From watching the films, I knew two things about Snape going into the books: 1) He ended up being the good guy; 2) Until that revelation, he was kind of a dick.
Knowing these two things all along has made Snape one of the series’ most consistently interesting characters. I’m fascinated to think about what it was like for original readers to follow him at this point without knowing what’s to come. Were you expecting him to turn out good or bad? And even if good, were you expecting the complete redemption he gets in the end of the series?
Furthermore, as I read through the scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where he continues to be viciously and unnecessarily awful to Harry, I wonder: just how complete is that redemption? I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself with his big Book 7 redemption reveal, but it’s hard not to think about what I know is ahead; every time Harry grinds his teeth about his least favorite professor, I remember how Harry will one day be so moved that he names his son, in part, after the dead Snape.
All of which makes me think: what would Snape and Harry’s relationship have been like if Snape had lived?
I don’t really think Snape should have lived; his tragic end was a powerful moment in the films, and I’m sure will be as good or better in the books. But I do wish we could see an alternate universe where Harry finds out everything about Snape, but Snape makes it through the battle. Then what? Harry was able to forgive the memory of Snape, but that might have been easier than it would have been to forgive the real thing, and be able to move on from the memories of torment. If he still saw Snape all the time, would he only see the man who was secretly on his side? Or would he, inevitably, also see the man who made his life hell for nearly seven years?
Because it’s interesting to see just how truly awful Snape is to Harry, something much more apparent in the books. Being a jerk in class is bad enough, constantly singling out Harry, humiliating and belittling him. Being an angry disciplinarian is worse, as we’ve already seen him try to get Harry expelled, and he always comes down harder on him. But Snape keeps going even further, repeatedly attacking the memory of Harry’s father to try to almost torture Harry, and at this point, Harry is also blaming Snape for the death of Sirius. I get that Snape hated James and Sirius, and it’s believable to think that he’d protect Harry even while remaining bitter about Harry’s dad and godfather. But Snape has often been downright cruel.
So if Snape had lived, how would they look back on these pre-redemption years? Maybe they would have gotten past it, but I have to think it at least would have been uneasy for a while. It’s easy to see Harry finding an appreciation for Snape the fallen hero. It’s harder to see Snape, had he lived, becoming warm and tender and assuming the role of a father figure to Harry. I think it would have been fascinating to see that relationship become uncomfortably redefined after all the bad that’s happened so far, and all the good that’s still to come in the series.
I’m through the first 11 chapters, 236 pages, of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Other thoughts:
I’m short-handing this book’s title as Prince, rather than Half-Blood, HBP, or anything else, in anticipation of whom I’ll be listening to in order to cope with the emotion at the end of this book. Can’t wait to sob through “Purple Rain” as Dumbledore dies, wailing at my dogs to not look at me, and trying to convince my wife that this a perfectly normal emotional reaction. It’s going to be great/awful.
- Prince opens with a meeting between the British Prime Minister and Cornelius Fudge. The point of the chapter seems to mostly be exposition about how the war against Voldemort isn’t going well, with the payoff that Fudge is out as Minister of Magic. As far as Rowling’s beginning chapters go, let’s just say that in terms of excitement and drama, Goblet of Fire remains the rather uncontested champ.
- A better opener might have been the second chapter, where Snape proves his Death Eater loyalty by binding himself to help Draco Malfoy. Along the way, we got an explanation to one of my persistent questions: why does Dumbledore wait so long to give Snape the Defense Against the Dark Arts job? The answer, Snape tells Narcissa and Bellatrix, is because Dumbledore feared the subject might tempt Snape into a relapse into his old ways.
I was floored by what an incredibly underwhelming explanation this is. First, it requires a reevaluation of the Dumbledore-Snape relationship, with Dumbledore’s statements of, “I trust Professor Snape completely” now interpreted better as, “I trust Snape, so long as he isn’t tempted.” Second, and more importantly, this explanation doesn’t even make sense. Perhaps for the first four of Harry’s years at Hogwarts, you could understand it if Dumbledore had that reasoning. But at the end of Year Four, Voldemort returned to power, and soon after, Snape returned to playing spy in Voldemort’s camp. Yet Dumbledore still passes over Snape, creating the situation for the Ministry to appoint Umbridge and ruin Hogwarts for a year. So Dumbledore’s reasoning would have to be that it was too tempting for Snape to teach about Dark Arts, but not that it was too tempting for him to practice Dark Arts in order to get into the Death Eater inner circle.
In short, I’m hoping against hope that this isn’t the real explanation, but just something that Snape tells Voldemort groupies like Bellatrix to convince them he’s an O.G.
- Dumbledore’s thoroughly polite verbal smackdown of the Dursleys’ parenting skills was yet another highlight for a character who’s racking them up more quickly as he nears his end.
- I complained early in Phoenix that Harry often didn’t seem competent enough, middling through most of his classes. His teaching the D.A. helped show how much he excels in certain areas, but his O.W.L. results were also a good reinforcement, with him doing well on nearly everything. He never needed to be the perfect student Hemione is, but we needed to see him as more capable than he was usually portrayed as during class.
- Along those same lines, I’ve enjoyed Harry’s sudden brilliance in Potions. Sure, it’s more than a little cheating, but this is the first time we’ve seen Harry be the best in class at something other than flying and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Plus he’s captain of the Quidditch team, getting another authority position to follow up his D.A. leadership.
- Professor Slughorn is an enjoyable character, very capable and with a flair for the dramatic in his teaching. I like the central conceit of the character, networking for his own benefit through his students, yet in a harmless enough way. I’m interested to see how his benign self-serving personality interacts with his dark revelation later.
- Fred and George are off to a great start in their business, and I love how awesome they are at it. I also like that their mother has forgiven their dropping out of school, which seems like how Molly should act in such uncertain, dangerous times, especially when already estranged from another son, Percy. However, it’s a shame we never got to see her initial reaction to the twins’ Hogwarts escapade; Phoenix took its darker turns almost immediately after the Weasley twins’ departure, so there wasn’t really time for that surely humorous event. But you know it would have been awesome. As my friend Elle pointed out, you don’t mess with Molly Weasley:
- Doesn’t it seem like everyone should be more willing to believe Harry about Draco going Death Eater? Given what the characters know about his father, and how Draco himself has acted all series, it seems like everyone should have been pretty ready to accept that theory.
- I feel like I should like Tonks more than I do at this point, but I’m fairly indifferent. I think the lack of conversation between her and Harry on the way to Hogwarts, though believable, was a missed opportunity.
- Ron and Hermione have such quick, fun moments that hint at their future relationship. We’ve gotten these snippets for so long now that Rowling can afford subtlety, which makes them all the more well-done. For instance, Hermione finds out that Harry called her the best in their year, and Ron eagerly chips in that he would have said the same with the opportunity — and is disappointed when she isn’t as appreciative.
- Harry and Ginny, meanwhile, are still moving slowly. I’m well over a third of the way through the book, and they’ve barely progressed. The most we’ve gotten is Harry being briefly disappointed when Ginny goes to hang out with her own friends on the train, because he’d gotten so used to being around her over the summer. After being told that the relationship developed at a more steady pace in the book than the film, I’m a little disappointed by the lack of progression well into the book.
- Dumbledore uses the pensieve to give Harry, and us, the biggest glimpse yet into Voldemort’s past and heritage. It was dark and creepy looking within the House of Gaunt, a family of parseltongues that produced Voldemort’s abused mother. There’s an interesting chain of tragedy leading to the present evil. Merope was seemingly tortured by her awful father and brother; once free, she lashed out by snaring her heart’s desire, Voldemort’s father. Voldemort’s conception was essentially rape by magic, leading to his parents’ break and his unhappy childhood. From that upbringing, he finds an inclination toward pure evil. Each generation’s sins affects the next, and each generation grows horribly worse.