…when it comes to Snape I honestly don’t think Rowling’s comments are very helpful because she usually shies away from addressing the very difficult points of his characterization such as the potential abuse he suffered at home or the bullying he suffered at school. A good example is when she’s asked why Snape is so badly groomed and she says “maybe he valued other things abt himself” (cont) . Which is a somewhat odd answer bc it is at least probable that his lack of groomeness is connected to his social background and / or to Snape being coded as having depression. I understand though that these would be very hard to explain to a bunch of kids and teenagers but precisely because Snape invokes such hard discussions, I can see why she takes the “easy way out”. But I think we should tend to question her post canon additions in relation to Snape (sorry this got so long!)
I have been thinking about this ask all afternoon, and I think it comes down to the difference between readers who want to know all of the answers, and readers who like to interpret the text for themselves.
When I was younger, I was fairly literal, and I quite liked the approach in Maths lessons - an answer was factual, binary, right or wrong, yes or no, on or off. There was always a ‘true’ answer to find. As I grew older, English held more of an appeal for me, once a teacher told me that I could say whatever I wanted as an interpretation long as I could justify it.
I can understand the desire for people to need all of the answers. There’s part of me which would love to read a definitive version of Snape, with the author fully answering all of the questions I’ve ever had - but if that happened, would I still be here posting about him?
I’d say that Snape is a gift to fandom because he is a character with endless possibilities. That contradictory nature you refer to is why we’re still discussing him; you could happily spend an afternoon mulling on something as seemingly trivial as to whether Tobias was born in 1920 or 1930 or 1940, and each version of Tobias would be a little different, shaped by his environment. In turn, each version of Tobias would have a subtly different relationship with Eileen, bringing a slightly different attitude into the Snape household, which is the environment which shaped Severus.
And Tobias’ age is one barely related facet - you could spend weeks talking about Severus’ relationship with the rest of the teachers at Hogwarts, which subjects he excelled at in school, his association with the Malfoys, let alone what he spent time doing as a Death Eater or what he did in his spare time in the evenings at Hogwarts.
That freedom of interpretation leads fandom to create thousands of different metas, and hundreds of thousands of different pieces of art, and a million different fics - because our headcanons and thoughts diverge, and we all view him in a unique way.
With regard to Rowling, this is why I prefer to adhere to ‘Death of the Author’ - the author’s intent matters little to me. I don’t need the author to tell me what something meant; I can discern meaning from the text myself.
I realise that I am a bit odd though - I’m happy to read Snape in a multitude of different ways, which I know others might not find appealing, particularly if they want a One True Vision of the character. I know a few people who see him in a fixed way - I thought the questionnaire which went around Snapedom a while ago was fascinating, but I couldn’t answer it because on any given day, my viewpoint changes. I am malleable.
I think I said it best on my AO3 profile when I said:
I like Snape.
And I like all interpretations of him. I like him whether he’s good, and kind, and well intentioned - or whether he’s nasty, and mean, and spiteful. I like him whatever his orientation, and whoever he is paired with.
I like putting him through the wringer until your heart yearns, and occasionally, even giving him the sort of break that he never received in canon.
I like him as an awkward kid, and as a gawky teen, and as a young and inexperienced teacher. I like him as an commanding adult, and a terrifying professor, and a brave man who survives the war against all odds.
I like him as a Death Eater who is fearsome, and as a Death Eater who is terrified. I like him as a spy who is courageous, and as a spy who is trembling each time he is summoned.
I like a Snape who is inexperienced. I like a Snape who knows what he is doing. I like a Snape who has never succumbed to temptation, and a Snape who is hopelessly addicted to a string of vices.
I like Snape.
But most of all, I like reading about Snape, and writing about Snape - and all of the characters around him, who help make him the character that he is.
I hope, amongst all of the interpretations of Snape that I write, you find something that resonates with you.
I am definitely a bit contrary. I realise that other people prefer to work with absolutes, but I sort of like the freedom we’re given to investigate all of the possibilities.