In July 2016, Book Jawn Podcast released an interview with Lorrie Kim about Snape: A Definitive Reading. You can download and listen to the podcast and you can now also read the transcript, courtesy of whiz transcriber Deannah Robinson. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need anything transcribed!
Book Jawn Podcast Ep 33 (Writer Jawn): “You Can Retain the Value of Sorting Without Reinforcing the Us-or-Them Mentality.”
(start at 00:01:39)
Grace: Lorrie lives in Philadelphia. She is a member of Potterdelphia, prefect over there, and she is, as we described here last week, something like a pillar of Harry Potter knowledge in Philadelphia and an icon of knowing stuff.
Lorrie: I’m making faces now.
Grace: She is. (laughs) Lorrie wrote this book, Snape: A Definitive Reading, and it goes a lot more in-depth than just Snape, talks about themes of the books. And we’re gonna ask her some questions about her beautiful, amazing book. Lorrie?
*Everyone says ‘Hi’*
Grace: When you first picked up Harry Potter, did you start with the first one?
Lorrie: I was sick. My husband read me Chapter One of book one. I was just lying there going, “Ugh, I need something to entertain me.” So, he did.
Grace: Were you entertained?
Lorrie: I was entertained.
Grace: And was there a moment when you were starting the series that you kind of realized this would become a big obsession for you?
Lorrie: Well, I was sick for a long time, so I read up to the end of Book 5, which was — that was what was published at the time, and I liked it a lot. I liked it enough to care a lot that Book 6 was coming out. But the real obsession moment was at the end of Book 6. I realized that —
Grace: I just got chills just hearing your story.
Lorrie: Just, you know, what is Snape going to do?
Sarah: Right. Do you remember when they were giving out the stickers?
Grace I remember that! They had a whole marketing campaign. What was it? It was, um…
Sarah: “Snape Is Good.”
Lorrie: “Snape is a Very Bad Man.”
Sarah: Ours were “Snape Is Evil” or “Snape Is Loyal” were the ones that we got.
Grace: I think “Snape Will Betray” or “Snape is Loyal” were, like, the Barnes & Noble stickers that were all over my — “I Believe In Severus Snape”. Reading your book, I was like, “Maybe I could get a Snape tattoo.” If I’m gonna get a Harry Potter tattoo, this might be the final card. Lorrie, wanna pick my Harry Potter tattoo?
Lorrie: No. (laughs)
Grace: That’s probably wise.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s smart.
Grace: So, you read up to Book 6, and that was the moment when you realized you were more than just into it, you’re, like, more than just a fan.
Lorrie: I really needed to know what this man was going to do to get himself out of the corner that the author had put him into.
Grace: So did you always know that he was a good guy?
Lorrie: I was sure throughout all of book 6 that he was a good guy and working with Dumbledore, and then I was completely shocked when he killed Dumbledore. And that lasted for, oh, like, a whole day, before I came to my senses. But I really enjoyed that complete shock.
Grace: Do you always read the books more interested in him than other characters, though, or that was the moment that made you most interested in him?
Lorrie: For most of the series, I noticed that he was being pushed at us as the most interesting character, because anytime the story got heavy, he would show right up. He was always there. Anytime something important happened, he would turn up. Or it would be him, the big reveal would be him. So I thought, okay, I get it.
Grace: That’s true, in the first one, even.
Lorrie: Yeah. And, you know, even when he wasn’t there before, something happens and then, TA-DA! He shows up. He physically materializes. So I knew that, but the moment where I really fell was right after the first time I read the Spinners’ End chapter. When I read it, and I said to my husband, “Hey, Snape’s just gotten even MORE interesting!”
Sarah: That is a great Snape— it’s THE Snape chapter.
Lorrie: It’s very beautifully done.
Grace: Tell us about his home in Spinners’ End, like you write in your book about kind of what different lines mean about his upbringing.
Lorrie: Well, there are clues that he hasn’t changed very much about it. The furniture is described as old enough so that you know it’s the same stuff he had growing up. There is no clue of any family member but him. I think he lives there alone. it’s all dusty and unused, but I don’t know if that means that he has just moved back in because Voldemort sent him there or if it’s just because it’s the beginning of summer holidays.
Sarah: I read that it’s the beginning of summer holidays, and that maybe it’s dusty all year round, that he has a room he uses.
Grace: I’m always freaked out at that chapter cause I can’t imagine him out of Hogwarts in a home. That always stands out as not the writing as clunky, but it’s clunky in my imagination to imagine him in his family home. It’s startling! It’s like, does he go back there every year? He doesn’t fit in it.
Sarah: It’s like seeing your 3rd-grade teacher at the supermarket.
Lorrie: He has a life!
Sarah: They lock the teachers in when I leave school, right?
Grace: That’s so true! (laughs)
Lorrie: So the only— and he has candles there, so he’s off the grid. And once his father passed away, I’m sure that he made the house look like an abandoned home in a neighborhood where there are a lot of abandoned homes, so that nobody knows he’s there. And then he uses wizarding candles and other power sources, and the only thing in that house is books. And it’s tons and tons of books, and they’re old. And we don’t know: were they always there? Did they belong to either of his parents or his relatives? Did he buy them? That’s the only thing we know he must’ve spent his Hogwarts salary on. He has no material possessions; he doesn’t care about material possessions. He has the old elf-made wine that somebody must’ve given him as a present that he stashed away for a long time.
Sarah: One of the Malfoys.
Lorrie: Yeah, like what am I gonna do with this, you know?
Grace: One of the Malfoys. I love it!
Lorrie: You know, he’s not going to throw it away, but he hasn’t needed it himself.
Grace: Not much of an entertainer.
Lorrie: And he doesn’t drink it, either. So the only thing he has is, in my opinion, paradise. Nobody knows he lives there, nobody’s going to bother him. Any hold that his Muggle father used to have over him is refitted for himself, and all he has is silence, solitude, and books. And a chair to sit in to read his books.
Grace: Does that sound like anything any of our listeners would like? Are any of you into books? I feel like—
Sarah: I mean, yeah, I don’t know anybody who that wouldn’t appeal to.
Lorrie: And then when Bellatrix says—
Grace: Cormac McLaggen.
Lorrie: Oh, god.
Grace: He’s always my first example of someone I hate.
Lorrie: I love him because he’s so awful. And Bellatrix says, “We must be the first of our kind to ever set foot here.” You know, talk about prime real estate for Snape! Yes, yes, please, I would live there! And then the telling thing that’s left over from the chilling aspects of his childhood are when he catches Wormtail eavesdropping, he reveals that there’s a secret passageway and it’s hidden behind a bookcase. And that tells you just— this was his childhood home where books could lead him into secret passageways. You wouldn’t know that they were there; you could hide in them. I imagined that kid Snape would hide there, both literally, you know, escaping domestic disagreements, and figuratively, as an escape for his imagination, because in this series of books, passageways and secret tunnels are always meaningful. They always go somewhere.
Grace: You talk a lot in your book about the story of the mother, or the untold story of the mother and how intrinsic it is to everything that happens in the series. Tell me about Snape’s mom, what you think— what house you think she was in, if we don’t know, and I guess her relationship with her son and your interpretation.
Lorrie: When he gets on the Hogwarts Express and he has pre-formed opinions about Slytherin & the other houses, it sounds to me like he must have gotten them from his mother, because we don’t see any evidence that he has any contact with anyone else. And we know that he has her books. We know that he doesn’t have a lot of money, so she gave him her books. We know she had friends; you can’t be President of the Gobstones Club if nobody will talk to you. So she believed in Slytherins as friends, and told him that that would happen for him, too. And that the Gryffindors would suck.
Sarah: Brawny rather than brainy.
Grace: Brawny rather than brainy. That’s right.
Grace: And then Sirius says, “You’re neither.”
Lorrie: Yeah, and unfortunately for Snape, Sirius is as smart as he is, possibly smarter, so that’s never gonna work again.
Grace: You said that a couple times in your book, you mention, you know, those little details that come out that I don’t remember or hadn’t thought of since reading the books, or hadn’t noticed. You talk about how James and Sirius were the best of their year. In my mind, I always imagined that Snape and Lily were. I always imagined that they were the best of their year. Is it because they weren’t noticed, or were they actually not the top marks?
Lorrie: So we are told by Lupin, and it’s never contradicted, that James and Sirius were always top, and we know from Draco at the beginning of Chamber of Secrets that Hermione has outscored him. So there is some sort of “objective standard” that they’re going by to rank the students there, and that is also factored in to who gets chosen to be Prefects, and Head Boy and Head Girl. So you can’t just say, “Oh, in my opinion…”; they’re quoting something, and I think it’s very deliberate that we don’t know exactly where Snape— how he measured up against James and Sirius in the graded exams. Slughorn mentions that Snape was a very, very gifted potioneer and that he was better than Lily, who, you know, obviously he thought Lily was a very gifted potioneer. We don’t have any idea if they were doing Gryffindor/Slytherin double potions then, we don’t know where James and Sirius stacked up there.
Sarah: I always read that as James and Sirius were, like, the top Gryffindors.
Grace: Yeah, me too. And that’s, maybe that’s my anti-Gryffindor bias.
Lorrie: That’s not what Lupin says, though. He says they were always tops. And Lupin says that to describe why Snape would have had a problem with them, so it’s direct competition. And obviously—
Grace: Cause they’re so horrible.
Lorrie: I wouldn’t have wanted to be their friends.
Grace: I wouldn’t have, either, especially reading your book with all this perspective of where we are reading a Gryffindor bias through the book and Harry wants to learn about his dad. But when you think about so many scenes from Snape’s perspective, which is again why you should buy this book and read it! — it changes everything and it actually has made me even angrier thinking about James and Sirius as top of the class. I’m very competitive; I’m a Slytherin. But I’m like, they don’t get to be that, like, they don’t get to be that.
Sarah: Well, James and Sirius were terrible, James more than Sirius, let’s be real.
Lorrie: I disagree.
Sarah: I think they would’ve maybe cheated.
Lorrie: Even if they had cheated, it’s clear that they wouldn’t have had to. I mean, when you listen to how Sirius talks in Goblet of Fire, he’s starving, he’s living in a cave, he’s got outdated newspapers. That’s the only thing he has and from that, he pieces together political strategy, he understands things that are going on that people who are actually involved in it can’t figure out. You know, you listen to how he talks, he’s eating chicken from the Great Hall. And he’s filthy; he hasn’t bathed in, you know, a year. And the things he says are really good and original, and nobody in the series has that perspective, and then you realize this is— yeah, he’s not just full of himself. He knew. When he says as an 11-year-old, “Well, you’re not brainy or brawny,” he has had 11 years of being a good bet that he’s the smartest person in the room.
Grace: I was gonna say, how do you think the fact that James and Sirius grew up in magical families with a lot of privilege affects their standings in the school?
Lorrie: Well, that’s the first place my mind goes is Snape just as smart or smarter, and they just don’t pay attention to him because he’s poor and creepy? I mean, he is creepy. He’s, like, I wouldn’t have wanted to be his friend, either.
Sarah: Well, yeah, I mean, I feel like there was nobody to tell him, “Hey, you know what? You can wash your hair more often, and we won’t make fun of you.” I feel like Snape was working with a lot of disadvantages, not the least of which were, you know, poverty and abuse. And so, you know, yes, he’s a good student and yes, he’s brilliant and driven by all of these adversities in his life, but you’re still in poverty and abused. And if you don’t have the right tools or you have to miss the first couple of days because your dad beat the crap out of you or whatever, you start with a disadvantage. I think it makes sense that Snape would maybe not necessarily be the very top but certainly working to the top.
Lorrie: Well, we don’t know that, either. We don’t.
Grace: So much to know!
Lorrie: I mean, what we know is that when he was a child and teenager that he devoted an enormous amount of energy to vengeance. Pettiness, vengeance, retaliation.
Grace: So that’s something I thought was really cool about your book, because as someone who goes to GeekyCon or LeakyCon—which I talk about, you know, a lot in the podcast, how much I love that conference—even in this super safe space conference that is all about being respectful and having positive fandom guidelines, the controversy of Snape is the most vicious thing about that place. Every year there’s two panels at the same time: Snape Was A Hero and Snape Was A Bad Guy. Even now, I mean, people who leave the books still hating him. And Lorrie has her head in her hands! But I sent Lorrie an email because I posted about your book in the GeekyCon group, and I was a little nervous because I know how hostile the subject of Snape can be. Luckily, everyone was so interested. But I think that your book isn’t just like, “Snape’s the BEST! Here’s WHY!” It’s not. I mean, I love Snape. I think he’s the best, more than ever after reading your book, but you don’t write it from this perspective of “Let me convince you that he did everything right.” You talk a lot about the mistake he made, the fact that he’s creepy, or just—
Sarah: Yeah, the fact that he did just horrible things, and— horrible, unforgivable things and their fact of this person and his history.
Lorrie: He’s the best reformed former Neo-Nazi. I mean, that’s not the best. He’s the best person who came from this very difficult and justifiably self-blaming background.
Grace: Yeah, you’re not just like, “Oh, he’s always been good,” or you never talk about the reader needing to forgive him. It just sort of, this is where he’s coming from, and this is what he does to make up for it.
Lorrie: That’s the whole point of unforgivables, which is either the unforgivable curses or doing things like calling your best friend ‘doomed to die because of the group I’m joining.’ No, they’re not forgivable. Nobody should forgive them. He doesn’t forgive himself; he’s not expecting anyone else to.
Grace: So, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna backtrack a little bit and talk about house rivalry, because Slytherin rules, Gryffindor drools.
Sarah: No. Sorry.
Grace: Sarah’s a Gryffindor.
Sarah: Gryffindor is the best! Better than all the rest.
Grace: Slytherin Pride!
Grace: Cheat to win!
Sarah: Win by any means necessary.
Grace: That’s totally a Slytherin thing! Anyway, so we just got into a really—
Lorrie: I am not a Slytherin. I’m sitting here going, “Logically speaking, you’re both deluded. Although understandably so.”
Grace: Also, didn’t really put together that you were a Gryffindor and I’m a Slytherin. I mean, I know this, but as a podcast team, it’s really funny.
Sarah: It is.
Grace: Now that I’m thinking about it. You talk so much in your book about house rivalry and just the toxicity of it, and sort of how the kids who go to Hogwarts as 11-year-olds are set up for this fight. Not just because of the school but even kids like Ron or Draco from their parents. Can you give some examples of this Gryffindor favoritism or anti-Slytherin bias for listeners? Cause some stuff hadn’t stuck out to me, like I didn’t think the books were biased when reading them. But that’s cause you’re reading from Harry’s point of view, sort of.
Lorrie: All right. There’s two different kinds of bias, and one of them bothers me more than the other. Within the characters, based on the history and world of the characters, there’s bias, which makes sense to me as if you compare it to anything in the real world. There was a war, there was a dominant culture that oppressed people and then there’s backlash against the children of those families, no matter whether they believe in their parents’ beliefs or not. So that tension — if you’re going to have both groups attending the same school, yeah, it’s going to be pretty life or death, that tension. If I were a Slytherin, former Death Eater, and I had my one child, I’m not sure I would’ve sent my kid to Hogwarts, because nobody was going to guarantee my child’s safety. Except Snape. So Snape was very important to the Slytherin parents, whether they were truly guilty like the Malfoys or just like the Malfoys’ Slytherin next-door neighbors who never did anything, but would still get that kind of prejudice. You know, you don’t see your kid from September til June. You don’t know what they’re gonna do to your kid. You know that your kid might be shoved into a Vanishing Cabinet for two weeks and almost die, and no one’s going to know where he went. So it’s a real act of trust as a Slytherin parent to send your kid away like that and I thought, Well, Lucius & Narcissa, the result of their conversation about Durmstrang or Hogwarts must have been, “Okay, we’re sending him to Hogwarts, but you have to be on the parent board.” You have to be in the PTA, and you have to make sure that you back up Snape. Because if you don’t, then Snape’s gonna be the only one there, and he’s just one person. In that world, I can see how that is set up, and then of course—this is what I love about Snape so much— he had the six-year winning streak for the Slytherin House Cup because that was something that they could control. Everyone hated them, that they could control that, so they had more motivation than the other houses. So if that was a six-year winning streak, when he started it, he was 24 years old.
Grace: So that was a thing that, again, I never thought about before reading your book. Our version of — when I was six or something, the first Harry Potter movie came out, so I started reading the books along with when the first movie came out. I had never thought about the fact that canonically, Snape is 31 when the books start. I have Alan Rickman in my head.
Lorrie: Snape, when we first meet him, acts like he’s well into his 60s and completely embittered.
Grace: He’s 31 when we meet him in the books.
Sarah: So he’s 31, and Harry’s 11? So he was— Harry was born when Lily and—
Grace: They were my age when they had him.
Lorrie: They were right out of high school, and they were the same ages that J.K. Rowling’s parents were when they had her.
Sarah: That’s interesting.
Grace I’d never thought about that before.
Lorrie: I know. It’s really disturbing to think, like, decades of suffering went into the character that we meet in the potions classroom in Sorcerer’s Stone to make this 31-year-old sound and act like he’s been bitter for decades.
Sarah: Well, he has! He’s not had a good life.
Lorrie: No, but it’s a lot. Like, whatever happened to you that you’re 31 and you’re like this? Oh my god.
Grace: And that changes so much perspective for me. It’s like, oh my god.
Sarah: That’s like— my wife is 32 or 33 now. Can you imagine her teaching—
Grace: She’s a teacher, too.
Sarah: She would have a similar bitter humor. She would be very sarcastic, but I don’t think she would be, “Our new celebrity!”
Lorrie: Yeah, but if you can imagine that it’s 7 years after a war in which people you knew died, and it was your fault…
Sarah: And you’re on the losing team.
Lorrie: Yeah, not fun, and it’s your job to take care of the children.
Grace: So all of the part about Snape protecting the Slytherins was so amazing to read. You know, you’re reading it from the Gryffindor perspective and you’re seeing all these things he does to bully the Gryffindors. While we’re reading it, it feels like that. But if you take a step back, you think about this house bias, how much hatred & prejudice the Slytherins enter into as 11-year-old kids who have, hopefully, not formulated their own entrenched prejudice yet. And then you go to school, and they’re treated like they’re evil.
Lorrie: Yeah, and even if they have, even if they’re completely evil 11-year-olds, they’re away from home. They miss their mom, you know?
Grace: Reading your book, I see some of the scenes in a new light. Obviously, Snape did some unnecessarily mean things, though he’s a bitter man, to the Gryffindors. But when you’re reading it from his perspective, you kinda get it. The Gryffindors do a lot of bullying things to these kids, and you’re always just like, YEAH, when you’re reading these books. And he’s protecting these Slytherins.
Lorrie: Although not in a very productive way.
Grace: So he’s not doing it in a productive way. It’s helpful to read it and understand what he’s doing.
Lorrie: It’s the atmosphere. The perspective of reading Sorcerer’s Stone changes depending on whether you come from a war culture or peace culture.
Grace: So I think the fact that I read your book this past couple of weeks also informed a lot of my intense emotions reading it. I tweeted a passage from it and I was crying and then you tweeted that you cried or something. The second chapter, Severus Snape & the Chamber of Secrets, was amazing and very topical when I was reading it, because I think I read it this week of Black Lives Matter and all these, you know, three shootings in two days. I read this chapter and you have this passage about teaching kids to act defensively, and about teaching them to deescalate with Expelliarmus rather than saying slurs or throwing jinxes at each other. Because in the second book, the book is kind of about, you said, like, old prejudices coming up and causing violence. Please read this book, everyone. It means a lot right now. How do you think — you said earlier, okay, Snape doesn’t do a great job, but when you understand what he’s doing, you get why he’s so protective of them.
Lorrie: I mean, he’s someone who’s not that much more mature than his students, sometimes less mature than his students, coming from the same place. So his maturity needs a lot of work. If I had been his boss, I would’ve put him on probation for the treatment of his students. I would. Obviously, I’m not running Hogwarts.
Sarah: But I think, to be fair, there were a lot of questionable teaching practices.
Lorrie: Well, yeah. But the thing is we never hear of any other teacher— if you look at what he did to Harry on the absolute first day of school, there is no 11-year-old in the world who can read that and feel okay. I mean, Harry is just sitting there doing nothing. He doesn’t even fight back until the ninth time or something.
Grace: As a teacher, or as a parent, how do you think that these characters could have eased tension? Like the staff at Hogwarts or parents like Lucius or Narcissa, how do you think they could ease tension rather than contributing to it when they’re raising these kids?
Lorrie: Well, it’s hard for me to say from my American perspective because I know it’s coming from a British tradition that actually exists that I don’t understand. Cause I don’t think this way at all, and I love sorting. I think it’s an extremely valuable tool for understanding that students have different kinds of minds, and that different approaches will benefit different students and you don’t treat everybody the same. Sorry, Hufflepuff. If you treat everybody exactly the same, some people will not be reached. That it makes more sense to understand more about the people and have a number of approaches based on how you know them. So I love sorting, but I wouldn’t have wanted to see them put into houses. What if you house them in some other way? It could be a number or, you know, change it up every year, like some places do. But you can retain the value of sorting without reinforcing the us-against-them mentality. And then we do know that the Slytherins or any group that has to draw together, like the Hufflepuffs in Book 2 when they know that Muggle-borns are being targeted and they’re afraid for themselves, and they are drawing more close to each other, you still have sorting so you can still have that support network. And as for the parents, I don’t think there could be anything because the way that the parents are prejudiced along house lines in this series is exactly the same as just parents in our world.
Sarah: Yeah, I haven’t really thought about what a big deal the house rivalries were and how that really did inform the ways that students interacted with one another and, in particular, Slytherin and Hufflepuff, you know, cause I feel like they’re really not talked about that much. And not for nothing, some bad guys do come from Slytherin, but also there’s a lot of regular people in Slytherin, it’s always about Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, occasionally…
Grace: There’s other kids in Slytherin.
Sarah: Yeah, so I’m curious about their stories. Slughorn came from Slytherin, and he was dicey, but affable.
Grace: Dicey but affable. That’s my new Twitter bio. I always say I’m Slughorn.
Sarah: You’re affable, and then where was Gilderoy Lockhart, like what house was he in?
Grace: He was a Ravenclaw.
Sarah: That’s shocking to me.
Grace: And I just found that out because of Pottermore. I was like, WHAT?! You have an interesting thing you’ve said for years, which was— you always said that he was the worst villain.
Lorrie: He’s, I don’t know. Is he the worst villain? He’s very bad, he’s one of the worst.
Sarah: Umbridge is the worst.
Lorrie: Nope. Nope.
Grace: I guess not. Wow.
Sarah: I stand corrected.
Grace: Why does Lockhart stand out as someone so horrible to you, when we’re faced with this cast of— I mean, I would say Umbridge, too.
Lorrie: I think he has— you know how you hear that people with anti-social personality disorder, it’s not that they can’t feel empathy, it’s that they can choose whether to or not. They can turn it on and off. He was going to leave three children to die so that his reputation as an author wouldn’t be disturbed. He knew exactly what he was doing at all times. When they confront him, he looks at them like, you didn’t think I believed in all my own press, did you? He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is insane and cold.
Grace: He’s not motivated by prejudice. He’s just motivated by climbing, sort of?
Lorrie: He’s, he’s completely cold and completely amoral.
Sarah: So my argument for Umbridge being worse is that she is motivated by sadism.
Lorrie: She is a sadist and not in the fun way. No, but she’s also visibly evil.
Sarah: I don’t actually think that she’s visibly evil. I think she believes she’s doing the right thing courting power.
Lorrie: It’s not that she thinks she’s doing the right thing. It’s that she enjoys being able to discriminate against others. When she’s fighting against the centaurs, it’s not whether she thinks she’s right or not, it’s that she has an advantage and she’s going to press it and put other people down.
Grace: My argument for Umbridge being “worse” would just be that she’s teaching children to be sadistic and prejudiced as opposed to Lockhart who just does horrible things, but doesn’t care. He doesn’t extend it to teach others to carry out that as well. He just cares about himself.
Lorrie: Snape is unable to stop her from turning Crabbe & Goyle into the monsters he’s been trying to protect them from becoming, so that’s one of the worst things that happens to Snape, in book 5, is watching this happen.
Grace: So you talking about the Inquisitorial Squad in your book was amazing because so much so— the chapters leading up to it are talking about Snape trying to ease tension, trying to teach — or not ease tension, but he’s trying to teach de-escalation through spells like Expelliarmus, and then Umbridge shows up. And then he’s watching this and it feels very familiar to him to see a group of Slytherins band into a group and hurt other people at Hogwarts.
Lorrie: I don’t know that I would argue that Umbridge is not as bad as Lockhart. It’s more that I think Lockhart is underrated as a truly terrifying person.
Grace: Well, no, that’s the exception of the two, cause I don’t think of him as terrifying.
Sarah: But I think that’s part of the problem with Trump. People are—
Lorrie: I’m not going to talk about Trump, because my innards will just spill out.
Grace: I wanna talk about the Gilderoy Lockhart/Trump thing. GO!
Sarah: So very briefly, and I will keep this brief and we’ll go back on topic. I think in the beginning people saw him as, you know, an entertainer, and oh, wouldn’t it be funny if Trump was president, blah blah blah. But they didn’t realize that he is a terrifyingly bad person and that he doesn’t have any moral substance.
Grace: He also doesn’t believe any of what he is saying. Similar to a Gilderoy Lockhart.
Sarah: Right. He will say or do whatever it takes to get the fame and the power.
Lorrie: Steal stuff from other people.
Grace: I really can’t do my Lockhart cosplay now. I was, like, maybe I’ll do a Trump/Lockhart cosplay.
Lorrie: Eww, I don’t want to even think about it. So, yeah, and so then, our friends—
Sarah: I’m sorry.
Grace: It’s okay. That was just an amazing thing to realize he is exactly like that.
Lorrie: Except then our friend who loves Lockhart cause he’s so funny said ‘How dare you!’ and then the next day after that was the plagiarized First Lady speech. And I’m like, “Oh, well, maybe it’s his wife who’s really Lockhart.”
Grace: Oh my god.
Grace: My feelings are so intense right now. It’s my brain feelings.
Lorrie: But do you have any doubt that Trump would leave three children in a tunnel to die?
Grace & Sarah: No. No.
Lorrie: You know why? Because it would hurt his brand.
Grace: And his brand is built of stealing other people’s things.
Grace: Wow. Sarah said something interesting I wanna go back on. You mentioned Slytherin and Hufflepuff as the houses that were not noticed or treated unfairly. A couple days ago, I was babysitting some kids, and we were doing Pottermore, and we kept getting sorted wrong. We kept making new accounts— I got, I got sorted—
Sarah: That’s a pretty Slytherin thing.
Grace: So I got sorted into Ravenclaw. I had a huge existential crisis about this. The youngest kid got sorted; she’s a Slytherin, as well, and she really is, she’s amazing. She got sorted into Ravenclaw. The older sister got sorted into Gryffindor and she’s a Ravenclaw. And then we did another one where we tried to get Slytherin. We’re like, okay, I wonder if you can even get Slytherin on Pottermore. We sat there, three of the smartest people I know. I’m including myself! These children are geniuses, okay? So we sat there purposely answering questions to get Slytherin, and we got Gryffindor.
Grace: And we sat there saying, I mean, apart from “this is wrong and we know who we are,” none of us got Hufflepuff and none of us got Slytherin, even when we were trying. And we’re like, is this bias to put more people in Ravenclaw and Gryffindor?
Lorrie: I always get Hufflepuff.
Grace: That’s crazy to me.
Lorrie: No, I do sometimes get Ravenclaw.
Sarah: Ryan got Hufflepuff and she was pissed. She was like, “I am a Ravenclaw,” and I was like, “It’s good that you know that. I get Gryffindor, and I think that who I am as a person is very reflective of Gryffindor descriptions. And that’s fine. I don’t have any problem with that. I know who I am as a person, and it’s fine. But I think that a thing about Hufflepuff is that they are kind, they are generous and caring and that is who I try to be. So I’m over this Hufflepuff hate. I’m really not afraid to go to the mat about Hufflepuff. I feel very strongly about it. I’ve had a lot of conversations about it.
Grace: As someone who’s gone to a lot of Harry Potter events and conferences and concerts over years, I’ve noticed that recently at Geeky last year, there were more Hufflepuffs than any other house. Maybe even combined.
Sarah: But that makes sense.
Grace: There are so many Hufflepuffs. You are a Gryffindor, but you are maybe the only Gryffindor I can handle, I will say that. And that’s not an insult, but there’s—
Sarah: No, we tend to be a self-righteous people, I know that.
Grace: And you, you care a lot, and you defend things you care about. But you don’t have this impulsive bragginess about it. Oh god, no, I’m just— I’m sorry. I’m making it worse. I’m making the house bias worse. I’m making this worse. I… am making this worse.
Sarah: I think the thing about Gryffindor is that, you know, we do care a lot, we feel very strong about it. We do have causes, but we can’t just have a cause and take it up quietly and sort of fight for it on our own or with our friends or whatever. It has to be the biggest thing, and we have to have t-shirts and hats and buttons and a GoFundMe. I know this, I know this about my own house.
Grace: Wizard GoFundMe.
Sarah: I do know this, but there are other ways to honor the name of Godric Gryffindor.
Grace: Yeah. Well, this is actually something— so you don’t do this, but I’m speaking kind of its a vengeance right now, because I’m trying to write a talk or a workshop for GLA. I’m struggling to not make it anti-Gryffindor. But talking about how to care about social justice things in a way that you’re also listening to other people. Because I’ve struggled with certain houses, just Gryffindors, and the other example I gave is Bernie Bros, where you know that you’re right and you feel very strongly, your moral compass. You care about equality, you care about fighting the good fight. But it detaches some people, like Bernie Bros, from listening to other people. Even the people that are like, “We’re protecting you.” These people are like, “No, do tell me what to do. I’m gonna discover things for myself.” You don’t do that, but that’s a thing that I’ve struggled with Gryffindor is kind of like, you’re so charged with this ‘fighting the good fight’ that you don’t know how you’re affecting people around you.
Sarah: It’s true. I feel like it’s very much like—
Grace: What you don’t do. Again.
Sarah: Thank you.
Grace: But you are very intentional about listening and being kind, like a Hufflepuff.
Sarah: I think maybe part of that is also being older, you know? Because I’m sure that when I was younger, I was very charged with righteous glory, and it’s kind of like being an ally, like for queer people or people of color, you wanna be a good ally and you’re sure that you know the best way to do it and often that involves you talking over or mansplaining or taking up room that shouldn’t belong to you, because you’re just sure that you’re right and because you’re on the good side, that space belongs to you.
Grace: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. If you could come to GLA next year, we should start working on this, guys. That’s what I want to talk about, though. What do you think?
Lorrie: So I’m going to talk about when there’s not much about Slytherin and Hufflepuff. The way that fandom has experienced how sorting is very different from how it was written in the series, because, especially in the first book, she’s just a writer with no contract, writing book one of her under-the-bed, handwritten manuscript like everybody else who has a story that has never been published, and will never be published. So she’s not thinking that someday, people in languages that she doesn’t speak are going to take that as gospel personality tests. And wonder, ‘how come this series doesn’t flesh out who I am?’ Well, she wasn’t writing it that way. And what we’ve seen or what I’ve seen and I’ve really enjoyed tracking is that as she comes out with more information in the years after, as she interacts with the fandom and her readership, she has made adjustments to her own concept of the houses to take this into account more. Like — it’s slow. It’s certainly way, way slower than a lot of people wished she would do it, because people have a lot of ideas about what she would do and say.
Sarah: There’s a lot hinging on that, though.
Lorrie: But, I mean, she’s one person. People change at a certain rate, and when people change because other people told them to, you can tell, and it’s no good. People change at their own rate and she also can do anything she wants, and does. But there was a point at which I bet no more villains are going to be revealed as Slytherins, because she heard that message. And that’s when I thought to myself, they’re all going to be Ravenclaws, from here on out. Any bad guys are going to be— that’s what she’s going to say. When Lockhart was revealed as a Ravenclaw, I would have said that anyway, because Ravenclaws can be amoral. What makes a Ravenclaw a Ravenclaw does not have to do with good or evil, and can be turned either way without betraying that person’s inner self. And, you know, there’s nothing wrong with Lockhart’s logic.
Sarah: You know what would be really interesting? To put all of the Harry Potter villains on that big Punnett square. You know: lawful good, chaotic evil. I think that would be really —
Grace: I have a project. Thank you.
Grace: You said that about Gryffindors, too, though. You and I had a conversation about morality. You said Slytherins and Hufflepuffs are the most moral houses?
Lorrie: I think that who they are has the most to do with morality, whether that morality is for good or for harm. I mean, you can be moral and evil, like Umbridge. She has morals that happen to involve killing almost everybody.
Grace: But that makes sense to me as a Slytherin, whether their morals are, however their compass is facing, it is still everything feeds into that way of seeing.
Lorrie: Whereas I think of what makes somebody a Gryffindor is a certain degree of physical energy and response to your beliefs. If there’s a certain kind of outward energizing that when it’s used happily, when the person is in charge of it, it’s the best thing in the world. When you’re trying to suppress it, for example, like Harry when he’s trying to hide because they’re trying to kill him and he has to be quiet, it is the most draining, terrifying struggle to keep quiet because he’s got so much adrenaline taking over his body. Whereas if you are from another house, it’s easier to think of strategies to calm yourself. And to me, it’s a matter of wiring. If you have a group of children, you don’t know what their prejudices are or what their talents are, but there’s gonna be a way to reach each child. And a Gryffindor child, no matter who they are, if you know that they’re prone to having these surges of adrenaline when they’re inspired or angered, that’s something that you can use to try to connect with them.
Grace: Wow. I think you should start a school.
Sarah: I think so.
Lorrie: I’m not working there [Hogwarts].
Grace: Sarah said something interesting about teacher— there’s a lot of questionable teaching practices, and that’s true, and we’re reading a lot of it from Harry’s perspective, so, you know, we’re seeing how bullying Snape is just to him or the Gryffindors. But there’s a lot of, a lot of scenes of teachers doing really weird or shitty things. I wanna talk about a scene that you go through in your book. You open Severus Snape & the Prisoner of Azkaban, you say this is the happiest book to readers and to a lot of the characters. The whole book is a trauma flashback to Severus Snape. So before we go into this scene I wanna talk about, can you just explain what a trauma flashback is to listeners?
Lorrie: From my total layperson perspective—
Grace: Right, your one-person perspective.
Lorrie: I have no degrees in this or anything. A flashback is a symptom that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sometimes have, where the memory of a terrible, traumatic event becomes so vivid that your whole mind and body experience it as happening in real time all over again. So when this is severe and happening, you don’t know that you are in the place and time you really are. Everything about you believes that it is whatever memory you’re reliving. Sometimes you can, by yourself or with other people, manage to keep a hold on some reality so that you can be aware that, ‘no, I’m having a flashback.’ This is not always possible, so when you’re having the flashback, it’s extremely draining, because your body and mind are deciding that you’re probably going to die, so everything you have in you is going to give it this last shot to get out of this. It’s not like sparing or holding anything back. It’s all your defenses at once. And then eventually when you get out of your flashback, you will be tired, like you just fought for your life, even though that took place 17 years ago. This might happen to you again, and it’s extremely draining.
Grace: So Lupin comes to Hogwarts. How does Lupin’s presence at Hogwarts inform Snape’s perspective or even just the setup of it?
Lorrie: I feel so bad for both of them.
Sarah: How would you react when your very presence was a fucking trigger? You’re trying to not transform into a werewolf. Meanwhile, this guy who is making your potions is freaking out every time he sees you because you were terrible to him 20 years ago.
Grace: To start, how does trauma inform Snape’s attitude just towards Gryffindors?
Lorrie: Snape believes that Gryffindors always get away with everything, and the reason he believes this is because when Sirius set up Lupin to kill Snape as fifth-years — when that happened, and Dumbledore found out about it, Dumbledore did not, as far as we know, punish the Marauders at all or do anything to make them understand the severity of what they had done. The only thing we know for sure that Dumbledore did was consign Snape to silence. He forbade Snape to tell anyone about it. So it’s not only that Snape nearly died, which in itself is pretty traumatic but might not have solidified into such a trauma for him. It’s that the authoritative response to it was to silence the victim. And to put Lupin’s privacy — which yeah, of course Lupin needs and deserves privacy. But to put his privacy and the school’s reputation and Dumbledore’s reputation as an educator who decided to break the law and secretly decide that he was able to guarantee a safe school for both werewolves and non-werewolf children — he had decided that he was going to just do that. To break Ministry law and secretly do that. He consigned all of his staff to silence about this; they were all in on it and they were all silent. Then when there was the flaw in the plan, which is that werewolves are human and have human friends, and you cannot control what these human friends do, Sirius decides that it will be the funniest thing in the world to turn Lupin into a monster forever. When that happens, Dumbledore silences the victim, and doesn’t follow up with him. And there is really no reason for Snape to put his trust in anyone but Death Eaters if that’s what the other side is gonna be like. Let me take that back—there’s plenty of reason for Snape to decide not to be a Death Eater. But if it’s going to be binary, one group thinks it’s fine that he was almost killed; the other group thinks that it’s funny that he knows all these Dark Magic spells that will hurt people. Not a great choice, but Dumbledore really, his part in the trauma is what makes it a problem for Snape. That Dumbledore has rehired the same alumnus with the exact same guarantee of safety, which is, “Don’t worry; I know it’ll be fine.” And Snape is saying, “That’s what you said last time and you didn’t care what happened to me. And if you’re not going to do anything about it, I’m going to do everything in MY power to try to work within your rules. I’m going to force-feed that man wolfsbane until he chokes on it.” You know, when he says, “I made an entire cauldron full.” Because Snape does not disobey Dumbledore; he just keeps trying to lobby Dumbledore, saying “Last time, it wasn’t so good,” and Dumbledore’s like “No, it’ll be fine.”
Sarah: I think it goes back to, too, Snape is also, even while he’s super traumatized and he’s dealing with these very real, sometimes physical aspects of his PTSD, he’s also still a really good advocate for his students. He’s dealing with his own shit, which is a ton. And he realizes, oh, hey, there’s this werewolf who is a danger to the students.
Grace: In his experience.
Sarah: Right, in his personal experience.
Grace: And then Lupin’s back, and Snape feels responsible not only for himself and his trauma, but for his students.
Lorrie: And he knows that Lupin is not a danger. As we begin the school year, the base assumption is that Lupin is not a danger to students, except if it happens that he transforms and it’s not controlled. Although as the school year goes on, Lupin does things to make Snape think that Lupin himself, as a human, not as a werewolf, might not be such a good guy either. And that’s in the atmosphere of Sirius Black being out there. Snape, like everybody else, thinks that Sirius really did it at this point, that he is the most dangerous mass murderer. So Sirius is out there somewhere heading for Hogwarts, Lupin is back at Hogwarts, James Potter the Second is in Snape’s class, and there is a line that says that Neville Longbottom looks like Peter Pettigrew, and he is also the sidekick that you just don’t know what’s happening in his mind.
Grace: Who’s kind of hapless and, from Snape’s perspective, tagging along in a lot of scenes.
Lorrie: And the big missing piece there that Snape is supplying is that when you treat somebody as abusively as Snape has treated Neville, your guilty conscience will ascribe all sorts of evil to them. So Snape is prepared for Neville to be as horrible to him as the Marauders once were, because Snape has abused him and knows it, and is not about to apologize and not about to recognize it.
Grace: So I wanna talk about the boggart scene.
Sarah: Is that how you pronounce it? Bo-ggart?
Grace: It’s ‘bog-gart’.
Lorrie: The audiobooks have said ‘bog-gart’.
Grace: Apparently Voldemort is pronounced ‘Vol-de-more’, so who’s really to say how anything is pronounced, besides J.K. Rowling. She could say it, but she should’ve maybe let us know a while ago, how you say Voldemort. Come on. Anyway… Neville is repeatedly picked on, Lupin is maybe protective of him. But when we see this boggart turn into Snape, that’s an example of teaching gone WAY wrong. But since we’re reading it from Harry’s perspective, it’s hilarious. Give us some insight into maybe what Snape’s perspective is of this hilarious teaching moment in Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Lorrie: Yeah, this is where I feel really bad for both Lupin and Snape, and I wanna take them both by the collar and knock their heads together.
Grace & Sarah: And Neville.
Lorrie: Neville is — I feel worst of all for Neville.
Grace: Because he didn’t choose this.
Lorrie: Neville did nothing. It starts off with Snape doing what is, in my opinion, the worst thing he does to a student in the whole series, which is— Snape is in the teachers’ lounge, and Lupin brings the third-year Gryffindors to the lounge to fight the boggart. And Snape says, “Oh, that’s Neville Longbottom. He’s terrible.”
Grace: In front of everyone.
Lorrie: In front of this new teacher that Neville has never had a chance to impress, and in front of all of Neville’s peers. And, in my opinion, that hurts me more than anything Snape does to a student ever. You really should be on probation for that, if you’re going to do that to a student. If someone got fired for that, I’d be like, “You should probably have talked to them first.” It’s really not okay. So that’s what Snape does. Now obviously, everybody wants Snape to be held accountable for this terrible thing that he’s just done, so when Lupin prompts Neville to turn the boggart into Snape dressed as Augusta Longbottom, there’s a release of tension, and it is a funny image. And Neville would never ever ever have thought of it. If you read it carefully, Neville doesn’t come up with any of it on his own. It’s all completely prompted by Lupin and there’s nothing that we see that indicates any of those third-years would’ve come up with that image. Lupin is completely inventing it, and instead of telling the students, “What Snape just did is completely unacceptable and I’m going to talk to Dumbledore about it and I don’t believe a word he said” and building up Neville that way, he goes laterally to retaliation and escalation and pettiness. What Lupin does to a group of 13-year-olds is say, “Let us imagine Snape in this sexist, ageist, transphobic image.” What’s so damn funny? Is he a 33-year-old man? No, he’s an old lady! He’s a man wearing a dress! This is so funny! And it is funny in that moment.
Grace: Never thought about it like that.
Lorrie: After all of that tension, after witnessing Snape abuse a 13-year-old, then you add the tension and it is funny, then you laugh, and then … you’re implicated. You, the reader, are implicated; the other kids in the class were laughing are implicated; if there’s a kid there who likes to cross-dress, they’re like, ‘Oh no, did I just laugh?’ It is funny. None of them invented this image, it’s not from Neville…
Sarah: I feel like Thomas Jefferson.
Lorrie: It’s happened, and yet it is funny and what Snape did is inexcusable. And Neville really did need someone to stand up for him. But then what happens? This does not make Snape realize that what he did was wrong and he should cut it out. This makes the story of Snape dressed as Augusta Longbottom sweep the school; all of the teachers are laughing, all of the students are laughing. What are the chances that a group of 13-year-olds are not going to be reenacting this scene for the next three months at lunch? It’s the funniest thing that they’ve ever seen; the entire school is laughing at Snape in exactly the way that Lupin, the last time he lived at Hogwarts, got the entire school to laugh at Snape. And it’s not going to help Snape realize that he should stop abusing students because what we see then later is that after that rumor of the boggart went around the school, there’s a passage that says Snape was in a worse temper than ever and he bullied Neville worse than ever. Because Lupin did this, he got the laugh, and then did not stick around to protect Neville. So it actually came down worse on Neville. So it’s really Lupin getting away with something that you could see where the original impulse was, but no one is standing up for Snape because he kind of pissed everyone off by being an abusive asshole. And Neville is worse off than before in some way, although also strengthened and defended. It’s a mixed blessing for Neville because he does get strength and defense from it, but he is at further risk from the original abuser.
Sarah: Right. He’s constantly vulnerable to retaliation. And there are power differentials at play. So yeah, Snape’s a laughingstock, but he doesn’t have any control of it.
Grace: And he’s Neville’s worst fear at this point. “I’m just a mean teacher” and he is terrified of him.
Lorrie: Snape earned that position as Neville’s worst fear. But is it so funny that he’s like an old lady? What’s so funny about that?
Grace: Very teenage humor.
Lorrie: Yeah, and it’s Lupin saying, “Snape, you are sexually invalid.” Exactly the way Lupin and his friends used to say to Snape when they were teenagers. I do not know anyone in the world who could go back to high school with their old high school bullies and be told again that they’re sexually invalid, the way they were told when they were fifteen, in front of 13-year-olds, and be okay with it. Lupin is not behaving. Lupin, that was not good! I understand what you were doing, but that was not good.
Sarah: Right. And flip him upside down so that his saggy parts are showing? That’s so shitty. It’s the equivalent of being pantsed.
Lorrie: It is sexual abuse. It’s sexual bullying among teenagers that Lupin—what Lupin has just done is actually recreate a living flashback for Snape.
Grace: I had you explain what a trauma flashback is, but your book helped me, as a person who experiences that, understand what it is. Like, understand what a trauma flashback is, what’s happening to me. Last week, that happened to me, but I was able to know what was happening and have that level of disconnect. Yeah, that’s not going to happen every time that happens to me, but because of your book, because in that third chapter, there’s so much about genes reminding Snape of his trauma and placing all of the emotions in real time into that experience. I talk a lot about how fiction creates empathy and how it’s easier to understand things when it’s not someone you’re friends with or when it’s not someone who’s you and it was just very powerful to read everything through Snape’s perspective in that chapter, because you really do start to understand why, when he comes into the Shrieking Shack in the third book, why it’s just pure hate and suspicion and protectiveness over the kids. But he won’t listen, you know? Harry and Hermione and Ron are like, “No, let them explain.” Of course he won’t let them explain. He’s in danger. He’s experiencing danger in his body.
Lorrie: In his mind, it’s all happening all over again. And we see that happening with Harry all throughout the third book, when he has his flashbacks to his mother’s death. And we know that Lupin goes through that a lot, because everything Lupin says to Harry about flashbacks is, “I know what this is. I know what you’re going through. It’s not what the other kids think.”
Grace: “You’ve gone through more pain than a lot of your peers.”
Lorrie: So when they say, when J.K. Rowling says that what Dementors do is make you relive your worst moments, it’s that when you have Dementors around you, if you have trauma, you will go into flashback.
Grace: On a lighter note or something…
Sarah: It would be hard to pick a darker note.
Lorrie: I have a final part for this. So you were asking about instances of Gryffindor vs. Slytherin bias. The other way there is bias in the series that disturbs me much more is the narrator’s pro-Gryffindor, anti-Slytherin bias. An example of that: to resist the bias, you have to go against the narrator and the author. In Book 3, at the Christmas feast, Dumbledore is sitting next to Snape, who is “ho ho ho, Merry Christmas.” You know Snape would rather be in his room by himself.
Sarah: With his books and his candles.
Lorrie: You know, eating a plate that he fixed by himself. But Snape has to be at the table, next to Dumbledore, who’s really having a good time, and Dumbledore makes him pull a Christmas cracker. So Snape is like, “If I must…” and he pulls the Christmas cracker. Do you remember what comes out of that Christmas cracker? It’s the vulture hat that Augusta Longbottom wears, and Snape looks really miserable. Dumbledore laughs and sticks it on his head and wears it for the rest of his dinner.
Grace: So he trades or something…
Lorrie: Yeah. That’s what Snape gets in his Christmas cracker. Not a lump of coal, something so much more sinister than a lump of coal. So Dumbledore thinks this is funny, and he wears it for the rest of the dinner. So whose bias is this? Is this the author’s? Is this the narrator’s? Is it all of us?
Grace: You mention a couple scenes in the book that are just by omission, or by the only group that it mentions as Gryffindor’s reactions. It’s interesting, it’s this whole— especially as a kid, you would never know what you’re reading.
Lorrie: It’s hard to resist it, especially if you’re in the target audience for these books.
Sarah: Whoa. That’s really some deep, deep, deep thoughts.
Grace: And so I’m reading this last week, when there’s all this fucking hatred and prejudice in the world, and I’m reading this and I’m like, “Holy shit, a lot of these kids are set up to be hated.” These Slytherin kids are coming from privilege and coming from families who have done destruction. But they’re going to the school set up to be the villain. I’m not saying I have any answers, but it’s made me think about the world where we are right now differently. How can we set up kids to not be attacked for coming from privilege, or coming from racist parents? How do we teach them de-escalation or teach them better ways than just attacking them the moment they step into a room?
Sarah: There are definitely parallels that you can draw from unlearning racism, and how people do that very intentionally as people who are more politically aware, but I feel those people at least have neutral school experiences, there weren’t a lot of assumptions made about them. Whereas I think it is a thing that contributes to racism if you come from a family who is very traditional. And then you’re told, ‘Well, your parents are pieces of shit, so you must be a piece of shit.’ And people treat you poorly, and that reinforces stereotypes. So you never really have the option to make your own mind up. That’s so interesting.
Grace: Some of these people who unlearn racism or who challenge themselves to listen rather than talk. Whatever it is, you’re probably exposed to something, though, unless you want to do that. Or exposed to a person or you’re not in the experience where it’s just assumed that you’re the bad guy.
Lorrie: Well, if you think about book 6, when Draco has taken the Dark Mark, Dumbledore doesn’t try to reach out to him at all. He puts Snape on it, because by that time, Dumbledore’s learned his lesson. For a kid who’s viewed with suspicion that way, someone who’s all angelic — who’s never been a bad person, who’s from the other side that views you with suspicion — that is not the person to come and reach out to you. Someone who’s been there, someone who you know has done bad things. If they have changed their mind, but they remember what it felt like to be actually evil, which Draco is at that point, and to say, “You may think that it’s too late, that you’ve already done so much evil that no one’s going to hold that hope for you. I’m here to tell you it’s not too late. And you have not done anything bad that I haven’t seen. You cannot disgust me.” Whereas someone who’s always been good, that message can’t be realistic from them.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s a lot. I felt that I have done pretty deep analysis with Harry Potter, but now I’m just like…
Lorrie: The thing for me has always been people who are like, “What is there to write about in Harry Potter? It’s a children’s series,” and I’m like, “Is it just me? I found it rather difficult to understand and it took me a lot of work, but I guess I’m supposed to understand it right away!”
Sarah: There’s so much to unpack, you know?
Grace: And that’s the genius of this series is that there’s so much to unpack. This series wouldn’t be the phenomenon that it is if it was all at face value, right?
Lorrie: It’s hard sometimes to read this in comparison to some other popular literature for the same age group because it’s not easy to put this depth into your stories.
Grace: It’s true. But when people compare a new series or try to mark it as a new Harry Potter, I’m like, “That’s not really fair to that book. Just don’t do that.” Even the Hunger Games, me as someone who fucking loves the Hunger Games, I don’t think it’s fair to call it the new Harry Potter or on par with Harry Potter. Don’t make that comparison, for the sake of the book you’re marketing.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s dishonest and not fair. Harry Potter is Harry Potter. That’s the comparison that you can make. You can compare one of the Harry Potter books to another Harry Potter book. Done.
Grace: Lorrie, if you could give Severus Snape one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lorrie: That was a really hard one.
Grace: I know. I can’t think of something, so I’m giving you a hard question that I can’t answer.
Lorrie: I would go back to after the prank and I would tell him, “I know Dumbledore told you that you have to be silent. Keep going back to him, keep showing him what this is doing to you, and if he continues to be blocked off to you, find any other person that’s in on the secret that you can and keep talking to them until you find someone. Go to Madam Pomfrey. Go to Madam Pomfrey and say something.”
Sarah: Did Madam Pomfrey know?
Lorrie: Yes, she’s the one who led Lupin to the Shrieking Shack every month. Everybody on the Hogwarts staff knew and was under silence.
Sarah: Okay, I thought that you meant the vulture prank for a minute.
Lorrie: Oh, sorry, no. The original high school prank that nobody got punished for and that Snape got silenced for. I would say, go to Madam Pomfrey and say, “Since that happened, I have lost this much sleep, I have had this many anxiety attacks, this is my catalogue of factual results. On the one hand, I don’t want to see those kids’ faces again, but on the other hand, this is how I feel about Dumbledore.” And just keep going to every single one of your teachers that you’re not violating confidentiality about speaking to until— it might not work. Dumbledore still might not listen, but he was being obedient. Dumbledore told him, “Do not speak of this,” and he didn’t. And they all suffered for it.
Grace: It just festered and turned into something much worse.
Lorrie: And then years later, Dumbledore knew that that was one of the worst mistakes of his teaching career, but it took him a long time.
Grace: If you could give Snape a gift?
Lorrie: I would give him a teaching assistant.
Sarah: That’s a good one.
Grace: To work with the students themselves.
Lorrie: To work with the humans.
Grace: That’s a really good gift. That would’ve helped so many different people.
Sarah: Snape, chiefly, but also many, many students.
Lorrie: It would be a win-win!
Sarah: So knowing that you are a great gift-giver, I would like to be on your Christmas list.
Grace: I know that we’re coming to the end of this discussion, and I know that we are fast approaching a new book. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming out. Oh, god, holy crap, I need a minute.
Sarah: Shit just got real.
Grace: How do you feel about this upcoming story?
Lorrie: I’m extremely excited. I know that a lot of people aren’t, which makes me kind of sad. I can understand why people might be concerned about the fact that any word about canon, now that it’s closed, will shut off a bunch of possibilities that people have imagined. I understand that. That showed me that that’s not why I read the series. I read it to learn more about the author. She doesn’t have to be anything for me. I’m watching with interest as she grows. The Harry Potter series was the beginning of her career and the changes that she’s been making and the responses she’s made to criticisms that she has accepted, they’ve come slowly and incrementally, and I’m interested in how that happens. The name, Albus Severus Potter, was encapsulating a whole philosophy about accepting parts of yourself, about re-understanding things that you vilified before, about— you know the phenomenon, the completely fandom phenomenon of primary and secondary Houses?
Sarah & Grace: Yeah.
Lorrie: Well, it’s taking that concept and working with it. Because Harry has, by naming his child Albus Severus, he has elevated Slytherin within himself to a secondary House, as opposed to that thing he got from Voldemort that he is disavowing.
Grace: I have a friend who calls herself a Hufflepuff-Slytherin Rising, like astrology. It’s so cute.
Sarah: I think I’m gonna call myself Sarah Severus.
Lorrie: And until then, until Harry received the Pensieve memories from Snape, his opinion of the quintessential Slytherin was either Draco Malfoy or Voldemort. Therefore, the Slytherin parts of himself took him really a long time to accept. He does do that in the 7th book. Many of his triumphs in the 7th book come when he accepts the Slytherin part in him and uses those tactics, which he had not used before.
Grace: Right. He has to not take action. He has to plan. He has the Gryffindor instinct.
Lorrie: He has to control himself. He also has to know that sometimes you have to lie, and sometimes you have to cast Unforgivables on people and you have to know how to make that okay, because if you don’t, people will die. And that’s something a Gryffindor would be like, “I reject that!” Well, when you’re in battle, you can’t. It will be costly if you do. You have to know how to do that if you’re going to be an adult in battle. So Harry accepts the Slytherin parts in him, knowing that he no longer has to be afraid that they only come from Voldemort. Draco is becoming less and less of a monolithic enemy to him, in the 7th book, and more of a person. Then when he names his own child after a Slytherin, then he’s saying, “Okay, I understand that I have a different face of Slytherin now.”
Sarah: Right. He also has a sort of grudging “Hey, what’s up?” to Malfoy.
Grace: In the epilogue, yeah. A grudging “Hey, what’s up?”
Lorrie: And he gets back the grudging “Hey.”
Sarah: Like a sort of more casual animosity as opposed to the foaming-of-the-mouth one that happened during the series.
Grace: Right. They’ll never like each other…
Sarah: But they at least respect each other.
Lorrie: Yeah, and they’re not ever going to start that up again.
Grace: You already answered Harry’s understanding of Snape is already influenced the meaning of his child, the different parts of Slytherin that he didn’t have exposure to until the 7th book. Do you have any other predictions for Snape’s legacy influencing, besides the name?
Lorrie: I’m predicting that Snape’s role in this play is going to satisfy neither the Snape lovers nor the Snape haters because I think that Rowling is going to maintain an exact equilibrium for this character so that he will always be gray. Because otherwise she would be writing him out of character, according to her own rules, and that yes, I think she has softened toward him because book 7 is no longer hot off the presses. She’s come down a bit after the enormous effort it must have taken to write the most pressured book in history that I know of. The fact that she got it published at all, I don’t know how she did it. But I think she has more generosity in herself toward the things that the character Snape represents in herself. She’s older, but I also think that she knows it’s not the same character if you don’t remind people he’s not a nice person. Because the value of Snape, to me, is that even if you’re the worst, horriblest person in the world, you are still good enough to do good if you want to. You are not disqualified from doing a good thing just because you know that you are evil or have done evil. Good people can do good things, and are allowed to feel good about it. What if you’re evil? Are you not allowed to do good things? Well, it doesn’t matter what other people think. If you want to do it, and it’s a good thing and you believe in it, you do it. You’re allowed to do that, and you don’t go looking to see if other people will approve of you, because that’s not why you’re doing it. So I think he’s still going to be somebody that, no matter what he does, people are not going to want to be near him or embrace him because that’s not the character.
Grace: Do you think there will be any revelations about him? Do you think he’ll be mentioned as a new thing discovered in the story?
Lorrie: I think there will be a little bit, probably not that much. I don’t think she wants to be rewriting anything new, and I also don’t know how much of this she wrote.
Sarah: That is one of my questions.
Lorrie: I’m imagining that very little of it is her work.
Sarah: I think that she probably had to cosign to some of it, but I don’t think it is.
Grace: Did she present a story and then they wrote the play?
Lorrie: As far as I know, they created their own story, contacted her, and she said that it was in line with her vision enough so that she would be happy to join with them. But I don’t think it’s that she sat down and wrote a story.
Sarah: That’s badass fandom dream come true.
Lorrie: I don’t know. We’re not sure. I don’t think she wrote it.
Grace: I was talking to you about the Cursed Child a couple months ago, and I was not sure about it. I was saying, “It’s not even her writing, it’s a play. It’s not a book.” I was having a lot of negativity about it, and you said something that really changed my mind. You said, “I think it’s really— first of all, she can do whatever she wants,” which is true, and then you said, “I think it’s really cool that she gave this to two young playwrights. She gave them Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and those people have this opportunity now that they would not have had.” And as an actor and sometimes writer, imagine, just imagine…
Sarah: I think that, too, these are always gonna be our characters, right? They’re always gonna be things that she invented in her mind. They’re things that are part of us and part of her, part of her life. That said, those characters don’t only belong to her. They are a gift that she’s given to rest of the world. So if I give you a set of dishes, I don’t get to say what you can put on them.
Grace: I’m hungry. Why did you say dishes?
Lorrie: Because she’s hungry!
Grace: Well, we’re hungry, so I’m gonna ask you our last couple of questions we ask all of our authors. What is a book that shaped you as a child or teen?
Lorrie: Let’s see. I had three answers to that, which I can’t remember now. Because I actually have 7 answers, right?
Sarah: We narrowed it down. And you brought an outline.
Lorrie: Yes. Well, I was raised by my immigrant parents to believe that I should read the classics in English, so as soon as I was able to, they wanted me to read adult English books. The first adult book I remember reading was Jane Eyre when I was eight, and I remember being incredibly moved. By the end I was sobbing uncontrollably. The structure of Jane Eyre, I see it being repeated over and over in Anglophone women’s literature fiction ever since. It’s a really pivotal text; I’m very happy it was the first adult book that I was able to actually get through. I mean, I tried other books, I tried— they had me reading Dickens.
Sarah: No pun intended, but it was pretty bleak.
Lorrie: You know, ugly Brits, and then more ugly Brits and then more ugly Brits.
Sarah: Jane Eyre is my favorite.
Grace: Sarah loves that book.
Lorrie: And then you read Harry Potter and you see Argus Filch and Mad-Eye Moody and you’re like, “Okay, see, now there’s Dickens. Ugly Brits.”
Sarah: Everybody’s supposed to have a chance.
Lorrie: But yeah, at eight it was Jane Eyre. That was the first one that got me through. That really informed a lot of my understanding of novel structure. And then you have the whole orphan child making her way in the world, and the age difference between Jane and Rochester is not that different from Harry and Snape.
Sarah: That’s an interesting perspective.
Lorrie: It’s greater, actually.
Sarah: Rochester was an ugly Brit.
Lorrie: Rochester was an ugly Brit. Rochester is very Snape. And the moments when Jane stands up to him are very Gryffindor. She just catches the inspiration and opens her mouth and lets loose and it’s so true that he can’t say anything, and she’s 18. And he’s like, “I’m 40. I have slept with all the women in all the countries.” And she’s like, “I’m 18 and I’m ugly and I’m poor. Shut up!”
Sarah: “I don’t care who you slept with. None of that signs my paychecks!”
Lorrie: “Yeah, you screwed me over! You shouldn’t have done that. I’m leaving. Bye!” And he’s like, “No, don’t go!” So anyway, Jane Eyre.
Sarah: I love Jane Eyre. I love that answer.
Lorrie: And then, because I didn’t know— I never read children’s books after, like picture books, because as soon as I could, I was told to read adult books. Then when I was older than that, my— I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and my classmates were reading Judy Blume. And I wasn’t allowed to read something that was meant for children, so when I read it, it was a completely new thing for me. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret made a huge impact on me, and that’s when I understood that you can be a good writer without being the hardest wordsmith. It wasn’t trying to improve your vocabulary with every paragraph.
Sarah: I feel one of the things that Judy Blume does best is that she writes the truth of her characters.
Lorrie: And it’s a completely different approach to good literature than what I was being trained in. That really blew my mind. The third book where I drew the line and made myself stop, from fifth grade on, for at least fifteen years — I read and re-read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn at least once a year.
Sarah: I love that book!
Grace: Sarah’s getting really emotional!
Sarah: You guys can’t see it, but I have cartoon hearts in my eyes. I think that’s such an under-appreciated work of literature. It’s such the quintessential, like, rites of passage growing up. I love that book so much. Betty Smith is so unappreciated.
Lorrie: That was another example of a book that I was not told to read. It’s not considered a classic. I wasn’t impressing anybody by reading it. I wasn’t helping myself get into college by reading it. I knew nothing about it; for all I knew, it was a piece of trash. But I saw somebody reading it, so I picked it up. It was deeply compelling and I had no idea of how it stood in terms of prestige, compared to other books. All I knew was that every year, I had to re-read it.
Grace: Well, in case they’ve read all the ones you just listed, what are some books that our listeners should read? I gave Lorrie a heads-up about what you guys like already and what you’re interested in, because she wanted to make sure she recommended good books.
Lorrie: I think everyone should read — especially if you don’t have children yet but you work with children or if you communicate with other human beings. It’s called How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. It’s by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s really old by now, it’s, I think, published in 1980 and it’s very simple, deceptively simple. It’s one of those self-help books where you read it and you feel almost insulted, like “this isn’t going to help me with my problems.” Yeah, it will.
Sarah: It comes pretty highly recommended, actually. I’ve had a couple of people suggest it to me. But I’m like, “I don’t have kids.”
Lorrie: But it’s not about kids. It’s about people.
Grace: I’m gonna cut in and just say something that Lorrie won’t say or understand, which is Lorrie is a parent and the best parent I know. Deal with it.
Lorrie: I’m a Snape parent in that it’s not that I’m the best parent. It’s that compared to what I want to be, I do a hell of a lot. Another one that is probably my favorite book is also another underrated woman writer. It’s The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher. Not like the whole Art of Eating, because not all of that is up to that quality, but Gastronomical Me is, as far as I’m concerned, a fairly perfect book. And I’ll stop after this one: it’s Annette Gordon-Reed, it’s called Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, and it’s something that she wrote before the DNA confirmed that they had mutual children. She was doing history by looking into the empty spaces and filling them with common sense and knowledge of human nature. That was her fight against racism: the racist denials that Thomas Jefferson would ever lower himself to behave that way, and therefore all of this evidence is a complete conspiracy, in the absence of evidence or even not in the absence of evidence. In one corner, we have racist denial. In the other corner, we have common sense and knowledge of human nature, and in the middle is whatever evidence there was, sometimes whatever evidence was covered up. Using only that, she makes an amazing argument full of what I think is irrefutable common sense. The only way to refute it is to refute the whole of it with a big lie, but not on the details of it. I think it was just a year or two after that that the DNA evidence came out, and then all the deniers just packed up and left. To their credit, the ones that were working at Monticello did not disappear; they recanted and grew. Then after that, she went on to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Hemings family and more on that.
Sarah: That’s what I’m interested in, actually. I know Thomas Jefferson had an affair with Sally Hemings. What I want to know is what happened from there.
Lorrie: Well, at the Constitution Center, which I love, I went to see an exhibit about the Black families that lived at Monticello. Jefferson was a genius, and he did do a lot of architecture, blah blah blah cabinetry, but who was making that? And when I saw the actual, physical cabinetry that his slaves, possibly blood relatives, had made, that was a level of genius. It was basically a house of geniuses, some of which were geniuses because he was related to them by blood, and that stuff is hereditary. And some of it is atmosphere, because it was an educated household. You can’t be a genius and hire just anyone and say, “Execute my plans.” That’s not how it goes. It’s like, “I have this plan, this is going to take 8 months to make. You, what do you think?” “Oh, I think it should be made this way and that way. How about this?” It can’t happen in a vacuum.
Sarah: Maybe this is gonna be my non-fiction summer.
Lorrie: I love non-fiction.
Grace: Lorrie, you’re a joy.
Sarah: You are a credit to the fandom community and we are glad you’re a Philadelphian.
Grace: So true. For listeners who haven’t been googling you during the time they’re listening to this, where can we find you on the internet?
Grace: And we’ll link to your book as well. And what about on Twitter, if people wanna say, “Hey, your book was the best thing I ever read”?
Lorrie: It’s @_LorrieKim_ on Twitter. It’s all in that one page. (ends 01:35:18)
Transcript by Deannah Robinson, email@example.com