Watsonian/Doylist Analysis of the Prince’s Tale

Any serious analysis of this chapter has to look at each memory from at least two points of view. This chapter is the author telling the readers what they need to know to understand elements of the story that have been kept from them… But it’s also Snape talking specifically to Harry, James’s and Lily’s son, whom Snape is asking to sacrifice himself.

Each memory has a function on both levels, sending a message both to the readers and to Harry, and different interpretations lead to different and equally valid conclusions. That Snape includes some memories at all is important. Only three memories were strictly necessary for Harry to understand what he must do, and why Snape is trustworthy: Snape agreeing to protect Harry for Lily after she dies, plotting Dumbledore’s death, and the conversation that ends in “Always”.

First meeting with Lily and Petunia

Author to reader

  1. The Snapes’ poverty.
  2. Severus’s lacking social skills and neglect.
  3. Petunia’s jealousy and apprehensiveness of magic.
  4. The undisguised greed in Snape’s eyes shows how much he wanted and needed a friend like him.
  5. He wasn’t interest in anything not magic (he has eyes only for Lily, he talks to her mostly until Petunia butts in).
  6. The Evanses are from a higher class than the Snapes; Petunia regards his class in contempt, and he regards her lack of magic in contempt.
  7. Lily stands her ground (“that’s not a very nice thing to say to somebody!”) while Petunia runs when Snape appears. It’s only after he seemingly insults her that she joins Petunia.

Snape to Harry

  1. How magically gifted Lily was (achieving unassisted flight before she knew she was magic, her preternatural control of her powers).
  2. Lily’s courage and kindness in not taking a cue from her sister and hearing out the boy from the wrong side of town.
  3. How he put his foot in his mouth despite not intending to, and the genuineness of his misery after it all went so badly.
  4. Harry sees that Snape has been planning this moment for a long time – his insight into what Snape is feeling shows how much he relates to his childhood loneliness.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Snape’s clothing might be a nod to his half-blood status: deliberately mismatched, from both parents. He does not fully fit in either world.
  2. His glance at Petunia shows he’s wary of her knowing Lily’s a witch. Bad experience with Tobias? Statute beaten into his head by his mum? Later, when the sisters are together, he doesn’t hesitate to tell them both his mother and him are magic. Most likely lowered his voice for Lily’s sake.

Talking with Lily in the woods

Author to reader

  1. Sev is comfortable in discussing the magical world, and takes delight in sharing this with another magical. Lily wants it to be real, but her sister’s doubts nag. She doesn’t completely trust Sev yet.
  2. Further development of Petunia’s attitude about magic as it hurts her.
  3. Explanation of how Petunia found out about Dementors (Snape, after all, didn’t know about this revelation), and who that awful boy is.
  4. Lily’s perceptiveness in recognising the topic is upsetting to Sev and changing the topic to something that he’d be more comfortable with.
  5. Establishes a pattern where Lily takes Sev’s side and likes spending time with him and learning about the magical world, but when in a state of conflicting loyalties, she will choose the other person. Also, her quickness to judge and the pattern of leaving, convinced that she’s right.
  6. Establishes Severus’s tendency to lash out in anger.
  7. Hints at domestic abuse in the Snape household, further to the memory Harry glimpsed during Occlumency, and Sev’s secretiveness.
  8. Shows child Snape’s morality: Lily = good. ‘People who do bad stuff’ are bad and belong in Azkaban with the Dementors. He can’t imagine that the magical world would reject Lily.

Snape to Harry

  1. IMO, this memory is Snape telling Harry he didn’t believe in blood purity as a child and recognized Lily’s talent and goodness. He does, however, hesitate: Is it because he’s worried about his own parentage? Because he’s aware of the prejudice in the magical world but convinced that Lily will be the exception? If so, he was not wrong – even Voldemort tried to recruit her.
  2. Snape showing his friendship with Lily, how Lily was insecure about being a muggleborn (which might have been a driving force in her own choices and could have contributed to a sense of being betrayed by the boy who said it doesn’t matter), and Snape’s own dreams of what Hogwarts would be (an escape) and how much he needed it to be that.
  3. Showing the pattern in most of their fights: him lashing out in anger, Lily assuming the worst

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Snape could have made himself look better here by “cutting” before Petunia is hurt.
  2. Harry relates to how much Snape wants to be in Hogwarts.
  3. Snape removes his coat (muggle) and is comfortable revealing his smock (wizard) when he’s alone with Lily. BTW, does he not have other clothes?
  4. Lily and Sev meet in a thicket of trees, not a playground. Who is choosing to hide, Lily or he? Did they always meet in secret locations? Did this habit last into their school years?
  5. Severus lashes out with magic when Petunia insults him, his mother, his poverty – not unlike Harry when he blows up his aunt. Until now, we have no evidence to suggest that Severus had control over his bursts of magic. His lashing out might have been like Harry’s – a display of his temper. He clearly compliments Lily for her very intentional use of magic – “You have loads of magic” – and Lily’s unusual control over her magic perhaps makes it difficult for her to believe this may have been a flash of temper.

The Express

Author to reader

  1. Petunia’s jealousy and inferiority complex intensify.
  2. Petunia debuts the “freak” insult here, in her jealousy. Lily recognises this. Affronted, she checks her family before telling Petunia she saw her letter.
  3. Again, Lily is choosing Petunia over Snape when in conflict (blaming him for a fight that happened because she told Petunia of the act they both had a part in).
  4. Lily’s entire family comes to the platform, and her parents are enjoying themselves while Lily and Petunia stand apart from them; Severus stays close to his mother (where is his dad?), hunched over, staring from afar. The families aren’t acting like they know each other.
  5. How James and Sirius met, and how the antagonism between them and Severus began.
  6. Sirius’s rebellious nature, contrasted with how James wanted to emulate his loving parent (all throughout the books, bad parents make children reject their values).
  7. Young Snape values brains over brawn.
  8. James is confident, not wary of insulting Sirius’s entire family.
  9. James initiates and escalates the bullying, Sirius immediately establishes himself as a follower.

Snape to Harry

  1. Snape’s exhilaration that they were on the way to Hogwarts, his need to cheer Lily up – and his failure to understand why she would care about Petunia when they’re finally going.
  2. The beginning of the antagonism between Snape and James.
  3. He wanted Lily to be a Slytherin – he did not associate the house with prejudice, but with brains (he’s evidently not met Crabbe and Goyle yet)
  4. Lily appreciates Dumbledore’s kind reply and wants to help Petunia; she de-escalates the conflict between Severus and the two boys, choosing to walk away, even though she is capable of defending herself.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Harry notices the Draco/James comparison (“I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?”), how James looks like he was adored, and Snape looks like he was not.
  2. “Snivellus” makes its debut, suggesting that the bullying indeed did not relent from that day, as they never retired that nickname
  3. What we see here refutes Sirius’s and Lupin’s accounts of why Snape and James “didn’t like each other very much.” Lupin wasn’t even there!

Sorting

Author to reader

  1. This is the beginning of the end: Lily is in the same house as James and Snape is in the same house as Lucius, who immediately takes Snape under his wing.
  2. Sirius makes room for Lily, but she shuts him out.

Snape to Harry

  1. Lily and Sev were sorted into houses at the opposite ends of the hall. Even though Lily rejects Sirius, Severus is warmly welcomed by the cheering Slytherins and Lucius.
  2. The scene cuts with the first meeting between Snape and Lucius the prefect – adult Snape also considered this moment pivotal to his tale.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Lily is sorted into Gryffindor immediately; Severus, who does not know at this point that Slytherin doesn’t accept muggle-borns, might be feeling hurt about this – and Lily might very well have just been informed that Slytherin doesn’t accept people like her, and might be stung, herself.
  2. That Lily rejects Sirius is significant. At this point Snape and Lily were friends and she was at least more loyal to him than to Sirius. Funnily enough, James has no regard for Lily at this point.

Courtyard fight post willow incident

Author to reader

  1. Snape and Lily are ostensibly best friends, but both have been growing apart.
  2. This places SWM after the willow incident, lending credence to Snape’s claim that James didn’t save Snape’s life out of kindness, but to save his friends’ neck. Read side by side with the exchange between Snape and Harry about this in POA, it’s clear how painful it must have been to relive the moment we see here, but with Harry, of all people, accusing Snape of not being grateful.
  3. After seeing their relationship at its strongest in the sorting scene in which Lily firmly turned her back on Sirius, now the friendship is fraying: Severus is making friends Lily disapproves of. Lily is defending the marauders and tells Severus he should be grateful to James. Considering the timeline (5th year, after WW incident, before SWM) Lily’s behavior in SWM and JKR’s interviews, it’s possible this is when Lily started fancying James, explaining her lukewarm defense of Snape (considering that he was her best friend at one point) and Sirius’s dismissal of Harry’s concerns that Lily hated James. The rumors that James saved Snape (and who but James could have started it?) might have contributed to Lily’s change of heart about him, which might indeed be why Snape felt that James saving his life was the worst thing he did, as Dumbledore had put it.
  4. Lily believes that good people can’t be friends with bad people. It’s weird that Sev would hang out with his own housemates, to her, because they’re bad.

Snape to Harry

  1. Instead of showing us how Sirius lured him into a trap or how James saved him, we get this, and the choice is significant. We see the aftermath and not the actual event, meaning that “after all this time”, what Snape considered important enough to pass on to Harry was this conversation.
  2. The willow incident is presented as a big push toward the Dark for Snape, as he gets involved with people who would become Death Eaters, and appears to make light of Dark magic, things Lily disapproves of (but she doesn’t know that the Marauders get up to much worse). He stops listening when she confirms that James is still an arrogant toerag, because she seems to have heeded his warning, but (and this is important) Snape didn’t have to show Harry how Lily had once warned him, while he ignored her. This is him saying: “Your mother was opposed to Dark magic and vile people. We both tried to warn each other from associating with the people who would be our undoing, and we both failed.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. In HBP, the Trio argues about Levicorpus, and Ron uses the same defense, nearly word for word, “it was a laugh”, which I think points to the possibility that the spell Mulciber tried to cast was Levicorpus; at the very least it suggests that it’s not so clear cut, what’s Dark and what isn’t, and seems to depend on what you think of the caster. Canon remains decidedly vague on what’s “Dark”.
  2. Chronologically, the most recent incident before this conversation was when Snape tried to mount a broom and some girl laughed at him at some point in Y1. This girl might have been Lily or it might have not been, but certainly this reinforces the idea that James’s popularity was tied to his quidditch prowess.

Snape’s Worst Memory [2]

Author to reader

  1. This tells us nothing we didn’t already know, only now we have the context: Lily’s behavior looks completely different when you consider that they were in fact friends rather than near-strangers; it’s clearer why James targeted Snape, of all people, and why he thought it would get Lily’s attention; and Lily’s shock that a random Slytherin would call her a mudblood is also explained.

Snape to Harry

  1. Now that Snape is choosing to let Harry see this, it cuts after “Mudblood”, the real reason why this is Snape’s worst memory. The first time, it was suggested that this was Snape’s worst memory because of the severe bullying, but we know that the bullying was nothing special, and that it was the act of deliberately hurting Lily that makes this memory so hurtful.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Two years later, Harry is still appalled by what he had seen. He understands why Snape said what he said: “in his humiliation and fury.”
  2. The phrasing “he knew what had been done and said” suggests that James went through with his threat.
  3. Where are Avery and Mulciber and the rest of the Slytherin gang? Did Snape stop hanging around with them per Lily’s request? Or are they also wary of associating with him in public or going against James?

Failed apology

Author to reader

  1. Lily says “none of my friends”, not “none of my other friends”: development of the peer pressure theme and how Snape and Lily can’t understand each other anymore. Presumably, his friends never understood why he spoke to her, either.
  2. This is the beginning of another pattern: Snape taking a great risk for Lily’s sake.
  3. Lily is firm in her decision to turn her back on the situation; her friend is lost to her.
  4. The friendship seems to be more important to Severus than to Lily, who has other friends, who disapprove.
  5. As always, Severus is rendered incoherent when under emotional duress – he certainly got over that, as adult Snape is hardly ever lost for words.

Snape to Harry

  1. “I have been growing closer and closer to the wrong people, I have been calling people mudbloods for a long time, and at that point in time I was not mature enough to see what Lily meant or understand her contempt.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Another memory that could have been cut earlier to make Snape look better. Lily too: That she was fine with Snape calling people mudbloods as long as it wasn’t her isn’t flattering.
  2. It’s chilling that after what had happened earlier that day, Snape went anywhere near the Gryffindor tower and would have slept there. Suggests that assaults like SWM weren’t a deterrent to him anymore.
  3. Snape doesn’t deny Lily’s accusations although he could at least try.
  4. This is the last we physically see of Lily.

Hilltop meeting with Dumbledore

Author to reader

  1. This is how we learn why Voldemort gave Lily a choice and when and how Snape switched sides.
  2. For the first time, it’s stated outright that Snape would risk death to protect Lily, as he doesn’t stop at asking Voldemort to spare her, but also goes to Dumbledore.
  3. Dumbledore manipulates the situation so that not only does he get the warning, but also a spy.
  4. Dumbledore sees Snape in a negative light, Snape believes Dumbledore capable of murdering him. This is the start of that relationship.

Snape to Harry

  1. Snape doesn’t know Harry knows he gave the prophecy. This is his confession – “this is why… it is for that reason.”
  2. He shows what he was willing to give up, to make sure Lily survived.
  3. He shows Harry the reason for his defection, why Dumbledore wasn’t misguided in believing Snape’s regret.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Harry immediately understands Snape’s fear.
  2. Two people are making very difficult decisions. In both this memory and the one before it (where he is accused of wanting to be a Death Eater), someone looks at Snape with absolute contempt: Lily, then Dumbledore. But with Lily, that was the end, with Dumbledore, this is the beginning.
  3. Dumbledore’s contempt is strong in the scene – he is hardly ever that cold with anyone. One must wonder how much of himself he sees in Snape – a man who lost his way in the Dark Arts. Or perhaps he is disappointed in Snape in a way he would not be in someone else.
  4. Snape shrinks from Dumbledore’s judgement, establishing a clear power dynamic.

Snape agrees to protect Harry for Lily

Author to reader

  1. This happens not long before the chapter in PS where Dumbledore is chipper toward McGonagall, more eager to discuss candy with her than James and Lily’s fates.
  2. Albus manipulates a grief-stricken Severus, appealing to his sense of love and protection, not vengeance, to make sure he continues his service and that Harry has a loyal protector when the time comes.
  3. This explains why Dumbledore twice had to lie to Harry about Snape (PS+HBP). Dumbledore could not understand why Snape would not tolerate anyone knowing he had promised to protect James’s son out of love for Lily, but he kept his promise anyway.

Snape to Harry

  1. “Regardless of how I felt about your father or about you, I protected you for her. For myself, I preferred death.”
  2. That Snape allows Harry to see this indicates that he no longer feels that no one can know.
  3. It also indicates how desperate he is for Harry to believe him, and the depth of his sentiment so that Harry knows the information he gives him last is the truth.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Harry relates to Snape’s devastating guilt and grief. He too sat in Dumbledore’s office in a similar state, after Sirius had died.
  2. Compare this truth with the many lies Snape tells Bella in Spinner’s End. Nearly everything Snape has said about what he knew or didn’t know about what happened to Voldemort and what his motivations were turns out to be false.
  3. Dumbledore’s “they put their trust in the wrong person” here is fascinating. Is Dumbledore suggesting that he himself is not trustworthy, not just Voldemort or Sirius (who actually was trustworthy)?
  4. By this point, Dumbledore has already seen “the best” of Snape, and though he is brutal, he sees Snape as a person now and offers him a chance at redemption.

Snape ranting about Harry

Author to reader

  1. We see a glimpse of the working relationship between Severus and Albus, and Severus’ impressions of Harry. Albus and Snape are comfortable with each other, and Snape works under Albus with orders Albus wouldn’t trust to other teachers.
  2. After the first quidditch match, Harry thinks Dumbledore is there to keep an eye on Snape. It’s more likely that the two had decided on added protective measures to discourage Quirrel or anyone else from harming Harry.

Snape to Harry

  1. Why is this featured at all? To me, this can only be an apology. Snape could have shown Harry any memory where, from his point of view, Harry was being arrogant, attention-seeking, etc., but he chose one where Dumbledore corrects him.
  2. It shows the trust and rapport that’s developed between S&D since the last memory.
  3. Despite all the similarities between Harry and James, Dumbledore is unconcerned because he knows Harry being James’ son has nothing to do with Snape’s protection of him.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. “You see what you expect to see, Severus,” Dumbledore says, and this is a constant theme in the books: Snape hates Harry, Harry hates Snape, they constantly misinterpret each others’ actions and motivations; Dumbledore did not see Grindelwald for who he was; James, Lily, and Sirius were all fooled by Peter…

Discussion about Karkaroff

Author to reader

  1. This explains much of Snape’s attitude in GOF: His mark has been growing darker for months, while he’s dealing with “Moody” and with a former DE who tried to sell him out. We also see Snape giving Dumbledore a bit of intelligence on the DEs.
  2. Dumbledore continues to trust Snape as his agent, and considers him brave enough that he could’ve been a Lion. From the ex-head of Gryffindor, this is a major compliment.
  3. Severus is stricken because of the acknowledgment of his bravery, and for the future that could’ve been if he had been a lion.

Snape to Harry

  1. Since Harry happened to see Snape’s exchange with Karkaroff, and he saw Dumbledore ask Snape to return to Voldemort as a spy, I think the point of this memory was to tell Harry that at one point, Dumbledore called Snape brave. Snape cared deeply what Dumbledore thought of him, and for whatever reason, by the time he was killed, he came to care what Harry thought of him, too.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

2. “We sort too soon”… is this a moment of kindness or a moment of cruelty toward Slytherins? Is this Dumbledore’s apology for mishandling the willow incident? I do wish sometimes Dumbledore hadn’t spoken in riddles so much. 3. Albus could have said this with even himself in mind, for he is quite the Slytherin. 4. Adult Harry didn’t care about houses, possibly because of this exchange.

Plotting Dumbledore’s death

Author to reader

  1. Albus’s near death experience devastates Snape; he saves Dumbledore even with the knowledge that he will soon be tasked with killing him, thus creating (yet another) very dangerous memory he will have to Occlude at all costs.
  2. Snape shows he has some sort of feel for Dark magic, and of course Albus already knew that, as he summoned Snape to help him. Later this year, Albus would remark on Severus’s unique giftedness in this area: You have to know Dark magic to heal it. See also Snape healing Draco.
  3. This conversation adds more context and layers to the chapter Spinner’s End in HBP: where he takes on a vow to fulfill the task in Draco’s stead or die. My personal belief was Snape was fully prepared to die instead of Dumbledore, because the idea of killing him is painful. However, he chooses to go through with it for the greater good: for Harry, for Draco,for Dumbledore.

Snape to Harry

  1. This memory was necessary: Without it, Harry never would have trusted Snape.
  2. But also: “I had never killed before, and I cared about the fate of my own soul, and Dumbledore knew he had to appeal to my sense of mercy and protectiveness toward the students and Draco in particular, and not to the fact that he was already dying and that Voldemort had already planned to have me kill Albus.”
  3. Dumbledore has never been kinder toward Severus than here, saying he is fortunate to have him, and showing gratitude. He knows he is asking for a lot.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Albus shows here that he lives up to the stoicism about death that he professed before.
  2. Albus doesn’t tell Snape about the stone and what it meant to him. He had his own secrets and shameful past.
  3. Dumbledore trusts Snape to do a branch of magic he doesn’t trust himself with – Dark Magic. He is very fortunate he has Severus indeed.

Forest conversation with Dumbledore

Author to reader

  1. Snape seems jealous of Harry for getting so much quality time with Dumbledore, for being privy to information Snape can’t have.
  2. The little jab about baskets shows that Dumbledore still sees people as pawns, in a sense, but Snape is a proud man and he resents this. He doesn’t fall for Dumbledore’s flattery.
  3. This is the argument Hagrid is referring to in HBP, after Ron’s been poisoned.

Snape to Harry

  1. Dumbledore believes that Harry is like Lily, and since Snape is asking Harry to pull a Lily, this is important.
  2. “I didn’t want to kill Dumbledore. Even after I had made an unbreakable vow, I had second thoughts.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. “real anger flared in the thin face now”. Harry no longer compulsively dwells on Snape’s ugliness, and he recognizes his true feelings. Possibly because he has witnessed Snape’s real anger very frequently himself.
  2. Snape seems to be very sensitive to gendered insults: He’s a boy who wears his mother’s clothes, who is emasculated by his bullies (e.g., his image is forced into women’s clothes by Lupin and Sirius calls him Lucius’s lapdog, also his name “Snivellus”), and the baskets comment as well. Yet he is definitely coded queer/feminine/non-conforming: the Doe patronus, the ambiguity on the Prince’s sex, his proficiency in potions and in mind magic, his role as a (very poor substitute, admittedly) for Harry’s mother.

“Always”

Author to reader

  1. Snape had developed a sense of morals, and objected to the idea of using someone as Dumbledore (appeared to have) used Harry.
  2. “Lately, only those whom I could not save” refers to Sirius, Emmeline Vance, and Amelia Bones, and indicates that Snape had come to see the value of all life. But, knowing Snape, it might also be meant as “I saved you Al, remember? Ungrateful sod.”
  3. This is the most important memory. Harry must sacrifice himself to destroy the Horcrux.
  4. “I sent the Patronus, and I followed Dumbledore’s orders to the letter, and begged to be allowed to find you when Voldemort started protecting Nagini.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. This conversation proves that Dumbledore’s trust in Snape was absolute. He trusted Snape more than he did himself or even Harry. It was very dangerous to only give Snape this information, as Harry was unlikely to want to listen to Snape, Snape might not have survived long enough to tell it, and many other reasons, but Snape was the only one Dumbledore trusted – even though this bit of intel meant that Snape’s mission to atone for Lily’s death would be undone. Snape chooses the Greater Good over his own personal atonement.

Confunding Fletcher

Author to reader

  1. Nobody in the order betrayed them: Dumbledore and Snape orchestrated the “betrayal”.

Snape to Harry

  1. “Dumbledore expressly ordered me to play my part well. It was clear that I would have to be forced to participate in the battle, despite having already killed Dumbledore.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. Every memory from the previous one onward is, strictly speaking, pointless, since Snape supposedly believes that Harry won’t live to let anybody know all this. Hence my theory that Snape knew or figured out that sacrificing himself would be Harry’s best chance of survival, among other things.
  2. We see Snape give Voldemort the correct date at the start of DH. Part of playing his part involved watching Charity get murdered and eaten (her last words? “Severus, please”), and we know how intently Voldemort searched him for the truth. Dumbledore’s trust was absolute: Voldemort’s was not.

7 Potters battle

Snape to Harry

  1. “I was trying to save Lupin; sorry about George’s ear.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. At this point, Snape went from caring only about Lily, to mourning his failure to save Sirius, to defying Dumbledore’s orders to save Lupin, thus showing that when push came to shove, he put saving lives above all else, even Lupin’s life. He also had Peter at his mercy for a whole summer, meaning that all four of his former bullies were at his mercy at least once, and he never actually exacted his revenge .
  2. Immediately after this, Lupin would argue with Harry that he should have killed or at least stunned, and Harry would argue in favor of Expelliarmus (taught to him by Snape).

Lily’s letter and picture

Author to reader

  1. We know that Moody set a tongue-tying curse on the house for Snape, and Snape somehow managed to get past it to find the letter. Also, the horrible dust-Dumbledore.
  2. Lily’s letter shows that she held onto her belief that good and bad people do not mix, and that she believed that James, Sirius, and Peter were good, and that Dumbledore could not have been friends with Grindelwald. This is clearly misguided: Her faith in Peter cost her her life; James lied to her about bullying Snape behind her back; she seems to never have learned about the willow incident; and Dumbledore of course was friends with Grindelwald.

Snape to Harry

  1. “I expect that you have found this letter by now – here is the second half, and the rest of the picture. Lily remained my inspiration through it all, even after I had killed Dumbledore, and through the year that followed. I continued to grieve her, and I’m willing to let you see me cry like a child”.

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. This is immediately after Dumbledore’s death, according to JKR.
  2. Harry thinks Snape is taking Lily’s love, and it must be partly it, but this also speaks of Dumbledore, whom Snape would mourn most deeply.
  3. This is also the time Snape is deeply alone in the world. There is no one at this point who knows his truth and the person who knew his truth is dead by his own hand, against his will.

Snape and the Portraits

Author to reader

  1. “Do not use that word” – the final proof that Snape had shed whatever prejudice he had, as in this scene he is not pretending, he’s by himself. Personally, I think this is spoon-feeding, but…
  2. The dynamic between Snape and Dumbledore shifted – Snape is keeping secrets now too.
  3. This is how Black’s portrait guided the Trio on their journey without their knowledge and gave them comfort about their friends.

Snape to Harry

  1. “Here is how I gave you the sword – sorry about making you jump in the lake, btw, lol, but I had to do it.”

Harry’s takeaway and other points

  1. The symbolism behind the Slytherin handling the Sword of Gryffindor, which only shows itself under conditions of valor, is fantastic. Ditto for a prince carrying a sword, not to use it, since through it all, Snape remains decidedly a non-violent man.

~.~.~.~

The chapter is couched between the words “look at me” and “finally, the truth”, indicating that this is intended as the piece of the puzzle that makes sense of it, the relevant information (never mind that shocking reveals usually come at the end of the story).

Having read and understood the Prince’s Tale, we can go back to Harry’s state of mind immediately before witnessing it: Hopelessly running to Dumbledore’s and Snape’s office, having witnessed Lupin and Tonks, dead and their son orphaned, and his adoptive family around Fred’s body. He dives into the Pensieve for relief, for an escape, and he barely has time to dwell on the significance of one simple fact: The password Snape had set for his office was “Dumbledore”. Not “Lily”, not something that would be more palatable to the Death Eaters. This relationship ended up being the most important in his life, and possibly, it was ultimately Dumbledore to whom Snape was loyal and whom he missed the most.

“Look at me” lends itself to many wonderful interpretations, from “let me look into Lily’s eyes” to “please see me as I really was” (I prefer the latter). The moment of Snape’s death is a moment of genuine connection, where Snape is letting it all out, seeing Harry as he was, and begging for Harry to do the same. He is not occluding anymore, he is free, and maybe, just maybe, he died in peace.

“Finally, the truth”, is of course Harry’s inner monologue about the horrible truth he just discovered, that he has been sacrificed for the war. I think JKR is being her usual sly self here, since that, in fact, was not the truth – Dumbledore went to great lengths to maximize Harry’s chances of survival. The truth is the truth of Snape’s story and who he was.

That’s not all that makes the chapter a masterpiece: Severus’s mother’s maiden name seems to be very important, given that Hermione’s parents aren’t even given first names. The name Prince is a choice that alludes to Machiavelli’s work, that has lines such as:

  1. “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
  2. “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
  3. “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

Snape seemed to embrace the feminine, choosing to spend his life honouring Lily, and in the end the text refers to him by his magic mother’s maiden name, not his violent father’s. In the end, he is seen as noble. Even the chapter number, 33, is important: It’s been theorized that this is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno, a story of redemption featuring a green-eyed Beatrice.

This is not meant at all as a definitive resource or reading, just an exercise in different modes of literary analysis, but I hope it was a fun read, and to show how not definitive it is: A lot of it was written by someone else, who asked to be named Ferm, who refuses to take due credit. So many of the ideas not only are Ferm’s, but I can genuinely say that they never would have occurred to me. Of course many of the ideas that aren’t Ferm’s aren’t mine either but are “borrowed” (or rather stolen, because great artists steal per Picasso). u/straysayake also made some contributions. I’m sure other people will have other amazing ideas!

3 comments

Damn, this analysis is amazing. The whole of The Prince’s Tale’s interpretation is such way is fascinating and you do genius is your name justice the way you read the text and find underneath the meaning of the words.

In all honesty I had a lot of help with this one. My favorite part was unearthing the extent and the depth of Snape/Dumbledore.

This was an absolutely unbelievable analysis. When you mentioned the 33 alluding to the story of redemption, I almost chuckled, because JK really did have EVERYTHING in mind!! It’s still hard for me to believe how much Sev loved Lily… she really could be a piece of work. I wonder how they reunited in the afterlife!

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