This is my penultimate column, which feels weird. But since it is my senior year and the end is nigh, it’s time to talk about my biggest pop culture pet peeve: Severus Snape and the people who love him. This is a rant I’ve been sitting on for almost seven years, and it’s time to let it loose.
I love a good redemption arc. The bad guy finding his soul and using his skills for good? It’s a classic story that, when done well, can be very powerful. But Snape’s redemption arc is clumsy and doesn’t leave him as pristine as fans like to think. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of fans who love Snape — who romanticize his story — and they’re wrong.
In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Harry uses a Pensieve to access Snape’s memories. Through this, he learns not only of Snape’s undying love for Harry’s mother, Lily, but also that after her death Snape swore to keep Harry alive for that love. He puts himself in incredibly dangerous situations and risks his life for Dumbledore. He’s so courageous that Harry names one of his kids after him.
That’s the perfect, pretty narrative. But that’s not what really happened.
Snape’s outsider angst fueled him to join the extremely heinous Death Eaters, despite the fact that they were dedicated to destroying Mudbloods. He only had a change of heart — sort of — when Voldemort’s target was Lily (oh, and Snape’s the one who told him about the prophecy; apparently, killing is only wrong when you know the person). Even then, he asks Dumbledore to save Lily and explicitly doesn’t care about James and Harry. Only after Lily dies does he decide to help Dumbledore, but it’s not because he thinks Voldemort is wrong. It’s to honor Lily’s memory. This is the part where people focus on the heroic stuff, but let’s think about what Snape was also doing at that time: psychologically tormenting an orphaned 11-year-old because he resembled his father.
During that “Deathly Hallows” chapter with the Pensieve, Snape describes Harry as selfish, self-important and arrogant, while Dumbledore counters that all of the other teachers like him. Snape isn’t talking about teenage Harry, who is admittedly a little arrogant; he’s talking about first-year Harry. Harry who was picked on his whole life, who never had a family of his own and who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. He’s a child. Snape never lets it go. Having decided that Harry must be bad news from the start, he spends six years making his life as difficult as possible. That’s a great way to honor Lily’s memory, right?
Before Dumbledore dies, he wonders if Snape might have grown attached to Harry at some point. Snape responds with his Patronus — a doe, in honor of Lily. This is seen as a nobly romantic moment, but I couldn’t help but be struck by how sad it is. For all the good things he’s done, Snape was never motivated by virtue or morality. He was chasing a ghost. It’s creepy.
In exalting Snape, many fans are simultaneously knocking James Potter. Based primarily on one scene of James bullying Snape, many assume that James was brutish, mean and unworthy of Lily for his whole life.
That’s ridiculous. First, Lily never would have married James if he hadn’t become a better person; Remus and Sirius both tell Harry this. Second, he joined the Order of the Phoenix, an incredibly dangerous group, in order to try to make the world a better place. He easily could have tried to sneak through the war without joining a side, as many wizards and witches did. Instead, he fought.
Even when he was misguided in school, he was an incredibly loyal friend. When he and Sirius found out that Lupin was a werewolf, rather than hurt or reject him, they embraced him and decided to learn incredibly difficult magic in order to make the worst moments of his life more bearable. That’s huge. James also saved Snape’s life when he almost found a transformed Lupin, which Snape seemed ungrateful for later.
Oh, and the night he and Lily died? While Snape was willing to sacrifice Harry and James for Lily, James sacrificed himself for Lily and Harry. He was honorable and brave.
This narrative in which Snape is a lovesick, brave hero doesn’t make sense to me. I won’t deny that he had a hard childhood or that he did brave things, but that doesn’t excuse him. There’s nothing heroic about tormenting an orphan.
This is probably an example of how we need to embrace nuance and stop writing characters — and real people — into boxes. Snape, like any real person, is full of contradictions and complex motives that probably he didn’t even fully understand. Painting him as a completely wonderful figure erases some of the most interesting parts of him and also lets him off the hook for bad things he’s done. Meanwhile, I shouldn’t be totally seized by my impulse to write him off as evil.
But in this case, forget nuance. Snape sucks, James rules!
Victoria Edel is a senior in the College. Girl Meets World appears every other Friday in the guide.