The wizarding world is in mourning at the sudden and surprise death of Alan Rickman, who so wonderfully brought to life Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. Author J.K. Rowling has revealed that she did give Alan a major hint as to the future and outcome for his character while filming.
It involved him practically bullying young Harry for many years, before in his final moments, sharing the one memory that made eight movies/seven books worth of Snape's nastiness not only makes sense, but is totally understandable.
However, there is one major perspective that has been missed by many fans, and it's one that actually sees James Potter as being the villain in many ways rather than Snape.
Spoilers follow, so if you haven't seen or read... leave now.. come back when you have...
We know that Lily and Severus became friends in their earliest magic using days. They lived close by and formed a tight bond, that remained until they both went to Hogwarts and his place as her best friend was usurped by James.
It's a classic tale and has probably happened to all of us at some time or another, most of us move on and make new friends. In Snape's case however, this wasn't possible, in no small part to James's vindictiveness.
Flashbacks show that James, Remus, Sirius and Peter were not only a gang, but that they were in reality bullies, with James as ringleader. Snape was singled out, not for being "odd" but because he'd been Lily's friend first and James didn't want to risk losing her back to Snape.
Indeed, all four of the "gang" had a dark side that we see throughout the series. Peter was treacherous, traitorous and ultimately a toady, sucking up to the other three for protection.
Remus from a very young age was dealing with his animal nature, while Sirius was happy to let James be 'the leader' as a way to escape the confines of life as one of the famed Blacks – and being part of their political machinations. He knew what his family were like, didn't want to be like them and in James he saw someone he did want to be... even if he was a bit of a dick most of the time.
While Snape brooded and studied, to him the other four wandered around Hogwarts with the Marauder's Map, cheating their way through exams, being popular and making his life hellish. All the time, Lily, stuck between her friend and the boy she loved would try to play peacemaker to no avail.
As time moved on and the dark times began, we see James's villainy realized. This is not something he intended, far from it but like any good villain, they receive their comeuppance. James was inducted into the Order Of The Phoenix, however he was not the "great wizard" he could have been had he been more focused, disciplined and studious. He took shortcuts which came back to finally kill him.
Little is shown of James's death, just that Lily put up a fight and we do see that. It would appear that James's death was quick and he was nowhere near a match for Voldemort. Surely his sacrifice would have been as valid as Lily's? No. Because ultimately, James Potter wasn't pure of heart in the same way his wife had been.
There are parallels between James Potter and Anakin Skywalker, both could be great but wanted the easy/quick path rather than the longer, correct one. While James didn't turn, it's entirely conceivable he COULD have done in the right circumstances, had he not had Lily... perhaps this was why he fought so hard for her by hurting Snape? People were very quick to label Sirius a murderer, they could easily have done the same to James or Remus.
Harry of course idolizes his father, and Sirius and Remus do speak highly of him, but it always seems tinged with regret, that they themselves are somewhat ashamed of the path they chose as boys and they are trying to atone for it. Remus in particular takes this tack with Harry in most of his appearances, he doesn't sugarcoat things... even if he doesn't tell the whole story.
The other notable thing is the lack of positive affirmations about James from any of the other adults in Harry's life.
The Dursley's never speak of James, or if they do it is in disparaging terms, we have since found out this was due to James humiliating Vernon on their first meeting, just as he had done to Snape and others for years.
Dumbledore always talks to Harry about his mother, but rarely his father... is that to spare the boy the awkward truth that his dad was not a true hero? The only adult who ever tells the truth about James to Harry is Severus, and on his death he reveals that James was at heart, a cocky, feckless boy who used privilege to shirk his true responsibilities and talents as a wizard and ultimately, it got him, and Lily, killed, while Snape had been risking his life doing things he didn't want to have to do to protect Harry for years and even in death, Voldemort was none the wiser.
Snape had killed his OWN father figure in Dumbledore at his request, not just Harry's.
It wasn't James casting the Doe Patronus, but Snape was the final nail for Harry. It is there that Harry realizes not only the truth of his father, but also of himself.
He knows that he has avoided the same traps and that ultimately, Snape was the one who pushed him down that path, away from what his father had been.
What Harry saw as bullying by Snape was actually to stop him falling into those same traps of arrogance, cockiness and every disparaging word to Ron or Hermione was in fact encouragement to keep doing what they were doing, as it was saving Lily's son from his father's dark and futile fate.
He'd had a lot of help, but the truth that Dumbledore knew Harry had to die to end Voldemort showed agenda. Only Snape had Harry's best interest at heart, even though it made him sick to his stomach, he did every grim task asked of him, and quite a few he wasn't asked (remember the Quidditch match in the first movie?) to do. Snape was a hero, as he tells Albus at the end of the story... he's not talking about his father as one of the bravest men...
Villains often have two outcomes, they escape to fight another day or die in a manner befitting their shortcomings. Just as Voldemort is ultimately undone by his own arrogance, so was James Potter, at least it was quick in his case and he didn't have to see his wife die.
Of course, so much of this is now in perspective since Alan Rickman's death... but the subtext has always been there. James Potter was a bad guy the whole time.