On Thursday, Jan. 14, I woke up and checked my phone. One of the first things I saw was that Alan Rickman had passed away from cancer at the age of 69. For many this was a terrible occurrence, Rickman was a beloved actor who had gained fans from “Die Hard,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Harry Potter,” and more. For myself and many of our age, Alan Rickman was our Professor Snape, the teacher with “greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin” (“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”). While many Potterheads bemoan many of the movies’ casting choices, I have never heard of one person who questioned the choice of Alan Rickman for Severus Snape. He perfectly embodied the character who many of us had mixed feelings about from the first book, and the character we came to love and admire by the end.
If you are unfamiliar with the “Harry Potter” series, I urge you to at least watch the movies. J.K. Rowling, the author, imbedded so many life lessons and insights into humanity that anyone can benefit from. One of her greatest accomplishments, at least for me, was her creation and maturation of Severus Snape. (Warning: some spoilers ahead). He is a character that still inspires much debate and mixed feelings. Snape was a teacher who played favorites and seemed to despise Harry from the beginning of the books so of course the readers hated him. Unpleasant and unjustly mean to Harry and his friends, seemingly prejudiced against favorite characters, and hints of his evilness make many unwilling to trust and vouch for Snape. But Headmaster Albus Dumbledore always defended him and there are moments where Snape’s actions of protection and assistance were misread as intending to hinder or hurt. It was very difficult to trust such a character. In the end though, we find that Snape, despite some of his bad actions was really trying to be good. He had a rough past and got caught up with the Dark Arts (the bad side of the Wizarding World), but his love for another trumped his thirst for power and revenge. He repented and for the rest of his life, while he may have played the bad guy, he really was trying to help the good guys and end the reign of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. This is all revealed at the very end, when Rowling has already convinced you to despise the backstabbing, evil Professor Snape. And then she whips the rug out from under you and reveals that he is actually a hero.
Rowling allows us to fall into our own prejudices and judgments that people are totally evil, without help, and should be hated. She does this with multiple characters, but none so well as Severus Snape. Then she reveals that we bought into the lie too, the lie that we are all only one side, either good or evil. It even says in the series that “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are” (from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”). Rowling uses Snape to show us this. He chooses the dark, but then is able to choose the light and that is what matters. We have all made past mistakes, but when we choose good over evil, light over dark, we have made a decision that redeems. He also illustrates that none are without hope, that everyone has a chance to choose good.
Alan Rickman perfectly embodied this highly complex character. He allowed us to hate him, but forced us to question ourselves on why we hated him. Snape was definitely not all good, and I think Rickman was well aware of that, but he was not beyond hope and Rickman showed that. I hope many of us can respect what Rowling and Rickman accomplished, and remember that lesson in our own lives. None of us are without hope of redemption when we have made bad choices whether it is ourselves or others who may be on the wrong side.
So to Alan Rickman, a great actor who taught many of us to question our judgements and have hope for a better tomorrow, he will be dearly missed. Raise your wands and “Don’t let the muggles get you down” (from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”).