Goodness. This is my last post. That’s sad. And exciting. Because it means the archive is coming and the archive will persist. It’s not the end, though (it’s never the end!) because we still have that wrapup post coming OOPS SPOILERS.
Today, again, I only get to discuss one chapter, though. So let’s see if we can pull it all together and make something that’s truly magical. I shall miss everyone’s many and varied thoughts that are many and varied. It’s been a real wonder to go back and look at this series again and see how well it holds up, because it does hold up and hold up well. And stuff like that. Also critical brain being critical still loves this series. Possibly more.
To start this, I should mention, I suppose, how I read this book, because it was most peculiar.
I started around two in the morning because Borders was a total madhouse. Got home, started reading. Read for maybe three hours and passed out around five (as I am wont to do). It was only going to be a nap. I had plans to wake up at seven in the morning so I could finish in time for a work/errand thing I had to do at 5:30 later that day. The plan was to be done by the work/errand so I could worry about work.
Surprise surprise, I overslept (probably woke up around nine), realized that I wouldn’t have had time to finish before the work/errand, and spent the rest of the day not speeding through it, but taking my time. I didn’t STOP reading, of course. But I took my time. I even got a text message at seven thirty in the morning from my best friend saying she’d finished and she didn’t cry (fascist).
I read all day. And when I had to stop to go to work, I looked at how long the next chapter was (it was pretty long) and closed the book. Went to the work/errand (thinking about where I had stopped) and hurried back soon as I was done with the work/errand so I could finish. Which, for the record, was me alone in my childhood home, crying, sobbing, and screaming at the events that unfolded in the very next chapter. It was, to my recollection, the hardest I have ever cried at anything and is still the hardest I have ever cried at anything.
And the chapter that I ended on? When I closed the book for the first time that day and went off to go do my work/errand? The hour or so long break I had between chapters?
Guess what that chapter was.
Chapter 32: The Elder Wand
In which Fred is dead, but we don’t have time to grieve because Voldemort is in the Shrieking Shack. So Harry, Ron, and Hermione run like hell through hell and across hell to get there, arriving in time to see Voldemort monologue to Snape, have Nagini kill Snape and leave because The Elder Wand is totes now his bitch. And then Snape dies, but not before giving Harry some memories, sharing some poignant final words, and making really creepy eye contact.
So let’s unpack this. I suppose the first thing I want to point out is Rowling’s narrative stylings would make this chapter more aptly titled “The Battle of Hogwarts.” Watching Harry and Ron and Hermione run across the battlefield like this, the chaos and carnage is Rowling at her most concisely imaginative. She manages to paint the chaos and disorder of seeing Hogwarts in a few brush strokes. Having always been limited to Harry’s POV (by her own choices) it means that the last chapter ends up being more “The Battle in the Room of Requirement” than anything else.
Here is where we get the giants and the spiders. Here is Fenrir Greyback mutilating Lavender Brown. Here’s Seamus and Luna and Ernie MacMillan firing Patronuses.
And the only reason we get to see it is because Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to get to the Shrieking Shack.
I like and don’t like it. I thought that this was one of the things the movie did exceptionally well at conveying and Rowling (being a writer who has never been particularly adept at action) has certain things get lost in the shuffle. Lavender Brown, in particular is a victim of this, as people debate whether or not Fenrir has killed her. My argument is that because Lavender is seen breathing, she ends up more Bill’d than Dobby’d. (YAY FOR DIEGETICS!) And let’s not forget that there’s a bit where Ron FINALLY jacks Malfoy in the face, but it’s lost in the shufffle. Hagrid is carted into the forest, but it happens so quickly it’s easy to forget it even happened just a sentence after it’s happened.
And there’s stuff that I love, but don’t love here. Trelawney knocking out Fenrir with crystal balls is a terrific image, but tonally off. Same with Kreacher leading the House Elves in open rebellion. Those feel like the triumph of “The Flaw In The Plan” more than the grizzly reality of giants and Fenrir mutilating Lavender Brown’s face (sorry, it’s just a deliciously horrific image and an easy example). “The Flaw in the Plan” has a playful, victorious tone that is (perhaps) best exemplified by watching Hogwarts students, faculty, and The Ministry all fighting Voldemort back into the Great Hall. It feels like Matilda, what with the children successfully driving out The Trunchbull. You know?
So it’s jarring to get that here.
That said. Overall? I love the picture of the chaos that’s painted here. This is what you want from “Battle of Hogwarts.” This is hell. War is hell.
But fine. FINE. We’ll talk about the thing you all wanna hear about.
But you probably won’t be happy with me.
I had a great opportunity to talk about Snape in the last book. But this is my chance. Right? This is the bit where it all comes to light. This is the bit where you can look at what’s happening and figure out everything.
When I was reading this again, my girlfriend and I had a lot of discussion about our experience reading this book in particular. It’s like The Kennedy Assassination. But fun. We all remember the circumstances. The ebbs and the flows. The lead up. Where we were. How we were after. And her experience reading was MUCH different from mine. She’s very fandom-minded and was very involved in the discussions leading up to the release of Deathly Hallows. She had a book that gave odds on who was going to die (and they totally got it wrong on Fred). So she was in deep. So when she read this, she knew it all. She knew that Snape was good. She knew he was in love with Lily Evans. There were plenty of surprises, sure. But this was something she totally knew going in. Rowling has never been super subtle about the big-overarching. People figured out R.A.B. within hours of Half Blood Prince’s release. She did an interview the next DAY and was asked about it. The fandom group-think (as I like to call it) can figure things out fairly easily. Put a million monkeys in a room and one writes Shakespeare? Put ten thousand fans on the internet and someone’s going to stumble on and proliferate a theory about what’s coming. It happens.
I stayed away from all that, and knew that one of the big marketing pushes for the novel was “Severus Snape: Friend or Foe?” But I wasn’t sure. Half Blood Prince did a LOT of good work to convince me that Snape wasn’t on the side of the angels, that Dumbledore might have been wrong (as if Dumbledore could possibly be wrong about such a thing). Now that it’s a hindsight thing, I recognize that Snape HAD to be good, I suppose. But the book does a good job obfuscating the reveal until the next chapter. Or at least, I was fooled.
And I remember going to my work/errand thing, having finished this chapter, thinking about the catastrophic, devastating events that had gone so far, thinking about what would happen next, and how WEIRD it was that Snape had gotten such an insane, rubbish death.
Because it is an insane rubbish death, isn’t it? Snape is murdered by a snake. He’s not even deemed worthy of death by killing curse. He is bitten and dies gurgling and bloody. Voldemort can’t even give him a personal death. He sends Snape out like a bitch, and Snape dies in shock and horror, disbelieving that this is the fate to which he has been relegated all his life.
I suppose if I have a problem with Snape overall it’s Rowling’s infatuation with him. Bitch and moan about “Albus Severus Potter” all you want, the fact remains that that is a HUGE action that Rowling takes to reveal Harry’s (and by proxy, hers) on this doomed, sad, and lonely man. She has called him an anti-hero in interviews, and I think that’s particularly apt. I mean, look at how she cast the movie. The only two requests were Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid and Hans Gruber as Snape. This was a character who meant the world to her. And yet she gives him this death, a death that leaves people either screaming (the Snape = friend fans) or cold (the Snape = foe fans, like myself at the time).
Why? Why do this to him? Because sometimes death is like this. Snape was too far in. He was never going to get out. He never even thought he was going to die in that room. Or at least, he doesn’t think it until it’s too late. You caught that, right? The reason Snape can’t take his eyes off Nagini isn’t because he’s scared of Nagini. It’s because Snape is finally seeing Dumbledore’s final sign. Snape needs to get the hell out of there not to live, but to tell Harry what Harry needs to know to save the day and end this once and for all. That’s why he BEGS to do it. Look at how many times Snape begs to go find Harry. That’s not an accident.
Yet, as we know, he doesn’t make it. And he doesn’t get a hero’s death. He gets a Slytherin death. He gets stabbed in the back by someone, who, all knowledge to the contrary, he thought he had trust. And he DID have Voldemort’s trust. One of my favourite lines in the entire book is Voldemort’s final word on the matter (“I regret it.”). While I think Voldemort is hardly regretful of his actions, I believe it’s the closest Volemort’s come to remorse in a long, long time. Possibly ever. It’s probably why he doesn’t do it himself. It hurts him too much to do it. Snape, to his mind, never wavered in his loyalty. The problem is that Voldemort want The Elder Wand and he doesn’t realized (being Voldemort) that he could just as easily disarm Snape and be the wand’s master. But because he’s Voldemort we’re left with him murdering Snape for no reason other than the passing of the wand. And so he does regret it, I think. Because it is a death that means nothing. Snape WASN’T the Master of The Elder Wand. His death HAS no reason.
So we’re left, at the end of this chapter, with the image of a dying man, Harry’s adversary, bleeding out on the floor, begging for him to understand, to take his memories. And it’s here that Snape royally fucks up beyond belief. He doesn’t MEAN to give Harry the memories of Lily Evans. It’s just that she’s the last thing he sees, because he did love her. Because when his life flashes before his eyes, the only two things that ever mattered to him was Lily (and his time with her) and Dumbledore (as the vehicle to which he hitched the wagon of his revenge).
And as much as I don’t like Snape (and I don’t), I must agree that this death is a horrible way to go out and unbecoming of a guy who WAS so brave, who dedicated his life to defeating the man who murdered the girl he spent his entire life obsessing over. And yeah, the obsession wasn’t healthy or realistic. This is a guy who wanted to control her and be loved because he thought she was pretty. A guy who couldn’t accept that sometimes, you grow up. Sometimes, people grow apart. And your love is unrequited forever. Even in the memories (where Snape could embellish and tweak the events as they happened), Lily Evans was never in love with him. And he pined over a life unlived, a reality divorced from the reality he lived in.
A few months ago, Halloween, I was at a party. I was super drunk, and a friend of mine’s brother and I got to talking about Harry Potter. I was about halfway through Goblet at the time and was making an argument that Dumbledore is a COLOSSAL douchebag for allowing Voldemort to rise as he does (I’d explain but we don’t have two hours), and this fellow fired back that the real issue we weren’t talking about is how Severus Snape was a better person.
Now that he’s dead, let’s reflect. Was he? Because I don’t think he was. Snape is an unparalleled asshole, and it gives me a spark of excitement to see to see Emily Asher-Perrin coming to this realization in her own re-read of the series. Because this was something that was burned into the series from the outset. Snape was clearly in love with Harry’s mother, and she’s constantly re-directing Harry’s attention to Snape’s relationship with his father, which is not what the series was about, was it?
And yes, the love was pure. Yes, the love was deep. And yes, Snape threw his entire life away at an incredibly young age to avenge the love of his childhood because he loved her so much. Yes. That’s a lot of love.
But it’s not enough. I’m sorry. It’s not. Snape could have been a good person. He could have used the death of Lily to make a good life for himself. To live in her memory, as she would have wanted. He could have been a good person. He could have been kind to her legacy, to raise Harry as his own, to take him under his wing, to watch over him, to treat him with respect in some way.
Alas. Snape is an a cock ring. Snape bullies Neville beyond anything that is even moderately acceptable. He treats Harry like dirt no matter what time of day it is. He has no love for anyone but himself and the girl who died without loving him.
So it’s hard for me to grieve about him. It’s hard for me to look at the man who he was and find him redeemed from that love he felt so deeply. It comes close, but that speaks more to the deepness and richness of the love than it does to sins against people he committed. Snape was a vile wretch of a human being. And good riddance. For good to prevail in this series as hard as it does, there’s no room for someone like Severus Snape.
But that still doesn’t mean he deserved to die this way.
A Few Quick Hits
- The final confrontation in the Shrieking Shack is a great choice. I also really liked the use of the boat house in the movie. But putting the death of Snape (and thusly, the death of the final member of the “Marauder” generation for Lupin MUST be dead by this point) in a location that was so key to the Marauders is a final poetic full-circle thing. It’s a great decision.
- Lucius Malfoy groveling is underrated.
- Now that the horcruxes are destroyed, it does leave Harry and Ron and Hermione at something of a loss for what to do next. I like that they’re like “well let’s go kill the snake” because they have no other choice. The end is nigh.
- The one thing I find difficult is trying to figure out WHEN Harry figures things out. At a certain point he realizes he’s the Master of the Elder Wand because Malfoy was unwittingly the Master of the Elder Wand. But it’s hard to say when he figures that out. My guess is at some point in King’s Cross? But I have no idea. THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS.
- And finally, thanks for reading my super long blather posts about these topics. I’m glad I have yet to be laughed away for all my cockamamie theories and interpretations (but I think that Quidditch one came close). It’s been a pleasure doing this with all of you. Thank you.