The Double Negative Theory
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: a new way to examine characters and their motives (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 don’t do, not just by what they say, but by what they don’t say. Dumbledore’s death, Snape’s loyalty, and the deception of Voldemort, in my mind, are all linked by this thinking.
Let’s get right down to business. First on the list: Dumbledore. Here’s a list of reasons why he’s really dead.
- JKR has let it be known that Dumbledore doesn’t fear death, but not because he says, “Gee whiz, boys, I’m not afraid to die.” Of course not. JKR is much more subtle than that. She constantly puts a variation on the following sentence into Dumbledore’s 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 that’s why he’s able to examine the human condition so well. His knowledge and intellectual capacity actually have the ability to transcend his heart’s 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 death’s 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 life.
- In a non-charactorial argument, Dumbledore’s 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 Dumbledore’s 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 deciding conclusion.
- In Dumbledore;s 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 Dumbledore’s 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 Snape’s 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 spy’s 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, wouldn’t 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 Snape’s scent like a hound. In fact, I trust him because of all the reasons she threw at him, especially why hadn’t 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 Voldemort’s 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, couldn’t he fool Voldemort as well? In fact, I highly doubt that, had the situation been reversed, and Snape had gone from Dumbledore’s side to Voldemort’s side, that Voldemort would ever have trusted him. Only the time as a Death Eater before switching sides keeps Snape safe.
Planting Wormtail in Snape’s 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 Snape’s 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 don’t 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. Snape’s 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. It’s possible to contrive that Voldemort hasn’t worked out that he’s 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 doesn’t trust him, but Dumbledore does. Why?
Certainly not because of that ridiculous reason Dumbledore gave us during Harry’s lessons. The Order didn’t 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 Dumbledore’s death in that we might never learn what it is.
Back to Snape’s Academy Award winning performance. Hes certainly hoodwinked Voldemort through all of these events, but seeing how he’s got careful, careful readers jumping at each others’ throats over his loyalties, this really doesn’t 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 Harry’s broom in Philosopher’s 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. I’m 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 Snape’s 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 Prince.
In addition, Snape’s cover story is immaculate. Believable both ways, he has a cover story to fling at Voldemort every time they meet. It wouldn’t 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 don’t do, don’t say, and what isn’t 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 multiplied by a negative equals a positive.