Learning from Professor Snape
by Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
WARNING: If you have not finished the last Harry Potter book, DON’T READ THIS!
Who is Harry Potter to you? A boy-turned-man of great luck and fortune? An archetype for heroism? Or the literary minion of an occult conspiracy designed to make child readers sell their souls over to witchcraft and sacrifice their billions of evil dollars to the publishing industry?
I must confess that as to this last possibility, I have grown bone-weary of all the accusations hurled at Harry over the years. His story comes from a person who has repeatedly (and with bracing honesty) maintained her faith in God and the fundamental tenets of Christianity. This last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, should have laid any remaining doubt to rest, but as with all things, those who look at the world and see only the handiwork of the wicked will always be tempted to further demean Harry and pals. That’s okay; J.K. Rowling can take it; she knows such arguments are fundamentally and finally futile.
The proof is clear. The entire Potter series, it turns out, has been one long-form tale about redemption and resurrection, the ultimate victory of love, the diminishing power of death, the value of self-sacrifice, and the final defeat of evil.
As I sat through the latest and last installment of the book franchise, I was struck in particular by the redemption of Harry’s much-loathed former Potions professor, Severus Snape. (I was also more grateful than ever that workhorse actor Alan Rickman, who plays Snape in the Potter films, has been willing to invest his character with a certain deserved ambiguity along the way.) On the outside Snape is a dark, snarling menace of unquestionably sick motive; inside, he’s fallible, fragile ” a human being like anyone else, twisted up with a love that makes him do all kinds of foolishly valiant things. His protection of Harry, once Ms. Rowling deconstructs it in the final moments of Deathly Hallows, presents us with the hard question of how far we would go to keep promises made in the flush of the deepest, most intense feeling.
Snape’s imminent return to the ranks of humanity was one of the few convictions I was willing to publicly bet on. It just made sense that one so superficially repugnant would have a parcel of unseen baggage explaining his actions.
As it recedes from us, then, Harry’s wizarding world remains complicated as usual ” peopled as it is with complex characters, sophisticated motivations, and actions rendered in moral shades of gray. Remind you of any place a little closer to home?
Professor Snape reminds us that not even the worst things and people we can dream up are really beyond the pale of retribution ” that people don’t just wake up and decide to be evil; that everyone has a backstory; and that finally, in order to face and truly address any malevolence and use it for good, we almost always must stoop first to understand it. Ms. Rowling has done amazing work to help us identify with Snape for the human being that he is.
But I still wouldn’t have him over for tea.
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Priest-In-Charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs, (www.saint-barnabas.info).
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