Rowling Apologizes for Killing Snape

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts (which is incidentally, also the same day that Civil War General Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville), J.K. Rowling, as has been her habit for the past few years, issued an apology for killing off a character. In the past, sharry-snapehe has apologized for the deaths of Fred Weasley and Remus Lupin, meeting great approval from those of us who still mourn those characters (Really. It’s almost time to start the read-aloud of Deathly Hallows with the younger child, and so I am already stocking up on tissues and hot cocoa). However, this year, she apologized not for killing a funny and beloved twin or a kindly and troubled teacher. She apologized for killing Severus Snape. A number of people seem to be very upset by this, as Rowling expected, by saying she was running for cover after making the comment. However, is it really so shocking? It all comes down to how we interpret “apologizing” in this context. Let’s look at a few interpretations at how they intersect with our responses as readers to the character of Snape.

I’m Sorry, So Sorry

So what does it mean to apologize for something one has written? In general, we say “sorry” all the time, and we often mean very different things by it.  Depending on our tone, the circumstances, and the audiences, “sorry” can be everything from heartfelt to heartless. Before everyone gets too excited about Rowling’s annual apology (and considering the body count at the Battle of Hogwarts,she’ll be able to keep doing this for years), we should take time to consider what her apology really means. Here are some possibilities:

Possibility number 1-Regret: Rowing is sorry she killed off Snape and wishes she hadn’t done it. This seems highly unlikely. Rowling is a compulsive planner, and her texts are seldom littered with the kind of gaffes that come from unplanned writing. It is unlikely that she seriously thinks she should have had Severus Snape survive the Battle of Hogwarts and continue tormenting students for the foreseeable future, though bringing down Voldemort might have made him a little more sociable.

Possibility number 2–Sarcasm: Sometimes when  people say”sorry,” they really mean “It stinks to be you!” It seems unlikely that this is Rowling’s intent because she saw the controversy the apology would bring. It could also be unlikely because that seems kind of mean. She usually reserves her rancor for people who burn her books, not for people who are upset (or not) over a character’s death.

Possibility number 3–Telling readers we should be sorry about Snape’s death, too. This is actually a very likely possibility. After all, we had seven books reminding us that we should not withhold sympathy for anyone, even people who make bad choices or who are not particularly nice. By lumping Snape in with two of the series’ most loved chSeverusSnape_WB_F4_SnapePushingHarryRonBackOfHead_Still_080615_Landaracters. Rowling may be reminding us that we can also have some sympathy for Snape, even though he is, by her own admission, a terrible person. After all, anyone with a soul will cry over Dobby. Crying for Snape takes a little more moral fiber.

Possibility number 4–Acknowledging that it had to be done, but she’s sorry it upset (at least some) people. This is my favorite of the possibilities, a sort of Mom apology that we give when kids are upset that we make them go to bed or put away their things. It means “I’m sorry that you are upset, but this is something that has to be done.” It’s the meaning of her previous apologies.  This one is for those of us who have always been sad about Snape’s death, but more about his blighted life, a life damaged by his terrible choices, but them redeemed by his good ones. Though killing off this complicated, prickly, and fascinating character seems like a shame, it is a necessary plot element that also allows Snape to be a hero and to die in Harry’s arms, looking into the eyes of the only person he ever really loved, and having the one chance to explain himself to the boy  he repeatedly hurt and bullied out of his own misery. It is what Civil War soldiers like my pal Stonewall would call “the good death.”  So, with her apology, Rowling acknowledges the sorrow evinced by Snape’s death, but also its necessity

Possibility number 5—Just reminding everyone about this great story that made us sad and frustrated and excited and….

Even with the delightful Mr. Scamander scampering after his critters and the wonderfully grumpy Cormoran Strike stumping his way onto television screens via the BBC, Rowling’s great gift to the world has been her seven-book story of Harry’s adventures. In order to keep attention oseverus-snape-in-the-new-harry-potter-illustrationn those books, one does have to stir the pot from time to time. There are no more midnight book releases, no speculation about upcoming plots or characters’ motives. Instead, in order to keep a fire lit under fans, Rowling has to toss little bouncing Betties like this into the herd and see which way we stampede. Whether its telling us about a character’s sexual preferences (which actually don’t matter in the text), regaling us with her political thoughts, or apologizing for killing off controversial characters, Rowling has to keep the Hogwarts saga in the limelight. It does make one wonder, though, if these apologies are publicity stunts, who will be next year’s apology? Bellatrix Lestrange?

What are your theories?




  1. Lana Whited says

    Even before I read these very insightful musings, Elizabeth, I was reminded of the Latin “apologia,” as in Cardinal Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua or Sidney’s Apologie for Poetrie. And although Rowling’s tweet did not offer an actual defense for Snape’s death, it seems obvious that any she might offer would be along the lines you have suggested.

    P.S. If she subsequently offers an apology for killing off Bellatrix Lestrange, I’ll SPIT at my computer screen!

  2. Kathleen Van Every says

    This is completely off topic, but if there is one thing Rowling should apologize for, it should be for the casting of Dumbledore in the film versions of books 3-7 insofar as she had any control over that(or the screenwriting for him). Absolutely awful man who strikes wrong notes everywhere, from patting Ron’s injured leg too hard in POA to shaking and yelling at Harry in GOF. I was just musing on how perfect the casting was in just about every instance except for that. This seemed a good place to rant. tx

  3. At first hearing, this struck me as JKR being another artist that can’t leave the work alone, but when you suggested the publicity angle that, unfortunately, made sense. Keeping the copyright alive is one thing, then standing back and letting fandom twist in the wind is rather mercenary. It’s another vote to not keep feeding the corporate monster.

    Rather than going ’round the houses in theories, I’ll state that the growing manipulation is not good. Or, is that her point?

    ( . . . didn’t I just state I wouldn’t theorize?)

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Regaling us with her political ‘thoughts’ does not seem a judicious way for Rowling to keep the Hogwarts saga in the limelight – too much unreserved rancor for all sorts of people, there, including harried fans retreating in the direction of ‘former…’.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Rowling quotes Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them” – and seems to go on to show us she’s Dolores Umbridge in ways perhaps hitherto unimagined – whew!

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