My good friend Meredith has written an excellent blog post about the problems with JK Rowling – so let me start by directing you there https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/2020/06/08/when-you-have-to-break-up-with-an-author
A person could spend a lot of time (and I have) picking over the race, gender and class politics of the Harry Potter books. But, I thought I would pick up on one of the issues that has always bothered me, and that I would do so by writing about my favourite character, Severus Snape.
Snape, like almost every character in the HP books, has his whole life defined by the person he loved as a child. He’s not allowed to move on, he’s not allowed to heal, or fall in love again and rebuild his life. He is obliged to live in the hell created by one ghastly mistake. This is true for most of the characters, whose lives are defined by their teens – especially who they will love.
Most of us were still working it out in our teens. The more out of synch you are with hetranormative mainstream culture, the longer it will have likely taken you to figure out who you are and where you fit. To tie people to their teenage identities is to leave no room at all for who we grow up to be, and to leave no room for the idea that most of us will change. Some of us will change a lot. It is an awful, untrue story to tell that what happens in our teens is the most important story of our lives, but the HP books tell that story in pretty much every character’s life.
I’d like to rescue Snape. I’d like to rock up in his twenties with an assortment of characters of various gender and body types, and seduce him out of his grief. I’d like to get him some counselling, and give him the opportunity to live in a safe and healthy environment for a few years. I’d like someone to be kind to him, and not leave him in a space of being constantly emotionally manipulated by bloody Dumbledore.
I have thought about this a lot because it bothers me so much. It’s been one of the dominant stories young people of recent years have grown up with, and so much of what it tells us is really problematic. Stories matter. Stories tell us who we are and who we should aspire to be. The Harry Potter books tell us that we’re never going to get over what happens to us in our teens; that our worst mistakes will define our entire lives and that the only redemption is death. No one grows up. No one moves on. No one heals. This is not the story to tell ourselves.
I am not my teenage self. There’s continuity, but there has also been a lot of growing and changing. I am a much bigger and more complicated version of that person. The mistakes from that time in my life are behind me, the wounds are healing, the choices did not define everything. I will rescue Snape as much as I can. I will quietly tell myself stories in which far better things happened to him. I’m also going to get myself a Snapeish sort of coat, and let my non-binary self play with this a bit. Yes, my teenage self did understated cosplays of male characters I identified with, and I like the idea of going back to that. Not because I am defined by my teenage choices, but because some of my ideas back then were really good. I will be a sexy queer sort of Snape.
Sometimes, ideas and characters turn out to be a lot bigger than the authors who first encounter them. Ancient literature is full of this sort of thing. Shakespeare borrowed other people’s stuff all the time, so there’s a good literary tradition to not letting JK Rowling define her own literary legacy.