I never intended to fall in love with another fictional character, but I did. Over the course of the seven Harry Potter novels, Professor Snape won my heart by his courage and undying love for Harry’s mother, Lily Potter. No other fictional character, with the possible exception of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, can hold a candle to Professor Severus Snape. As much as I love Fitzwilliam Darcy and all of his wonderful brooding moodiness, he is now a distant second. I have to ask myself why. Why, out of the hundreds of fictional characters I’ve been exposed to over my lifetime, does Severus Snape stand out?
First, from the moment he is introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was intrigued. Maybe it is because I am a writer, but Snape had “story!” written all over him. He obviously had a past, and I wanted to know more. If you haven’t realized it by now, I always want to know more, and secrecy is a surefire way to keep my interest. I cut my teeth on mysteries and only lost interest when they became too predictable. I argue that Snape is the final and best mystery revealed in the Harry Potter series. It is the love story – and it is a story born out of true love – that drives the action. I can’t imagine if I had lived the rest of my life without reading the entire series.
Second, Snape stands out due to the complexity of his character. It is telling that I immediately purchased and read Snape: A Definitive Reading by Lorrie Kim after I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I became so caught up in the ending that I needed to go back and read the evidence. Kim’s Snape: A Definitive Reading painstakingly chronicles Snape’s actions throughout the entire series, even using quotes and page numbers. She provides just enough commentary to keep it from becoming too dry. It did help me more deeply appreciate the most complex fictional character I have ever come across.
Ever since I finished the series, I’ve asked myself why my favorite fictional characters from childhood – Laura from the Little House on the Prairie series, Anne of the Anne of Green Gables series, and Nancy from the Nancy Drew series – seem utterly dim when compared to the complexity of Snape? The answer is unbelievably simple. With the exception of Laura Ingalls, the characters mentioned above didn’t grow much throughout the course of the series, especially Nancy Drew. They were simply the same characters who were thrown into new situations. The fictional Laura is a special case because she did grow as a character in complexity and in age throughout the series. However, I find the real-life Laura Ingalls Wilder, the writer and mother who had a complex relationship with her only daughter, infinitely more interesting. Snape’s complexity is apparent from the beginning, but it doesn’t come front and center until the end of the series. I have nothing else to compare his character to at the moment. Nada.
Finally, Professor Snape’s love for Lily Potter and the courage he demonstrated in keeping both Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy safe, along with his final interactions with Dumbledore, almost defy the imagination. Yet, his entire life prepared him for and led him to the final events of the series. I can’t even begin to imagine how he managed to teach and face Harry Potter on a daily basis when all Snape could see in him was the man whom Lily Potter ultimately married. Snape felt responsible for James’ and Lily’s deaths, and he had a living, breathing reminder of that guilt and unrequited love in his classroom. Snape even managed to drill important lessons into his students’ heads outside of the classroom, knowledge that would ultimately help them survive. He may hold petty grudges and act extremely unprofessionally as a teacher, but he did get the job done.
When I first read the scene in which Harry is led to the Sword of Gryffindor by the silver doe patronus, I knew that it was meant to be a pivotal point in the series, but I didn’t recognize just how pivotal it was until the final novel. We later learn that Snape’s patronus is Lily’s silver doe. He loved her that much. He never stopped loving her. If I were to write or describe magic, I would do so with the silver doe patronus scene in mind. So much love wrapped up in one simple, beautiful symbol. Not only is it a symbol of Snape’s undying, unrequited love for Lily, but I also see it as a symbol of Lily’s love of Harry – a mother’s love and protection. As a woman who grew up in the northern woods of Michigan, there are few things more beautiful than deer. There are few fictional scenes that leave me with goosebumps; this was one of them.
Undoubtedly I will read the entire Harry Potter series again, even if it isn’t until I have a child of my own. I am so glad that I read the entire series, even if I am not exactly a reader of fantasy. I can now fully understand why those novels will stand the test of time and inspire such a loyal following. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Professor Snape. Always.
Is it just me, or did Hermione Granger seem to have a bit of a crush on Professor Snape?