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March 4th, 2006

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11:36 pm - My remedial "History of Hogwarts" course is over
I've finally gotten around to reading all the books in the Harry Potter series.

A few weeks ago I decided to start reading them all in order, starting with the the first one. I'd already read the first two books in the series and had seen all four of the movies as they had come out, so I already knew some of the storyline. I'd heard that unlike the first movie, the later ones diverged more from the books, leaving out quite a bit along the way, and was rather curious to find out the missing bits for myself.

I've finally finished the last, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", and I've a few thoughts on the series as a whole -- at least as written so far.

First off, I like the character development that I've seen for the most part. There are a few characters that have quite a bit of subtlety to them, although there are also quite a few that seem fairly one-dimensional.

Unfortunately one of the one-dimensional ones is the protagonist of the series, Harry Potter.

He started out as an arrogant twerp and has basicly remained so throughout the series, from what I see. He is self-satisfied, smug and in his own way as much of a know-it-all as Hermione Granger. He makes constant assumptions about others, often based on his own prejudices, many of which are later proved wrong. He also shows astoundingly little empathy for others, being constantly wrapped up in himself. During the course of the series he amply demonstrates that every character fault that Professor Snape has accused him of having he does indeed possess in abundance -- and that even when these flaws are brought to his attention, he does little or nothing to correct them, often preferring instead to attack those who seek to correct his ill manners and bad behavior. He does this with friends such as Hermione as well as teachers such as Snape -- particularly with the latter, who he seems to take great pleasure in treating with disrespect. He seems utterly incapable of fathoming that he might actually be WRONG.

Snape, however, is a very well-drawn character -- quite complex, with layer upon layer to his personality. I freely admit to finding him fascinating. His double-agent role and what he must do to maintain it while dancing on the knife's edge of danger and the circles within circles within circles of his personality and motivations are a joy to behold. He is easily my favorite character of the series, even moreso than Neville Longbottom, another well-drawn character with hidden depths who unlike Potter has grown through the course of the books.

One of the more fascinating parts of the series to contemplate is exactly why Severus Snape does what he does. There are glimpses into his past in "The Order of the Phoenix" -- stolen insights into his character and the events that shaped him into the man he grew to be. Given their shared history of being the victims of bullying, one might think that Harry might have more empathy for his teacher and try to understand better his very-well-justified dislike of Harry's father and god-father, but Harry seems incapable of even saying "sorry" after he deliberately snooped into Professor Snape's memories -- ones that he specificly did NOT want Harry to know about. Harry didn't even have the good manners to apologize for his trespass, for that is EXACTLY what it was. Instead he continued to dislike and belittle publicly a man who had repeatedly tried to protect him and teach him and behaved honorably towards him at all times, despite little gratitude from Potter, much less respect.

It takes a strong man to put up with a rotter like Potter, yet Snape did so, protecting him again and again and again, even at the end of "The Half-Blood Prince". I would not be at all surprised to learn that part of this behavior had something to do with the relationship between Severus and Harry's mother Lily, due to a few interesting things tossed in, seemingly at random. Given that even the events at the end of "The Half-Blood Prince" may not be what they appear to be from a surface reading, I can't help but wonder how Rowling will get Professor Snape out of the corner she seems to have painted him into . . .

The way I see it, Snape is soooooooooo NOT a coward . . . OR a traitor . . .

He may in fact be the bravest damn person in the entire book.

I can't wait for the last book in the series, for then I think Severus Snape will finally get the respect I believe he so richly deserves.

"The name's Snape -- Severus Snape . . . "

severus Snape Fan

I ♥ Severus Snape

(The fact he's also a brilliant chemist has nothing to do with my fangrrrrl-ishness. Nothing whatsoever. Really.)
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: "A Window to the Past" -- Harry Potter & the PoA soundtrack

(53 seeds eaten | Eat a pomegranate)


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2006 12:08 am (UTC)
He might have apoligized if Snape wasn't throwing stuff at Harry and ejecting him from his office.

Well, put yourself in Snape's shoes . . .

Wouldn't you be upset if someone had broken into the equivalent of your personal diary? The one that has all the worst parts of your life? Especially if the one doing so was someone you knew already held you in contempt and hated you? And who might well tell others of what he had learned, holding you up (again!) to public humiliation and mockery?

I think Snapes reaction of rage was VERY understandable!

And Harry could have made some effort at a later time to apologize -- even just slipping a note saying "I'm sorry -- Harry Potter" under his office door, if he was reluctant to face Snape out of class. But the books shows NO evidence of anything of that kind. In fact, Harry acts even more rudely towards Snape later on, in the beginning of Half-Blood Prince -- I certainly see no signs of remorse or understanding in Harry's behavior as described in the books. Just a small bit immediately after being chucked out of the office, but that small amout of sympathy quickly disappates, leaving no lasting effect, unfortunately . . .

While I agree with Harry thinking that he's right, he doesn't expect anything because he's famous, and he's far from arrogant.

I think we shall have to agree to disagree on this.

He certainly seems to feel a bit "entitled" to be a prefect and is quite jealous of Ron and Hermione's status -- at least to start off. I see his arrogance and sense of entitlement growing as the series progresses, due to the way others treat him -- as being "special". He may have mixed feelings about it, but I do think he likes the attention, particularly since he was starved for ANY attention growing up under the emotionally neglectful Dursleys. Snape recognizes this and strives to treat Harry as he would any other student, unlike other members of the Hogwarts staff.

I certainly think his arrogance shows in his repeated breaking of school rules, including those enstated specificly for his personal protection, as in The Prisoner of Azkaban -- he simply disregards whatever inconveniences him and does as he pleases, consequences to himself or others be damned. If THAT isn't arrogance, I don't know what would be . . .

The worst is that he keeps on getting away with it by the adults in the book. The only one who checks him without cruelty is Snape. (Umbridge is an ENTIRELY different story!!!)

And each time he gets away with something that others wouldn't his arrogance grows. As does his contempt for authority in general.

Snape's not any less one-dimensional than Harry if you look at him from what you're saying about Harry.
Snape's a bully who has been bullied, and while he does the double-agent routine, I don't think he's changed through out the books either.

I had to read all the books one right after the other before I "got" Snape -- I had to recognize the patterns in his behavior. It's easy to miss otherwise. And if you've only seen the movies, you might never discover it in the first place, due to what the scripts leave out.

After reading everything, I went back and re-read just the Snape interactions. Doing that made things much more clear. Rowling is very subtle in her characterization of him -- it's very easy to miss things!!! And frightfully easy to see him as uni-dimensional, especially if you read the books one by one with timegaps between each.

I think Rowling has simplified a lot of Harry's characteristics as the series has progressed -- I found him much more complex earlier on.

And I do agree that Snape is not Mr. Cuddly-Wuddly, unlike Dumbledore, and that he has more than a bit of a mean streak, since he doesn't suffer fools gladly and he makes that perfectly clear to the fools in question, usually with a cutting remark. You may see that as bullying -- I see it more as "tough love". He has certain expectations and he holds people to them and demands they be accountable for their behavior and its consequences. He pushes people to excel and won't accept excuses for anything less than a true best effort.

(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:March 14th, 2006 02:51 am (UTC)
I think Harry likes to have recognition for what he has accomplished, but he doesn't like the whole-famous routine.

I'm less sure of that than you seem to be. I do think he likes the attention, at least on SOME level -- although he might not be comfortable with what the whole Fame package entails. (Most people wouldn't be -- there are lots of drawbacks to it, as Harry finds out.)

Harry was really upset about what he saw in Snape's pensieve, but I don't see any reason why he should treat Snape better or worse because of it. Harry is not his father

Harry may not be his father, but he certainly treats Snape with a similar level of contempt. And since both he and Snape had been bullied, I'd have liked to have hoped that he would have shown more empathy than he did and a better understanding of a man who had good reason to dislike his father and god-father.

from his first day in his class-when Harry did nothing but forget the names of herbs and fungi-Snape has been nasty to him. Harry wasn't the one who started their antagonisic relationship.

In that scene Snape was being fairly equal-opportunity in spreading the snark around. Plus Harry was cheeky with him to boot.

He certainly continued the bad feelings, pulling pranks and acting badly towards Snape. Even AFTER he found out that he had been wrong about Snape.

I think he just needs someone to rebel against and he's chosen Snape as the safest target. (See this comment for more.)

Snape could have tried not to be horrible to Harry-whose only sin at that moment was looking like his father

Not quite true -- Harry was also the cause of Lily's death. If she hadn't tried to save him, she might still be around. Voldemort would have spared her, according to the text. If you believe that Severus Snape had a "thing" for Lily, the child who was the direct reason for her demise would inspire at best mixed feelings in Snape.

As far as pushing people to excel-why does he scold Hermione for being driven?

He calls her an insufferable know-it-all -- because she is.

He's actually trying to do her a FAVOR, believe it or not. He's been a social outcast himself and probably for similar reasons. He's learned the hard way and would probably prefer that Hermione avoid what he had to go through, if possible. So he calls her attention to her behavior -- perhaps not in a nice way, but he gets his message across. Don't forget that throughout most of the first book Hermione was disliked intensely by her fellow students and had absolutely no friends -- BECAUSE she really was insufferable. She had to change her social interaction style before she was able to have others like her enough to want to be friends with her.

In his own snarky way, Snape helped her avoid the fate he had suffered when HE was in school.

His bullying of Neville doesn't make him any better of a potions student, it just makes him nervous.

I beg to differ here.

Neville is a blatant disaster at Potions, and most likely a lot of other things as well. Yet Snape is able to motivate him sufficiently to learn the material well enough to pass finals and even his Potions OWL.

While his methods may not be pleasant, they ARE effective.

And Trevor obviously survived.

Him chucking stuff at Harry when he intruded on his privacy wasn't justifiable. It was wrong for Harry to look at that, but Snape was the adult in a position of authority who could have taken house points or given detention, or talked to Harry about what he did wrong instead of having a fit of rage.

This being a British school, Snape could also have given him a thrashing. But he didn't. He just threw him out and tossed a few things. So to my mind Harry got off fairly lightly, given the egregiousness of his offense AND its deliberate nature.

(Corporal punishment of students is mentioned a few times in the books, including one time when Harry wonders if McGonagall will cane him. There's even a special form to be filled out, so it obviously was a disciplinary option available to members of the staff, even if most chose not to use it.)

[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)

Here via daily_snitch

Wouldn't you be upset if someone had broken into the equivalent of your personal diary?

Yes, I would be upset. However, I would like to think that I could restrain myself from throwing things. I would especially like to think I could do so if the person in question were a student of mine, and I could punish him through appropriate channels if the need arose. And I would sincerely hope that it would not interfere with an important duty for which I was required to work with the person (i.e. teaching Harry Occlumency so Voldemort couldn't pull the trick he ultimately pulled) to the point that I couldn't at least ask someone else (i.e. Dumbledore) to step in.

Don't get me wrong: I like Snape. I sympathize with his treatment at James's hands, and I will believe he is on the side of good until proven otherwise beyond the shadow of a doubt. But that last fact gives me serious pause about his allegiances...to say nothing of his maturity.
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Date:March 13th, 2006 05:23 am (UTC)

Re: Here via daily_snitch

And I would sincerely hope that it would not interfere with an important duty for which I was required to work with the person

Pulling the whole "Oh, oops, look at your potion there on the floor, haha" thing which Snape does afterwards doesn't exactly reek of maturity, no. Interesting also is that for all the comments talking about how Harry can't get past his preconceptions and is often wrong, that Snape also holds very tightly to his ideas of how things are, and reacts violently to challenges to them. See his total freakout both in the Shrieking Shack and afterwards--the language he uses in screaming at Hermione is interesting. And his reaction to Harry's foray into the Pensieve is to assume that he knows what Harry must think. There's this saying about what happens when you assume...
Date:March 13th, 2006 07:04 am (UTC)

Also here via daily_snitch

Without getting into Snape's general character (as that's a massive topic and it's late), I'm afraid you've touched on one of my pet peeves. Snape's general response to catching Harry in his Pensieve was far from mature, yes, and entirely understandable, IMO. As to the specific aspect of his stopping the Occlumency lessons, though, I think at that point he just needed a reason. People (not necessarily you, here) frequently cite this scene in order to blame Snape for Sirius's death, as Harry will later try to do. That isn't right.

The blame for Harry's failure to learn Occlumency lies solely with Harry. In their first lesson, Harry shows remarkable promise at the skill, and Snape praises him for it, in his own grumpy and subtle way. Snape gives him instructions about practicing and specifically warding off dreams. Harry not only fails to practice, but he regularly does the opposite of his instructions, getting emotionally worked up before bed. Moreover, as the dreams continue, Harry blatantly welcomes them, even consciously acknowledging that he's doing so. With one notable exception wherein Harry does very well (and which Snape again acknowledges in a way that Harry completely doesn't recognize), Harry doesn't improve at all, and may in fact be *worse* than when he started.

It's possible that Snape's teaching methods and Harry's learning method for this subject are incompatible, in which case no amount of work by the two of them together is going to make Harry learn it. If that's the case, then Dumbledore needed to have someone else (most likely himself) teach Harry. We can't say for sure if it is, though, because Harry never put the effort into the lessons to honestly try -- and Snape, who repeatedly entered Harry's mind in order to do his part of the job, knew perfectly well that was the case. There was no way that further lessons were going to teach Harry how to occlude his mind. If anything, I'm surprised Snape hadn't canned the lessons as worthless before that, and he *certainly* shouldn't be expected to keep them up after Harry showed such an extreme lack of respect for him, not only as a teacher and an authority figure, but as a human being.
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Date:March 13th, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Also here via daily_snitch

I never got the impression that Harry got the kinds of instructions which he needed: he does state at one point that Snape isn't telling him *how* to close his mind. And if you want to pull in things from RL as parallel, 'closing your mind' and 'relaxing' are abstract things that disciplines like martial arts have spent a great deal of time and effort looking for ways to enable different paths to them, because they're HARD. Snape seems to belong to the sink-or-swim school of teaching, which is (in my experience) actually the least effective and slowest. So it's not entirely one-sided there, either, a pretty profound failure to communicate. I like the suggestion made elsewhere that Dumbledore was confident that when Snape saw Harry's life and all of that, he'd come to appreciate him as Dumbledore did...but he seems to have underestimated Snape's own valuation of his own preconceptions and ideas. Sigh.
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Date:March 13th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Also here via daily_snitch

I, too, thought that Snape's teaching methods lacked a certain something. Like, you know, teaching. Harry was not a good student, but Snape gave him nothing to work with beyond a mental battering that simply left Harry convinced it was impossible. How many teenage boys know how to meditate, which would seem to be a lynchpin of Occlumency? Was Snape so incompetent a teacher that he couldn't even suggest the concept?

We know Snape to be eloquent when teaching his other passions, but he couldn't spare Harry five minutes of instruction for something of life and death importance. As much as I love Snape, he's a mean bastard and not above spreading his wrath where the receiver can't fight back, even when doing so spites himself. I think he did it here.

He had no interest in teaching Harry to Occlude. What a surprise when Harry couldn't succeed.

Date:March 14th, 2006 05:24 am (UTC)

Re: Also here via daily_snitch

Quoting myself: It's possible that Snape's teaching methods and Harry's learning method for this subject are incompatible, in which case no amount of work by the two of them together is going to make Harry learn it.

That's basically what I meant by this, the incompatible teaching/learning methods. Some people really do understand the concepts of "closing your mind" and the like. I've always been lousy at most of those mental things, but almost everything I've been to where we're instructed to visualize something or meditate or anything like that, that pretty much has been the level of instruction -- you just do it. I'd have to guess it's the common way of doing it, and that it would be at least relatively effective for a lot of people -- at least, it gives them an idea of where to start. It might not work for Harry, like me. No one's fault in that case, but it still leaves the lessons just as useless.

However, contrary to Harry's claim that Snape never told him *how* to do any of these things, he did tell him to get rid of his emotions, especially strong emotions, before going to bed. That, to me, seems very straightforward -- no understanding of wishy-washing, vague, or complicated mental techniques. Just calm down. If you find yourself getting worked up, start over and calm down again. For someone as emotional as Harry, it would take a lot of practice, sure, but he basically tries it once or twice (including right after his first lesson), gets more worked up than he normally would be, and then promptly goes to bed. Most of the time, he doesn't bother; why would he, since he even admits that he wants to know how the dream turns out? If this is the first step in the process of learning to close your mind, it's explained very clearly, and Harry fails miserably at even trying to do it.

I do agree with you on what Dumbledore probably intended to come out of those lessons, and that Snape was unlikely to ever get that out of them because of his own hatred of Harry. I think he underestimated the level of animosity on both sides, though -- Harry's never so unpleasant nor so irrational as when dealing with or even thinking about Snape. Also, much as Dumbledore may have been brilliant in some areas, I suspect that he thought himself an expert on people's emotions and how to deal with people's emotions. Really, though, he demonstrated over and over again that he didn't understand them at all.
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Date:March 17th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Also here via daily_snitch

he did tell him to get rid of his emotions, especially strong emotions, before going to bed. That, to me, seems very straightforward -- no understanding of wishy-washing, vague, or complicated mental techniques.

Not in my experience. 'Get rid of your emotions' is the kind of "Well, you just DO it" thing that has, in my experience with working with students (and being worked with myself), been totally unproductive becasuse it provides no method. It's like telling someone at the top of a run of moguls "Well, just calm yourself and ski down them." (It doesn't work very well...) If it's the first step in learning how to clear your mind, it needs a step 0.5 to enable it.
[User Picture]
Date:March 13th, 2006 03:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's one thing I don't care for -- it's obvious that whatever she's setting us up for in the end, in order for it to be a surprise, neither Snape nor Harry can learn or grow much emotionally during the previous six books. (And I don't count Harry's sudden switch to the committed superhero Dumbledore's Man in 6 as growth, precisely.)


When the protagonist can't change because of the series setup, it can get kind of tedious.

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