Severus Snape: Hero or Villain?

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.


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October 28, 2019

I see Snape’s killing curse on Dumbledore as the fulfillment of Dumbledore’s “Please”. Dumbledore was dying from the curse on his hand. He did not want Draco to be tainted by an unforgivable curse. Snape very likely knew he could not survive what was to come. He killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore asked him to. That is selfless and heroic in my view.

October 29, 2019

It shouldn’t even be a matter of opinion, it’s a *fact* that he acted for the benefit of someone, hence, hero. Nox.

October 29, 2019

@thenerve But that opens the discussion for things like, “if a man who molested his daughter for years goes on to rescue people from a burning house, then is he a villain or a hero.”  The answer is always, “It depends on those involved,” and it is most certainly not a “fact.”  Labels like hero, beautiful, slutty, those are all matters of opinion.

October 29, 2019

@oniongirl – The labels might be. The facts are not. And using the molester argument is engaging in logical fallacy, as that situation is most certainly not at all the same as Snape’s.

October 29, 2019

@thenerve, it’s not a logical fallacy.  It’s a parallel that invokes outrage because we think of innocent children being victimized.

We know that they were killing Muggles who had no means of defending themselves.  Is that any less despicable than a crime against a child?

It’s a logical parallel.  We don’t know what Snape did as a Death Eater, but we can certainly assume that he was just as much a part of the torture and murder of the innocent as any other Death Eater.

my point is that it doesn’t have to be an either/or question.  Snape was a complicated man who sold his soul and spent the series trying to earn it back.

October 29, 2019

@oniongirl – It *is* a logical fallacy because the parallel does not have a premise whose elements are equivalent to the original argument. The reasons for a child molester to be what he is are completely different for those Snape had to become what he became. The former does it for selfish reasons, while the latter for selfless ones. If you want a sound argument free of fallacy, you need to have comparable premises.

October 30, 2019

@thenerve, First, I want to be sure that we are having the same argument.  You said, and I paraphrase, that Snape became what he became for selfless reasons.  If I am understanding you, you are under the impression that Snape became a Death Eater to infiltrate on Dumbledore’s behalf.

This is not true.  Snape was the one who delivered the incomplete prophecy to Voldemort.  He was associating with wannabe Death Eaters when he was a student at Hogwarts.  It is reasonable to assume that in the time before Lily was killed, Snape was performing all of the atrocities that other Death Eaters were performing.

Assuming that I am mistaken about your understanding of Snape’s timeline, I disagree with your assessment that my comparison is a fallacy, because I happen to find torture and murder of human beings to be as disturbing as molestation.  And, like Snape’s motivation for becoming a Death Eater, molesters often become so because they too were abused.

So that we can move past this, however, let’s use Nazis.  Nazis were just obeying orders when they, raped, tortured, and murdered men, women, and children whom they deemed inferior.  Can we call anyone who committed such atrocities a hero just because after Hitler killed the woman he loved, he decided to help in taking him down?

October 30, 2019

@oniongirl – You’re still not using comparable circumstances, as joined in because they believed in their cause.  I understand Snape’s timeline perfectly, but as I see that you’ve made up your mind about what you choose to see/believe, there is no point in continuing an exchange. I wish you well.

October 31, 2019

@thenerve back at ya.

October 29, 2019

This is an interesting thought. I think that Snape is a reflection of mankind – albeit a little abusive, maybe. None of us are truly heroes or villains. We have our moments when we do something nice for others, but most of us have done something that may be considered evil.

October 29, 2019
October 29, 2019

I have never gotten into harry potter but I know lots of people and friends who have…..

October 29, 2019

This video made me blow emotion bubbles through my nose:


Get Kleenex

October 30, 2019

@e3 😪