Always: Severus Snape and the Appeal of the Anti-Hero

SEPT / OCT 2015: BY RACHEL SEXTON

snape

The idea of the extraordinary existing in our ordinary world has always had a pull on the human imagination. When magic is placed in the “real world,” we find it relatable and intriguing—probably due to a bit of wish fulfillment on the part of the audience. A magical narrative is at its best, however, when the qualities of good storytelling in general are present. With regards to character, this means that alongside the hero and villain, there can also be the anti-hero. He or she does good things but has aspects to their personality that are off. One such character does feature in a tale of magical realism, to exceptional results. Severus Snape in Harry Potter is a complex, compelling character who feels magical and real at the same time.

The first book in the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, published in 1997). By now, everyone knows the story is about an orphan who discovers he’s a wizard and attends a school for magic while making two best friends for life and facing a confrontation with the evil wizard who murdered his parents. Harry first sees Severus Snape almost immediately after arriving at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Snape is the Professor of Potions and is an increasingly important figure as the series continues until the stunning events involving him in the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In 2001, a film adaptation of the first book was released starring respected veteran British actor Alan Rickman as Snape. It is said that author J.K. Rowling handpicked Rickman to play Snape and he completed the role throughout all the films in the series.

Rowling brilliantly makes the choice from the beginning to present Snape as an anti-hero, and makes many of the events surrounding him ambiguous so that the reader is pulled into the mystery of whether this man is good or bad until the very end. Leading up to the final book, bad and good things simultaneously struggle for dominance in Snape. The following discussion has SPOILERS—so be warned!

When Harry first sees Snape, the scar on his head from the night his parents died hurts him; thus Harry begins to associate pain with Snape. Snape exhibits an unpleasant attitude toward Harry in his first potions class. This treatment does not change through subsequent books. As the Head of Slytherin House, Snape is blatantly biased towards students from his own house. Slytherin is the House of witches and wizards who sometimes turn to dark magic; this is another clue that Snape is bad in Harry’s mind. When Harry and his best friends put together that the school is the hiding place for the Sorcerer’s Stone and someone is trying to steal it, Harry assumes it is Snape. In later books, Snape is vocal about his bigotry, refuses to let go of the past, and holds Harry responsible for the sins of his father. Harry learns Snape was once a follower of evil Lord Voldemort, and that Snape is undercover as a Death Eater. Snape has the ability to not only read people’s minds through the skill of Legilimency, but is expert at Occlumency, or the ability to block people from his mind. Finally, in one of the most dramatic moments of the entire series, Snape kills Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and Harry’s loved mentor. As far as Harry is concerned, Snape is evil.

Yet, at the same time, Snape also proves his good side. He was one of the teachers protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone, and does not hesitate to protect Harry, Ron and Hermione from a dangerous werewolf against his will. The lessons Snape tries to give Harry on Legilimency and Occlumency are well done and useful if Harry would only listen, and Harry sees that his father truly did torment Snape during their time at school together. Dumbledore insists he trusts Snape throughout the novels, especially in Half-Blood Prince, and Harry is stunned by the revelation at the end of that book that the previous owner of the Potions book that has been helping Harry all year with scribbled notes, also called the Half-Blood Prince, is none other than Snape himself.

With all this going on at once, it is no wonder that during the rampant fan speculation leading up to the publication of the final book, one of the major topics was Snape’s true allegiance. With a game-changing and revelatory chapter called “The Prince’s Tale,” Rowling gave us answers. Killed at the hands of Voldemort, Snape gives Harry his memories as he dies. They show Harry the real Snape. Snape loved Harry’s mother Lily since they were children and turned away from Voldemort upon learning it was her son the Dark Lord meant to kill in response to a prophecy that the boy would destroy Voldemort. Dumbledore was already dying in the aftermath of destroying one of Vodlemort’s Horcruxes (pieces of soul transferred to another object) and forced Snape to appear to kill him to preserve Snape’s cover. Snape’s Patronus is a doe, just like Harry’s mother, and Snape used it to aid Harry in his quest to destroy Horcruxes. The memory shows Dumbldore recognize the Patronus and say, “Lily? After all this time?” Snape’s response is “Always.”

Severus Snape is a central character in Harry Potter and occupies the position of anti-hero until the end, when even Harry acknowledges his bravery. Harry gives his son the middle name “Severus.” There are anti-hero characters in other books, television shows, and films but with one word (“Always”), Snape entered the highest level of fame. He will be unforgettable and compelling to readers…always. ♥

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Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Her main hobby is editing fan videos.

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One Reply to “Always: Severus Snape and the Appeal of the Anti-Hero”

  1. Nice to see an analysis of Snape. I love Harry Potter and like you said it is hard to tell if he is good or bad. But due to his love for Lily, he protects Harry even if he has a dislike towards Harry throughout the entire series

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