Granger Leadership Academy 2019: Hogwarts House comments

Hello, alums of Granger Leadership Academy 2019!  Thank you to those who were part of our discussion on March 23, “The Functional, Thriving Activist.”  A few people have asked about the descriptions of ourselves, by House, that some fellow volunteers and I came up with when we were figuring out effective ways to work together.  Here are the notes I was using.


Hogwarts Houses:  Manage Your Volunteer Group Through the Magic of Sorting

I’m part of a volunteer group that has used our Hogwarts House affiliations to help us figure out good ways to work together while recognizing each other’s strengths and personalities.  We got the idea to do this after an incident when our group was mocked publicly by people doing similar work.  We had to discuss whether to respond and how.  This is the kind of thing I recall us saying, greatly paraphrased.  Can you guess the Hogwarts House of each speaker?

  • “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I really want to start an anonymous account and point out all the stuff theydo wrong.  I used to like them, but now I want to beat them.  Our next project will be so good, it’ll be their worst nightmare.  I don’t care how long it takes, I won’t rest until it’s perfect.”
  • “This makes me so angry.  I want to call them out on it.  Who cares if it burns bridges?  Anyone who’d side with them, I don’t want on my side anyway.  They’re being such jerks.”
  • “Honestly, I think we should take the high road.  I hate confrontation.  My stomach is in knots.”
  • “I strongly recommend a P.R. tactic of making no acknowledgment.  If we argue, people won’t care who was right or wrong; they’ll dislike us both.  We’ll just go on letting our work speak for itself.”

After several discussions where we were amused to find how predictable all of our responses were, some of us began to use our House affiliations as shorthand.  Others in our group had not Sorted themselves before and asked us to help them figure it out.  There were two reasons they wanted to do this as a group discussion rather than, say, taking the Sorting quiz on Pottermore:  It was a fun way for us to get to know each other, and online Sorting quizzes have a fundamental shortcoming.  You can answer a bunch of questions and get a result that still doesn’t feel like you.  But the Sorting Hat of the stories looks into your head, sees you, and then engages you in a dialogue about yourself and what you find important.  You have both the experience of recognition and the element of choice, of self-identification, which is a combination that makes the Sorting powerful magic.  Talking about ourselves with fellow volunteers, hearing what they thought our House should be, and why, and then identifying ourselves — that process comes closer to being Sorted by the hat.

In the climactic battle of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there’s a moment when Harry thinks “help me,” and then Fawkes the phoenix appears with the Sorting Hat.  Harry jams the hat on his head and the Sword of Gryffindor clunks out of it.  Later, Dumbledore tells him that only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword out of the hat.  I’ve suggested to people that when Harry thinks “help me,” the Sorting Hat is a way of saying, “Help is coming…but who are you? What kind of help would work for you?”  Pulling the sword out of the hat doesn’t mean that Harry has proven himself worthy or that being a Gryffindor is better than anything else.  It means that the Sorting Hat is something that can help you look inside yourself and know what it would take for you to get your brain un-jammed.

If you’re someone like Harry, and a surge of adrenaline can help you overcome your numbness and fear to do what you must, then the sword of Gryffindor might come from the hat.  If you’re like me, a mess in crisis until there’s a chance to think, the hat might give you Ravenclaw’s diadem.  If you’re a Slytherin, maybe the hat would give you Slytherin’s locket and you would remember, “I will survive this.  I know I will eventually survive this,” and that would get you through.  If you’re a Hufflepuff, maybe Hufflepuff’s cup would remind you that even if you’re in mortal danger, you’re fighting for what’s just and right, for humble things that belong to everyone, and that will keep you going.

It’s not a test or a judgment.  It’s just a scan to see how you’re wired and give you the help that will reach you.

Here are some things that members of our group found about how we work together, according to House.  It’s only based on the few of us, so other people from these Houses might be entirely different!  But we found these things helpful to keep in mind.

Gryffindors:  Tons of energy, willing to listen and change their minds, sometimes chafe at apologizing for the sake of diplomacy rather than right or wrong, tend to be angry and self-righteous but will withdraw to think about things when asked to.

Ravenclaws:  We can change our minds when presented with evidence or persuasive cost/benefit analysis.  Emphasize that emotional cost to the group and to the public image is a factor just as much as pure logic.  Sometimes have to be talked down from overambitious, overly detailed projects. But if we say we’ll do a huge project on our own, let us.  Always communicate with us; silence makes us panic.

Hufflepuffs:  Exclusion or hierarchy seem to be missing the bigger picture to Hufflepuffs.  Hufflepuffs remind me of the gold light connecting the phoenix feather wands:  they tend to focus on ways that we are all the same at the core.  There is a drawback to this perspective, though.  The Hufflepuffs I know can’t always believe that others feel genuinely differently from how they do.  This can be an issue in activism when dealing with true evil, so Hufflepuffs have to be careful about that.

Slytherins:  Expect to be misunderstood.  Expect to have the worst assumed about them and therefore sometimes give up before they should.  Their hurt can look standoffish or superior.  It’s not; that’s their defense.  Often, they have good motives mistaken for bad.  Most sensitive of the Houses.

Ways we help each other out, by type

Based on these findings, we adjusted our approach to each personality type to help ourselves function more smoothly as a group.  Our goal was to see and accommodate everyone so spirits stayed high and so did creativity, output, and enjoyment of working with each other.

Slytherins:  We took seriously that slights wounded them deeply, even if they were too proud to show it — open acknowledgment worked better for them than telling them to get over it or rise above it.  They may not look it, but they need protectiveness most of all.

Gryffindors:  To save themselves and the rest of us, they suggested instituting a 24-hour policy before acting on any heated matter.  During that time, as many of us as possible would chime in, and the Gryffindors could reassess with cooler heads.  They themselves proposed this.

Hufflepuffs:  They warned us that they sometimes err too far on the side of people-pleasing, to their own regret.  Through this group, I learned something about Hufflepuffs:  they’re the most likely to keep quiet about their own discomfort.  They’re the most likely to get physically ill from holding it in.  They’re afraid they’re unimportant or being silly, or feel they ought to get over things privately, so they just keep their heads down and work even harder.  So by the time they finally do speak out, they’ve been dwelling on their grievances for much longer and it’s harder to get through to them.  We made a concerted effort to encourage the Hufflepuffs to state their misgivings early, early, early.  We had to make a note of it to ask them directly.  Sometimes, if it made things easier for them, we encouraged them to email one person privately first so they didn’t silence themselves for fear of whining.

Ravenclaws:  We tend to think that more information is better and have to be told when more is just overwhelming.  We go nuts when people aren’t communicating.  Uncertainty or incomplete information feel intolerable to us; it’s better to spell things out for us, just so we’re clear, rather than assuming we will “get the hint” or “everyone’s on the same page.”  Sometimes we change our minds and decide to contribute more work, even after we’ve said no, if we’re accidentally allowed to overhear how other people are doing things.

 

Strategies based on our strengths

Gryffindors are amazing at leading the charge, especially when things are going well.  We call on them to be our visionaries.  They are fairly low maintenance but do require pep talks and respond well to them.

Slytherins are amazing at strategy and energy when things are not going well.  They like to come from behind.  They are motivated by competitiveness and pure vengeance, both hot and cold.  Calls to their competitiveness to be more productive are a win-win and improved their morale and feeling of affection for team members.  Our Slytherins are the ones who are determined to top themselves every year, at risk to their own health, or who drop everything when there’s a hit to our community to produce a masterpiece of scholarship and refutation.

Hufflepuffs really do take on the thankless grunt work.  They have an attitude of “Someone’s got to do it” — they can’t let things fail.  The rest of us try to even things out by recognizing what they’re doing and identifying everything they don’t like to do so we can chip in and take care of the rest of it before they overwork themselves.  The Hufflepuffs in our group produce breathtaking things — but they can’t relax to produce them if they worry that there’s something important going undone.

Ravenclaws are good at editing.  We can do it precisely and without sentiment.  We can pinpoint what’s important and what can go.  This makes us good for PR.  We have good memories for what has caused controversy in the past, we can reframe, and we can also judge when to change a good policy because it’s too emotionally costly to some members of our group.

 

Advertisements

“And my soul, Dumbledore?”:  The Snape-Dumbledore Relationship

Note:  Dear good people, do not do what I did.  Do not throw out everything you prepared for writing a 20-minute talk on the day before the talk is scheduled because you’ve just realized that there’s something you really have to write about, so you have to scrap everything and start over.  That was not a pleasant 24 hours.  I do not recommend that experience and hope not to repeat it.

At any rate, here is what I ended up delivering at the Harry Potter Conference of Chestnut Hill College on October 19, 2018.


Welcome to the talk that I titled weeks ago, optimistically, “‘And my soul, Dumbledore?  The Snape-Dumbledore Relationship.”

My name is Lorrie Kim.  I’ve been writing about the Harry Potter series for over ten years, including a book called Snape:  A Definitive Reading that goes through the series from Snape’s point of view.  In July, I read my friend Irvin Khaytman’s book The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, which examines Dumbledore’s character through the series.  I thought I was ready to talk about Snape’s relationship with Dumbledore.

Yesterday, I threw out what I had already prepared and wrote these rough comments, based on words in Deathly Hallows that I first read eleven years and countless rereads ago but did not fully notice until Tuesday, something that had been sitting in plain sight until I was ready to understand its import and start making fresh connections.

And this is the magic that keeps me coming back to Harry Potter analysis.  There’s something new every time.  I hope you can forgive the rawness of these thoughts and accept, in lieu of polish, the excitement that comes of new ideas whenever we gather to discuss this story that still has fresh surprises for us.

This is the passage I read afresh on Tuesday.  We’re back in Grimmauld Place, tears dripping from the ends of our noses as we read the second page of Lily’s letter:

could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald.  I think her mind’s going, personally!  Lots of love, Lily.

In 2016, I wrote about that passage:  “At last, we see what was on the missing second page.  Not much.  She couldn’t believe that a good man like Dumbledore could have been friends with the evil Grindelwald.  And then – oh.  Her love.  That’s what was on the second page.”  I went on to discuss this scene as the moment that Snape, who has just split his soul by killing his mentor, reintegrates it by experiencing remorse for destroying the family life of a one-year-old child– the one time in this series that Rowling shows us a character undergoing this excruciating process that is so painful it could destroy you.

I still stand by my 2016 reading that we were witnessing remorse.

I do not still stand by my words, “Not much.”  Because on Tuesday, it occurred to me that this moment is the first time Snape learns that Dumbledore, whose soul seemed surely more pure than Snape’s ugly, Dark-Marked soul, had once been Grindelwald’s friend.

Every crisis of faith that Harry goes through in Deathly Hallows regarding Dumbledore, Snape went through, too, during the same time, on even less information and assurance than Harry.

Remember Harry’s reaction upon reading Elphias Doge’s eulogy of Dumbledore in the Daily Prophet, which was published a few days after Snape went to Grimmauld Place?

He had never thought to ask Dumbledore about his past. No doubt it would have felt strange, impertinent even, but after all, it had been common knowledge that Dumbledore had taken part in that legendary duel with Grindelwald, and Harry had not thought to ask Dumbledore what that had been like.

And then remember Harry’s “revulsion and fury” when he read Rita Skeeter’s hints that Dumbledore “dabbled in the Dark Arts himself as a youth,” and it had to do with Grindelwald.  Harry’s growing fears about Dumbledore as he camped in the wilderness, no Horcruxes in sight, and then the shock as he read Skeeter’s biography and the incontrovertible proof, in Dumbledore’s own young adult hand, that he had once been Grindelwald’s partner, ardent and fully invested, in plotting fascism.

Snape went through those realizations, too, at the same time.

This was Harry’s agony as he learned of Dumbledore’s past:

“Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I’m doing, trust me even though I don’t trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!”

Well.

We get few glimpses into Snape’s thoughts during his final year, but sometimes it’s not difficult to hazard a guess.

Parts of Snape’s situation were different from Harry’s.  He didn’t have any confidants; he had to process this information alone.  He had far less reason than Harry to believe that Dumbledore had loved him.  He didn’t hear Aberforth’s account of the story.

Unlike Harry, who responded to Hermione’s attempt to minimize Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald as “a few months one summer when they were both really young” by retorting, “They were the same age as we are now.  And here we are, risking our lives to fight the Dark Arts,” the news about Dumbledore’s past, his former fascism and the death of Ariana, changed Snape’s perception of Dumbledore in a way that made Snape less alone, not more.

This news put several things about Dumbledore in a different light where Snape was concerned.  His testimony to the Wizengamot that Snape “is now no more a Death Eater than I am.”  His unwavering conviction, in the face of skepticism, that Snape’s change of heart was genuine and not an act.  His gratitude when Snape was able to halt the damage to his hand from the ring Horcrux:  “I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, to have you.”  His insistence on Snape, and only Snape, to counter Dark Magic at Hogwarts:  as long as Dumbledore had Snape, he was not alone as someone who understood how to cast Dark Magic and therefore how to fight it, understood both its appeal and how to resist it.

So the times that Dumbledore had annoyed Snape by idealizing Harry Potter as pure of heart, he was comparing Harry favorably not to Snape but to himself.  We readers knew this, but Snape, always jealous of Dumbledore’s affection for Potters father and son, had not, until he learned of Dumbledore’s past.

Most of all, Snape’s understanding of Dumbledore’s guilt about his past gave new significance to the harshest words that Dumbledore speaks to anybody:  “You disgust me.”  The moment that Dumbledore judges Snape, who sees nothing wrong with begging for Lily’s life in exchange for the lives of her husband and child, is a judgment that comes not from moral superiority but from recognition.  And that resonates with a familiar theme in J.K. Rowling’s writing:  the sentiment, “You cannot despise me more than I despise myself.”  Even her kindest characters speak with venom when feeling defensive and self-loathing.

Undeniably, Snape caused some real harm in his role as a teacher, but he achieved something worthwhile as well:  he continued to be available to Draco with guidance and protection, no matter how harshly Draco rejected his help, how much Snape’s heart sank as he watched Draco join Voldemort, how many crimes Draco committed, either eagerly or under duress.  He remained ready to assist if Draco was ready for a second chance, as Dumbledore had done for him.  With Snape, Draco knew:  there was nothing disgusting Draco could do that Snape had not already done.  Snape was able to maintain that connection, that trust, by signaling:  I know everything you have done, and I am still here.

Knowing that Dumbledore, too, had once seen nothing wrong with letting people die for what he wanted, would have given Snape a different understanding of the harsh words, “You disgust me.”  Dumbledore shared not only Snape’s self-loathing but his unresolved shame.  He knew everything Snape had done, and he remained with Snape to the end of his life.

Snape could recognize, then, some equality between himself and Dumbledore.  We can hear it in the way the two men talk to each other in the Prince’s Tale chapter when nobody else is around:  they are sardonic, angry and familiar and even immature.  We’ve seen Snape that way before, but never Dumbledore — except with Snape.  Dumbledore would not call any man but Snape by insults as intemperate and gratuitous as “a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.”  Albus!  Unfair!

In her subtle way, Rowling lets us see that when Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him in Draco’s stead because “That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” Snape might have thought, at first, that this was one more instance of Dumbledore valuing someone, anyone, over Snape.  With that history, I think it was a brave thing for Snape to ask – although, granted, it was certain that nobody else would speak up for him – “And my soul, Dumbledore?  Mine?”

As always, whenever Snape craved trust and affection from Dumbledore, Dumbledore’s response was not comforting, not reassuring – but not nothing, either, even if Dumbledore’s responses to Snape generally come with more work and stern reminders to choose what is right over what is easy.

“’You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore.

Let us be clear what Dumbledore is saying, according to the rules of magic laid out in this world.  Killing splits the soul, even when done by request, out of love – the killer has to mean an Unforgivable Curse or it won’t work – and the way to reintegrate a split soul is to feel remorse, the near-fatally painful magic that Dumbledore checks periodically to see if Snape has been able to manage.  Up to this point, Snape never has.  If he accepts Dumbledore’s requests, to kill him and then protect the students of Hogwarts against the Carrows, he commits to feeling remorse and surviving it.

After Dumbledore makes his request, “his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him” – Dumbledore is performing Legilimency, and Snape is not blocking him.  “At last Snape gave another curt nod.”  Snape has had time to think about it.  He has made a choice.  He agrees to cross back over into evil, cast an Unforgivable Curse, and then return.

No one else in either the Order of the Phoenix – that is, the order that believes in second chances – or among the Death Eaters shares Dumbledore’s and Snape’s double status of having embraced evil and then fought against it.  This innocence is why Sirius, in Goblet of Fire, tells Harry, “There’s still the fact that Dumbledore trusts Snape, and I know Dumbledore trusts where a lot of other people wouldn’t, but I just can’t see him letting Snape teach at Hogwarts if he’d ever worked for Voldemort.”  After Snape kills Dumbledore, Tonks says, “But Dumbledore swore he was on our side!  I always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn’t….” and McGonagall says, “He always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape.  I mean… with Snape’s history… of course people were bound to wonder… but Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine….  Wouldn’t hear a word against him!”  These people don’t have the experience to recognize, as Dumbledore recognized in Snape, what it looks like to embrace and then renounce evil.

Hermione tells an agonized Harry:  “He changed, Harry, he changed! It’s as simple as that! Maybe he did believe these things when he was seventeen, but the whole of the rest of his life was devoted to fighting the Dark Arts! Dumbledore was the one who stopped Grindelwald, the one who always voted for Muggle protection and Muggle-born rights, who fought You-Know-Who from the start […] and who died trying to bring him down!”

The lesson of the Snape-Dumbledore relationship is learning how this kind of change is possible.  Only someone who has managed this sort of change, someone who has the means to overpower others but chooses not to attack, not to dominate, has the greatness to command the allegiance of the Elder Wand from Dumbledore.  This is the qualification that Dumbledore had in mind when he planned to pass the Elder Wand to Snape, what Grindelwald meant when he told Voldemort that the wand would never be his, and what Draco and Harry, who learned Expelliarmus from Snape, proved to have within them.

Snape kept the half of the letter that said Dumbledore had once been friends with Grindelwald.  It was evidence that the mentor who believed that Snape had it in him to help Harry Potter bring down Voldemort and protect Hogwarts students knew firsthand how much he was asking of Snape, how far he was asking Snape to travel – knew it could be done.  Dumbledore’s former evil, establishing the foundations of a fascist ideology, lying to himself about the nature of Grindelwald, betraying the sister in his care, had damaging consequences…and look what Dumbledore became.  What he did with his second chance.

During Harry’s sixth year, when Dumbledore told Snape that Harry would have to let Voldemort kill him, Snape accused Dumbledore of using him, letting him believe he was protecting Harry for Lily’s sake when Dumbledore intended to sacrifice Harry to Voldemort.  Some readers have wondered if this is an accurate read and Dumbledore did use Snape as a pawn, but I think this turns out to be one of the times that Rowling sets up a supposition that she later disproves, by showing rather than telling.

It is Snape who ends that conversation before Dumbledore can answer his accusation of raising Harry like a pig for slaughter.  He stands up abruptly and responds to Dumbledore’s question, “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?” by casting a Patronus.  It’s a complex moment; Snape is not ready to hear more, doesn’t realize that he’s the one who has shut down the conversation, and his dislike of Harry is as wrong-headed as ever.  But the sight of the silver doe is beautiful, too, the sign of a soul that has a wholeness to it, and it brings tears to Dumbledore’s eyes.  After all this time, Dumbledore is right to retain faith in Snape; Snape is still striving to fulfill his pledge to Dumbledore, using his love for Lily as a guide:  “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”  During this year when Dumbledore is dying of his own incurable folly in grabbing at a Deathly Hallow for his own use, it is a gift to Dumbledore to see that Snape is holding fast.

We see later that Dumbledore did not have an agenda to sacrifice Harry; his aim was to safeguard Harry’s soul, and once the Dumbledore of King’s Cross could affirm to him, “Your soul is whole, and completely your own,” Harry recognized that Dumbledore was at peace:  “Harry had never seen the man so utterly, so palpably content.”  This Dumbledore acknowledges that Harry has the choice to go back and finish Voldemort or to move on, but he does not seek to influence Harry’s choice; whatever happens with Voldemort, Dumbledore’s work is done.

Similarly, with Snape, we see that Dumbledore’s aim is to help Snape retain the wholeness of his soul and turn his guilt toward good by charging him with undergoing remorse and delivering a final message to Harry.  Along with that delivery, Snape was able to return the memories of Lily’s love that rightfully belonged to Harry and acknowledge, at last, how he had destroyed Harry’s family, in a move similar to Slughorn fighting past his shame to give Harry secrets that helped him end Voldemort.

We see, in the Prince’s Tale, that Snape was brusque with the portrait of Dumbledore when he took the sword to the Forest of Dean after Christmas; at the midpoint of the year, when Harry’s faith in Dumbledore was at its lowest, Snape’s was low, as well.  By the end of his life, had Snape reconciled some of his feelings toward Dumbledore, as Harry did in the King’s Cross chapter?

When I reread his last moments, I think the answer is yes.

Voldemort tells him that he has violated Dumbledore’s tomb and stolen the Elder Wand.  In reaction, “Snape’s face was like a death mask. It was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes.”

With the words “death mask” and “marble white,” Rowling is calling back to the image of Dumbledore in his white marble tomb.  The blankness of Snape’s face shows that he is Occluding Voldemort as hard as he has ever Occluded in his life, hiding his reaction to the news of this desecration.  Together, I think these things show that Snape is grieving for his friend.  As we learned from Harry, grief can Occlude:  “Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now, while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed, drove Voldemort out . . . though Dumbledore, of course, would have said that it was love. . . .”

When Harry runs to Snape’s office to view his memories and the stone gargoyle asks for the password, we learn that he and Snape have been holding the same grief.

“Dumbledore!” said Harry without thinking, because it was he whom he yearned to see, and to his surprise the gargoyle slid aside.

During his year as headmaster, the unguessable word that guarded Snape’s space was a name that kept him as safe as any Fidelius Charm.  I know not everyone is at peace with the Dumbledore-Snape relationship.  For some, Snape might not have been good enough to be known as Dumbledore’s man.  For others, Dumbledore might have been too cold, too secretive, to deserve the role of safeguarding Snape’s true thoughts.  But I’m accepting it as the final word on what Snape thought of the man who entrusted him with his death.

I know I still have so many questions.  Maybe you do, too.  We can puzzle out a few of them together.

Cursed Child: Six Allegories

Modified from comments delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, August 10, 2018.

 

Welcome to “Coming to Terms with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”  My name is Lorrie Kim and I’m the author of Snape:  A Definitive Reading.  I got the idea for this session because I was seeing a lot of Potter fans feeling conflict about this play.  Disappointed, angry, or betrayed by it – but not able to put it aside or make peace with it.  Sometimes when you don’t love something, you can just stop reading, or move on, or dismiss it.  But sometimes that doesn’t happen.  I wanted to have a gentle, supportive discussion in which we hear from each other and try to find if there are ways we can come to terms with this play, feel at peace with how we feel about it.  I don’t have any conclusions prepared; I just wanted to see, if we talked about this in an open, supportive way, where it will take us.

 

Six allegories that make Cursed Child meaningful to me:

 

Allegory 1.  Harry’s gifts to his children

 

He gives James the Invisibility Cloak — Sirius and Remus taught him enough about his father to parent his Gryffindor son.  He gives Lily the fairy wings — Snape taught him enough about his mother’s ability to fly that he could pass that on to his daughter. But Albus, bullied as the “Slytherin squib,” needs “specific love,” everyday comfort and advocacy:  Harry never learned that.  All he can give Albus is a shabby old blanket.  That’s all Harry got:  15 months of parental love.  No, it’s not enough.  But everything Harry got, he will give to Albus.

 

Allegory 2.  Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow

 

One of the riddles in Hermione’s bookcase says:

 

I am the creature you have not seen.

I am you. I am me. The echo unforeseen.

Sometimes in front, sometimes behind,

A constant companion, for we are entwined.

 

In 1938, psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

 

Harry’s shadow has always been Voldemort, and when his fears form the “dangerous black cloud around Albus,” he hears Voldemort again.  In response, Albus forms his own shadow, Delphi.  His subconscious forms her into existence when he develops issues with his father.  Hermione tries to check out Delphi’s background, but says, “There’s no record of her.  She’s a shadow.

 

Jung said:  “If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”

 

If the adults understand what’s hurting the kids, they can restore the past to peace.

 

Jung said:  “Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications.”

 

Delphi has ever-changing, mutually contradictory stories.  She went to school.  She didn’t go to school.  She’s Diggory’s niece.  She’s Voldemort’s daughter.  She has a tattoo.  She can fly.  Every modification reflects a change in what Albus must work through regarding his father.

 

Jung said:  “But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

 

If the adults can’t connect emotionally with the kids, the kids’ distress will continue to dictate their families’ dynamics.  Harry and his friends want Delphi to come into the light, come into consciousness, so Albus’s deepest concerns can be recognized.

 

Jung said in 1945:  “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”

 

Harry attributes this “dangerous black cloud” not to himself but to the return of Voldemort, or werewolves, or hapless little Scorpius Malfoy.  His shadow self is in control.  This is what it looks like when the part of Voldemort that’s in him has a voice.  That’s why Harry sounds “out of character” when, for example, he orders McGonagall to track Albus using the Marauder’s Map.

 

Allegory 3.  Who is the Cursed Child?

 

Projection creates cursed children.  In adult Harry’s dream about the Dursleys running away from his Hogwarts letters, Petunia says, “The boy has cursed us!”  In a later dream, Petunia tells lies about James and Lily, and Harry hears Voldemort’s voice:  “I smell guilt, there is a stench of guilt upon the air.”  That’s what Voldemort said to his Death Eaters when he regained his body in Goblet of Fire, the rage of a child at the caretaker who has abandoned him.  It is the same warning as Dumbledore’s Howler to Petunia:  “Remember my last.”

 

There are three steps to the magic spell of creating cursed children — or adults, for that matter:  mistreat them, realize that we did, and punish them for knowing it.  Cursed Child  made me understand, finally, what it means that Voldemort’s Killing Curse “rebounded on him”:  when Voldemort saw that he had orphaned baby Harry, he identified with the baby, the only time we ever see him experiencing empathy, and he realized he had scarred someone for life as he had been scarred.  His Avada Kedavra on baby Harry was the only time that his attack on another person made him feel and understand the pain he had caused.  It made him remember his own pain and connect the two.  This triggering of his own trauma is enough to send him beyond death into the forest.

 

Adult Harry, in Cursed Child, has less damage than Voldemort — but he, too, is triggered against his will into the memories of his own trauma, the things that Voldemort stole from him when he was a baby and the truth that the Dursleys withheld from him as a child.  That’s what it means to say that Voldemort is back in Harry’s head, that his scar hurts again.  Nothing but seeing this old trauma damage his own child could spur Harry to go this deep into his own past, and he has to decide whether it’s too painful and he will sacrifice his relationship with his son, or if he will do what he’s never been able to do before and fully comprehend – relive – the murder of his parents.

 

Allegory 4.  Time-Turners are about psychological process, not science fiction

 

As with Rowling’s other magical devices, such as the Elder Wand, which can change ownership without even being touched, I understand Time-Turners best as symbolic, as allegorical.  As Hermione learned, there are two rules for using a Time-Turner:  change nothing, and you must not be seen.  There are safeguards.  When you go into the past, be anchored by a friend or guide; third-year Harry is anchored by Hermione, Hermione by McGonagall or Dumbledore.  The purpose of a Time-Turner is for you to be able to relive a moment from the past from a different perspective:  greater age and experience, but also literally from a different perspective, as Harry did with seeing himself cast a Patronus at dementors from the opposite bank of a lake.  What you gain in understanding from this new perspective, and the support of a friend, can have the power to save an innocent life — maybe more than one — and set people free.

 

If you are stuck in the past, especially because of trauma, and you revisit the past for a different perspective, supported by trusted people, that is the dynamic that Rowling encodes into the device of the Time-Turner.  As with all super-magical objects in Potterverse, such as the Deathly Hallows or the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Mirror of Erised, Time-Turners work best for people who use them to help others, not for personal gain.  Scorpius and Albus go into the past without any training, intending to “change everything,” and are seen.  When they are trapped in time by Delphi, Draco offers his own secret Time-Turner because he knows Harry will use it properly:  to reconnect with Scorpius and Albus, understanding how the Time-Turner is meant to work, and then to make good-faith efforts to gain new perspective on his own past so he can relieve its ill effects on Albus’s life.

 

Allegory 5.  The Alternate Universes are imagined by Albus and Scorpius

 

The boys try to work through their relationships with their fathers by going back in time — allegory for trying to understand where Draco and Harry are coming from, Albus looking for the real Harry behind the legend or Scorpius envisioning a world in which Malfoys are leaders.  The adults interact with these AUs because that’s what parents do, negotiate with the images their teenagers have of them.

 

This explains anomalies like Cedric Diggory becoming a Death Eater.  We readers met Cedric through teen Harry; only someone who never knew Cedric could think he’d become a Death Eater because of whatever scenario a 14-year-old boy could invent, ballooning into the sky like Aunt Marge, completely wrong in tone for anything associated with the Cedric that people knew when he was alive.  It explains why Ludo Bagman says “Mr. Dragon” in the Triwizard task. He knew the dragons were nesting mothers.  That’s not the real Ludo Bagman; it’s just Albus imagining the scene and gendering the dragon as male because he’s working through his father issues.  It explains how anyone trying to work out when or how Bellatrix and Voldemort could have reproduced runs into uncomfortable logistical questions.  Unlike us, Albus never got to know either of them; he didn’t know Bellatrix attacked children or that Voldemort was barely human, so he can ascribe parental sentiment to them more easily than we can.  All of the AUs as imagined by Albus and Scorpius contain only elements that they would have heard or read of, second-hand:  the same spells, the same people or incidents, but slightly misunderstood or misremembered, sometimes absurdly so, and I think the absurdity is intentional and meant to be a clue.

 

Allegory 6.  Albus’s feelings toward Harry

 

Delphi says to Voldemort what Albus would find too painful to say to Harry:  “I have devoted my life to being a child you could be proud of.”

 

Delphi attacks Harry with the cry, “Are you crawling away from me?  Harry Potter.  Hero of the wizarding world.  Crawling away like a rat.”  A teenage boy might well be this angry at a father who doesn’t have the guts to face his own child’s anger.

 

Voldemort was obsessed with Harry Potter because his entire life, Harry was the only force he’d ever encountered that was stronger than the power of his own murderous rage.  He was Voldemort’s only hope for help in containing and limiting that rage.  Albus, through Delphi, is able to express murderous rage to Harry as Voldemort, and still be loved.  This gives Albus the security to understand Harry’s effort in fighting through his own darkness to be a parent.  The use of a Time-Turner to witness Voldemort’s attack is an allegory to mean that Harry and Albus returned to the past to gain new perspective, supported by loved ones.  Then Delphi disappears because Albus no longer needs her.  Quote:  “And slowly what was there is no longer there.”

 

Snape Celebration! [and trivia] at LeakyCon 2018

This is a modified version of a panel titled “Snape Celebration! Talk and Trivia” delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, on August 11, 2018.

Welcome to a celebration of Snape.  I love Snape, but I’m going a little dark in this talk.

Here are some of the complicated reasons I celebrate Snape.

He’s not materialistic.  Like Dumbledore, Harry, and Draco, and unlike Voldemort, he’s fit to “own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it.”  He teaches self-sufficiency:  wandless, nonverbal magic, which you need if you’re part of a resistance.

He’s always there when you need him.

He always knows what to do.

His character arc goes toward doing what is right and not what is easy, such as killing the only person remaining in the world who knew the best of him.

The fandom disagrees bitterly over this character, probably more than any other.  Yet we all read the same books and watched the same movies.  It’s not like there are two series of Harry Potter books, one pro-Snape and one anti-Snape; a single set of words created this character.  How was it done?  The author wrote this double agent, who rose to become the right-hand man of both generals on opposing sides of a war, as a character of almost perfect ambiguity.  Every sentence of his, every action, has at least two possible and contradictory interpretations.  This creates vastly more facets and more interpretations than most characters have, and more ways for readers to despise him or identify with him.

With Harry, Snape, and Voldemort, we get the question:  What do you do when you’re born, through no fault of your own, into a life where you don’t get enough love?  Harry starts out blameless and ends up realistically flawed but still true to himself; that was his challenge.  Voldemort doesn’t change much.  He nearly dies of emotion the first time he tries to kill Harry and he actually dies of emotion the last time.

Snape changes.  He goes from petty and oppressive to self-sacrificing and protective.  Every step along the way is difficult for him.  It does not come naturally.  Harry’s struggle was created by outside evil; it was forced on him as an innocent baby.  But what if you’re a person who brought struggle onto yourself by your own actions?  Your story doesn’t end after you commit a crime; you have to keep choosing what to do with your life, as Snape did with Dumbledore on the mountaintop after Lily’s death.  Not all of us are blameless inside.  Some of us have done harm, and we get to read this story, too.  You don’t have to feel beautiful or good or even innocent to do the right thing.  Anyone can choose to do the right thing, and to know who you really are on the inside, even if others can’t see it.

 

Who here read Harry Potter for the first time before November 2016?  Who here has read it since November 2016?  Is there anyone here who read it for the first time after that U.S. election?

When I first read of Snape’s Worst Memory, calling Lily a mudblood, the threat of ethnic cleansing didn’t feel as immediate to me, living in the U.S., as it does now.  At the time, I had to think through, intellectually, how frightening it must have been for Lily, knowing what Death Eaters wanted to do to Muggle-borns.  It doesn’t feel as hypothetical right now.  For the past two years, it’s been much easier to imagine feeling stricken that Voldemort’s followers were gaining power, then discovering that someone who considered themself my friend was attending their rallies, calling me by their hateful rhetoric, or magnanimously refraining from doing so because they considered me some sort of exception.  Story elements I had previously read as allegorical now seem, increasingly, to be grimly realistic, moving Harry Potter from fairy tale to nonfiction.  The Muggle-born Registration Commission is exactly what has been proposed for some ethnic and religious minorities in the U.S.  Incarceration without trial, suppression of the press, and above all, Voldemort’s signature tactic — attacks on children and destruction of the parent-child bond — yes, we have always had these things in the U.S., but not like this.

Do you remember when Snape begs Dumbledore to protect Lily?  Dumbledore asks the leading question:

 

“Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”

“I have — I have asked him —”

“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice.  Snape seemed to shrink a little.  “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child?  They can die, as long as you have what you want?”

 

The first time I read that exchange, I was taken aback.  It seemed almost unfair; it’s the harshest thing Dumbledore says in the series to anybody, including people who have committed worse crimes.  But now, considering the current crisis of family separation at U.S. borders, the implications of 20-year-old Snape’s oblivious thinking are glaring to me.  Family separation is precisely what the Harry Potter series is about.  The crime that Rowling did not name — whatever Tom Riddle did to the two other orphans in the cave, so that even though nothing happened, they were never the same after that — is exactly the kind of damage we’re seeing in children after weeks or months of government abuse.  Like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other dystopias, the Harry Potter series has assumed greater relevance in U.S. cultural discourse in the past two years.  Snape as a reformed fascist who devotes the second half of his life to bringing down his former ideology gives me one fictional answer to the question:  What would it take for people spreading hate to realize what they have done?  What would that look like?

I know many in HP fandom dislike Snape and some seem worried, I think, that any sympathetic discussion of this fictional character might lead to excusing his harmful deeds or to having to forgive them.  I agree that excusing or minimizing harm is damaging in itself.  This is the point of Unforgivables in Potterverse, and Snape calling Lily a mudblood falls into that category — in “The Prince’s Tale,” Rowling refers to it as “the unforgivable word.”  Once you commit an Unforgivable, it cannot and should not be forgiven by others.  The victim owes you nothing.  They can choose to understand, but without excusing, and with no obligation to communicate or forgive.  It is your work, if you choose, to reintegrate your soul through remorse.

Snape is the one character in the series whom we witness as he experiences the near-fatal pain of true remorse.  Ugly-crying in Sirius Black’s bedroom, reading all the evidence of the love and normal family life that he destroyed for a baby, with the birthday teas and the cat and the ugly vase from relatives and the toy broom from the godfather — he reintegrates his soul, after splitting it with the killing of Dumbledore, by casting the excruciatingly painful magic that Hermione described:  “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done.”

I think that was brave.  Most of us, at some point, hurt other people.  Really feeling what we’ve done requires courage.

Snape embodies the quality of protectiveness without affection. And I think that’s one of the hardest lessons that Rowling wrote into the series.  Of course we rush to save the ones we love, especially the vulnerable.  What about people we don’t know?  The ones we dislike?  The ones who would attack us if they could?

Several characters explore this question.  Snape resents having to protect Harry, but he finds it easier to be protective toward Harry after he gains emotional strength from doing the same for Draco, whom he does like.  Snape doesn’t just save Draco’s life; he sings shut Draco’s wounds with enormous care.  This healing tenderness gives Draco the emotional strength to recognize Dumbledore’s offer to protect his parents as love magic; he lowers his wand.  In the Triwizard tournament, Harry rescues Ron and the emotional strength of that relief makes it easier for him to rescue a child he doesn’t know — literally easier, since Ron helps him.  Ron and Harry try to drag Wormtail’s silver hand away from his throat.  Dumbledore carries Umbridge out of the forest.  They help Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle with the Fiendfyre, and Ron yells, “IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY!”  In the final battle, when a Death Eater threatens Draco, Harry Stuns the Death Eater and then Ron punches Draco from under the Invisibility Cloak.  Protectiveness without affection.

This is the point of the redemption scenes in Potterverse stopping short of reconciliation.  Snape never does like Harry; Draco and Harry nod at each other on the platform, but they don’t become friends or start dating; Dumbledore never sees Grindelwald again after defeating him in 1945.  Protecting our loved ones is instinct; extending protection to those we dislike, or those who attack us, or those we feel guilty about having hurt, requires more.  Snape learned to do that before he died — Snape refused to die until he accomplished that — Snape strengthened Harry in his final effort to offer redemption to Voldemort by giving Harry memories of Lily’s love.  Not easy, and I think it’s safe to say that Snape, and JK Rowling, didn’t make it look easy.  For the greatness of that achievement, I celebrate this character.

LeakyCon2017: Notes from Attendees

On September 2, 2017, I teamed up with Professor Shannon Sauro of Snapecast to present “A Celebration of All Things Snape” at LeakyCon 2017.  We asked audience members to jot down notes or questions if there were things they wanted to discuss.  Here are some of the notes we didn’t manage to get to, along with my replies or comments.

snape panel questions.jpg

Can teachers identify with Snape professional v personal?

Shannon asked the teachers in the audience to raise their hands.  Several of them offered descriptions of ways in which they did, and did not, identify with Snape in their teaching.

Once Voldemort returned, was Snape passing information to both sides?

As best as I can tell from the evidence, Snape and Dumbledore planned carefully to have Snape feed Voldemort just enough valid intelligence to avert suspicion.  They did not always arrange all the details, but understood that Snape had to maintain cover.  As an example, we see the portrait of Dumbledore remind Snape, in Deathly Hallows, to play his part convincingly during the Flight of the Seven Harrys; presumably, since portraits are memory aids rather than the actual people they represent, Snape was drawing on his long acquaintance with Dumbledore, imagining  how Dumbledore might have counseled him, to aid in perfecting his strategy.

Snape:  beard or no beard?

Shannon took a poll.  There was a small minority in favor of a bearded Snape, and one suggestion that he would be attractive with a mustache, but the rest of the room overwhelmingly preferred Snape clean-shaven.

Snape the unsung hero

This was the core of his bravery:  his certainty that none of his acts of resistance to Voldemort would be acknowledged during his lifetime, or perhaps ever.  I believe this is one reason why Harry considered Snape the bravest man he ever knew:  he did everything without the emotional support of knowing he would be recognized.

Snape is the epitome of Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Not every author believes in this theme, or to such a great extent, but J.K. Rowling made this point about Snape beginning with the first volume and amplified it with every subsequent volume.  Several of her characters turn out not to be what they appear, but her master spy has the most inscrutable cover by far.

Snape got killed by a SNAKE.  😦

Alas.  It was not an easy death.  It does demonstrate Voldemort’s doubt in his control over the Elder Wand.  If he’d cast a Killing Curse on Snape, and Snape had truly been master of the Elder Wand, Voldemort’s curse would have rebounded yet again.  Freeing Nagini to do the deed in his stead was a self-protective strategy.

“I’m in love with the SNAPE of you”

My absolute favorite comment.

Topic: Snape’s passing

There’s so much to be said about this!  Where to begin?

Snape’s ‘love’ for Lily:  Love or infatuation?

Ah, the pro-Snape and anti-Snape fandom disagreements continue!  Those delicately distasteful quotes around love suggest an argument waiting to happen, heh.  Personally, I don’t know if infatuation is any more or less accurate a term than love for the bond that Snape felt toward Lily; I would guess that some people can be unsafe to be around, even if they feel genuine infatuation or love, and Lily certainly was right to recognize that Snape was joining with people who wished her harm.

What do we know about Snape’s background?

The age and condition of the furniture in his sitting room at Spinner’s End suggest that the house remains much as it was during Snape’s childhood, and the location of the house tells us that his father’s family’s finances suffered with the decline of the town’s industry.  We don’t know much about Eileen Prince Snape after her Hogwarts days, but she was the only person accompanying 11-year-old Snape to Platform 9 3/4, so if he had contact with any other magical relatives, there’s no evidence of it in the story.

Snape’s parents’ back story?

The power difference between a magical person and a Muggle suggests that Eileen Prince married Tobias Snape willingly, for love or some other voluntary reason.  Child Snape’s comment to child Lily that his father didn’t like “anything, much” suggests that there were other tensions in Tobias Snape’s life and marriage than simply a hostility toward his wife’s and child’s magic.  The acknowledgment that Tobias and Eileen continually argued suggests that it was a relationship of two equals, despite one of them being magical and one not, rather than a case in which a magical person was using their powers to control the actions of their Muggle spouse.

Eileen’s surname Prince opens up the playful crossover AU (alternate universe) possibility that she was an Amazon from the island of Themyscira, a relative to Diane Prince, aka Wonder Woman.  Perhaps Eileen joined with Tobias Snape to have a child, intending to follow the Amazon custom of sending the child away if a boy, but once she realized that she’d given birth to an extraordinarily gifted son, she chose to leave the island to raise him herself.  If anyone writes such a crossover, please share!

Background Remarks: Grindelwald, Fantastic Beasts, and Gay Representation

Note:  This was how I introduced a discussion session about gay representation in Potterverse at MISTI-Con.  These remarks were meant to provide general background only and to get the conversation started, not to be analytical or comprehensive.  — LK

Delivered Saturday, May 21, 2017 at MISTI-Con.

 

Twenty years since Philosopher’s Stone was first published.  Seven books in the series, eight movies, three tie-in books, a stage play, and now a new film series.  Hundreds of characters.  And how many of them are identified as gay in canon?  Add in extra-canonical author comments, and the total rises to one.

How is it that the Potterverse, created by a woman who must know people of all sexual orientations, who has tweeted her support of LGBTQ people, is more heteronormative than the world at large to such an extreme degree?  Within Harry Potter canon, when Rowling has shown her characters to have any sexual orientation, it has been heterosexual.  Homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, any type of queerness — she simply has not named it.  Even if we take the lowest commonly accepted estimate, that 1.5% of the population is gay, that’s still a higher percentage than what Rowling has chosen to show.

She made headlines ten years ago with her unplanned announcement that Dumbledore is gay.  On the one hand, the way Rowling got hundreds of millions of people worldwide to love the humanity of a fictional character and then identified him as gay, as just one more aspect of his personhood, is exactly how to combat homophobia and reduce prejudice.  On the other hand, when you identify your one gay character casually, in an author appearance and not your official text, making it clear that you created gay characters but chose to keep that information off the page, that is a textbook case of marginalization rather than representation.

There’s a school of thought that holds that the author’s intent or personal background are not important for determining the meaning of a piece of writing.  Many within HP fandom have drawn strength from this stance to mold Potterverse to their own needs; many choose to ignore Rowling’s extra-canonical comments about the series, say they wish she would stop talking about closed canon and let it stand on its own, and form headcanons that they protect from contradictory author statements.  For example, some fans have spectacular headcanons about Professor McGonagall belonging to the powerful tradition of lesbian educators, and maintain these headcanons regardless of the heteronormative, celibate backstory that Rowling gave her on Pottermore.

This stance of selectively ignoring the author is useful, but it takes effort to maintain, because after all, the author is very much alive and still creating.  She is a cisgender white heterosexual woman, British, married, Christian, a mother, originally middle class, gifted — and the closer her stories stick to terrain that she knows, the more authoritative her writing feels.

For example, when she writes of Aunt Petunia’s kitchen, or interviews, or the dynamics of Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati beaming falsely at one another, people familiar with such scenes report a sense of deep recognition.  Her writing has a flatter affect when it’s about things less central to her experience:  Harry’s classmate Anthony Goldstein, for example, has the one acknowledged Jewish surname in Potter, with no identifying character traits of any sort, creating an effect of tokenism, of name-checking without depth.  Now that this surname has resurfaced in a World War II-era setting, we shall see how confident we feel about Rowling’s ability to write Jewish American witches with nuance.

When she has written people of color, sometimes the results have ranged from off-base to hurtful to harmful.  Cho Chang, Angelina Johnson — more instances of tokenism.  Tamela J. Ritter has a talk tomorrow about some of the hurtful implications of Rowling’s appropriation of elements of Native American religion and culture for her Ilvermorny backstory.  I love the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I did wince at the representation of blackness in 1920s New York — a jazz singer who is a goblin rather than human, an executioner with a distinct mammy vibe.  Rowling, and the people involved closely in the making of this film, did not flag these things as uncomfortable, but they made me tense up:  after Rowling’s faux pas with the Ilvermorny backstory, I didn’t know how much I could trust a Rowling film to handle the complexities of American race politics.

I argue that a “death of the author” approach is not going to work for Potter fans engaging with new Fantastic Beasts output.  It’s understandable that we might wish for it anyway:  it’s uncomfortable to be constantly in the position of worrying that we may find wrong notes that we may have to forgive or ignore in our desire to remain fannish about something that has given us so much.  We may be afraid, too, of being judged if we didn’t notice something that others find hurtful.  For the record, I do not believe that there’s moral superiority in either boycotting or remaining within a fandom after troubling output from a creator.  It just…is, a series of decisions.  I saw Rowling misuse a word of Asian origin in a racist manner, I winced, and I stayed.  And I track her progress with each new work:  Has she heard the feedback?  Has she grown?

To be aware of the author is an enjoyable analytical pastime, and it is also self-protective to be prepared:  based on prior evidence, what do I expect of this author?  Should I keep my expectations low on some fronts?  Should I steel myself?

So what are we to think when this author, who has never written canonically about a Potterverse character being gay, gives us Graves drawing physically close to Credence in a shadowy side street?

There were references to homophobia and same-sex anxiety within the Potter series, occasionally.  Dudley mocked Harry’s nightmares with wording that suggests a terrifying gaybashing:  “Don’t kill Cedric!  Who’s Cedric?  Your boyfriend?”  Infuriatingly, Rita Skeeter called Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry “unhealthy, even sinister”:  “there is no question that Dumbledore took an unnatural interest in Potter from the word go.  Whether that was really in the boy’s best interests — well, we’ll see.”  Without ever naming Dumbledore as gay in canon, here, Rowling conveyed the insidiousness of the prejudices that many homophobes level at gay teachers.

A form of that implicitly gay-related anxiety from Deathly Hallows reappears in Fantastic Beasts.  Rita Skeeter’s insinuations were pure hatemongering — there is plenty to say about the Dumbledore-Harry relationship, but it stings to think of it maligned from that angle.  But that is the dynamic we see Graves invoking with Credence. We know his true interest in Credence is neither personal nor sexual, but he was using the narrative of the sexually abusive predator as a cover for a motive that is, almost unbelievably, even more exploitative.

Fantastic Beasts puts a new angle on the Dumbledore story from Deathly Hallows.  We knew Dumbledore desired Grindelwald, but not whether Grindelwald felt the same or only manipulated Dumbledore’s attraction for ulterior motives.  Grindelwald’s scenes with Credence give us an up-close look at the dynamic.  From the information in Deathly Hallows, it had appeared that Grindelwald wanted Dumbledore’s company in subjugating the world, and Ariana would be an afterthought; we know now to suspect that Ariana was Grindelwald’s target after all.  He never resumed contact with Albus after Ariana’s death.  We don’t know if it was because of guilt and fear or because Albus without an Obscurial was of no use to him.

We don’t know Grindelwald’s orientation, but he was sensitive to male-male attraction and comfortable with encouraging it.  Even without being named, then, male-male attraction exists in the Fantastic Beasts universe.  We see a hint that the nonjudgmental Queenie has matter-of-fact knowledge of it, as well:  she tells Jacob that “Most guys think what you was thinking, first time they see me.”

Do we read Credence as gay, or would this lonely wizard have responded to attention from anyone?  It seems probable that Grindelwald knows enough Legilimency to know that attraction would be one of the ways to hook Credence, as well as promises of education and special attention.  To add layers to this reading, the abuse from Mary Lou Barebone could easily read as an attack on homosexuality rather than magic.  She calls Credence’s birth mother “wicked” and “unnatural,” words associated with antigay rhetoric as well as witch hunts.  Her command of “Take it off” to Credence, followed by the ritual of him removing his belt, gives a horrific sexualized tone to the punishment.

The secret meetings with Graves, the repressive abuse from the parent — these images and emotions are evocative of experience with homophobia.  The film uses gay people’s experience to create a metaphor and draw emotional impact from those associations.  To me, it feels oddly outdated and possibly misleading for Fantastic Beasts to centralize this dynamic so heavily without grounding it in context by naming gayness and showing matter-of-fact gay characters.

Even 10 to 20 years ago, it felt curious to me that Rowling chose to reveal no canonically gay characters in her encyclopedic universe, when that ground had already been broken in YA lit, and she was in a position to dictate rather than follow rules within publishing.  I felt frustrated to see Rowling use timeworn tactics such as coding to signal that some characters could, if knowing readers chose, be read as gay, such as the infatuated Dumbledore or the short-haired, pipe-smoking Grubbly-Plank.  Some readers have speculated that Rowling held back from identifying Potterverse characters as gay because the series was meant for an underage audience.  Putting aside, for the moment, how misguided that strategy would have been, if true — the Fantastic Beasts series is targeted to an adult market.  Subversive literary coding of gay characters has been essential in more oppressive times and places, but I confess that I grow impatient.  Is it too much to ask that the remaining films in the series include realistic LGBTQ representation?  What do you think?

Let’s open this up for discussion.  What are some of your thoughts on gay representation in Fantastic Beasts and Potterverse?  Where do you think the rest of the series will go?  What do you hope to see?

 

Introductory Comments at MISTI-Con Snape Discussion

misti badge

for Snape:  A Definitive Reading

Delivered at MISTI-Con, Laconia, New Hampshire, on Sunday, May 21, 2017

It’s been 10 years since Nagini bit Snape and the fandom still fights about this character.  Yet we all read the same books and watched the same movies.  It’s not like there are two series of Harry Potter books, one pro-Snape and one anti-Snape; a single set of words created this character.  But Rowling crafted him to be almost perfectly ambivalent.  Nearly all of his actions have at least two possible, contradictory interpretations.  This creates more facets, more interpretations than most characters have.  And more ways for readers to identify with him.

Yet Snape does have a true inner self that can be identified and defined.  Authors don’t always create characters as mysteries with a definitive solution at their core, but I think that’s how Rowling wrote Snape.

Occasionally, we get unambiguous views of Snape.  Times of mortal crisis expose his priorities:  His one moment of carelessness, leaving the Pensieve unattended while he runs to care for Montague.  His rescue of Draco.  His single-minded drive to find Harry Potter when Voldemort is about to kill him.  But most of his other moments are trickier to decode.

As someone who came to the series as an adult, the story I always wanted to read was Severus Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Severus Snape and the Chamber of Secrets.  Severus Snape and what he was thinking during every bitter moment of those seven years as a supposedly reformed neo-Nazi teaching a scrubby little kid who lost his family because of Snape’s own earlier war crimes.  I read the series looking for that story, not the headliner, and I found it.  It’s all there.  That’s what I put into this book:  the Harry Potter series from Professor Snape’s point of view.

Severus Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone introduces us to a 31-year-old grown man who picks on abused orphans, risks his own safety for people he dislikes, and spits on the ground when he’s feeling bitter.

Severus Snape and the Chamber of Secrets begins to lay down the groundwork of Snape’s covert strategy, executed in conjunction with Dumbledore:  he teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts undercover, to evade the curse on the position and establish a façade that will enable him to undermine Voldemort from the inside, when Voldemort inevitably returns.  Using the vacuous Gilderoy Lockhart as a decoy, he manages to transmit a basic Disarming Spell to both Harry and Draco, ingraining in them his own practice of non-aggression rather than attack, a tool that will eventually empower these kids to take down the two most powerful wizards of their age using nothing but Expelliarmus and Draco’s wand.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, everybody gets something their heart desires — a godfather, a friend, freedom, and flight — everybody, that is, except for Snape.  In Severus Snape and the Prisoner of Azkaban, if you track only what Snape sees, the story gets much darker.  The reader learns that Sirius and Lupin don’t want to kill Harry, and Lupin’s lies to Dumbledore have more to do with shame than conspiracy.  But Snape is still traumatized by how the Marauders used to treat him, and he is unconscious for some of the explanations that the kids hear.  For much of the book, Snape genuinely fears that Lupin and Sirius have a joint plan:  to build Harry’s trust in Lupin, lure him outside the castle while Lupin is transformed, and kill him the way they nearly killed Snape when he was a student.

That would explain why Snape is incredulous when Harry, Ron, and Hermione don’t seem grateful to him for saving their hides from Sirius and Remus.  As for Snape’s screaming fit in front of Fudge in the Hospital Wing, if you look closely, you can see Dumbledore conveying to Snape that he has the situation under control, and Snape agreeing — resentfully — to let Fudge think that he is unbalanced.  A close reading also reveals that Dumbledore was neither angry nor surprised when Snape told the Slytherins about Lupin’s lycanthropy.  Dumbledore is disappointed in Lupin, who withheld crucial information and endangered the students, not Snape.  By taking it on himself to out Lupin, making it look like an act motivated solely by the hostile “I told you so” urges of a nasty, petty man — not a difficult performance, surely —  Snape was distracting people from justified criticism of Dumbledore’s judgment in hiring a werewolf who could not, as it turned out, remain completely safe around Hogwarts students.

Severus Snape and the Goblet of Fire shows Snape undergoing a second adolescence of sorts, his body changing as his Dark Mark intensifies.  By the end of the year, he has grown into the adult form of his second chance in life, his double agency.

Severus Snape and the Order of the Phoenix shows a man spread too thin, being all things to all people.  A close read of the Occlumency lessons shows that he teaches them in dead earnest, trying to hold back nothing from Harry while guarding against Voldemort, who is watching everything through Harry’s scar.

Severus Snape and the Half-Blood Prince is a Time-Turner-like story of an adult and the memory of his 15-year-old self, the mistakes he made in youth, the damage those mistakes continue to cause, and his painstaking resumption of evil deeds in order to save others from the same costly errors.  Snape’s guidance gives Draco something that Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Voldemort, and Snape himself never had:  a merciful mentor who can see a young man cross over into actual evil and not give up on him, not fear him, not shame him, still protect him and sing over his wounds, let him know, in essence:  “There is nothing ugly in you that I have not already seen.  I know all, and I have still come to save you.  You cannot disgust me.”  He saves Harry from unwittingly causing a death with Dark Magic, assigns Harry a tedious course of punishment and then, once he fulfills the terms, lets him go — ensuring that Harry knows his casting of Sectumsempra was forgivable, forgiven, freeing him to walk away with his soul intact, as well as his right to hate Malfoy in peace.  He saves Draco from committing murder by voluntarily splitting his own soul in Draco’s stead, killing the one ally who knows his true self, so that for the final year of his life, nobody and nothing around Snape reflects any knowledge of him except as a man of cold evil.

Severus Snape and the Deathly Hallows is the story of the bravest man in Potterverse.

Well… “probably” the bravest man.  Again, there are two different readings of Snape, and on this point, they actually do come from more than one set of words.  In Harry’s words to Albus during the Epilogue, Snape was “probably the bravest man I ever knew.”  Steve Kloves’s line in the film version, for which Rowling had a producer credit, omits the word “probably.”  In Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, revisiting the Epilogue, Harry includes it again.  But when Scorpius goes to an alternate timeline to speak to Snape, he drops it, saying Harry told Albus “you were the bravest man he ever met.”

What is going on with this uncertainty around Snape’s bravery?

The answer may be in Snape’s dying words, “Look…at…me.”  Those words changed the story.  Until Snape succeeded in delivering the final message to Harry, he had to remain unknowable so that no one would be able to pin down a single, definitive understanding of his character.  Within the story, this preserved his ability to evade detection while fighting Voldemort; in our reality, this maintained the mystery of Rowling’s saga until her grand revelation of Snape’s heart.  This enigmatic Snape is the one that Harry Potter knew.  As a Master of Death, Snape remained invisible, cloaked, until he finished protecting others and chose to meet death as a friend.

But everything about Snape that came after he said to Harry, “Look at me,” and gave him the memories can be viewed as unambiguous.  He is no longer dissembling, no longer a double agent or any agent at all.  His mission is completed.  He can allow his core truths to be seen.  This is why the Snape of Cursed Child is shown, unambiguously, to be a hero.  He doesn’t have to hide it anymore, and neither do his authors.

By calling this character, posthumously, the bravest man, Rowling is affirming that this is the correct reading of him, more accurate than the many other possible readings of Snape as unredeemed, out for himself, or ambiguous.  The wording is an allusion to a character from one of Rowling’s top 10 recommended novels for young readers, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Atticus Finch once protected all of Maycomb, black and white, with a single, reluctant shot to kill a rabid dog; until then, his children had no idea that he was a marksman, since he renounced that degree of power over other living creatures after the age of 19 and only resumed it at the plea of the town sheriff, to save others.  The sheriff says, “You haven’t forgot much, Mr. Finch.  They say it never leaves you.”

Like Atticus Finch, Snape renounced Dark Magic, but was able to recall it to protect others.  Like Atticus, Dumbledore, Draco, and Harry, Snape was “fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it.”  Atticus’s child Scout, the narrator, noted her father’s restraint:  “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

In Harry Potter’s story, Snape is the character whose growth we track.  With Harry, Snape, and Voldemort, we get the question:  what do you do when you’re born, through no fault of your own, into a life where you don’t get enough love?  How do you become an adult?  Harry starts out blameless and ends up realistically flawed but still true to himself; that was his challenge.  Voldemort doesn’t change much.  He nearly dies of emotion the first time he tries to kill Harry and he actually dies of emotion the last time.

Snape changes.  He goes from vengeful and oppressive to self-sacrificing and protective.  Every step is difficult for him, and uncredited by nature of his double agency.  If he succeeds, he will draw more hatred to himself, not acclaim.  Even so, he knows who he is on the inside.  He shows us that you don’t have to be beautiful or good or even innocent to do the right thing.  Anyone can choose to do the right thing, or if you can’t do it, to want to do it.  That is a freedom and a birthright.

For me, there are two main ways that Snape is brave.  One is that he remained at the site of his greatest regrets, resolutely focused on the damage he had done and his mission to correct as much of it as he could, despite being vilified and unable to defend himself.  The other way is smaller, tender and raw, and I think it’s familiar to many of us.  After years of seeing protection and adoration lavished on others, knowing himself to be unpleasant, culpable, and perhaps unlovable, he summons the nerve to ask of Dumbledore, twice:  What about me?  In Prisoner of Azkaban, he asks Dumbledore if he remembers that the Marauders tried to kill him.  When Dumbledore orders him to kill to protect Draco’s soul, he asks Dumbledore, And MY soul?  Is Snape’s soul too dirty to save?

Both times, he gets an inconclusive answer from Dumbledore:  My memory is as good as it ever was.  You alone know whether it will harm your soul.  Not a reassurance… but not a rejection, either.  Not all of us will know regrets as great as Snape’s, but most of us, I think, can understand that pleading What about me? — to someone who seems to love other people morethat’s brave.

Posthumously, he is vindicated, called heroic, and, we are told, given a portrait.  This isn’t for Snape’s sake.  He’s dead, and he’s fictional.  It’s the author talking to us, the readers, about how even those of us who have done harm can choose to do good, and there are things we know how to do that innocent people don’t.  The good in Snape’s story doesn’t make sense without the full recognition of his earlier crimes.  We don’t forget them.  They enable us to see the magnificence of this character’s achievement.