quaking aspen, previously

on the Half Blood Prince

Posted on: July 18, 2007

Need I point out that there will be spoilers here? There WILL be spoilers. Please go read the books yourself first. And hurry — number seven is coming out on Saturday. (Let me clarify: spoilers of past books, not the one to come. For crying out loud, who can’t wait two more days? Did you hear about the photos somebody posted of every page of book 7? That’s pathetic. And honestly — I can’t stand reading on the computer for very long, let alone six or seven hundred pages worth. All my blog reading notwithstanding.) ANYWAY.

There is a book called The Great Snape Debate. (Sold only at Borders? Maybe.) Which I have not read. Here is my Snape theory.

First of all, how crazy is it that we can even be having a debate about this? Any other series I don’t think there would even be the possibility of it. And yet, the Harry Potter books have always been part fantasy, part mystery, and amazingly enough I don’t think that the theorists out there are totally off the wall. (Okay, maybe some of them.) There is at least the merest possibility; the evidence is not entirely against them. And by “them” I mean those who still think Snape is not evil. (Sorry, I’m not going to rehash the whole thing, all the various permutations: Dumbledore isn’t dead; he is dead, but he planned to die and asked Snape to kill him; etc. But here are a couple of links to theories — Google would no doubt reveal more. Sadly my former favorite has disappeared into the void. But here and here and here.) And by evidence I mean some possible textual indications, which I’m sure have been collated elsewhere.

My theory: Snape is evil. But I want him not to be. (Obviously I’m not alone in this wish. Why? Get to that in a minute.) (Oh my, I was so traumatized after finishing HP6. That’s why I haven’t reread it till now.)

There is obviously much more to Snape still to be revealed. About his motivations (I think he’s working for just himself, not Voldemort so much — a total aside, ain’t JK just brilliant with names? it’s so awesome), his past, etc. I think she could probably make it work either way. She’s certainly been setting him up as a very interesting character — and much more major than I would’ve guessed, even though he’s been around since the beginning. Rivaling Harry in emotional importance to the story. Much more powerful than we thought as well.

Here are the main reasons why I think Snape is evil:

1. Death and killing aren’t taken lightly in these books. It’s not some horror movie filled with a pornographic level of violence. To say that Dumbledore’s dead — oh wait, just kidding! No, I don’t see it happening. And to say “Snape killed him — oh, nope, it was all part of a plan!” doesn’t jive with my feel of the internal morality of the book either.

2. Okay, this is not text based, but based on interviews with the author. Back after I first read HP6 I went through a bunch of online transcripts for Snape references. That was two years ago though, and I’m sure there have been more since — however, I am WAY too lazy to go looking for more at this point. (Especially since in just a couple days it will be a moot point. Nothing like the last minute….) But it seems to me that JK is always trying to warn us off liking Snape too much. See below:

Why did you make Quirrell the bad guy instead of Snape?
Because I know all about Snape, and he wasn’t about to put on a turban.

Stephen Fry: Yes, and even in the books there is a certain flair. Most characters like Snape are hard to love but there is a sort of ambiguity – you can’t quite decide – something sad about him – lonely and it’s fascinating when you think he’s going to be the evil one a party from Voldemort obviously in the first book then slowly you get this idea he’s not so bad after all.
JK Rowling: Yes but you shouldn’t think him too nice. It is worth keeping an eye on old Severus definitely!

Then there’s the one below, came out right after HP6:

JKR interview, “is Snape evil”:

MA: OK, big big big book six question. Is Snape evil?
JKR: [Almost laughing] Well, you’ve read the book, what do you think?
ES: She’s trying to make you say it categorically.
MA: Well, there are conspiracy theorists, and there are people who will claim –
JKR: Cling to some desperate hope [laughter] –
ES: Yes!
MA: Yes!
ES: Like certain shippers we know!
[All laugh]
JKR: Well, okay, I’m obviously – Harry-Snape is now as personal, if not more so, than Harry-Voldemort. I can’t answer that question because it’s a spoiler, isn’t it, whatever I say, and obviously, it has such a huge impact on what will happen when they meet again that I can’t. And let’s face it, it’s going to launch 10,000 theories and I’m going to get a big kick out of reading them so [laughs] I’m evil but I just like the theories, I love the theories.
ES: I know Dumbledore likes to see the good in people but he seems trusting almost to the point of recklessness sometimes.
JKR: [Laughter] Yes, I would agree. I would agree.
ES: How can someone so –
JKR: Intelligent –
ES: be so blind with regard to certain things?
JKR: Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can’t get much closer than that.
ES: No, that was a good answer.
MA: It’s interesting about Dumbledore being lonely.
JKR: I see him as isolated, and a few people have said to me rightly I think, that he is detached. My sister said to me in a moment of frustration, it was when Hagrid was shut up in his house after Rita Skeeter had published that he was a half-breed, and my sister said to me, “Why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier, why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier?” I said he really had to let Hagrid stew for a while and see if he was going to come out of this on his own because if he had come out on his own he really would have been better. “Well he’s too detached, he’s too cold, it’s like you,” she said!” [Laughter] By which she meant that where she would immediately rush in and I would maybe stand back a little bit and say, “Let’s wait and see if he can work this out.” I wouldn’t leave him a week. I’d leave him maybe an afternoon. But she would chase him into the hut.

JKR: […] Harry is correct in believing that Draco would not have killed Dumbledore, which I think is clear when he starts to lower his wand, when the matter is taken out of his hands.
ES: Was Dumbledore planning to die?
JKR: [Pause.] Do you think that’s going to be the big theory?
MA & ES: Yes. It’ll be a big theory.
JKR: [Pause.] Well, I don’t want to shoot that one down. [A little laughter.] I have to give people hope.
MA: It goes back to the question of whether Snape is a double-double-double-triple-
JKR: [Laughs] Double-double-quadruple-to-the-power-of – yeah.
MA: …whether this had been planned, and since Dumbledore had this knowledge of Draco the whole year, had they had a discussion that said, “Should this happen, you have to act as if it is entirely your intention to just walk forward and kill me, because if you don’t, Draco will die, the Unbreakable Vow, you’ll die,” and so on —
JKR: No, I see that, and yeah, I follow your line there. I can’t — I mean, obviously, there are lines of speculation I don’t want to shut down. Generally speaking, I shut down those lines of speculation that are plain unprofitable. Even with the shippers. God bless them, but they had a lot of fun with it. It’s when people get really off the wall — it’s when people devote hours of their time to proving that Snape is a vampire that I feel it’s time to step in, because there’s really nothing in the canon that supports that.
ES: It’s when you look for those things —
JKR: Yeah, it’s after the 15th rereading when you have spots in front of your eyes that you start seeing clues about Snape being the Lord of Darkness. So, there are things I shut down just because I think, well, don’t waste your time, there’s better stuff to be debating, and even if it’s wrong, it will probably lead you somewhere interesting. That’s my rough theory anyway.

MA: Oh, here’s one [from our forums] that I’ve really got to ask you. Has Snape ever been loved by anyone?
JKR: Yes, he has, which in some ways makes him more culpable even than Voldemort, who never has. Okay, one more each!

That interview kind of says it all to me, that the Snape is good theories are wrong. The next one though is my favorite:

Also, will we see more of Snape?
You always see a lot of Snape, because he is a gift of a character. I hesitate to say that I love him. [Audience member: I do]. You do? This is a very worrying thing. Are you thinking about Alan Rickman or about Snape? [Laughter]. Isn’t this life, though? I make this hero—Harry, obviously—and there he is on the screen, the perfect Harry, because Dan is very much as I imagine Harry, but who does every girl under the age of 15 fall in love with? Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Girls, stop going for the bad guy. Go for a nice man in the first place. It took me 35 years to learn that, but I am giving you that nugget free, right now, at the beginning of your love lives.

Apart from Harry, Snape is my favourite character because he is so complex and I just love him. Can he see the Thestrals, and if so, why? Also, is he a pure blood wizard?
Snape’s ancestry is hinted at. He was a Death Eater, so clearly he is no Muggle born, because Muggle borns are not allowed to be Death Eaters, except in rare circumstances. You have some information about his ancestry there. He can see Thestrals, but in my imagination most of the older people at Hogwarts would be able to see them because, obviously, as you go through life you do lose people and understand what death is. But you must not forget that Snape was a Death Eater. He will have seen things that… Why do you love him? Why do people love Snape? I do not understand this. Again, it’s bad boy syndrome, isn’t it? It’s very depressing. [Laughter]. One of my best friends watched the film and she said, “You know who’s really attractive?” I said, “Who?” She said, “Lucius Malfoy!”

(As an aside, I just love that last bit, it cracks me up. My husband and I are, somehow, always repeating it to one another.)

So why do we want Snape to be good so desperately? There’s the bad boy syndrome she mentions above, but I think it’s more than that. Also more than a kind of rooting for the underdog. Definitely more, because I think we want Snape to be redeemed, to be redeemable, and not necessarily for “me” to be the one to “save” or change him. I want him to change himself, to choose change; for it to be possible. Because don’t we all have a Snape side? Prickly, unlovable, cruel even – full of resentments, grudges, emotionally immature, haughty, proud, aloof, wounded. Dark and dangerous. And identifying with him, with that possibility or side of ourselves, we also want a sense that that’s not all there is to us, that he, and therefore we, are redeemable. Worthy of Dumbledore’s trust, even if we are largely mistrusted by all others.

That’s another part of it: we trust Dumbledore’s judgment, and to see him proven so wrong, so terribly fallible is horribly painful. He is the ideal father/grandfather/god-figure. Wise, loving, forgiving, powerful. We don’t want him to have been so wrong. And that also makes Snape’s actions the more terrible – how could he kill the one person who believes in him, who trusts him, who has stood by him all this time? It’s atrocious, the rejection couldn’t be greater. And THAT is why the betrayal is so great, why the shock and trauma are so pronounced.

One last interview quote:

What about Snape?
JKR: Snape is a very sadistic teacher, loosely based on a teacher I myself had, I have to say. I think children are very aware and we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think that they are, that teachers do sometimes abuse their power and this particular teacher does abuse his power. He’s not a particularly pleasant person at all. However, everyone should keep their eye on Snape, I’ll just say that because there is more to him than meets the eye and you will find out part of what I am talking about if you read Book 4. No, I’m not trying to drum up more sales, go to the library and get it out. I’d rather people read it.
One of our internet correspondents wondered if Snape is going to fall in love.
JKR: (JKR laughs) Who on earth would want Snape in love with them? That’s a very horrible idea.
There’s an important kind of redemptive pattern to Snape.
JKR: He, um, there’s so much I wish I could say to you, and I can’t because it would ruin. I promise you, whoever asked that question, can I just say to you that I’m slightly stunned that you’ve said that and you’ll find out why I’m so stunned if you read Book 7. That’s all I’m going to say.

That last little bit gives me some hope. (Note she said if you read book 7, not book 6.)

So that’s my Snape theory; less of a theory, really, more of … an explanation of why the theories even exist? Alright, off to finish reading the last two books before Friday night.


3 Responses to "on the Half Blood Prince"

Yeah, well, I think you’re right. I mean, Snape seems like the kind of guy who only looks out for Snape… but I haven’t read the newest book yet, so we’ll see.

One particular theory of mine paid off so big I can’t even believe it. I think I called all of my friends and said “HA HA HA! I was right!”

[…] does make all the difference.) I thought she made it work all just fine. I’m so relieved to have been wrong about Snape (I KNEW there was going to be more to it all, I was just apparently too caught up still […]

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