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Severus Snape: Heel or Hero?

Is Snape a hero? Would James and Lily be alive now if not for him? Would Harry be dead now if not for him? Did he ever care about Harry, or only Lily? At the end of the epilogue, Harry says that Severus Snape was the bravest man he ever knew. Did he feel that way only after years of reflection? How do we feel now, while it's still fresh for us?

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Reader Comments: (Page 20)


I see where you are coming from with the concept of an enhancing love, but I see it more as a spectrum with the "negative" side being the immature, obsessive emotions and the opposite being Harry's pure love and his ability to walk away from power for its own sake.
On one side of the spectrum is Voldemort, with his fear of innuring him to love.
Right next to him would be Merope with her love-potion inspired obsession.
After Merope I see Bellatrix, falling for the power of Voldemort and confusing that with love.
Then there is the "love" Snape had for Lily. He desired her from afar, but could never be the person she would love. Snape's love is not in the category of Bella's or Merope's because his love contained some measure of respect for the object of his desire. (Maybe not much, but some).
Further along this spectrum would be Dumbledore who did not recognize the value of familial love until it was too late. This was not out of unhealthy obsession with the object of his desire but neglect of what was truly important.
Finally there is Harry who could not be corrupted by power because of his ability to love.

I agree with your point about JKR wanting to show how love can enhance life in a wider context, but I think Snape's love shows itself for the meaner type of love, highlighting the differences between his ability to love and Harry's ability to love.

Posted by Patty from Quincy MA on August 20, 2007 4:55 PM

I agree with you that Snape changed to the "good" side, but with his immense talents and abilities, he could have done so much more in a positive way. He chose to be a miserable bully.
Ultimately, it worked out for the best, since he was the best spy anyone could wish for and he maintained his cover excellently, but he could have chosen a happier way of life. He might have had friends within the Order, but this does not seem to be so. He relished his dour mood almost on a point of pride.
Many people, such as Lupin, were ined to Snape. But Snape does not cultivate friendships with anyone.

I am not denying Snape's bravery or change of heart. However, I see those characteristics in the context of his choice to live without real love.

Posted by Patty from Quincy MA on August 20, 2007 5:03 PM

I think that the whole thing about Snape loving Lily but hating James, just proves the main point of the Harry Potter series that Love is the strongest emotion.

Posted by Anonymous on August 21, 2007 11:13 AM

Snape is a hero! He is a bully, he is cruel, he his proud, he is rude, but that doesn't make him evil! His love maried his worst enemy, he was tortured 7 years of his life, but he still d trying to Voldemort and save Harry! He spent 7 years trying to save Harry, and 2 of those years being hated for ing Dumbledore even though it was on Dumbledores orders! He is a hero!

Posted by Anonymous on August 21, 2007 11:43 AM

I think that Professor Snape was an amazingly complex and wonderful character. JK portrays him as someone vindictive from books one to six but then in DH we see that he possesses a love for someone that is so strong he still honours it and has it after 17 years and a lot longer if we count the time during which he and Lily were no longer friends. Professor Snape sacrifices himself for someone else. Someone who d a long time ago. He did it for Dumbledore too and for the sake of others but he held onto a love and I don't believe somebody evil could do that. I also think that Professor Snape knew deep down that being on the side of Voldemort was wrong but that peer pressure and just expectation of him because of being in Slytherin meant that his future was not really controlled by him when he joined the Eaters. I also think that he was brought up to discriminate against muggle borns and that that meant he discriminated against them without even thinking about why it was wrong. But Professor Snape overcame that to love a muggleborn and the of Lily showed him that he could make a difference and honor and help her. That it was not too late. That is why he worked for Dumbledore and protected Harry. Even in his moments Professor Snape tries to protect him. He tries to go to Harry. To protect him. Although we do not know this at the time.

Posted by Cameron from Scotland on August 21, 2007 12:45 PM

To Prerna:
Voldemort may have been the greatest legilimens of all time but Snape was the greatest at occulumency. (I think his motivation for this was when Lily caught him in a lie about hurting Petunia. Clearly, he would not ever want to get caught in another lie again by Lily.) This would also explain why he was such an effective double agent.

Posted by Ray Karch from Laguna Niguel, California on August 21, 2007 3:22 PM

snape loved lily from afar? they were best friends since childhood, that is hardly afar. she cared for him deeply, though perhaps in a different manner (not romantically). still, i dont think Jo gives us enough information to make even that assertion, lily could have had feelings for snape at some point. it was ultimately unrequited, for reasons previously discussed, but its not like he pined from a distance. i think jo makes it clear that snapes love was genuine and true as his patronus completely changed form (a doe, from a slytherin? outlandish.)
how is snape's love for lily "mean"? it is un and unyielding, and it was a catalyst for good deed and change. someone with no "ability" to love, or lacks genuine love, feels no remorse when those in their life . snape was clearly affected by the of lily and dumbledore, and because he cares, tried to protect lupin and fred.

in the end, one's "ability" to love matters very little. it is choice that trumps ability time and time again in this series.

Posted by chuck from NJ on August 21, 2007 5:03 PM

I agree with Chuck.

We all remember the quote dumbledore gave us in COS, "it is our choices, harry, that show us who we are, far more than our abilities." Snape chose to be dumbledore's man right up to the very end, and for this he is as valiant and brave as any gryffindor. "I sometimes think we sort too soon."

Posted by jake from portland, OR on August 22, 2007 11:46 AM

Snape was brave, and the way he treated Harry all through school was to make him stronger. Snape knew Harry could not afford to get special treatment, because there would be no special treatment for him when he faced Voldemort. What Snape did was a form of tough love, and Snape knew that Harry could take it.

Posted by alison from Toronto, ON on August 22, 2007 2:16 PM

Your last sentence says it all, "It is choice that trumps ability."
Snape chose to hold onto an adolescent crush long past the time when there was any hope of a relationship. He had the ability to love, as evidenced by the Doe Patronus, but what did he do with this ability? He never had a mature relationship in the nature of Mr and Mrs Weasley. His love was frozen, in the manner that someone who is a fan adores his idol.
When I said his love was mean, I didn't intend to say mean-spirited or evil, I meant petty and small.
A love which is mature requires change of the people in the relationship. Negotiation, compromise, mutual respect, growth toward a common purpose (such as family) are all part of a mature loving relationship. Snape obsessed over Lily from across an emotional gulf, not physically from afar. He was not ing to be a person she could love. He would not change for her, or did not know how. He resented James for naturally being someone Lily could maintain a relationship with, but he did not take any steps toward becoming such a person.
Snape could not "move on" emotionally from his love-starved childhood. He had no positive role models at home to teach him what a mature loving relationship looks like. He felt the powerful emotion of love, and maybe, if he had ended up in another house but Slytherin, he might have had a chance to make up for what he didn't have at home.
Harry had no positive role models in Privet Drive either, but had the beacon of assuming he had loving parents at one point in his life. When he entered the wizarding world, he fell in with the Weasleys, the best family to teach him about the everyday realities of love, forgiveness and respect.
Harry, ultimately, was lucky enough to overcome the lack of love in his childhood, and forgive the pettiness of Snape's treatment, and recognize the bravery within. Harry saw, through Lily's eyes, the good in Snape. Harry's ability to love was mature enough by Albus Severus' birth to give credit to the man who gave his life for Harry.

Posted by Patty from Quincy MA on August 22, 2007 2:59 PM

Snape is more Heel than Hero!
In the Kings Cross Chapter, I believe the best chapter in the book, Dumbledore and Harry discuss Severus Snape. I'm not sure whether Dumbledore had a high opinion of Snape. He had faith in him (Dumbledore knew of Snape's love for Lily), but I got the feeling that Dumbledore thought Snape to be a bit sad and even weak. Read page 577/578 of DH ending with 'Poor Severus...'. It sounds to me that Dumbledore deliberately sacrificed Snape. With that in mind read those last words again: 'Poor Severus...'. It sounds ingenuine and ironic, as if Dumbledore thought that Snape had it coming. Even though Dumbledore says that this bit of his plan did not work out in the next few sentences, I think he didn't really like Snape as a person.
And here is my final question: Doesn't Dumbledore stand for the all knowing writer, JK Rowling? If so, then we hear JK speaking. So I think JK herself didn't really like Snape as a person even though Snape was fighting for the good cause.

Posted by Diederik from The Netherlands on August 22, 2007 10:27 PM

Diederik: don't you think Snape and Dumbledore are very much alike?

Both went wrong when they were young and then realized how foolish they were. Both acted since to redeem themselves. Both were lonely characters. None of them really had friends, but they were very fidel persons. They were perfect Occlumens, weren't talkative, showed very little emotions, were very cold. But they had a deep respect for other people. Above all, they knew their strength.

Surely, their attitude towards Harry is pretty different. That's probably why we have such a different feeling, matching Snape with our most hatred teachers while Dumbledore is the manager we would all love to have (strong, reliable, protective).

We should just have in mind that Snape is less than 60 years old while Dumbledore is 150. By the age of 60, Dumbledore had not yet made his choice of fighting Grindelwald. We don't know how he acted when he was a transfiguration teacher; he might have been as rude with some students as Snape was with Harry and friends.

We should also consider that Dumbledore gave his life because he wanted to possess the ring, while Snape really gave his life for the ones he was fidel to. When Snape was in front of Voldemort, he could have revealed what he knew, that he was not the one, master of the wand. He lost his life fooling Voldemort and giving Harry a chance. His sacrifice is as good as Lily's.

I don't think Jo identifies herself to Dumbledore and speaks through him. Till the end of HBP, she showed Snape as a most dangerous "double agent" eater, and Dumbledore as a half-god, almost perfect in all manners (as Elphias Doge describes him in DH). She managed in DH to show Dumbledore's weaknesses and Snape's greatest achievements. The message is clear: nothing is exactly the way it seems, noone is totally black, noone is totally white.

Posted by herve from strasbourg on August 23, 2007 12:22 AM

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