It isn't easy to explain why you love Severus Snape to other fans, let alone to the so-called 'normal' people you have to meet every day. To anyone who thinks the books are just for children, you run the risk of seeming emotionally immature, if not definitively insane. But there are lots of good reasons, if people would only open their minds, why Severus Snape obsession is a very understandable, and even logical, phenomenon.
This essay (mostly new work, but with some excerpts from my DA journal articles as well) is about why he appeals to me, and why he pretty much sums up every good experience I've had with reading in one glorious hook-nosed, greasy-haired package!
First of all, he is everything you admire about text-book villains, but without the unfortunate handicap of being mad or (particularly) murderous. He allows you to be sarcastic, despise the good guys, and still be right. He has all the stylish appeal of the bad guys the good lines, snappy put-downs, sweeping black robes and yet he gets to take the moral high-ground. He's allowed to feel exasperated with the conventional and frankly idiotic behaviour of the hero, while still helping him along.
It's like watching a big, cheesy action movie with a friend. Throughout the film, he's saying things like: "Oh, that is totally unbelievable. A normal person just wouldn't do that! This guy's an idiot." And, yet, when the credits roll, and your armchair critic sits back with a look of disgusted satisfaction on his face, you realize he was actually the director.
And that's the way it feels when you're a Snape-fan reading the Harry Potter books as though you have a voice of reason beside you, pointing out the flaws of the other characters in a deadpan and entertaining way. For anyone who finds it hard to empathize with Harry's thoughtlessness for anyone who clutches their forehead in exasperation when Harry says something that is bound to land him in detention again for anyone who thinks that he's more concerned with defiant repetition than trying to get anyone to actually see his point of view there is Snape.
There's a certain type of reader who needs that reassuring cynicism for whom the good guys have always seemed a little bit simplistic and unreasonable. But, knowing what's right, you've never really had much luck sympathizing with the bad guys either. For you, there is Severus Snape.
His witty, appealing voice of dissent is one of the reasons the Harry Potter books are sophisticated enough to enthrall adults, as well as children. I have a theory that nobody who discovered the Harry Potter books when they were children falls in love with Severus Snape. I may be wrong, and I'm happy to be told that I am, but I think you have to discover the books after the age of fifteen or so in order to see the beauty in Severus Snape. It's not that children are simpler; it's just that they don't have the same tendency to appreciate voices of dissent. Two people can't be right at the same time to a child.
But, the older you get, or the more familiar you get with a story, the more the peripheral characters start to interest you. Every time I pick up Wuthering Heights, my sympathies lie with a different character (even once with Lockwood, but I think I might have been ill that day). Every time I pick up one of the Twilight books, my sympathies lie chiefly with myself.
Severus Snape gets to have all of the fun of cynicism, without any of its laziness. Most cynics get told: "It's all very well for you to scoff. But what are you doing to save the world?" But Severus Snape has earned the right to scoff he's funding Potter's idiocy with his own life, and nobody knows it until the very end.
He reminds me of the vice character in medieval morality plays a character who gets to step outside the action of the play and make comments to the audience about the plot. He seems like an outlet for J.K. Rowling's cynicism: the part of her which thinks: Oh, God, Harry why can't you hold your tongue? Why can't you think before you speak? Aren't you just a little bit intoxicated by all this attention?'
Through this character, J.K. Rowling gets to criticize her hero. Lots of characters criticize her hero, of course but Snape is the only one who can't be written-off at the end. Everyone else who slings mud at Harry is very firmly established in the 'bad-guy' camp; they're either snobs, psychopaths, or scandal-hungry reporters. But, when Snape is vindicated at the end and described by Harry as 'probably' (you have no idea how much that 'probably' irks me!) the bravest man he's ever met, his criticisms of Harry linger on in the memory - which is just the way he would have wanted it!
Looking at Snape's persistent popularity, you start to wonder whether someone who steps outside the story so often can actually die in it. He refuses to be charmed by the hero; he refuses to root for the good guys, even while he's supporting them; he refuses to get swept up in the action until he can't help it. As an outsider in the narrative, his death is all the more shocking but it is also all the more difficult to accept. Our imaginations seem to have rejected the idea. Even after all the drama of the Deathly Hallows, you would be forgiven for expecting the Potions master to be back to business as usual at the end of the novels terrifying new students, sneering at Gryffindors and seething whenever someone mentions the word Potter.
If he refuses to die in our imaginations, maybe it's because he refused to go along with the story in so many other ways. He resisted the current so well, right up until the end.
The stolid refusal to get swept up in the story is one of my favourite things about Severus Snape. And, as a consequence, you get one of my other favourite things about him: his supreme emotional discipline.
But Snape's discipline isn't absolute. If it was absolute, he would be a difficult character to empathize with: a kind of Edward Cullen, without the physical attractiveness. But his self-control wavers. It doesn't just waver it crumbles. It comes crashing down with anger and grief and passion so intense that he seems almost mad that his eyes bulge and he spits at people. That's what makes Snape's emotional discipline so thrilling because I know that there's something underneath it that there's everything underneath it.
J.K. Rowling describes him in every way as the bad guy: there's something bestial, something dark and sinister even about his love. The way he looks at Lily is 'greedy', his grief is like the sound of 'a wounded animal'. It's very reminiscent of Heathcliff saying that Cathy is his soul. But when Heathcliff's soul dies, he tears stuff up and hurts everybody. When Severus' soul dies, he takes a deep breath, pushes it all down under a sneering, icy façade, and thinks: what would my soul want me to do with the time I've got left to me?
And what did he hope to gain by it? Did he hope to see her again someday in heaven? I don't think so. Someone who'd lived the life of a Death Eater someone who'd seen the things he'd seen, and done the things he'd done would never presume on that. Did he do it because it was the right thing to do? Probably not. He wouldn't have been so angry that Harry had to die to defeat Voldemort, if all he wanted was the downfall of evil.
For me, he simply did it because he loved Lily, and he wanted to make her happy. If there was even a small possibility that she still existed in some form, somewhere, he would do anything give up everything else he ever cared about to make her happy. Improbable, obsessive and masochistic as that seems, you've got to give him credit for it.
And it comes from nowhere, this life-altering love. Nothing he's ever seen certainly nothing he's ever experienced could teach him how to love someone like that. It reminds me of these experiments they did in the nineteenth century to see which was the perfect language. Scientists took young children and brought them up with no access to language whatsoever they were never spoken to. They were completely cut off from anyone who spoke a language at all. The justification for this was to see which language came naturally to humankind. Some people thought it would be Hebrew, or Aramaic the languages of the Bible. Of course, what happened was that the children made up their own language, with its own rules utterly unintelligible to anyone else but just as rich and complicated as any language they could have learned from adults.
That's what Severus Snape seems like to me. A child starved of love, who nevertheless made up his own version of it, with its own rules. Of course it would look odd to us we know what love is supposed to look like; we've been raised on it. He had no idea what it was; he just knew that he wanted it.
It was very single-minded, sublimely self-controlled, unhealthy but beautiful love. It wasn't what every girl wanted it wasn't even what the heroine wanted but it was astonishing. It made me believe in the resilience of the human spirit far more than Harry's ability to love despite his mistreatment by the Dursleys. Snape may have allowed unkindness to sour his attitude, but it had no power to sour his passion. It got stronger through being starved. It was utterly oblivious to the facts. It refused to be reasonable. But it had a logic so refined that every comparison between Snape and a beast simply crumbles:
I love this woman and I always will. It doesn't matter that she's a mudblood, or married, or no longer breathing. She's my priority. Whatever the world does, I am not changing.
My aunt's objection to Severus Snape and one that I hear a lot is, 'if he was in love with Lily, why was he so cruel to her son?' And I suppose that's a logical point of view, if human emotions were ever logical.
If you were love with Lily, but you bitterly despised James, it would be tempting to see their child as Potter's spawn. Like Simone de Beauvoir, you would probably see the baby as an invading alien in your loved one's body, sucking away all her life and individuality. She dies a mother's death, trying to shield her son from Voldemort. Motherhood usurps her whole identity. And it's nothing extraordinary. When Harry is wondering whether Neville's mother would have given her life to save baby Neville, he thinks 'surely she would' as if what Lily did wasn't brave but merely natural.
In the Half-Blood Prince, when Harry is listening to the tragic life-story of Merope Gaunt, he says 'she had a choice not like my mother'. And Dumbledore has to correct him. Of course she had a choice. You don't stop being a human being just because you're a mother. You don't stop fearing death just because you're a mother. Perhaps Severus is annoyed that Lily's bravery, as well as his own, is so often overlooked.
It's easy to understand one of Lily's former friends resenting the child she died for. It would be easy enough to see Snape's point of view, even if the child didn't look uncanny like his father, and even if that father hadn't dangled him upside down and displayed his underwear in front of a laughing crowd of teenagers.
But that isn't all. I wouldn't like you to think I was arguing that Severus Snape is a victim. Even if he wanted to be nice to Harry, I don't think he would be able to. Being nice doesn't come naturally to him.
Throughout the entire series, he's exerting every fibre of his being just to keep himself from strangling Harry Potter. Nobody would say, after reading the books, that he was trying to be nice to Harry. But they don't understand where he started from. They don't appreciate the current he had to swim against. All that cruelty is actually the end result of a lifelong campaign not to be a bastard. The effort doesn't match the results, but I still find it stunning.
And then, finally, there is the very endearing fact that all his bravest deeds are only appreciated after his death. His heroism is subtle and beneath the surface. And anyone who knows what it feels like to be misunderstood, overlooked or under-appreciated can instantly sympathize with that. He is an outsider who still gets to participate however indirectly in the happy ending.
On a personal level, writing fanfiction on DeviantArt is a lot like being Severus Snape. Just as he is surrounded by people who present a more striking and obvious appearance of heroism, a writer on a website devoted to the visual arts is surrounded by many more striking displays of creativity. There are so many glorious watercolours, sketches, digital paintings and photomanips paying tribute to Severus Snape here things that can immediately affect you and inspire you. But you have to set aside at least half an hour to read a chapter of fanfiction. There is a question-mark (and a perfectly valid one, I might add) over whether a writer should be here at all.
It takes a lot of patience, imagination and sympathy to see the good in fan-fiction, just as it takes a lot of patience, imagination and sympathy to see the good in Severus Snape. But and here's the heartening thing people do it. So many people have the patience to unearth the good in things, even - as in the case of Severus Snape - when it does its best to remain hidden! We're not all Harry Potters and thank heavens!