In honor of Harry Potter’s birthday, we turned our eye to one of the more polarizing figures in the series: Severus Snape. We all know the guy was kind of a jerk, but how much of it was an act? Can he be forgiven considering all the danger he put himself through to stop Voldemort? How much do his motivations matter?
We asked the Minerva staff and some friends on social media what they thought and collected some opinions about whether we should write Snape off or give him a break.
On the “Snape is kind of a jerk” side:
1. One could almost forgive Severus Snape for his treatment of Harry — son of his tormentor as an adolescent, evidence of his love choosing that same tormentor over himself — but it’s Snape’s treatment of Neville that makes his character loathsome. Neville’s only crime was being the only other wizard child to whom Trelawney’s prediction could have referred. It wasn’t Neville’s fault Voldemort picked Harry and killed Lily along the way. Neville’s almost-fate is certainly not enough to justify the years of abuse and psychological torment he endured under Snape. —Hannah Ritchie Stinger
2. I judge characters more on the intentions behind their actions more than on the actions themselves. My biggest issue with Snape is that his choices are consistently rooted in selfishness. He ultimately helps Harry to assuage his own guilt about betraying Lily, and he constantly puts down others because of his own insecurities. Snape helps the Order because their goals just so happen to align with his own—he wasn’t struck with a lightning bolt of altruism. —Jessica Thelander
3. He shames and humiliates Hermione for being enthusiastic about learning, despite being a teacher. His treatment of Neville Longbottom is also unnecessarily cruel. Idgaf if he helped saved Harry because he loved Lily; he was still outright abusive to his non-Slytherin students. —Katy Mastrocola
4. The first time I read Deathly Hallows, I was tempted to think his love for Lily Potter was sweet and touching and his willingness to throw his life away was pretty ballsy. Now I’m more like: dude, she didn’t like you back. Get the fuck over yourself. —Gabs Roman
5. I just see Snape’s actions being completely selfishly motivated. Even his love for Lily was selfishly motivated. He cared about the idea of her with him more than her actual happiness. And then, Dumbledore basically gave him the ultimatum to be a double agent or face his wrath and Snape made the decision that made the most sense for his own self preservation, and did not do so happily. Instead he spent his days making children miserable. I don’t think there’s any excuse for Snape’s treatment of the students at Hogwarts, specifically Neville. He may be a good character, but he’s a despicable human being. —Erin E. Rand
6. Snape is petty and mean. Just because your best friend married some other guy and had a kid with him doesn’t mean you get to treat that kid like shit. It’s essentially blaming Harry for his mother’s death and displacing his own guilt for telling Voldemort about the prophecy. He’s incredibly immature and while his last actions were heroic, it doesn’t change the fact that he is not what I would call a good person. Explanations for his behavior do not constitute excuses for it. —Elizabeth Agresta
1. As an original Snape defender and believer in his ultimate “goodness” I would never demean him. Not an outwardly nice guy, but in long run a defender of Harry and a loyal compatriot of Dumbledore. Snape is to be redeemed, not demeaned. —Pete Roman
2. If I was an exceptionally talented wizard who was forced to spend his days watching nitwit children, all of whom are unable to follow even the most simple of potions directions, I’d be surly too! Snape was stuck between a rock and a hard place his whole life – deeply in love with a woman whose love would be forever unrequited, struggling to elevate the good within him and to fight off the evil while deftly playing the spy that brought down the Dark Lord. He was the most brilliantly written and well-developed of all of JK Rowling’s characters and I’ll defend him… “always.” —Jackie Kiley
3. Rowling goes to great lengths to redeem Snape in the later books so anyone claiming to hate him is unequivocally wrong. The worst you can say about him is he perpetuates an intergenerational feud against the son of his dead enemy, but that’s close to immaterial in a greater struggle against wizard Hitler. —Shane Athridge
And those who are in more neutral territory:
1. I think he’s a fascinating character and, beyond his pettiness and rudeness, I also think he has absolutely no opportunity to redeem himself properly. The focus seems to go immediately to his love of Lily as a redeeming quality but I look at 1) the fact that he goes to Dumbledore after Lily’s been killed already and continues to do all of the dirty work trying to protect people and bring him information, despite having zero chance of “winning” Lily back since she’s dead and risking his life with no hope of getting credit for it, 2) he needs to put up with a bunch of snotty kids who are too absorbed in their own problems and don’t actually care about studying. Note that he was an above average student in school, and his textbooks reflect his desire to learn more. Part of the reason Harry using his old textbook pissed him off so much was that Harry was using the book like a shortcut to learning. I see him as a character who did everything the hard way and constantly watched everyone coast by trying to do things the easy way. So it’s not that I think he’s a good or a bad guy, I think that’s too simple, but I definitely see why he’s annoyed where he is. I’m not sure he could have another position as a job without giving up his spot as a spy so I always got the sense he was stuck and didn’t know how to be happy. —Natalia Locatelli
2. I like Snape not because I think he’s a completely good guy, nor because I think he deserves sympathy. I like him because he’s a flawed character trying to do the best he can (admittedly at someone else’s behest) to redeem himself for his past actions. Does he succeed? No. Are his actions enough to redeem him for his past behavior? Probably not. I don’t think Snape is meant to be a good guy, even though he’s one of my favorite characters. I think his arc shows that no matter how much we try, sometimes our past acts can’t be redeemed, and the things we’ve lost can never be ours again, or might never have been ours in the first place. —Olivia Woods
So, what do you think? Jerk, good guy, somewhere in between? Can we at least all agree that Harry probably shouldn’t have named his kid Albus Severus?