The Severus Snape audiences met in the Harry Potter films is not exactly the character that was shown in the books. In 1997, readers all over the world were introduced to J.K Rowling’s fantasy universe in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was the beginning of a saga that ended ten years later with a total of seven novels.
The saga was adapted to the big screen from 2001 to 2011 with the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, divided into two films. Like with most adaptations, many scenes, storylines, and characters were left behind, while others went through some changes. One of the characters that became an instant favorite and a “love to hate” type was Severus Snape, potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who early on in the story made it clear that his relationship with the titular character was going to be a complicated one – but the film version turned out to be very different from the one in the books.
Severus Snape started as Potions Master, later becoming Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and finally Hogwarts’ Headmaster after the events in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Snape had a cold and dark personality, never actually concealing his dislike towards his students, especially Harry Potter, and while this was the same in the books and the films, the cinematic version of Snape can be considered a “lighter version” of the literary one.
Snape was vindictive and cruel in the Harry Potter books, constantly bullying his students emotionally and psychologically, though not physically as seen a few times in the films. He let his anger get the best of him a couple of times, letting his rage out in some scenes, whereas the film version was more contained, showing a mastery of his emotions, which in return made him a very controlled and calculating person with every move and word he said, rarely letting his rage get the best of him. The Snape in the books was aggressive, a side that was not shown in the films.
The book version of Snape is more of a puppet figure, contrary to the “hero” image the Harry Potter films gave him in the end. His motivations and backstory are the same in both versions, but it’s his personality and his interaction with other characters, as well as the personalities of these, that make the difference. Albus Dumbledore saw in him a key piece to defeat Voldemort by spying on him, as Voldemort used him to spy on Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix, making him a key weapon for both sides. In the end, the person he wanted to protect (Lily Potter) died, and he still owed Dumbledore for his efforts to keep her and her family safe.
Alan Rickman’s portrayal was one of the best of the whole saga, and while he gave it his own style, he lacked the darkness and cruelty of the book version, which was not his fault – there were screenwriters, directors, and Rowling herself behind the film version. Other factors such as the condensation of the storylines, characters, and their backstories come into play as well.
Snape’s motivations and backstory were revealed in the final Harry Potter book and film, but the reaction to it was very different from readers to viewers. The Snape from the films made it easier for the audience to forgive his actions as Harry did, while readers have had a much more difficult time doing so, as they witnessed a darker, more cruel version of him. Both showed an admirable level of loyalty, but his actions and motivations are shadier in one version than the other.
In the end, each reader and viewer will make its own final verdict on Severus Snape depending on which version they are more familiar with, or if they have come to know both. Snape is a complex character in both, with the books giving him more space to develop than the films did, but he will still remain as one of Harry Potter's most unforgettable characters, and one of the best in fantasy in general.
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