In their October 2016 episode, the Three Patch Podcast, a podcast about the BBC show Sherlock, included an interview with Lorrie Kim comparing the characters of Snape and Sherlock. Deannah Robinson (deannahm03 at gmail) provided the transcript of the interview below.
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Emma Grant: Welcome to the Notebook of Kitty Riley. I’m Emma Grant, and my guest today is a familiar voice to listeners of this podcast. Her name is Lorrie Kim, and she has recently written The Book about Snape. I’m saying The Book, literally, because it’s the best book about Snape that I’ve ever read.
Lorrie: Because it’s the only book about Snape.
Emma: Even better. First of all: Lorrie, welcome and thanks for coming to talk to me. Before we get into the details about your book, I should probably explain to our Sherlock listeners why we’re talking about Severus Snape. This is the Potterlocked episode, of course, and I think that if you’re a fan of both Harry Potter and of Sherlock, you’ve probably have noticed that there’s some interesting similarities between the two characters of Severus Snape and Sherlock Holmes, and so what we’re going to do is I’m gonna ask Lorrie to talk about those. But first, Lorrie, tell us a little bit about your book and how you got into writing it and what it’s about.
Lorrie: The book is called Snape: A Definitive Reading, and it’s a critical look at the Harry Potter series from Snape’s point of view. It’s the series that I wanted; I wanted Severus Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Severus Snape and the Chamber of Secrets. It’s lit-crit, it’s not fiction, and it’s about this brilliant, rude asshole who has intimacy issues, whose heart turns out to be as great as his brilliant brain. This guy — who’s a Capricorn who was born in the first part of January — he is on the side of the angels, but he’s not one of them. You’d think he might have killed before, but it turns out that he only has killed once, and that time he killed for love.
Emma: This is gonna be so great. Okay. It’s amazing that I can’t tell who you’re talking about. It could go either way.
Lorrie: I have a type.
Emma: So you’ve already picked out a lot of the similarities between these two characters. What else can you say about how they’re similar and how they’re different?
Lorrie: Both of them, they’re so smart, but they’re never the smartest person in the room. And they don’t like people, but they’re around people all the time. They’re happiest when they’re alone or with their very few loved ones, and both of them have the kind of personality that always drives the plot. Not just because that’s their function in their story, but that’s just the kind of people they each are. They’re really offensive, they’re unlikeable and they’re immature. They expect to be disliked. It’s surprising to them when they’re not.
There are some major differences: Sherlock remains innocent much, much longer than Snape does, because Sherlock has grown up with a protector in Mycroft, and Snape did not have a protector. The dark side got Snape, and we see Sherlock resisting the dark side and choosing John over Moriarty. So Sherlock never betrayed John in the sense that Snape betrayed Lily.
When Snape fell, he didn’t realize what was going to happen to him until it was too late; he didn’t realize what he was doing. When Sherlock fell, he did it completely knowingly. Snape had a fall at an early age and then had this long redemption; Sherlock’s fall is more like when Snape knowingly accepts that he will kill Dumbledore and then takes all the incredible heartbreak that he’s going to cause to everybody who’s ever liked him or worked with him or had any bond with him.
When Sherlock, at Reichenbach Fall, decides to set things up so that everyone thinks he’s a fake and that everything they knew about him was wrong — that all of his enemies were right all along and he sets things up so that’s plausible, knowing he’s going to break John’s heart — he hasn’t ever done worse than that. That’s the first time he’s doing something that catastrophic. Whereas Snape, that catastrophe happened when he was a young adult, and he didn’t take on that knowing sacrifice until he was an adult, much, much later.
Another major difference — and this is in their characters — I always think of Sherlock as a solvent. He just dissolves everything he comes into contact with. He takes facts — he doesn’t think about whether they’re good or bad or helpful or unhelpful — he just sees them and solves them, deduces them and then after that, deals with what that might mean. That’s what makes him a loose cannon, and why you sometimes have to take away his toys.
Snape doesn’t do that. He’s not a solvent; he’s a strategist and he’s an inventor. He doesn’t take facts without their relative moral importance; he deals with feelings more than facts. He would not mistakenly say something that’s then going to undo all the good. You can take Snape anywhere; you can’t take Sherlock anywhere. You’re like, “Sherlock, NO, NO!” Can you think of any time with Snape as an adult that people would have to say, “Snape, NO, NO”? He doesn’t do that.
Emma: It’s so amazing, though, when you put these two characters next to each other and really look at how they’re similar and how they’re different. I guess there’s some appearance things that are– I mean, Sherlock Holmes is kind of classically described in a way that–
Lorrie: Oh, Sherlock is gorgeous, yeah, and Snape is everything you don’t want to be. Everything that grosses out schoolchildren.
Emma: Yeah, exactly.
Lorrie: So Sherlock, he is not different from other people, except that he does everything more quickly. When he shows you how he did it, you can understand everything. It just would’ve taken you much, much longer, and you might not have made the connections because his brain is so much faster and makes more connections. But everything can be explained. And Snape is not like that. Snape is different from other people. He knows how to read feelings. Every fact and every piece of evidence for Snape has to be run through his emotional filter before he understands what to do with it.
In other words, Snape knows human nature and Sherlock doesn’t. And it’s odd to think of it this way, because I don’t think of Snape as such a people person. But no, everything he strategizes depends upon his ability to empathize, which is not what people think of him. Certainly not the front he puts up.
Emma: So I should say at this point: listeners, you should read this book. If you’re listening right now and you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound like Snape,” it’s because you need to read this book and learn more about what Lorrie’s written here. It’s a fascinating exploration of Snape and it really — I never was a huge Snape fan. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, you know, Snape, whatever,” despite being really, really into the Harry Potter series, and I think that your book really changed my perspective on that character. Even just rewatching the movies, there were moments that I sobbed my eyes out over Snape. My family’s looking at me like, “What the hell?” I’m like, “You don’t understand. He suffered so much.”
It’s not that you make him out to be– you don’t woobify Snape by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a really gritty, honest portrayal, but it really– I think one of the wonderful things about the book is the way that you sort of pick out all these little details that Harry, as the narrator, is missing, and then piece them together and say — and this is where it comes back to a sort of very Sherlockian thing is, “Look, if you just put all these little details together, the picture you get is completely different. It’s obvious.” It’s really kind of fun. So it’s almost like Sherlock wrote the book on Snape, which actually maybe brings us to our next question here. We’re talking about crossovers and things like that in this episode. So the BBC version of Sherlock is canonically about the same age as Harry Potter, correct?
Emma: Would they have been in the same year?
Lorrie: Yes, they were born in the same year. [Edit: I was wrong. BBC Sherlock was born in January 1981, Harry Potter in July 1980.]
Emma: Oh my god, that’s so great. So we can imagine a universe in which Sherlock got his Hogwarts letter, and showed up and got sorted into a house at the same time that Harry Potter did and attended classes. This makes me think: what would it have been like for Sherlock to sit in Snape’s Potions classes? And I just want to hear you talk about that.
Lorrie: I think the closest we see to my imagination of it is Snape’s attitude toward Hermione, where people think that Snape ought to be really pleased with her because she’s so good at following directions, and in fact when she does her absolute best in potions, he’s like, “Oh, that was adequate.” Because it’s not how well you can follow directions. That’s not potions magic. That’s just direction following.
What Snape thinks of as brilliant potioneering is when you have an instinct for what you should do to get the perfect desired result that’s going to make it better than your standard recipe. Harry is hopeless, because he’s not even following the basic directions, so he doesn’t have a strong foundation to improve upon them as Snape did when he was a student. Hermione — she doesn’t invent. She’s not an inventor.
And Sherlock, I think, would have had the same shortcomings as Harry and Hermione when Snape complains that you don’t have an instinct for what you should do to make this exactly magical. Sherlock, for one thing — he is somebody who sometimes skips steps, which… we know what Snape thinks of that. And we also know that that’s dangerous, but we see that in Sherlock in the series, that sometimes he goes, “Oh yeah, well, that wasn’t important,” and then that turns out to blow up in his face, which in potions is literal.
But you also have to know human nature to know what you want from a potion. I think that Sherlock would have sometimes skipped steps. I think he would have come into class cocky like, “Oh, I understand chemistry. I’m going to impress this teacher; he’s not as smart as I am.” And I think Snape would’ve put him in his place more than once and shown him how much he has to learn, and I don’t think he would’ve been the best potioneer and I think he would’ve been beaten by people who had more of an instinct, even if they weren’t as technically proficient.
Lorrie: And I think Sherlock would have learned to respect Snape and understand that this is something that he has to work on.
Emma: That’s interesting. So that was another question that I have for you is, what do you think the relationship between those two characters from a teacher-to-student perspective would have been like? So you think that Sherlock would have respected Snape? Do you think Snape would’ve just thought, “Oh, this is a cocky little kid who thinks he knows everything. I had his brother, and his brother was just as bad.”
Lorrie: Oh, I think his brother was a better potioneer.
Emma: Based on your explanation just now, I would say that sounds like a really reasonable conclusion.
Lorrie: I think Snape would’ve been pleased with Sherlock’s precision in an adequate way, like, “Oh, good. He’s good with precision.” Because by Snape’s standards, if you get everything 100% precise, then you get “adequate.” So he would’ve been happy with that, and I think he would’ve thought that Sherlock had to go grow up a bit before becoming — if he ever wanted to be — a great potioneer. I think, for example: Luna Lovegood, I imagine, would’ve been a really favorite student of Snape’s, because she would’ve had some imagination. He might have rolled his eyes at what she thought was important, but she would have known, “Okay, this is what you want from a potion.”
But you know what Snape would’ve said to Sherlock is, “You have no subtlety.” Sherlock is good with logic, but potions aren’t all logic. The other thing Sherlock would do that would make Snape crazy: he would test potions unethically and not know why Snape was yelling about some and thinking others were fine.
Emma: Oh, that’s interesting.
Lorrie: If Snape said, “No, you can’t do that to people!” “But you did this!” No, there’s a difference, and Sherlock wouldn’t know. Snape would’ve been so disgusted with the whole pill stunt in “A Study in Pink.”
Emma: Oh, yeah. That’s actually a really good point.
Lorrie: So disgusted. What a waste! What STUPID thing have you done now? Or what were you about to do? Can you imagine? Snape would’ve been shrieking with frustration at the whole wrong, “Yes, it was the sugar instead of the fog” in “Hounds.” Oh, he would’ve just been dying at Sherlock’s idiocy there. Any fool, any dunderhead could’ve been able to tell. He, I think, would’ve been extremely approving of when Sherlock does things like look at the mud on the sneakers or find out that it’s a chocolate factory. I think Snape would’ve loved that and actually praised him.
I think he would’ve been worse than disgusted about the whole beer thing on stag night. That is a perfect example of what makes a terrible potioneer. Sherlock’s there with all his calculations in body weight, completely not factoring in that John wants to get wasted, won’t tell him everything, doesn’t want to tell him when he’s going to go urinate. It’s just a massive, massive failure based on such a terrible premise that’s logic and not human nature, and also inexperience. That’s, to me, the worst of Sherlock in Potions.
I do think that Snape would have wildly approved of Sherlock getting himself high for cases.
Lorrie: The way that nobody believes that Sherlock’s in control when he’s doing that, and Sherlock keeps saying, “Chill, everyone. I’m not going to OD. I know what I’m doing,” and no one believes him. I think Snape would’ve believed him and been really pleased with him. The way that Sherlock has the painkillers on high when Janine is there and he just unsentimentally turns the thing off the moment Janine walks out. He is, in fact, completely in control because at that point he’s motivated the same way that Snape is motivated. He’s trying to protect people he loves, so that’s going to override whatever stupid, aimless curiosity he has to take poison pills or whatever.
He’s got the kind of purpose that Snape has for his entire second chance. When that happens, then he has grown up. He can now be considered a good potioneer. I think Snape, I think he would worship Wiggins and be like, “There! That is a proper potioneer!” And Sherlock knew to bring Wiggins along to do the potions, like, “Yep, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Emma: That’s really an interesting perspective on Wiggins. Wow… I like it. What about the other direction: What do you think Sherlock would have thought of Snape? That’s one of my big questions for you is, Would Sherlock have been able to deduce what Snape was really up to? Or is Snape just too good for Sherlock to have been able to do that?
Lorrie: That was a hard one at first. I thought, at first, maybe not, because Snape was able to fool smarter people than Sherlock. But then I realized no, Sherlock is exactly the kind of person who would’ve read Snape perfectly because he’s not weighing feelings, and feelings were how Snape fooled people. He fooled Voldemort by hiding his motives behind love so Voldemort could see nothing. But if you look at every single thing Snape ever did, and you line up the facts, you can always apply more than one interpretation and make everything fit. Almost everything.
The things that tell you what Snape is really doing are things that Voldemort wouldn’t notice, like when he says– during ‘The Flight of the Prince,’ when he and Harry are having a duel and Snape says, “No Unforgivables for you, Harry Potter; you don’t have what it takes.” But he’s basically preventing Harry from doing any Unforgivables and Voldemort wouldn’t have seen that protectiveness. But Sherlock would see everything, add them up. There’s slightly more on the column that says that Snape is against Voldemort and he would’ve seen it instantly because he is pure logic.
If you remember the potions puzzle at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, when Snape sets out the seven potions bottles for Hermione and he writes this terrible poem so that she can figure out which potions to take, and Harry is completely panicked, and Hermione’s like, “Oh, no, no, this is easy,” and she smiles. And Harry’s like, “How can you be smiling?” And she gets it instantly, and she says, “Many wizards don’t have an ounce of logic. This isn’t magic; this is logic.” I think Hermione and Sherlock have some similarities there, that they have more logic than they have instinct.
So yeah, I think Sherlock would have deduced — he would have come up with it, and I think he also would’ve been able to see that Snape was hiding for a good reason, and I think this is one of those areas where he would’ve known to keep it to himself. Because as clueless as our Sherlock can be, he’s also a genius, and there are many, many times when he knows exactly what’s going on and keeps everything to himself and just says, “Oh, I see what game they’re playing, and I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.” And then years later, John is like, “WHAT?!” and Sherlock says, “Oh, clearly, this is what they were doing, blah blah blah blah.”
But the reason I think that Sherlock would’ve known it instantly is because Snape’s genius is limited by what J.K. Rowling was writing in order to give readers, for us to read. She laid out all of the clues so that it was 51% he’s on Dumbledore’s side, 49% on Voldemort’s. If we could’ve figured that out, then yeah, Sherlock would’ve seen that really cleanly, I think. Because he did some of the same things that Snape did. The way that Snape had to break the hearts of people like McGonagall when he had to — he worked for years alongside these terrific colleagues who trusted him and knew him day in day out, and then he had to make them think that they had never known him.
Sherlock had to do that to John. How could a doctor and a best friend live with someone so closely and not pick up on his suicidal feelings? Sherlock had to make people doubt themselves and their love, which was so awful, and it can’t last. That doubt cannot last because eventually you remember, “No, I know why I thought that of him. Okay, something’s wrong,” but the shock has to last long enough to let you get away. When Sherlock says to John, “Oh, Mrs. Hudson’s been attacked, but I don’t care. She’s just my landlady.” And John falls for that for 20 minutes, and it won’t last longer than 20 minutes, obviously. That’s just too wrong. But it lasts long enough for what Sherlock needs.
I think Snape, too, that there would have been people eventually who pieced things together, but the shock of having him kill Dumbledore was good enough to hold off those realizations for a while.
Emma: Wow. That’s really fascinating.
Lorrie: Oooh, I realized something really fun. About Legilimency and Occlumency: that’s another area where Snape would’ve thought that Sherlock was hopeless. Because, again, it’s about feelings. We have Mary going, “Fibbing, Sherlock.” Sherlock can’t shut her out. Sherlock is also a crap Legilimens because Irene– he just looks at her, and he sees nothing. All she has to do is just one little trick, and he’s just looking at her like, “I don’t get it.” That’s not something that would happen to Snape. And Mary obviously fooled Sherlock as well. The character arc of Sherlock as having to understand empathy and grow there, Snape would’ve identified that on his report card a really long time ago, saying, “This is a brilliant person, but he can’t be a great wizard until he gets this.”
You had a question: What magical subjects would Sherlock have been good at? And I thought, okay, well, obviously, Arithmancy and Astronomy, and anything that depends on precision and observation and logic. And then I realized, “Oh my god. I know what his specialty would’ve been: Muggle Studies, because of the line that Mycroft says to John in “A Scandal in Belgravia”: “My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher, yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?”
So we have this genius who doesn’t like humans, and he’s made his life’s work about understanding humans, and he doesn’t know human nature, but that’s all he does. It’s a good challenge to him. It’s an interesting and a worthwhile challenge. He can understand that he is somewhat like them and also not, and basically our canon BBC Sherlock thinks of everyone else but him and Mycroft as Muggles. “What’s it like in your funny little brains?” And that’s who he labors for.
Emma: It’s interesting because I think that my naive perspective would’ve been, “Oh, he’d be great at Potions because of the chemistry thing,” but you’ve completely changed my mind.
Lorrie: Well, yeah, he’s good at Muggle Potions, but not at magical ones, because magical ones are about feelings.
Emma: That’s a really interesting point that I don’t think I’ve heard brought up in any discussion of Potterlock before, that magic relies more on feelings than it does on any kind of scientific precision. That’s one of the big themes of the books, and I don’t think it ever occurred to me before that that’s something Sherlock would really struggle with.
Lorrie: He wouldn’t know how to measure it, and in Potions you have to measure. But when Snape says, “Time and space matter in magic,” Sherlock would be like, “Yes, but how much?” And Snape would just be like, “UUUGGGGHHH… two feet of parchment on that, Mr. Holmes. I’m going away.”
Emma: Well, this has been fascinating. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Sherlock just from comparing him to Snape. Thank you so much for joining me to talk about this.
Lorrie: Thank you for having me on to talk about these two characters that have kept my interest for a really long time.
Emma: If any of our listeners want to get a copy of your book, where can they find it?
Lorrie: It’s on Amazon, it’s called Snape: A Definitive Reading, and I’m Lorrie Kim. I’m at lorriekim.com, if you want to see any of the author website press stuff.
Emma: Cool. We’ll put links to those in the show notes, so people can go looking for it.
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