snape a definitive reading cover

Table of Contents

Introduction:  The Magnificence of Severus Snape

Ch1:  Severus Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Ch2:  Severus Snape and the Chamber of Secrets

Ch3:  Severus Snape and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Ch4:  Severus Snape and the Goblet of Fire

Ch5:  Severus Snape and the Order of the Phoenix

Ch6:  Severus Snape and the Half-Blood Prince

Ch7:  Severus Snape and the Deathly Hallows

Ch8:  The Prince’s Tale



The Harry Potter series may be named after the Boy Who Lived, but if you want to know the story, keep your eyes fixed on Snape.  This hook-nosed, greasy-haired, grumpy character is one of J.K. Rowling’s enduring gifts to English literature.  He’s the archetypal ill-tempered teacher:  acerbic, yet horribly, deliciously funny.  Every time he opens his mouth, he delivers.  When he’s in a scene, you can’t take your eyes off him.  Snape is always the story.

In Snape, Rowling created a character of almost perfect ambiguity, a double agent who rose to become the right-hand man of both generals on opposing sides of a war.  He’s at once self-controlled and seething with bitterness.  Every sentence, every action from him has at least two possible and contradictory interpretations.  The question of Snape’s true loyalties is at the heart of the books’ mysteries.  Is it possible, ever, to know what lies underneath his façade?

It is.  With a close look at each of the books, everything about Snape becomes knowable.

Is he a classroom bully?  Without a doubt.  He can be unfair, petty, mocking, prone to blatant favoritism – many of the traits that schoolchildren most loathe.  But underneath his scathing surface is someone who cares terribly, enough to devote his adult life to protecting everyone in his world, even those whom he dislikes.  And he does this all undercover, pretending to be evil, accepting that he will live and die without the chance to defend himself and clear his name.

Do his accomplishments cancel out the cruel things he’s done?  Not at all, and that is part of the power of this character.  He is often unlovable, immature, not attractive, not even kind – but he made something of himself.  His story tells us that hope and greatness are for everybody, not only for those who have always been good.  When we learn all the harm he did in his youth, we learn how to understand without excusing, how to give ourselves and others a second chance.

With all his ugly qualities, what makes this character a favorite with so many readers?

He’s smart.  He’s competent.  His sarcasm is funny and his bitterness can be bracing.  He always knows what to do.  He’s always there when you need him.  There are things that only Snape can do.  A wizard who has done evil and then felt remorse knows how to undo evil magic in a way that those who have always been good cannot know.

He’s hideous, bless him, and sensitive to indignities.  He loathes being mocked, especially by children; everyone sees him seething.  But he makes something of himself anyway.  In all things, he does what he can with what he has and no more.  As an adult, he becomes, not attractive, but something.  Potent.  Magnetic.  He commands attention.  When he is brave, he is almost beautiful.

— from the Introduction, Snape:  A Definitive Reading