Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"The Great Snape Debate"

On Saturday, I was in a Borders Express and picked up a copy of the Borders exclusive book The Great Snape Debate. (Hat Tip to swordofgryffindor.com for the heads up.) Yes, yet another "waiting for book 7" Harry Potter read. Just think how much fun it will be to have these speculative books in years to come, when the whole world knows the entire saga forwards and backwards!

This little book is a bit of publicity stunt, I guess, but such a smart one! My Borders is even hosting an actual debate Saturday after next, where people will come in and discuss Snape. The book is published by BenBella Press, the folks who do the "smart pop" series (I recently read their Flirting With Pride and Prejudice, to which I gave a mixed review over at Epinions). BenBella is known for having authors engage topics with a mixture of academic seriousness and fun.

The Great Snape Debate
, as you might guess, contains essays debating Snape's loyalty and where it lies. To make it even more fun, the book is designed as a "flip book" with two covers. One side of the book is titled "The Case for Snape's Innocence" and has a cauldron with what looks like phoenix-shaped flames rising from it. When you flip the book, the other side reads "The Case for Snape's Guilt" and has the same cauldron with a big ol' green cobra-like serpent rearing his head. I have to keep the book flipped to the "Innocence" side, not only because of my own firm beliefs in Snape's ultimate loyalties, but because I'm afraid the cheesy but creepy looking snake might freak out my daughter.

With so many of these kinds of speculative books coming out in the months leading up to the release of Deathly Hallows, I honestly would not have bought this one (or perhaps even looked at it twice) except that one of the three contributing authors is Orson Scott Card. That hooked me immediately. Card is a superb writer, and also (and this is what really interests me) a superb writer about writing. I knew he was a Harry fan, and I was curious to hear his take on what he thinks Rowling has been up to with Snape's character as well as with the series in general. His main essay is found right in the middle of the book (near the flip section) and is entitled "Who is Snape?" He traces his development as a character throughout the series, and speculates a bit as to the way his role may have evolved in Rowling's own creative process. I don't think I agree with all of his ideas, but that makes it more fun.

One of the more interesting observations he makes (and unpacks) is that "1. The character is the servant of the story... (and) 2. The author is also the servant of her most deeply held beliefs -- the things that she believes without even knowing she believes them. "

As fun as it is, The Great Snape Debate is not, as far as I can tell from my selective reading of the essays thus far, anywhere near the caliber of some of the really excellent pre-book 7 work. My favorite two, and I would wager two of the very best, are Janet Batchler's What Will Harry Do? and John Granger's Unlocking Harry Potter. If you can only read (or purchase) two books concerning Harry Potter before we reach the final installment, those are the two. Janet brings a screenwriter's eye to the unfolding drama of the series, helping readers notice "set-ups" and be on the lookout for "pay-offs." Her book is comprehensive, painstaking, sticks with the canon, and is a lot of fun to read! John's book is a tour de force...especially when it comes to looking at HP in light of alchemical literature and postmodernism. I'm still working my way slowly through it and enjoying every bit.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing my re-read of Harry, and have just finished Prisoner of Azkaban. I think it's still my favorite book of the first six. What's your's?


Erin said...

I'm just getting to the climax of Prisoner of Azkaban now. I love this third book so much; I think it's probably my favorite too. There are so many startling revelations, and I love the whole thread with Hagrid. He's absolutely integral to the first three books but drops off a bit after that. I especially miss him in the fifth and sixth books, though when he does show up he makes a big impact. Anyway, the whole backstory with Wormtail, Moony, Padfoot and Prongs is so cool, and Lupin is by far the best DADA teacher Harry's had.

Anyway, it's interesting you mention The Great Snape Debate, because I just got a call from my old stomping grounds asking me if I would like to buy the book. And I didn't need a great deal of persuading. Now I just have to get myself over to the mall to buy it. I saw Orson Scott Card also edited a book of essays about LOST, which looks very interesting. Evidently he's quite a big fan; the back cover had a quote from him saying something about it being the closest thing to a perfect show on television. Wouldn't mind picking that one up sometime. In the meantime, I guess I have some great Snape speculation ahead of me!

Beth said...

Yay, another PoA fan! I still think CoS may be the best plotted and most tightly written, and with the most nods to the end of the series, but PoA just does something for me at a deep heart level. So much of it has to do with watching Harry mature to the place where he can stand up and show mercy to Pettigrew.

I like the Snape Debate book, though parts of it are downright silly (top ten lists and such)... still, a lot of fun! And there's some good, grounded speculation as well.

I came really close to buying Card's book on LOST several months ago. I think it came out not longer after the first season (if I'm not mistaken) so it might feel a bit dated already, but I'm sure it's worth reading. Let me know if you decide to get it...I'd love to hear what you think!