The love of Severus Snape
I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until I was 17, and I was surprised at how deep the story is, especially in the later books. I’ve read a lot of literature and I can say without a doubt that series is one of the best in modern literature because of things like the incredible character of Severus Snape.
(SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t read or watched Harry Potter and have plans to in the future, the next few paragraphs reveal some pretty major plot points.)
The reader is led to believe, for about six and a half books, that Snape is a bad guy. He’s mean to Harry and his friends, he’s the head of Slytherin house (where the most unsavory wizards come from), he makes unforgivable comments about Harry’s dead father and then, to top it all off, he kills the great wizard Dumbledore. But in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the villain Voldemort attacks Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry witnesses Voldemort unnecessarily kill his loyal servant Snape for a complicated reason that isn’t really relevant to my point. As Snape lays dying, he gives Harry his memories, which Harry watches.
Watch these clips from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to see Snape’s memories. Skip to clip #2 if you don’t have time to watch both:
So all Harry’s life, Snape has been secretly protecting him because of his love for his mother, not because Harry was inherently good. In fact, Snape didn’t like Harry at all. But Snape takes a lot of risks for Harry and even is willing to die for Harry’s cause because he loved Lily. And he loved her enough that he didn’t hate her when she married someone else or stalk her or try to break up her and her husband, but he unselfishly showed his love by watching out for her son.
A lot of movies and books are driven by selfish love. For example, this declaration of love from the characters in The Notebook is sweet, but both of them are primarily focused on what he or she wants, not on the other person. “Why didn’t you write to me?” Allie asks. “I wrote to you,” Noah replies.
It’s all nice and dramatic with the rain, but it’s just so me-centered.
Or what about Twilight? Bella gets to do whatever she wants with whatever boy she wants and still get a happy ending for herself and for those guys, like when she kisses Jacob in Eclipse. Her fiancé and future husband Edward later tells her this kiss isn’t a big deal. Wouldn’t it be nice to do anything you wanted anytime without real and lasting consequences?
I think stories like The Notebook and Twilight will fade away in ten years but Harry Potter will be a classic a hundred years from now because of flawed, relatable characters like Snape and the values they exhibit.
Stories like Harry Potter that celebrate loyal, sacrificial love resonate deeply within us because people know there’s a God and we have inherent morality even if we deny it (see Romans 1). It’s nice to get warm fuzzies from a cute chick flick, but ultimately, people are drawn to stories that echo the greatest story ever told. Ten thousand million trillion times better than Snape loving Harry is Jesus loving us. We get a glimpse of loyalty and sacrifice in great stories, and that should ultimately make us look to someone who has a much greater and real love.
I don’t think echoing the gospel was J.K. Rowling’s goal necessarily, but she understood what makes a story great, maybe without even consciously realizing it. Thinking about the fact that stories like Fifty Shades of Gray are so popular freaks me out because it says a lot about how degraded our society is. But stories like Harry Potter give me a little bit of hope. We’re still searching for God, and he can and does use any means necessary to point people to him. I would like to see more stories that celebrate God’s qualities and standards of love rather than man’s.