29 June 2007

HP7 Predictions: Is Snape Good or Evil?

Ah! I can't believe it's almost July! So little time to weigh in on important Harry Potter issues. Better get cracking on Scholastic's seven questions. The next question is one we all could see coming:

Question #2: Is Snape good or evil?

Well, this is it. The big one. The one we've all been waiting for. (We know Oliver's speech by heart, said George. Heh heh.) Although for most of us the answer seems pretty obvious, I'll list Scholastic's choices here just for laughs:

  • Good and still a spy for the Order of the Phoenix
  • Good but in too deep with Voldemort
  • Evil and has always been a spy for Voldemort
  • Evil but only because Voldemort is back
For me, this is a no-brainer. It only took a few hours after the initial trauma of finishing book 6 for me to figure out that JKR had set us all up. First, look at the ambiguity of the infamous chapter "The Lightning Struck Tower." Dumbledore never actually begs Snape to spare his life--what he's requesting of Severus is left purposefully unstated. All he ever actually says is "Severus . . . Please . . ." The implication is that he's begging for his life, but it's never actually said, a classic JKR trick, playing on our assumptions.

And why would Dumbledore use his last spell to freeze Harry in place? Perhaps he was trying to protect Harry, but in the previous chapter, Dumbledore makes it clear that he's willing to entrust Harry with both their lives. Since investing Harry with Dumbledore's trust was the purpose of that chapter, it doesn't make much sense for him to suddenly grow protective again. The next easiest explanation is that Dumbledore froze Harry in order to prevent him from interfering. Dumbledore knew what was going to happen would look bad to the impulsive, teenage Harry and therefore had to use his last spell to prevent him from disturbing what had to be.

The final key to Snape's innocence lies in the oft forgotten overheard conversation between Snape and Dumbledore. Hagrid tells Harry on page 405:
". . . I was comin' outta the forest the other evenin' an' I overheard 'em talking -- well, arguin'. ... I jus' heard Snape sayin' Dumbledore took too much fer granted an' maybe he -- Snape -- didn' wan' ter do it anymore ... Dumbledore told him flat out he'd agreed ter do it an' that was all there was to it."
More purposeful ambiguity. If we believed that Snape was evil, we might interpret this conversation as Snape's turning point, his warning Dumbledore that he took Snape's loyalty for granted and ought not to. But why would a double agent do such a thing? Snape would be of maximum use to Voldemort by remaining in Dumbledore's trust, not by warning the headmaster that he was considering defecting. (Although, I suppose there's a satisfying alternate interpretation: Snape's loyalties really were divided. Maybe he was sick of the double agent routine and just wanted to stop being used. Perhaps he wanted out. I think I would feel okay if that turned out to be the case.)

But if we consider this conversation in light of what what Snape had "agreed ter do" in chapter two--that is, complete Draco's task should he fail to kill Dumbledore--the conversation makes complete sense. Snape knows what will happen if he goes through with his promise: all that everyone's trust of him is founded upon will be completely destroyed. Snape is basically sacrificing everything by killing Dumbledore; he will have nothing to fall back on; he'll have cried wolf one too many times. Even if the real story came out, he'd have to work even harder to gain anyone's trust and friendship. Snape becomes a permanent outsider to the group he's already chosen to be loyal to.

Yet even killing Dumbledore was better than the alternative. Remember, Snape made an unbreakable vow. Had he not gone through with his task, he would have died. Granted, we have many questions on the exact implementation of the unbreakable vow--we don't know how the spell would tell the difference between not completing the task and not yet completing the task. The time restrictions aren't clear. But suffice to say, if Snape chooses not to kill Dumbledore, then Dumbledore lives, but the Order's only source of inside information dies. Frankly, Dumbledore's more dispensable at this point than Snape. Dumbledore's role as Harry's mentor has been fulfilled, but Harry has yet to accept that he must work with Snape rather than against him.

Just a week ago, I had my belief in Snape reinforced as my family drove around France and I listened to Half-Blood Prince on CD. The major theme of book 6 is how appearances can be different from reality: the ministry's campaign against Voldemort is mostly about public relations rather than progress; Percy's visit to his family isn't about love, but business; Draco's evilness turns out to be mostly fear about his family's safety; Harry tricks Ron into believing he's given him felix felicis; bottles from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes entering the castle in disguise; even the identity of the Prince. Appearances in book 6 are something to be questioned, which is a huge hint to how we ought to read Snape's actions in book 6.

Snape is good and still a spy for the Order of the Phoenix.

Need more Snape debate? Check out this video of a discussion panel that took place at Phoenix Rising, a Harry Potter convention in New Orleans.


Courtney said...

Good predictions! I like the analysis of Snape, especially HBP being all about appearances. Will you answer the other questions in separate posts? Good idea. Maybe I will blog my predictions. And I think I am going to go to the SLC library party. It looks pretty awesome-- thanks for telling me about it.

Liz Muir said...

Yup, I'm going to write about each issue in a separate post. You should definitely play along! It'll be cool to have all your predictions written out so you can look back on them afterwards.

Joni said...

Excellent, as usual dear Watson :) As for your comment on my blog-I still think that Snape would (under very very few circumstances ever admit out loud) recognize that Harry isn't mediocre. I think it fuels his distaste for Harry even more-he'd never admit it to anyone. It's one reason why I think he kind of revels in the Occlumency lessons so much-because he finally finds something that Harry ISN'T good at in the least bit. He can even do Potions better than that (when he isn't distracted). Anyway. :D Harry Potter predictions are fun...

Paradox said...

Hmm. You've got me convinced. And that makes everything about Snape since book one make sense. The Quidditch game fiasco in book one. Snape's "heroics" in book 3. He goes out of his way to protect Harry, which sets up his loyalties to the Order more than Voldemort.

Is one of the questions about whether or not Harry is going to make it through? Because I totally think he's going down.

Liz Muir said...

Paradox: Yes, my first HP predictions post was a live/die one. And you are so wrong. Harry's gotta live.

Anonymous said...

Snape has to be good. If Draco did kill dumbledore (wich he was supposed to do) Harry would have killed him wich would break the unbreakable vow and snape would die.