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Snape - "Real, or inside my head?" by Clay Potter
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Snape - "Real, or inside my head?" by Clay Potter
Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« on: July 30, 2007, 01:22:12 PM »

By Clay Potter

It seems disturbing to many of us that JKR would refer to our beloved Severus Snape as a bully. Many of us wonder how in the world she could even entertain that idea. But, just as Subtle Science stated in her brilliant essay, the Harry Potter book series is a work of literal art, left to the interpretation of each individual reader. Since so many questions about Snape’s back story are left unanswered, we will all have a different picture in our minds as we fill in the blanks with our imaginations. And imagination is the key here. Snape is a fictional character. He comes to life in our minds. In eastern philosophy, thoughts are things, as real as the computer screen in front of me. They must be real in the etheric realm before they can become manifested in the material plane. Some thoughts and ideas never make it to the material plane, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. You just can’t touch them. You can still see them in your head. At the end of the Kings Cross chapter (pg. 723 of Deathly Hallows) Harry asks Dumbledore if this is real, or if it is all inside his head. Dumbledore’s answer says it all, with relation to our dear Severus, as well as the magical world that we all enjoy getting lost in: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape are as real as each of us wants them to be. They are as real as any famous figure we read about on the world stage that we never actually get to meet in person. Their spirits live in our thoughts and our memories, in our dreams and our imaginations. The magic of movies have even given continuity to their tangible appearance. So when we think of Severus Snape, we see and hear Alan Rickman in black robes and a greasy black wig.

When a politician gives a speech, different people interpret the words to mean different things, depending on their individual outlook, their political preference, their ideals… some will hate it, some will love it, and every degree in between. So many circumstances can sway a person’s opinion. And that is what JKR has expressed in her recent interviews, her opinion of Severus Snape. We each read her books and watch the movies with our own history, our own opinions, our own spin. And our personal history can greatly change the way we look at a character that is as deep and complicated as Snape. Do we try to see the good in him? Or do we condemn him at the first sign of cruelty? The way we have been treated and the way we have watched our peers and parents, or other authority figures act (our history) in similar circumstances would greatly affect our judgments of his actions. Just as some teenage girls will develop a “crush” on the captain of their high school football team, others will consider the same young man a “Neanderthal," and prefer the captain of the debate team, or the nerd who wins the science fair. All could be intelligent sensitive men who grow up to contribute in a positive way to society. But the individual tastes and perceptions of the girls will be the deciding factor of their focus. No choice is right or wrong. It is simply a matter of opinion.

We find JKR's opinion of Snape insulting, because he has become so much a part of us he feels real, and to insult him is to insult our personal choice to care about him. I think it is a tribute to JKR’s skill that she could create a character that would continue to cause such controversy after the story is over. And just like a dynamic and powerful person from history, there will always be people who will hate him because he is so real, so human, so flawed; but those who will also love him for those same reasons, and because he is so mysterious, so complicated, so deep.

And, at least in my opinion, so worth loving.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for seven wonderful books, and a cast of friends who will live on in my memory and imagination, even the ones you tried to kill off!

~~~~~~

MOD Note: I copied most of the posts below from a google cache of page one of this essay thread. The posts omitted were housekeeping that had to do with spoilers for Book 7, asking that the thread should be moved to another area, and were not part of the actual discussion.
~ SIP


~~~~~~

Vivian
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2007, 05:47:46 AM »

When I started reading this article, I thought it would be about JKR's statement that Snape is not a hero, in her view. I found that a surprising statement and I'm sure many other people did as well. In a later interview, in fact, JKR said the opposite.

But I'm not surprised that JKR would call Snape a bully. I think that's fair, given his treatment of Harry on his first day of school. Snape has made up his mind in advance about this child, and proceeds to deliberately embarrass him in front of the class with zero provocation. Why not call that bullying?

~~~

Clay Potter
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2007, 06:34:38 AM »

It certainly seems like bullying, but as I asked later in the essay, do we try to see the good in him? or do we condemn him at the first sign of cruelty? Perhaps his bullying is a misplaced hatred of James, perhaps it is tough love. After reading the chapter "The Prince's Tale" I think it probably is just misplaced hatred of James. But I still see and have always seen a great deal of good in the character, and, like Lily, have been making excuses for him for years...

~~~

Spirit
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2007, 11:38:31 AM »

Regarding Snape as a bully...

I'd say on his first day with Harry in class Snape was scanning for Lily in Harry. His questioning Harry about an unknown subject from the first day on seemed like an unprovoked attack without knowing the backstory, but now that we know what a genius Lily was in Potions it seems natural to be craving to know whether the kid inherited her affinity and interest - I believe it would have meant to Severus much more than anyone could imagine! I certainly understand his bitter disappointment in the boy.

Plus, Lily, who also grew up among Muggles, is shown to be thirsty for knowledge about any aspect of the world she belonged to (even about Dark creatures like Dementor, which she supposedly hates). It's pretty normal to expect Harry to show the same thirst for knowledge - maybe not in the magnitude of what Hermione Granger (another Muggleborn) does, memorizing her textbooks and a dozen of other books. I don't think Snape ever expected perfect knowledge from Harry - not memorized knowledge for sure! - but at least interest, understanding and respect for the subject. Harry never shows such things - and not only in Potions but in EVERY other class he has, except for DADA, despite that all the different teachers have different approache, some of them a lot gentler than Snape.

And everyone knows from Hagrid that Harry has already bought his textbooks - if asked for Harry's reactions (as he surely was) Hagrid would have told them all that Harry expressed a great interest and enthusiasm in finding out he was a wizard - why wouldn't that encourage Snape to believe Harry was like Lily (or Hermione)?

From then on... well, we saw how things developed between them. Even after finding out Snape is a good guy trying to protect him Harry doesn't change his mind. And even after finding out about Harry opposing Voldemort Snape's dislike doesn't diminish - in fact, Harry following and "fighting" Voldy on his own must have only strengthened (justifiably) his conviction of Harry's arrogance.

But we see that Snape does NOT punish or chastise Harry (verbally or through some detention) unless he is right and his punishments are never cruel - geesh, I can't believe JKR called Snape unfair and cruel Roll Eyes. Snape has a sharp tongue and makes cutting remarks but they are never anything less than the truth and are aiming (I think) not to hurt, but to teach Harry, since Severus - despite his dislike - DOES have Harry's best interests at heart. As ClayPotter said - tough love. All parents have moments when they decidedly do not LIKE their kids, but that doesn't stop them from trying to help them along the way and prevent them from making more mistakes.

I don't see Snape's attitude as being any different than McGonnagals (who is described as "very good" in JKR's interview Roll Eyes) yet there is a good difference in how people see them - not only the readers, for which we can blame the Harry-filter, but also their students in the books. Although appearance should not affect the way we judge people, there are those who form their opinion of someone based on it - as we have in Snape's case. So why IS Snape so much scarier than McGonnagal despite their similarity in attitude?

First of all, Snape is a man while McGonnagal is an elderly woman. And a very intimidating looking man he is - tall, thin, hook-nosed and eternally dressed in billowing black. This is bound to scare a bunch 11-year olds. He speaks in low voice, sounds cold and calculating, and can appear suddenly and noiselessly behind you. And he leaves the impression he can read your mind (at least Harry got that impression, which was later proved to be correct) - this combined with his genius is truly scary - the poor kids don't know he has only their best interests and protection at heart - and that he doesn't eat students for dinner, lol!

Snape is a tragic hero - and he looks the part. We can see what an enormous change the insecure boy, barely out of his teens but already a spy and a teacher, who is crying because of Lily's death, underwent to become the man we see in Harry's first Potions class. Death and misery have left a visible mark on Snape - it's almost as if something inside him died with Lily, he is no longer the same, and he looks like he's sleepwalking through life. Actually, the only thing that saves him from going down the suicidal path we saw him contemplating after Lily's death, are his responsibilities - for Harry, for his students, for the Order, for Albus. But apart from that - there's not much life in him, is it? Harry calls his eyes dead - it reflects the way Snape is feeling I think - his 'own' life is over - he lives for others now.
There is something strange, inexplicable, and uncommon about him - which is a result from his extraordinary misery and pain. It is no wonder a lot of people suspected he was a vampire, lol!

And, finally, Snape has a very strong presence and personal charisma - but it is a black, dark (almost devilish) charisma, which is scary to be around with. I can understand why some of the more sensitive students are terrified of him, but it's a real pity they do it. Because the reason behind his terrifying, vampire-like, outer-worldly image is - in my opinion, not JKR's obviosly - just that he has experienced pain and misery beyond what we can call "normal".

With all of this I'm not saying Snape has not made any mistakes when dealing with Harry (though certainly not as many as Harry has made when dealing with Snape Roll Eyes); of course he has, obviously, since he never had children of his own and his experience with the students can in no way prepare him for the huge responsibility of "raising" Harry. Suddenly Severus found himself in charge of the child without having any past experience as a parent - or much life-experience at all, since he went directly from Hogwarts into an ongoing war and after several years came back to Hogwarts where he didn't do anything but pass on his knowledge to insufferable dunderheads, lol. That's not much of a life experience.

All in all, I think their relationship started off badly (without Harry realizing Snape's intentions were not bad at all) and went on in the same vein with contributions from both parties.

Geesh, that was a long post - sorry. Just had to summarize it somewhere - my indignation was threatening to explode after JKR's latest interviews.

~~~

Shewoman
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2007, 07:23:50 PM »

I couldn't believe she said he was a bully. If I'd been there I'd've probably jumped up, babbled helplessly in her general direction for a few moments, and then screamed several definitions of "bully" at her as the nice officer helped me into the police car.

And she originally said he wasn't a hero. Hero? Of course not. Just some random guy who reneged on an organization that reflected many of his values and offered him a chance to use his talents in order to spend 16 years looking after a kid who never failed to get on his last nerve because he loved the kid's mother. Not even that he promised her he'd to it; he didn't. Just love.

I do a lot of literary criticism in my work, and we always come up against this issue: to what extent are we bound by authorial statement and/or intent? Do writers know their own characters and their interrelationships better than the readers do? Can readers have insights authors themselves didn't have? I tend to stick to canon where research and papers are concerned while encouraging students to rewrite the story (in their heads if nowhere else) when they think the writer lost the vision.

I love this series and I love JKR for writing it. I just hope she gets around to reading it before too long.

~~~

CLK
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2007, 10:14:38 PM »

It takes me a couple of days to get an essay out of my head enough to read it with any semblance of impartiality. How long must it take with something the size and scope of Harry Potter, especially when she had it in her head all these years?

~~~

Claypotter

Could it be, Shewoman, that Severus is as real to you as he is to me? Rolling Smiley

I'm afraid I was quite emotional when I wrote the essay, and even now when I re-read it, it stirs me up again. Perhaps in a month or two I will be able to look at my own words with a bit more objectivity. Like you, clk, I can't imagine how long it will take JKR to look objectively at those many thousands of pages...

Spirit, you words are wonderful with respect to my feelings. Like I told Vivian, I have been making excuses (mainly to my kids) for years. They both believed him to be evil, and were almost mad that I got to say, "I told you so!" But you didn't just make excuses for him, you have logical arguments, and they were put into words so beautifully. Thanks for saying what I could not.

~~~

Silver Ink Pot
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2007, 02:46:38 AM »

I have always felt a disconnect between what I have read in the books and what JKR sometimes says in her interviews. I had never read her interviews until after OotP, when I first came to the forums, and sometimes I think I would have enjoyed the books just as much without knowing anything about the author's intentions or perceptions, which come off sounding rather different than the characters on the page.

She often describes her characters, even Harry, as "damaged," and I think Snape is no exception. However, you can't have a character who overcomes his own psychic damage the way Snape has and then turn around and say he is just stereotype of a bully. He isn't. We have so many worse examples in the books, from Umbridge to Voldemort, so that Snape comes across as just this tough guy who probably shouldn't be teaching eleven-year-olds after all that he's been through. However, he's no more dangerous to them than Hagrid, in my opinion, and JKR loves Hagrid!

If I hadn't read her interviews - and sometimes I wish I could be obliviated - I would be satisfied totally with the series. I would trust my own perceptions of the Marauders - I would never call them heroes - and I would still have thought Snape was a major hero/anti-hero of the series.

I find some characters much more flawed than JKR obviously does - Lupin for instance. His indifference seemed to extend to his own wife and child, in sharp contrast to Snape who gave up his life to take care of a boy who wasn't related to him, but out of love for a woman who has been dead for years. Yet Harry loves Lupin, and summons his spirit - well, big whoop. I never found Lupin that lovable myself. Yet JKR tells us that she completely lost it when she wrote that chapter about Harry walking to his death. But how many readers really thought Harry was going to die? Show of hands? Anyone? I didn't.

People wonder how the Snape fans "Knew" beyond doubt that Snape was a good character. We never could have known based just on JKR's interviews. She has consistently called him a bully, a bad teacher, and even a sadist. I guess the other day she was trying to be consistent in her negativity, which is a kind way of saying she stuck to her story to the point of disbelief.

But the way some of us "knew" that Snape was capable of greater things is his own consistency as a character, which JKR cannot deny. He never hurt Harry, and only tried to help him. He had chances to hurt Harry's friends, such as Luna and Hermione, and he didn't do anything. He really seemed to care sometimes when the kids couldn't learn something. He almost always told Harry the truth, even when it was dangerous for him. He helped Narcissa when he didn't have to, in a way that was defiant of both the Dark Lord and Bellatrix. He always said James was arrogant, but never spoke Lily's name at all, and Harry never bothered to ask him. And he always, always did whatever Dumbledore asked of him - he was Dumbledore's man through and through. I didn't need to see Snape's memories to know all that about him, but obviously there are some fans in the world who still don't believe there is canon that he was a good man.

Snape's healing powers in HBP were the clincher for me - why would he heal Dumbledore and then kill him, unless there was more going on? And there was, indeed, more to it than that. I wish there had been more follow-through with the healing aspect in Harry's own character. The first time we see him in DH, he admits he can't heal his own wounds, and then later, he doesn't even try to save Snape, which is rather maddening. What was all that education for? It makes Snape's senseless death all the more tragic, though, which I guess was her point. But it all comes across as rather lame that the boy with the "saving people thingy" - who is so worried about Kreacher bumping his head or punishing himself - should sit calmly and watch Snape die. It's not really consistent with his character, and it almost makes him seem happy that Snape is dying, especially since JKR mentions Harry's hatred as he watches him. I wonder what future generations of readers will make of that?

~~~

weaver
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2007, 05:55:07 AM »

I must admit that this bothered me when I read that scene. Throughout the series Harry's thoughts are revealed, especially in moments of high emotion or panic. Yet here, we get very little. Harry seems more confused than anything, as if the mere fact that Voldemort has attacked Snape is forcing him to re-evaluate. Or maybe it's just shock that Voldemort would kill one of his staunchest supporters. It is odd.

It makes me look back at when Harry used sectumsempra on Draco. That whole sequence of events looks more and more like Harry was only concerned about having been caught, and what the consequences were going to be for him. There seems to be little real concern for the victim, and that is repeated in Snape's death scene.

Apparently Harry's saving people thing only kicks in for certain people.

I'm not quite sure what to make of that in light of JKR's insistence that Harry is such a good person, and Snape is not.

Of course, it all happens very quickly, so maybe Harry should get the benefit of the doubt. At least Harry followed Snape's orders to both take the memories and to look at him. He even looked at Snape's memories when I think that would be one of the last things Harry would want to do.

~~~

Aluna
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2007, 05:55:51 AM »

I really liked your essay, ClayPotter.

I don't believe that Snape is a bully, no matter what JKR says in interviews. If she wanted to drive home a point about Snape, she should have done it in the books. Thank God she didn't. He may be overly harsh and bitterly sarcastic, but he does not seek to abuse and torture weaker people. He gets frustrated with them, and that's why he comes across as cruel. To me, you simply can't be a bully if deep down you feel that what you're doing is in the "victim's" best interest -- but perhaps it depends on your definition of a bully?

Did James and Sirius believe that by insulting Snape's greasy nose and depanting him they were ultimately making him a favor -- that he would perhaps start to take notice of his personal hygiene and behave more like the "cool guys"? I highly doubt it. In fact, I'm sure that the Marauders would have been disappointed if Snape had 'reformed' to become more like them. But when Snape read Rita's article aloud, pausing theatrically after each sentence, was he telling himself, "Geez, this is so much fun; I hope the holy trinity will continue to read magazines in my classes so I can humiliate them"? Or did he genuinely wish that Harry would learn his lesson and pay attention to the potions?

One cannot deny that Snape is the authoritarian type (and so is McGonagall, as Spirit pointed out) and that he likes being in control and hates to see his position challenged... which could be a warning sign for a bully, but in Snape's case is not the major driving force. If Snape were so obsessed with other people recognizing his power, he would've made a very poor spy. During Occlumency lessons, he actually deflects the attention away from himself, even though he is flattered when Harry inadvertently makes him a compliment!

ClayPotter, I also thought that quote by Dumbledore was priceless. And it is funny that you compare Snape's "reality" to that of the celebrities we read about, for just the other day I was thinking the same thing. I have sometimes cried for famous people who died, and I've never been ashamed of it. Yet I have never met those people -- for all I know, they could just be elaborate hoaxes made possible by the miracles of modern technology and advertising. However, they are real in my head, and that suffices; just like it does for Rowling's magical world. So it is natural that we, the obsessed fans, would demand a highly considerate treatment of her characters from JKR. And she is usually graceful in that respect, but there have been exceptions. Anyway, I will continue to love her and feel indebted to her -- even if she turns out to be an elaborate hoax. Grin

SIP -- I agree with everything in your post except the part about Harry in the Shrieking Shack. I didn't get the impression that Harry was insensitive to Snape's death, just the opposite. I am most thankful to JKR that she didn't write an overtly sacrificial death for Snape -- that it wasn't the death itself that changed Harry's mind. Harry's instinct, his unconscious trust in Snape, is what saved him and the magical world; he made sure that Snape didn't die with a failed mission.

It's true that the "hatred" is mentioned even in those last moments of Snape/Harry interaction, but it sounds like an empty label. It trails on just out of habit. Harry may not know why he's approaching the dying man and letting him see him, but his heart knows. Like so many instances in Rowling's universe, it's the hands that betray the feeling: and Harry's are shaking...

The word "moonlit" was in the first sentence of the book, and I think it was a clue that the "moon" would preside over the entire story -- "feminine" sensitivity, intuition, and the subconscious played a large role and occasionally made the reader's job more difficult because I didn't always understand how Harry came to this or that sudden realization. But, Harry had all the premises to understand Snape, Dumbledore, Voldemort, and his own role, and in the end, it wasn't his logic that put together the puzzle, but his intuition. Not quite what I had expected, but very satisfying nevertheless.

~~~

Clay Potter
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #12 on: August 04, 2007, 11:09:56 AM »

Thanks for reading, Aluna, and all the rest of you. I'm glad you got the point about "Real or all inside my head." I did not intend this to be a discussion so much about bullying, but about our reactions to JKR's opinions, and why we feel the way we do. And there have been many other people, both real and fictional, that I have cried over, whom I have never met.

I also thought it was odd at first, and inconsistent that Harry would not at least try to save Snape. He saved Draco in the room of requirement. So it seemed inconsistent, unless he hated him so much, and still had the sting of Dumbledore's death on his mind, that he was glad to watch the light leave Snape's eyes. But, as with Severus, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I'm guessing that it wasn't just the bleeding, but the venom in the snake's bite that would do him in, and without a potion immediately handy, trying to heal the wound would just be postponing the inevitable. But something in Harry's heart told him not to let Snape die alone, thank goodness, and so the rest of the story had a happy ending.

~~~

Phoenix Fire
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2007, 11:22:14 PM »

Remove Lily Potter and Snape is just another Avery/Dolohov.

Gods i must be bored to be typing this... Roll Eyes

~~~

Weaver
Re: Severus Snape – "Real, or all inside my head?"
« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2007, 08:02:21 AM »

Well....Snape showed the ability to love, and love deeply. He used that love to turn his life around. Lily was the object of his love, but without her, his aching for acceptance and love might have manifested on a different person. That person might have actually been a better influence on him than Lily. We'll never know. It's a "What if..." game.

His capacity for love was not dependent on the existence of Lily Potter.

(This post was last modified: 06-12-2012 09:08 AM by Silver Ink Pot.)
05-31-2012 10:38 PM
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