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Under His Spell

Undercover good guy or pure evil? Either way, Harry Potter nemesis SEVERUS SNAPE has fans obsessing over his fate in the final book

March 20, 2007|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,Sun reporter

Rachael Stiegel, 27, a Houston patent agent, loves that he's a gray character in the black-and-white world of children's fiction. Last year, she started a podcast called Snapecast, which now has about 5,000 listeners from more than 60 countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"If you took Snape out of the Harry Potter equation, I don't think the books would have as many adult fans," she said. "He adds the element of complexity that makes the books fascinating to older readers."

Then there's what Anelli calls the "dark, tortured soul seeking redemption" mystique. A mercilessly bullied child prodigy who apparently joined Voldemort in a fit of teenage spite, Snape recognized his monumental mistake and turned spy for Dumbledore - or at least that was the story pre-murder, and it's the one that Snape fans still ardently want to believe. We know (hope, pray) there's more to the story.

The party line goes something like this: Dumbledore, already near death and surrounded by some of Voldemort's worst minions, sent a mental message to his spy to do it! Now Snape is a mole in Voldemort's camp, perfectly positioned to help save the day!

We trust with the fervor of converts that he, as much as Harry himself, will emerge as Dumbledore's man when the book - which its American publisher says will set a U.S. first-printing record of 12 million copies - is finally in our hands.

Rushdie's theory

"Our theory," said author Salman Rushdie, who rose to speak for us all at a reading Rowling gave in New York last summer, "is that Snape is, in fact, still a good guy."

And we really don't want him to redeem himself through death. If he can atone for his errors and live on, then - well - there's hope for all of us.

Alas: This is not how such tales usually go.

"He's the sort of character who ... ends up dying sacrificially to prove his goodness," said James Krasner, an associate professor whose specialty at the University of New Hampshire is Victorian literature, and who, more importantly, has $25 riding on his belief that Snape "obviously" killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's orders. (His teenage son took the bet.)

Of Rowling, Krasner said: "She's very good at surprising you but also fulfilling the basic outline about how these sorts of stories work."

Fans have started at least two online petitions begging Rowling not to do away with Snape. Neither well-publicized, the pair nevertheless together have more than 1,000 signatures. They sound quite desperate, as if Snape were truly real - and as if his fate is a foregone conclusion.

Stiegel thinks so. Snapecast has started doing pieces on the stages of grief. (Next month - anger.)

Beverly Wood, 40, a teacher and project manager in Green Bay, Wis., who is an administrator for Snape fan site BewitchedMind .net, is wavering between acceptance and denial.

"Maybe she'll leave it ambiguous, ... like he escapes the battle wounded, and we don't know whether he lives or dies," a hopeful Wood said, which just shows how low our hopes are.

Still, there was that tantalizing hint from the author in an interview last year. About how, despite her carefully plotted plans for what would happen and who would die, "one character got a reprieve."

It could be him, right?

Please?

Best of luck, professor.

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

For more about Severus Snape, go to baltimoresun.com/snape.

Five reasons to believe Snape is good (if not nice)

1. Headmaster Dumbledore's death isn't all it seems to be. After he pleads, "Severus ... ," there is a moment of silence, an opportunity for the two -- both skilled in the Potter books' version of mind-reading -- to have a private chat. Snape fans think Dumbledore orders him to go through with it. At this point, the headmaster is already in dire straits, poisoned by a potion of Voldemort's that -- in what seems like a deliberate parallel -- Dumbledore made Harry force-feed him.

2. We still don't have reliable information about why Snape offered to spy on Voldemort, "at great personal risk," in Dumbledore's words. In the Potter books, what you don't know is significant.

3. As he fled Hogwarts, Snape could have killed or kidnapped Harry. Instead, he stopped a Death Eater from torturing the teen.

4. The summer before these traumatic events, Snape saves Dumbledore from a potentially life-threatening injury. Why bother if he wanted the headmaster dead?

5. What's the more interesting plot for the final Harry Potter book: Yeah, Snape is still bad? Or -- surprise, Harry, the man you want to kill is on your side?

[ Jamie Smith Hopkins]

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