June marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most definitive and lasting book series: Harry Potter. One of the reasons behind its immense success is its development of complex, morally gray characters, amongst which one person takes the cake: Severus Snape.
Snape’s morality has long been contested in the Harry Potter fandom; while many think he was a product of his circumstances and earned redemption, many also think nothing can excuse his villainous behavior from him, particularly towards Harry. The fact remains that Snape is a complex character with both damning and redeeming qualities, as proven in the books.
A Poet for Potions
“I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…”
Severus is great at Potions, that much is known by fans of the Harry Potter films. However, the film series does not fully showcase Snape’s passion and love for the subject.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Snape opens his first lesson by spewing some poetic prose about how great Potions truly is. Unfortunately, the film version alters his lines from him a bit, substituting his love for the subject with more snide remarks toward his students from him.
The Deceptive Prince
“Perhaps you disagree with the Dark Lord, perhaps you think that Dumbledore would not have noticed if I had joined forces with the Death Eaters to fight the Order of the Phoenix? And – forgive me – you speak of dangers… you were facing six teenagers, were you not?
Snape played the part of double agent well, passing as a loyal Death Eater while really pleading his allegiance to Dumbledore and the cause to bring down Voldemort once and for all.
While few doubted him, Bellatrix gives him a particularly hard time at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Snape’s ability to give her a clever answer for every doubt, along with a snarky remark here and there, highlights just how well he plays her role. Sadly, by omitting Bellatrix’s interrogations, movie watchers do not get to see just how witty, quick-thinking, and intellectually brilliant Severus undoubtedly is.
“Well, Potter… that was certainly an improvement…”
While most of the series focuses on Snape’s obvious contempt for Harry and dismissing his magical competence, the book Snape does have brief – albeit still very condescending – moments of praise.
Such as in Order of the Phoenixx, when Harry manages to infiltrate Snape’s mind during their Occlumency lesson. Although Harry sees a very vulnerable memory of Severus’ domestic childhood life, Snape still acknowledges his improvement in him, something never shown in the films. Moreover, the movies completely altered what Harry saw in Snape’s head and why he ended Harry’s lessons, reducing his actions to spite and embarrassment instead of hurt.
“Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway, you’re a Muggle.”
While there are many quotes that prove Snape is the best wizard in the movies, in reality, Snape’s character arc is incredibly complex, which is part of what makes him such a great and popular character within the series.
However, a common misconception among movie watchers is that Snape was very kind and guilt-free in his youth. Book readers, of course, will know this is not the case-as derived from his interactions with a young Petunia. Although Snape clearly cared for Lily, he had preconceived notions about wizard supremacy at a very early age. While some fans may attribute this hatred to his Muggle father about him, it still does not excuse his comments about him and apparent prejudices about him.
Two Sides to a Tale
“I would hate you to run away with a false idea of your father, Potter. Have you been imagining some act of glorious heroism?”
While fans of the films do not really learn of the extent of the Marauders’ bullying of Snape until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixbook readers find out the severity of it in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
While Dumbledore told Harry that James once saved Snape’s life, he conveniently forgot to mention the circumstances that led Snape there. This quote before Snape tells Harry the story not only proves the double-standards people hold James to in the Wizarding World but also how deeply troubled Snape still is by their past bullying and current reputations of him.
Chosen One Who?
“I don’t care how many times your picture appears in the papers. To me, Potter, you are nothing but a nasty little boy who considers rules to be beneath him.”
Although there are many quotes that prove Snape was great at his job, one of the downfalls of Snape’s character and professionalism is his decision to constantly berate and bully Harry, simply for being James’ son and bearing resemblance to him.
While the films do an apt job of displaying Snape’s misguided contempt, there are many quotes that have been omitted, such as this one from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This line stands out amongst others because it not only emphasizes Snape’s disdain for Harry’s fame and popularity (which Harry did not choose) but also infantilizes and humiliates him, establishing Snape as the obvious bully in their dynamic.
“DON’T CALL ME COWARD!”
Film watchers will know that Snape kept his secret allegiance to Dumbledore a secret until he died, allowing him to leave the series as a more noble character with many quotes that prove he was a hero.
However, in the books, Snape knew just how much he was sacrificing and risking by taking on this task. This is depicted especially in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Snape reacts so aggressively to Harry calling him a coward. This quote also makes the moments in deathly hallows when McGonagall calls also him a coward and Harry later tells his son he was named after “the bravest man” he ever knew all the more meaningful.
“You – Potter – why didn’t you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he’d make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That’s another point you’ve lost for Gryffindor.”
Despite the fact that Snape was in fact working in favor of Harry the entire time, it still cannot be denied that he was incredibly biased when it came to awarding points and punishments.
Although this is shown a bit in the movies with his favoritism of Draco, much of his unfair behavior gets downplayed, especially with the omittance of quotes, such as his completely unjustified blaming of Harry after Neville messes up in his first-year class. Just as there are many movie quotes that prove he was a villain, there are quite a few moments in the books for which Snape cannot be completely forgiven, no matter his intentions and undying love for Lily.
“I don’t need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!”
Snape’s love for Lily was the primary factor that changed the trajectory of his character right near the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Yet, the films fail to mention the fact that Snape had also hurt Lily when they were younger, first through his treatment of her sister Petunia, and more seriously when he called Lily herself a Mudblood. Although he did regret it very much afterward and begged Lily for forgiveness, this quote proves that Snape too was not without his flaws and mistakes during his youth.
“Do not use that word!”
Despite his glaring flaws, it is impossible not to credit Severus Snape for his character development. While his treatment of students, particularly Harry, is terrible throughout the series, it’s clear that he has grown in some regards.
This is shown in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Snape reprimands Phineas Nigellus for calling Hermione a Mudblood. Having been shown his previous views on Muggles and having used the term before in his youth, this book quote speaks volumes about his growth of him, something which is never adequately shown in the films. Although he remains a complicated character with many layers, Snape does stand vindicated in some ways.
NEXT: Snape’s Best Decisions In The Half-Blood Prince
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