No, I’m not in love with Severus Snape – but I thought I’d indulge in a little fan-wanking today, on the eve of the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. And, to me, there is no better person to theorize about than Snape – one of the most intriguing characters of the septology. J. K. Rowling has said that she finds fans’ attraction to Snape disturbing, but how can she blame us when he is so damn ambiguous? Here are the major basic theories regarding Snape, from my scan of forums (check out Mugglenet.com – it’s very amusing):
1) Snape is a traitor – still. He is so skilled at Occlumency that he’s got us all, including Dumbledore, tricked. He is still a Death Eater.
2) Snape is good, and faithful to Dumbledore.
3) Snape is an opportunist, both Death Eater and one of the Order of the Phoenix. He’s waiting to see who wins before declaring his total allegiance.
4) Snape is a vampire. I find this one particularly tickling. Fans base this theory on the fact that a) Ron's joked about him being able to change into a bat (and whenever Ron jokes about something it's usually right) b) Snape never eats c) Snape wrote a large, spiky "D" on Harry's O.W. L. diagnostic and d) he's so pasty, and that's emphasized over and over again.
I am very interested in #1, and I recently figured out how this could be true given Voldemort’s pronouncement regarding Death Eaters missing from the circle at the end of Goblet of Fire. He said that there are a) his most faithful servant at Hogwarts b) “one who I believe has left me forever, he will be killed, of course” and c) a coward. The most logical matching of descriptions to names at that time seemed to be a) Barty Crouch, Jr. b) Snape and c) Karkaroff. But people have been theorizing that Snape may be the most faithful. I never heard a really convincing explanation for this, but I thought of one that might work the other night as I tried to distract Moltmannian from Badiou. b) could possibly mean Crouch Jr. – if it is simply a descriptive statement/prediction rather than a pronouncement of impending punishment. And this prediction does come true – Crouch is killed, leaving Snape to be the most faithful Death Eater.
But my theories on Snape fall more in line with #2, that Snape is faithful to the Order. Here is what I (like to) think: The greasy hair and hook nose are really a distraction put in place by Rowling in order for readers to pigeonhole Snape as untrustworthy. The more we discover about Snape, the more complex he grows. At first we only thought he was an atrocious person, particularly abusive toward Harry because of his grudge against James Potter. In the first book Dumbledore tells Harry that Snape saved his life so that he could hate James "in peace," having repaid the debt he owes James from having James save his own life. But we later find out that Dumbledore was dead wrong. Snape never believed James saved his life or did anything noble by keeping him from Lupin-in-wolf-shape. So, why did he do it? Let's leave this question for the moment.
We also discover more about Snape in Order of the Phoenix. During Harry's Occlumency lessons we find out that Snape has also had a rough childhood, growing up in an abusive environment, much like Harry and, not coincidentally, Voldemort (Tom Riddle). Snape also gets a chance to see how bad Harry had it - not at all the life of a puffed-up child celebrity, which Snape has accused Harry of being before. This is interesting. Every single year Snape has cut Harry down, told him he is not special, etc. etc. He tells Harry during Occlumency that he is neither signficiant or special - but this is definitely not true. Snape knows this full well: he knows the prophecy, he's a part of the Order. What gives? Looking at the other advice that Snape gives Harry gives us a clue: he tells Harry that weakness is in those that wear their hearts on their sleeves, those who cannot control their emotions. I think this is getting at the heart of Snape. He has experienced something in his past that has taught him to safeguard himself from hurt and vulnerability. Could it be that Snape has been applying his understanding of psychology very consistently with Harry over the years? Who is he steeling to restrain his emotions, to learn control, to withstand ridicule? Harry. Who has he been buttering up, making weak through favoritism and easy shortcuts? Malfoy. Perhaps Snape is not the abusive teacher we have known all along - cutting down the Dark Lord's enemy and helping a Death Eater's child - but very cleverly bringing up our hero to be strong (in his mind) while making the Malfoy heir weak, all the while seeming to have allegiance to Voldemort.
Of course, there are times when Snape is truly nasty to Harry and gleeful when Harry is in pain. This could be vestiges of his hate for James. But now we return to why Snape did save Harry's life (besides being faithful to Dumbledore). I believe that Snape had a friendship with Lily Potter. One very interesting omission from all of Snape's insults to Harry is the use of Lily as a barb. James he will ridicule - nothing is off bounds with him - but Lily is never mentioned. We know from Snape's pensieve that Lily once stood up for him, though he may not have shown appreciation for it then. Could it be that they developed a friendship later? And if Snape had feelings for Lily, all the more reason to hate James! There is one part early in Order that interested me. Aunt Petunia tells Harry that she knows about Azkaban because she heard "that awful boy telling her about them years ago." I don't think that "awful boy" is James. I think he's Snape - who is a hundred times more awful (looking, at least) than James.
Well, we'll all find out soon enough. I'm holding out for my own personal hero, Severus Snape.