Take the most controversial character in the entire Harry Potter universe. Add one of the series' most widely ridiculed moments. Toss in Twitter commentary from the beloved but outspoken creator and a fandom too invested in this debate to ever let it die.
Stir it up, and you've got a potion for fandom drama that could only have come from Severus Snape.
On Friday evening, J.K. Rowling took the time to address an issue that remains one of the most hotly contested moments in the series: Harry's decision to name his son Albus Severus.
Rowling's tweets, immediately and predictably, imploded the fandom.
Rowling undoubtedly knew what a hornet's nest she was poking by bringing up the issue of Snape's bravery—if not how invested fans would be in this particular moment. Although the series ended in 2007, a large faction of Harry Potter fans have remained deeply dissatisfied with Rowling's infamous "19 years later" epilogue, in which we meet Harry's kids, including his son Albus Severus.
In the epilogue, Harry informs little Al that he was named after Snape, who Harry declares was "probably the bravest man I ever knew." This proclamation is among the most controversial lines in the entire series.
This is the same Severus Snape who joined Voldemort, willingly committed unspeakable acts of torture and murder, bullied students, and oversaw systemic violence and abuse during his reign as the headmaster of Hogwarts. Even though he spent years spying for the Order of the Phoenix, it's hard for many fans to view him the way Harry ultimately does; after all, plenty of Harry's friends fought against Voldemort from the beginning, ultimately died for the cause of equality and saving the world, and weren't racist child abusers.
Harry's pronouncement that Snape was braver than Cedric, Remus, Tonks, Mad-Eye, Sirius, Regalus, Dobby, and (sob) Fred—to name just a few—still rankles today. (There's also the fact that no kid would have an easy life if their name were Albus Severus. Come on, Jo.) So great is the ire fans have for this particular moment in the epilogue that it's spawned a hugely popular Tumblr meme:Though much of the meme's popularity comes from its humor and randomness, there's a subtext of deep resentment over Harry's choice to name his son after Snape: But Snape is also one of the most fiercely defended of the characters in the Harry Potter pantheon. Sure, he may be deeply flawed, but he's also a classic tortured gothic hero, misunderstood and tormented in his own childhood, who spent his life trying to be worthy of a deep unrequited love. That's catnip to lots of fans, and Snape has as many passionate supporters as he has detractors.
Knowing she had plenty of readers on both sides of the debate, Rowling spelled out her thoughts on Snape's tricky, duplicitous, and contentious nature, noting he "deserves both admiration and disapprobation":
She also pointed out when fans on either side of the divide were being either too generous or too quick to malign, elucidating Snape's character throughout the day:
But while fans were grateful for the insight, many were quick to challenge her about this "Albus Severus" business. Here's what Rowling had to say about all the people Harry didn't name his kids after:This makes a lot of sense, but what about... And so the battle rages ever on.
Rowling, alas, declined to offer a similar character analysis for Dumbledore, but she did seem to be perfectly sanguine about the uproar she'd caused.
Among the people lucky enough to get replies from Rowling were some who complained that they'd been beset with hate from other fans angry with their questions. Rowling called for civility in the discussion, but given that this is Snape we're talking about, that was wishful thinking.
In the end, Rowling left the Internet to its devices—and left Snape fans to celebrate.Photo via Snape's True Love/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)