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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 38)

Without the houses the story would have been completely different. These houses were the reason for rivalry that wouldn't have existed without them; young children were - in my opinion anyway - put unnecessarily against each other to establish an equally unnecessary barrier.
Dumbledore once said to Snape that he sometimes think they sort too soon... so why did they never give up on that old fashined, destructive system of houses?
Anyway, Rowling said that despite this comment Snape was really meant to be in Slytherin, but he had the potential to change that house and its doctrines for the better! If only she had given him more time in life...

But to say something about the fact that Snape wasn't really a gentle person but was often cruel and a lot has been said about his treatment of Harry - I've lately listened to the audio edition of "Half-Blood Prince" and have concentrated on Snape's behaviour towards Draco and Narcissa Malfoy. He seems to be genuinely concerned about their welfare, he helped Narcissa to ease her motherly worries about her son to such an extend that he made the Unbreakable Vow. Yes, he was to Dumbledore anyway as agreed between the two but there was still an element of risk involved for Snape: What if Draco had succeeded? What if Draco had done something to endanger himself or even to get himself ed? I wonder what made Snape agree on this Unbreakable Vow? Could it be that he was genuinely concerned here?

Posted by Siena from Leeds, UK on January 29, 2008 03:59 AM

I don't like in books when everyone just falls into their "rightful place" as a hero or a villian it just dosent seem right to me so i think that JKR made her charaters more human then just names you read on a page. Sure Snape did some nasty things to make Harry and everyones lives miserable but he was only being human; looking over what he had to do to make himself feel less guilty, though was forgeting what he was accually doing. It's not like he made his life the way it was all by himself, his parents probably shaped it and the people at school he thought he had to hang out with to be excepted. It's the same with Voldemort (which by the way I think that Dumbledore the whole time was trying to point out that Voldemort was only human and he was the way he was because other people made him that way)and it's the same with Harry it was just different circumstances and even he was flawed in many ways.
So i don't think Snape should be judged by just the bad things he has done because that is a down fall of our race, we should look at what good he did though he was no fairtale hero.

Posted by Melissa from Canada on January 29, 2008 12:21 PM

I keep wondering about the elimination of the houses as well. It seems always when sorted into different groups we tend to think we are the best and rivarly ensues. That is why I was surprised that in the epilogue it is made clear that the four houses still exist and they still sort too soon.

As for the unbreakable vo Sienna, I believe Albus had already asked severus to him. Knowing this he didn't have a problem with making the vow.

Posted by sarah madison from san diego, california on January 29, 2008 11:10 PM

"Yes, he was to Dumbledore anyway as agreed between the two but there was still an element of risk involved for Snape: What if Draco had succeeded? What if Draco had done something to endanger himself or even to get himself ed? I wonder what made Snape agree on this Unbreakable Vow? Could it be that he was genuinely concerned here?"

That's quite likely, Siena. When I read HBP I assumed at first that Snape made the Unbreakable Vow in order to preserve his cover at all costs. Later, after reading ly Hallows I wondered the same as you, if apart from maintaining his cover, Snape was genuinely concerned about Draco and Narcissa. When Dumbledore asks him to look out for Draco and expresses his own concern about Draco's soul, Snape doesn't argue with him except to express concern about the fate of his own soul if he has to Dumbledore. And of course Dumbledore points out the difference in intent to him. Draco would be committing , whereas if Snape does it then it's more like putting a creature out of its pain. Certainly the situation on the tower that night means that SOMEONE is going to Dumbledore unless Snape blows his cover.

Snape says that he believes Voldemort actually intends him to do it. Voldemort would see that as the ultimate test of Snape's loyalty, being unable to imagine anyone actually embracing his own .

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on January 30, 2008 03:45 AM

I think this is what is so amazing about J.K's writing. She reflects the moral complexity within all of us. Snape is obviously brave, but was that solely becuase of his motivation through Lily?
I think all of us have the capability to be either good or bad people, and Sanpe is such a deep and brilliantly written character.
I have suffered under bullying teachers, and I do think this makes people highly undesirable and unlikeable, but not evil. IMHO, Snape's heroics make up, at least partially, for his bullying.

Posted by Dan from Cov, England on February 4, 2008 04:15 AM

Snape is perhaps the most complicated charactes in the Harry Potter series. While many classify him as a hero I think he is an anti-hero at best if not a villain.

He had a rough childhood and was constantly feuding with James. The books lead one to blame James mostly, but if Sirius and Lupin are to be believed Snape wasn't much different.

He either loved or was obsessed with Lily. After he graduated him became a Eater. What he did to prove his loyalty we do not know. Nor do we know what crimes he may have committed while in the service of Voldemort.

We are told that he told Voldemort about the prophecy and when he realized that Voldemort was going after the Potters he sided with Dumbledore to protect them. After their s his adoration of Lily led him to protect Harry out of love for her.

If you look deeper you realize it is not so clear. While suffered as for years you may feel sorry for him, but does this clear him all his actions? Voldemort's reputation was well known. Snape had to know that telling Voldemort about the prophecy would lead Voldemort to try and whomever it was about. With his tendency to entire families meant the parents would surely as well.

Maybe Snape only considered this after the fact. But as Dumbledore asked Snape...what about James and Harry? Maybe Snape figured Voldemort would James, Snape's long-hated rival, and son leaving Lily for him. Maybe it was only after getting cold feet or realizing that was unlikely that Snape went to Dumbledore. Snape was already suspected of being a Eater. This leads us into the next important question.

What if Voldemort chose to go after Neville first? Would Snape have warned Dumbledore? If not then wouldn't that confirm Snape as a villain?

Snape held grudges for a long time. He either was uning or unable to let go of them. Sirius spent thirteen years in Azkaban for a crime he didn't commit. James was ed. Lupin was a pariah due to being a werewolf. Harry was picked on more than other students due to his resemblance to his father. Yet, despite all of their suffering Snape held onto old grudges and provoked them whenever possible.

Did these grudges extend to Voldemort as well due to his betrayal? Did Snape work to bring down Voldemort not so much due to feeling of remorse, but to destroy the being who ed the one person Snape ever gave care about? Voldemort was too powerful for Snape to defeat head on and if Snape did him he would have to worry about the Eaters hunting him down. If it is one thing Slytherins are known for it is their self-preservation.

Throughout all seven books this is evident. Snape plays both sides well enough to appear to be on either side. Had he fled when Voldemort returned with Karkaroff he would have been hunted down and ed. During his tenure as headmaster of Hogwarts he kept the Eaters from doing their worst. Even during this he could claim either side. If Voldemort won then he was a confirmed Eater. If Potter won Snape could plead it all being part of Dumbledore's plan and that he was the only thing standing between the Eaters and the students.

In the end Voldemort ed Snape in an attempt to gain control over the Elder Wand. Snape in his moments gave Snape his memories. Was this to perhaps try and vindicated him so in he would get the reputation of a great wizard he always craved in life? Snape could have used his time at Hogwarts to become a respectable teacher and inventor of potions. Instead he developed a reputation as one of the worst teachers the school ever had. Was it a final "f___ you" to Voldemort?

There is of course the final question of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore intended Snape to obtain it. Was this really a good idea? Snape was already a powerful wizard. The wand could have given him the power to Voldemort and perhaps take over himself. Or perhaps to Harry and make it look like an accident. Frankly, there is not enough information to figure out what Snape would have done with it besides the most basic of guessing.

Was Snape a hero? I don't think so. Throughout his life he allowed personal vendettas to control him. He acted constantly in his own extreme self-interest without care to who he hurt in the process. It was only after he had in his mind been wronged that he sided against Voldemort.

At best Snape is an anti-hero since he may have showed some remorse with Lily. At worst, he was a villain constantly plotting to do away with his enemies and seize power for himself who in the end was ed by an even eviler and craftier villain.

Posted by seeker from United States on February 4, 2008 5:04 PM

"Seeker": Snape would never have been the true master of the Elder Wand, as he never actually defeated Dumbledore. As we know the of the latter was arranged between the two. Dumbledore knew about the way the Elder Wand works.
I don't think Snape realized as a young Eater quite how vicious and evil Voldemort really was. There were rumours, yes, but I think Snape only found out about Voldemort's true intentions to go beyond what Dumbledore later called the "usual evil" when he learnt how Voldemort reacted when told about the prophecy. Snape immediately confided in Dumbledore and he was deeply shocked and worried.
What Snape would have done if Voldemort had decided Neville to be the "Chosen One" we don't know. What we do know is that Snape was clearly shocked that Voldemort would go and wipe out a whole family. It is natural that the immediate danger a loved one is in would make you think better of what you've done, but this can only happen if you've already got some "good" characteristics in you, otherwise it would leave you cold.
Snape showed concern about Dumbledore when the latter was cursed, he showed concern about Lupin, Draco and Narcissa. Snape did not seek glory, he sought peace of mind after Lily's . He submitted himself to Dumbledore to protect Harry. He followed Dumbledore's orders right to his .
He didn't have a reputation as the "worst teacher" as you said either. His lessons were thought of as "good" by Seamus Finnigan and also by Hermione.
In DH as a headmaster he had to put up a srict regime in order to establish his post at Hogwarts to ensure the school wouldn't be totally taken over by the Eaters.
He wasn't too stern though anyway... when Ginny and Neville tried to steal the Gryffindor Sword for example he only sent them to do work for Hagrid.. which he knew they woudn't mind in the slightest anyway...

Posted by Siena from Leeds, UK on February 6, 2008 03:44 AM

Seeker, Snape is certainly not a Good Guy. And he is one of the most complicated characters in the series. But I don't think he is quite as black as you are painting him. Siena pointed out a great many of the times Snape actively helped. I'll add one; the broomstick chase early in DH. Harry sees the sequence through Snape's memories in the Pensieve. And instead of seeing Snape deliberately blasting George's ear off, he sees Snape aiming his wand at the wrist of a eater who has his wand trained on Lupin's back. Not only did Snape not mean to hit George, he took one hell of a risk to save Lupin - a man he loathed. And for what? He knew THE WHOLE PLAN. He knew that George wasn't Harry. That it wouldn't matter if Lupin and/or George d. Instead he risked exposure to save them. If he had succeeded in severing that eater's wand hand then there was every chance his true allegiance would have been suspected.

In the Pensieve scene when Dumbledore tells Snape that Harry have to Snape is horrified. Dumbledore asks him how many men and women he has seen . Snape's answer is significant - "Lately, only those whom I could not save." Snape does care.

Like Siena I think Snape's regime at Hogwarts had to preserve his cover. That was important. He had to have access to that office to receive Dumbledore's instructions. No one ever said that being a double agent was easy. He had to make choices all the time. At the beginning of the book he had to stand by and watch Charity Burbage being ed in cold blood. When he had any sort of a chance to succeed he chose to take the risk of saving Lupin. Snape was assuredly not a nice person, but he did have courage in spades. The sort of courage that sees a horrible job in a good cause right through to the end.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on February 7, 2008 04:26 AM

I have just finished reading the entire series for the second time. To me, the revelations about Snape's behavior and his real motivations are the most fascinating aspect of all. After spending the first 6 and 9/10ths of the books absolutely despising him, I now glow with joy whenever I think about Severus Snape. Heck, after that, like Harry, I'd name one of my kids after him, too.

At the end of my first reading of HBP, I hated Snape as much as Harry did. I was a bit behind everyone else, since DH had been released two months prior. I tried to talk to other Potterheads about the way I felt, but they weren't biting. They'd already completed the last book, you see, so they knew my disdain for Snape would turn around once I'd completed the series. And did it ever. JKR's true genius lies in her ability to tell the story thru Harry's eyes, to make us feel what Harry felt - especially in regards to Snape - and then twist it 180 degrees at the end.

"I open at the close" is a statement not only about the enchantment surrounding the Sorcerer's Stone but also about Harry's mind. Once he understands Snape's real motivation, he realizes how truly brave he was. Snape's revelations to Harry in the Pensieve are the final empowerment, convincing Harry to walk back into the forest alone to face Voldemort and certain .

Posted by hollyanna from new jersey on February 8, 2008 12:02 PM

For everyone saying he tried to save Lily only, we don't know that for sure. maybe he asked Vodlemort not to the Potter Family! Maybe he knew he could do nothing to save harry and could only ask to spare Lily, or maybe he didn't take the risk knowing that defying Voldemort was/is a sentence! Which brings me to another point, why Snape was so angry being called coward. I feel he felt he was a coward for not standing up/ trying to do everything possible against Voldy when he knew voldy was going to the Potter's. That's why he got so angry when harry called him that, becuase his cowardice lead to Lily's . Also, I feel he felt himself a coward for not being able to accept himself as he was when at Hogwarts; he wanted to be something he wasn't and for not listening to Lily and abandoing his Syltherin friends at least standing up against them, for I truly believe he didn't beleive in their upsurd ideas, at least not whole heartedly.

Its funny, the 'twitless wonder' Nevilleh(how I love him) was able to accomplish something his fierce potions master, whom happened to be Neville's worst fear, was never able to do stand up to his friends. For it takes a great courage to stand up to your enemies, but even greater courage to stand up to your freinds, as professor Dumbledore said.

I also believe Snape never did '' anyone while serving Voldy or thereafter. Remeber, when you someone, your soul is damaged, and as was written in the book, Snape asks Dumbledore what become of his own soul when DD requests of Snape to him. Obviously he his afraid for his soul, proof that it is has not been damaged.

Another thing I would like to mention, I feel Snape saw a great deal of himself in Harry that is why he was so keen on Harry proving that he wasn't weak, something he saw of himself while at Hogwarts and at service of Voldy during the first war.

Posted by sarah madison from san diego, california on February 8, 2008 9:56 PM

All very interesting, but I see nothing in Snape but his own selfishness. He never gave a crap about Harry whatsoever, the final confrontation in the OOTP shows his contempt for Harry. He was only looking out for Harry in the first place due to his vow to Dumbledore. Nothing in the first six books shows one piece of warmth towards Harry, unless you would consider his countercurse against Quirrell in the Sorcerer's Stone.
No, he is no hero at all. He made his choices and lived by them on his own terms, and in the end, suffered for them. One small regret on his bed does not excuse his behavior towards Harry for seven years. No more than any religion would accept the same confession.
Neville had a hard life, as did Harry, Dumbledore, Siruis and Hagrid. None of them were Eaters or treated people like dirt, with no more consciousness about others than flicking a piece of lint off their sleeve. Snape blamed anything that went wrong on Harry, always looking to abuse, or degrade Harry at every turn.
Rowling seemed to think he was somewhat honorable by allowing his name to be used for one of Harry's children, but what each reader gets out of each book is their own interpretation of each character. As far as I am concerned, I always knew that Snape would be ed off, I was always secretly wanting it to be so, so I ended up being pleased about it as I read it. based on the way the book unfolded, I felt it was deserving. Harry being the hero, Voldemort the villian, Snape was no more than a selfish ungrateful, vengeful, arrogant person inside, perhaps not evil in the sense that Voldemort was evil, but a miserable character nonetheless. I cant imagine how worse it would have been had he NOT made a vow to Dumbledore to protect Harry. He may have protected him, but to me, he acted like he didnt give a damn, other than keeping Harry just shy of .
He certainly, other than Harry, is the most interesting and complex character in the book, but in my eyes, he was no hero

Posted by MIke Mcgrath from Columbus, GA on February 10, 2008 07:38 AM

So now that we know so much more about Severus Snape...what was the deal with Emmeline Vance? Was that purely to preserve his cover? Is she included in the response to Dumbledore's question about how many people Snape has seen when he says "lately, only those I could not save"?

Posted by Joe from England on February 11, 2008 02:41 AM

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