Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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'Harry Potter': Christ figures and gayness and Snape, oh my!

So it's high time I gave Harry Potter its due, and I've read a couple of good thought-provoking articles in the last couple of days to sort of spur me on. So let's get to it!

A couple of days ago I read an article about the Christian themes and biblical references in Harry Potter, particularly the last book. The part of the article that most intrigued me is that she didn't want to talk about Christian themes in the series before the publication of the last book because she didn't want to give anything away. They also talked about the epigraphs in the book 7 (I don't like the title, sorry) and how they were religiously based but based in different religions (because "Hogwarts is a [multi-faith] school" (which means that witchcraft is not a religion but a skill; too many people drawing connections with parochial schools, I guess, which makes sense because I don't think we have many non-parochial private schools in America). It also pointed out that the Dumbledores' and Potters' epitaphs were actual Biblical quotes, which I'm a little ashamed to admit that I didn't even realize they were from the Bible. Just a little ashamed, though. If I wanted to, I could commit the Bible to memory, but I think it's less important to have encyclopedic knowledge of the Scriptures than it is to have an understanding of the meaning of the Scriptures. And speaking for myself, understanding of the Scriptures as come partly from a Gestalt understanding of other texts, even texts that weren't necessarily overtly Christian or otherwise spiritual.

Therefor, it tickles me to no end that so many so-called Christians (including, I'm embarassed to say, our current Pope, who embarasses me in a lot of ways) have denounced the books as evil when Harry Potter is a textbook example of a Christ figure. Not that matters to the so-called-Christian detractors, of course. Not having read the books, they probably don't know it and it probably wouldn't change their minds if they did; they'd just say the devil cloaks himself in virtue or some such nonsense.

I thought I had more to say on this subject...I did have more to say, but as always, people both wiser and more knowledgeable than I have already said it all and much better than I could.

Anyhoo, if the whole evil/witchcraft angle is wearing thin, the detractors ought to have a field day with Dumbledore being gay. No doubt that will trump, override, and otherwise nullify any positive aspects or Christian themes about compassion or sacrificial love (and never mind the fact that Dumbledore himself makes a pretty Christ-like sacrifice).

But never mind what they think; I'm mostly happy to find this out. I've felt for quite some time that there ought to be at least one canonically gay Harry Potter character, and her saying it counts as canon as far as I'm concerned, even though she sometimes contradicts herself. I know a lot of fans believe Sirius and Remus were a couple, to which I say, if she confirmed this was the case after the events of Prisoner of Azkaban I would say fine; if she confirmed it was before the events of the story were set into motion by Voldemort attacking Harry, I would accept it grudgingly, while pointing out that if you suspect the person you're sleeping with of plotting to kill your mutual best friends, your relationship is in serious trouble. But I don't believe in Sirius/Remus myself. I was betting on (and still suspect) Dean and Seamus, but this is so much better; it's a main character!

That said, I do have mixed feelings about it. I'm surprised because while I did (and do) have some suspicions of certain characters being gay, I never suspected Dumbledore. For some reason I've never felt comfortable acknowledging Dumbledore as a sexual being. Maybe it's because of the archetype thing: Obi-Wan and Gandalf come across as pretty asexual (apart from the generalized gay-vibes all throughout Lord of the Rings); the only other archetypal wizard/mentor character I can think of at the moment is Merlin, and his sexuality (or lack thereof) depends on the version of the story that you read, but Mary Stewart, commenting on Merlin's virginity in the author's note of her book The Crystal Cave points out that, "There is so strong a connection in legend (and indeed in history) between celibacy, or virginity, and power." So I guess that's why I've never felt comfortable acknowledging Dumbledore as a sexual being. I feel so strongly about the Harry Potter characters that I feel almost as though a real-life friend has come out to me, which I think is and always will be a jarring and unsettling experience no matter how well you know the person and what suspicions you may have. On the other hand, it's considerably less jarring taken in context with all the other new information I've recently discovered about Dumbledore from the seventh book (she might just as well have called it Harry Potter and the Posthumous Character Development of Dumbledore). On a positive note, this gives me more insight into Dumbledore's character; she said that he was in love with Grindelwald, and unfortunately I can relate to having fallen in love with a man who was not who I thought he was and, indeed, represented the diametric opposition to everything I value and hold dear. Well, perhaps that's overstating things a bit, but I can definitely sympathize if not empathize. Plus, this gives me all the more reason to go back and read the whole series again to see what new discoveries my new perspective will bring me. When all's said and done, I guess I'm kind of glad it came out this way, in passing, rather than being explicitly stated in the books, because had that been the case it would have become (at least in America) the Big Gay Wizard Story and any other important themes would have been ignored.

This brings me to Snape, about which I have a lot to say, but since I've said so much already tonight maybe I'll be able to boil it down to the important parts. Oh dear, now it's awfully awkward to refer to Snape as "Dumbledore's man" without giggling childishly.

*ahem* Let me start over: after reading HBP (after I'd gotten over my embarassing, Misery-esque hissy-fit), I believed that Snape was loyal to Voldemort, and I continued to believe it right up until chapter 33 of book seven. And I had mixed feelings about what actually happened. On the one hand, it's not fun to be wrong, but on the other hand, it is fun to be surprised, and I was surprised by Snape's allegiance and even more so by the motivation behind it.

While I believed in Snape's allegiance to Voldemort until proven otherwise, I did have doubts about it, because anyone who's paid attention to the series (which I have) knows that things are not always what they seem. I just didn't see how she could pull it off satisfactorily. I should have had more faith, of course; this is the woman who came up with Peter Pettigrew's feigned death and implication of Sirius Black (speaking of which, I don't have much use for Peter Pettigrew as a character, but you have to give him credit; that was pretty damn clever of him). The point is, once I calmed down and really thought about it, I knew there had to be more to the apparent betrayal that we didn't know yet; I just didn't have sufficient textual evidence to determine which were the red herrings and which were the actual clues. I did get Snape's measure in one respect that I'm rather proud of: with regard to Snape's motivations, i.e. does he really believe in what he's doing or is he just an opportunist, I said all along that whatever side he's on, he's there because he's a true believer. While I'm glad that Dumbledore wasn't murdered, what happened amounts to euthanasia, which I feel slightly better about, but it still makes me uncomfortable. But I can live with it. I'm also really, really glad that Snape found a way to communicate the "you're a Horcrux and you have to die by Voldemort's hand" message in an indirect and objective way, because I don't think he could have convinced Harry otherwise.

But what did surprise me is the why behind it all--even now, I don't think that Snape's loyalty was to Dumbledore so much as it was to Lily. The Snape/Lily thing came out of left field as far as I'm concerned; I know it showed up in fanfiction, but I don't take Harry Potter fan fiction seriously. So I never, ever saw that one coming. As I thought about it later, it reminded me of a climactic Monk scene: "it's a crazy idea, but it would explain everything that's been going on!" It explains why Dumbledore never gave a satisfactory reason for trusting Snape (Snape asked him not to), how Snape was able to fool Voldemort (Voldemort doesn't understand love), and Snape's unprovoked hatred of Harry (not only is Harry the son of Snape's tormentor, he's walking proof of James and Lily having had sex).

Actually, I resisted it a little at first, not so much because of the hating-Snape thing (as much as I was enjoying that, I did want him to be an okay guy, and even now I realize that the reason I was so angry at him was less because he'd apparently betrayed Dumbledore than because he'd apparently betrayed the grudging respect I had started to feel for him). But there's more to it than that. For one thing, as I was reading chapter 33, I honestly believed that it was contradicting established plot points, but as I thought about it, no we don't know where Lily and Petunia grew up, etc. Moreover, Snape's another character that I have never felt comfortable acknowledging as a sexual being, mostly because I find him repulsive. Not just because of his undesirable physical attributes, but also because of his bullying propensities. I just kept thinking "Ew, he could have been Harry's dad!" Ew, because hook-nosed Harry is an unpleasant thought, but also Ew because, while I understand where he's coming from and I've forgiven him, I don't have much faith in his ability to be a father--at least not until he had resolved his issues with his own father.

But while I forgive Snape, I can't forget. While I understand where he's coming from and why he did the nasty things he did, he did quite a few undeniably nasty things, and while I can forgive him, I can't excuse him. It's one thing to have goaded Sirius (I won't say Sirius deserved that, but he certainly reaped what he sowed), another thing to have picked on Harry (I'm ashamed to say that, in his position, I might have been similarly close-minded), still another to have gone after Ron and Hermione (Ron's Harry's friend and Hermione is kind of a know-it-all sometimes), but why Neville? What did Neville ever do to anyone? (I guess maybe someone in Neville's family did something to Snape).

No, Snape's an okay guy, but he will never be one of my favorite characters (nor, for the record, will Sirius or James make my list of favorite characters); therefore I was kind of surprised that Harry was so forgiving as to have named his son after Snape (albeit his middle name, but still). It seemed almost out of character to me; I would have expected him to forgive, but not to have been THAT forgiving. Just goes to show that Harry's a bigger man than Sirius, James and Snape put together, and a far better person than I would be. Ultimately I'm glad he did, because that shows just how loving and forgiving and Christ-like Harry really is, and we could all use a good role model like that. That said, I feel a little sorry for little Albus, because "Albus Severus" has got to be one of the most awkward names to pronounce ever. I can just picture the poor kid trying to introduce himself: "My name is Albus Severus Potter" "What'd you say, kid? Was that Parseltongue or something?"

Hmm...well, now that I've started, I might as well get it all out at once. I sense that there's still some bitterness about the whole Ron/Hermione thing; the only thing I want to say about that is it never even entered my mind that Harry and Hermione would become a couple. Their relationship always seemed fraternal (for lack of a better word) to me. Now that I've thought about it, they seem so similar to one another: they're both raised by Muggles and both rather more intelligent--or, at least, thoughtful and skilled--than Ron, and have no siblings of their own, so that they were always like surrogate brother and sister to each other, as I see it. Hermione usually got along better with Harry, which could have been considered a clue (and was possibly intentionally meant to be a red herring), but the friction with Ron suggested passion. Now that I've become a little more appreciative of Jane Austen, I can appreciate the obvious Austenian influences in Harry Potter and the parallels between Ron/Hermione and Elizabeth/Darcy, but let me go on record as saying that Rowling developed the relationship much, much, MUCH more skillfully and convincingly (although maybe I would feel differently if I'd lived in Jane Austen's time; thank God I will never be able to find out).

On a related note, if Ron weren't already as dear to me as he could possibly be, I would find him so much more endearing when he thinks that Hermione is going to choose Harry over him. That's so sweet, and so his character. Some people seem not to like Ron very much, and I can sort of see why, but personally, I relate more to him than to any other character. I, too, and the second-youngest and least remarkable sibling in a large family of remarkable siblings. While I love my siblings dearly and take vicarious pride in their accomplishments, and while I have a healthy self-esteem of my own and take pride in my own considerable accomplishments, I know how tedious it can be to be known primarily as "so-and-so's younger sister," and it can be really frustrating to be known as "so-and-so's older sister" because that goes against the usual order. If it happens frequently, after a while it begins to feel like you have no identity of your own anymore, it's being quietly effaced. (Interestingly, even though I attended the same university as my sister, since she had graduated five years beforehand not a lot of people made that connection, which I was grateful for once I started doing plays and forging my own identity as a university student. However, when I first got started I felt so alone and transplanted and out of place and disconnected that I was grateful for the people who knew me as "Laura's sister"--if nothing else it was a conversational starting point--and I started to miss it when people didn't make that connection). did take hours that I could have spent in valuable sleep, but at least I've got it all out there, pretty much.
Tags: books, harry potter
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