It seems that JKR is mystified by the growing popularity of Professor Snape. Her comments at the recent Edinburgh Book Fair state: “Why do you love him? Why do people love Snape? I do not understand this. Again, it’s bad boy syndrome, isn’t it?”
How popular is Snape, anyway? In an effort to find out, I did a completely unscientific poll among fan groups hosted by a popular search engine site. On September 10th, I searched for fan groups in which Harry Potter characters were the stated focus. To count, they had to be groups focused on only one or two characters. The results were interesting.
Sirius Black had 35 groups devoted to him, with a total membership of 1597 fans. Remus Lupin had 32 groups devoted to him, with a total membership of 2872 fans. However, Severus Snape had 76 groups devoted to him with a membership of fans totaling 7962. It appears that, at least on Yahoo, Snape fans far outstrip the fans of other adult male characters.
What makes him so interesting?
Let’s look at the character. Based on what we know at this stage, Snape had a fairly unpleasant childhood and was bullied through most of school. As an adult, Snape is in a job he dislikes and is constantly surrounded by people who either annoy him, or do not respect him. He’s bitter and angry and having trouble letting go of all the slights he’s experienced since childhood. He tends to take these feelings out on those around him through the use of sarcasm.
We know that Snape has at least one friend at Hogwarts in Albus Dumbledore, who trusts him. At some point in school he hooked up with the Death Eaters and joined Lord Voldemort. At some point after school, due to reasons that have not been fully explained, he changed sides. This has left Snape the dangerous job of being a double agent, spying on the forces of darkness. He seems to be in desperate need of a professional hair and skin consultation. JKR describes him in terms that are unattractive.
Unhappy childhood, unhappy school years, bad hair, dead end job – hmmm. How many people out there can identify with one or more of those things?
It is my theory that, deep inside, many of us have felt these things and we identify with Snape. We know what it is to be lonely, angry, and unappreciated – to struggle to get through the day, surrounded by idiots.
It’s a short jump from identifying with a character to liking him, in spite of his faults. I think we want Snape to succeed. We’ve all been in that place in his head and we want him to break free – either because we’ve done it ourselves and are rooting for him to do the same, or because we’re still trapped ourselves, and his freedom would give us hope for our own.
And, in spite of all the scorn, Snape still continues to be a man of honor. He protects the children he so intensely dislikes. He takes on the most dangerous jobs while getting the least respect. He does what he thinks is right.
Snape is one of the most complex characters in the books. He has many contradictions that intrigue the reader and spark questions. This makes him an attractive character for speculation. We know the JKR would not have devoted this much space and time to him if he weren’t important. This makes it interesting to consider his place in the rest of the story. Where is this arc going? Will he finally redeem himself in death? Will he break free of his own hate and join forces with Harry? Or will he turn out to be the true villain of the story, after all?
And then there are the films. Alan Rickman came to this part with a huge existing fan base. He is a skilled, sexy actor, with a voice that compels. Although Snape is described as unattractive in the books, the Snape we see in the films is much more appealing. Alan Rickman draws the eye in almost every scene he appears in. He is graceful in movement and seductive in tone.
The costume design adds to this attraction. The nature of the character is magnified by his outfit. Snape is buttoned from head to foot. In some scenes, even his hands are covered by fingerless gloves. What is he hiding under all those layers?
His cape *swooshes* when he moves, as if Snape had his own personal wind machine to provide dramatic counterpoint. Everything is black, except for the hint of white at the throat. It is all impeccably styled. For someone who is described as socially backwards and in need of a better shampoo, the Snape of the films looks stunningly cool.
Taken together, the image from the films, and the intrigue of the books add up to a fascinating character. The wonder isn’t that there are so many Snape fans, the wonder is that this appears to have taken JKR by surprise. We can only guess why. Is it because she knows more than we do about Snape’s future? Will he ultimately betray everyone, including himself? Is it because he is set in opposition to Sirius, whom she has stated that she has great affection for? Or is it that we’ve all figured out what she didn’t expect to reveal until the end, that he is really a hero in disguise?