The Silver Doe

“The Silver Doe” is one of my favorite chapters in the entire Harry Potter series. Here is a short tribute piece that I wrote as part of the Gryffindor entry for the Chamber of Secrets Forum Holiday Calendar:

The Silver Doe
December 26, 1997

“Expecto Patronum” the man whispered, and a bright light burst forth from the tip of his wand, taking the form of a doe.

He had never before seen her illuminate a darkness so profound, and the brilliance of the Patronus recalled to his mind those near-forgotten words from early youth: Et lux in tenebris lucet. The light shines in the darkness.

He gazed on her longingly, wishing he could cling to her light. But this was no time for sentimentality. He had a job to do. And if he failed to do it, an even deeper darkness would descend.

He, a Slytherin, had been entrusted with carrying the Sword of Gryffindor to those who could rightly wield it – the Sword which now lay secure at the bottom of the frozen pool as the Patronus stood before him, awaiting his guidance.

He had a plan, he’d told the portrait, but would the boy follow? Only two days before, word came to him that the great snake had forcefully sunk her fangs into Potter’s arm. Apparently, though, the boy had recovered sufficiently to apparate into these woods – evidence, no doubt, that Miss Granger’s resourcefulness had, as always, served Potter well.

But what of Weasley? Dumbledore – for reasons he had yet fully to apprehend – had faith that Weasley and Granger both were the proper companions to help Potter accomplish whatever task he had been assigned. Perhaps he was correct. Even Longbottom had recently shown the valor for which his House was known, leading an admirable, if ill-fated, raid to steal Gryffindor’s Sword from inside the Headmaster’s office.

He scrutinized the doe’s soft, luminous eyes as moisture filled the rims of his own, and he released her to wander in search of the boy.


In happier times – not that any of his times had ever been especially happy – but in times less dire perhaps, he had often spent the night after Christmas lounging in a plush staffroom chair, playing Wizard Chess with Minerva before the fire.

She hated him now. All his old colleagues did. And best that it be so. It would not do for any of them to hesitate in thinking him a murderer, a traitor, a coward. It was their best protection… and his.

And so he stood under a Disillusionment Charm behind the treeline on the night after Christmas – watching and waiting for the boy in the frigid dark.

Here’s Your Deathly Hallows on IMAX

Click to see Severus Snape walking through the AWESOME gate

“These are dark times, there’s no denying”

I saw it this morning, in the IMAX theater at Tyson’s Corner. And, in a word, it was AWESOME!!! (like the WB promo shown above)

It’s hardly a secret that Deathly Hallows is my favorite Harry Potter book. It’s also not a secret that I found the Half-Blood Prince movie… disappointing.

In HPB, the filmmakers wasted precious time burning the Burrow, when they could have been giving us another Pensieve memory of Tom Riddle’s family background or some additional face time with the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

I feared that, given the complexity of the DH narrative, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves would trash the story, chop it up, render it incomprehensible in an attempt to simplify it for movie-only viewers. I wondered if, in the end, moviegoers would understand who Dumbledore was, who Snape was, and how the twin themes of redemption and remorse that play out in these men’s lives ultimately help Harry confront Voldemort with the things the Dark Lord doesn’t understand.

Well, we won’t know the answer to that question until we reach the end of DH2. But DH1 gives me good reason to hope that the filmmakers will capture much of the richness of this narrative… and offer up a successful resolution to the Harry Potter saga.

For me, the DH movies carry the biggest stakes because they also carry the most profound part of Harry Potter’s story. I already knew going in to DH1 that the split would occur at Dumbledore’s tomb. And I knew just from watching the trailers that DH1 would include both Malfoy Manor sequences, the 7 Potters, Bill and Fleur’s wedding, the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, the splinching scene, Ron’s confrontation with Harry, at least some of the visit to Godric’s Hollow, the destruction of the locket horcrux, the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood, and Voldemort’s retrieval of the wand.

Here are some other elements that I was hoping to see in DH1:

  • Dudley’s attempt to reconcile with Harry
  • Kreacher’s Tale (including a flashback to the Cave and Regulus’ heroism)
  • Some of Dumbledore’s backstory (and Harry’s struggle to come to grips with it)
  • Hermione’s conversations with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black (including a flashback of Snape catching Neville, Ginny, and Luna trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor)
  • Harry’s dialogue with Ron after Ron confronts his fears and destroys the locket horcrux
  • Grindelwald’s refusal to betray Dumbledore’s possession of the Elder Wand to Voldemort
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers

Okay, so one of those wishes came true. But we missed Dudley, most of Kreacher’s Tale, nearly all of Dumbledore’s backstory, Phineas’ portrait, and (alas) Harry’s awesome “I thought you knew.”

I understand some of those decisions. Really, I do. Flashbacks would have dragged out the film (no matter how gratifying I find those strands of plot to be). And Dumbledore’s backstory can be covered more fully in DH2 at the Hogs Head and in King’s Cross.

But why not include the Dudley scene or Phineas’ portrait or Harry’s dialogue with Ron? And why, WHY, WHY violate the character of Gellert Grindelwald? (more on that in another post).

Regardless, the movie overall does about as fine a job with DH1 as I could have hoped. Here are some of the highlights:

  • An absolutely wrenching scene (told, not shown, in the book) in which Hermione obliviates her parents
  • Nearly the entire opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – with stunning performances by Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, and – really – the whole Death Eater cast
  • A truly creepy Bathilda Bagshot sequence
  • A beautiful Silver Doe/Retrieval of the Sword sequence – almost exactly as I had pictured it
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers – an EPIC WIN animation – including a narrative containing, I think, every word in the story

And of course, it sure didn’t hurt to be viewing all of this on an IMAX screen. I’ll be back later with a bit more analysis. But for now, I’ll just say that, overall, this film is TEH AWESOME!!! (And I wasn’t saying that after the last one).

Is Severus Snape a Sociopath?

The LOST Finale just ate my brain! Consequently, at the moment, I’m more equipped to blog on Benjamin Linus than on the “Nicolas Flamel” chapter in PS/SS. So instead of proceeding mechanically with the re-read, how about I answer some simple questions implied by search terms people have used to land on this blog in the past few days?

Search #1: Is Severus Snape a sociopath?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I am assuming that the person who asked this question knows that Snape kills Dumbledore but does not know how the story ends. But if by some weird chance this person is asking the question after reading the series, I suggest doing a re-read and paying closer attention to what Snape is actually doing… not to how Harry is interpreting it! Seriously!

Severus Snape is a flawed and wounded hero with a tormented past. But he is not a man without conscience. He is a man with a very heightened sense of conscience but no externally manifested affection for Harry Potter. And because Harry is not his favorite person, Harry (who is desperate for affection) always thinks Snape is up to no good. However, Albus Dumbledore has, in fact, essentially made Snape his right-hand man, and trusts him “completely.” And despite appearances to the contrary (i.e. Snape killing Dumbledore), Snape never betrays Dumbledore’s trust.

Being completely trustworthy is not something you would ever be able to say about any sociopath. Hence long answer: Severus Snape is not a sociopath.

Search #2: I open at the close

This is the message Albus Dumbledore inscribed on the first Snitch Harry ever caught in a Quidditch match (against Slytherin, of course). The Snitch responds to the touch of Harry’s lips because Harry caught the Snitch in his mouth, and Snitches respond to the touch of the first person who touched them – i.e. the first person that caught them.

In the broader context of the series, this message is telling Harry that he will be able to access what is hidden in the Snitch (the Resurrection Stone) when the time is right – i.e., when Harry is about to meet Voldemort and sacrifice his life.

Search #3: Silver Doe

The Silver Doe is Severus Snape’s beautiful, light-filled Patronus. It is a partner to Harry’s mother’s Patronus and is an external manifestation of Snape’s light-filled soul. The Patronus is so powerful that Harry recognizes instinctively that it is not a product of Dark Magic and chooses to follow it, despite not knowing who it belongs to and despite the perilous circumstances he’s in. The Patronus leads Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which Snape has planted in a frozen pool for Harry to retrieve.

Search #4: Harry Potter – 3 Narrative Techniques

I was sick and tired of the person in the books who wore the glasses was always the brainy one and it really irritated me and I wanted to read about a hero wearing glasses.

It also has a symbolic function, Harry is the eyes on to the books in the sense that it is always Harry’s point of view, so there was also that, you know, facet of him wearing glasses.
J. K. Rowling, 2005

3rd Person Limited: The primary narrative technique used in the Harry Potter series is a close 3rd person point of view (or a 3rd person limited point of view), tied to Harry’s consciousness and perceptions – as Rowling indicates in the quote above. Because Rowling uses this technique throughout over 95% of the series, we rarely know more than Harry knows or see more than Harry sees. Because Harry is sane, however, his perception of other characters’ actions should be taken as accurate. For example, if Harry sees Severus Snape disappearing into the 3rd floor corridor, then the reader can safely assume that Severus Snape literally did go into 3rd floor corridor.

But readers do need to be careful about accepting everything Harry believes to be true. He is often wrong in interpreting motives of characters he dislikes (cf. Snape) – as the ending of PS/SS and as “The Prince’s Tale” demonstrate. The difference here between perceiving actions and interpreting them goes something like this: Severus Snape disappears into the 3rd floor corridor (True) in order to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (False). Since the narrative is coming through Harry’s perception and interpretation, the motive he ascribes to Snape of wishing to steal the Stone is stated in the narrative as if it were fact. But it’s not.

Since we see nearly everything through Harry’s perspective, many readers accept Harry’s interpretations without question. This tendency to accept everything Harry believes to be true is what I will call the “Applied Harry Filter.” The “Applied Harry Filter” does not refer to Harry’s perceptions but to readers’ uncritical acceptance of Harry’s interpretations – even those interpretations that are objectively proven to be false.

I have written more on limited point of view on the CoS Forum. Unfortunately, what I wrote was rather seriously misinterpreted elsewhere on the Forum, where a poster claims that I make the case that we can trust nothing that Harry perceives. It’s like being polyjuiced into a Deconstructionist!

Omniscient Narrator: Omniscient narrator point of view is used in “The Boy Who Lived,” “The Riddle House,” “The Other Minister,” and a couple of Snape-centric chapters – “Spinner’s End” and “The Dark Lord Ascending.” An omniscient narrator provides the reader with information that the lead character is not privy to. JKR’s use of omniscient narrator in the Snape-centric chapters, though, is a great example of misdirection. By choosing to describe these scenes from an omniscient point of view, she shows us Snape acting as a Death Eater while offering us no access to Snape’s thoughts. Because we get no access to Snape’s thoughts, we are unaware that he is actually infiltrating the Death Eaters and working against Voldemort. JKR uses omniscient in these instances to create an impression that is actually the opposite of what is occurring beneath the surface.

Narrative Reliability: Unreliable narrator is not a point of view but is a technique that JKR uses occasionally in what I will call “micro-narrations” (i.e. short first-person trips into having another character tell a story). For instance, in one micro-narration, she has one of Snape’s enemies (Sirius Black) describe Snape as having been quite adept at the Dark Arts before ever arriving at Hogwarts. However, there is no evidence in the text to show that what Sirius says is true. When we actually see Snape’s childhood in “The Prince’s Tale,” there is not only no evidence of an interest in the Dark Arts, there is evidence that he does not want to become the type of person who would ultimately be sent to Azkaban. Sirius’ comments on Snape are not reliable – i.e, they cannot be taken at face value. But this does not mean they are untrue – just unverified by the text and unconfirmed by characters who have more objectivity concerning Snape.

Search #5: Expecto Patronum Significance

“Expecto Patronum” is Latin for “I expect a Protector.” In its most basic sense, it is the spell used to conjure a Patronus and protect a person from the Dementors.

In addition, Expecto Patronum is the name of this blog (which is probably why the user landed on this page). And as a huge fan of LOST, I’m thinking of expanding the blog to include commentary on LOST in light of the Finale.

Thankfully, the name Expecto Patronum can readily cover LOST content as well as Harry Potter content. After all, the Island needs a protector. And the native language of Jacob – the Island protector when Oceanic Flight 815 crashes – is Latin.

It works!

Note: I have reorganized and expanded this post to address some distortions of my points on 3rd person limited that have appeared elsewhere.