I am defending Snape and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. Yes, I know. Those two characters are super-problematic. At least, according to many fans. Personally? The “problematic” nature of Snape and Dumbledore is what makes them great characters. I find it shocking- and a bit alarming- that arguably, the two most complex characters JK Rowling has created are dismissed so often by fans. Adding onto that, I find Snape and Dumbledore to be nuanced characters that make the reader think about redemption, love, responsibility and sacrifice. Therefore, in this blog post- I will defend Snape and Dumbledore, and argue that they are characters who deserve a bit more credit and understanding.
Dumbledore And The Dursley’s: Defending Dumbledore
My first point defending Snape and Dumbledore has to deal with fandom psychology. We tend to categorise characters into boxes of ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ For example, Molly Weasley and her heroism makes her a good character. On the other hand, Umbridge’s controlling streak and cruelty put her as evil. That’s why fandom in general, is more accepting of villains than morally grey characters. This is because they do not upset the already established perceptions of the readers.
Despite Snape and Dumbledore revealing to be ultimately heroes at the end of the story, they are still morally grey characters.
For example, take Dumbledore. In his first appearance in The Philosopher’s Stone, he entrusts the abusive Dursley’s to take care of an orphan child. At first, this sounds completely evil. Yet look at the context. Voldemort still had supporters with deep connections in the Wizarding world. If, Dumbledore went to a Muggle orphanage, Harry might have gone down the same path as Tom Riddle. Other options exist as well, yet I think the Dursleys were the only viable one. This is because Petunia already had some knowledge of magic. Let’s not forget that Arabella Figg was also there to keep an eye on Harry, even going as far to babysit him. It’s absolutely awful that Harry was abused- yet Dumbledore’s options were limited.
That being said, Dumbledore’s actions in the early Order of the Phoenix aren’t perfect. Yet he learns the errors of his mistakes, and in the next book- The Half-Blood Prince, plays a more active role in Harry’s life.
Snape And His Students: Defending Snape
Severus Snape is brilliant- he came up with spells and potions, could hold his own in battle and was cunning. Yet his treatment of students- particularly Neville Longbottom- has left a sour taste for many fans. I’d argue that this stance is perfectly acceptable, especially by 21st century standards. However, Snape’s behaviour stems from bitterness and resentment. After all, he suffered awful bullying at Hogwarts. I am not saying that to excuse his behaviour, but to understand it. Fictional characters are going to act in problematic ways, and that doesn’t make them completely evil.
Adding onto that, Snape’s treatment of his students leaves alot to be desired. Yet I don’t think that it translates into him being a monster. Remember: this is Harry Potter. It was written in the 1990’s, where our perceptions of bullying are not the same as today’s. JK Rowling also writes the magical world to be backwards in many ways: from Oliver Wood not knowing what basketball is and to the lack of technology and computers. The Wizard World has more in common with a medieval epic than with a contemporary society.
Snape’s actions are heinous, yet I never thought they were so evil that he could never be redeemed.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Both Snape and Dumbledore gave up their lives for others. That doesn’t sound like the hallmarks of bad people. I find it admirable that Snape, despite initally being a Death-Eater, managed to switch sides to help the common good. A lot of people think his inspiration from Lily Potter makes him selfish. The logic behind that argument is that Snape should have been motivated by a moralistic sense of right and wrong. To that, I’d say that there is nothing wrong with love as a motivation. Love, after all, is a core theme in the Harry Potter series. It isn’t as vicious or as selfish as greed.
On the other side, you have Dumbledore who is more moralizing than Snape. He’s on the side of Harry- not just because of sympathies or personal affection, but because it’s the right side to be on. That is also okay. Either way- the motivation of both men lead to sacrificing themselves for others. Because of that, both Dumbledore and Snape have my admiration and respect.
How Harry Potter Fits Into This
Arguably, the biggest problem fans have with Dumbledore is his manipulative streak. Effectively, as Snape describes it, Dumbledore rose Harry up as a sheep led to a slaughter. However, it’s vital to understand the wider context. If Harry, and others, did not act the way they did, Voldemort would have won. Because of that, Dumbledore was essentially avoiding millions of deaths and effectively, a genocide.
Dumbledore’s actions sound rough and cruel. Yet I’d take them over the alternative, which is Voldemort massacring more people. There’s a brilliant saying in warfare, that if you try to save everyone- you save no one. War is rough.
Therefore, Dumbledore is a manipulative character- yet it’s for a damn good reason. I get that Harry is a fan favourite and the series protagonist, yet Dumbledore making a rational decision should not be held against him. Because of Dumbledore’s manipulation, lives were saved.
Conclusion: Defending Snape And Dumbledore
When I thought about defending Snape and Dumbledore- I realised I could not cover all the opinions fandom has about them in a single blog post. Because of that, I plan to interact in the comments about any problems fellow Harry Potter fans may have.
Adding onto that, I find it weird, and a bit worrisome- that the two most rich and complex characters in Harry Potter are so misunderstood. A character making morally gray decisions, or bad choices that are understandable- does not make a person evil. Severus Snape deserved his redemption, because he earned it.
On the other hand, Dumbledore has caused interesting fandom discussions about responsibility and ethics. Still- he is not a bad person. I think it’s vital to remember the context Harry Potter was written in. In a hyper-sensitive world, it’s easy to interpret personality flaws as evil malice. I’ll be defending Snape and Dumbledore because I think they are wonderful characters who enriched JK Rowling’s story. I find it useless to scream how ‘problematic’ a character is because they have the nerve to be human. Snape and Dumbledore do not exist to be categorised in simple boxes of good or evil. They make decisions that cause you to think.
Because of that, as well as many other reasons, they are two of the best Harry Potter characters.