Transcript! MuggleNet Academia Lesson 52

Snape: A Definitive Reading, LIVE from Chestnut Hill College’s Harry Potter Conference

On Friday, October 21, 2016, the MuggleNet Academia podcast invited Lorrie Kim to join them as a guest to discuss Snape: A Definitive Reading.  Deannah Robinson (deannahm03 at gmail) provided the partial transcript below.

Hosts: Keith Hawk and John Granger

Guests: Lorrie Kim, Prof. Louise Freeman, and Prof. Emily Strand

[STARTS AT 00:05:22]

Keith Hawk: Today, we have a very special guest. She presented earlier this morning over on the other room. I would like to introduce you to her, if you haven’t met her before. She is Lorrie Kim, author of Snape: A Definitive Reading. Welcome, Lorrie! Also joining the show, we have Hogwarts professors all over the place. Professor Louise Freeman is the professor of Psychology at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, VA. And finally, Professor Emily Strand, who is a professor at Mount Carmel College of Nursing and a frequent guest on MuggleNet Academia, along with Professor Freeman. How many times have you been on the show, Emily?

Emily Strand: Um, I think this is my fourth.

John Granger: Fourth, that’s pretty good. Louise?

Louise Freeman: Uh, I think this is my sixth.

John: Yeah!

Keith: Sixth?

John: You can read both the things they write at HogwartsProfessor.com, and it’s a wonderful comment. I mean, everything that you want to know about the depths of the artistry and meaning of Harry Potter and Star Wars and Divergent, these ladies largely cover. Anyway, sorry; little plug.

Keith: No, that’s okay. Why don’t you tell us what we’re going to be talking about today?

John: People have the mistaken impression that the Hogwarts saga adventures are about The Boy Who Lived, when in fact anyone who has read the books closely realize that it’s largely the hidden story of the Potions Master Severus Snape. And so many of the films brought this out very quickly, that every scene that has Alan Rickman in it, all attention turns to the Potions Master. Up to this time, though there’s been certainly in fanfiction but also in critical commentary — if you do a literature review — you’ll find tremendous explorations of Snape with specific aspects of Snape, or Snape in this novel, or Snape and this character, or Snape and Neville Longbottom. Is it sadism? Snape and Harry Potter: is he a tragic father figure? Snape and Mudbloods and Slytherins. It’s never been given a definitive reading. What we have now is a text which is indeed a definitive reading where we follow Severus Snape through all seven books. And what we learn from Ms. Kim’s exegesis of the story is that the impression we got from the movies actually is correct, that the redemption of Severus Snape and his backstory — we only get in the very end, Chapter 33 of Deathly Hallows in “The Prince’s Tale” — that story has largely been what has driven his mystery throughout the series. So we’re thrilled to be able to have you on the podcast today to talk with you about Severus Snape, the revelations inside these books. So again, welcome.

Lorrie Kim: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Keith: Yeah, it’s like when you’re reading her book instead of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s Snape and the easy Muggle Potion test or Severus Snape and how he teaches Expelliarmus, you know? It’s whatever is about Severus Snape, that’s what you’re reading in this book. It’s all his viewpoints on it. Again, welcome aboard, ladies. Our first question is the same on every show. Basically it’s just an introduction to the professors to let them tell us their story and why they’re teaching Harry Potter in their classrooms today. We’re going to do the same thing; it’s just going to be quick, very brief. How did you meet the Boy Who Lived? What is it that sparked an interest in you to not only read it once and twice and ten, twenty times but then to teach it in your classrooms at a higher level of education? Lorrie, why don’t you go first since you’re our special guest?

Lorrie: Well no, I’m not a teacher; I’m a mom, and my husband read the first chapter to me when I was sick one time. He said I would like it, and I did and I ate a book a day until I got — I think at that point there were five books. And then when I had kids, I saw the second generation of Harry Potter readers and fans and got interested in how people who had grown up with or become adults with the series, how they were transmitting it to their kids. Watching what they found important and what they realized that they hadn’t understood fully and had to go back and re-read, that was really interesting to me.

Keith: Louise, we’ve heard your story before on the show, but for those of you who have not heard your story, make it a simple one.

Louise: I’ll make it a very quick one. I’m the mother of a couple of first generation Harry Potter readers, so I learned the series by reading it aloud to my kids twice. That is the best way to experience it, by the way: in the very unlikely event that anyone listening or anyone in this room has not yet read Harry Potter, find a child and read it to a child. That’s the best way to experience it for the first time.

Keith: Emily?

Emily: Well, my son is not there yet; he’s only five, but he’s a big Star Wars guy right now, and he’s told me — although he has had no exposure to Harry Potter — he has told me in no uncertain terms that Star Wars is “way better than Harry Potter, mom.” I’m like, “Oh, kid, you just wait.” I use Harry Potter in my classroom, for sure. I use Star Wars as well, but I use Harry Potter because it seems to be able to help young people who have grown up with the books or the films and who have really become invested emotionally in the storyline and in the values the story presents. I find it much easier to help them to understand the power of religious myth and the power of the Christian mystery, which is the focus of my teaching. So to me, it’s just a really sharp tool in my toolkit for what I do and how I do it.

Keith: Great. Thank you very much. You mentioned that it’s been a while, first generation and now second generation’s reading it. You know, we have 20 years of Harry Potter. Is there anyone in this room that read Harry Potter in ’97? You’d have to be over in England if you did. It didn’t come out until ’97 in England.

(inaudible)

Keith: ’98. Came out in America in ’98. That’s when we got rights with Sorcerer’s Stone. Biggest mistake Arthur Levine made, but he gave us Harry Potter, so you know. But anyway, twenty years in the making. Did y’all see this? Special Newsweek edition: 20 Years Celebrating Harry Potter. It has all sorts of things in here, and the reason I want to mention this is because MuggleNet, the website that I’m managing, had a great privilege. We got a phone call from Newsweek that they wanted to feature only us in this magazine, Potter and MuggleNet. So a couple of things in here about us at MuggleNet, and to be mentioned in Newsweek is, you know, it’s kind of like a highlight, it’s like a bucket list type of thing. We’re privileged to do that, but I also want to show you guys — this is a plug, John. This is what’s called a plug.

John: It’s a plug!

Keith: See, I plugged your books, so it’s time to plug me. So we have an ad in here just to show you MuggleNet.com. If you haven’t been to our website, please go there. We have all sorts of things. Seventeen years we’ve been doing this with the fandom. We’ve collected recipes, fanart, fanfiction, you name it. We have a Quidditch Center. We have it all. So if there’s anything going on in the magical world or Muggle world, we have it covered, especially with Fantastic Beasts coming out. J.K. Rowling just announced that there are going to be five movies, not three like we thought. Five. So we have ten years more to go. In fact, this coming month is a big month with the red carpet events. If you’re going up to the premiere in NY, I will be there, say hi. Anyway, the other article, our ad is a MuggleNet live event that is taking place next year. I can’t tell you anything more about it. It’s in here; you can go to the website, MuggleNetLIVE.com. Check it out; it’ll be activated very soon. It’s there to get an email so we can send you a notice when it does go live. We’re just waiting for the red tape to clear from Warner Brothers. But go there. John?

John: Yes, yes.

Keith: Oh. It’s my turn.

John: And an advertisement.

Keith: It’s my turn. I forgot, I’m asking this question.

John: Ask this question.

Keith: Lorrie, back to Snape. This is a huge book and it’s probably as big as Philosopher’s Stone.

John: It’s twice as big as Philosopher’s Stone.

Keith: So why a big book on one character? I mean, it’s pretty obvious he’s the good guy, right? So why do we have a book on Snape when we know he’s the good guy? All the way through, you guys knew he was a good guy all the way through, right? No? I didn’t think he was a good guy, either. Tell us why this is such a big book.

Lorrie: I did want to read the whole series from his point of view. I felt that there are two stories. One of them is the story of how this baby grows up into a child and a man who survived Voldemort’s attack, and he doesn’t change. He grows, but he doesn’t change. He’s himself the whole time, and that’s the struggle: to keep him himself. The other story is of Snape who started out criminal and had a change of heart and did a lot of extremely difficult, mysterious things with dubious motives and changed a lot until the big revelation of the series revolved around the explanation of his motives. Those are two really different trajectories and Snape’s is more mysterious and I found that really, literally, every single action of his, or every single utterance, Rowling set up so that it can be interpreted in at least two different ways and they are contradictory, which means that he has at least double the possible interpretations of your average fictional character.

John: I read — Lorrie was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of the book, and I got to read the book as I was going to be talking about it here, so I had to read the whole book. And, forgive me, I looked at this 350-page book and thought, “Is she out of her mind? 350 pages on Snape! I’ve really gotta do this!” I thought, “well, I’ll just skim it so I’ll get ten clever questions”, and I spent ten hours turning every page, underlining, highlighting, going crazy because the book is that valuable. It’s coming back to a question. She starts out, though, by going — she introduces this story while she does this, and then she goes book by book with an extra chapter just on “The Prince’s Tale.” And each chapter covers four things.

Now, let’s see if I can get this right: at first it talks about how in each book Snape shows his dislike for Harry Potter, and it’s different in every book, it has a different dimension. The second thing it shows is his dislike for the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in that book, which merits its own theme of how he shows this and what it means. The third thing he does, that she explores, is Snape’s concern for his reputation. And the last thing is the mystery of his motives, how you can read these things both ways, and yet what she’s hinting about the next part of the story. But here’s the crazy thing I want. We’re back to the question: one of these questions is how Snape, every year, has a war with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and every student says, “He really wants that job.” And even when Dolores Umbridge meets him in class, she says, “You really wanted that job, didn’t you?” It’s always Snape wanting to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. One of the times, one of the many times when I was reading the book and my head exploded like WHOA was when Lorrie explains why the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher thing is a fraud that Dumbledore almost said, “You’ve gotta play this part that you want this position, even though you really don’t, because it’ll be your cover.” And she argues it from the text. Now can you explain some of that, Lorrie, because I thought that was drop dead brilliant.

Lorrie: We never hear Snape say that he wants the job, except to Bellatrix, which is — that was the intention, to put up a front for the Death Eaters. What we have is Dumbledore doing what he does, putting out rumors, so that the first time we hear that Snape really wants the job and covets it and resents the actual DAtDA teacher, we have it from Percy telling Harry in the first book, saying, “Well, everyone knows this.” We know, for example, that Dumbledore does that with rumors about the Shrieking Shack. He spreads rumors and it becomes something that “everybody knows.” When we see Umbridge challenge Snape on it in the 5th book and she says, “So, you’ve been applying every year,” and Harry pretends he’s broken something so he can stay behind and eavesdrop on this, and Snape is really angry and he won’t say anything. He just says through his teeth, “I suggest you ask Dumbledore.” I think he’s supposed to pretend that he’s been upset every year to be passed over for this position because he needs to preserve this facade that he’s never renounced the Dark Arts, he’s just pretending, and this is so diametrically opposed to his true feelings. It’s not an easy act to keep up, and also it helps that he actually does not like any single one of the other Defense teachers. He really doesn’t like them, so that’s not a hard act for him to pull off.

John: That’s right. He’s very authentic in the role that he’s assigned, but it seems clear that Snape doesn’t covet the position, and yet we all buy into it. That, to me, was one of the moments I had thought, “Wow, if I hadn’t followed Lorrie through each book to get to that point, I wouldn’t have said, ‘Oh, it’s been a sham the whole time!'” Anyway, that was brilliant. Patrick McCauley, one of the founders of this whole conference and one of the co-leaders of it with Karen Wendling, he’s written a book called Into the Pensieve, and we’ve had him on our show to talk about his thesis that every major storyline inside Harry Potter starts with an act of violence against a woman and how that ripples out from that story. The whole Dumbledore thing starts off with the rape of Ariana and his father’s response to it, and Dumbledore’s and his brother’s. Obviously, the murder of Lily Potter gives us, really, the whole Harry Potter drama. I wasn’t really — forgive me, I’m not a big Snape guy, you know? I’ve always found Snape as somebody who was such a sadist that I didn’t give him a lot of focused attention. I get it, I’m supposed to be the Potter pundit and I — big blind spot for me. Well, that Snape’s story begins with — in Snape’s worst memory, we see Snape’s mother being abused by Tobias Snape and we see a boy huddling in the corner. Lorrie, the question for you is, I mean, you draw a lot of this out in the book, especially certainly in Snape’s Worst Memories chapter, you draw out that Snape, his whole thing is actually nonaggression — even though he’s a sadist in the classroom — it’s nonaggression and protectiveness. Do you think it comes from that root experience when he saw his mother being abused by his father and that child’s desire to protect his mother?

Lorrie: Hmm, let me see where to start. One thing is that I’m not sure that I would call him a sadist. If you look at J.K. Rowling’s depictions of sadists, she shows us three … four. She shows us Voldemort, Umbridge, Bellatrix, and Macnair, and with the exception of Macnair, the other three, when they are practicing their sadism, she shows them physically responding; they’re breathing heavily, they’re flushed, and this is not how she shows Snape, although there are things he does that I think are very cruel and occasionally cross over into flat-out abuse. It’s not that I condone how he treats people cruelly, especially Neville, but she does, I think, differentiate. So if we’re talking sadism as a medical term, I don’t think that I would diagnose him with it.

John: Okay, I’m going to defer to Louise on that. About the root cause of his protectiveness: first of all, Snape as a protective character, again, was one of those smoke coming out of my ears, WHOA. Snape is that much of a good guy that his principal thing is protecting other people? I mean, forgive me, that was Snape upside down to me. Snape’s on his broom, upside down, flying sideways, WHOA. That’s not how I saw him. Can you talk about that a little bit and then about his mother?

Lorrie: Yeah. Well, a person can be protective without being nice and without liking the people they’re protecting. The encapsulation for me for Snape is when he’s a student and he says, “Just shove a bezoar down their throats.” That’s protective. It’s not nice, it’s not affectionate, it’s not kind. It’s protective. And it’s impatient. It’s aggrieved. And it’s condescending.

John: So you’re suggesting that he’s protective, but when we think protective, we think of a mother’s affection. Like a chicken with their chicks, you know, a hen with her chicks. And Snape is like half Tobias Snape and — I’m waiting for Louise. Louise is making a face, so I’m waiting for the response. He seems to be this cross, very protective trying to put off Tobias Snape. But on the other hand, also still being like Tobias Snape and being harsh.

Lorrie: One thing we do see about Snape is that he’s kind to mothers. He’s kind to Lily, he’s kind to Narcissa. Molly Weasley has no complaints against him; they actually agree on a lot of things. So I think that does have something to do with the bond that he had with Eileen. Also the discord in his home is — J.K. Rowling wrote that very carefully so we’re not sure exactly what’s going on. Depending on who you are as a reader and what story you’re looking for, you can read it as a father abusing a mother. You can read it as equal arguments because Lily says “they’re still arguing.” We don’t know what the argument was about and why the boy is crying. We don’t know if — we do know that Tobias doesn’t like magic and he doesn’t like anything much. Is it one of those times where the Muggle parent is angry at the magical parent about their child’s magic? We don’t know. But depending who you are as a reader, you will see what applies to you and that’s what you’ll take away from it. What we do know, we see from how Snape flinches as a student that when he is ridiculed for being not masculine and not brawny, that’s something that he has heard before. We know from Petunia and Lily as children that he already has a reputation in their neighborhood as somebody that people don’t like and have taunted. So we get hints, but it’s not completely spelled out and I think that’s one of Rowling’s ways of making her story accessible to more than one kind of reader.

Keith: I was just thinking about this as you guys were talking and you mentioned the scene in Snape’s worst memory, but if we jump ahead and we look at the Prince’s Tale where young Lily and young Severus are playing together as children, you have young Severus, who’s this abused kid by Tobias and Eileen, right? And then you have Lily who’s an angel, but her sister Petunia is… she’s evil. I mean, I think she’s evil, just because of the way she treats Harry growing up. Yes, she’s protecting Harry, but she treats Harry like garbage. I wonder what’s going on in the Evans’ household and what draws Lily and Severus together as friends because there has to be a story there that brings these two together. Louise, what do you think that might be?

Louise: When I think of a possible connection between Petunia and Snape… right now, I’m thinking Petunia. I remember what you said about Snape being a protector who desperately resents the very existence of this child he’s supposed to be protecting. In a way, Petunia’s very similar. Remember how Dumbledore described her as she took you resentfully, bitterly, she hated the idea of taking you, but she took you. And that’s really what Snape kinda does. Dumbledore tells him, you owe it to Lily to protect her child, and of course Snape doesn’t want this child to exist because this child is proof that Lily didn’t love him, that Lily loved James. But he knows it. He knows he’s responsible for Lily’s death and that Dumbledore’s right, he does owe it to Lily to protect her child even though he really, really wishes this child could just be erased from history. As to what might have gone on in the Evans house, I think we have very little information. All we have really is Petunia’s perspective and we know she was jealous of Lily for being magic and she was apparently jealous of the attention Lily got from her parents for being magic, but that’s about all we know. Was Petunia mistreated by her parents? I don’t know. We don’t have any way of knowing one way or the other. Lily, obviously, is one of the more saintly characters in the series. It’s very unlikely she came from a dysfunctional home.

Keith: Okay, fair enough. Emily, do you have any thoughts on that?

Emily: Um, no, but I think I’m still stuck on the reputation topic and thinking about Snape– I’m going back a little bit. Thinking about the further indignity of Snape having to keep up this reputation that he didn’t choose and that didn’t actually represent who he really was and how looking at the whole series from Snape’s point of view really kinda points that out. And what that says about — you said just earlier that Snape is kind to mothers, and what does that say about Snape’s, the depth of his devotion to Lily, that not only is he willing to do these hard things in protecting Harry Potter, in protecting her child, but he’s willing to make himself look a fool for most of his life and most of his career. So those were kind of my thoughts that were roiling around here. I’m not sure there’s a question there. Do you want to comment more about how those things connect?

Keith: Well, you know, if you have that one friend that you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets to, I kind of think that’s where Severus meets Lily and finds out just how sweet of a girl she is and just lets everything out and that’s why there’s such a tight connection, like this life-long friendship that actually turns into love, that gives him that power of devotion to Lily. John?

John: I’ve been — again, I read this book earlier this week and some of the things — I read the books I don’t know how many times. Like all of you probably, I go back into the books and just start reading at certain points and read the end of that book. One of the things that Lorrie points out is that in the first three or four books, Snape is described as being ugly, his sallow, greasy skin, his hair is unkempt, and the Weasleys keep this up throughout the series, but Lorrie brings up the part in the book that we see this starting to change after the fourth book where Snape is no longer described as ugly, that that isn’t his essential characteristic. You want to talk about that, Lorrie?

Keith: I think it’s because he shampooed his hair for the Yule Ball.

John: Yule Ball?

Lorrie: I’m sure he did not shampoo for the Yule Ball. His date was Karkaroff. Shall I go back to the childhood Snape and Lily question?

Keith: Whatever you want to do. Just answer that question. That’s fine.

Lorrie: I’ll go to that and then I’ll talk about the ugliness. What I saw in the childhood scenes with Snape, Lily and Petunia is what happens painfully when some children are born gifted and some are not. That’s the pain of Petunia. She and Lily love each other. They have everything the same, they have the same family. But Lily has these beautiful gifts. They’re astonishing. Petunia desires them. She can’t make them happen. No one else can make them happen, actually. She is afraid of them. Obviously, they’re frightening, but they’re beautiful. Then when young Snape meets Lily, that’s how they bond. That’s what he says to her: “You have loads of magic. I’ve been watching you.” Because obviously, child Snape was very, very gifted as well, and he wasn’t developed. Neither of them. Neither Snape nor Lily was developing them with peers. They were developing magic on their own. Lily didn’t know that you’re not supposed to fly; she taught herself. She taught herself because she was happy and it was beautiful. And he saw that and he identified with that. They were leaving Petunia behind in this painful and exclusionary way. That jealousy hurts. It’s not fair. Life isn’t fair; some people are born gifted. To bond that way with magic, that Snape and Lily together as children, they didn’t have any teachers, they had no limits, they were not with other children to compare themselves to. They could go at their own speed, which we know is very fast. That is really sacred, especially during that age before adolescence when your brain is just developing, you’re becoming the person that you’ll be as an adult. I think that excitement, we see it again with Dumbledore and Grindelwald when Dumbledore finally finds a peer before he admits to himself that this guy is really evil. But just the excitement of a brain that works the way yours does, that’s a bond that’s really hard to break. If you don’t have that with anyone else, especially.

Keith: So when did the ugliness start? Because obviously, you know, Lily sees quite a different child than what you see as an adult. Obviously he got picked on in school and then he transferred over to Slytherin and stayed away from Lily and the Gryffindors and, you know. Is that when the ugliness started to come out of him that created this, as you’ve said in your book, the first three books he’s described as ugly: sallow, greasy hair, long nose.

Lorrie: It depends on what you’re feeling when you look at him, because he’s always been odd-looking. He’s always been obviously neglected in his clothing. But Lily never says that to him as a child until he calls her a Mudblood, at which point she says, “I’d wash my pants if I were you.” And she knows what effect that will have on him. What she’s letting him know then is, You’ve just betrayed me to people who want me dead. I’m going to break our friendship and say this thing to tell you, yes, you’ve crossed that line. So he goes, in Lily’s eyes, from not being ugly to ugly to having that be one of his traits in that moment. The same thing with Harry. Well, first of all, kids, middle schoolers, will sit in class and look at their teachers and make fun of them so disgracefully, and will laugh at how ugly they are and they’re grossed out by them and gross each other out about the teachers for fun. So that’s going on anyway. Snape is unusually unattractive but anyone who’s going to treat kids the way that he does, the kids are going to look at him like, God, he’s ugly, he’s ugly inside and out. And also, he is not okay with being ugly. Some people, like Mad-Eye Moody, you know, whatever. He doesn’t have time for that. But Snape is not okay with this unattractiveness. He’s sensitive about it and kids can tell. Then, starting from the point when he has his second chance, when Voldemort returns and he has to begin his double agency, different emotions in him are primary. Before then, he’s waiting, he’s dreading. He’s feeling guilty, he’s resenting. Once his double agency begins, he’s under so much pressure and fear. From that moment at the end of Goblet of Fire, when Dumbledore says, So you know what you have to do. Are you sure you’re ready? And he’s completely pale and he says, “yes, I’m ready,” his ugliness is beside the point. His fear and the enormity of what he’s about to do is striking even the kids in the hospital wing who are watching him. So that’s what they see when they look at him. And during the time that he’s a double agent, they do still sometimes think he’s ugly and they do still sometimes say that, and he sometimes behaves in an ugly manner to them, but there’s other stuff that they’re also fascinated by.

Emily: Can I just jump in for a second, just with an observation?

Keith: Absolutely.

Emily: I think it’s really fascinating the distinction you drew between Snape and his self-consciousness about his ugliness and somebody like Mad-Eye Moody who could care, you know? Because it’s possible in his mind his unattractiveness directly contributed to his not being able to win Lily romantically, because James Potter’s always described as being very good-looking. James Potter, I mean physically, outwardly good-looking. Oh no, not always? Oh, enlighten us. Please tell me, because I must have missed something.

Lorrie: No, no, James is really ordinary looking. He’s just really confident and popular, and athletic. But he wasn’t born with, he’s not like Sirius who always has anime wind in his hair. James is really ordinary looking. It’s other things; it’s the support he’s gotten from his family and his nurturing that makes him “nature’s nobility” and Snape isn’t.

Emily: Okay. That makes sense.

Keith: If it doesn’t go through the microphone, we don’t hear it. In the book you had talked about Patronuses and we all know that Harry can do a Patronus very well. Learned it in his third year. Snape can also do a Patronus, right? We all know this. Why does Snape say to Harry that a Patronus charm is not the only way or even the best way to fight a dementor? Why would he say that to Harry? I mean, from what our perspectives are, that is the best way to fight a dementor is bring all your happy thoughts and block out the dementor. But Snape says no.

Lorrie: So what Keith is talking about is in sixth year, when Harry gets a low mark on his DAtDA paper because he disagreed with Snape on the best way to tackle dementors, and that’s all it says about that. So we’re all left here going, Huh. What? And we assume that Harry must have said Patronuses because that’s the only way he knows. There are other ways: Sirius did it by becoming a dog, and that’s obviously not the best way because almost no one can do that. Patronuses, also: not easy. Not everyone can, so I imagine that Snape — if you look at the kind of defensive spells that Snape advocates, they’re simple and basic. Expelliarmus: anyone can learn Expelliarmus. Snape would not recommend for an entire population that’s about to be headed into war that when dementors come — because they’re coming — everyone just cast a Patronus. Not only can not everyone cast a Patronus, but even someone like Harry, who does it easily, can’t do it when there are a lot of dementors around, when they’re very unhappy, when something has happened to them. It’s not a practical thing for a DAtDA teacher to teach, so that’s one thing. Another reason is that to cast a Patronus, it’s a privileged charm because it means that it’s okay and safe for everyone around you to see it. Now Harry is really trapped; he knows this because he cast a Patronus at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix and then he nearly got expelled for it. But that’s the only thing he knew how to do, and that’s good that he did it because a Patronus has the benefit of protecting other people, which is the highest kind of magic — if you can do it. What if you can’t? Then if you’re entering war and you have to be subversive, if you have to survive, which is what Snape is trying to teach the kids in sixth year because he knows what’s coming, you can’t broadcast yourself that way, and we see that in Deathly Hallows when they go to Aberforth’s pub and all that Harry can do is cast a Patronus and Aberforth has to lie to cover it up. Harry is — he’s still thinking like somebody who can speak his mind. But they are entering a stage when if you speak your mind, you’ll end up like Charity Burbage. You have to learn what kind of power you have when you don’t have a voice. If you’re somebody like a Muggle-born or someone who has to stay hidden or somebody who’s being hunted or if you’re a house elf and you’re not allowed some kinds of magic, you have to learn other ways to have a voice.

Keith: Does anybody know another way to fight a dementor? Cheering charm? Okay, but that’s casting on — you’re going to cast that on a dementor, they don’t notice that. Somebody else? So that requires a second person there? I think the way to fight — go ahead, Louise.

Louise: Here’s my hypothesis about Snape’s way of fighting dementors.

Keith: Okay, let’s hear yours and I’m going to give mine.

Louise: He was the Potions master. He was, as you said, much more of a Potions Master than he ever was a DAtDA person. Potions were his thing. I’ve written quite a bit about the psychology of Harry Potter and of course the dementors were inspired by J.K. Rowling’s own experience with clinical depression. And the Patronus charm is actually very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the treatment she got. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one way to fight depression. Another way: drugs. Though I always thought Snape may–

Keith: What’d you say?

Louise: Drugs.

Keith: Drugs?

Louise: Yes. I always thought Snape may have developed —

Keith: So you shoot up. When you see a dementor, you should shoot up.

Louise: He had a potion, he had invented an anti-Dementor potion, and this potion was the wizard equivalent of Prozac. You could fight them off. That was my idea, that he had some sort of potion-based remedy for dementors.

Keith: Anybody else want to give it a shot? Here’s mine: What is Snape trying to teach Harry in Order of the Phoenix? Occlumency. He is great at closing his mind so that nobody can read it. If a dementor can’t read a happy thought, it goes away. Possible?

Emily: Yeah, but isn’t that kind of blurring the distinction between mind and soul?

Keith: Maybe, but a dementor is sensing a happiness. That’s what attracts a dementor is, if it smells or feels happiness, it goes to that to suck it dry. Snape can just say, “I got nothing.”

Emily: So it’s like almost the same effect as Sirius being a dog. You know, where it’s just kind of this blur that goes by.

Keith: That’s my thought. That’s the only way I can see.

John: We know that Snape is a master of Occlumency. Keith, you’re a genius.

Keith: Well, I know that, but we’re talking about this show right now.

John: Back to Lorrie’s genius, she’s the genius on stage for us. We go through each book, ding ding ding ding ding. We go through these four things, and in Lorrie’s book, there’s a chapter, it’s sort of like the movies. We have an extra Deathly Hallows chapter and in that one, Lorrie talks about all the scenes we get in “The Prince’s Tale.” I didn’t know this, maybe you knew this: there’s a number, how many scenes there are that Snape dumps into that magical goblet for him to dump in the Pensieve or whatever. There’s 20 different scenes. Did you know that? There’s 20 different scenes, and all of them Lorrie explores at some depth, at some length, and draws out new aspects of them. Really, it’s a masterfully done job. But the one I like the most, I think, is the scene of Severus inside Sirius’ bedroom after the death of Lily and James. He comes into the house and — this is after the death of Dumbledore — he comes into the house and he breaks into Sirius’ bedroom, not his favorite place, obviously, and he finds the letter of Lily Potter to Sirius and he rips the photograph in half and he hugs it and weeps. And it’s a disgusting scene where he’s crying viscerally, snot and tears and everything humiliating for a man to be weeping, and Lorrie draws a connection between that scene and what Hermione says about how to recover from casting a Horcrux. You want to go into that?

Lorrie: At some point, I want to go back to the Occlumency.

John: Great. Occlumency, great.

Lorrie: The thing about Sirius’s bedroom and what Snape was doing in there: the first time I read the books, I had no idea what I was reading and I was repelled by a lot of it. Some of the stuff he does when he tears a photograph and he throws away a husband and a baby, it really repelled me. And the way he looks when he’s crying and he’s showing Harry that he looks this way, you want to look away. It’s really ugly crying. Then I looked carefully at what it’s showing us. We know that remorse is something that Dumbledore talks about a lot. We know that remorse is what the Horcrux books say is the way to reintegrate your soul if you have split it by killing and even if you’ve committed Horcruxes. And we know that there are remorseful people in the series, but we don’t see them undergoing it — except for Snape in that scene, because Hermione says, the catch with remorse is that the pain of it might kill you. And when we see Dumbledore and Snape have that conversation where Dumbledore says, “You’ll have to kill me,” and Snape is horrified and says what I think is one of the bravest things a person can say where Dumbledore says, “I can’t have Draco do it because his soul isn’t damaged yet,” and Snape says, “What about my soul?” To go to somebody that you’re not sure ever loved you and say, What about me? is so brave. Knowing that he’s ugly, knowing that he’s unloveable and has done some really horrible things, he says that. And Dumbledore says, “Only you know what it will do to your soul.” And then Snape thinks about it and he says, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and what I think he’s doing in that moment is trying to ask himself, Do I have what it takes to kill somebody and then feel the kind of fullness and remorse and really understand what I’ve done so that I could reintegrate my soul? And he commits to doing it, and for Snape to feel full remorse — because once you kill someone and you feel remorse, you feel remorse for everything that you’ve ever done in your life. He’s going to have to think about what he did to Harry Potter. He has spent all these years too guilty to think about it because he loved this woman and then her 11-year-old comes to school: he’s been abused, he’s been half-starved, he gets headaches all the time. This is all his fault; he can’t stand it. This is what he did to him, and that’s what he’s reading in the letter in Sirius’ bedroom is this child’s normal 1st birthday party. He had a mom, he had a dad, he had a cat. He’d gotten a birthday present. He had an ugly vase. It’s so normal; it’s everything that Harry is dying to have, and Snape ripped that all away from him because he said, I just want Lily alive. I don’t care about her husband and baby. And that was the insensitivity that became evil that created Harry’s life as Snape has seen it for the past several years and he hasn’t been able to think about it. That is a lot of what fuels his cruelty to Harry and his sensitivity to Harry’s flaws. When he says, Okay, I’ve killed my friend, I’ve killed the last person in the world who knows who I really am, I have to integrate my soul, he feels remorse not only for the pity of Dumbledore’s death but he remembers what he did to Harry’s family, and you can’t feel remorse for only one. He accepts yes, he killed Dumbledore and yes, he also, a long time ago, killed these other people and he’s showing Harry, I recognize it finally. This is my apology. I know what I did to you.

John: That’s really wonderful that you’ve integrated why Snape at that moment, after killing Dumbledore, goes back and finds a relic or a token of his original crime to reintegrate himself. He knew he had to feel the remorse. How much remorse could he feel for killing Dumbledore when Dumbledore asked him to kill him?

Keith: I’d also say it’s more of an assisted suicide, is what it is.

John: Well, he can’t — he doesn’t feel remorse there. He goes back after Dumbledore’s death and feels the remorse as freshly as he can for his crime against his best friend and her family. You wanted to talk about Occlumency.

Lorrie: Snape in Sirius’s bedroom is a really emotional thing. Yeah, the best way to tackle dementors: it is Occlumency, and it’s a specific form, I think, that Snape wants to recommend, which is to take what material creates a Patronus and to introject it. Instead of doing it like Harry does, where the whole world sees it and it protects other people. If you cannot do that, take all of those exact same thoughts and just fill yourself with them and that will block out the dementors the same way. The reason we know this is because that’s what Harry does with the Resurrection Stone on the walk in the forest. It says “they acted like Patronuses to him,” the images and memories of his loved ones. That’s what Snape has been trying to say, because Harry asks them, “Will anyone else see you?” and they say, “No. We’re here and we’re real, but no one can see us but you.”

John: Brilliant. I love it. You’ll love this book. If you buy this book and read this book, every one of the chapters will be a mind blower, I promise you. Probably the best one — no, there’s two of them that stand out — is Prisoner of Azkaban, which is really a fan favorite. I’m a big Chamber of Secrets guy, but a lot of people really love Prisoner of Azkaban as their favorite story. In this book, Lorrie points out that it’s a great year at the end for everybody except Severus Snape, that this is his nightmare. Basically everything in his past comes rushing into his present and nobody will understand or sympathize with him. Basically, Lupin is here. He’s a danger, he’s always been a danger. Dumbledore won’t recognize it. Sirius Black has obviously got some sort of inside… He realized what’s going on with Lupin and can’t get any satisfaction. But here’s the killer: as Lorrie argues persuasively, that mysterious moment when Harry’s talking to Lupin and Lupin says, “Professor Snape accidentally mentioned at breakfast this morning that I was a werewolf.” Lorrie points out that this is something that Dumbledore had said he should do. Do you want to explain that, Lorrie? Because I remember reading that and was doing the HUH? How is that possible?

Lorrie: I don’t think that Dumbledore suggested he do it, but I think once they said he was going to do it that Dumbledore did not disagree because Snape has been trying, in his extremely cruel and prejudiced way, to tell Dumbledore, There’s no such thing as a tame werewolf. Now to take a more humane and realistic view of that same sentiment, it was the flaw in the plan. Dumbledore thought that a disease that’s that powerful, like lycanthropy, that strength of will is enough to prevent it, but he forgot that Lupin, like everyone, is human. And the flaw in the plan — when you feel love, when you get called away because somebody that you really love is in an emergency, Lupin sees that the map says Sirius Black. He doesn’t know what this means, but he knows it means a lot about things that are really important to him. He forgets his wolfsbane. He goes. He can’t control his lycanthropy because he’s human, and Snape has been trying and trying to tell Dumbledore this, saying, “Don’t you remember the last time you had him here? He almost killed me.” And that’s the original rift between Dumbledore and Snape is that Dumbledore didn’t think that Snape’s trauma was as important as protecting Lupin’s privacy. Which yes, it’s important to protect Lupin’s privacy. It was absolutely at the cost of Snape, who was traumatized first by being almost killed, but second and even more damagingly by being forced into silence because Snape was not allowed to tell anybody what had happened. Then after that, that did more damage, especially in the future after that when he saw favoritism against Slytherins from Dumbledore and from the rest of the school. That’s one of the big grievances that Snape carries into this third year. Then when Lupin transformed on the grounds and very nearly bites humans, Dumbledore’s reputation is almost — if that got out, the school would be over, Dumbledore’s career would be over. This is really not the way to run a school, and we’ve just seen Snape have what I think is a trauma flashback in front of Cornelius Fudge, screaming, “You don’t know Potter.” You know, he’s trying to say, All these things have happened and nobody will ever believe me, and then he and Dumbledore have that showdown in front of Fudge where he says, Dumbledore, don’t you remember? and Dumbledore says, “My memory’s as good as it ever was.” I think it’s inevitable that there was a conversation that took place off the page between that moment and the moment that Snape said, Oh, Slytherins, by the way, Lupin’s a werewolf, in which it became clear that if Snape did that, he would not be punished, whereas Lupin has been allowed to resign.

Keith: I also think that a big reason Snape is so mad at this point in time is that for the last thirteen years, he blamed Sirius for releasing the Secret-Keeper charm to Voldemort to go in and kill Lily. So the person that Snape is most furious with regarding Lily’s death is Sirius Black. So for him to get off scotch-clean, in his mind, that’s just a terrible blow and that’s also that’s why he was so angry in that hospital room. He just blew up in there. Before we get into the last two questions, we have two questions left. If we have time left, and we might have a few minutes, we will answer a couple of questions. So if you have questions, hold on to them and we’ll definitely get them to you.

John: Prisoner of Azkaban is great, but maybe the Half-Blood Prince chapter in Definitive Reading is even better. Because in Half-Blood Prince, we start off at Spinner’s End where Snape takes the Unbreakable Vow, and it leads all the way to a finish on the Astronomy Tower where he knocks off Dumbledore and has this final battle with Harry and really your coverage of that book is one of the best in the whole book. I really loved that chapter. One of the things you point out is that Snape, at Spinner’s End, is talking to Narcissa and at this Snape recognizes somehow is his moment of redemption. Here is a mother coming to him to beg for help to protect her child and then Snape suddenly says, This is my moment. I failed my best friend and failed to protect her child in the moment of need. Now I can take the Unbreakable Vow and go forward with this. Dumbledore’s probably already said, you’re going to have to kill me this year. Here he goes and he makes this vow. My question — the thing is, up to this point in the series, Hermione makes that joke about Ron having the emotional range of a teaspoon. Dumbledore may be an eyedropper in terms of his emotional — not Dumbledore, Snape’s emotional range with the anger and bitterness is pretty much an eyedropper. He doesn’t seems to have compassion, empathy, sympathy, none, zero, wiped out. But when he’s looking into Narcissa’s eyes, taking the Unbreakable Vow, he seems to feel entirely her need. Where does he get that?

Lorrie: I think if you look at Snape with his Slytherins, there is a lot more empathy. It’s spiteful sometimes and resentful, but I think he has always raised his Slytherins to look to him as someone who will advocate for them because they won’t get a chance, they won’t get a hearing from the rest of the school. I think the Slytherins already know that about him, but the other thing is that he has been watching with dread, hoping that Draco doesn’t become what he became at the same age. And he’s been trying to stop Draco from doing things like saying “Mudblood” or when he’s — when Draco and his friends, when their fathers go into Azkaban, Snape gets really upset. When he hears at the end of Goblet of Fire Harry gives the names of Crabbe and Goyle and Malfoy, and Snape gets really upset. He knows he’s going to have to pay extra attention to those boys because they’ll be much more vulnerable to going down the same path he did. At the time of the Spinner’s End chapter at the beginning of the sixth book, Draco has gone and done it. He has taken the Dark Mark. Snape has lost one of his. But the thing is that Snape, unlike a lot of people, won’t give up on them after that because Snape himself has become a Death Eater, has committed crimes, and come back. So he won’t give up on these people; it’s not too late. He is committed to Draco and this is going to help him because he has just had this conversation with Dumbledore where he trapped the curse in Dumbledore’s arm. He knows they have less than a year, and he knows he’s going to have to be primary responsibility for Harry Potter, whom he does not like. Genuinely doesn’t like. But if he can get the emotional comfort of doing the exact same thing for a kid he actually does like, it will help everything. It will make his job easier. And Narcissa is going to ask for his help because she’s asking him for his true self. He has been a teacher. He’s given everything to being a teacher. Draco trusts him because he’s a teacher. That’s why Narcissa wants him: this is him, this is true, and it will only help everybody.

Keith: In Deathly Hallows — I’m just going to go to the end of this thing and this’ll be the last question and we’ll bring up some questions here. In Deathly Hallows, when they escape from Privet Drive, and there’s the battle in the air of the seven Potters, the one thing that kind of came at me was like, WHAT?, is when Voldemort’s flying without a broom. He’s just like vapor and can go wherever he wants by flying. So here we are, we’re getting ready for the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry is confronting Snape in the Great Hall, and McGonagall steps in and fights Snape. Everybody remembers this, right? It was even well done in the movie: they were battling each other, Snape knocks down the Carrows to knock them out of the way. And then what happens? He goes out the window and flies. He goes out the window and flies just like Voldemort. So McGonagall says, He must have learned that trick from his master. That’s not what you’re saying, though. You think it has to do with his character and magic related to Lily and even J.K. Rowling’s mother. How is that related to J.K. Rowling’s mother?

Lorrie: For one thing, when McGonagall says, He must have learned that from Voldemort, we’re supposed to think that everything she says about him at that moment is going to be proven to be incorrect. It’s an assumption she makes. For another thing, the nature of Voldemort is not to teach people the things that make him superior. People are thinking, Well, is he rewarding Snape that way? No. Voldemort doesn’t teach anyone anything. Voldemort thinks he’s the only person in the world who knows what the Room of Requirement is. He doesn’t share his secrets. But what he’s doing then, Snape, he has reached the end of the line where he can just defend himself. If he stays in that battle any longer with his colleagues, he’s going to have to hurt them or hurt himself. He won’t hurt them. He breaks a hole in the window to leave; he’s protecting them. He is desperate. The only thing he wants is to find Harry before they all die and give him the memories of Lily. He is doing that thing where he’s introjecting the most loving memory he has. What’s the most blissful thing he knows is when he was a child with this brilliant friend of his and they were just doing pure magic. Nobody told them they couldn’t do this. They were just doing it. I don’t know — it doesn’t say if he had ever flown before. I don’t know that this is something that they did together. I don’t know if just thinking about her, knowing what was at stake, made him able to fly. But that is consistent with what’s happening with him at that moment, his protectiveness. What it had to do with Rowling’s mother: well, we know one of the real world inspirations for Professor Snape was J.K. Rowling’s mother’s employer who was Rowling’s chemistry teacher. He was very happy to employ her mother and recognized her genius, so we know that there’s some element of Rowling’s appreciation for people who saw the brilliance and beauty of her mother. And her mother’s last name, her maiden name, was Volant, which is French for “flying.” And then we see this image of this beautiful girl flying off a swing and it’s the mother, it’s the child looking at the story of his dead mother, and I thought, that is a scene of pure beauty that I can easily associate with the way Rowling talks about how her mother inspired this series for her.

Keith: Excellent. That exactly what I was looking for. I never knew that Anne Volant and Volant being French for flight kind of led to Flight of the Prince. That was pretty good. Again, all of this that you heard today can be found in Snape: A Definitive Reading by Lorrie Kim. Does anybody have any questions before we shut down the show?

Audience: So J.K. said the Sorting Hat made seven mistakes in its life, and one of those was putting Snape into Slytherin. Do you agree with that?

Lorrie: Where did she say that?

Keith: I’ve never heard that before.

Lorrie: Did she say the Sorting Hat has mistakes?

Audience: Yeah, I either read it online like Pottermore or just something, but it was from J.K. herself. She said one of the biggest mistakes that the Sorting Hat has ever done in a thousand years was put Snape into Slytherin. Biggest mistake ever, but do you agree with that?

Keith: I don’t think that’s actually something that J.K. Rowling said.

Lorrie: I was about to say I haven’t seen that.

Keith: I don’t know where you would’ve seen or heard that, because–

Audience: I don’t remember.

Keith: It’s not from Pottermore.

Audience: I barely go on Pottermore. I don’t even have a computer at home. So I know it wasn’t from Pottermore, but I know either somebody said it or someone lied or whatever, but I think it’s kind of interesting and it makes you think. Because I mean you look at Slytherins, they’re bullies and they don’t really love you. They don’t know how to love; they’re just plain meanie heads. But if you know how to love, then you’d have gotten into Gryffindor or the other three. But how can this guy totally be a bully but still love at the same time?

Keith: Well, just because you’re in Slytherin doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity for love. I mean, Pansy Parkinson is in love with Draco Malfoy. Draco falls in love and marries Astoria Greengrass, and I think Goyle loves Crabbe. Just saying it.

Emily: What if it were true?

Keith: Just because they’re in Slytherin doesn’t mean that they don’t love somebody or have passion or anything else. It’s just that their main love in their life is more or less an ambition, to get to a certain destination. So they’re very ambitious people. That’s where the Sorting Hat places you for that. Snape is very ambitious. He wants to be highly recognized. But again, I don’t think J.K. — just for the record, I’m going to say flat-out: No, J.K. Rowling never said that that was where she regrets something, putting Snape in Slytherin. That never happened. I don’t know where you read that from, sorry. Yeah, maybe a fanfiction post or something like that.

Lorrie: Quickly, one thing that I think happened with this series is when J.K. Rowling started writing it, she had no idea that millions of people would take her sorting system so seriously. She started out writing a lot of bias against the Slytherins; that was her children’s book. And as the series went on, we saw a more complex view of how the bias against Slytherins affected them in that House, and she also said that most Slytherins are just normal kids. We see a couple of evil ones. The thing about Snape that I identify as Slytherin: seeing Harry learn from him throughout Deathly Hallows. Slytherins, it’s not that they’re just ambitious, it’s that they have more calm because Gryffindors become more overwhelmed by energy at the moment and we see Harry learning throughout Deathly Hallows how to hold on to that, how to decide when to speak, when not to speak, how to know when he absolutely has to lie. You see that every time he masters a longer view, a longer game and a more subtle one, that these are things that he’s learned that Snape has modeled and that other Slytherins have modeled so that by the end, he could not have triumphed over Voldemort without learning these traits. We see that there’s more to Slytherin than just the suffering that they put on Harry in his earlier years.

Keith: We have time for one or two more questions. MuggleNet brand new staffer Grace Candido. What’s your question, Grace?

Grace: Mine is a question looking more for a reaction. I actually believe that Voldemort definitely would have taught Snape to fly, and I say that from the mindset of the fact that he grew up during an era that was mostly war-minded, he is a war-minded individual and he wants more power. With that in mind, he would’ve probably wanted his top generals as in Bellatrix, Snape, the ones who he had in his inner circle, to know as much as possible that would benefit him in battle. So I feel that — because he actually did personally train Bellatrix and she brags about that in the books, and I would see that he would probably train Snape in a certain way, as well. So I think that he probably would’ve taught him how to fly. Just my personal opinion. It would benefit him on the battlefield a great deal to have people who were skilled at fighting but able to lead his forces. And in his mindset, he’s already immortal, he’s already a god. He doesn’t really have to worry so much about these puny mortals trying to overthrow him.

Lorrie: I can see where you’re coming from, but the way that he disposes of Snape because he thinks that’ll give him the Elder Wand, I don’t think he actually really cares that much.

Keith: Yeah, I’m not really sure if he would’ve taught either. I can definitely see that Bellatrix and Snape are his favorites at one point in time; he might have taught them some stuff. But it’s obvious when they’re facing Hogwarts and Hogwarts has the protective barrier over it, everybody’s trying to get through this barrier and they’re not able to. And Voldemort just goes, when he feels it and he just goes running through the barrier. So I don’t know that anybody else could’ve done that magic. Same with flying, I don’t know where Snape would’ve learned it. Sam.

Sam: Hi. My question is to Lorrie. I will admit: I’m not nearly as avid a Harry Potter fan as everyone else in this room, I’m here with my girlfriend. But my second favorite character was always Snape, and I’ve always enjoyed anti-heroes, and I’m very excited to see that you have written this book about Snape and you have taken time to think into the mindset of Snape. My question to you is with how Draco had turned out in his life, do you think Snape would’ve 1) been proud about Draco and his turnaround in his mindset? Secondly, had felt like he was part of accomplishing that?

Lorrie: Yes, and I think Snape was proud of him because they planned for — Dumbledore planned for the Elder Wand to go to Snape because he thought that when Draco came to attack him, that Draco would use an offensive spell, and it turned out that Snape had taught him so well to do non-confrontation and to do defensive spells that Draco used Expelliarmus and therefore he became the owner of the Elder Wand and none of them had foreseen that. Then he saw — after Snape killed Dumbledore, he had to take care of Draco. He had to take him to his mother; he had to do what he could to intercede when Voldemort dealt with the two of them after Dumbledore’s death. I think he saw after that that Draco was sorry that he had taken the Dark Mark and was just trying to survive and was no longer misguidedly following Voldemort. I think he saw that change in him. I think he was proud.

Sam: Thank you. [ENDS 01:16:11]

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.

Ten years later, an apology for killing Snape! Never more timely.

Rowling apologizes for killing Snape!

In July 2007, when I read Snape’s death scene and realized his author wasn’t going to give him any life beyond the unimaginable struggles of the war, and he would die without the grace of any acknowledgment from a fellow human, without rest or mercy or the sweetness of love or thanks… I was so angry that my face burned from the inside.  I could feel the temperature of my cheeks rising detectably.  I noticed it with wonder and a bit of detachment because it surprised me so much.  It was completely involuntary.  I’ve never before or since had that kind of reaction to a piece of fiction.

I was so sure that the story, the real story, would be about how this man did all of these strenuous, superhuman tasks and then survived.  How could that not be the story?  The tale of how he took the remainder of his time on earth to unpack from the years of unrelenting, mounting stress, the danger that had passed into supersonic levels of pressure?

His labors were harder than I had been capable of imagining.  I had naively thought that there would be some reward for him.  I hadn’t acclimated to the reality that this character had, himself, accepted:  it’s difficult to do things knowing, for absolute certain, that you will die without your sacrifices ever being acknowledged or even recognized.  To go to your grave accepting that people will wrongly spit on it, accepting that this will be worthwhile.

Please let there be someone in the current U.S. government who has the inner strength to do what Snape died doing.  I accept the author’s apology for Snape’s death.  She showed us what is necessary in times when mastery of the Elder Wand is at stake.

The Obscurus in Potterverse and BBC Sherlock

This 5-minute talk was presented at a panel about the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at 221B Con, April 9, 2017.

Newt Scamander says about what’s in his case:  “Please don’t hurt those creatures—there is nothing in there that is dangerous.”

What do we know about how Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald?  We know it wasn’t by force.  We know he hoped, for the rest of his life, that Grindelwald felt remorse for his Unforgivable crimes.

Newt’s words about the Obscurus, separated from the Sudanese girl who was its Obscurial, hint at what Dumbledore might have done.  Without a host, the Obscurus is harmless, defenseless.  It does not deserve to be destroyed.  We have seen this before.  Not only in Ariana, but also the flayed baby in King’s Cross.  As Hermione tells Harry about an adult Death Eater with a baby’s head:  “You can’t hurt a baby!”

Dumbledore knew he had a chance of reaching Grindelwald’s vulnerability, the part of him that, like Credence, is frightened by himself and his murders.  I’m guessing that the kindness that Newt shows to the Obscurus is related to how Dumbledore reached Grindelwald.  It’s how Snape and Dumbledore saved Draco, Snape with his healing song after Sectumsempra and Dumbledore with his merciful offer of refuge for Draco and his family, when Draco believed he was beyond help.  Dumbledore’s offer tells Draco:  It is not too late.  You are worth saving.  Harry sees Draco lower his wand and “the tiniest drop of pity mingled with his dislike.”  That drop is enough for Harry to recognize that Draco is a fellow creature who does not deserve to be destroyed, just as the small amount of Harry’s blood was enough to render Voldemort susceptible to empathy.

Newt couldn’t save one Obscurial.  That strengthens his resolve to save Credence.  This is like Dumbledore unable to reach Tom Riddle but wiser for that failure, accepting the agonized Snape rather than attacking him.  Dumbledore trains Harry to confront Voldemort because Harry may be the only person Voldemort has connected with enough to possibly show him his fear.

The words to that vulnerable terror go:  “I’m scaring myself with what I’ve done.  Help me.  Stop me.  Contain me.”  That’s what Credence asks of Graves, who violates that trust and abuses him.  But Dumbledore did respond in good faith to Snape, Snape to both Draco and Harry after Harry casts Sectumsempra.  When Voldemort hunts down Harry Potter, forbidding anyone else to kill Harry, and sits forlornly in the clearing in the forest, saying, “I thought he would come.  I expected him to come,” he’s asking for the same thing.  When Harry offers him the opportunity to feel remorse, he gives Voldemort the choice to be seen, stopped, contained.  Voldemort decides it’s too late and chooses to gamble on Avada Kedavra rather than experience the pain of remorse, but Harry set up that choice for him.

So let’s talk about Sherlock, and the sister who was frightened by her own destructive power.

Eurus said:  “Every time I close my eyes, I’m on the plane.  I’m lost, lost in the sky, and no one can hear me.”

By age five, she had killed and no one could stop her.  No one could even find the evidence.  Prisons cannot hold her; she roams on buses, to 221B, to therapist offices.  Like Credence, she could control her Obscurus, to some degree; she just doesn’t want to.

She had to recall Sherlock from exile.  It was useless to reach out to her parents; her mother wouldn’t wake up and her father wasn’t even on the same plane.  Moriarty is dead; Mycroft has no mercy; Sherlock is her last hope.  She reprograms her prison and reproduces her original crime so she can return to being five and beg Sherlock to find her, save her soul, stop her, contain her.  Once she gets her wish, her Obscurus subsides.  She stops talking, she stops killing people, she stops breaking out.

Sherlock’s kindness to her is like Newt’s to the Obscurus.  One can understand Mycroft’s proposal to let the girl land the plane in the water.  She is, after all, an unstoppable criminal.  There’s mercy for Mycroft here, too; no one but Sherlock Holmes can contain this era-defining genius.  It’s a good touch that when she overpowers Mycroft, she doesn’t kill him; she just locks him in her cell, as Dumbledore did to Grindelwald.  “I could kill you, but I’d rather you learn how you made others feel” — that’s a mainstay of Potterverse, that empathy can both save your soul and be your punishment.

Serial murders are Unforgivables.  Dumbledore doesn’t have to forgive Grindelwald, and Sherlock doesn’t have to forgive Eurus.  But if they recognize that even an Obscurus is a fantastic beast worth protecting, they can help save people’s souls by helping them feel, however painful that may be.  That’s what Eurus asked for.  That’s why Sherlock, who is not even gifted compared to Eurus — an “idiot” — succeeded in containing her:  because she asked him.

“I’m in the plane, and I’m going to crash.  And you’re going to save me.”

“I can bring you home.”

“It’s too late now.”

“Open your eyes.  I’m here.  You’re not lost anymore.”  They change how the story ends.  Eurus has essentially built a Time-Turner and brought Sherlock back with her.  This time, he has grown enough to find her, and she tells him how to save his friend.  I think both Newt and Sherlock listen when Obscurials ask, and respond with kindness and containment.  Dumbledore couldn’t save his own sister, but I wonder if that’s what he did for Grindelwald.

Snape was a reformed neo-Nazi

With all of the white supremacists, “alt-right” supporters, and neo-Nazis in U.S. government this year, it becomes clearer to U.S. readers that Rowling wrote Snape to be a reformed neo-Nazi who devoted his adult life to renouncing such ideology and remaining undercover so he could help similarly vulnerable students avoid repeating his mistakes.  This group interview, Ex-Neo Nazis Explain What’s Driving the Alt-Right, could have been been about Snape’s mindset as a young man.  It also hints at the effect on Dolores Umbridge when Dumbledore rescued her in the forest and the effect on Voldemort when Harry refused to attack him in the Final Battle.

Transcript! Three Patch Podcast Ep54, “Snape and Sherlock” interview

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.

******START OF INTERVIEW (00:00:25)******

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?

Lorrie: Yes.

Emma: Would they have been in the same year?

Lorrie: Yes, they were born in the same year.

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.

Emma: Interesting. 

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. 

Emma: Yeah.

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.

******END OF INTERVIEW (00:23:05)******