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ISSUE 120 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/23/2007

Potter fanatics debate Snape

By Ginna Baker
Contributing Writers

Friday, February 23, 2007

The question of Harry’s survival, discussed in last week’s issue, is just one of the fascinating questions facing Harry Potter fans as they look forward to the July release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Another important question is the location of Snape’s loyalties.

By titling book six after Snape, who was revealed to be the “Half-Blood Prince,” Rowling presents Snape as vitally important to the plot of the series, a two-sided man enigmatic enough to warrant a second look.

The inexperienced reader, inflamed with passion, may be tempted at this point to shout out, “He killed Dumbledore!” But this interpretation lacks depth, neglecting vital clues to Snape’s identity. To careful scholars of the Harry Potter debate (i.e. fanatics), the Snape question becomes a fascinating exercise in reading between the lines (or lies, as the case may be) to decode Rowling's clues.

There is certainly a large body of evidence in defense of Severus Snape. The first and most compelling argument is Dumbledore’s trust of Snape.

Since Dumbledore is the voice of truth and reason throughout the series, Snape's defection would put Dumbledore’s judgment in question and re-cast him as a tragically naïve mentor. Readers should expect “Deathly Hallows” to present the powerful story behind Dumbledore’s unwavering trust in Snape. An emotionally compelling tale might succeed in convincing the reader to trust Snape.

Another defense of Snape is based on a scene at the end of “Goblet of Fire,” in which Harry is in the office of the man he believes to be Mad-Eye Moody, but who is actually Death-Eater Barty Crouch, Jr. When Harry looks at the Foe-glass, designed to show Crouch his true enemies, he sees Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Severus Snape. If Snape is a true supporter of Lord Voldemort, he would not appear in the foe-glass of a Death-Eater.

Another persuasive argument, found in the article “Snape Clues” on, is that Dumbledore planned for – and even willed – his own demise in order to promote some greater good. When Dumbledore begs “Severus, please,” at the top of the Hogwarts tower, one wonders whether the ever-fearless Dumbledore could really be begging for his life. It is particularly questionable considering Dumbledore's serene statement in “Sorcerer's Stone”: “[T]o the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure (297).” Pleading to be spared seems unlikely for a character who has lived such a long, brave life.

There is, however, a persuasive, if a bit far-fetched, case for Snape's identity as an evil character. Developed by B. J. Texan of, this argument states that Severus Snape is loyal to neither Voldemort nor Dumbledore; rather, Snape pretends to work for the two parties while secretly promoting the interests of a third: himself. Texan argues that Rowling, a lover of medieval literature, based Snape, the “Half-Blood Prince,” on the character of General Severus in Machiavelli’s book “The Prince.”

Machiavelli's Severus takes power by pitting his opponents (also generals) against each other. He works together with General Albinus long enough to destroy General Niger’s army, then turns on Albinus. Could this be a parallel of Severus Snape's dealing with Albus Dumbledore and the Dark Lord?

There are quite a few reasons why this theory makes sense. It offers an explanation for Snape’s past protection of Harry despite his apparent loathing: Snape is nourishing Harry’s powers so that the young prodigy will destroy the Dark Lord for him. This model also reconciles a dilemma about Snape’s talent with occlumency. If Dumbledore sends Snape as a double agent to Lord Voldemort, the greatest Legilimens in the world, does this not imply that Dumbledore believes Snape to be an even better Legilimens? Is it possible that Snape uses occlumency to fool even Dumbledore?

Unfortunately, this newly-surfaced argument does not help readers with the bumper-sticker dilemma. Should we so lightly abandon Dumbledore’s advice to “trust SNAPE” in order to proclaim to the world that “SNAPE is a very bad man?” I hope I trust Dumbledore more than that. Unfortunately, it is Rowling, not Dumbledore, whose character we must assess. Like her Half-Blood Prince, Rowling has already proven herself too slippery to be second-guessed.

Really, the safest bet might be to surrender our minds (and our money) to her literary genius: Simply pre-order two copies of the book, and display both bumper-stickers. Otherwise, devise your own: “Forget Snape. I’m for HARRY.”

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