In November 2016, Snapecast included an interview with Lorrie Kim in their Episode 43: Remembrance and Reunion. Deannah Robinson firstname.lastname@example.org provided the transcript of the interview below.
*****START OF INTERVIEW***** (00:50:18)
Shannon: Hi everyone! This is Shannon, and I’m here with a special guest for the fan interview segment. With me is Lorrie Kim, who’s recently published a book, Snape: A Definitive Reading, that follows Snape across the seven Harry Potter books. Lorrie, thanks for joining me.
Lorrie: Thank you for having me.
Shannon: So I take it you’re a very big Snape fan.
Lorrie: He’s my love in the Potterverse. He’s, I think, my favorite fictional character ever, probably.
Shannon: Well, that’s perfect because I think Snapecast listeners feel the same way, and I was really thrilled to see this book because it’s an interesting perspective that’s looking at Snape across the books. It’s almost like, finally, the Harry filter is removed, and let’s see what’s going on here. Why did you write a book all about Snape?
Lorrie: One answer is that I always read the series wishing that it was Severus Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Severus Snape and the Chamber of Secrets, all the way through. That was a story that compelled me, so this was a chance to do that. The practical answer to that is that I was approached by Diane Tarbuck from Story Spring Publishing, a publishing company that was started by a bunch of Snape fans.
Shannon: Excellent! Your book is a reading of Snape across the seven Harry Potter texts, and it incorporates quotes and other fans’ and writers’ interpretations of different parts of Snape’s behavior or character to try and get at, for example, what may his motivations have been in certain scenes, or what he could’ve been experiencing while we’re following Harry’s perspective in the actual books. What aspects of Snape’s story or behavior were the most difficult for you to understand and explain?
Lorrie: One of the aspects that was the hardest for me to figure out was why he has this bizarre unfounded conviction that Harry Potter loves being notorious. Starting from the first day of Potions class, when he assumes that Harry loves being a celebrity and sets out to take Harry down a peg, and the other Slytherins are snickering like they’ve already talked about this. Meanwhile, poor Harry just wants to blend in, and this accusation from Snape toward Harry recurs. Any time he’s extra annoyed with Harry, he starts saying, “Oh, you think you’re so famous and you think that gives you such privileges.” Where is this coming from? Is he envious? Eh, that wasn’t quite it. Finally, it was my own experience being a real jerk to somebody — completely unconnected, just in my real life — to the point that whenever I thought about them or saw them, I was really stricken by guilt and self-blame. If I had to see that person more frequently, I think I would be happy to ascribe some negative traits just to relieve the unbearable guilt I had. Probably it sounds unconvincing for me to say, “Oh, it was out of guilt,” but when I looked carefully through the books, it has to do with Snape projecting onto Harry a lot of the stuff that was actually true about James, combined with some stuff from Harry. Like when he says in the third book to Harry, “Oh, you’re just like your father who was strutting around,” and Harry says, “My father didn’t strut and neither do I,” and this was less than a week after his Firebolt came and he strutted around the Great Hall with all these Gryffindors. Yeah, you almost don’t, Harry, almost don’t. But surely enough to remind Snape of something that he was already sensitive to.
Shannon: This is a good point, because I think — one of the things I found really compelling reading your book was going back and forth not only to quotes from the text, but also connecting to foreshadowing. Those of us, it makes sense to read the definitive reading of Snape after we’ve read the Harry Potter books and are a bit familiar with them. But there are a lot of details that are easy to forget, that something was said and maybe for some of us we zero in on certain parts of the text and they stay with us, and others of us will zero in on others and we’ll forget things. There will be some oversight about, “Oh yeah, that did happen.” Like when you were mentioning the Firebolt just now, I was thinking, “Yeah, I have this picture of Harry in my head as being really humble and kind of irritated by attention and shy, but also self conscious in many ways. But yeah, he has happy moments, and what does that look like to an outsider when you get this brand new most awesome thing?” So I enjoyed your interweaving of quotes, but also you drew upon material from interviews or things that you had come across that other analysts had provided as a way to unpack some of the nuance of the text. I found that particularly compelling. It was like building a case bit by bit, pieces of evidence. Another thing that you did — this stuck in my head — when you were exploring how Snape learned how to fly, where that came from. And I know that’s obviously a point of debate that Snape fans have unpacked in their own analysis or in their fanfiction, for example. But one of the things that you drew upon was Rowling and her mother, and her mother’s last name. So interviews with Rowling or knowledge of things that Rowling has said even offhand about her own family were also fodder for your interpretation. Do you have another example of something that was difficult to understand and explain?
Lorrie: Something that — the difficulty was in explaining it because I really wanted to get this point across. I feel strongly that Snape was not doing it all for Lily. I think that is true up until the point he killed Dumbledore, after which he did it for his own beliefs. By that time he went on taking this cause on for himself. We see that struggle when he has that conversation with Dumbledore where he casts the Patronus. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the last time he’s doing it only for Lily because by taking on the assignment to kill Dumbledore and then reintegrate his soul by feeling remorse so that he can go on to live until he can deliver the message to Harry, he has to really face himself and he can’t pull together his soul unless he truly feels remorse for everything. He can’t be doing that just for Lily and then begrudgingly hold out against Harry that way. He has to see that whether or not he personally likes Harry that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and that he’s going to do what he thinks is right. At that point, it has nothing to do with any image of a really long dead friend.
Shannon: So, you were concerned about getting this point across clearly because it has been kind of divisive among some Snape fans. I think even in our own Snapecast crew, some of us were kind of struggling with the idea that this is all for love. What?
Lorrie: For one thing, you know, when people say, “Well, that’s really creepy. He’s doing this all for a dead woman,” I don’t think Snape has any illusions about Lily being completely dead. If anyone knows that she’s dead and gone, it’s Snape. He doesn’t have any thoughts like, “Oh, in the afterlife she’ll forgive me,” nothing like that. It’s that he was full of despair after she died because of him and wanted to kill himself and Dumbledore said, “No. Keep going. See what you can do with the rest of your life.” And Snape did that with absolutely no personal reward. The thing I wanted to argue against was the notion that Snape was only in it for himself, and I’m not really sure where anyone can get that interpretation because he got nothing out of the second half of his life struggling and getting no credit and having to put up with a lot of life-threatening misery. He lived and died expecting that he wouldn’t get any credit for the kind of work he did, having people hate him, having people hate him for correct reasons and also for lies that they were putting out there that were the opposite of his true feelings. He didn’t get anything out of it. If he’d gotten what he wanted out of the deal, he would’ve just been dead and resting from when he was a young adult.
Shannon: This is a good point that does stand out in the later chapters of your book when you’re looking at how much he’s concealing, especially when he has to carry out the ruse, of course, being Voldemort’s hand after killing Dumbledore. But just how much lack of credit he’s getting and how much he has to play along with the negative view that his colleagues who had become friends at some point, you can see that maybe in his young adulthood he had some solace in developing collegial relationships with McGonagall. They were a good team; this is something that does stand out, I would say. A lot of people can see that. He has to sacrifice friendship, he has to sacrifice his good name, and he’s lost Dumbledore, right? The one who knew. So it is a very lonely existence that he’s facing. Removing the Harry filter and looking at what Snape may have been experiencing, I felt very exhausted for him, beyond what I had the first time I read the books. Because now it foregrounded Snape in exactly what he may have been experiencing in the moments Harry was running off risking his life and maybe just about doing something so stupid that would throw it all away or Dumbledore was making certain decisions that were really ill-advised. Very stressful.
Lorrie: Yeah, and there can only be so much blame on Harry or Dumbledore, either, because everybody’s mistakes were so understandable and so human.
Shannon: Yes. It deepened my appreciation for what Snape chose to do with his life even more than I’d already had as a deeply devoted Snape fan who has an oversized appreciation for him relative to the other characters in the book. But I wanted to ask, then: Did writing this book change your understanding or appreciation of Snape in some way? Or did you find while you were writing and trying to explain certain moments that you had revelations that you hadn’t realized before?
Lorrie: Yeah, there were two. The first one happened in Prisoner of Azkaban. I didn’t realize until this time what Snape thought was happening all year. There were clues, but when I looked only at what Snape knew, what evidence he saw and what he didn’t see — for example, all the times that he was knocked out in the Shrieking Shack and Lupin and Sirius were filling in backstory and he never heard it — I realized all year long, he thought that the prank they pulled on him when he was a 5th year was exactly what Lupin and Sirius were trying to do again.
Shannon: Okay. That’s terrifying.
Lorrie: It’s ghastly. Here’s the thing that made me feel the most horrified: when he walks in on Lupin and Harry talking alone in Lupin’s office becoming friends, he thinks Lupin is grooming Harry. He thinks Lupin is trying to gain Harry’s trust, playing on Harry’s trait of wanting adventure so that if he gives the Marauders’ Map to Harry — because at this point that’s what Snape thinks — Snape says to Lupin, “Don’t you think Harry got the Marauders’ Map directly from the manufacturers?” So he thinks that Lupin is getting Harry’s trust, giving him the map, and then he and Sirius have a plan to lure Harry outside of Hogwarts, past the Dementors, so that Lupin can transform into a werewolf and kill Harry.
Shannon: And meanwhile, he’s not getting any support from Dumbledore on this because Dumbledore is like, “Leave it, Severus. I trust Lupin.” So he’s completely in it on his own, dealing with his own past trauma and a headmaster who won’t let him talk about it and also won’t really acknowledge that it’s a risk, and he thinks the exact same thing is happening.
Lorrie: Yes, that’s what he thinks is happening and for one thing he’s wrong about a whole lot of it, almost all of it.
Shannon: As we see.
Lorrie: Yes, and Dumbledore is wrong about more of it than a lot of people notice in their readings because so much of what Dumbledore is feeling and saying comes from such a good place it can be easy to miss points where he was wrong. Lupin has so many good intentions that it’s easy to gloss over the parts where Lupin really shouldn’t have done some things because Lupin is not trustworthy. But it’s for completely different reasons, not what Snape is thinking. But you can tell, even Harry can tell, that Lupin is hiding something, and for Snape to see, “Oh, Lupin’s hiding something,” of course his mind is going to go to Lupin and Sirius being partners in malice they way they were when he was a student because Snape doesn’t realize, he doesn’t know, that Lupin was not in on the plan to kill him as a student. Snape thought that James, Lupin, and Sirius, all together, thought it was a grand idea. He doesn’t realize that it was only Sirius’s idea.
Shannon: What stood out for me: this seemed like Snape’s really horrible, very bad year re-traumatizing him because I keep thinking, did he ever receive support for what he experienced? He had a near-death experience at the hands of peers, and then wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Now he thinks it’s going to happen again, and he’s still not allowed to talk about it, and he’s still worried it’s going to happen because he’s experienced it. So he’s got his own past trauma which is obviously motivating and blinding him, but no one else to turn to because he’s given his word. And then… I don’t know, it’s maddening to read it this way. It’s really difficult. Really difficult. I love Prisoner of Azkaban, but reading this I was thinking, “Wow, this was a really — if you went through some kind of trauma, and then you think it’s going to happen again to someone else and then no one will listen to you?”
Lorrie: Yeah, and it’s a kid. Yeah. It’s a kid, and you’re a teacher. It’s your job and you’re trying to give this kid what you wanted and didn’t get at his age, and the kid is not thanking you. The kid thinks you’re the enemy. What I see happening based on very tiny traces is that that conversation did take place between Dumbledore and Snape off the page the morning after the Shrieking Shack incident in Prisoner of Azkaban, right before Snape tell the Slytherins that Lupin was a werewolf. Because we see Snape doing that, and he never gets into trouble for it. Lupin gets into trouble. Dumbledore is furious with Lupin.
Shannon: Lupin gets sacked.
Lorrie: Well, yeah, he is allowed to resign and he is running away from Hogwarts as fast as he can. And when Dumbledore comes to say goodbye to him, there’s a part that says Harry had the impression that Lupin was trying to get away as fast as he could and Dumbledore shakes hands with Lupin and says soberly, “Goodbye Remus” or something. It’s really like, “I’m disappointed in you.” Then after that, Lupin, he complains about it, but Dumbledore can’t hire him to work at the school after that. He has to send him out to be a spy with the werewolves, which is not anybody’s idea of first choice for job. But it’s finally apparent to everybody that you cannot rely on human beings to be completely flawless. You can’t ask Lupin, “Never, ever transform unsafely.” You can’t. It’s beyond his capability. It’s beyond anybody’s to control that. It was a case of Dumbledore not respecting how difficult of an illness lycanthropy is, thinking that willpower alone could do it.
Shannon: So what was the second episode?
Lorrie: “The Flight of the Prince,” when Snape says, “Don’t call me ‘coward’,” and I could not figure out what was going on there for years. It’s so anti-climactic; he’s screaming, but we’ve never heard the word ‘coward’ foreshadowed. I thought, Well, I guess there were bullies who called him ‘coward’ in the past, and it’s a sensitive spot for him and he doesn’t like that word. It comes out of the blue. Does he have issues with being called a coward? Well, what he just did was really, really brave and nobody knows it. Meanwhile, tiny little Harry, who doesn’t even know how to cast some essential spells, brandishing his tiny stick and saying, “Come back and fight me, you coward!” As we saw in that confrontation, Snape overpowers Harry several times over. Snape doesn’t even have to wave a wand or say anything to block Harry’s most enraged attacks. It’s nothing to Snape. If Snape is not standing and fighting, it’s not cowardice.
So I looked at it and the first clue came from Hilary Justice, who did a beautiful reading of that where she shows that that’s a really long paragraph where Snape screams, “Don’t.” And then there’s a long narration about the torment on his face and about the howls of Fang, who is trapped inside Hagrid’s hut that a Death Eater has set fire to and Fang can’t get out. And she’s comparing the torment on Snape’s face to the way that Fang sounds trapped inside a burning hut. After that long description, then we hear, “Call me ‘coward’.” So I thought, Okay, we’re paying attention to how Fang feels, comparing it to the things that Snape can’t say. This time around was when I realized that all of book six is leading up to the difference between how you feel when somebody that you fought against dies versus when they survive. If they come out of it okay, you can claim some relief in yourself and be like, “Okay, well, that was a really lucky break this time. I can do better. I’ll never do that again.” And we see that with Sectumsempra, when Harry thinks about what could have happened, he just turns cold. And we see that was Slughorn feeling very responsible for Voldemort becoming this mass terrorist when he wasn’t the one who decided that Voldemort should do that. But because so many people had died and so much damage had been done, Slughorn was really eaten alive by the guilt. Then we see Ron almost dying from the poisoned mead, and then we see what happens when you didn’t even mean it, but it turns out in death. The way that Lupin blames himself for James and Lily dying, the way that Sirius blamed himself. Snape, he didn’t physically kill James and Lily, just the way that Dumbledore later on says he didn’t strike the actual blow that killed Ariana, he thinks, and he doesn’t want to find out. But when somebody dies, it tears your soul apart. Your guilt about it, it rewrites your right to how you felt before then. We see Snape desperately trying to tell people, “Well, you don’t understand: James and his friends were really shitty to me. They were really shitty.” Trying to protest like, “I had the right to dislike them and be angry at them, even though I didn’t kill them. They’re not saints just because they died.” But you can’t ever really own those feelings again if death happened. It’s just overpowering. We see even after Sectumsempra, Snape makes Harry rewrite all of those detentions for James and Sirius, like, “They were not saints. They were not saints. They were not saints.” But Snape never intended for them to die. He didn’t want that, but he had wished it in a fantasy way so hard and he was trying to tell the world, himself, somebody, “No, I didn’t mean that they should really die!”
So Harry that night — that’s a really long night for Harry, because you recall that he learned that night from Sybill Trelawney, who was drunk in the Room of Requirement, that it was Snape who overheard the prophecy. He never knew that before. Dumbledore and Snape had spent his entire school years trying to keep that information from Harry, and he finally has learned it. And that was just a couple hours before the Flight of the Prince confrontation, and then so much happened after he learned that that we, the reader, we forget that he’s only just learned it. And Snape doesn’t know that until that fight when Harry is wandless and he yells at Snape, “Kill me like you killed him, then.” It’s deliberately written so that “like you killed him,” it’s not named. Harry means James, but they both know that Snape has just killed Dumbledore, too. Until then, Snape could always say to himself, “I wasn’t really a murderer. I’m responsible and I’m never going to get over the guilt, but I didn’t actually kill anyone.” But now he has. Avada Kadavra cannot work unless you mean it, so he has just become a person who is a murderer, and he feels terrible about it. So when Harry says, “Kill me like you killed him,” Snape wants to say, “Don’t call me a murderer,” but he can’t say that ever again. So he says, “Don’t.” And then there’s a long silence, and what can you say? So he says, “Don’t call me ‘coward’.”
Shannon: Why can’t he say ‘murderer’?
Lorrie: I don’t think he wants to be called a murderer because what he did with Dumbledore was so much braver and more complicated and more awful than that, and his true self doesn’t want to be a murderer. The false self, the self that’s meant to be a decoy for Voldemort to believe in, would love to be a murderer, but the true self that’s Snape — it’s all abhorrent to him, and he’s at his absolute limit. Never mind that he killed Dumbledore; he’s just lost his only friend.
Shannon: And confidant.
Lorrie: And he has a really long night ahead of him. He hasn’t gotten Draco back home yet, even. Meanwhile, he’s going to have to intercede on Draco’s behalf to try to take away as much of Voldemort’s punishment as possible because of course Voldemort is going to enjoy punishing Draco for failing.
Lorrie: So his night has just barely begun, and he just killed someone.
Shannon: So ‘coward’ was a replacement for ‘murderer’.
Lorrie: I think so.
Shannon: Interesting. Yeah.
Lorrie: Because the word ‘coward’ in itself, it didn’t have the resonance that I was looking for.
Shannon: Right, right. It’s a really good point you make. This is not like Back to the Future, where we find out that ‘coward’ was kind of a trigger word for setting things in motion.
Lorrie: Nope. We only ever see it again when McGonagall calls him that.
Shannon: You know what’s interesting, though? McGonagall, head of Gryffindor; Harry Potter, Gryffindor. ‘Coward’ seems to be a Gryffindor insult. So whether it’s true or not, it’s almost like it’s the ultimate insult a Gryffindor can hurl at you: you’ve failed. And Snape hasn’t failed. It’s just Harry doesn’t know this at all.
Lorrie: Right, and then at the end, we get the reversal where Harry recognizes that.
Shannon: In tribute, the bravest man, probably the bravest man he ever knew, yes. So your book was published early this summer, and the new Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, came out this July. Did you find that the 8th Harry Potter story, in a sense, altered your reading or reinforced your reading of Snape in some way, and can you give an example?
Lorrie: I had one of those fan moments of “I told you so” when I read Snape as he appeared in Cursed Child, and it was a lot less subtle than I was expecting, because something that Rowling does in writing Snape in the first 7 books is she always keeps everything he does or says to at least two different interpretations or motives. Whenever he does something completely noble, there’s always also pettiness or vengeance or small-mindedness, either that you can interpret it either way, or just to remind us no matter how great of a human he ever became, he was essentially not a very nice person. Partly to show that it was harder for him. There are people who are naturally good. This is not one of those cases. Not that he was naturally evil, but just kind of a jerk at heart. And many of us are jerks at heart, and it is not easy to be good if that’s not the way that you’re wired. Every time we see Rowling show something beautiful or noble about Snape, she always put in a reminder that this is not a suddenly redeemed and angelic character. I thought that balance was going to be retained in Cursed Child, and it wasn’t. That surprised me. It seemed to me almost like a corrective. The thing that it reminded me of was how in Goblet of Fire, Rowling wrote into the dialogue an explanation of how to pronounce “Hermione.” That it was not a case where she was happy for people to just bring to it whatever they wanted — that she wanted to say, No, there is an authoritative take on this. I felt like there was a little bit of that authorial voice coming in here like, “No, he really did do it at the end for his own beliefs because he believed in the cause, not because of the memory of Lily.” Because as we know from Twitter and from interviews, Rowling has been following the endless debate about Snape’s character, as though her canon weren’t closed, and I think she felt it was important enough so that when Jack Thorne wrote this way, that was something she could give her approval to.
Shannon: Good. So there were no things that surprised you other than that?
Lorrie: There were delightful surprises, things that made me laugh in happiness. He was funny.
Shannon: He’s always been funny.
Lorrie: Almost always. He’s never funny in book 7. That was another thing that I discovered in this read-through that I had not noticed before. Because I had assumed that he’s always funny in some horrible way that — if you agree it’s funny, and not everyone does — if his horrible insults make you laugh, then you’re like, “well, that’s probably not very nice of me.” But in book 7, his humor is gone.
Shannon: He’s also not a teacher in book 7.
Lorrie: Right. He’s not a teacher, but there’s nobody around to appreciate his humor. He used to joke to McGonagall, he used to joke to his Slytherins, he used to joke with Dumbledore.
Shannon: He had friends. He had students he was overseeing. He had more people in his life. He could be more.
Lorrie: Meanwhile, in book 7, all he’s worried about is trying to keep his Slytherins from becoming monsters, trying to prevent students from killing each other, trying not to lose anybody. He has no humor left in book 7.
Shannon: You know that saying, “It’s lonely at the top”? That when you achieve a position of great leadership and responsibility, you can’t really be who you were before. And here he is now as not only headmaster but also right-hand man for Voldemort. So he’s really at the top in a very visible way. He’s very isolated, and he can’t be funny. He can’t show these other sides to himself. That’s kind of sad. I like when he’s not serious, I like when he’s a bit biting. I appreciate a bit of nonsense.
Lorrie: We get a lot of that back in Cursed Child.
Shannon: Yeah. This is a lot of food for thought. Thank you so much for joining us, Lorrie, and I can’t help but recommend this book. I mean, for Snape fans out there who are looking for a close reading of the Harry Potter series but with a focus on Snape, I think this is a wonderful book. It’s reawakened my love for him, so thank you very much for writing it and thank you for joining us on Snapecast.
Lorrie: Thank you for having me. Obviously I love talking about this character, and I think he really deserved a book-length examination because what Rowling did by inventing him still impresses me.
Shannon: He did, he did. Thank you so much.
*****END OF INTERVIEW***** (01:20:26)