raebird ([personal profile] raebird) wrote2005-07-18 08:28 pm
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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

First, some brief character and relationship comments, followed by the long theorizing you've seen a million times by now. But this time written by me!

Relationships
Harry/Ginny. Awww. Coming into this book, I had no real investment in any romantic relationships in the series. I was, perhaps, poised to like Harry/Ginny, though, if somebody sold me on it. Because I was already a little in love with Ginny, so seeing Harry develop those feelings wasn't much of a stretch. And so I was sold on it. I love them.

Ron/Hermione. I’m starting to like them. I was fairly indifferent to the idea before, although they were obviously inevitable. I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen anyone on my flist mention the possibility that they may have actually hooked up in this book. I mean, I think it just depends on whether they drank the Felix potion before or after going to find Ginny. If they drank it while they were alone together, well. They were at a point where they only needed a little nudge and good luck.

Harry and Dumbledore. Harry and Dumbledore interaction is just one of my very favorite things, so this book was pressing all my buttons. Sniffleyay.

Tonks/Lupin. Again, with my indifference to ‘ships in this series, but near the very beginning, when somebody said something about Molly wishing Bill would marry Tonks instead of Fleur, I thought, “No, Tonks should be with Lupin. Lupin needs love.” So, hey. I was surprised.

Other character comments
Neville. Like many others, I thought and hoped we’d see more of Neville this book. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Neville finally get really skilled at magic (even more so than he had with his participation in the D.A.). I was all geekily excited at the end of OotP when he said he’d been using his dad’s old wand this whole time, because I figured with a new one better suited to him, he’d discover he was really talented. And maybe he did and he is, but all of that happened in the background and we didn’t get to see it.

Luna. She annoyed me a little in OotP, but she was great in this book. Just—love, love, love. And I love that Harry and Ron have both grown to appreciate her just as she is.


And now, the bulk of my post, which I title Why I Know Snape Isn't Evil. Most of you have probably seen a lot of this before, but anyway, here are all my arguments in one place.

Dumbledore was planning for his own death and Snape’s “betrayal” throughout the book.
He tied up loose ends. At the Dursleys’ he asked for Harry to be taken in once more. A reasonable request, but unreasonably early, in July. It’s like he knew he might not get another chance.

Dumbledore’s communication with Harry was vastly different in this book than in the others. Previously, Dumbledore generally only gave Harry full, useful explanations of things after a particular incident where that information could have come in handy. When he told him things in advance, these things were veiled hints or little winks. (Mentioning that he once found a room full of chamber pots in the middle of the night…) In this book, he tells Harry very detailed things that will be useful to know later, but not yet. It smacks of grooming Harry to face Voldemort without him; he’s teaching him everything he needs to know, as though Dumbledore won’t be around later to answer his questions after the fact. Dumbledore was convinced that Harry was the Chosen One, that defeating Voldemort was ultimately Harry’s task (with help from his friends and allies). Implicitly, then, Dumbledore did not believe himself to be singularly essential to the task of defeating Voldemort once he had taught Harry all he needed to know, and all he possessed in his own memory that might help him.

Dumbledore hired Snape for the DADA post with full knowledge that there was an actual curse on that job. Ergo, he knew that Snape would not be coming back after this year, and so he must have given him the job for some strategic purpose.

Dumbledore's hand never healed all year, which suggests that he had a weakened resistance to magical maladies and curses--more reason to expect that death was imminent. More reason for Dumbledore to think of ways to put his death to a strategic purpose that would help his own side in the war, and not just give Voldemort a little thrill.

Dumbledore knew that Malfoy was supposed to try to kill him. Presumably, Snape had told him that. Unless you assume Snape is completely evil, Snape must have also told him about the Unbreakable Vow. And if Dumbledore knew about the Vow, then he had to know that a Malfoy-Dumbledore-Snape confrontation was likely to happen (unless Malfoy managed to off Dumbledore without help, which would be much less likely). In such a confrontation, it is not possible for both Snape and Dumbledore to walk away alive. It is possible for Malfoy to walk away as a murderer or as a (relative) innocent. Again, assuming Snape was not actually evil, Snape was more valuable to the Order as a deeply undercover double agent than Dumbledore was as a weakening old man who had already taught Harry all he needed to know. Strategically, non-evil Snape killing Dumbledore was the best move, and it also prevented Malfoy from doing the Unforgivable.

The events of that night, before and after Dumbledore's death, are consistent with such a plan.
Dumbledore was probably dying anyway. Even with his weakening health, Dumbledore drank the potion in the cave (which he suggested might be a gradual poison) and insisted that Harry not drink any of it. And he grew weaker as the night went on.

Even while trying to talk Draco down, Dumbledore still insisted that he trusted Snape completely. And then in the split second after Snape came up on the roof, he suddenly changed his mind? I don’t think so. You could argue that he read Snape’s mind, but Snape is an extremely skilled Occlumens—and after fifteen years of deception he’s suddenly giving Dumbledore access to his “true, evil” feelings because why, exactly? It doesn’t make sense.

Snape and Dumbledore made eye contact before Dumbledore began pleading. Both men are accomplished Legilimens; Dumbledore was most likely telling Snape that it was time to follow through with the plan, honor his Unbreakable Vow, kill him, continue to attempt to save Malfoy from turning truly evil, and take the Death Eaters away from Hogwarts before more innocent lives are lost.

Dumbledore begged. I believe Dumbledore is far too dignified to beg for his life. (“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is the next great adventure.”) I believe Dumbledore was begging Snape to go through with the plan. Snape didn’t want to kill Dumbledore; Dumbledore had been Snape’s own salvation from evil. The look of pain and hatred on his face was, in part, loathing of the task he had to perform. And, in part, deep hatred was necessary for the Unforgivable curse to work, as Bellatrix had told Harry in the Ministry in OotP. So I think Snape had to focus on something or someone he truly hated in order to complete his task, and that accounted for his expression, too.

Apart from killing Dumbledore, Snape didn’t do anything notably evil that night. (Or ever, as far as we’ve seen, except for reporting the partial-prophecy to Voldemort seventeen years ago.) In fact, he did a lot to protect the good guys that night. When Flitwick came down to his office to tell him about the fighting, Snape made an instant decision to go and (at least appear to) fight on the Death Eaters’ side. If his true allegiance was with the Death Eaters (and he was rushing off to out himself as evil anyway), the easiest thing for him to do would be to use the element of surprise and kill Flitwick on the spot, followed by Hermione and Luna who were just outside. Instead, he only stunned Flitwick and asked Hermione and Luna to attend to him—thereby keeping them completely out of harm’s way. Snape also stopped the Death Eaters from killing Harry with the best, most believable excuse that did not blow his cover: Voldemort wants to kill Harry himself. And Snape would not allow Harry to utter an Unforgivable curse, and until he got all riled up about being called a coward (and justifiably so, if you accept that he’d just done something extremely brave and difficult for him), he didn’t send any serious curses Harry’s way, either.

Thematic Connections to earlier books.
The whole theory also works quite well for me on the level at which events in this book call back to the previous books. Dumbledore planning his death fits with the way he explained death in terms of Nicholas Flamel. Dumbledore's sacrifice also parallel's Ron's game of wizard chess in Sorcerer's Stone; Dumbledore played his role in the game but sacrificed himself when he was no longer necessary so that the more essential players on his side (Harry and Snape) could go on. Throughout HBP, many times, Dumbledore also said things along the lines of, "Sorry for my immodesty, but I am quite extremely clever." And that's true, and JKR wants us to remember that it's true. He's not just full of himself, and he's not a dupe. This is the man who, within moments of learning that Sirius was innocent, concocted the plan for Harry and Hermione to save both Sirius and Buckbeak with the time turner; strategically plotting his own death to get Snape in closer with Voldemort (and attempt to save Draco from true evil) is actually *less* complicated, and he had more time to think it through and prepare.

My reaction to all this.
Wow. Wow, and wow again. This was my reading of the events as they unfolded, I think mostly because I noticed Dumbledore preparing for his death during the course of the book, and because Snape being evil is just too obvious for me. (The only time in the whole series when I ever thought he might be was during chapter 2 of this book, when he took the Unbreakable Vow.) I'm so impressed with Snape as a character, that he was able to go through with killing Dumbledore. It must have been excruciatingly difficult for him to do. To Snape, Dumbledore must represent his own salvation. Not many people get the chance to turn against Voldemort. Everyone else who has ever done it has died. Snape is alive because Dumbeldore trusted him and valued him as a double agent. I respect Snape for this, a lot. I still don't *like* Snape. I still think he's a petty, nasty asshole for the way he's treated Harry because of a schoolyard grudge against Harry's father. But even though he's not at all a nice man, I'm deeply impressed that he's proving himself (to me) to be so unflinchingly good.

I kept waiting for JKR to reveal the twist, that Snape wasn't really evil, at the end of this book. I thought she'd tie up the loose ends and impress us with the cleverness of the scheme. But she didn't, which impresses me that much more. It's funny, too. A bunch of the posts on my flist are a bit blasé about the fact that Snape is not really evil and it's all a ruse, blah blah blah, stay tuned for the Snape Redemption Hour (and insist that no one over the age of twelve bought the idea that Snape was actually evil). A few people are impressed with it like I am. (I also don't think Snape redemption is in the cards, because, again, he didn't do anything wrong (recently), apart from being an asshole. And he is, was, and ever shall be an asshole. I think the truth of his non-evilness will have to come out eventually, but that's not redemption so much as revelation.) And then there's a bunch of "OMGWTF Snape is evil!" So, you know. Apparently it was ambiguous enough. Yay, ambiguity! Yay, debate! I'm having so much fun with this. Even though I'm completely right, and the "Snape is evil" people are completely wrong. :P

On the whole, I loved this book--possibly the best of all of them, considering how much analysis I've dedicated to it, though I'd have to read again to make that pronouncement official. All the Dumbledore and Ginny stuff is right up my alley, and I just love the way Harry is maturing, the person he is becoming. Add all that to the twistyness and ambiguity, and this is a great book in my eyes.

[identity profile] abby20.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 12:36 am (UTC)(link)
I just finished skip=420 on my friends page, so for the time being I will just say that I agree with everything you said about Snape (I've seen the light, insert dramatic music here) and that you are really very smart.

::falls over::

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 02:13 am (UTC)(link)
You've seen the light! Hooray!

::tucks you in::

[identity profile] rorylie.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 12:50 am (UTC)(link)
My Snape isn't evil theory is really, when it comes down to it, a timing issue. I think the debate about whose side Snape is really on has gone on for too long (since the very beginning, really) to be resolved before the real end. Just like I felt like, for timing reasons, Dumbledore would die in this book. To me it's just about what makes sense in the grand plan, how all the little pieces fit together. There are some pieces you just can't have until the very end, and I think that's one of the questions that can't be answered before the end. And I'm not a Snape fan, so I'm not out for some big redemption act, I think the man is an ass who treated Harry awfully because James, who Harry barely knew, was mean to him in the 70s.

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 02:32 am (UTC)(link)
Right, exactly, if Snape is evil, then his killing Dumbledore means he no longer has any reason (or opportunity) to pretend to be good. Even the good guys think he's bad. So if he's evil, he's unambiguously evil now, as far as the characters are concerned. And that's not a very complicated or interesting story, particularly considering that Harry was always the one who trusted Snape the least--so there's nothing going on there but, yes, Harry was right all along.

[identity profile] thewalnut.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
I think that was an absolutely gorgeous and genius reading of the book. I think you're dead right. Seriously. And it makes me appreciate how this is how things have to be, which takes it out of the realm of whether it'll be a surprise or not if Snape's evil (it can't be considered ambiguous anymore the way you've laid it all out here) and back into just excitement about getting to see it all unfold...

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 02:55 am (UTC)(link)
Well, thank you. Somehow I doubt all debate is going to cease, but I do think I'm right, so I'm glad my take on things worked for you. :)
ext_2968: (book beach)

[identity profile] kopernik.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 03:59 am (UTC)(link)
I suddenly feel like I should be applauding. Great, great post.

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 09:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, thank you.

[identity profile] spuffylove.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 12:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Good, good analysis.

I actually think Snape has treated Harry badly for so long, not because of James, but because of his guilt over what he did to Harry. And also - were there other prophecies that night from Trelawny, or later? Because I'm just thinking that Snape had his own - and that Dumbledore's death from Snape had been foretold long before. I think Snape has been looking to the day with horror for a long time. But it would be his atonement - destroy the only person he's ever loved (besides Lily).

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 09:55 pm (UTC)(link)
were there other prophecies that night from Trelawny, or later? Because I'm just thinking that Snape had his own - and that Dumbledore's death from Snape had been foretold long before.

Oh, I don't think so. I think in GoF when Harry told Dumbledore about the prophecy he heard from Trelawney (about Voldemort rising again that night), Dumbledore said he'd known her to make a real prophecy just once before. I could be off on that, but it's easy to check.
(deleted comment)

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 09:57 pm (UTC)(link)
Hee. But I think it wouldn't be too much to fit, either. I'm kind of longwinded, and my explanation didn't take more than a few pages. So JKR could still explain it in the form of a scene with dialogue and everything without it taking up a big chunk of the book.

[identity profile] sneaker328.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 09:10 pm (UTC)(link)
*claps* Excellent, excellent. You've really clarified the whole idea beautifully. Thanks for opening up the post for me.

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-19 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you, and you're welcome. :)

[identity profile] nomnivore.livejournal.com 2005-07-20 11:38 am (UTC)(link)
That makes me like the book a lot more...thank you :)

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-20 02:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Aw, I'm glad. You're very welcome.

[identity profile] sodanyc.livejournal.com 2005-07-20 06:21 pm (UTC)(link)
See, this is why I love LJ. I come away from reading the book feeling so shocked and hurt and way too close to everything, and then I talk to you lovely people and gain perspective.

In other words, your theory sounds quite sound, and I think you're probably right. While reading though, I was just so shocked by what was going on that I simply felt betrayed and angry, like Harry. I interpretted the look of pain and hate on his face as a mixture of pure hate, anger, guilt and selth loathing - all of these over the fact that Dumbledore could believe so steadfastly in the possibility of goodness and reformation, that Dumbledore would actually trust Snape so much right down to the last minute, and that Snape had no choice but to kill the one, and perhaps only, person who had ever trusted him that much. But saying that now, none of these seem to be indications that he's necessarily evil.

Your theory also makes Snapes response to Harry's taunts about being a coward fairly heartbreaking because, as you pointed out, killing the man who had trusted him and had given him a chance to reform must have taken incredible amounts of courage and bravery, and I can't imagine how difficult it would be to not let anyone see and understand that.

And now I'm also wondering if perhaps Snape had planned for Harry to end up with the book...it seems so weird that he would've just accidentally left it in the Potions classroom.

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2005-07-20 09:37 pm (UTC)(link)
Your theory also makes Snapes response to Harry's taunts about being a coward fairly heartbreaking

I know, reading it I was just going, "No, no, Harry, don't say that--if you only knew!" But he didn't know.

And now I'm also wondering if perhaps Snape had planned for Harry to end up with the book...it seems so weird that he would've just accidentally left it in the Potions classroom.

Hmm, interesting. I hadn't considered that angle at all. But why would Snape want Harry to do well in Potions? And how would he ensure that Harry got the book instead of some other student who got an E on their O.W.L.--like, say, Ron? Even if he didn't leave the book for them to find, it's still an interesting question--why leave the book there?

[identity profile] sodanyc.livejournal.com 2005-07-21 03:27 pm (UTC)(link)
But why would Snape want Harry to do well in Potions?

Well, assuming that Snape is on the side of the OotP, I was thinking that perhaps he somehow knew that there were spells in there that Harry would need in his upcoming journeys. However, like you said, it seems that it would be difficult to ensure that Harry would get the book. Then again though, Dumbledore seemed to know that Harry would be taking potions even though he didn't get an O, so...maybe he somehow had a hand in it? I'm pulling at straws here now, but I just feel that there must be some reason that Snape left the book there....

[identity profile] ghoulchick.livejournal.com 2005-08-05 11:40 am (UTC)(link)
I love this post so much, and not just because it bolsters my Snape Is Good stance. I don't have anything to add. It's a great analysis, and makes me see things I hadn't noticed before. (I'm still too scrambled to say more right now.)

[identity profile] par-avion.livejournal.com 2007-07-23 03:16 am (UTC)(link)
I clicked over from angel chicken's lj and I enjoyed reading this. (I would say more, but it could be considered spoilery for DH and I don't know if you have finished).

[identity profile] raebird.livejournal.com 2007-07-23 11:13 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks! I've finished reading DH, so feel free to spoil. I'll also friend you back so you can see my handful of other HP-related posts, including the DH one, if you wish. I'd have friended you back a while ago, but I didn't (and don't) have time to catch up and get to know new LJ friends right now. But that's my issue.

[identity profile] par-avion.livejournal.com 2007-07-23 02:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, I didn't mean it like that -- I wasn't even sure if I had added you to my friends list. I just didn't want to inadvertently spoil you. (But thanks, I did go and read all your hp posts).

I've read a lot of posts by people who liked the last book, but strongly dislike Harry/Ginny, and it was good for me to read this post. I quite like Ginny, and I think that Jo isn't writing them as a grand passion but as two kids who are mature for the age and are being grown-up about putting their relationship on hold while bigger issues loom. I really don't understand the Ginny or H/G hate.