Monday, October 24, 2011

The Geek and the Professor


Ok, I admit it; I did compare you to Professor Snape. Before you get offended, please remember that, except for Dumbledore (and we both know Dumbledore is taken), there really aren’t a lot of people available on the Hogwarts teaching staff for compliments. Who would you rather be, boring Binns or nervous Flitwick? At least Snape is interesting.

And, in his own way, admirable. I feel compelled to point this out. He still isn’t much like you, as you are admirable in a completely different way, but having been caught comparing you to an actual Death Eater, I feel the need to set the record as straight as possible. And the old spy needs some respect in his fictional death, does he not?

I never really believed that Severus Snape was a bad guy. As Quirrell pointed out, he did "seem the type," but I don’t think you need to read many of the Harry Potter books before you catch on that it’s never Snape causing the problem. J. K. Rowling’s world looks morally simplistic, and in some ways it’s less nuanced than I’d like. I don’t think evil is a team one can join or refuse to join. I don’t think fiction does anyone a service by locating evil wholly outside the foibles and weaknesses of the main protagonists. Snape saves the series in this respect, together with Dumbledore—if you haven’t read the books yet, you’d better stop reading this letter. Here, I’ll give you time to think about it.





Ok, you ready? Good. The thing about Snape is he WAS a Death Eater. At one time, his service to Voldemort was entirely genuine. No matter what good he did at what cost, he can’t quite be let off the hook. Neither can he entirely be left on it. There’s one detail that puts all this in perspective; the date that Harry Potter’s parents died. The inscription on their gravestone is quoted in the seventh book, and includes their dates; born in 1960, died in October of 1981. Since we know Harry was one year old when he was orphaned, and we know Harry's age in every scene of every book, all the other events in the books can thus be assigned years. And since Snape was the same age as the Potters (he started school with them), we also know how old he was at each stage of the story. He was startlingly young; Alan Rickman was cast perfectly, but he’s a generation older than his character. Snape was only 37 when he died. When he first made his deal with Dumbledore to save Lilly Potter, he was just 20. So, basically, Snape was an admirer of evil when he was a teenager. Dumbledore was much older, but when he was a teenager, he loved, and daydreamed with, the Wizarding equivalent of Hitler. That's not really any better. Snape seems to be an intensely interpersonal character, selflessly devoted to one woman, but incapable of the kind of abstract moral reasoning that might have warned him away from Voldemort to begin with. Dumbledore used his powerfully abstract intelligence to justify his own brush with horror at the expense of individuals he loved. The two are morally equivalent. That Snape appears never to have had a moral crisis the way Dumbledore did, that he appears always to have been loving, intelligent, and brave while also always being mean, unfair, and petty muddies the waters beautifully. Not only was Snape not what he appeared to be, he undermines the very premise that the thing he appeared to be—a classical “bad guy”—even exists. He is more than a double agent sent into the camp of Voldemort; he’s a saboteur sent into the heart of classical moral childishness. He redeems the whole series.

And he allows me to prove, once more, the depth and breadth of my geekdom. I really can’t “just” enjoy fiction. I see no point. If I cannot think deeply about something, I don’t think it’s worth my time. I’m not even a Harry Potter fan, particularly, I merely like the series a bit, and I have a good memory for books.

“Geek” is an interesting word. It’s not quite a compliment, even when self-applied. Someone—I don’t remember who—defined “geek” as “a self-made freak,” explaining that in a traditional circus, there were two types of people who might be the focus of a side-show. There were freaks, people who were physically unusual, and geeks, people who did unusual things. Both were oddities others would pay to see, but freaks were odd by birth or chance, and geeks were odd by choice. Do I have a choice about my intellectual fascinations? Do I have a choice about being smart in certain ways (and less so in others)? No, I don’t think I do. But I do have a choice about letting other people know about it. I don’t have to admit to psychoanalyzing Severus Snape. But I rather like my skills and preoccupations. If a certain pride and pleasure in my own wacky neurology makes me a geek, then so be it.

But you knew all this already.

Best, C.

No comments:

Post a Comment