Stunned Goyled and dragged him along."
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows - page 508)

"And he saw them: Malfoy with his arms around the unconscious Goyle"
(page 509)

----> See? Slytherin DOES care about the friends after all ^^
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on August 30th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)
Re: It's great!
I'm very glad you liked it. You're right - Draco is very loyal to Goyle, and to his family. I just wish he hadn't been made to look quite so much of a fool so often! And like you, I would like to imagine some good feeling between Harry and Snape as he dies - I hope that it was meant to be there.
msbigbad: emmarupertmsbigbad on September 17th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
great job!
I am looking for essays to link to on my site and I would love to link this one! You bring up alot of interesting points!!

my website is at http://loveunchained.com

I have archived a few essays there already and I would honored if you'd let me archive this one!!
anne_arthur: I knowanne_arthur on September 18th, 2007 09:49 pm (UTC)
Re: great job!
I'm delighted you liked the essay, and feel honoured that you would like to archive it - please go ahead! Perhaps I ought to point out that an edited and expanded version is going to appear in the Scribbulus section of the Leaky Cauldron website in due course, but I do hope that doesn't put you off - in many ways I still like this original version the best!
Re: great job! - msbigbad on September 19th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on September 8th, 2015 02:20 am (UTC)
Woah. Just stumbled across this and it's *great*. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful analysis of my favorite character!
anne_arthur: Outsideranne_arthur on September 8th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's been a long time, but I'm glad people are still reading and liking it.
(no subject) - delphipsmith on September 14th, 2015 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - anne_arthur on September 16th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)