Empire Magazine recently released their definitive list of Harry Potter characters, ranked from No. 1–30, as voted by Potterheads from all around the world. Harry and Ron came in at No. 5 and No. 6 respectively, with Hermione rounding off the trio with a very impressive second place.
However, it was Potions master (and poster boy for the friend-zoned) Severus Snape that took the top spot — a result which, I think, is a rather worrying one.
I don't like Snape. I never have. That's not to say he's not a fascinating character, because, of course, he is. I'm certainly not suggesting people only voted for him out of some crazed love for the character (after all, Dolores Umbridge made the top 30 and no one would actually want to hang out with her), but I've seen enough people vehemently defend him and use his final sacrifices and his tragic backstory to excuse a lifetime of willful cruelty. We should really all be a little concerned that he not only made it into the top three, but that he sits pretty comfortably on this list as one of the greatest Harry Potter character ever.
And here's why.
1. His (Horrible) Treatment Of His Pupils
Snape is a terrible teacher, even if you're a Slytherin, because as nice as he might be to his own house, he's far too busy bullying Gryffindors to actually teach anyone anything.
Fans can sit there and wail as much as they like about how Snape's treatment of Harry is just reactionary (that it's caused by his deep-seated anguish over Lily choosing James), but I'm not buying it. Harry knew nothing about the history between his parents and Snape, and even if he did, a situation in which an adult willfully mistreats a child, essentially punishing him for the actions of his deceased parents, is always going to be the adult's fault. It's not something that can be explained away by Snape's past, nor should it be.
Oh, and don't even get me started on Snape's treatment of Hermione and Neville. Hating one for being an "insufferable know-it-all" (read: smarter than the kids from wizarding families) and hating the other for not being Harry Potter (because if Neville had been the chosen one, Lily would have lived)? Ugh, please.
2. His (Horrible) Treatment Of Lily
OK, this one is a four-parter, so bear with me.
A. The friend-zone does not exist. And even if it did, a girl "putting" you there is no reason to become a heinous little shit. Maybe I was just raised by some crackpot feminists, but I never believed I owed a guy anything, never intentionally led anyone on, and, honestly, I was quite pleased when someone wanted to be my friend.
B. If "mudblood" was the final straw, how bad had it gotten before that? I mean, just how much shit had Lily been putting up with for her to finally walk away from him?
Snape becomes a Death Eater, so he clearly wasn't all sunshine and lollipops right up until the moment he yelled the magical equivalent of a racial slur at her. I need answers, people. ANSWERS.
C. "Snape's patronus is a doe, and that's indicative of his lifelong love for Lily."
So he picked the one animal that ties her to James to represent her? That's kind of weird, isn't it? If that's not some seriously creepy self-pity, I'm not sure what is.
D. Lily didn't dump Snape for James, so the whole concept of Snape hating Harry because he's a reminder that Lily chose James over him is ridiculous, because IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. James was a tool at high school — we all saw that. They fell in love later, when he'd grown up a little. Well, a lot, actually.
3. Snape's Redemptive Arc
OK so, spoiler alert: Snape dies. He's bitten by Nagini, Voldemort's snake, and as he lies there, dying, he releases memories that reveal the whole tragic backstory. It is tragic and it does explain why he is the way he is, but it also allowed for a removal of accountability that I just can't accept. I'm not saying Snape never owned his mistakes: I firmly believe he did, and that he knew how awful he was. Dumbledore even questioned Snape's refusal to reveal the best parts of himself.
No, what I'm saying is that his character arc gives us — as readers and viewers — license to pick and choose what parts of him we want to focus on. We're blotting out the bad parts. Snape's redemption isn't problematic because of Snape, it's problematic because of how Harry just accepts it, and of how people read and interpret it.
Life isn't black and white, and when we choose to idolize and romanticize Severus Snape, we remove the shades of grey that make up the parts in between, offering excuses where, really, there are none.
4. Harry's Pity Party
OK, so Harry named his kid (partly) after Snape — the bravest man he ever knew, right? So, basically, we're all good. That just cancels it all out — the years of abuse, the deception, the fact that Snape participated in attacks that murdered and tortured people like Harry's mother. Yeah, no. No thanks, not having it.
I'm sorry (well, no, actually I'm not sorry), but if this is supposed to be the point in the story where I say: "Well if Harry's OK with it, then I'm OK with it,", sorry J.K, but I ain't gonna bite.
Harry was an idiot for most of the books anyway, getting by on sheer dumb luck and a few doses of smarts from Hermione, so you'll have to forgive me for not trusting his judgement on this one. I mean, for Christ's sake, he calls the kid Albus Severus. Not only is that a ridiculous name, but did he ever think that maybe Ginny might like a hand in naming their kids? No, of course not. He's too busy naming them after people that tricked and abused him.
Basically, if it's in the epilogue, I want nothing to do with it. That shit was so sickly sweet, my teeth started to hurt. Anyway I'm pretty sure the dictionary definition of "epilogue" is "surplus to requirement." Don't look it up.
5. To Sum Up
To a point, I'll accept some of Snape's shitty acts. I'll admit that the whole double-agent thing — working both for Dumbledore (who's problematic as hell in his own right) and Voldemort (yes, I said his name) — does give him license to cause some serious drama. However, our collective ability to to allow his story and his sacrifices to act as a way to dull our senses to the other horrid things he does is a massive problem, and it's indicative of a wider problem in our society.
Lone (white) gunmen are described as mentally ill, thus absolving them of actual, concrete guilt. School-age (white) rapists have the focus turned on their academic and sporting achievements, thus lamenting what might have been. Remember how many idiots supported the actions of Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger, because they related to his troubles with girls?
Now I'm not saying the hardcore Snape fans are like that. I'm friends with some pretty big Snape fangirls, after all. And I'm certainly not saying that because we idolize a fictional character in such a way that we'd ever do the same when faced with a version of him in real life.
However, I do urge you to stop and think about what you might be condoning when you explain away the actions of Severus Snape. We've already dug pretty deep into his story and his motivations to get us to this point in our understanding and acceptance of him, but it's also important that we come up for air once in a while.
Remember kids: joining a murderous cult and bullying 11 year olds isn't cool, no matter how your story ends.
Who's your favorite Harry Potter character? Let us know in the comments below!