Thursday, June 20, 2024

Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, and Responsibility

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Every year I make it my mission to read through the Harry Potter novels by author J.K. Rowling, something not unheard of around here. I enjoy Rowling’s work, and in particular how she was able to style her writing throughout the novels so that they matured along with her characters. It was one of the many factors that contributed to the characters feeling as if they were real people. Of course, this made their losses and triumphs all the more hard to bear, or all the better. The characters dynamics were solid and well developed given the lengths of the books.

Rowling’s wizarding world is fully substantial with its own culture, its own societies, even its own fiction. This is a universe that is self-sustaining; in that it could quite possibly go on and on forever. Or however long the author chooses to let it.

However there were some characters actions that dredged up questions that I feel could have been delved into deeper, though given the timing constraints it is understandable that they might not have been.

For the purpose of not writing out over twenty pages, this article is only concerned with the events of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban and how they relate to Remus Lupim and Severus Snape.

More specifically Professor Remus Lupin and Professor Severus Snape. As time has passed and I have gotten older my perspectives have changed regarding the two characters and the events that occurred during that third year at Hogwarts.

In particular the events of Chapter Nine when Professor Lupin was “feeling too ill to teach today” and Professor Snape took over teaching his class as Professor Lupin was recovering from the last full moon, moving far ahead of the planned curriculum to teach and have the student’s write essays:

You will each write an essay, to be handed in to me, on the ways you recognize and kill werewolves. I want two rolls of parchment or, the subject, and I want them by Monday morning.” – Severus Snape

Given Lupin’s current circumstances, it is on the face rather cruel of Professor Snape to have his students write such essays for him to read when he recovered enough to take back his teaching post. Now this is another blot on Snape’s character record and seemingly serves only to show how awful he is when the big reveal of Lupin’s true nature comes out.

It’s even worse when we realize that this is coming from one Order of the Phoenix member and prior Death Eater (i.e. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), to another member. It also seems on a first read through that Snape has done this for no reason other than to antagonize Lupin, and seemingly faces no consequences for his actions.

However Snape does has a motive; in that he purposefully instructed the Defence against the Dark Arts students to research werewolves and write their essays hoping that one of them would put the pieces together and realize that their Professor Lupin was in fact the real subject of their paper. A fact that one Hermione Granger did figure out but did not voice as she liked Lupin as a teacher and even as a friend.

Snape’s motivations seen by Harry Potter, his friends, and Lupin may be seen as being petty, hate-filled, and cruel. Bigoted even, prejudicial, against Lupin given that he is a werewolf in a society that is largely intolerant towards them.

You have only ever seen me amongst the Order, or under Dumbledore’s protection at Hogwarts! You don’t know how most of the wizarding world sees creatures like me! When they know of my affliction, they can barely talk to me!“- Remus Lupin

However I like to keep in mind that Snape was probably motivated to act as he did towards Lupin due to fear, or remembering his fear from almost being murdered by Lupin. In a horrible “prank” brought about by Sirius Black in retaliation for Snape’s snooping, which I will defend only in that he was being constantly bullied four on one. If I was him I would be constantly looking out for/snooping on my tormentors to see what they might be planning and where they might be in relation to me.

Also the Harry Potter universe werewolves are not like Twilight, they are terrifying. Especially after the systematic years of oppression the werewolves have faced from the Ministry of Magic,, lack of economic opportunity, and lack of community engagement.

All of which at this point in the Harry Potter wizarding universe drove a good majority of the werewolf population to not just hate the wizarding society but to make their own society. A society that was led by a Death Eater Fenrir Greyback with the sole intention of “infecting” as many people as possible particularly the children with the goal of one day having enough strength to take control of the wizarding community.

What Snape did was wrong, but Lupin also put the students under his charge as well as his fellow teachers and Headmaster Dumbledore in danger. Lupin did this by not addressing or even mentioning the existence of the Marauders Map, even after its discovery, or by not telling anyone that Sirius, an escaped convict of Azkaban imprisoned for being a mass murderer (of crimes that Lupin believed Sirius was guilty of committing) was an animagus. Lupin also kept secret Sirius’s hiding spot and “forgot” to take the potion Snape had brewed for him, resulting in him nearly killing five people (Sirius, Snape, Hermione, Harry, and Ron).

Any bite or scratch obtained from a werewolf, whether in human or animal form, will leave permanent scars. However, the fresh wound can be sealed with a mixture of powdered silver and dittany bite and allow the victim to live on as a werewolf.”

Any one of these if not all could have pushed the Ministry to arrest Lupin, Snape, and Dumbledore, not to mention potentially the other teachers, whether they knew about Lupin’s condition or not, as well as close Hogwarts, as proposed throughout the series several times. And many parents of characters would probably have supported the decision to do so. Not only did Dumbledore knowingly place their children in harm’s way by having them be taught/in the care of a professor who was a werewolf but a werewolf who could not be relied upon to take his potion and not only attacked a fellow professor but three students. One of whom was considered to be the wizarding worlds savior.

Lupin does say something rather interesting in later books about why he was given the sack: “No. Professor Dumbledore managed to convince Fudge that I was trying to save your lives.” He sighed. “That was the final straw for Severus. I think the loss of the Order of Merlin hit him hard. So he—er—accidentally let slip that I am a werewolf this morning at breakfast.

Snape may have done this, and without further proof/context this is the only source of information to go off of. I however have to ask, was Lupin’s own inactions, not taking his potion and running through the woods and on the schools grounds as a werewolf without the help of Sirius, James, and Peter Pettigrew as fellow animagi to corral him, not a major factor.

Back to Snape and his essay, whatever his intentions, for spite or to get the truth out or even help the students via their two rolls of parchment filled research. Two words stuck out recognize and kill. Now Snape is very biased, and this essay reflects it. He did not have his students research how to recognize the werewolf and the steps they should take to get away safely.

Nor did he have them research how to recognize the werewolf and avoid them/ keep them at bay/ use a spell to neutralize them. This event also occurred before the students were supposed to learn anything about werewolves, before Harry was caught with the Marauders Map that he got from the twins as a poor consolation for not being able to go to Honeydukes, before we were even aware as an audience of Lupin not only being a werewolf but that he had not taken his potion. While Snape at this point in time had no real reason to want to out/oust Lupin his actions are more relatable with context.

Well, of course, Snape tried it – if he’d got as far as this house, he’d have met a fully grown werewolf – but your father, who’d heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life … Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden to tell anybody by Dumbledore, but from that time on he knew what I was …” Remus Lupin Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Snape at this point in time still a teenager did not like Lupin, solely for the reason that Lupin’s friends were his tormentors. Snape and Lupin could very well both had been killed that night because of Sirius Black’s actions, and they were both in a way saved by James’s actions. Now this was for Snape as much a victim-hood situation as “Snape’s Worst Memory” (in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) yet another terrible incident attributed to if not one all of the marauders.

And yet it is not Dumbledore, Professor Sprout or any other of the Hogwarts professors who have to for lack of a better term manage Lupin’s condition and his care. Snape does, and Lupin has no other choice but to rely upon Snape for his potions, to cover for his classes, and to keep his secret all of which while coming at no great cost to him comes at a great expense to Snape.

Both men from their respective positions are holding grudges against the other based on the prejudices against them: the former Death Eater and the Werewolf. Both of their moral judgments are called into question based not only on their actions but what the author’s intentions were for them. Was this simply a was to highlight the werewolf community and its plight via our resident antagonist Snape? Lupin also needs to be judged for his own actions concerning Sirius Black and how exactly he was able to access the school grounds and building, the marauders map, and his responsibility not only to himself but to his students in taking his potion. In this case I would argue that both of them are responsible for their own respective rights and wrongs in the literary basis of necessity that Rowling was working towards.

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