The Double Negative Theory
An original editorial by T.E. Kahle
Raise your hand if you just groaned when you saw this article. I would have too,
but go ahead and read a spell. This article offers a plausible, realistic
explanation of the subtitle. (I promise that Snape does not turn into a giant
turnip and roll over Voldemort at any time.) Also, the examination need not
end here, it can apply to any character in the novels.
Really, it does. Keep Reading.
What is the Double Negative Theory? It means that we should not only judge
characters by what they do, but by what they dont do, not just by what they say,
but by what they dont say.
Dumbledores death, Snapes loyalty, and the deception of Voldemort, in my mind, are
all linked by this thinking.
Lets get right down to business. First on the list: Dumbledore. Heres a list of
reasons why hes really dead.
- JKR has let it be known that Dumbledore doesnt fear death, but not because he says,
Gee whiz, boys, Im not afraid to die. Of course not. JKR is much more subtle
than that. She constantly puts a variation on the following sentence into
Dumbledores mouth: Voldemort fails to grasp, Harry, that there are things worse
than death. Also, in Half-Blood Prince, he adds that fear of death, just like fear
of the darkness, is fear of the unknown rather than fear of the what conceals the
unknown. Dumbledore is a very intelligent, reasonable man and thats why hes able
to examine the human condition so well. His knowledge and intellectual capacity
actually have the ability to transcend his hearts thinking. That is also why I, as
a reader, am willing to trust anything Dumbledore says. In short, Dumbledore is
able to comprehend his own mortality without fear, rather viewing deaths approach with dignified acceptance.
- The Killing Curse, with the exception of Harry, is always fatal. Dumbledore did
not have any of the protection that Harry did, and the spell did not bounce back
upon Snape. The curse killed him. Dumbledore is not the sort of man to pretend to be dead
for any length of time. If it had been Snape, you might have been able to convince
me, but Dumbledore is a typical Gryffindor, and had he been able, he would
have a) gotten up and joined the fight or b) done something to communicate with
those who stood over his body later that night. As I argued above, Dumbledore is
not afraid to die, and would not have played dead in an attempt to protect his
- In a non-charactorial argument, Dumbledores death is essential to good story
telling. If Dumbledore were to be resurrected, it would undermine the severity of
death, and it would also take away any sure hope of vanquishing Voldemort for good.
Rather, we need to see Dumbledores spirit live on, not his person. As Grindewald
gave way to Voldemort, though not necessarily directly, Dumbledore will give way to
a new leader, more than likely, Harry. The old cliché that history repeats itself
has shown in our own lives as well as in JKRs novels. As much as we argue we must
learn from our past mistakes, it takes more than memory to undermine the nature of
human beings. Where evil rises, good will continue to rise to meet it and just as
you can never truly rid the world of evil, you can never extinguish the human
capacity for good. In literature, this interesting balance of human capacity
allows for characters to become complete. As readers, we see the
balance of characters constantly shifting back and forth before arriving at some
- In Dumbledores death, JKR has created a seeming martyr. Martyrs are strong
rallying points in all cultures. In death, Dumbledore has the ability to do just as
much as he did in life, because his death will rally
the Order of the Phoenix, as well as the general non-evil wizarding population,
behind Harry and against Voldemort more strongly than ever. It may induce people
who tended to cling to the sidelines to take a more active role in the offensive
against Voldemort, or at the very least, to give Harry their full support.
Our clinging to Dumbledores life is natural. His death, in the world of the
novels, obviously, is as shocking and horrifying as the murder of a prime minister,
president, or chancellor. In accepting his death for what it is, however, we can
better understand other developments in the plot, chiefly, Severus Snape.
Even those who love him would be forced to admit that at the very least, Snape is a
slimy, slippery sort of fellow. I personally find him to be the most intriguing
character in the novels, because he is the only primary, recurring character whose
loyalty has ever been in question. Whichever side he is on?; he has fooled one of
the most powerful wizards ever to live?:he deserves an Oscar for that kind of work.
So how do I know which side he is on? It all goes back to the idea of double
negativity. I trust Snape not only because Dumbledore does. I also trust him
because Voldemort does not.
Although in the beginning of Book 6 Bellatrix says that Voldemort is convinced of
Snapes loyalty, I see several hints that make me believe otherwise.
First, Voldemort has sent Wormtail with Snape under the pretense of helping him. If
you remember back to Goblet of Fire, Wormtail is exposed, even more so than
he was in Prisoner of Azkaban, as a loyal servant of Voldemort. The reason for his
loyalty is undoubtably fear and a belief that fealty to the most powerful wizard in
the world (Voldemort in his view) will earn him the protection he wants. Wormtail
wants no part of a spys life. Also, especially at the beginning of Half-Blood
Prince, he has no reason to believe that Voldemort has a weakness or that the tide
is turning against them. I highly doubt that Voldemort has filled Wormtail in on his Horcrux situation,
and if Wormtail was going to do anything, wouldnt he have done it before Voldemort
regained his body? Because of this, Wormtail has no reason to become disloyal, so
why have Snape watch him?
Snape on the other hand, is a completely different story. Voldemort seems to
understand that Snape has drifted away slightly, but Voldemort is not sure how far.
Bellatrix informs us that Voldemort believed Snape had left him. While I cannot
prove this information is accurate, I think Bellatrix has caught Snapes scent like
a hound. In fact, I trust him because of all the reasons she threw at him,
especially why hadnt he killed Harry? Even if he had killed Harry under
Dumbledores nose, would it have mattered? With Harry out of the way sometime
during Book 5, when Snape had plenty of opportunities, what would have stopped Voldemorts domination?
Snape knew about the prophecy, and knew that Harry had been marked as the one who
must be killed for the Dark Lord to reign supreme. In fact, with Harry out of the
way, Dumbledore would have lost his chief weapon.
Also, Dumbledore is the one wizard Voldemort ever feared, which, in my mind, equates
to Voldemort thinking that Dumbledore is the only wizard whose skills are equal to
his. Therefore, an intelligent Voldemort would be right to suspect Snape a
little, because, if he could fool Dumbledore, couldnt he fool Voldemort as well? In
fact, I highly doubt that, had the situation been reversed, and Snape had gone from
Dumbledores side to Voldemorts side, that Voldemort would ever have trusted him.
Only the time as a Death Eater before switching sides keeps Snape safe.
Planting Wormtail in Snapes house is actually quite brilliant, because it is where
Snape demonstrates perhaps his only weakness: bitterness. He still holds a bitter
grudge against all the Mauraders, Peter included, so
it makes sense that he would jump at a chance to command Wormtail around.
Voldemort, however, has told Wormtail the real plan, which is why Snape keeps
catching him listening at doors. Snape is fooled by this plan because he still
believes Wormtail to be a complete imbecile.
When Snape refers to Voldemort as being the most accomplished Legilimens the
world has ever seen, I take that to imply that Voldemort has used Legilimency on
Snape, perhaps even nearly broken through Snapes barriers. While I think Snape is
probably a skilled Legilimens, I think his powers as an Occlumens are much greater,
simply because he rarely mentions them though obviously has them.
Another reason I dont think that Voldemort trusts Snape is that Voldemort understands
that Snape is almost as much of a threat as Dumbledore. Snape, besides being
extremely skilled magically, has a great understanding of logic, as evidenced by his
protection of the Philosophers Stone in Book 1. This combination ensures that
whatever he might lack in sheer power, he can overcome with cunning. Snapes threat
is an interesting one, because, depending on how much Voldmort has worked out, he may
think Snape might be plotting some sort of mutiny. Its possible to contrive that
Voldemort hasnt worked out that hes Dumbledores spy at all and simply thinks that
Snape wants the top spot. Harry never seems to view Snape in this light, rather, he
seems convinced that Snape is a minion.
Either way, Voldemort doesnt trust him, but Dumbledore does. Why?
Certainly not because of that ridiculous reason Dumbledore gave us during Harrys
lessons. The Order didnt buy that one for a second, neither did I, and neither
should you. While Dumbledore does always want to believe the best in people, he has
shown himself to be much more thoughtful than that. Remember that Dumbledore does
not just trust Snape, he trusts him completely. Even with his flaw of always
wanting to see the best in people, he still knew never
to trust Tom Riddle. There is some other reason Dumbledore trusted Snape, and it is
my one regret of Dumbledores death in that we might never learn what it is.
Back to Snapes Academy Award winning performance. Hes certainly hoodwinked Voldemort
through all of these events, but seeing how hes got careful, careful readers jumping at each
others throats over his loyalties, this really doesnt surprise me. After my first
reading of Half-Blood Prince, I was convinced, and bitterly so, that Snape had this
whole time, indeed been evil. Suddenly, I was thrust into an onslaught of images.
Snape couter-jinxed Harrys broom in Philosophers Stone during a quidditch match.
If he really wanted Harry dead to revenge his masters downfall, it would have been
easy enough for him simply to sit there and not do anything. In Prisoner of
Azkaban, he follows Harry, Ron and Hermione to the Shrieking Shack. Surely his
motive was partially to get him in trouble, possibly expelled, but again, it would
have been easier to ignore it, and let Sirius, who Snape still thought was a
murderer, take care of them. Simply by doing nothing, Snape could have had Harry
dead. Snape's choosing to act gives him away. Im not trying to argue him as
a hero, because he also highly dislikes Harry and would like nothing better than to
see him expelled, but Snape also has a sense of duty which also forces him to
protect Harry when he could simply stand aside. If Voldemort was privy to all these
choices, no doubt Snapes game would have been up long ago, and I suspect this is
why we see him act less like this in Half-Blood Prince, when Voldemort has an in on
him through Malfoy, who transforms from suck-up to a wanna-be rival in Half-Blood
In addition, Snapes cover story is immaculate. Believable both ways, he has a
cover story to fling at Voldemort every time they meet. It wouldnt surprise me if
he had tampered with his more revealing memories as well, and in much better fashion
than Slughorn. Snape understands that Voldemort is a highly skilled Legilimens that might even break through his defenses, so
this masking would be a necessary precaution.
Bravo, my man! The Oscar for Best Actor in a Dual Role goes to Severus Snape!
So, what have we learned? Characters should be judged by what they dont do, dont
say, and what isnt said about them. Examining them in this light will allow us to
see their true selves, rather than what they project, which is a very biased view.
Remember a negative multipplied by a negative equals a positive.
Posted by: Rachael