The enigma of the Half-Blood Prince: Part 1

Firstly, let us take a moment to celebrate 20 years since the first copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was released in the UK. To call it just a “series of fantasy books” would be a collossal understatement. Joanne Rowling took us to a new world; full of love and hatred, good and evil, happiness and sorrow, greed and moderation, pride and humility – all in equal measure. It was not just magic in the sense of wands, potions and broomsticks – it was really a magical journey through a world as real as ours – the way good ultimately triumphs over evil after a long, dangerous and energy-sapping struggle, and there are many prejudices and stereotypes – some of which remain, but others challenged in a manner that is heart-rending. Secondly [DISCLAIMER] I am making it clear that I own none of the characters(whom I am going to discuss about) or their story lines – everything belongs to the Goddess JK Rowling. Lastly [SPOILER ALERT] if you have not read all the seven books, please read them before coming to this blog.

As those of you who have read the books would know, the character in question is Professor Severus Snape – probably the most controversial character in the franchise. One of the most mourned deaths in the series, he seems to have an almost equal percentage of fangirls dying for his love and haters exaggerating his misdeeds to make him look evil. There are rational minds who acknowledge his good acts but feel he was a complete git on the whole; and others who consider him as a role model. To be frank, till I read “Deathly Hallows”; my view of Snape was one-dimensional – I considered him a villain, and believed he was telling the truth (rather than expertly playing the spy) to Bellatrix Lestrange in “The Half-Blood Prince” when she questions his loyalty to Voldemort – when he ‘killed’ Dumbledore, my combined sorrow and fury meant that I wanted him finished in the final book.

It’s funny isn’t it, that when you read a book through the perspective of one character; you feel what he feels, laugh, cry and rage and storm along with him; and assume things (whether rightly or wrongly) just as he does. In this case, reading the books through Harry’s perspective; it is easy to hate Snape – right from the first Potions lesson where he docks two points from Harry’s house for almost no reason, to the ‘ultimate betrayal’ when  he ‘murders’ the beloved Hogwarts Headmaster; who had put his trust in him. I overruled the valid arguments put forth by the rational me – he had saved Harry’s life from Quirrell’s curse in the first book, his face was reflected in the “Foe Glass” (which showed enemies – including Dumbledore and McGonagall) when Barty Crouch Jr. in the guise of Mad-Eye Moody was trying to kill Harry in the fourth book, and he again saved Harry’s (and others’) life from Death Eaters by alerting the Order of the Phoenix – when Harry and his friends went to the Ministry of Magic – in the fifth book.

For the irrational me, everything was overshadowed by the ‘killing’ of Dumbledore – it argued that all the good things done earlier were only to prove his loyalty to Dumbledore, being a double-agent. And how wrong I was! This quote by Horace Slughorn in Book 6 explains it all “When you’ve seen as much life as I have, you will not underestimate the obsessive power of love.” The chapter “The Prince’s Tale” in the final book shook the core of my beliefs and assumptions about Snape – the sight of a kid Snape wearing a black coat too large for him, and watching Lily Evans exhibit magic in such a graceful manner; then trying to show his appreciation for her ability as a witch – and getting misunderstood by the girl he fancied. The fragility and vulnerability of Snape in that situation was the very opposite of the Snape I have always known.

In book 5, we got a glimpse of teenage Snape in a scene where he is bullied by Harry’s father James Potter and Harry’s godfather Sirius Black in an atrocious manner – being suspended upside down and his private parts being revealed to all. We also got a glimpse of Snape’s troubled childhood – with his father shouting at his mother (cowering in fear). The final book was like bringing all the clues together and solving the jigsaw puzzle. Snape has a lonely childhood with parents fighting each other, sees a girl in his Muggle neighbourhood showing magical prowess, falls for her, they become friends, at school he gets sorted into Slytherin and is bullied by the most popular guys(Potter and Black) – so she is the only true friend he ever has. Then Snape is humiliated by the bullies, and when Lily comes to his rescue; his ego takes control and he insults her with the unforgivable abuse “Mudblood”, losing her as a friend forever.

Snape then joins the Death Eaters as he is already in bad company amongst the Slytherins, but also wants to take revenge against the bullying Gryffindors; he overhears the prophecy about Voldemort and reports it to his master – not realizing that the prophecy is about his beloved Lily’s baby;horrified, he has a change of heart and seeks Dumbledore’s protection – which proves futile as Lily and her family are betrayed by their Secret Keeper Wormtail. After Lily’s death, a distraught Snape wants to kill himself , but then Dumbledore cleverly uses Snape’s love for Lily to make him protect her son; as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. Snape puts himself at considerable danger as a double agent just for his beloved woman’s son, though at school he gives Harry a torrid time just because Harry looks like his old tormentor James.

Dumbledore then gets cursed while putting on one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes that he mistakes to be a harmless ring, and so has to die within a year; arranges his death with Snape – who then becomes public enemy no.1 by killing Dumbledore. Snape then ingeniously helps Harry and his friends by placing the Gryffindor sword(used to destroy Horcruxes) under a lake in the forest and casting his doe Patronus(a reminder of his yet-unabated love for late Lily) to help Harry find the sword.  Snape, as Headmaster of Hogwarts(taken over by the Death Eaters); also keeps the Death Eaters in check at the school, ensuring that they don’t torture the students too much. However, Voldemort in his craze for the Elder Wand, murders Snape in cold-blood- his snake goring into Snape in a gruesome manner. Snape, before dying, imparts his memories to Harry (including the crucial one where Dumbledore informs Snape that Harry must die as he has a part of Voldemort’s soul in him); and sees Lily for one last time(in Harry who has his mother’s eyes).

Many years later, Harry recognizes Snape’s sacrifices for him and names his youngest son after him(Albus Severus Potter). Also, according to an interview by J K Rowling; Harry ensures that Snape has a portrait in the Headmasters’ office at Hogwarts(Snape originally didn’t have one as he abandoned his post during the Battle of Hogwarts). 

So, was Severus Snape a hero or villain? Was he a great lover or just a desperate man obsessed with love? Was he a good or bad person? Will provide my thoughts in Part 2.

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