Confronting the death of Severus Snape IRL

There are few transcultural shared experiences in the modern world as important to those 90s kids and beyond, as the Harry Potter series of books and novels. The movie releases, the book launches, the anticipation between them, and that moment that every child probably, at least once, picked up a stick at recess and saw if they could cast “Wingardium leviosa”.

While I was a late-comer to the series, having resisted all the way to my second year of university before finally caving in and watching all eight films. After having stood on the outside of this phenomenon for over a decade, I can clearly see and appreciate the importance of J.K. Rowling’s work to a generation.

Last week however, a key player in the making of these memories for many fans of the films, passed away – Alan Rickman (who played Severus Snape). The passing of Rickman elicited strange responses all over Twitter and Facebook in which it was difficult to tell whether fans mourned the loss of a human life, or the character in which they had fallen in love.

Rickman as  Severus Snape/

Rickman as Severus Snape/

The character of Snape, besides being a cold-hearted and stoic figure that seems to dedicate his life to foiling Harry, has inspired some truly distinct fandom over the years. In fact, according to The Telegraph, Snape had become “Harry Potter’s most unlikely sex symbol”, being the starring subject of 47,000 pieces of fan-fiction, many of which are romantic in nature. For those of you who read fan-fiction, the Harry Potter series has inspired some of the worst and weirdest (My Immortal, anyone?), but Snape remains a strange figure for such an obsessive fan relationship.

Furthermore, Snape was voted the ‘best’ character from the series in 2011 in Bloomberg’s survey, having received approximately 13,000 votes. In the days following his death, of course, we’ve seen a similar force of fan response as people have taken to social media to mourn their loss:

“RIP Severus Snape/Alan Rickman, you will always be a hero to us Thank you for bringing Snape to life. Always “

“For you Professor Snape, the “bravest man I ever knew.”

“After all this time?”

“My heart is shattered this morning. I can’t believe it. #AlanRickman…our beloved Snape. We’ll miss you…Always.”

Many of these tweets seem to confuse the idea of his character with his legitimate person, which is potentially, extremely problematic. Ironically, the quotes posted on his image, and in countless tweets, are not even his own words – they were parts of a script. By attributing them to him, his own legitimate voice is silenced, and he becomes a machine of entertainment to the industry, without his own thoughts, dreams or ideas.

Alan Rickman /

Alan Rickman /

You do not mourn the loss of Severus Snape/ Alan Rickman. You cannot use a “/” because they are not interchangeable – and many of the fans seem too concerned with their remembrance of their childhood being ruined to recognize the legitimate pain in the Rickman family or the atrocity of cancer and terminal illness.

Harry Potter was not a film series, it was a phenomenon, it was generation-defining, it was a backdrop to every memory you had as a child, especially as you aged along with Harry and the gang. The death of Alan Rickman, therefore, represents a rift in those memories. Your immersion in that world and lore is forced to break, as you acknowledge the past as the past, Snape as only a character, and the face you know to be Snape’s as an actor’s – a real human being.

Alan Rickman should be mourned, beyond for his involvement with a popular series, as a talented human being with a family, ambitions, and friends; but so too should fans mourn that the man who brought to live so many childhood memories was taken too early. In the process, just don’t confuse the two – Severus Snape is just a character, but Alan Rickman is a man.

- Steve Nadon

Alan Rickman /

Alan Rickman /

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