Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Most Sympathetic Villain Ever

In honor of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I we will be discussing how Professor Severus Snape is the most sympathetic and compelling villain in all of literature. Yes, I have posted about this a little bit before, but not like this.

This applies to the entire post, so stop here if you've been on another planet for the last decade and haven't read all 7 Harry Potter novels.

Now let's get some things straight first. We're all aware that Snape is a complete and utter prat, a right awful git even, who is known to be a bit thick sometimes (for more of his faults, please see Ronald Weasley). He was a tall, thin man with long greasy black hair, bad skin, hooked nose and crooked teeth. A bit like the old witch with the apple in Snow White (except for the hair). But in spite of Snape's drawbacks there are several reasons that readers sympathize with him.

These will be in no particular order:

1) His love for Lily Potter (Evans): Pathetic, embarrassing, awkward? Yes. But you can't blame Snivelus. By all accounts Lily was a beautiful, kind and caring person, and a "witch of singular talent." You can't really blame young Severus for falling for her, especially since they met long Before Hogwart's and were both outcasts in their own way.

2) His talent for potions AND spells: You can't deny that Snape was one of the most brilliant wizards who ever lived. He's no Dumbledore or Tom Riddle, but of all the other witches and wizards in Harry Potter's world, none is described as being as well known for inventing his own powerful spells as Professor Snape.

3) His instinct to protect Draco Malfoy: When Draco is tasked with murdering Dumbledore Snape cannot help but agree to protect him, and even complete the job for him if necessary. He cares so much for Draco (who let's face it, annoying as he is is just a scared and troubled young man) that he agrees to the Unbreakable Vow, thus forfeiting his own life if he does not do as he's agreed. This seems pretty villainous at the time, but we later find out that he was asked by Dumbledore to do this.

4) His repeated failures to take over the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: Come on, who doesn't love to watch someone as irritating as Snape is (especially in the early books) lose out on something he wants so badly over and over again. It's pretty adorable really.

5) His abuse at the hands of James and Sirius: Don't get me wrong, I love Sirius Black. He is one of my very favorite characters, EVER (it doesn't hurt in the least that he was played by possibly the most talented actor who has ever lived in the films, Gary Oldman). But ... he was a bit of a dick when he was in school. So was Harry's dad, James. They were very cruel to Snape. And come on, we're mostly all writers here, who wasn't a bit of a social pariah in school? Kids can be pretty cruel sometimes.

6) His willingness to act as a double agent against Lord Voldemort throughout the Second Wizarding War: Let's get one thing straight. Voldemort was a scary mofo. He was as evil as they come. And powerful. It takes great courage to oppose such as man as Harry and Dumbledore and many others did, but it takes a different kind of bravery, and honor, to serve such a man to his face, even as you undermine him behind his back. Severus Snape had the largest pair of diamond hard balls that any character from literature has ever possessed. EVER.

7) Dumbledore's absolute and unshakable trust in his loyalty: Of course this is proven to be fully warranted in the end, but let's discuss it a little further. Snape is pretty annoying throughout most of the books but towards the end we do begin to learn that Dumbledore trusts him absolutely. There is no wiser man or better judge of character in the history of the world (muggle, wizarding or otherwise) than Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, so if you've got his trust, you've got my sympathy.

8) Harry names one of his sons after him, because that son has Harry's mother, Lily's exact eyes: There is no question that Harry hates Severus for most of this entire tale, with a passion. Harry is a passionate but sometimes petulant young man, and it isn't until the very end, and the epilogue, that his true respect for Snape is revealed.

9) He was in Slytherin, but has an awesome Death Eater tattoo: You really can't help but feel bad for anyone who was ever sorted into Slytherin house, at least a little bit. Besides, even though it's meaning is quite evil, that Death Eater tattoo is pretty damn cool.

10) "I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death.": This has got to be one of the most famous introductory lines of dialogue ever. It was incredible writing already in the book, but when Alan Rickman delivered the line in the film, this character and the sinister romance of his story was solidified for people everywhere.

I could go on. This is one of the greatest stories ever told, and Professor Severus Snape is one of the most powerfully compelling characters in it. Instead of going on arguing my point, I'll just share some fun quotes with you. Some of these are directly from the books, some are slightly adapted because of the films.

"[Snape] was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
—Harry Potter

Snape: "…it is not up to you to find out what the Dark Lord is saying to his Death Eaters."
Harry Potter: "No — that's your job, isn't it?"
Snape: "Yes, Potter. That is my job."

Dolores Umbridge: "You applied first for Defence Against the Dark Arts post, is that correct?"
Severus Snape: "Yes."
Dolores Umbridge: "But you were unsuccessful?"
Severus Snape: "…Obviously."

Dumbledore: "After all this time, Severus?"
Snape: "Always."
— Dumbledore and Snape discussing Snape's continued love for Lily Evans in Snape's last memory, as viewed by Harry Potter.

And now, just to lighten the mood a little, I'll leave you with this:


Renae said...

I love that you chose Snape to highlight today. Snape is by far one of my absolute favorite characters in the entire series. Even though he torments Harry for the duration of his stay at Hogwarts in the end his story for me was heartbreaking.

Fabulous post Matt!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I have mixed feeling about snape. Which I think everyone does and JK Rowling purposely made him out to rub the readers the wrong way and then make us feel a little bad about his passing in the end. She's my idol. Great post matt!

Unknown said...

SNAPE! I will say that I loved him the moment I found out that he was good, it felt good to know that his love for Lily and his hatred for James didn't completely ruin him. He is one of my favorite characters, even in his moments where he is tortured or is torturing Harry. Ugh... I can't wait to see everything (in which I'm sure I'll ball my eyes out)

Yay for Harry Potter posts!!! My favorite!!!

Unknown said...

Bahahaha BTW I just checked my email and it seems that we were at eachother's blog at the same time! How cool is that!! Both were feeling the Harry Potter vibes!

PS - I wanted to write about Bellatrix and Umbridge but the post would have been WAY long... hehe.

Christina Lee said...

Holy crapola--this was the awesomest post!!!!!!!!!! I agree with all of your points and Rowling was so spot-on with him!!

Shannon said...

Excellent post, Matt. I really enjoyed reading this. Snape is one of my favorites, too. He has so many levels. J.K. is simply brilliant.

Thanks. =)

storyqueen said...

Matthew, you made my morning.

#4! It IS adorable!

And now I'll have to go and re-watch all the potter puppet pals.


Old Kitty said...

Oh I can't watch the clip cos I'm at work!!

Nevermind!! I have a soft spot for Mr Snape!! He's definitely more sinned against than sinning! Take care

Lindsay said...

Yay for Snape getting some blogosphere love today!

I know he's supposed to be one of those characters you don't like, but he's so complex. Rowling did an awesome job creating and developing him.

Saumya said...

Snape and Sirius are my two favorite characters from Harry Potter! His love for Lily and troubled childhood made him extremely sympathetic for me and I loved the way Rowling made me go back and forth on how I felt about him. She also managed to show different sides of James and Sirius by exposing Snape's school years. GENIUS! Great blog :)

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Definitely one of the greatest stories ever told. The layers, the depth to every character--especially snape. Such a complicated man. I think J.K. Rowling did a remarkable job portraying one of the true natures of humanity--that there is no such thing as black and white. Excellent breakdown, Matt!

Sarah Ahiers said...

welllly, now i need to read them all over again. Again.

Also, i'm glad to find someone else who loves Sirius Black as much as i do. I think it's because he was capable of such cruelty that i like him as much as i do. Flawed characters are always better

Carolyn Abiad said...

Love Snape! I think it was possible for Rowling to make him so complex because he fits into the shapeshifter archetype versus the more cut-and-dried, super-evil shadow (Villain) archetype.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Snape! He was such an awesome character. So well defined and yet so mysterious. We did know enough about him until the end. What an amazing character. You can't help but feel for him.

Carol Riggs said...

Great run-down of Snape! I absolutely love that Snape has a fondness for sweet. And it's clever of JK Rowling to invent the pensieve so that flashbacks are less clunky and unwieldy. A great, magical way to see into Snape's past Hogwarts life.

Jennifer L. Armentrout said...

awesome post!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I find that video disturbing.

Why did Dumble-puppet feel the need to strip in the middle of the song? And why was this such an unsurprising event that neither his staff nor students seemed to notice?


Matthew MacNish said...

It probably had something to do with all the speculation about Dumbledore being gay, but you're right, it is pretty ridiculous. Who cares what he does in the privacy of his own home? He's the greatest Wizard who ever lived people!

Kelly Polark said...

Snape was such an amazingly complex character.
I have to admit I didn't like his character much all through the series, thankfully he redeemed himself again and again and what awesome twists that Rowling put this character through. She is brilliant.

Jessica Bell said...

Is it bad to not be into Harry Potter? ... :-/

Rane Anderson said...

Nice post! Snape is so many people's favorite character. After we learned his history...I felt compassion toward him, but I never cared for him. What a greatly portrayed character, though!

Nice post.

Vicki Rocho said...

I remember thinking that if Dumbledore trusted Snape, there must be SOMETHING good there we're not getting to see...but I wasn't able to 'see' it before it was revealed.

Great post!

Emily White said...

I love that video! I watched it a few weeks ago and COULD NOT get it out of my head. "It's a pipe bomb!"


Great post, Matt. I couldn't agree more!

Elana Johnson said...

This is by far the truest post ever. I love and hate Snape at the same time. One can only hope to write a villain as great as him someday--and have 7 books to do it!!

Rebecca Christiansen said...

Snape is definitely one of my favourite characters in the series, and of all time. May I just say that I always had complete faith that he was good, even after he killed Dumbledore? :)

DEZMOND said...

ah, Matt, you're a walking talking Harry Plopper encyclopedia :P

Unknown said...

Excellent post, good sir.

J.K.Rowling, is much admired in my eyes. She has weaved a tale, which will pass the passage of time, for both the young and the young at heart.

Genissa said...

I love your post! And I have the whole love/hate thing going on with Snape, but there's no denying he's an amazing, complex character.

My favorite line in the whole series might be when Snape tells Harry to look at him as he is dying. Love is a powerful thing.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome post. You really nailed why he's such a great character even though he's so unlikeable through much of the books.

Lydia Kang said...

I love Snape. He's one of my favorite characters. I love that you dedicated a whole post to him!

mshatch said...

Absolutely loved this post. It was brilliant.

Stina said...

That part with Umbridge was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Alan Rickman was awesome in the role.

You did an amazing job here, Matthew. I'd forgotten most of it since I haven't read the books in years. I was planning to re-read the last one before seeing the movie, but that isn't going to happen.

Melissa said...

You NAILED why Snape is one of the most compelling characters (villain or otherwise) ever written. I loved Sirius too. But Snape... heck. If I was Lily.... I'd take him bad hair, crooked teeth and all!

Talli Roland said...

I'm with Jess - I'm just not into the HP! Yet, anyway!

Unknown said...

Great post about Snape. He is such a complex character.

Cameron said...

Nice analysis, but I guess I disagree with characterizing Snape as a "villain" in the pure antagonist sense. He's never really a "villain" as far as I am concerned.

Maybe I missed something?

If anything, I find him as a strong assistant to the protagonist though he is reluctant in his role for various reasons.

Perhaps you could stretch it to call him a "contagonist" using Dramatica's theory on those characters.