Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Great Snape Debate

There's lots of interesting (Catholic) blogging about HP and the Half-Blood Prince and, understandbly, it centers around Professor Severus Snape - who, love him or leave him, has always been the series' most interesting character: Is he really good or really evil? What's the story behind his murder of Dumbledore? And, as Cacciaguida asks, should we give up on him? The Anchoress addresses the Snape question here, and she directs us also to Dave Kopel here.

I think it's important to keep in perspective when considering Snape that just because we hate his personality, it does not mean that he is evil. Yes, he doesn't like Harry, but there's lots of personal history to defend that. Yes, he hates Gryffindor and loves Slytherin, but he is Slytherin's head of house. No, he doesn't get along well with most members of the Order of the Phoenix, but that's because some of them were real jerks to him at Hogwarts. None of those things make him an evil person; one we may not like, true, but not necessarily evil.

And up until the Sorcerer's Stone was released on film, I always thought Snape was a wolf in sheep's clothing. But Alan Rickman's portrayal of the potions master softened me toward him. It didn't make me like Snape, but it did make me respect him and accept Dumbledore's professions that he had changed and was good now. And that is the only film character that has influenced my perception of the character in print. The portrayals of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Draco, McGonagall - none of them changed my attitude toward the book's character. But Rickman's Snape did. That's part of the reason why I believe (and hope) that Snape will be offered a chance at redemption in Book 7. Not only that, but I think he's the only wizard next to Harry who could be a real threat to Voldemort - not a lethal threat, as the prophecy makes clear that's left to Harry, but one who can weaken the Dark Lord's defenses considerably. Sure, there's McGonagall, but she doesn't have the insider knowledge that could help contribute to Voldemort's demise. And there are the other members of the Order, but they suffer the same deficiency. Snape is the one who has the knowledge and the experience to play a critical role in helping Harry. And I think he will.

And, as I've read countless analyses of the last few chapters of HBP and Snape's role in them, there's been one Snape quote that struck me that I haven't seen anyone else refer to. As Snape and Malfoy are fleeing castle grounds to disapparate, Harry is throwing curses toward them and Snape blocks each one. The two reasons for this are that A) Harry, though he's been taught how to cast spells without speaking, does not do it on this occassion and utters all the curses outloud, so Snape can hear what he's about to send his way and B) Snape is a great leglimens, meaning he can read Harry's mind, so he knows what curses Harry is thinking of before Harry utters them. As he's running off, Snape yells back to Harry: "Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!" We can interpret this line two ways: First, that Snape is insulting Harry for failing to use those basic defenses when fighting against Death Eaters. Or second, as I propose, is that Snape is reminding Harry that when it comes time to face Voldemort, he can't be making minor mistakes like that or he'll surely die - he's offering him constructive criticism and advice.

I think Snape will turn out to be a classic Christian character: A great man who uses his great knowledge, great power and great pride to commit great sins but who, when it comes down to it, will ultimately repent and use those talents for the greater good. He's the greatest sinner in these books. I also think he'll be the greatest saint.