Ok, I was upstairs, stirring from a nap, when I came across a survey on one of my Harry Potter fan pages. The question was “Was Severus Snape a Hero or a Villain?” We were invited to respond one way or the other, or to post an explanation in the comments if we were undecided.
I was so excited to write about this, I quickly gathered up my downstairs things, and came down to my laptop so that I could give the matter proper attention, with all 9 fingers.
Alas, I can’t remember what page it was on, so I can’t find it. So I’m posting my response for you, my lucky friends.
Was Snape a Hero or a Villain?
My answer to this would be, “NO.”
The question suggests that he must be one or the other, and that’s just not the world in which we live. Snape is a complicated character, really well fleshed out in the books. We understand his troubled childhood, and the way he was tormented at school.
The one person who seemed to show him true kindness was Lily Evans, future mother of Harry Potter. She took up with one of Snape’s greatest tormentors. It isn’t hard to see how Snape became the bitter, broken man that he became, nor why Harry, who so resembled his father, would be a thorn in his side.
What makes so many people, and even apparently, Harry, see Snape as a brave hero, was that he operated as a double agent for Dumbledore from the time Snape realized that Voldemort intended to kill Lily and her family, until the moment of his own death, hours before Voldemort’s defeat. Snape even went as far as killing the only person who had ever shown him love and respect in the 17 years since Lily’s and James’ assassinations because it was necessary. Defeating Voldemort would not have been possible had it not been for Snape’s involvement.
What might make people think of Snape as a villain? Well, it was Snape who heard Trelawny’s prophecy regarding the child who would ultimately defeat the dark lord. It was snape who took what he heard to Voldemort. Snape’s hatred for muggles due to his own troubled childhood aligned him with a cruel, genocidal monster with no regard for human life. We have no idea what atrocities Snape may have committed before he switched sides. Had her murdered? Had he tortured? It seems apparent that he must have. We are aware, through his behavior toward Harry and his friends, that Snape is quite capable of cruelty and injustice.
So, with perspective, we can see much of Snape’s life as the result of a series of tragic choices. But they are choices he made as an adult. They are choices that cost innocent lives. Furthermore, switching sides was only done as some sort of tribute to Lily.
Snape is the epitome of an abusive man. His obsession with Lily was so great, he resented anything that had to do with the man he chose instead, including an innocent child.
So, is Snape a hero or a villain? He is neither. He is both. He is a deeply troubled person who made bad choices. Should he be reviled for all eternity for those choices? I’d say ask the loved ones of the victims.
Should he be lifted up as a hero? Again, ask the loved ones of the victims.