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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Redemption of Severus Snape

Todd H. C. Fischer, July 2007
(Originally posted in my non-writing related journal.) 
Was Severus Snape—the much maligned true hero of the Harry Potter series—ever truly evil? I emphatically say “no!”

While Rowling was writing the series fans would often debate Severus’s motives, trying to decide if he was a hero or a villain. These debates fascinated me, for I thought he was quite clearly a hero. How could anyone misunderstand this poor tortured soul?

I can hear people now shouting “But he was a Death Eater!” Yes, Snape did go over to the Dark Lord during Voldemort’s first grasp at power. However, he did so out of loneliness and bitterness, not out of greed, hatred or intolerance. He was a lonely man, made fun of at school, bullied, ostracized and reviled. When Tom Riddle took on the persona of Voldemort he would have promised the lonely and downtrodden around him a new world, where they would have the power (not unlike how cults and terrorists recruit in the real world). Snape will have been drawn to the Death Eaters, made to feel like he belonged, given authority and power.

However, as it soon turned out, this feeling of inclusion was a ruse. When Voldemort reneged on his agreement not to harm Lilly Potter—who, we find out in the new book, has been Snape’s unrequited love for many years—Snape’s world is thrown upside down. He discovers that those who said they accepted him did not care for his feelings anymore than those who had been bullying him all his life.

Severus went to Dumbledore in his grief and the wise, old, flawed wizard was revealed to be a man who accepted all for what they were. He accepted Snape for what he was: a talented and ambitious wizard, with deep emotions and skill in many types of magic (most notably potions and Occlumency).

Snape’s loyalty was forever granted to Dumbledore. He went undercover, back to the Death Eaters, as a member of the Order of the Phoenix. He went so far undercover that the Order thought he had truly gone back over to Voldemort. That, of course, was how Snape needed them to feel, so he could truly fool the Dark Lord. However, this ostracized him from those who should have been his friends, those who should have understood what he was going through.

Throughout the series Snape defended Harry, though due to Harry’s quickly formed opinion of the Head of Slytherin, the boy never realized this until it was too late. In ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ Snape thrust Ron and Harry behind him to defend them from danger. In ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ he counteracted Quirrel’s spells during the quidditch match. Again and again Snape saved the life of the boy he both loved and hated. Part of Snape hated Harry for being the son of James Potter, but part of him loved him as well. Harry is all that remained of Lily, was the son that he and Lily never had.

In ‘Half-blood Prince’ Snape killed Dumbledore. This, some argued, was proof that he was evil after all. I argued however, that Snape did what he did to protect Draco Malfoy. Draco had been ordered to kill the Hogwart’s Headmaster by Voldemort, and if he did not, the Dark Lord would surely have killed him for failing. At the beginning of the book, to maintain his cover Snape had made an Unbreakable Oath to protect Draco to Draco’s mother. If Dumbledore had not died, then Draco would have died. The magical compulsion he was under would not have allowed him to walk away and leave Dumbledore alive. What’s more, a close reading of that scene seemed to reveal that Dumbledore knew what was coming and accepted it, even encouraged it. (After the publication of ‘Deathly Hallows’ we now know that this was exactly the case; Dumbledore had already made Snape promise to kill him.)

When fleeing after the act, Snape is confronted by Harry and in an emotional scene Severus completely looses control. He yells at Harry, telling him that no one suffered like he suffered. This was further proof that his act had not been motivated by evil. How could it have been? He had just killed the only person who had ever truly accepted him.

Luckily, when Snape is casually mortally wounded by Voldemort, the Potions teacher is able to pass some of his memories to Harry. When he shares them, Harry is finally able to see the love Snape held for his mother, and how much Snape had helped him and defended him over the years. Snape is finally revealed as the hero he truly is.

Loyal, dedicated, brave and courageous. Words many likely never thought to apply to poor Severus. Truly Snape is one of the most tragic heroes of modern literature.

(c) Todd H. C. Fischer, 2007. If interested in publishing this work, please contact the author.

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