Recently, in an undisclosed location, the REO staff had a meeting. Present were Phill, Ben, Mike, Dave, Nathan, Mark and me. We ordered pizza and as the doorbell rang signifying its arrival, Phill rolled a die to see who would have to get it, counting off each of us seated at a round table as a number. I informed Phill that by casting the die he was then creating a world with six alternate timelines. One where each of us has to get the pizza when the die lands and seals our numerical fate.
In one of the timelines–let’s call it The Darkest Timeline–things go berserk thanks to some terrible luck, a Norwegian troll doll and an Indiana Jones diorama. People get hurt. Things catch on fire. Apocalyptic chaos ensues.
Thankfully we don’t live in that timeline, unless you get on Twitter where apparently everybody is in a perpetual state of cataclysm. But due to a Dreamatorium created and shared by Mike and me, Darkest Timeline Gowdy has a chance on occasion to interact with our timeline. Today, I, Regular Gowdy (RG) invite Darkest Timeline Gowdy (DTG) to my house to have a debate over one of the most controversial and complex figures in recent fantasy literature: Severus Snape.
RG: Thank you for joining me today. Nice goatee. Very Spock-like in the Star Trek Original Series Season 2, Episode 4, “Mirror, Mirror”.
RG: We’re basically the same person.
DTG: I don’t have a plush Dobby doll…
RG: It’s a collectible!
DTG: It’s a nerd doll. I bet you also own a wand from Universal.
RG: It chose me!
DTG [Giving RG the same look Hermione gave Ron when he concluded that no one could feel all that Cho was feeling or “They’d explode”]: I’m sure it did.
RG: It was made with a Phoenix feather! Give me a break. You’re just as big a nerd as I am.
DTG: I love Harry Potter and Star Trek but nerds cite episodes and buy toys.
RG: Regardless, you know these works as well as I do.
DTG: I know more than you. Nerd.
RG: We will see about that. Our topic here today: Is Severus Snape more hero or villain? J.K. Rowling herself has said that Snape is all grey. You can’t make him a saint or a devil. So our aim is not binary. We want to discuss what he was more of. I’ll fire the opening salvo: Professor Snape is an extraordinarily written, gut-wrenching plot twist of a character. For 4000 pages, Rowling makes you hate him, before pulling the rug out from under us to reveal a remarkably intricate yet no doubt good-soul of a man who gave his life to help bring down the Dark Lord. His love for Lily is one of fiction’s great tragedies, and yet he did not let it go to waste, using it as inspiration the rest of his life to truly repent and join the anti-Voldemort movement. He is absolutely more hero.
DTG: In my opinion, Snape…
RG: Professor Snape….
DTG: Calm down, nerd. Snape [pauses, gives RG the same condescending look as before] is a petulant child who happens to have adult responsibilities. He tortures innocent children because of grudges and house affiliation, plays mind games with them, and is the model of someone who abuses power with no sense of justice. Additionally, his love for Lily is vastly – VASTLY – overrated…
RG: Oh come on! You’re telling me that you don’t think “After all this time?” “Always” is one of the most beautifully sad exchanges ever? The way Snape felt about Lily was something completely relatable and hits you like a stomach punch. Everyone gets unrequited love.
DTG: He was in love with another man’s wife and never moved on. That’s not romantic; that’s pathetic.
RG: But it was his motivation for doing good in the world!
DTG: I can separate actions and motivation. Some of his actions were admirable; the motivation was creepy and reeked of an adult living in his mom’s basement scrolling Facebook pictures all day.
RG: He truly loved her. The movie interpretation of him crying over Lily’s death, holding her body and losing it, that was tear-jerking to me.
DTG: That’s not a hero, though. It’s a sap to be pitied. He loved her but was a complete jerk to her son and most everyone else. He once tore a Potter family picture in half to keep Lily’s half and left the other half with James and Harry. What twisted narcissist does that to a happy family? That’s selfish. What a loser!
RG: Well it’s not like he ever tried to really break up the marriage.
DTG: As if he could. James was a stud and once Snape called Lily “mudblood” he had no chance. So he pined like a sniveling, unthinking beast.
RG: James wasn’t innocent. If hadn’t been so antagonizing to Snape at Hogwarts, maybe Snape would not have been so cruel to Harry.
DTG: I don’t take that as an excuse for one second. I won’t defend James completely, but Snape had decades to move on from that. And Harry, no matter how much he looked or acted like his dad, did not deserve such a vindictive spirit thrust at him, especially his first day in class.
RG: You don’t buy that Snape wasn’t apologizing to Harry for Lily’s death with the first questions he asked him in the first book? You know, all that about asphodel and wormwood and bitterness and sorrow?
DTG: If that was Rowling’s intention then I admit that is very cool. But you can apologize without being a bully at the same time. Which Snape was that whole scene, taunting Harry as a “celebrity” even though Harry had done literally nothing to earn that scorn besides be his father’s son. And besides, way beyond the first day Snape is terrible to Harry and his friends. Remember when he gave Harry a zero for a simple misread of the instructions for the Draught of Peace while he ignored the poor work of several other students? That’s petty and immature.
RG: But lest we forget, he also saved Harry’s life his first year when Quirrell tried to kill him during his first Quidditch match. That’s noble and heroic.
DTG: Barely. He did so at no risk to his own life or safety and with a small effort for a wizard of his pedigree. It was a good thing, but the insults and boorish behavior towards Harry far outweigh it.
RG: I don’t think saving a person’s life can be devalued quite that easily. He saved Harry’s life out of a deal he made with Dumbledore, which proved he was truly a good guy and no longer a Death Eater. And much of what he did in this role as a spy, as a result, was at risk to his own safety and life. A true hero absolutely would use his skill at occlumency to deceive Voldemort, the greatest Legilimens of his time. You had to figure Snape knew at any moment Voldemort could figure him out. But he stayed exactly where Dumbledore put him. Perhaps that was part of why he played his role as a villain to Harry so believably.
DTG: The point about dealing with Voldemort may have some value but he still went overboard in his treatment of Harry and it was obvious that he did it because he hated James 10 to 20 years later. When he gave Harry detention for using Sectumsempra on Draco (which Harry deserved), he forced him to read James and Sirius’s old detention notices. That was spiteful.
RG: Sectumpsempra is a good example of how Harry was far from innocent. Much of Snape’s disdain for Harry was for being out of bounds at night and breaking school rules.
DTG: Yes, but you are comparing teenage Harry trying to accomplish noble and reasonable things in secret and under darkness with Snape, a grown man and a teacher, exacting revenge on a child shamelessly and in public.
RG: I hate to sound like Lupin talking to Harry, but it sounds like you are determined to hate Snape. You keep going back to his treatment of Harry when Snape was far more than that. You didn’t even respond to my point about his use of occlumency on You-Know-Who.
DTG: Only nerds say “You-Know-Who”. Actually, Ron-type nerds say it. You’re not cool enough to be a Hermione nerd. I said his sacrifice to risk Voldemort discovering him had value. But I’m not going to classify him a hero based on how skilled he is. There is zero doubt that Snape was one of the three most adroit wizards in the series, behind Voldemort and Dumbledore. But abilities do not make for a hero. Actions do.
RG: No argument there. I just happen to see his actions as a double-agent far more crucial to his character than his actions as Harry’s teacher.
DTG: Snape as Harry’s teacher is like 80% of Snape in the series. I bet the majority of Snape’s spoken lines before the very end of Book 7 are insults to Potter or his friends.
RG: But that’s the genius of the plot twist; she had to make us believe Snape was evil and the true heroism of Snape, in large part, goes unsaid in the series. Doesn’t Jesus teach that it is right to do good without getting credit? Also, if everything we discover in “The Prince’s Tale” chapter at the end of The Deathly Hallows was known ahead of time, it would destroy how incredible that chapter is. That chapter ravaged millions of fans in the profound and shocking way possible.
DTG: I don’t know that I agree. I think spoiler type moments can be overvalued and that she could have told just as good as story, or perhaps better, with us knowing ahead of time what Snape really was. We sort of knew anyway. She just sacrificed hundreds of pages of character development for a “A-ha!!” moment. I’m not sure it could not work the other way.
RG: I completely disagree.
DTG: Exceptional counterargument.
RG: Well, I have Harry in my corner, calling Snape probably the bravest man he ever knew.
DTG: From the epilogue. Barf.
RG: Well, can we at least agree that Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape in the movies is immaculate and on the short list for greatest film interpretation of a character ever?
DTG: Yes, we can. Which reminds me, you realize Die Hard is a Christmas movie, right?
RG: Get out.