Tag Archives: JK Rowling

Teenage Nimue and the quest to rescue Severus Snape

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.

The challenge of Jack Monroe

For those of you outside the UK, Jack Monroe is a single mum who has given a face and voice to UK poverty. She is also completely at odds with right wing myths about the poor, which makes her very important indeed.

Jack is a blogger, and you can find her here – http://agirlcalledjack.com/ she has a book, and does things with Sainsburys and talks at Green Party conferences, and these days probably doesn’t go hungry any more. But she’s been to the bottom, and she knows what it’s like to have nothing but debt.

The right wing story about poverty, is that the poor are feckless. The poor are poor because we are lazy, ignorant, work-shy. When we have money we blow it on drugs, fags, alcohol and tattoos. We have no pride, and no work ethic, but delight in fleecing the system and getting something for nothing. With a story like that, it’s very easy to justify not giving money to the poor. We’d only waste it. So easy to say there is no point even trying to help us because we are too stupid and lazy to help ourselves.

Jack’s story paints a very different picture. She was unlucky. It really is that simple. She didn’t make especially bad decisions or irresponsible choices. She didn’t get herself pregnant (think about that for a moment) to get housing. Things went wrong for her and she got into a lot of trouble and for a while her life was hell. Because she is also strong, brave and determined, she turned her life around thanks to a bit of help in the form of food bank aid, amongst other things. She got lucky, off the back of her hard work (you need both, usually), her blog became a book and her story brought her work and a new start.

It’s not a unique story. There’s another famous one, the lone single mum, unable to afford to heat her house, writing in cafes, who went on to become a legendary author and one of the richest people in the UK for a while.

Most people who fall on hard times are simply unlucky. Most people who get the breaks Jack Monroe and JK Rowling did are just plain lucky. The vast majority of people who get into trouble are trying not to be, until or unless they succumb to despair. Most people want a decent quality of life, and some dignity.

Anyone can fall. No one is so secure that a run of bad luck could not put them in the gutter. Whether you get to stay in the gutter, depends a lot on how able you are to get up, and that in turn depends to a degree on whether you get any help. If you write people off as useless, the odds of them staying down are really good. What Jack Monroe and JK Rowling demonstrate to the world is that if you take care of the people who fall on hard times, they can pick themselves up, and amazing things happen.

We can choose to punish the poor because there are a few people who abuse the system, or we can choose to support the poor because there are some people who go through hell and come back to do amazing, powerful things that have huge benefits for us all. It probably comes down to whether you enjoy punishing people, or you enjoy giving people a chance to thrive, and the current culture in the UK seems to take far too much pleasure in the suffering of others. There’s little to be proud of in kicking people who are already down, but all too often, that’s exactly what happens.