The success of the Harry Potter series can be attributed to many different things. In my opinion the biggest factor was the complete and varied universe the JK Rowling created within our own world. But, to me, the most magical world ever imagined would mean next to nothing without interesting characters to fill it. One of the reasons that Harry Potter was, and is, so important to me was those characters.
I’d like to start my character study of Severus Snape by giving Rowling one of the best compliments I can give: I don’t like Severus Snape. Just to be clear, I don’t like him as a person. The character is brilliant. The reason I consider this such a huge compliment is that many other people love him as a person. You will recognise that this is true about pretty much every real person who has ever lived. The fact that readers can look at the same words on a page and take away different things about a character tells of a fantastically talented author. Even after reading many other ‘more adult’ series, I still consider the Harry Potter series to have the largest number of distinct, real characters – characters who would pass the “they would never say that” fan fiction test.
The reason I don’t like Snape as a person is because I don’t think his good deeds can erase his bad. He was bullied at school, but went on to bully a generation of schoolchildren as a teacher. He lost his muggle born love and reacted by joining what amounts to an anti-muggle born terrorist group. He was a man who has made many mistakes and paid a terrible price for them. He was also a man who sacrificed his life for what was right. But it took him playing a role in Lily’s death for him to realise that he was wrong.
Snape is a character that evolved throughout the series, from someone who originally seemed like a one dimensional villain to a man of contradictions, shaped by his history. The reason I wanted to talk about Snape was that he was someone we all knew so well, he would have passed the “they would never say that” test after Philosopher’s Stone, but he still surprised throughout the series. The big reveal in Deathly Hallows, regarding his relationship with Lily, was a fantastic twist because it didn’t feel like it had been created by an author. It felt like the last piece of the jigsaw of a man’s character. It was less a shock than a realisation of why he was who he was. We finally saw the full picture. A picture of a child wanting to belong, a curious and ambitious young man who made bad decisions and hurt people, but who wanted to be a good person and, in the end, did the right thing.
I started the character study by saying that I didn’t like him and I stick by that comment. In the James Potter Vs Severus Snape debate, I’m Team Prongs all the way. This is because I can never fully forgive his faults. This was a man who made children’s lives miserable, he caused Remus Lupin to lose his job as the DADA teacher by leaking his status as a werewolf, and he contributed to the deaths of innocent people, including the woman he loved. He was also the man who spent much of his life protecting the son of his sworn enemy. He was a man of contradictions and that is what made him such a brilliant character.
By Andy Wright
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