So I’ve got to come clean, I didn’t enjoy my latest reading of Harry Potter. Over the last one and a half decades, the Potter-verse has been my go-to comfort read. Read on holiday, read when I’m sad, read when I’m all snuggled up in a pile of blankets. Yet this summer that glorious sensation of a full body smile was simply not there. I hunted high and low through my mind, reflecting, cogitating, wondering and eventually, I came upon the glistening lump of grim unhappiness.
That lump was Snape.
Or rather, it was a bundle of my own thoughts regarding the fictional character. Now, Snape, like most fictional characters and indeed actual humans, is problematic on a number of levels – he’s also good on one or two, but I feel his problematic points need a little more attention.
So, the story as I see it. My boy Sev really liked someone, like really liked her. I hesitate to call it love because it was so obsessive – and whilst I do think one ought to be obsessed with the individual one loves, there should be boundaries. That minor tangent however, is besides the point. Snape loved someone and he ‘lost’ her to his bully. She later is murdered and he decides to bully her surviving child because, and I quote, ‘he looks like his father.’ Oh, and due to the murder, he switches sides to become a double agent.
It’s quite the storyline.
But, is it relevant to Tarquin, the average St Andrews student? I’d argue Snape’s storyline is relevant to Tarquin, Araminta and Augustine as well as to Shane, Carol, and Mason. In fact, I’d argue it’s a storyline relevant to Chad, Harper, and Tyler.
‘Why?’ I hear you ask. Well, as much as the Labour party, the SNP and anyone who practices negative integration (the building of a common identity based around a shared enemy) may try to persuade us, we, as humans, are really remarkably similar. To lesser and greater extents we all, like Severus Snape, struggle with communication and emotional intelligence.
Obviously, some students may share other similarities with “that greasy hooked-nose git.” Some of us might want to consider using shampoo more often, dressing in colours other than black and perhaps becoming mildly less obsessed with some of the more morally questionable niches of academia.
There are even clear-cut differences. Few of us work for the Dark Lord. Few of us practice Hogwarts-style magic and few of us — one hopes — have been quite so involved in a murder.
Communication and emotion-based struggles are clear common ground. Yet communication is often hailed as humanity’s trump card. As one Reddit post recently noted, we humans are aggressively social, and it’s worked well for us. We love to chat, to banter and to be around other humans. Yes, some of us may dream of a windswept Hebridean lighthouse where we’re left alone with nothing but a vast library and an adoring dog, but that dream does still involve communication. Admittedly there’s less direct human to human communication, but writing is still communication, and I imagine some love and affection might be communicated to the dog.
Snape doesn’t escape all communication – the horrors of staff room gossip grasp him still. Of course, his job also involves communicating concepts, practices and knowledge to primary and secondary schoolers. What he does escape though, is regular meaningful emotional communication. He does come clean to Dumbledore (the absolute mad lad) and later to Harry (immediately before he pops it), but Rowling leaves with the impression that there was much more to give.
I’m no psychologist, doctor, or even mental-health rep. Yet, one thing is clear with mental health. Speaking about it is absolutely crucial. It’s hard, really, really hard, harder than words could ever hope to communicate, but it’s necessary for healing.
Snape doesn’t communicate or speak about his emotions in an effective way.
For him, it was preferable to perpetuate and grow a cycle of unhappiness rather than confront these emotions. It is a horrific thing to confront one’s inner emotions, but for me at least, it is a more horrific thing to take those emotions out on innocents, who, in theory at least, are in your care.
Pleas for communication tend to be straighter to the point than this article has been. Alas, I have verbal diarrhea. But please, let’s not be like Severus Snape. Let’s not treat communication like our deadlines. Bottling it up and saving it to the last minute is unlikely to make you act like Rowling’s arch enemy-turned heroic friend, but it could well lead down a rabbit-hole. To quote someone far wiser than myself, repression is no bueno.