Masterful: Severus Snape, A Jar of Cockroaches, and Me by Logospilgrim, published January 28, 2020. Order from Lulu.com, $18.50. Also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Stories change according to who’s doing the reading.
The character of Snape is certainly not for everybody. Is he irredeemable? Brave? Irrelevant? A source of strength?
As Logospilgrim says in her new book, Masterful, “Those who approach him will interpret his story based on how they’re writing and interpreting their own story.”
Logospilgrim is not trying to persuade anybody to see Snape differently. In this searing meditation, she is only demonstrating how this process worked for her: how recognizing the self in a fictional character can anchor people through traumatic upheavals. As Logospilgrim notes, Snape was able to leave behind his father, who shouted at his mother, as well as fight the influence of a later father figure, Voldemort, who killed another mother. Identifying with the character of Snape strengthened Logospilgrim as she freed herself from the influences of a violent father and repressive religions.
When we first meet Snape in Sorcerer’s Stone, we are told that his eyes “made you think of dark tunnels.”
Who knows what drives Severus Snape, the man who doesn’t wear his heart upon his sleeve, and at the same time, does?
Those who have gone through dark tunnels.
We know what’s on the other side, the uneven side, the third side.
We are the third side.
The third side is home to those who have known or caused damage and then, taking a second chance, consciously fought the damage and walked away changed.
Snape is on the third side. He betrayed the Potters to Voldemort and then changed allegiance, and after that, he was able to reverse Dark Magic.
Dumbledore is on the third side. He colluded with fascism and then fought it, and after that, he was able to reverse Dark Magic.
Harry is on the third side. He cast Unforgivables, he gave his life for others, and he returned for others, giving him mastery of the Elder Wand.
Draco, too, is on the third side. He passed through the barrier that required a Dark Mark with intent to kill Dumbledore, and under Snape’s guidance, he passed back out through that barrier again, giving him, too, mastery of the Elder Wand.
Most people won’t ever need to be on the third side. Not everyone has occasion to know damage so intimately, and of those, not everyone is able to become a changed person and walk away. It’s not necessarily better to have this knowledge; life is certainly less traumatic if you’ve never been in a position to need it. But those who haven’t been through it may not know to trust those who have.
In Half-Blood Prince, after overhearing Dumbledore charging Harry with the task of getting a guilty memory from Slughorn that has caused enormous damage, the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black says:
“I can’t see why the boy should be able to do it better than you, Dumbledore.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to, Phineas,” replied Dumbledore, and Fawkes gave another low, musical cry.
The cry of the phoenix heralds second chances. Dumbledore is acknowledging that Phineas Nigellus Black doesn’t understand because he has never caused and then regretted as much damage as Dumbledore has.
Logospilgrim, noting the lack of trust that many feel toward Snape, observes, “The one who changes is immoral.” Snape would have been easier to comprehend if he’d remained either for or against the Death Eaters, rather than both and then neither. Dumbledore, too, comes in for a great deal of mistrust from readers because his changes make him difficult to know.
Harry, though, knew and trusted both, once he returned to life and joined the third side himself. He honored this knowledge when he named a child after Albus and Severus.
Logospilgrim says of Snape, “Who else would have the strength to withstand the hatred that would rain down on him” after Dumbledore trusted Snape to kill him? If you have ever endured hatred while fighting to protect yourself or others, Snape might be a useful character for you. You might recognize yourself in Logospilgrim’s book.