It normally always begins with a book. I’ve always loved reading. I’ve been reading ever since I can remember. I pick them up as I go and almost breathe them in. I’ve never found an outlet quite like disappearing into a fictional world, with fictional people I can interact with and think about. With the obvious exception of unavoidable learning difficulties, if someone were to come up to me and say that they didn’t enjoy “reading books” (as if every single book in the world contained the very same letters and amount of pages) and that they’d rather just watch the telly or the film versions – my opinion of their character would drop quite substantially. I don’t care what kind of books you are into, but if you’re into books then there’s at least a chance that we would get along.
Fantasy is definitely my home, my resting place of genres. Usually fantasy mixed with a little horror – a little of the grotesque mixed in amongst worlds that resembled something my own, but at the same time resembled nothing like it. I read Dracula by Bram Stoker before I could even fully comprehend it. I’m an avid Stephen King fan especially the Dark Tower series. I’ve read and adored and still keep re-reading the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett on a continuous loop. The Complete Works of Shakespeare is delved into on a annual basis, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, Peter Pan, The Wicked series, H.P. Lovecraft, a bit of Anne Rice here and there… I could go on… and on…
What I’m trying to get at is, I’ve grown up and lived in Worlds all my life. I can’t imagine the kind of person I would be were it not for fantasy, and escapism. I don’t know how people cope without it – but perhaps I am slightly prejudiced in that aspect. I’ve never taken hard drugs, after all.
Perhaps it’s either fantasy or heroin. Thankfully I picked the former a long time ago.
There’s only one book series, however, in which I remember every single detail about first picking it up and reading it. Well… perhaps this not entirely true. My metaphysical heart also beats very strongly for Hamlet too… but I consider Hamlet a different medium than the novel. I don’t remember where I was when I first read Hamlet, but I do remember the first time I saw it performed in London. By my boyfriend at the time, no less. I suppose with my first love’s early and very unexpected death came a deep connection to the play, and a connection I still hold and treasure to this very day. But like I said – that’s a bit different. That’s connected to somebody I love dearly, and so it is understandable why it is so important to me.
I remember it was winter. I was quite young… about twelve. My father had just come back from a temporary physics teaching position at an English-speaking school in Shanghai, and he came back with three books for me. The Philosopher’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban. Thankfully, they were not in Mandarin (clever thinking, father…). I had never heard of this series before in my life, and I had a lot of other books to read so they remained unopened and dusty for quite some time. A few weeks later I thought I’d read The Philosopher’s Stone and see what it was about. I’m not going to beat around the bush… I didn’t like it very much. In fact, I barely managed a couple of chapters and I put it back on my overcrowded shelf. Doomed to be forgotten and consigned to oblivion.
If it hadn’t rained that one Saturday afternoon, I might never have picked it up again. No matter how much of phenomenon it came to be (I’ve never really ‘had much time’ for phenomenons).
But, it did rain. And I did pick up the book again. I didn’t go back and read the first few chapters about Vernon and Petunia and their horrid son, because no.
When Hogwarts finally came along, it was like something had pulled my rib cage apart and dropped a burning match in my chest. From that point on, my physical being remained in this world, but my mind lived in their world. It was more than obsession (because I think the word ‘obsession’ is far too overused and timeworn these days). It was a way of life. My escape and my sanctuary.
I probably should have put this disclaimer at the top of this blog entry, but it seems fitting to put it here anyway… I do not get on well with people from the ‘It’s Fictional, Get Over It’ school of thought. When I initially get over my rage at someone blatantly insinuating to people that something (or someone) they love deeply and that has probably gotten them through a lot of pain in their lives is not valid or real just because it is fictional, my feelings then tend to transform into something of pity. To not allow oneself to be so touched and affected by something… to not have a secret port in a storm where they and only they can escape to in times of hardship, or even times of great elation. For me, it would be a half life. One void of magic. And if my life was void of magic then I would be nothing but a moving, talking shell of a human.
I previously wrote a post about witchcraft and how I believed, for years, that I was a witch myself (and still have an intense pull and longing to be one)… but up until the point that I read The Philosopher’s Stone, I was a witch without a home. I blended into the wizarding world as if it were a form of osmosis through the pages.
I was about three-quarters through the first book on that one rainy Saturday, firmly already addicted to the world that had finally managed to pull me in after that rocky start. But it wasn’t until right at the end of the book that the spark in my chest began to mutate into an unbearable wildfire.
While I loved the world that J.K. Rowling had created, all it would remain would be stone walls and four poster beds without a connection. And it was a connection I wanted. I’ve never enjoyed novels focusing on the environment and world descriptions alone… I’ve always been drawn to the psychology of the human mind; towards characters and their histories and all of their neuroses and flaws.
While I enjoyed many of the characters in Harry Potter, none of them seemed… particularly intriguing to me. I’ve always liked Harry, because underneath it all he was never anything truly special, and he had a bad temper sometimes and he was wrong a lot of the time and he wasn’t some big hero. I could respect that. Hermione was my definite favourite of the trio. Self-assured in her intelligence but self-conscious in other ways that made her human and relatable to myself. I have never, ever liked Ron. Then there was Dumbledore… and in the beginning I saw him as nothing more than the ‘wise old wizard’ archetype. Nothing new. Hagrid was the kind-hearted giant with a untainted soul. Again, likeable but certainly nothing particularly interesting.
Then there was Snape.
Three quarters of the way into the book, I was very unimpressed with him. A thoroughly unconvincing, one-dimesnional villain if there ever was one. It wasn’t, shall we say, love at first sight (or love at first paragraph).
“No, no, no. I tried to kill you. Your friend Miss Granger accidentally knocked me over as she rushed to set fire to Snape at that Quidditch match. She broke my eye contact with you. Another few seconds and I’d have got you off that broom. I’d have managed it before then if Snape hadn’t been muttering a counter-curse, trying to save you.”
– Quirinus Quirrell, Philosopher’s Stone, p. 209.
I can pinpoint the exact moment in the books where Severus Snape became more than another character to me, and that was it. After I finished the book, I went back and re-read it to see all of the little clues that he was actually trying help our protagonist all-along… and I became completely enthralled. I read the next two books over the course of the weekend in quick succession, and all I wanted was more of him. I could almost feel prickles in my mind whenever he stepped into a scene and began to speak. He could be so horrible to people sometimes, acted purely out of spite on more than one occasion, and he was bitter, and he was deplorably mean to vulnerable students… all this I saw…
But he had the most beautifully cutting way with words. He was smart (I didn’t relent and finally give him the ‘genius’ label then until the Half-Blood Prince many years later). He was flawed. He was in pain. He was so very insecure and hid it well. He was quintessentially complex. He was complexity at its essence. I became haunted by his mind.
Bear in mind that I was still very young. So a lot of my deeper and convoluted feelings certainly did not exist back them. There is a part of me that hates him nowadays. But back then I was far too inexperienced in life to have the ability to introspect the way I do now. I was definitely more involved in the overall story of Harry Potter than I was experiencing a colossal mind-fuck over Severus Snape… back then, anyway.
I went on with my life, completely unaware what was awaiting me just around the corner. Then, when I turned fourteen, things would happen that would destroy a part of me forever.
I was not a very mentally well person in high school. But, when one considers the circumstances in which I found myself spending a few nights in a psychiatric hospital, it is not all that surprising that I was. Deaths were commonplace around my inner circle of loved ones: I attended funerals like they were weekend lunch dates. But the one that really broke me was the death of my first real, proper lover. The sight of gazing down upon his gravestone and seeing his name etched into the cold, hard granite still haunts my dreams to this day.
In between this (and I say in between because my whole life was so intense back then that I have a lot of trouble remembering the exact chain of events – my brain is being kind and attempting to give me amnesia…) I became severely depressed and lost all of my self-esteem. I purposely fucked terrible people because that was how much I was worth to myself. Somewhere along the line, I found myself in an abusive relationship with one of those terrible people who promised that he would heal my hurt. He was wonderful to begin with, as all emotionally manipulative abusers are, but slowly and surely he begun to turn to me. While the point of this entry is not about what happened between us – let’s just say that I was left as nothing more than an emotionally catatonic, hateful vessel of bad thoughts and self-loathing during my time with him. It’s worth admitting that I became suicidal, and self-harming was a frequent occurrence. Worth admitting, because it’s important for me to remember how J.K. Rowling’s work did literally save my life.
I took the books with me wherever I went. I remember aways having a bag big enough so I could fit at least one of them in there. Never mind the anti-depressants, the counselling, the interventions… they were my best therapy. I couldn’t escape into the other therapies the way I could into the wizarding world. I had countless journals in which I scribbled my own stories, thoughts and drawings, usually related to my witch-self, my more powerful self. When I began my road to recovery I burned them all… not that they contained anything particularly bad, but I couldn’t bear to read them and be transported to that time, to look at the ink on the page and know that it was made when I was on the teetering right on edge and the sickest I’ve ever been. But they helped me then.
… I still kept the page where I first came up with my invented name, though.
It was in the darkest times that my connection to Severus Snape grew. When I had nothing, I could escape into that world and stand next to him and just be. I felt I had no-one in my life who really loved me. No-one seemed to love him, either. I had transformed into what I see now as a pretty nasty person who alienated everyone around her because she couldn’t afford to let another person hurt her… so she did the hurting first. He seemed to act the same way. He slowly became my muse. Someone who wasn’t going to let me give up like a weak person, because I wasn’t weak. Thinking of what he would do or say helped me immeasurably, in a way others couldn’t. I had wonderful friends, who I love passionately to this day, who did everything in their power to get me out of my hole. I had amazing counsellors. I was surrounded by support.
But, ironically, it took a fictional character (and yes, I was well aware that he was fictional – even back then) to shove my mind back into reality. Tough love seems to work wonders on me.
I was extremely psychologically vulnerable when I returned back to “reality”, as you could well imagine. I needed a reason to leave my abuser, who was still fairly much on the scene despite my lies to the professionals. He had a hold on me in the way no-one has managed since. Looking back on this with a more logical, less insane mind with training in mental health, I can see why I made myself believe that I was “in love” with Severus Snape back then… I needed a way to transfer my love for my abuser onto somebody else. Somebody who, physically, could not hurt me. Somebody who did not actually exist. (I was a vulnerable young girl yearning for someone to support me. The “I don’t need any man to guide me, thank you very much” rampant queer feminist didn’t come into fruition until years later).
So I left the sexually inadequate boy who tried to destroy me. I left him screaming and yelling and crying and promising me he would change but I never turned back to look at his face. I never saw him again. He is now nothing more than a sorely needed lesson in the importance of self-love before any other kind of love.
And yet… here I sit, fourteen years on, bordering on thirty, trying to make sense of all these unbearably intense feelings I still harbour for this fictional person.
Now, I want to make a few things clear… I am, by no means whatsoever, a Snape-apologist. In fact, I see more sense when I talk to people who can’t stand him. I completely agree with them to the point where if you did not know me, you would think I was a part of them. There are numerous points of the series where I would like to give him a severe reprimanding, and he often makes me more angry than I would be comfortable admitting. It is akin to an intense love-hate relationship more than unsullied, virginal love. Besides, Snape fangirls seem to piss me off to no end. Don’t even get me started on that god-awful, overused, cliched “Always” line they seem to be so fond of…
I still think James Potter and Sirius Black had far more redeemable qualities. I think he learnt and he grew while Severus remained twisted with bitterness and petulance. But then… I give James Potter and Sirius Black no more thought than any other character in any other story. They all blend into the background of my thoughts where they create a vague miscellaneous wall. (Besides, athletic, masculinity-and-testosterone-exuding-from-every-pore “bloke’s bloke” men have never been quite my type.)
The same cannot be said for Snape.
It can’t just be this ‘thing’ I have for anti-heroes, because while I do tend to have this somewhat embarrassing fondness for complete arseholes who possess an equal (or more often than not, unequal) amount of flaws and redeeming qualities, there are plenty of those littered around the fictional Worlds. It’s much deeper than that. Sometimes I see him as a flawed embodiment of myself, other times I want nothing more in this world than to step through those pages and confess my abhorrent love for him, other times I want to unleash hell upon him. It’s a constantly evolving, ever-changing emotional beast that I’ve never quite been able to control.
I don’t excuse his actions – but I can see why they are there. I’m not like the people who go around saying “I don’t care if they were neglected or abused as a child, that is no excuse to abuse others as an adult” – because I do care. And I know how hard it is not to hate the world with such an unrelenting passion when that world has been nothing but cruel to you. I was lucky, because I had supportive and loving people in my life (and an outlet to which I could escape)… without these things, I don’t quite know how anyone could recover fully and become an emotionally healthy individual.
I often wondered how different Snape might’ve turned out with the right kind of psychological help (something the wizarding world seems to sorely lack), if he just heard the words “I love you” from someone… if he was told that he was valued. I often wonder how different I might’ve turned out without that.
(There may have been a good chance that I would have turned out to be Female Severus. Incidentally, I have a whole arsenal of theories about how worse off he would have been if he had been born a woman, specifically a transwoman. Yep. Let’s not go there tonight.)
And no, this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to rip him limb from limb for saying the things he says – particularly to vulnerable children/adolescents like Neville Longbottom – but his behaviour still does not surprise me. After the last few books finally came out, I was surprised even less.
“A hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner…”
– The Order of the Phoenix.
And so The Order of the Phoenix came along… and we were given a tiny taste of Snape’s childhood. I suppose this was when my imagination and love for backstories decided to run rampant. It proved my theories that he was more than likely neglected as a child at best, and abused at worst. And thus my connection burrowed deeper into my chest.
The Half-Blood Prince was probably my favourite book in the series, for the simple reason that it gave me the gift of more of his backstory. I learned of Eileen Prince and Tobias Snape, that she was a pureblood witch who married a Muggle, that he was abusive to her, that Severus had grown up proud of his mother’s maiden name, that they were poor and could barely clothe themselves… I started writing fervently during this time, wanting to explore every tiny aspect of his past, perhaps to pinpoint why I still felt so unrelentingly riddled with fascination. As a domestic abuse survivor myself, I instantly related to both Eileen Prince and Merope Riddle – two very similar women in a sense. But I suppose I saw the most of myself in Eileen; as I knew what it was to still be in love with the man who simultaneously made your life a living hell. I knew what it was like to give up an entire life. I knew what it was like to love “Tobias”. The difference is, though, I managed to escape it.
I still write and ship a lot of Eileen/Tobias to this day. I find it infinitely more therapeutic than a visit to the psychologist, or a dose of Zoloft.
The most ironic thing about this whole ‘Snape thing’, is that after I read The Deathly Hallows – my opinion of him did not change that much. While everyone was crying over The Prince’s Tale and screaming “ALWAYS” from the rooftops and getting it tattooed on their wrists, I was feeling empty inside. I used to have something special with him. I had believed that he was inherently good from the beginning and if I’m brutally honest – I liked being one of the only people I knew who even liked him, let alone… kind of loved him.
Part of me resents what happened in Deathly Hallows, or at least the way it happened. It was akin to seeing a soul-mate being murdered before your eyes and then having everyone you know suddenly come out in mourning for them, even though they’d never given that soul-mate a single thought before. I felt lost in a crowd, unable to scream because everyone would just scream with me. It created an unstoppable, overly emotional horde who kept telling me that they knew exactly how I felt. I kind of wished that he would end up a neutral party with no loyalty to any side… at least that would stop that horridly misguided “I think we sort too soon” quote from Dumbledore which pretty much insinuated that Slytherins were not worthy of possessing any redeemable qualities. For a long while my connection to Snape waned and faded for a while, as I collected my thoughts and mused on the happenings of the last book… everyone else’s seemed to grow and flourish. I let the fangirls have their time in their spotlight.
It didn’t help that everybody I knew in the history of anything wanted to talk to me about him after that book. I made up many lies to get out of talking about him… usually including something like: “I’m just not that into it much anymore”. And that was the end of all Snape-based conversations.
To be honest, it felt not dissimilar to being cheated on. I can’t explain why, but that is exactly how I felt. And I needed my own space for a while to process it. I knew I was hurt. I knew I needed to leave him be for a while… possibly for good.
With my own writing, coupled with good old fashioned time, came slow and soft healing. I was finally emotionally able to read the Harry Potter books after about a year and half hiatus from the entire thing. More importantly, I was able to think on him again without feeling like I was suffocating, like there were several pairs of hands upon my throat at once. I still avoid Snape boards and groups and discussions like the plague because it brings up all of that old hurt again… and besides, I usually only end up in heated arguments with the rather one-sided fangirls who run them anyway.
I had grown so much in myself during that time. I’m confident enough now to not need Worlds and characters in my life as means of escape from myself. I have a beautiful daughter, the most wonderful and supportive husband anyone could ever dream of, I have an amazing boyfriend/boy-sub, a girl with whom I am just starting a whole new adventure, myself and my partners are free to explore our sexuality within our bubble of honesty and trust, I’m confident enough in my abilities to call myself a very competent and proud Domme (and to be completely open about it), I was accepted into a Masters course and get to research an area of academia I am fascinated with every day, I have the best sex life known to womankind, I have so many fabulous friends. I am so lucky to live the life I do, and I’m proud that I’ve essentially built myself back up from feeling like I was nothing. I feel like I have everything I need to be happy nowadays.
But there’s the rub. I still have depression despite all of this. It’s something that has mutated into me now, it’s a part of who I am. And while making comparisons between my mental illness and a person who has buried himself into the darkest corner of my heart for the better half of fourteen years seems a bit of a disservice to him, it’s still a fitting comparison… Snape’s just a part of who I am now. He’ll always be there somewhere, even if I don’t want him to be sometimes. Part of me refuses to relinquish the connection because I feel the strongest kind of loyalty to him; after all, fictional or not, he did save my life once and pulled me, albeit rather forcefully in pure Severus Snape-fashion, out from the darkest hole I’ve ever been in. It would seem unbearably cruel to abandon him now everything is well.
The other part just wants him there, regardless.
There are a million more things I could say. There are a million and one things I feel. I might, in future, write purely analytical essays (or indeed post some of my essays I used to write for Hogwarts Elite… good times…) in order to delve deeper into the specifics of his characterisation. Certainly, for something so profoundly integral to who I am, I am sure that he will come up again and again in this blog from time to time (and frequently will in my fiction writing)… but just for this one time I needed to write something that was purely dedicated to him – because he deserves that time from me. He is so important. And I can’t bow and scrape to J.K. Rowling enough for bringing him, this World, my sanctuary, into my life.
Fucked up? Maybe. Am I fucked up because of it? There’s a chance. But I’d like to think that I would far worse off in the world and as a person if I hadn’t picked up that book again that one rainy Saturday. Considering the fact that this entry probably wouldn’t exist because I wouldn’t exist at this point to be able to write it – it’s a good bet that it was a good thing.
People can judge all they want. It puts not even a single dent in the magnitude of my feelings. They may not be real worlds, and real people… but these here be real feelings. And for all my misanthropy, and general dislike for human beings in general, it is safe to say that I love the people (my daughter, lovers, ex-lovers, soul-mates) who break through and stitch themselves to me with such a potent energy that I literally ache from it – and more often than not, it’s an eternal sort of deal. Many individuals who have touched me in such a fashion are literally etched into my skin as body art. I will grow old with them, and I will leave ‘the real world’ with their memories written on the wrinkles of my body.
And whether I can only read about them on the weather-beaten pieces of paper that I hold in my hands, or whether I am able to curl up in bed next to them and feel their heat and hear their methodical breaths… I cannot distinguish what kind of love is more important. I don’t want to.
For all of those who give my heart a reason to keep on beating – I am forever thankful.
(Addit: I found my featured image (pictured above) in the dark, sordid depths of my computer somewhere. I am sorry to say that I have no idea who the amazingly talented artist is. It is certainly not my work – hah. So if, for some lucky cosmic reason, you come across this and recognise it – please let me know so you can receive your well-deserved credit.)