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10 September 2007 @ 11:19 pm
Reading Snape as an Example of the Pop-Culture Character Type of the Lonely Nerd  
First, I must give credit where credit is due. The idea for this essay was sparked by this discussion at bohemianspirit's journal. Here, the discussion centers on comparing Snape to being an outcast/nerd in Real Life. I've taken the same root idea, but abandoned Real Life altogether to focus on where Snape fits into the spectrum of pop-cultural depictions of nerds.

So, without further ado, here it is:

Severus Dynamite? Reading Snape as an Example of the Pop-Culture Character Type of the Lonely Nerd

“Nobody’s gonna go out with me….I don’t even have any good skills….You know, like nun chuck skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills—girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”
-Napoleon Dynamite

I know that comparing surly and secretive Severus Snape to bushy-haired loser Napoleon Dynamite seems like a pretty big stretch, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll explain how both of these fictional characters are embodiments of the same character type: the Lonely Nerd. The character of the Lonely Nerd can be found in numerous films, television shows, and books in pop-culture, and by coming to a new understanding of this character type we can gain fresh insight into Snape’s character and motivations.

For those of you who have not yet seen the cult-favorite film “Napoleon Dynamite,” don’t worry. This essay is primarily a textual analysis of Snape as a character, an examination of nerds in pop-culture, and a discussion of how Snape seems to fit in with those other pop-culture nerds. I will occasionally throw in comparisons to characters in “Napoleon Dynamite,” (mostly just for fun) but those characters and that film are simplistic enough that no one should have any trouble understanding my underlying arguments.

Defining Nerd

Firstly, what is a nerd? Those of you reading this can and probably will willingly self-identify yourselves as nerds—it’s a term that seems to fit most, if not all, of fandom. Dictionary.com defines “nerd” as first: “a stupid, irritating, ineffectual or unattractive person,” and second as: “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.” (That second definition is the one that applies to us ;)). The American Heritage Dictionary online elaborates this by saying that a nerd is: “single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.”

It’s clear how these definitions apply to Napoleon Dynamite. He is most certainly socially inept, and could easily be called irritating and unattractive. In addition, he is single-mindedly devoted to the idea that he needs to acquire “skills” in order to impress women and win respect and friendship.

But Snape? A nerd? Snape fangirls and fanboys everywhere might cry out in protest at this label for their beloved Potions Master, but let’s take a minute to analyze the text and see if it might support the idea of “nerd!Snape.”

Let’s begin with the very first glimpse of Snape in canon, in chapter 7 of PS/SS. Snape is described as a teacher “with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.” Shortly thereafter, Percy responds to Harry’s queries with the following description: “He teaches Potions, but doesn’t want to—everyone knows he’s after Quirell’s job [Defense Against the Dark Arts]. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape.”

Immediately, Snape is described as fitting several of the definitions of “nerd.” He is described as unattractive, and is commonly known to have a single-minded pursuit of an academic subject, as well as high achievement within that same subject. It was a brief introduction, but so far he certainly seems to be falling into the category of “nerd.”

Let me briefly digress to comment on academia and teaching in regards to nerd-dom. Although most people associate the word “nerd” with someone in the sciences, computers, or fandom, you could easily call academics of all stripes “nerds.” They are just a special sub-set of nerds. History-obsessed nerds often become history teachers. Literature-obsessed nerds often become literature teachers. The same applies to nerds obsessed with Philosophy, Art, Linguistics, Mathematics, Physics, and so on. I would posit that the same idea is applicable in Wizarding society. Herbology-obsessed nerds aspire to teach Herbology; Arithmancy-obsessed nerds aspire to teach Arithmancy; and, naturally, Potions-obsessed nerds aspire to teach Potions. The key difference in the Wizarding world is that far fewer teaching positions are available, so one would have to be the best of the best—and/or the most deeply obsessed—at one’s subject in order to win one of the coveted teaching positions. In other words, one would have to be the King or Queen of nerds in his or her subject. I’ll come back to this point later.

On “Skills” and being a Nerd

Pedro: “Aren’t you pretty good at drawing, like, animals and warriors and stuff?”
Napoleon: “Yes. Probably the best that I know of.”

One of the clever running jokes in “Napoleon Dynamite” is the fact that the nerds are determined to impress each other and every one else with boasts and displays of their “skills.” This holds true, to a lesser extent, in real life. I’m sure most of you have seen fan authors or artists proudly displaying links to their fan creations on their personal blogs. And I’m sure many of you know people who will talk on and on about the characters they’ve created in either live-action role playing games, or video games like World of Warcraft. And I remember back in my days as an academic nerd in high school, all of us students in honors and AP classes would gossip about our test scores, class ranking, and the varying difficulty of our class schedules. Those are all different forms of nerd-skills.

Instead of relying on social acumen to prove themselves to people or to win respect and friendship, nerds often seem to think that they need to prove themselves worthy with their “skills.” This holds true with Academia-nerds, as well as other types of nerds. And this sort of “top-nerd” bravado is also on display in the world of Harry Potter.

It starts, interestingly enough, with Professor McGonagall. During the first Transfiguration class in PS/SS chapter 8, she opens her class by saying: “Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts… Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.” Immediately she demonstrates a flawless and difficult act of Transfiguration for her class. I would like to suggest that this is more than just an introduction to the subject of Transfiguration—it is a bragging session for the Queen-nerd of Transfiguration. She has proved herself the best at her academic subject, earned the coveted position of teacher, and she is using her bragging in an attempt to lure young students into sharing her private obsession with the subject of Transfiguration.

Snape repeats her pattern in his opening speech to the first-years in the same chapter. He says, “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making…As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic…I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death—if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.” Again, Snape appears to be opening his class with a nerd-skills bragging session, which reinforces the idea of nerd!Snape. Snape’s opening speech is very similar in its objectives to McGonagall’s. In essentials, the two of them are doing the very same thing—it is only their tone of voice and manner of presentation that differ. The only reason McGonagall’s speech left a more positive impression with Harry is the fact that she is more socially adept than Snape. This very social awkwardness actually makes Snape appear as an even nerdier nerd than McGonagall.

Does Snape really believe that “wand-waving” is foolish? No—clearly not. In COS, it is established that he is an accomplished dueler—a task that requires a wand. In HBP it is revealed that in his youth he invented many original spells—all using a wand. And the job he covets (Defense Against the Dark Arts) is one in which he will primarily be using a wand. Snape calls “wand-waving” foolish not because that is what he really thinks, but because he is trying to establish his credentials as the King-nerd of Potions. Likewise, by disdaining other magical arts and elevating Potions, he attempts to establish himself at the top of the magic-nerd pecking order among the other teachers.

For both Snape and McGonagall, it is all about “skills”. What nerd-skills do they posses by which they can prove themselves worthy of respect and admiration? As demonstrated by Napoleon and Pedro’s obsession with “skills,” this is the one path to social acceptance that nerds see as a viable option.

The Lonely Nerd

Napoleon: “So me and you are pretty much friends by now, right?”
Pedro: “Yes.”
Napoleon: “So, you got my back and everything?”
Pedro: “What?”
Napoleon: “Never mind.”

Pop-culture today typically depicts nerds as fitting into one of four different categories of nerds. The first is what I would call Content Nerds. These nerds are aware of who and what they are, and are fairly content with their lot in life. They have friends, family, and a degree of wider social acceptance. These nerds include such icons as Steve Urkel, Screech of “Saved by the Bell,” Wesley Crusher, and Lisa on “The Simpsons.”

The second category of pop-culture nerds is the Blissfully Ignorant Nerd. These nerds don’t really know what they are—nor do they care. They skate through life in a state of blissful ignorance. This category includes nerds such as Dwight Schrute of the American “The Office,” Willy Wonka, and Bruce Wayne/Batman. These people probably wouldn’t categorize themselves as nerds, and would likely laugh at anyone who did. But by and large they keep their own counsel and don’t care much what other people think of them, nor do they care if they fit into normal society. They are who they are, and they are happy that way.

The third category is what I would call the Bitter Nerd. These nerds know that they are different, know that other people don’t like or respect them, and they are bitter and angry about it. They often believe that their own skills and obsessions make them better than other people, and don’t understand why the rest of the world can’t understand them. They feel that they intrinsically deserve respect and admiration. Examples of this type of nerd include Warren on “Buffy,” Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons,” Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” Buddy/Syndrome from “The Incredibles,” Sylar from “Heroes, and Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort.

The fourth and final category of nerd is the Lonely Nerd. There is a lot of overlap between the Bitter Nerd and the Lonely Nerd, and I believe that even within a single film/book/show a single nerd can move back and forth between the two groups. Lonely nerds, like Bitter Nerds, know that they are different, know that they are looked down on, and don’t understand why. Also, both the Bitter Nerd and the Lonely Nerd are typically depicted as coming from broken or unhappy hopes. However, unlike the Bitter Nerds, instead of becoming bitter and angry, Lonely Nerds become depressed and lonely, longing for love and friendship above all else. Pop-culture examples of this type of nerd include Jonathon from “Buffy,” Wesley from “Angel,” Brian from “The Breakfast Club,” Napoleon from “Napoleon Dynamite,” and, I would submit, Severus Snape. I’ll elaborate on this later.

Using Nerd-Skills to Win Friends and Respect

Pedro: “Do you think people will vote for me?”
Napoleon: “Heck yes! I’d vote for you.”
Pedro: “Like, what are my skills?”
Napoleon: “Well, you have a sweet bike. And you’re really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you’re like the only guy at school who has a mustache.”

Both the Bitter Nerds and the Lonely Nerds seek ways to win friends and respect, and more often than not nerds from both of those groups see nerd-skills as the surest way to achieve their goals. Snape is no different.

Snape’s obsession with proving himself through his “skills” starts at a young age. As early as GOF, Sirius tells Harry: “Snape’s always been fascinated by the Dark Arts. He was famous for it at school…Snape knew more curses when he arrived than half the kids in seventh year, and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters.” Later, in OotP, Sirius elaborates when he tells Harry that “James was everything Snape wanted to be—he was popular, he was …good at pretty much everything. And Snape was just this little oddball who was up to his eyes in the Dark Arts.”

Clearly, Snape’s old classmates were left with the impression that Snape desired popularity, but instead earned only notoriety as a Dark Arts-obsessed “oddball.” This certainly seems to fit the definition of nerd—socially inept, and obsessed with a nonsocial pursuit.

I would like to suggest that Snape’s obsession with the Dark Arts derived not from a desire for power or a love of evil, but out of a desire to impress others with his nerd-skills.

In OotP chapter 28, Harry’s trip into the Pensieve shows us an academically gifted/academically obsessed young Snape. His Defense Against the Dark Arts essay is “at least a foot [longer] than his closest neighbors,” and he hunches over his exam with single-minded determination. After the examination ends, Snape remains focused intently and exclusively on his exam questions, even after settling down outside on the grounds. Clearly, this is a young man obsessed with academic achievement. And his obsession was not without positive result—Dumbledore would never have hired him as Potions Master unless he was highly qualified for the position. Later, he proves himself equally qualified in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Clearly, being an expert in not just one but two academic fields, Snape proves himself an academic nerd in the fullest sense of the word, and it was through his nerd-skills that Snape sought to establish a place of respect and admiration for himself in the Wizarding world.

It is not until DH that we were allowed to see the full extent of his early obsession with nerd-skills, and his desire to use those skills to win friends and acceptance. He uses his magical knowledge to win what appears to be his first and only friend—Lily. She looks up to him, and craves the knowledge he offers. It is a Lonely Nerd’s dream come true.

I believe that young Snape fits into the Lonely Nerd category because young Snape longs for friends, love, and acceptance. He stares at Lily “greedily” because in his mind she represents everything that the Lonely Nerd wants.

His family is described as being tempestuous and unpleasant, but few details of it are given. I find it telling, however, that once at Hogwarts he boastfully assumes the moniker of “Half-Blood Prince,” taking on his mother’s maiden name. Though no clear reason for this choice is given in the text, there is a great deal that can be conjectured about this title. Perhaps the little half-blood could only gain the respect and approval of his Prince relatives by showing off his nerd-skills in the Dark Arts? This would explain why he knew so many curses when he entered Hogwarts. And once he was sorted into Slytherin, his Dark Arts nerd-skills earned him a level of respect that he had never before experienced—not even with Lily. His nerd-skills even granted him acceptance to a “gang” of other like-minded Slytherins. This would undoubtedly cement in his mind the notion that his nerd-skills are the key to social success.

I submit that this is why he was so confused by Lily’s later rejection of his friendship. From his point of view, she wasn’t his friend because she merely liked him. Rather, he believed that he won her friendship by impressing her with his nerd-skills. Yet, suddenly, instead of being impressed by his nerd-skills she is disgusted by them. All his other friends still respect and admire his nerd-skills, so why doesn’t Lily?

I believe that Lily’s rejection of Snape pushes him over the thin line between Lonely Nerd and Bitter Nerd. He still believes that his nerd-skills are far superior to any skills possessed by Lily’s Gryffindor friends, and he believes that he is better than any of them. He has the respect of his Slytherin friends, and he deserves the respect of those Gryffindors as well! Now that he has moved from Lonely Nerd to Bitter Nerd, his decision to join the Death Eaters should not be a surprise. It is no longer about longing for respect and love—it’s about a sense of entitlement.

This idea was confirmed by J.K.Rowling in her famous post-DH chat with readers. She says: “Well, that is Snape’s tragedy. Given his time over again he would not have become a Death Eater, but like many insecure, vulnerable people… he craved membership of something big and powerful, something impressive….He never really understood Lily’s aversion; he was so blinded by his attraction to the dark side he thought she would find him impressive if he became a real Death Eater.” Snape convinced himself that he needed even better nerd-skills to win Lily back, and that is why he joined the Death Eaters.

Other pop-culture examples of the Lonely Nerd becoming a Bitter Nerd include Wesley from “Angel,” Andy on the American “The Office,” and Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon himself was able to avoid that jump by finding a few open-minded friends who chose to stand by him. Another pop-culture character whose journey mirrors Snape’s is Jonathon from “Buffy.” He started as a Lonely Nerd, but after being rejected by more popular and “normal” people once too often, he falls in with two Bitter Nerds who respected his arcane knowledge and infected him with their own bitterness toward society at large. I believe that this is role of Snape’s gang of Slytherins. They shared his obsession with the Dark Arts, and encouraged him into his bitterness toward the larger Wizarding world, and toward his Gryffindor rivals in particular.

From Bitter Nerd to Malevolent Nerd

Uncle Rico: “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains? Yeah... Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would've been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind….I'd have gone pro in a heartbeat. I'd be makin' millions of dollars and...livin' in a...big ol' mansion somewhere. You know, soakin' it up in a hot tub with my soul mate.”

Just as the jump from Lonely Nerd to Bitter Nerd is an easy one, so is the jump from Bitter Nerd to Malevolent Nerd—the ultimate extreme of the Bitter Nerd spectrum. The Malevolent Nerd not only believes that he intrinsically deserves respect and admiration, but he undertakes immoral, destructive, and even evil acts in order to force that respect and admiration out of the people around him.

Examples of Malevolent Nerds in pop-culture include Warren on “Buffy,” Sylar on “Heroes,” Ben Linus on “Lost,” Syndrome on “The Incredibles,” most of the super-villains from “James Bond,” and of course Lord Voldemort.

The transition to Malevolent Nerd from Bitter Nerd, however, is not inevitable. Jonathon on “Buffy” eventually resisted the evil influence of Warren and even tried to help Buffy and the gang. Uncle Rico eventually gave up on trying to control the lives of Kip and Napoleon and left them in peace. Likewise, when Snape was faced with the moment of decision about whether or not to become a Malevolent Nerd, he chose to retreat back into the perpetually unhappy realm of the Lonely Nerd. When he requested Lily as a prize from Lord Voldemort he very nearly crossed the line into being a Malevolent Nerd. Just like Jonathon on “Buffy” nearly crossed that same line when he colluded with Warren to cover up a murder. In the end, both of those characters regretted acting on those evil impulses and realized that in their hearts they still only desired love and friendship. Just as Jonathon made moves to use his nerd-skills to help Buffy, Snape decided to turn to Dumbledore, and agreed to use his nerd-skills in the capacity of a spy, in order to protect Lily and eventually Lily’s son.

Why Snape Stays a Lonely Nerd—Not a Bitter Nerd

The case could certainly be made that if adult Snape is indeed a nerd, he is a Bitter Nerd rather than a Lonely Nerd. It would be hard to argue definitively against this because, as I said above, there is a great deal of overlap between these two groups. However, I prefer to categorize adult Snape as a Lonely Nerd.

He certainly has many moments of bitterness—all his times raging against Harry’s arrogance and rule breaking, for instance. His treatment of Hermione is likewise full of bitterness—he seems to instinctively respond to her show-off-ishness as he would to a rival for top-nerd status in his subject, and treats her with disdain. Likewise, his cruel treatment of Neville could be seen as bitter. On the other hand, his treatment of Neville could be seen as a somewhat misguided attempt to toughen up a boy in whom he sees reflections of his younger self—Snape may be trying to make Neville strong where he himself was once weak.

Despite his moments of bitterness Snape’s actions seem to me to be more those of a Lonely Nerd than a Bitter Nerd. This is exemplified in one of his exchanges with Dumbledore in DH chapter 33, “The Prince’s Tale.” When Dumbledore asks Snape to vow to protect Harry, Snape agrees, but only if Dumbledore will swear it to secrecy. “My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?” replies Dumbledore. A Bitter Nerd would want the world to know the noble and great things that he was doing, because the Bitter Nerd feels entitled to public respect and admiration. Only the Lonely Nerd would demand that his best deeds be hidden from public knowledge.

In fact, the entire chapter of “The Prince’s Tale” is rife with examples of Snape submitting his will to the wishes and orders of Albus Dumbledore. In a most telling moment, Dumbledore comes to Snape with his injured hand, and Snape says, “If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!” These are not the words of a bitter man who desires public admiration, but the words of a lonely man who is afraid of losing his only friend. Yes, Dumbledore was something of a puppet-master with Snape, but Snape willing submitted himself to being that puppet. Why? Because Dumbledore filled the Lonely Nerd’s deepest desire—the desire for friendship, acceptance, and love. Snape seemed to believe that in Dumbledore he had found the understanding and friendship that he had always longed for. And in true Lonely Nerd fashion he did whatever was required to hold on to that friendship and acceptance. I believe that Snape did all that he did not only to honor the memory of his first friend—Lily—but to maintain the respect and approval of his last friend: Albus Dumbledore.

Pop-culture and literature is full of examples of Lonely Nerds making the choice to follow a path of self-sacrifice for the sake of their few friends. One example from classical literature is Sydney Carton of “A Tale of Two Cities” laying down his life for the sake of his beloved Lucie and her family. More recent examples include Jonathon of “Buffy” risking both his safety and his freedom to return to Sunnydale in the hopes of winning back some respect—or at least forgiveness—from the people he misses and admires. Another example is Napoleon Dynamite risking public humiliation in order to help his friend Pedro by doing a dance routine in front of the whole school. The pop-culture stereotype of the Lonely Nerd certainly seems to include the propensity for acts of great self-sacrifice in order to help the people whom the nerd cares about. Snape fits this pattern perfectly.

Finally, Snape’s dying acts identity him as a Lonely Nerd to the very end. At that point in the narrative it is only necessary that he communicate to Harry that part of Voldemort’s soul resides within him. Instead, Snape pours out memories of key moments throughout his life. Why? Because even as he is dying, Snape still longs for understanding, acceptance, and even love. He hopes that by sharing his story with Harry, that Harry—and through Harry, the world—will finally grant him respect and understanding. In a sad irony Snape achieves the wide public respect and admiration that he always wanted only after his death. He was denied the happy ending of nerds like Napoleon Dynamite and instead, like Jonathon, died like he lived—a Lonely Nerd.

Snape as the Lonely Nerd in Fanfiction and Fanart

So, if Snape really is a Lonely Nerd in canon, what about in fanfiction and fanart? I’m sure the question that fan writers and artists are more interested in is: Can nerd!Snape still be sexy? My answer is a definite Maybe.

There are other examples of sexy nerds in pop culture—from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock to Buffy’s Giles. There are even sexy Bitter/Lonely nerds. My favorite example is season 4 Wesley from Angel—I thought he was very sexy while having hate-sex with Lilah and pining away for his ideal she-nerd, Fred. If they can be sexy, then so can nerd!Snape. It just takes a little more creativity—something which fan writers and fan artists have plenty of.

I, for one, would like to see more art and fiction with a Snape that is less a dark and brooding Bronte-esque hero, and more of a self-involved “The Office”-esque nerd. I’d love to see an adult Snape that is less Mr. Rochester, and more Dwight Schrute. And I’d like to see a young Snape that is less Heathcliff and more Napoleon Dynamite. In particular I’d like to see a young Snape that is the Jonathon to Mulciber’s Warren, or the Duckie to Lily’s Molly Ringwald (please tell me I’m not the only one here who remembers “Pretty in Pink”?). I think that the possibilities of nerd!Snape in fan writing and art are varied and fascinating, and though I’ve only read and seen a handful of nerd!Snape creations so far, I look forward to seeing more.


I hope that by now I’ve managed to convince at least a few of you that reading Snape as a Lonely Nerd is indeed a valid interpretation of the canon character. He is physically unattractive, socially inept, single-minded, and obsessed. In addition, he lives a lonely and misanthropic life devoted to the memory of one friend and the service of another, all the while longing for acceptance, understanding, and love. He seems to believe that the only way to gain the acceptance and respect that he wants is through attaining and displaying his nerd!skills. Finally, he is willing to perform great acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of the few friends he does have. In Snape J.K.Rowling truly created a character that fits the pop-culture character type of the Lonely Nerd. In my opinion, this understanding of the character adds a wonderful new depth to readings of both canon and fanon. It also explains why Snape is so immensely popular in fandom—he is one of us.
heidi∞: Bothering Snape by PotterPalsheidi8 on September 11th, 2007 08:43 am (UTC)
This is really interesting! I just read an interview with Henry Jenkins, so meta-fandomy things are on my mind right now and your study on Snape really incorporates some of my thoughts on reading what the reporter focused on in the Jenkins profile... (and btw, have you considered submitting it to fictionalley's essay archive?)
jncar: lightsabre STjncar on September 11th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I might do that--I already have a fictionalley account.
the ghost of Alex Krycekcs_luis on September 11th, 2007 12:58 pm (UTC)
I loved this! :-D Totally agree on all counts, and bonus points for all the Napoleon references.
jncarjncar on September 11th, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Sorry--that first reply was supposed to be for someone else! But thanks. Napoleon references are always good fun, aren't they?
Billpstscrpt on September 11th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
I don't really think there's a firm distiction between lonely and bitter, although I suppose arguing for the lonely side makes it worth an essay. I think the bitter side goes without saying, and that Snape's unhappiness and unpleasantness feed off each other.

Voldemorte may be something of a nerd, but Tom Riddle never was. He never had the slightest trouble getting people to think of him exactly what he wanted them to.
jncar: Harold and the Purple Crayonjncar on September 11th, 2007 02:51 pm (UTC)
I think that pre-Hogwarts Tom Riddle was most certainly a nerd, but once he entered Hogwarts he did indeed seem to find a niche where he could be popular, so you make a good point.
Peg Kerrpegkerr on September 11th, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
I think you mean bohemianspirit.
jncar: orange flowerjncar on September 11th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I'll fix it.
(no subject) - pegkerr on September 11th, 2007 02:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The Goddamn Wolf Womanslythwolf on September 11th, 2007 02:45 pm (UTC)
At that point in the narrative it is only necessary that he communicate to Harry that part of Voldemort’s soul resides within him. Instead, Snape pours out memories of key moments throughout his life. Why? Because even as he is dying, Snape still longs for understanding, acceptance, and even love. He hopes that by sharing his story with Harry, that Harry—and through Harry, the world—will finally grant him respect and understanding. In a sad irony Snape achieves the wide public respect and admiration that he always wanted only after his death.

I have to disagree with this passage from beginning to end. Firstly Severus has to show Harry those memories to get Harry to trust him--why would Harry believe someone he thinks is evil, especially if that someone is telling him he has to die? He would think it was part of Voldemort's plot. And secondly he doesn't achieve wide public respect and admiration. The only person who seems to respect and admire him is Harry, and that only nineteen years later.
jncarjncar on September 11th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)
I see your point--Harry did need to see something to convince him of Snape's trustworthiness. However, I think the whole narrative of his friendship with Lily was completely unnecessary. He merely needed to show himself healing Dumbledore, agreeing to kill him, and sending the Patronus to lead Harry to the sword. That would have been sufficient to earn Harry's trust. The rest of the memories were nothing but a desire for Snape to explain himself.

The only person who seems to respect and admire him is Harry, and that only nineteen years later.

The denouement is so short and the epilogue so devoid of in-depth detail that I think it highly likely that Snape has achieved wide-spread respect and fame postmortem. The fact that Albus Severus doesn't know much about the man for whom he is named is no surprise--it wouldn't exactly be a comfortable daily conversational topic in the Potter household, and Harry never cared much for studying history so he likely would not have had books on recent wizarding history lying around the house. The kid was only 11, after all--I certainly didn't know much history at 11.
(no subject) - slythwolf on September 11th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jncar on September 11th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sari_malfoy on September 13th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
rosemarinus officinalis: Napoleon Dynomite Dancerosedemon on September 11th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
Great essay. I really enjoyed reading it.

Just a observation...what we label ourselves in school does not hold when we become adults. A lot of the nerds that I knew in high school turned out pretty good looking and well balanced in adult life. I don't doubt that the HP books reflect this. I sort of see Arthur Weasley as one big nerd when he was in school. I suppopse it is up to the individual in how he or she deals with the label of nerd.
jncar: bujold adulthood iconsbycurtanajncar on September 11th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks. And I agree with your observation, which is why I chose to focus on pop-culture depictions of nerds rather than real life. In real life adults are much more accepting of people who once were or still are "nerds" than they are in pop-culture. In tv and movies the normal portrayal is "once a nerd, always a nerd." Shows and movies only defy that convention when they want to be surprising or shocking. But in real life it's quite the opposite.
(no subject) - soberloki on September 13th, 2007 05:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - rosedemon on September 13th, 2007 05:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
.: affil-Aug2the_bitter_word on September 11th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting essay. I think Snape is definitely an outsider in the Wizarding world based on a number of factors: family background, uncertain economic status, choices which put his loyalty in doubt, personality which pushes others away. He is a loner, not necessarily Lonely, unless I am misunderstanding your use of the word.

As for nerdiness, I agree that he is obsessed with skills and acquiring them, as you say, and that he doesn't really show those off until he has to, and in the Wizarding world, his scholarship makes him some sort of misfit. I'm just not sure "nerd" fits the Wizarding world. Others see him as an "oddball" -- I don't get that impression he shares that Gryffindor judgment.

His undying loyalty to Lily's memory and to Dumbledore are, I think, more complex than someone trying to prove himself to those whose admiration and friendship he seeks. I actually see both Lily and Dumbledore as being emotionally abusive to Snape, something he was probably used to from his parents, something he may have equated with love and concern. Neither of them did him any favors in terms of self-esteem, no matter what JKR might say on the subject.

We really don't know what kind of relationships he had within Slytherin House as a student to know if he was socially inept there, as well. We only see a glimpse of him with the Death Eaters. He seemed fairly smooth and socially aware in that situation, as an adult. But you comparison with Jonathan in Buffy is a good one.

Anyway, thanks for the essay. It give me a lot to think about.

By the way, would you agree that Luna is a content nerd?

jncar: Luna by bethyj_graphicsjncar on September 11th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)

We only see a glimpse of him with the Death Eaters. He seemed fairly smooth and socially aware in that situation, as an adult. But you comparison with Jonathan in Buffy is a good one.

I think that being a "nerd" in the adult world is somewhat more difficult to classify because, in general, adults are far more accepting of "nerd" behavior than kids are, so nerds are not ostracized in adulthood the way they are in childhood.

And I'm glad you liked the Jonathon comparison--he seemed like the closest pop-culture analogy to young Snape that I could find.

would you agree that Luna is a content nerd?

Yes, I think I would.
Diaz: SNAPE: Duel-ready.soberloki on September 13th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
Your point about Snape's treatment of Neville Longbottom - that he may have been trying to thicken the boy's skin through repeated lashings, figuratively speaking - is one that's occurred to me in the past. I'm really glad to see that brought up and explored here.

Yep, hopeless Snape fangirl here, and fellow nerd. One of the relatively content variety, sometimes.
jncar: Nevillejncar on September 13th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I'd really like to see a fic that explores that--especially a fic set during DH that has Headmaster Snape secretly enjoying Longbottom's rebellion. I'd put it on my own "must write" list if that list wasn't already hopelessly long. :)
(no subject) - shimotsuki on September 15th, 2007 02:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shimotsuki on September 15th, 2007 02:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jncar on September 15th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
sari_malfoy: pic#63841991sari_malfoy on September 13th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC)
Ohhh, I had a Duckie OBSESSION when I was fifteenish. And thhat is mainly due to fact that he was so much like me but in a male form.

Very good essay, I agree on pretty much everything here. I've been a big fan of Snape for a long while, in most of his fanfic personas but most definetely with the one of lone outcast (that indeed became the canon finally. So much so that some Snape fans have abandoned DH). It was very good to read such categories and thoughts put into nerdism, as usually people think of nerds on quite black and white terms. (And someone like Bruce Wayne wouldn't even be considered one).

I would also be very interested in hearing your thoughts on post-DH Dumbledore. The man has me...puzzled and OUTRAGED, still. I can't seem to fit the DH into previous stuff, I can't decide how much of him was all-manipulating and malevolent and how much of him had learned from his past "mistakes" (did he TRULY think they were mistakes? And if so, by what point? He still made such a mistake as an old man with the ring). His treatment of Snape, or Harry, or someone "simple" like Hagrid, after what we'd been told in DH....I can't get over it.

jncar: slytherin hero by 85iconsjncar on September 13th, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I was always fond of Duckie myself. I think he would have been a much more interesting boyfriend than bland Blaine (I think that was his name?).

And I'm still trying to wrap my mind around post-DH Dumbledore characterization. My mind tells me that he was just a manipulative puppet-master, but my heart keeps wanting to assign him more wholesome and kind motives. Ultimately, I think he probably lies somewhere in between but I still haven't got a very good handle on it yet.
(no subject) - sari_malfoy on September 13th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
lady__ash on September 13th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
nerds and teachers
I don't share your views about nerds becoming teachers. Usually one becomes teacher because you like to teach (children) or you are only mediocre in your subjects. The real brilliant people go into research or business or do their own thing, especially if they are nerds. Beeing brilliant at your subject does not make you a good teacher, by the way.
I believe the same would happen in the wizarding world. The hogwarts staff likes to teach, the school etc (or is kept safe by albus dumbledore like snape and trelawny).
And of course every teacher is partial to his subject.
zanesfriendzanesfriend on September 13th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC)
Re: nerds and teachers
Being brilliant in your subject in and of itself does not make you a good teacher, but a teacher who doesn't know his subject inside and outside and top to bottom but has to stay a chapter or so ahead of his students is pretty much a joke, too.

And a person who is brilliant at his subject might THINK that becoming a teacher is a good way to immerse himself in the subject; unless such also have the gift of communicating their entheusiasm, they will generally go into some other profession after a few years.
Re: nerds and teachers - jncar on September 13th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: nerds and teachers - lady__ash on September 14th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
shimotsukishimotsuki on September 15th, 2007 03:04 am (UTC)
I've finally had a chance to read this after a very crazy week filled with work stress. I really like your ideas here -- the distinction you draw between Lonely and Bitter Nerd convinced me, and I like your points about how Snape goes back and forth between the two types due to Lily's rejection and then her murder.

Really excellent point about Snape's memories telling Harry "extra" stuff that he didn't need just for the Horcrux information to be believable. (Maybe it's because I was still in shock about Certain Deaths when I read it, but) that didn't even occur to me when I read the relevant chapter. And the idea that Snape really did crave acceptance -- even after treating Harry so horribly for so many years -- is a plausible reason for him to have left the extra memories.

Also, your last line is brilliant. :)
jncar: chocolatejncar on September 15th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm sorry you had a hard week. :(

I hope your weekend gives you a chance to relax. And I'm glad you found my thoughts interesting.

I didn't think about the fact that Snape was giving Harry excess info during the first reading, but a few weeks later after things had sunk in a little it really started standing out to me. He could have won Harry's trust with far less than he chose to show him. I really do think he still wanted some sort of redemption/recognition/acceptance and sharing the whole story was the only way to get it.
msbigbadmsbigbad on September 17th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC)
wow like you said at the begining I never would have thought to compare Napoleon and severus but wow they ARE both lonley nerds!!

I really enjoyed this essay!! Would you consider letting me linkthis on my website?

I'm gathering the best essays I can find on LJ to link there.

my web address is http://loveunchained.com

you can see the other essays I'm currently linking to by going to the extras section on my site and them selecting essays.
ex_peignoir991 on October 17th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
My discomfort with analyzing Snape as an instance of the nerd archetype comes from the fact that I see it as an insufficient description. I'm not saying that it never makes sense to look at Snape in the context of the nerd in fiction, or say that a few aspects of Snape's personality could be described as nerdy (it does help to explain his intellectual motives for studying the Dark Arts, for instance). But there is also something diagnostic about the term: it covers a constellation of traits without revealing something more about what the sum of them means. What information does it add about Snape and his experience to call him a nerd? On the other hand, what information is reduced or left out by this reading?

Snape is too much to describe using the nerd archetype, I think. The nerd carries a connotation of ivory-tower intellectual detachment, a sense of being not quite of the world. Snape is anything but—he's entangled in the world. He chooses, he acts; there's blood on his hands. The primary journey his character makes is a moral one, not a truth-quest. The archetypal nerd also tends to be the benign victim of bullying at school, so associating Snape with this identity puts the emphasis on the passive, victimized side of Snape, and gives too little attention to the active side. We identify with the lonely nerd, or at least many of us do; perhaps calling him that exculpates him a little—maybe these essays hope to reach other readers and convince them to view Snape with the same empathy that we already do. But it's actually his culpability, that responsibility for his choices from which he can't be fully excused, that makes his character remarkable by giving him the heaviest of burdens. While some parts of his character may be illuminated by looking at him through the nerd lens, others, like his central moral entanglement with the world, get obscured.

Other, relatively more minor, aspects of Snape's character are also excluded: what can a Snape-as-nerd reading say about the Snape who was taken under the wing of Lucius Malfoy, who learned to affect membership in the upper class well enough to shock Bellatrix when she first saw his house? About his skill in Legilimency and ability to hold a class's attention without effort, proof of his instinct for people? About the Snape who may have maligned Quidditch jocks, but was also the only faculty member besides Madam Hooch whom we know was qualified for refereeing, and whose ability to fly unsupported suggests some physical grace and skill? About the eloquent, droll conversationalist and the convincing actor?
jncar: amalthia eyesjncar on October 18th, 2007 02:53 am (UTC)
The nerd carries a connotation of ivory-tower intellectual detachment, a sense of being not quite of the world.

I completely disagree on this point. If you look back at most of the other pop-culture examples of nerds that I provided in the above essay, most of them were very much caught up in the world around them, whether that meant running for school government, fighting demons, dating girls, or even building criminal empires.

The archetypal nerd also tends to be the benign victim of bullying at school, so associating Snape with this identity puts the emphasis on the passive, victimized side of Snape, and gives too little attention to the active side.

Again, I disagree. What about "Revenge of the Nerds"? Or numerous nerdy supervillains? There's even nerdy superheroes. I've never seen nerds--in real life or in pop-culture--as passive. Yes, there are many tales of adolescent nerds being the silent victims of bullying. But for each of those tales there is a tale of a nerd standing up for himself, standing up for humanity, standing up for his friends, or even violently and malevolently seeking revenge. You can't call all nerds passive. It's an over-generalization.

But it's actually his culpability, that responsibility for his choices from which he can't be fully excused, that makes his character remarkable by giving him the heaviest of burdens.

On this point I completely agree, but I don't see why it has anything to do with him being a nerd or not a nerd. Lot's of the other nerds I mentioned, and plenty of others that I didn't were in similar positions of making morally/ethically questionable choices and bearing the consequences of those choices. That doesn't make them any more or less nerdy.

And as for your more minor quibbles, I don't see how any of those details exclude him from being perceived as a nerd. In his friendship with Lucius he always struck me as being the sycophantic toady--not one of the cool kids. When it comes to Quidditch, who says nerds can't like sports? Besides--those who can play, those who can't coach (or referee). And plenty of famous or pop-cultural nerds are engaging personalities and good conversationalists (though I do think you are over-exaggerating his skill in those arenas based on fanon interpretations).

I see it as an insufficient description.

On this point I do agree. Single word summations of both real people and fictional characters are always inadequate. But I think that "nerd" is a perfectly apt description of a strong and important part of Snape's character. He is more than just a nerd--he is also a romantic, a loyal friend and servant, ambitious, and a highly skilled spy. But I think eliminating the nerd-factor altogether ignores an important part of his being, and overly romanticizes him.

In summation, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

totalreadr on November 5th, 2007 05:17 am (UTC)
Yeah, I've always thought Snape was a "greasy little geek." "That is the entire point," I would rant at people who made him a "Typical Male."

But I would call Snape more of a geek than a nerd, just based on my associations with the words. Snape's a weirdo, an oddball, two words I associate with "geek" -- not just plain "socially inept," the term I associate with "nerd." Let me think about this...

...to me, a geek who has social problems does so because s/he's different in some way, whereas a nerd has social problems because s/he isn't perceptive about others.

And Snape definitely is perceptive about others -- it's what makes him such a good bully. Snape does have social problems, but they come from the same thing that gives him that perceptiveness -- his superstimulability"over"-sensitivity. He reacts to every little insult, etc. (partly because hello, what else has he experienced in his life? Of course he's sensitized to insults, poor kid -- but also partly because he's just a very reactive, intense person. So he attracts popular bullies who find it amusing to watch his "exaggerated" reactions to "minor" hurts...).

And now I'm going to depart from Snape for a while and discuss what you've said/implied about different types of "nerds"/"nerd archetypes." In another post.

totalreadr on November 5th, 2007 05:33 am (UTC)
Sense of entitlement or different worldview? (semi-OT)
Read "Why Nerds Are Unpopular." Compare and contrast.

In other words, some people believe, not that "nerd skills" are the only way to win social acceptance, but that they should be. Because they, you know, are actual skills. They're actually useful in the actual world. As opposed to "charm" or "social acumen," which is only useful because people value it.

(Like art. Still, this is a valid perspective that deserves to be respected, not mocked. You don't teach an artist to value engineering by mocking his love for art, and you don't teach an engineer to value art by mocking her love for engineering.)


There are also people in the world who believe that
(a) It's perfectly OK to not be particularly interested in interacting with someone who shares none of your interests and/or skills. It's not automatically an insult.
(b) So the two of you should just agree to politely ignore each other.
(c) They shouldn't attack you just for not sharing their interests or for not wanting to spend time with them.
(d) They should treat you with a certain level of Basic Human Dignity regardless of how they feel about you.
(e) Because we are all entitled to that.

You could technically call that a "sense of entitlement," but I hesitate to use that term when someone feels entitled to something that, well, they and everyone else actually are entitled to. It's like saying it's a "sense of entitlement" to expect equal treatment before the law. Sure, there's still bigotry preventing everyone from getting the equal treatment that they're supposedly entitled to...but that's a problem. As long as it's not corrected, knowing that you will get fair treatment from the law is a relative privilege...but it's a "privilege" that everyone should have. So it's more accurate to call it a right, just one that some people are being unjustly deprived of.

Anyway. The people who believe these things therefore believe they deserve to most of the time be treated with Basic Human Dignity and just politely ignored. Rather than be mocked -- let alone have their things stolen, be pantsed, etc.

When such people also value "nerd skills," then they do also expect that if they're strong in some skill, this will be acknowledged as a strength. Rather than treated as completely worthless or a reason for ridicule.

But that doesn't mean they think they're better than anyone else.

It just means they don't think they're worse.

(By contrast, Luna and Neville accept that they are the ones who will always be targeted for pranks. They "accept their lot in life"; they Stay In Their Place. I submit that staying in your place is not a good thing; demanding your rights as an equal member of society, is.)


The above is, I think, important for authors to understand when they try to write "nerd"/"geek" characters. I think JKR intuitively understands a lot of this (and doesn't necessarily consciously agree with this worldview, which makes the whole "the books are a plea against bigotry" thing somewhat amusing, but...). I do think she put a lot of it into (young) Snape, whether or not she consciously meant to.

(And older Snape comes off as thinking, "You know, no one else does this, so I won't either. They get away with bullying me, so I'd damn well better get away with bullying them." But that's another whole post and one that doesn't belong here.)

In other words, I agree with you. About Snape. But not necessarily about "nerds."