Snape is Evil
by Tracie Rubeck
I am a frequent reader of MuggleNet’s editorials and columns. I’m often amused by the exhaustive probing of the books, especially when in support of theories as creative as they are dubious. While often in disagreement, I’ve never felt prompted to respond because I respect the love of the books (and characters) that prompts such close analysis. However, the recent attempts to cling to Snape’s innocence have upset me so profoundly that I feel obliged to reply.
In short, and I say this with no intent of hyperbole, I think the need to prove Snape’s innocence insults the ethos of the books and the various characters, including Dumbledore, who have died within its pages. As evidence, I have two points.
Murder is Not Noble
Dumbledore mentions that to commit murder is to destroy one’s own soul. We have ample evidence in canon that this is a basic, if not the basic, understanding of the difference between which choices are “good” and which are “evil”. Those who are evil disregard this cost. For example, another testament of Harry’s ability to love is that he is as frightened by the prospect of committing murder as he is by the prospect of his own death.
Another example: Harry stops Sirius and Lupin from killing Pettigrew, not because Pettigrew didn’t deserve such punishment, but because he didn’t want his father’s best friends to become killers.
So, I must, especially in light of the real political context in which these books reside, vehemently oppose any claim that Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him to protect either Malfoy or Harry. Yes, Dumbledore would sacrifice his own life to save Malfoy or Harry, but he also would have done the same for Snape. Just as he went to great lengths to protect Malfoy (which includes not only concealing his awareness of Malfoy’s plans but also preventing him from becoming a killer), he would not choose for Snape to become a murderer. Murder is not – nor will it ever be – a noble act.
Again, I will point to Rowling’s hero: Harry. His uniqueness, and it is most unfortunate in current times that it should be unique, is that, despite the wrongs done to him, he never chooses to learn the Dark Arts. He does not allow himself to become consumed by bitterness and hatred.
We have been told repeatedly that a characteristic of Slytherin members is their self-preservation. When faced with difficult decisions, especially those concerning life and death, they will almost always choose to save their own necks. I think Slughorn’s character serves as a reminder of this. He is a less harmful version of the self-promotion and self-preservation common to those of Slytherin house. Slughorn negotiates among and for the famous and the talented for material luxury. Snape does the same by ingratiating himself with the two most powerful wizards, but Snape is after power, and his need for power is rooted in vengeance.
So, yes, Snape “twitches” when Narcissa adds the clause to the Unbreakable Vow requiring him to finish Malfoy’s task should Malfoy fail. But, in all likelihood, this twitch resulted from Snape’s acknowledgment that his relatively safe position as a double agent was in jeopardy; that he would be forced to declare his loyalty to Voldemort rather than sacrifice himself. Unlike Lily and James, who gave their lives to save Harry’s, Snape would not give his life to protect Malfoy. He KILLED to protect Malfoy, yes, but I believe his primary concern was his own life.
I think Rowling has given us enough information to understand this about Snape. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is key, for it is through this book that we come to understand Snape. He has spent years honing his magical skills in secret – skills that include humiliating and harming others and in learning others’ secrets as he hides his own. Unlike Voldemort, who wants his power (as evidenced by the diary) to be both known and feared, Snape thrives through and by concealment. The “twitch” in front of Narcissa and Bellatrix was, again, his deep fear of exposure.
To end, consider that Snape had a number of choices in front of him besides killing Dumbledore. He could have: 1. Broken the barrier to allow the Phoenix members to assist him; 2. Helped revive Dumbledore or retrieved his wand (“Accio Dumbledore’s wand”); 3. Stunned or directly challenged the Death Eaters around Dumbledore; or 4. Released Harry (if, as one editorial suggested, he deduced he was there).
While we cannot know if any of these choices would have saved Dumbledore, we do know for certain that all of them would have resulted in Snape’s death for breaking the Unbreakable Vow. His choice – murder – even if made at precisely that moment (I doubt it, though: see stunning Flitwick) illustrates that his primary concern is his own life and that he would openly ally with Voldemort rather than sacrifice himself.
I am still stunned by the toll this story, and, in particular, Snape’s betrayal, has taken on me. I keep saying to myself, “My God, it’s just a book!” But, I think that it is very unsettling to acknowledge that choosing to have faith in people is not easy nor simple, but that we do so in honor of ourselves and those whom we love. As Rowling repeatedly foreshadowed, Dumbledore made a tragic mistake in his refusal to hear an ill word of Snape.
But rather than search frantically for any shred of evidence that proves Dumbledore was right, I’d rather honor what he stood for. Even though he turned out to be wrong about Snape, he was undoubtedly right in many other instances in which he challenged people to become more honest, loving, and decent. Come to think of it, he has challenged Malfoy thus. Like the above discussion about the toll of committing murder, I think that the benefits of choosing to maintain such a faith far outweigh the possible consequences should one be wrong.
Just as Dumbledore wouldn’t want Snape to become a killer, he would want each of us to thrive from the security that comes with faith in others. As Dumbledore repeatedly reminds Harry, there are much worse fates than death.
I wouldn’t dishonor him further by trying to find honor in Snape’s choices.