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Why I'm a Snape agnostic - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Why I'm a Snape agnostic
I haven't done any meta for a while.

Hmmm.

The big question after HBP, of course, is Snape, and I've only gotten into it a little bit. I know there are definite camps on the question, and I know that my dislike of Snape after OotP would normally put me in the evil!Snape camp, but the truth is, I wouldn't be surprised by much of anything with Snape at this point, and I don't think either direction would bother me much. Since there's nothing from his point of view--he's always seen through the eyes of people who believe he's on their side, except for Harry, who has other issues--we don't really know. He's an expert liar, regardless of which side he's actually on; it's a necessary skill for a spy on anyone's team, so we can't even really trust what he says. Everything he says to one side (or does in their presence) can be justified as playing a role for the other, so it's as well to pitch a lot of behavioral clues, since we have no way of knowing who he's being honest with.

Snape the villain
In support of the "Yeah, it's exactly what it seems... Snape's a Death Eater and a murderer" theory:
  • First and foremost, Voldemort does take him back, after threatening to kill him in GoF. I know that we joke about how inept Voldy seems to be, but in the world of the books, he's meant to be smart and a talented Legilmens without any moral compunctions about using extreme measures to get through someone's defenses. Now, it's possible that Snape's strong enough to withstand him--he's a good Occlumens--but establishing that would require a major shift in perspective which isn't likely to work on the last volume of a seven volume series.
  • Second, it makes certain things make sense. For instance, when I was working on Shifts, I was going crazy trying to make sense of the schedule of the battle at the Ministry--yes, Snape has to take care of the kids in his House, but the adults have means of instantaneous and undetectable communication. Harry leaves at sunset and it takes time to get to London, but the Order barely arrives by around midnight. Harry and the DA kids had been missing for hours by the time word got to a group of powerful wizards who were right there. Assuming that Snape was on their side, there had to be all kinds of screw-ups everywhere, plus a generally bad attitude, to figure out that schedule. Assuming that he's working for Voldemort and trying to get the Order into battle and kill as many as he could? That knocks it right into a hat, especially considering his conversation with Bella about setting up the removal of Sirius. It also explains why he's adamant not to let Sirius clear his name in PoA, and to discredit Lupin (yes, this could also be explained by him just getting a kind of vindictive retribution for high school bullying, but the next part is the "Yeah, but..." section).
  • Third, JKR seems pretty blasé about it, not dangling it around like a mystery to be solved.
  • Fourth, the admission of turning in Emmeline Vance. Granted, this was made to Bella, but why mention it at all, structurally speaking? We don't know Emmeline, we weren't privy to the details of her death to spin theories about--the only information we get is the troubling information that Snape had something to do with giving her over. There are a dozen ways to explain it within the world, but in terms of the books themselves, there's not much of a reason to bring it up at all.
  • Finally, most of the books, Harry's POV comments aside, have set him up to be a trusted agent of the good, so the betrayal would fit into the story at the penultimate moment, the last bitter pill before the final battle.


There are different scenarios that could come out of this, though at first I didn't think there would be.

JKR might have set it up as a Judas-kiss moment just before Dumbledore dies, being betrayed at the last by his trusted disciple. Which may mean a symbolic return of Dumbledore's influence in the next book to the remaining ones. What that would mean for Snape himself... well, Judas had his dogwood tree, and the Whomping Willow may be there for a reason. (Just going off her comment that her religious beliefs might give away plot points--everyone is thinking in terms of Harry, but this one occurred to me as I typed.)

She also might go with a Darth Vader moment (just because we all know how she loves that comparison!), where Snape, who has been genuinely loyal to Voldemort, ends up living up to Dumbledore's faith in him and saves Harry. Certainly possible, though my personal hope is that this is the sort of thing we get to finally pay off Peter's character arc, which has just been languishing since PoA. (Why, yes. I've missed Wormtail.)

Or it might simply be a test for Harry--he said that he's anxious to run into Snape on the way to Voldemort, so he can kill him, and that's, erm... not exactly a stellar example of heroic thought processes. What if Harry finds him and has him completely in his power--will he exercise vengeance or mercy? (To use another comparison, I'm thinking of Frodo swearing in FotR that he'll never feel pity for Gollum, until he actually meets him after he's come to understand more about what he's carried through the years, and that act of mercy ends up saving both him and Sam in the immediate sense, and Middle Earth entirely in the end. None of it changes the fact that Gollum is a murderer.)

Snape the sneaky hero
On the other hand, the books are from Harry's point of view, so is it really bright to come up with a theory that uses the phrase "Harry's POV comments aside" at any point? Harry was starting to see Snape as human, then was thrown violently back and now seems to have his original perceptions confirmed. So naturally, there's a distinct possibility that nothing is what it seems to be.

In support of the "He's-a-good-guy-in-really-deep-cover" theory:
  • His answer about why he saved Harry's life first year is incredibly weak. He thought Harry was going to be a powerful dark wizard? Harry? And spending that year alienating the kid and insulting him wouldn't have put him in a very good place if he meant to follow him in the end.
  • Does it really seem likely that the message of the books is going to be, "You really shouldn't have faith in people, and Dumbledore is a fool"? Dumbledore didn't just have a general level of trust in Snape, he trusted him completely. Could he just be wrong? Sure--see above. But what would the thematic message of that be, and would that be compatible with the rest of the story?
  • The things I mentioned being "explained" by him being bad could be something as simple as a writing mistake. We know JKR and math, after all--trying to figure out a few hours in OotP is nothing after trying to figure out the full moon schedule in PoA! And his pettiness with Remus and Sirius at the end of PoA may just be a question of him not being a plaster saint and forgiving, just being petty and vindictive, rather than deviously plotting someone's destruction. (It's hard to make a case for him being a plaster saint, no matter what side he's on.)
  • He does, in fact, get the information on what Draco is trying to do, and tries to nail down the details. Draco attributes it to wanting to get in with the Dark Lord, but that's as weak an explanation as the one about how Snape thought Harry was a dark wizard.


This could go a few ways as well. Harry may actually end up having to save Snape if this is the case, or deal with having made a mistake about Snape that ends up costing him (Snape) his life.

There could also be an issue of Snape being the necessary link inside wherever the DEs are.

Thematically, he could be used to show that faith in people's better natures is rewarded in the end... but I can't think of quite as many plot lines with this one, just thematic ideas.

There's also, of course, the idea that Snape's just a free agent acting in his own interest or the interest of people he's decided to take care of, without regard to either side except in what that side can do for him, but that would be more Snape's story than Harry's, so...

Anyway, that's it.
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hymnia From: hymnia Date: November 28th, 2006 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Does it really seem likely that the message of the books is going to be, "You really shouldn't have faith in people, and Dumbledore is a fool"? Dumbledore didn't just have a general level of trust in Snape, he trusted him completely. Could he just be wrong? Sure--see above. But what would the thematic message of that be, and would that be compatible with the rest of the story?

I think that's the one that does it for me--that has me tentatively voting for "Snape is actually on Dumbledore's side." (I feel the same way about Harrycrux, actually--it just seems to line up with what I think the important themes of the series are.)

Still, I'm not 100% sold on it. You make some good points, for both sides.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: November 28th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC) (Link)
That argument's pretty convincing for me too.

Anothe one that I find compelling if not quite as convincing is Snape's behavior in the last scene we see him in — preventing serious harm to Harry and giving one last lesson on what Snape thinks Harry needs to learn to defeat Voldemort.
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eir_de_scania From: eir_de_scania Date: November 28th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
**For instance, when I was working on Shifts, I was going crazy trying to make sense of the schedule of the battle at the Ministry--yes, Snape has to take care of the kids in his House, but the adults have means of instantaneous and undetectable communication. Harry leaves at sunset and it takes time to get to London, but the Order barely arrives by around midnight. Harry and the DA kids had been missing for hours by the time word got to a group of powerful wizards who were right there.**

Yes, making sense of our Jo's timelines and schedules can drive anyone crazy, but have you thought of this being Scotland in June? That means sunset about 10pm, not much earlier at least! And sunset about 3am.

I live at roughly the same latitude (and endure roughly the same climate, too :-P ) which is lovely in summer, but at this time of the year means daylight between 8am and 4pm. Weeeelll, I tell a lie here - it's not daylight, mostly it's overcast and rainy and the best we get is some kind of all-day dusk.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 04:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually checked the sunset time in Glasgow the night it would have been... plus, they'd been missing in the forest since shortly after a time-check at five o'clock. They already spent quite a bit of inexplicable time wandering around before flying off into the sunset!
dalf From: dalf Date: November 28th, 2006 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
When does voldemort threaten to kill him in GoF? I always though that Snape was the one "too cowardly to return, he will be punished" and Karkaroff is the one "who had left the ranks forever" and was to be killed.

This seems to parse well with HBP where Snape says that Voldemoret got the same story as Bellatrix, and karkaroff id killed.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: November 28th, 2006 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I only just thought of that - most everyone in fandom (including me) had assumed there that Snape, being big Mr Important that he is, had left forever and that Karkaroff, who had seemed weaker and more nervous than Snape, was the cowardly one. But now I think you're right.
dalf From: dalf Date: November 28th, 2006 04:16 am (UTC) (Link)
And in the other section .... the he thought harry was a dark wizard was I think the least of his THREE (or was it two?) explinations. The one about being comfortable and not wanting DUmbledore to look too closely at anyone was much more solid.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 28th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)
To be fair, in the first book Snape himself gives his reason for saving Harry as owing James a life debt. Since James is dead the debt passes to his son. this is again brought up in POA. Then again Sanpe could just not want Harry looking at his motives to closely.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Or Bellatrix, that's true--he might make up stuff about Dumbledore so that he wouldn't have to admit to the other DEs that he had a life debt to James.
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: November 28th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC) (Link)
It's all very inconclusive, whatever side we lean towards. Of course, JKR is deliberately confusing about Snape's loyalties. We all have the same facts before us but we give different weight to different aspects of the story. These are filtered through our own experiences and prejudices so that leads us to our different interpretations. I have mostly made up my mind what I think about Snape but I wouldn't be the least surprised to find that I'm wrong when Book 7 comes out.
cheddartrek From: cheddartrek Date: November 28th, 2006 05:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll second that.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 28th, 2006 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)

anxious to run into Snape

"Or it might simply be a test for Harry--he said that he's anxious to run into Snape on the way to Voldemort, so he can kill him, and that's, erm... not exactly a stellar example of heroic thought processes."

How do you get that? The quote is "And if I meet Severus Snape along the way ... so much the better for me, so much the worse for him"

Sounds to me like Snape is regarded as a mere obstacle.

But it is very interesting to read a neutral POV, everyone else seems to have choosen sides already. :)

Thanks,
Tuor
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 06:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: anxious to run into Snape

Ah. To me that line reads as, "Oh, I hope I run into Snape on the way, so I'll have an excuse to kill him." Kind of the "Dirty Harry" Potter--"Go ahead, Snape... make my day." ;p
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 28th, 2006 06:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as a biased Snape fan, I thought I'd toss in my two cents worth.

On the issue of Sirius and Lupin, I think it's important to realize that Snape (according to my take on him) really sees Sirius as a murderer. To him, if Sirius hasn't actually committed the crime, it's because of luck, not good intentions (brilliant as he can be in some ways, regardless of what side he's on, I think Snape often doesn't get what makes some people tick).

Boiling it down to basics, Snape can't see tricking someone into facing a transformed werewolf without clearly understanding that this is a clear way to get someone killed. As far as Lupin goes, I don't think he can imagine staying friends with someone who set you up to kill another person. The fact that Lupin and Sirius stayed friends is clear evidence to Snape that Lupin had to be in on it from the beginning.

Also, there's a difference between what he says and what he does. When he comes to and finds everyone unconscious, he puts them all onto stretchers - including Sirius - and drags them up to the castle.

At the end of book 3, I hated Snape, pure and simple. He seemed both petty and murderous. After book 4, I went and reread the Shrieking Shack thinking of the Death Eaters we'd seen. It seemed to me that Snape went in there thinking both Sirius and Lupin were Death Eaters. He knew he was outnumbered and believed he was dealing with the murderous, unstable (insanity clearly runs along at a gallop in that family) Sirius Black who had planned his first killing at age fifteen and capped it off by setting up his best friend, best friend's wife, and his own Godson for slaughter in his early twenties. He was also dealing with a werewolf who he believed was every bit as much a Death Eater, given the situation, as Greyback, and it was happening when the moon was moments from appearing. Oh, and as far as the Greyback thing goes, there were three children present.

So, the situation is very dangerous and any slip could get a lot of people killed, among other things.

If you assume Sirius and Lupin are Death Eaters, then the big question to him becomes what they're trying to do with an apparently cock and bull story about one of their murder victims actually being the pet rat of one of Harry's friends (Snape also knew Sirius and Lupin back in the days when they seem to have been a bit more involved in cock and bull stories, especially when caught in the act).

The logical answer is they're playing for time. They might just be waiting for Lupin to transform. They might be hoping Snape will drop his guard and give them an opening. They might even be waiting for some reinforcements. Giving them that time is a very, very bad idea.

I don't know if Snape originally meant to give them to the dementors. When given a chance later, he doesn't. He was unconscious throughout the whole dementor attack and wouldn't seem to know about it. He doesn't have a reason not to carry it out his threat that I know of.

Of course, maybe while he was still worked up, he would have. Can't say.

Ellen
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 28th, 2006 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, the fact is that Rowling has done a good work with this character, because he's been built and managed in such a complex way that until the last book is released there are reasons to support the three possibilities.

Snape had an excellent oportunity to expell Harry when he used sectumsempra on Draco, but instead, punished him with a silly task. And I agree, before leaving, he gives Harry a lesson about thinks he should already have mastered, without crucioing him a little (something that wouldn't have bothered LV).

Certainly, you have raised some interesting points not only related to Snape, but Sirius and Lupin. Notice that, at some point, the aforementioned friendship breaks. When the time comes for the Potters to hide under Fidelius, Lupin is "persona non grata" for Sirius, and that can't be based in what James described as "a little furry problem". What happened there?

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alkari From: alkari Date: November 28th, 2006 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Does it really seem likely that the message of the books is going to be, "You really shouldn't have faith in people, and Dumbledore is a fool"? Dumbledore didn't just have a general level of trust in Snape, he trusted him completely. Could he just be wrong? Sure--see above. But what would the thematic message of that be, and would that be compatible with the rest of the story?
I actually don't see anything wrong with the prospect of Dumbledore being mistaken, especially remembering his remark to Harry in HBP about his mistakes being bigger than other peoples' ones (JKR repeated this in an interview). The theme of betrayal by a trusted person fits in perfectly, as we already have Peter. It is parallel and opposite to Sirius, who he was branded as a traitor, yet remained utterly loyal. And there are too many interesting parallels and similarities between Snape and Sirius for that to be entirely accidental.

IMHO, we also have the Love /Hate opposites thematic issue. If Harry exemplifies Love, which is his ultimate weapon, then it has always seemed to me that the one character in the books who is consistently ruled by Hate is Severus Snape. A Hatred that is taken down to the next generation, and which even Dumbledore recognises as an (apparently) insurmountable obstacle after the Occlumency lessons. Even if Snape at present tends towards Good!Snape, I would find it quite consistent if JKR hsowed him ultimately falling victim to Hate rather than loyalty/love.

I agree with others that Snape has been very cleverly written, and I am probably walking along the fence at this stage, though I am leaning slightly to the Evil Snape side.

As for Harry's comment about dealing with Snape when / if he comes across him, I have always seen that as Harry simply getting his priorities in order. He now hates Snape utterly, but he knows that the Horcruxes are the No.1 priority, so he can disregard Snape for the moment. But if their paths cross, then look out Snape.

a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: November 28th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
IMHO, we also have the Love /Hate opposites thematic issue. If Harry exemplifies Love, which is his ultimate weapon, then it has always seemed to me that the one character in the books who is consistently ruled by Hate is Severus Snape. A Hatred that is taken down to the next generation, and which even Dumbledore recognises as an (apparently) insurmountable obstacle after the Occlumency lessons. Even if Snape at present tends towards Good!Snape, I would find it quite consistent if JKR hsowed him ultimately falling victim to Hate rather than loyalty/love.

I agree -- this is why Snape-as-servant-of-Voldemort works for me thematically, at least at the end of HBP. (I'm inclined to think, however, that he hasn't been on Voldemort's side all along, but rather that we've seen his loyalties shift between the end of GoF and the end of HBP, and we may well see them shift again.)
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: November 28th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find the whole conversation about Harry in Spinner's End unbelievable, simply because Snape has seen that Harry is capable of producing a Patronus at the Quidditch match in PoA (powerful magic) and he knows that Harry fought DEs at the end of his fifth year. No matter which side he's on, calling Harry "mediocre" is laughable.

And I read Harry's comment as saying that he wasn't going to track Snape down, but if they ran into each other, woe betide him (literally).

I friended you, by the way, hope you don't mind?
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: November 28th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
*love* your icon.

-Firefox user
greyathena From: greyathena Date: November 28th, 2006 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't love Snape, but I think the books are leading us up to the point where he turns out to be on the good side. Partly because I think the ending of Book 6 was setting up Harry, and most of the other characters, to make a wrong character judgement that will be corrected in one of the "twists" of the last book. Actually, I found it sort of odd that none of the adults, even Lupin or McGonagall, even questioned whether there might have been more than meets the eye to the Snape-killing-Dumbledore scenario. Of course, they were pretty much in shock at the time.

Re. the timeline problem in OotP - actually it never bothered me, but I might have been missing one detail. You mention a "time check at five o'clock." Did the adults look for them at that point, or is this Hermione looking at her watch and saying it's five? (sorry, book's at home :)). My explanation for this, in my head, has always been:
1. Snape leaves Umbridge's office, with Harry's message about Sirius
2. Snape checks on Sirius, Sirius is fine
3. How long does it take Snape then to figure out that the kids aren't with Umbridge anymore? (seriously, I don't remember if there is textual explanation for this) I doubt he bothers looking for Harry to tell him that Sirius is fine. He can't confer with any of the other faculty, because the others who are in the Order are gone. Maybe he really just waits a while before going back to Umbridge's office and finding his students knocked out?
4. There are some reasonable things that could have slowed down the Order in responding, or prevented them from making their way into the building and down to the right room. I've actually wondered a little bit why only five of them (plus Dumbledore) show up to save the Chosen One and five other kids from the Death Eaters and possibly Voldemort. Could they have been off doing something else when they got the message?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
The answer is actually given in OotP--everyone who was there when they got the message (the five of them who were at 12GP) went off immediately upon hearing from Snape.

Now, there is definitely some fudging going on. Between the five o'clock time check (it's dinnertime and Harry happens to mention it), there's only enough continuous action to go maybe an hour, but they take off at sunset, which was late June in Scotland--after nine o'clock, if I recall (sorry, my notes aren't here!). But even taking that into account, there's another time check in London (don't remember where) with the midnight time, so it took time for them to get there. Snape only had a handful of students in that room, and communication is instantaneous. The Order left as soon as Snape's message got to them. So Snape had hours, one way or another, in which he did nothing. And if Harry's anywhere he's not supposed to be, as the only Order member left at Hogwarts, he would have been aware of it. After all, Harry was supposed to be in that office, and if he was taking care of the Slytherins there, he'd know that Harry and all of his friends got away.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: November 28th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find the question of Snape immensely frustrating, because I don't think JKR has played fair with us on it - it seems she was more interested in constructing something that keeps us guessing than laying down legitimate clues and red herrings for either side. There isn't much "hard evidence" to base our assumptions on at all, so for me at least, it boils down to the excellent thematic reasons you outlined for Snape to be "good".

I have a lot of questions for the guy in the meantime: just WHAT has he done, concretely, for either side as a spy? It seems as if both Voldemort and Dumbledore are taking his *word* that he is faithful to them, and when time comes for Snape to take action he always has the convenient excuse "I'd be blowing my cover if I do anything, so excuse me while I go and hide." The Emmeline Vance thing is a tantalising glimpse of actual action on his part, but since we don't know any details about it, I wonder if we can trust Snape not to claim credit for something he hasn't really done?

As I said, very frustrating. This whole charade requires both Voldemort and Dumbledore to be really really dumb, and I don't like it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's actually a weakness of the books--these very smart people are required to do some fairly dumb things either way. Of course, smart people do dumb things all the time, but the expectation of it does make predictions hard.

It is frustrating when you can't trust a word out of his mouth or any action you see him make (except maybe when he loses his temper at Harry and in the process, loses his cool), but that's what we've got, I guess.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: November 28th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
PS: a *nudge* for the challenge calls you said you'd get to later...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I'll get to them. I've had wretched writers block--less than two thousand words from the end of NaNo, and I'm just tapped out! Blah humbug, I guess.

But as I'd rather be writing fanfic, I'll give those a shot over the next few days. I wasn't sure anyone was still paying attention!
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manicwriter1271 From: manicwriter1271 Date: November 28th, 2006 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm on the fence about Snape. I tend to lean towards Evil!Snape, although I'm kind of hoping I'm proven wrong, just because I would hate for Dumbledore's trust to be so misplaced.

I wonder, though, if Snape really is evil and Dumbledore, by the beginning of HBP, is fully aware of this. DD seems to be putting his affairs in order throughout the entire book, while giving Harry the information he needs to go after Voldemort's Horcruxes. He also makes the comment about his mistakes being bigger than those of other men.

I'm interested to see why DD trusted Snape in the first place, if Snape really is evil, though. Snape "repenting" after selling Lily and James to Voldemort just seems really, really weak.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 28th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
He does also give Snape the JOB OF DOOOOOM. ;)

Snape "repenting" after selling Lily and James to Voldemort just seems really, really weak.
Yes, the reasoning there seems really weak, though potentially feasible about someone who really wants to believe the best of other people. (I'm really keeping my fingers crossed that JKR doens't go for the soapy, "Oh, Snape was secretly in LURVE with Lily" idea, but I can't entirely rule it out.)
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greyashowl From: greyashowl Date: November 28th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for this, after toing and froing, I prefer the Snape is 'good but really petty and childish when it comes to those and their children that did him wrong'. I don't see him as a leader so therefore don't see him as someone who wants to the rule the world by overtaking DD and Voldemort. I really believe he wants Voldemort dead but has a hard time adjusting to the fact that it will be Harry who has to rid the world of him. I think that is what has him ticked the most.
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