Tall, strong, well-mannered hero? Yawn. Tactless, arrogant, misanthropic sociopath? Yes, please.

Severus Snape
Severus Snape (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now don’t get me wrong; I love a good Disney film – stick the ‘Lion King’ on and I’ll be singing along before you can say ‘Hakuna Matata’. However, when it comes to getting really stuck into a good book or film – if I want to be enticed, engrossed and enthralled, then a conformist protagonist is not always my hero.

To me, most good books rely on three key elements – an intriguing plot, vivid characters and unpredictability. Whilst the plot may be full of twists and turns, a conventional protagonist will nearly always choose the right and proper path which although may be admirable can sometimes be a bit predictable. For example, when the Room of Requirement was on fire in ‘The Deathly Hallows’, it was a given that Harry would turn back to save Malfoy despite their antagonistic relationship because altruism is one of his attributes. Though I greatly admire the hero J.K Rowling has created, his function in the books is simple and inevitable – to let good triumph over evil. This theme may be common to popular fiction yet it makes Harry’s character less dynamic because the reader knows he will always try to act selflessly and courageously. Enter then, the heroes who are a little less customary and a lot more spellbinding (no pun intended).

Unconventional protagonists can be divided into two groups; the tragic hero – who makes a decision with fatal consequences; and the antihero – who is more often than not arrogant, selfish and probably fell out of the ugly tree. A character I feel combines these two types skilfully and intricately is the miserable, misunderstood and multifaceted Severus Snape. Voted favourite Harry Potter character in a Bloomsbury poll, with 13,000 votes out of a total 70,000 it isn’t difficult to see why – his complex character amalgamates selfishness with selflessness, weakness with courage, hatred with love. Snape’s main appeal is his unpredictability – his actions throughout the series force you to think about his character differently until the denouement where his true loyalties are revealed. In a way he is a tragic hero; having had a troubled childhood his actions inadvertently result in the death of his love, Harry’s mother, Lily – yet his undying love and determination to protect Harry, masked under a guise of malicious, mordant remarks makes him the epitome of an antihero.

Fundamentally, unpredictable revelations are primary to a good book – this is simply why Severus Snape, a beautifully yet tragically flawed creation, will remain my favourite literary hero.

Always.

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9 thoughts on “Tall, strong, well-mannered hero? Yawn. Tactless, arrogant, misanthropic sociopath? Yes, please.

  1. You’re absolutely right about Snape’s complexity making him such a memorable character. I also thought Narcissa had a little bit of this going on in the Deathly Hallows as well. Great post!

    1. I hadn’t considered Narcissa when writing this, but I agree with you – in the end the love for her son overrode all sense of loyalty to Voldemort (a bit similar to Lily’s sacrifice to protect Harry, come to think of it) Thank you!!

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