A recent article showed that in a poll of 70,000 people the character of Severus Snape beat out all other Harry Potter characters to win fan favorite. Considering how many characters there are in these books and that the poll listed a Top 40 the fact that Snape pulled in 20% of the votes is quite impressive, but not all that surprising. After spending close to 8 years visiting MuggleNet on a daily basis I have seen first hand how much fans adore Severus Snape. I do not get it.
Snape is a jerk. Plain and simple. I get the whole idea that he was in love with Harry’s mother and every time he looks at Harry he is reminded that she chose another man over him and that she is now dead, but that is no excuse to treat Harry, who is a child, the way he does. From his very first Potions class Snape singles him out and unfairly picks on him to the point where Harry is convinced that Snape “hated him” (Philosopher’s Stone, 101*).
If Snape was only horrible to Harry I might have been able to force myself to overlook it, but that was not the case. In the very first book we are told that Snape “‘can turn very nasty'” (104) and likes “hardly any of the students” (105). Throughout the series we are forced to watch as Snape bullies his students time and time again, especially insecure Neville Longbottom. In Chamber of Secrets – keep in mind Neville is only 12 – Snape ridicules him at the Dueling Club saying that he “causes devastation with the simplest spells” and that they would be “sending what’s left of [his dueling partner] up to the hospital wing in a matchbox” (144). He says this in front of nearly the entire school! Then in Prisoner of Azkaban Snape forces Neville to feed his poorly brewed potion to his pet toad with the expectation of it poisoning the toad, the only reason it doesn’t is thanks to Hermione’s help (95-97). Just a few pages later Neville’s boggart takes the form of Snape showing us that he fears Snape more than anything else and even this incident results in Snape “bullying Neville worse than ever” (107).
There are so many examples of Snape’s cruel nature throughout all 7 books that it is impossible to list them all, but I think it is clear that Snape is not a nice man. But he was working for Dumbledore, he was helping Harry, he was brave and good! This is the kind of thing I see written all the time. Yes, in the end Snape was working for Dumbledore not Voldemort. Yes, he was very brave and risked his life daily to help bring Voldemort down. But does that really make him good?
When we finally learn the truth about Snape’s loyalties and love for Lily Evans (Harry’s mother) in Deathly Hallows, rather than feeling sympathetic for him I was more disgusted with him than ever. The only reason he stopped being a Death Eater for Voldemort was because of how Voldemort interpreted the prophecy. When he goes to Dumbledore for help his only concern is for Lily. He doesn’t care that Voldemort wants to kill Harry. When Dumbledore asks him why he doesn’t just ask Voldemort to spare Lily in “‘exchange for the son'” Snape says that he has! It is only after Dumbledore shows his revulsion at this that Snape says to “‘hide them all, then. Keep her – them – safe.'” (543-544)
Later, when Dumbledore is telling Snape that Harry has to die Snape looks “horrified”. Dumbledore is naturally surprised by Snape’s show of outrage and asks him if he has started to care for Harry to which Snape shouts, “For him?” and shows that it is still Lily for whom he cares (551-552). The only reason Snape has been trying to protect and help Harry is because he is Lily’s son and Lily died to protect him. Even when Dumbledore tries to comfort Snape in his grief for Lily by pointing out her son lived Snape’s response is “with a tiny jerk of his head, Snape seemed to flick off an irksome fly.” (544)
In the end was Snape fighting against Voldemort? Yes. Was he brave? Yes. Was he good? No. Snape was a cruel man who cared for no one other than Lily Evans. If ever I become unsure I ask myself one simple question: If Voldemort had chosen to go after the Longbottoms instead of the Potters would Snape have still been a Death Eater? Every time the answer I come up with is “yes”.
What do you think? Do you agree with me or think that I am too hard on Snape? What makes you like or dislike him? Let me know in the comments!
*All page references come from the UK editions of the books.