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I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing I’m thinking: there are only 107 days, give or take some hours (I’m writing this from bed and having to calculate the math in my head so you’ll forgive the disclaimer) until Harry Potter’s 6th movie installment finally, finally is in theaters.
Okay, you’re possibly thinking at a 107 days, it’s a little soon to be getting this excited. That’s like 15 weeks away. (Here I am, trying to do math again.) Perhaps you’re right, but it’s not entirely my fault.
Last week, Warner Brothers debuted the newest movie posters, 6 of them to be exact, each featuring a prominent HP figure. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Dumbledore, and my favorite, Snape. My standard Jack Sparrow pic has now been replaced on my desktop.
Okay, so probably half my fascination with Snape is the fact that Alan Rickman is the actor who plays him; and I’ve always had a horrible, horrible crush on Al. From the moment he prowled onto the movie screen in black leather, sporting that long layered mullet-esque 1990 hairstyle for Robin Hood and making us all gloriously aware he was the only one with a credible English accent, I have adored him.
His voice—I could write odes to that man’s voice—and that handsome, rugged wrinkle in his brow, that lends him both an air that makes him look fierce and tough, and tragic and romantic. Alan Rickman admits he likes playing villains; and what’s best about Severus Snape is that he’s not the typical two-dimensional villain Al normally plays. (Remember Die Hard? Quigley Down Under?) No, Snape is more complicated. Snape is less villain than anti-hero.
What’s interesting to me about anti-heroes is that, well, I like to believe with enough time, they eventually would get their own happy ending. They could be brought from the Dark Side into the light. Their need as characters is redemption; and they know deep down they’ll never be worthy of it. I’ve always had a weak spot for those sorts of bad boys. (Unfortunately those bad boys know it, too. *LOL*)
My friend, who is also a big HP fan, also has a crush on an anti-hero, Lucius Malfoy. I think she falls into the same trap I do: her fascination has much to do with the actor as the character in the book. Patrick Isaacs does bring a certain something to the character; and admittedly, the kid who plays Draco is going to be beating off girls with a stick at this last movie. (Okay, I’m pretty sure he was beating them away as it was, but his poster *whistles through her teeth*, damn, he’s one pretty anti-hero. The suit, the haughty expression, the stance…he’s going to have as many cougars as cubs prowling after him this year.)
Harry Potter isn’t the only series littered with anti-heroes. Lisa Kleypas is great at writing heroes who appear rather anti-heroic at first. Hardy Cates, anyone? Several of her rakes, even. And yet by the end, we’re all purring as loudly as the heroine, content with their happily ever after. Boys Next Door and the bashful nerd turned hunk always make great heroes, but there is something about the fantasy in being the girl who saves an anti-hero from his own self-destruction that just makes the story so much more worthwhile. Almost like you earned the happily ever after.
Okay, okay, I know we’re always talking about anti-heroes a lot. (I can’t help it that half this ship has a weakness for Bad Boys.) Clearly the way to turn a two-dimensional villain into a hunky anti-hero is deepening your character. Elizabeth Lyon’s writing book: A Writer’s Guide to Fiction has an excellent chapter about this. (Actually all the chapters have been really excellent. I recommend this book highly if you’re wanting a reference book but are unsure which would be most useful to you. This is the book, no question.)
The key is that each character should have a meaningful past, in that there should be an event in the character’s past that wounded him so deeply that it left him with a need so intense he is driven to fulfill it (pg. 87). This wound would also leave the character with a weakness; and also possibly a strength.
Let’s take Snape. From the get-go of meeting Snape, you can pretty much determine his weakness is Harry Potter. Snape is flawed by his inability to view Harry without seeing Harry’s father, James, who we figure out soon enough Snape loathed even more than Harry. We don’t figure out why, though. Snape’s villainy towards Harry is downright petty and brattish; and you can almost laugh at Snape in book 3, when Snape is this close to having one of his childhood enemies, Sirius Black, exterminated—and Sirius mysteriously escapes. He all but stomps his foot and starts blaming Harry. But then in book 5, we get our first glimpse that there might be more to Snape’s irrational behavior than meets the eyes. After all, nobody’s perfect—not even Harry’s dad—though it is easy to forget that when the person in question is dead. You never speak ill of the dead.
In book 6, any empathy you might have had for Snape is destroyed after that moment at the top of the Tower. Even in re-reading the book, you wonder, “How could he possibly be remotely redeemable after this?” And in book 7, you wonder, “How could I not have suspected this all along? It’s so obvious.” J.K. Rowling picked her meaningful past events carefully. We get a fuller picture of the book 5 reveal; and Severus Snape has very clear reason to hate Harry’s dad. And even more reason to hate himself, after just one moment of thoughtless speech. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a point of view, even villains.
Snape’s need is REDEMPTION. He would, after all, do anything for Lily; and after being a part of her demise, he will do whatever is required of him to save her son. His weakness is his inability to look at Harry without seeing his childhood nemesis. His hatred is a definite handicap. I would hazard a guess Snape’s strength is his love for Lily.
I think it is the meaningful past that separates anti-heroes from run-of-the-mill villains. We do find out about Voldemort’s past as well, but at no point is he anything but evil. His childhood is just as tragic as Snape’s is, but the two outcomes are so clearly different. Why and how?
What do you think? Why is it anti-heroes are redeemable but villains are not? Do you think to some degree, villains have to be more two-dimensional (black and white, emphasis on the black) to tell an effective story? Who is your favorite anti-hero who has been redeemed (movie, TV or book)? Can you identify the NEED, WEAKNESS, and STRENGTH in that character?