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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 49)

Eva - I think James didn't stand a chance to hold up Voldemort even for a second. I believe he was ed before he could even gather his thoughts to make so much as a sacrifice for Lily. He didn't get the chance to do it, he was ed too quickly, the second in fact when Voldemort entered the house. Lily was already on her way upstairs with Harry, so James couldn't stand between her and Voldemort.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 1, 2009 06:41 AM

A response to Paco from page 48 on a couple of points.

3. There is a difference between Spider-Man and Snape. Peter Parker was already a decent guy who made one mistake that haunts him the rest of his life. Snape already was a criminal working for a known er. Parker had no way to predict his uncle would . Snape could easily have predicted what Voldemort would do to Lily or any family he thought concerned. Parker cares for other people besides himself. There is really no evidence to show Snape cared for anyone besides Lily. When Dumbledore suggest otherwise Snape is quick to point out Dumbledore is wrong by summoning his partonus. Snape could have cared less if James and Harry d as long as Lily was still alive.

4. It is impossible to say. James may have been mature enough to at least treat students fairly or at least for Lily's sake. If the situations were reversed and he treated Snape's son the way Snape treated Harry James would have been in the wrong.

5. DD even at his darkest did not approach Snape. Dumbledore spent his life trying to atone for a mistake in his youth. He cared for others. Snape spent the rest of his life going for vengeance against Voldemort and to hell with everyone else.

6. How was Snape a better man after Lily's ? He still treated pretty much everyone like crap. He had a habit of holding grudges for years. James was ed, Sirius spent over a decade in prision for a crime he did not commit, and Lupin was a pariah. Yet Snape's hatred had not been diluted a bit. He still did everything he could to make their lives as miserable as possible. He held a grudge against Voldemort because Voldemort ed the one thing Snape cared about. Since Voldemort was too powerful to fight head on Snape worked for Dumbledore for the sole reason of vengeance.

7. There is a good point here, but I think it is still flawed. Dumbledore still had enough scruples that sooner or later Grindlewald would have gone too far. Snape would not have cared if the entire family of Longbottem's had been ed.

8. I fail to see what this has to do with anything? Snape did not really control his emotions. Whenever he was called a coward he would burst into fits of rage. He allowed his hate and anger for the past to cloud his judgment at times and dictate his attitudes toward other people.

10. The flaw with this is the what cause did Snape for? To stop Voldemort because it was necessary and the right thing to do or for his own vengeance over his obsession with Lily?

Posted by Bill Frank on October 2, 2009 10:14 PM

Bill Frank - I do wonder where you get your textual references to back up your assumptions? You call Snape's love for Lily an obsession - where is your evidence for this? You say Snape woudn't have cared if the Longbottoms had d - again, you astonish me - how can you know this?
You say you fail to understand why Snape's effort to hide his emotions is important - well, let me enlighten you: it is necessary to understand the character and his actions - Snape in his role as a spy couldn't possibly have shown any emotions - yet he bottled them up and occasionally they just burst out of him, as Elizabeth from Australia pointed out on one of the previous pages. This is perfectly normal.
Furthermore you seem to imply Snape was the only one holding a grudge against the whole world - well, I tell you what: Sirius Black was just as bad. Instead of offering an apology to Snape to put behind their schoolboy days, he insisted on fostering his animosity quite as badly as Snape,especially in OoTP, making it extremely difficult for Harry to learn any trust in Snape when he taught him occlumency. Egged on by Sirius, Harry didn't refer to Snape when he needed to clarify whether Sirius was safe in Grimmauld Place, but had to rely on contacting Kreacher. Well, Sirius paid dearly for it - but the worst of it was Harry's despair after his Godfather's .
You are also saying Dumbledore spent his whole life atoning for his infatuation - where does he do that? Yes, he worked on the right side, but refused the position as Minister for Magic - a position where he could have really made a difference. Other than that he still used a lot of people for his great plans and let them work and risk their lives for him - Snape, Harry and Lupin where used either as spies or puppets to accomplish Dumbledore's aims. He destroyed Marvolo's ring and put himself in danger, yes - but this was a selfish act, he wanted to bring Ariana back to life.
You say Snape never cared for anyone but Lily - again I have to ask you how you know this? We don't learn anything about his private life - which was presumably totally filled with his role as Dumbledore's scapegoat - and you are not telling me that this life left much room for emotions. And anyway - he certainly cared for Dumbledore, his only confidant. When Dumbledore is poisoned, Snape is enraged that Dumbledore didn't see him earlier to stop the spreading of the substance. And again - his hatred for Harry is sad - but totally understandable.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 5, 2009 10:30 AM

Bill Frank - you don't like Snape, which is fine - but there really is no base for your assumption that Snape didn't care whatsoever. He was bound to distrust Sirius Black. The situation, as unfortunate as it was, depicted Sirius to be guilty, and there was no one to proof otherwise. And I don't blame Snape in the least for being eager to turn Black in - after all, Black had already attempted to him when they were young!It is understandable that he got a bit overexcited - or unbalanced, as Fudge the way I fail to understand why they didn't give Harry or Ron or Hermione some Veratiserum as to see whether theSy were speaking the truth? Siena - I too think that Sirius ought to have apologized to Snape later on. I do not think, however, that Dumbledore just let his puppets dance for him so to speak - he seriously put himself in danger when trying to retreive the Horcruxes. The shame is though that Dumbledore always got all the glory - while Snape had to fight in the shadow.It is therefore understandable that he didn't want to be called a coward.
Bill Frank - you really can't say that Snape never cared - you have no evidence. But there is evidence that he did feel a strong desire to do justice: "Don't be so shocked, Severus - how many people have you watched ?" This is what Dumbledore asks coldly and then Snape replies: "Lately only those I could not save." I think he must have felt really powerless at times when being a spy, trying to remain in Voldemort's good books, doing things against his judgement.

I have, however, never watched Spiderman - so I cannot comment on that. But I can't see any particular moments of atonement in Dumbledore's life really - where do you find those? He refused the Ministry Post because he was afraid he would again long for power and abuse it. And Bill Frank- Snape did not fight Voldemort for the reason of sole vengeance. He fought Voldemort to do what Lily would have done.

Posted by Cai from Berlin, Germany on October 14, 2009 12:51 PM

Bill Frank, think back to OotP. There is a lovely moment when Professor McGonagall returns from hospital, still leaning on a cane. From memory Harry and co are in the entrance hall and Snape is docking points from them, but when McGonagall appears he forgets all that and strides forward to greet her, hand outstretched. He is utterly delighted to see her back safe and well. I know I've pointed out this next example before, but think too of Harry's occlumency lesson where Snape sees Aunt Marge's dog Ripper chase a very young Harry up a tree. Snape asks whose dog it was. I'm sure he didn't ask out of idle curiosity, or because he wanted to send Ripper a dog treat. I think that scene is the equivalent of Harry seeing Snape being bullied by James et al. Just as Harry felt a connection and empathy with Snape over that, Snape had a moment of fellow feeling for Harry. Think of all the times Snape warns Harry about the danger of letting Voldemort see what he most cares about. And Harry finally acts on that by stepping back from his relationship with Ginny.
Definitely agree with Cai from Berlin when he quotes Snape's "Lately only those I could not save." The pain in those simple words is shattering. Try to imagine it; having to stand back and let friends . Your comrades. And never knowing if what you had done was going to make a difference. Perhaps even wondering if you really had stood back and let them out of duty, or if you were a coward after all. Yes, Snape was bitter and twisted, but think of what he went through. In the end he held to his mission even though Dumbledore was and he must have thought it was hopeless. Even though he had no idea what the plan was. He just held to his path and did what Dumbledore's portrait told him to do. That's heroism. Hanging on when all hope is . I'm sure Dumbledore trusted him to the hilt and the the only reason he didn't tell Snape a great deal more was that he feared that the stress Snape was under might cause him to make some tiny slip that would reveal him to Voldemort.
I see Snape and Sirius as two very similar men, or perhaps mirror images. Both bitter for similar reasons. Snape has betrayed someone he loved and trusted; Sirius has been betrayed by someone HE loved and trusted. Both of them carrying massive guilt over decisions they made. The only thing that kept Sirius sane in Azkaban was the knowledge that he wasn't guilty. Needing to save Harry gave him the strength to escape. What holds Snape in place is Lily's memory and the need to expiate the wrongness of what he did. They aren't so very different and if you think about it Snape is in an Azkaban of his own making with his feelings of guilt over Lily's . He doesn't need a Dementor to remind him constantly of the worst moments of his life.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on October 19, 2009 06:16 AM

Well, he hasn't exactly got his hands outstretched (he would probably only flex them to strangle Harry or Sirius if given the opportunity - but don't read this, Bill Frank...) but he is certainly "striding forward" to greet McGonagall - which for him is almost as touching as Dudley Dursley telling Harry he didn't think he was a waste of yes, it is a nice gesture really. Interestingly as most of the time I listen to the Audio version of the books I am taking Stephen Fry's many voices for granted - and I've just thought to what extend.. He reads this passage as if Snape is really a bit annoyed that McGonagall is interfering with his malicious actions against Harry... (I am sure Bill Frank you would approve..) but it can of course be interpreted differently.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 22, 2009 10:41 AM

I just checked it, Siena and you're right. He's only striding forward. But I still think he's pleased to see her. I grant it's ambiguous, but Rowling was very clever the way she wrote Snape's character. His actions are frequently ambiguous! Which of course is why we have such a good time arguing... er, discussing, him.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on October 23, 2009 12:42 AM

I think that Snape was definitely a hero. He was an unpleasant person, but the definition of a hero is somebody who risks their own life to save other lives, which Snape definitely did, saving Harry's life from Quirrell in Stone, then saving it countless other times in DH, thus helping Harry to defeat Voldemort. I feel very much sorry for him, being bullied throughout childhood, then losing Lily and later being believed to be the person who ed Dumbledore by the whole wizarding world [even though at that point he was admired by the other Eaters]. In answer to the reader's comments on page 13, I think Snape would have still joined the Eaters and been harsh as a teacher if it hadn't have been for the Marauders, I think he also joined them out of peer pressure from Avery and Mulciber and belief he would find acceptance that way, but that the Marauders largely influenced his actions, which he eventually redeemed himself for. Though he may not have been suitable married to Lily, he deserved her much more than James. I also think he was brave, and Harry was right to name his son after Snape.

Posted by Anonymous from London, United Kingdom on October 26, 2009 06:07 AM

ithink that snape was a hero but he was a bit selfish.considering his family background he was in a great need love and understanding from someone.i think it was pressure from his friends which made him to join eaters.I feel very much sorry for him, being bullied throughout childhood, then losing Lily.he deserved her much more than James.he loved her very much.

Posted by shruti from goa on October 27, 2009 06:54 AM

I think Snape is a hero. Harry says himself Snape was the bravestman he ever knew
Plus if it wasnt for that James Potter and his dumb gang of Marauders, Snape would have a happy life and grow up, Probably Marrying Lily.
Snape is my Favourite Character since I read the seventh book, now when I re read the whole series I get really angry at Harry, tonks, McGonagall and Lupin etc. For saying he is really bad and evil.
He is also a hero because his actions were motivated by love
And Eaters dont love nor do selfish people

Posted by Sy on November 14, 2009 10:17 PM

I was thinking - remember that line when Harry is walking out from the castle to the forest, in the last book, on his way to what he assumes be his ? And he thinks of how Hogwarts was home to himself and Snape and Voldemort? And he thinks of the three of them as, "the lost boys, the abandoned boys." Well, I thought of how between them those three characters embody all the themes and ideas of the books. They have similar backgrounds; some sort of abandonment and childhood trauma; they all come into their own at Hogwarts and find acceptance there. The real difference is in what they do with their choices. Voldemort and Harry are like the extremes. Harry makes some mistakes of judgement, but he never makes a really crashing moral error. The power of the Dark Arts is waved under his nose, but he is never truly tempted. Voldemort, on the other end of the spectrum, is not only tempted, he actively seeks out the Dark Arts and embraces them. Finally, in the middle, you have Snape. Like Voldemort he is drawn to the Dark Arts and embraces them. The difference is that he cares for just one person; Lily. In the end, that tiny seed of love is enough to have him reject the Dark Arts and risk his life to reverse the consequences of his own actions. I think that balance between these three characters uses Snape as a sort of balancing point, or centre of gravity, between Voldemort and Harry's extremes of moral choic. Both Harry and Voldemort are irrevocably set on their paths from the time they go to Hogwarts. Snape actually has to change direction after Lily and James's s. I still don't think he is a pleasant person and I do wonder what would have happened to him had he survived. I also wonder who was there to greet him at HIS "Kings Cross?"

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on November 16, 2009 04:59 AM

I remember finding Harry's reflections quite tantalizing and quite daring by Rowling to say that Snape's and Harry's feelings towards Hogwarts were quite the same as Voldemort's - there is this scene in I think book 6 where Harry is quite ashamed of this fact - but it is, of course, totally true. As you said they share similar stories and then made different choices. It is also notable that Rowling links the three in this last passage - first Voldemort and Snape in the Shrieking Shack, then Harry's lonesome walk into the forest.

I don't know, Elizabeth, who would have received him had he survived. But isn't it interesting in itself that you are raising this question - that we are trying to connect him with someone while he chose to be an island after Lily d? I know you said once Lily might not have been a proper match for him romantically - and quite possibly you are right as she was so happy with James anyway - and Dumbledore I think never really opened himself up to Snape, I don't think he ever told Snape about Ariana and his most heartfelt wish. Only Harry understood Dumbledore enough to comprehend. So I really don't know who would have met him - but I do know that I am happy and relieved that Harry was kneeling by his side when he d, and not just because this enabled Snape to pass on his memory, but more that thank God he wasn't alone. Furthermore Rowling said that she meant him to finally find some peace - and maybe he could only do this through . Life offered too much shame and pain for him.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on November 17, 2009 08:45 AM

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