24

Harry Potter grew up almost hero-worshipping his father, and with a strong dislike of Snape based on Snape's resentment of him as well as some knowledge of Snape's rivalry with Harry's father while they were at school together.

In HP and the Order of the Phoenix, he finds out about (in fact, he sees first-hand via the Pensieve) his father's bullying of Snape. This changes his perception of the relationship between the two, and the revelation bothers him so much that he goes to a great deal of trouble to seek out Sirius (and Lupin) and talk to them about it.

In HP and the Deathly Hallows, he finally finds out the full story of his father and Snape's relationships with each other and with Lily, his mother. The revelations in the chapter The Prince's Tale changed many HP fans' conception of several characters, and there have been many heated debates on which of James Potter and Severus Snape was the better man.

On the one hand, James was a jerk to Snape while they were at school, and I've never been able to figure out why Lily chose him over Snape. On the other hand, James was a member of the Order of the Phoenix while Snape was a genuine Death Eater all the way up until the love of his life was in personal danger from Voldemort.

Clearly, arguments could be made either way, but I'm not looking for a speculative answer.

Has there been any statement from JK Rowling on who she thinks was the better man?

  • 1
    Judging by just the page-time given to each. Prof. Snape by a long shot. – Athena Widget Dec 11 '15 at 2:22
  • 24
    @AthenaWidget: Really? It's kinda difficult to get page time over the course of 7 books if you're dead. – Ellesedil Dec 11 '15 at 5:00
  • 8
    I've never been able to figure out why Lily chose him over Snape - "Hmmmm, someone who was a bit of an arse as a teenager, or a high-ranking member of the wizarding version of the Nazis, a group that hate me for my blood?" – Dr R Dizzle Dec 11 '15 at 14:13
  • 2
    also, don't conflate James the man with James the child/teenager – NKCampbell Jun 30 '16 at 14:35
  • 4
    I wonder how much we'd defend James if he weren't Harry's father. – Misha R Apr 14 '18 at 18:05
24

We know that at the end of the day, Snape was never a "good guy":

Snape is all grey. You can't make him a saint: he was vindictive & bullying. You can't make him a devil: he died to save the wizarding world

Snape was a bully who loved the goodness he sensed in Lily without being able to emulate her. That was his tragedy.

Snape didn't die for 'ideals'. He died in an attempt to expiate his own guilt. He could have broken cover at any time to save himself 1/2 but he chose not to tell Voldemort that the latter was making a fatal error in targeting Harry. Snape's silence ensured Harry's victory. 2/2

JKR on Twitter

Whereas in the books, everyone in the wizarding world says that James is a great guy, especially after he gets out of school/is married. Looking at JKR's recent tweets and interview comments, it appears she hasn't said much about James's character out of world.

Throughout the books, it's written that Snape's only love, and the only good things he does, are because of Lily, while James is shown to be courageous and loving towards his friends, family, and the greater good in general.

“You think I'm a fool?" demanded Harry.

"No, I think you're like James," said Lupin, "who would have regarded it as the height of dishonour to mistrust his friends.”

James ends his life attempting to save his family, Snape ends his life attempting to ease his own personal guilt.

  • 15
    So, effectively, James was a selfish and ultimately useless and stupid bully, who achieved nothing beyond having his family killed; and Snape was a flawed hero who saved many lives and effectively, helped bring down the biggest threat to everyone. I don't care what JKR's personal opinion is, I know who was a person to applaud more. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 11 '15 at 3:32
  • 5
    We don't know that for either one. And comparing popular jock to an introverted geek isn't exactly the correct way to measure either one as a man. Inner qualities differ from popularity contest or being lucky to be charismatic. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 11 '15 at 3:38
  • 5
    @DVK: I don't think it's fair to point to Snape's difficulties. He had some personal demons when younger and made some terrible choices. Then James died, along with Lily, and Snape began a tough process for whatever personal redemption that he felt was worthy. But during that redemption process, James Potter was dead and thus, missed out on any personal growth from that point forward. You know, on account of being dead. Looking at what Snape went through after Lily died and using that as the basis of making him "better than James" is entirely unfair to James, who missed the opportunity. – Ellesedil Dec 11 '15 at 5:05
  • 22
    Everyone seems to be forgetting that James put his own life on the line in order to save Snape from being killed by a transforming Lupin. James risked his life to save a man he hated, whereas Snape was more than happy to let Voldemort kill James and his infant son as long as James' wife was left for him. That isn't love. – Dr R Dizzle Dec 11 '15 at 14:23
  • 7
    @DrRDizzle This honestly seals it for me. Snape cared for no one except for Lily. In the end, when it comes down to it, James cares for everyone, even Snape. Kids can be dicks, but to judge someone's character based on what they did as a child is incredibly unfair. James grew to be a good person who fought evil, Snape on the other hand sided with evil. – Demarini Dec 11 '15 at 21:33
8

In the deep structure, James Potter and Severus Snape can be interpreted as aspects of the same character.

As a child, Harry Potter has an admiring view of his father based on his positive characteristics only - as most children have of their parents - and he dislikes Snape for Snape's apparent resentment of himself and for what little he knows of Snape's treatment of his father. As we now know, he has some justification for all three of these bases of his outlook, but that does not mean that he views either man either with an adult's wisdom or with sufficient knowledge to make a judgement. He has a lot to learn.

As a fully grown adult, Harry bestows his father's given name James on his own first son as a first name, and Snape's given name Severus on his second son as a second name.

In between, as an adolescent, and as he develops his own personality, Harry seeks out information about the past and undergoes trials in the present, and for a time the way he views both his father and Snape becomes more negative. His attitude towards his father moves away from one of childish admiration, and his fear and perhaps even loathing of Snape increase.

Significantly, his understanding of the relationship between his father and Snape plays a role in the maturation of his attitude towards both.

Snape of course enters as negative, even if the idea of a housemaster who is probably an agent of evil, as realised by the child protagonists but not by Dumbledore, is not one of the series's best implemented themes. Although he doesn't lose dark aspects entirely, he does lose them in the extreme form in which Harry conceives of them and, of course, he loses them in what is essential: the matter of which side Harry understands him to be committed to, unshakeably and even at the cost of his life. He becomes viewed by Harry as essentially and deeply positive - a man to be admired, a man Harry names his second son after. As we all know, Snape's revelation as not an enemy agent, not even a double agent who has fooled his own father-figure Dumbledore - a grandfather-figure for Harry - but as a treble agent, who has throughout his time as a teacher at Hogwarts been unshakeably on the side of the good guys, is a main dramatic moment in the seventh novel.

But we note that the son that Harry names after Snape is his second. As reinforcement, we also observe that it is his first son's first name that is James, and his second son's second that is Severus. In a sense, Snape is welcomed into the family. In another sense, blood is thicker than water. Harry's love of his father, which dipped, has now been regained and has moved to a higher level.

At the end of the series, if James Potter and Severus Snape could meet, it is evident that they would meet as dear friends, or, in my interpretation, as now harmoniously combined aspects of a single structural entity - not worshipped, not feared, but admired and loved by Harry as an adult. There will be no bullying and no resentment either. The conflict between them has been surpassed.

So in the deep structure, the question of which is the better man is the wrong one to ask because it does not get to the underlying features of the relationship between them as it manifests throughout the story - in the diachronism of Harry's experience, his growing up - which is precisely the ground for the two men's own characters.

  • 3
    The question specifically asks for evidence of J. K. Rowling's opinion rather than speculation from the answerer. – Blackwood Jun 24 '16 at 19:09
3

I hate when people make this mistake..yes in the memory Harry saw James attack Snape..but we don't know anything about the events that lead to such animosity..After-all Snape was a greasy slytherin who was selfish,resentful and jealous of James..He must have ambushed James a zillion times as well..and James might be paying back..In short there are so many points in James's favor which we can't ignore just because of a fragment of a memory

  • 2
    Welcome to SFF! This does not seem to add anything additional to existing answer and more like a rant. Please take our tor to see the kind of answers we are looking for. Also, with sufficient reputation will be able to add comments to any post, it is not that hard to do, stick around and have fun. – Skooba Jun 24 '16 at 14:50
  • Yeah people tend to forgwt that snape was actuvly attack james as well – Himarm Jun 24 '16 at 19:42
  • Bullying is terrible! Wait, we like him. People are complex! – Misha R Apr 14 '18 at 20:31
1

Remember that James did everything he could to fight Voldemort while Snape sided with him till Lily was threatened. Not Harry just Lily.

protected by TheLethalCarrot Dec 7 '18 at 10:01

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.