Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Update on the "Great Snape Debate"

BB NOTE: We're still getting ready for a Potter-filled month here at the cafe. When you drop in and get a table, you may notice that we've decorated the cafe like the Leaky Cauldron and this month we're running a half-price special on tubs of butterbeer.

Within the Anglican blog community we have many debates, discussions and downright pie throwing. But Anglicans also seem to be major readers of the Harry Potter series (must be that British-connection). Must help that J.K. Rowling is a fan of C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers as well (it sure does here). But we notice, that some of us find ourselves in interesting company when we begin to discuss the themes in Harry Potter. In fact, as we look around the cafe today, we see that there are tables filled with the most unlikely of folks, having rather spirited conversations on the theories and themes of the HP Series.

As visitors to the cafe know, we here are holding the view that Snape is Dumbledore's Man. Jo Rowling's genius, though, is that you can argue from the canon that Snape is, as Border's Bookstore describes "a very bad man" or that he is indeed Dumbledore's Man.

Cafe patron and good friend Chip Webb over at the blog, "Yearning for Eucastrophe," has written a lively defense of the theory that Severus Snape is a very bad man. It's very good and you can read the whole thing here, but here is an excerpt:

The wizard who continually has shown Snape mercy is now the one asking for mercy. This is the ultimate test of Snape's character, and he fails the test. Why? Because Harry's knowledge of Snape's past drove Snape over the edge and influenced him later to take the unbreakable vow. We must assume that Dumbledore could potentially be saved from the ultimate effects of the potion, but Snape instead chooses to murder Dumbledore.

Harry, of course, is horrified and enraged, a silent and invisible witness to this crime. And so he pursues Snape as far as he can, hoping to kill Snape. But Snape gets away, though not before angrily throwing verbal missives -- and spells -- at Harry.

This is where many readers will object to my thesis. Isn't Snape essentially throwing clues at Harry as to how to defeat the dark lord? And doesn't he keep missing Harry when he easily could have killed his former student?

Maybe, but not for the reasons that others think. Yes, Snape may well have unintentionally given Harry information on how to defeat the dark lord. And he may even hold back his true firepower from Harry intentionally. But if he does do this, he does it not because he's still serving Dumbledore. Rather, he is operating out of pain -- hatred for Harry (for the reasons previously discussed) tempered by something within him that still is sensitive to the evil that he's committed. Snape is not repentant of his actions, but his conscience nonetheless is tortured by what he's done. It's instructive here to note that his strongest words to Harry are "Don't call me coward!" Snape cannot bear the thought of ever being considered such -- it is too painful for him, even though he was not courageous enough to rise above the hatred that he chose in the end.

Now here at the cafe, we made the case that Snape is conflicted perhaps, but he is "acting" for a larger audience than just Harry Potter. In fact, John Granger over at HogwartsProfessor maintains the theory that Harry Potter has basically got a camcorder inside his scar that's connected directly to Lord Voldemort and most of Book VI was acted out in front of Harry's scar-cam for Voldemort's benefit.

For those of us who are huge fans of mysteries (and I am now in the midst of watching the fifth season of the Inspector Lindley mysteries - another post-Vestry blessing), we follow the genre of mystery writing by the intentional narrative misdirections of the author and Jo Rowling is one of the finest.

I have been arguing against the "scar-cam" theory for a while, but John Granger does make a compelling case right out of the canon and we are in the midst of reconsidering this theory.

We also know that Harry must be faced with a life or death choice, a moment where he could give in to the power of evil, as we saw good Anakin Skywalker do in Revenge of the Sith. Even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and those temptations wouldn't have meant very much unless they were real temptations. Harry must also face real temptations and it would seem to me that if he discovered that in fact, he was being used during most of the action in Half-Blood Prince for the Dark Lord's benefit, well, that would feel like betrayal because Dumbledore didn't trust him enough to tell him the truth about what he was doing (Snape is one thing, Dumbledore is another).

This has been my argument against the theory, because it would make Dumbledore a user of Harry's trust, rather than training him up to handle that trust - what a headmaster should be doing. But this is war and people do funny things when they are at war.

Also, people are tempted into darkness when they are betrayed (or at least given the appearance of betrayal) by those they trust. We could make the case that if Harry discovered that the majority of the action in Half Blood Prince was a performance for Voldemort, that could cause him a major moral crisis.

Think about it as well - the one major character of the entire series, a character as important as Harry Potter himself, is never seen once during the entire book - not once. But what if he's actually present - offstage and out of sight - but still very present through the entire book, that every time we see Harry, someone else is watching as well.

Harry, as we've learned earlier, is a terrible Occlumens - he wears his heart on this sleeve and is such an easy target for Voldemort who is an expert as Legitimancy (scary). Harry's scar rarely - if ever - bothers him throughout Half Blood Prince as well. Perhaps it is because Voldemort, now knowing the connection between the two wizards, doesn't want to tip Harry off because of all the information that he is receiving during Harry's trips with Dumbledore. Harry is clueless, he completely buys the whole premise that the action is for his own personal benefit (it does seem to be unfair to the rest of the Hogwarts students that Harry gets all these personal lessons from the greatest headmaster Hogwarts has known since its founding - that doesn't seem quite fair to other students. Harry doesn't even question the fairness or the perceived favoritism and that is one of Harry's weakenesses). What if it's true and Voldemort is another guest on those trips through the "scar-cam?"

It means that we've been severely misguided by the narrative through an entire book - quite a feat! it also means we need to re-read the book again with with this in mind (pardon the pun).

It also gives yet another meaning to Snape shouting at Harry at the end, "'Blocked again, and again, and again, until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!' sneered Snape, deflecting the curse once more." It's an ironic statement, if this theory is true, and in fact - even up to the Astronomy Tower itself, the entire year was based on the fact taht Harry did not learn to keep his mouth shut and his mind closed.

Throughout this year, though, he's been protected by both Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape and now that the "show is over" for the "scar-cam," Harry is on his own.

We can see an argument could be made that a decision was made that instead of forcing or even convincing Harry to learn Occlumency (it didn't go very well at all in Order of the Phoenix, as we'll get to see in the film next week), they try a different tactic and use Harry's weakness as a strength. But when the book closes and Snape is running from Hogwarts and Dumbledore is dead, Harry will have to follow Snape's final teaching moment. He will have to shut the scar-cam off himself. No one else will be able to do it for him.

I think you may have sold me, John, on the theory. Stay tuned.



Dumb Ox said...

Not sure if I am posting this for the second time. If so, my apologies.

A brief comment to throw into the mix. At several instances in the series, the dead such as his parents and Cedric ... and perhaps others have provided Harry with genuine support and strength (the graveyard scene comes to mind of course). To this source of power from beyond the grave must now be added the strength, wisdom and power of Dumbledore In this light, I believe we'll see Dumbledore's oft repeated comments to Tom Riddle/Voldemort that fear of death has always been a weakness of Voldemort.
For this reason (Dumbledore's sense of being after death) I think that there has been a long understanding between him and Severus Snape. I believe Dumbledore knew he was dying and hence his plea to Snape. I think that there is no doubt that Snape is a tortured individual and therefore in the many situations when I see Snape helping Harry (such as his muttered counter spells to Querril's efforts to kill Harry during his first Quidditch match, to name but one, he is shown to be Dumbledore's man despite the pain he bears and which is so evident in his face and demeanour. And finally the final scene during the fight between Harry and snape, I agree with the writer above that somehow this is one 'last' lesson he is forcing Harry to face. There may be more in Book VII and in fact there may be reconciliation between Snape and Harry but I do believe that Snape will sacrifice himself in the end.
I guess that was more than a brief comment!!!


Anonymous said...

BB said: Anglicans also seem to be major readers of the Harry Potter series (must be that British-connection).

I spent the night dreaming Venn diagrams. I think the circles were Episcopalian, Anglican, and Anglophiles with Harry Potter readers being where the circles overlap.

Enough already, BB! Now you're influencing my dreams!

Unknown said...

I am inclined to agree with you, Bill. And anam cara, watch those dreams! ;-)