Willian Faukner famously stated,
“the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about”
And this is a tenet I absolutely hold to, more than anything else in this world. You see I believe that the only thing that really compels a story is its characters and the conflict that lies in their hearts. I believe a character should be so fleshed out and believable that they would be equally interesting in a sci-fi space opera as in the next Chipmunks films. I think too often storytellers rely on premise or setting alone with things happening to a character, rather than the character reacting so that that character just becomes another prop rather than a person.
To this end I will breaking down characters across mediums, generations, reality and fiction to try to understand this. If anyone wants me to look at a specific character, feel free to leave a comment or whatnot and I will do so or troll you if its something ridiculous like “Wario” or “Gyarados” No F*** that, I love Gyarados. I’ll do Gyarados!!
Note – Spoiler Abound so I don’t recommend reading unless, you know, you’ve got balls of steel and live your life on the edge.
So I thought I’d start with an easy one, someone that everyone would recognize, i.e. the infamous Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series.
Name – Severus Snape
Series – Harry Potter novels
Bio – Joins up with the bad guys for free dental and 2 for 1 deals at TGI Fridays every Wednesday, but leaves them when they legit kill the girls he loves (Gets into Dashboard Confessional in a bad way after this). Becomes a bad ass triple agent (yeah, that’s a thing) and ends up saving the day only to die with everyone still thinking he’s a dick.
No-one knows what made Harry Potter the phenomenon it was. Anyone who says its for kids or its simplistic either never actually read the books or was hit by a bus (probably driven by me) and is now dribbling, raving mess.
But for me, Snape made Harry Potter for me.
You see, no-one else really had a choice. Harry didn’t have a choice in so far as everyone wanted him dead. Dumbledore was just dealing with some serious guilt the entire time, the epitome of goodness and so forth. Even the ginger one didn’t have much of a choice – join up with Harry or spend his life in a cubicle at the back of Gringotts being a filing bitch.
Snape is the only one who had a choice. He could’ve joined Voldemort, he could’ve joined Dumbledore. He was the only one with the power to influence the entire story and war. The only one with moral ambiguity. His arc is spectacularly revealed in one of the final chapters of the last book but when it does, the story entirely becomes his, more moving more tragic even that Harry himself.
He died protecting the child of the woman he had loved his whole life. But even that wasn’t heroic. When asked by Dumbledore, Snape pretty much admits he would’ve sacrificed both the child and the husband so he could have Lily himself.
So in the end he wasn’t a hero. He was selfish, cruel and the only thing he ever truly wanted, he could never have. That is enough to drive anyone insane and when it is revealed, i.e. the conflict of his heart, you realize how little you truly knew about this character, this man who despite being in a set of kids books, refuses to be pigeon holed. The man who’d rather be hated his whole life than understood. What more can I say?