Stories. They have an inherent need to be told and retold, since ancient times, in rhythm or out of sync. Stories, which by the virtue of their narratives have the potency to alter the natural course of history, remain scattered all around us, all the time. For most part, we remain impervious to them because of our own predispositions. But, it only takes a great storyteller to make us aware of those stories, to listen to them, form opinions about them, take inspirations from them, or even dispel them as myth. A good story outlives several generations (Case in point: Religion). A bad story lies wasted on a subway platform, drunk out of its wits. Harry Potter is one sure such good story. And Alan Rickman was one hell of a storyteller.
Agreed, J.K. Rowling wrote the books. She built the characters and gave them a voice. She put all the pieces together to form a brilliant story, about a boy and his magical world. But, it was Alan Rickman who imbued that story with a soul. With his unflinching eyes, silky baritone, ambiguous loyalties, and mysterious charm, Rickman’s portrayal of Severus Snape became the perfect living embodiment of the potions master every Potter fan ever wished for. He transformed Severus Snape, the dark but brilliant fictional wizard into a more ethereal, real man.
It is now known that Rickman was Rowling’s personal choice to play the character of Snape. Thank Merlin’s Beard for that! She seems to possess a Moody’s eye for a character from her story and matching it with actor who can live that part on screen. Either that, or she secretly owns the sorting hat that chose Rickman for the part of the Slytherin housemaster. Either ways, no one is complaining.
For, Snape is not just another character in the book. He is not just a half blood prince. He is not just a potions teacher with a perpetual black cloak and cold, stony eyes, which are a perfect recipe for a student’s worst Hogwarts nightmare. But he is what was concealed in those eyes. Eyes, which were a window for the readers, to Snape’s world. A crack in the defensive wall he built around his persona, to cloud his layered, enigmatic self. He is the villan. He is the protector. He is the victim. He is the lover. He is the tragic hero. He is flawed. He is Alan Rickman. Alan Rickman was Severus Snape.
Unlike several other muggle-borns of that generation, who literally grew up with Harry and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, I delved in the Potterworld while I was in my late teens. I did not read Potter in my childhood, not because of its unavailability, but because in those days, my world happened to be WWF, Champak and Doordarshan. So, back then, word “Potter” would be my guess for someone who is a member of the “Mile HIGH” Club. But I’m happy that I discovered him in my teens, that too inadvertently, when I walked in on a friend, who was practicing Win-gar-dium Levi-o-sa in his hostel room on a picture of Emma Watson. I promised him I’ll never reveal what I saw in that Diagon Alley, and he told me he will lend me his copy of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.
By the time I finished reading the book, I was already in love with Snape’s character. I wondered how a screen adaption of such a magical world would look like. I remember walking up to my friend’s room and asking him to share the movie on the LAN network. That is when I first saw Alan Rickman, while playing Snape, showing glimpses of a character, which was complex, brutal, sarcastic, precise, bitter, yet fascinating. In the first movie itself, he set the tone of his character arc, which grew more complex, all the while changing the character tone subtly, in every successive movie. Rickman’s histrionics on the screen as Snape were richly authentic and provided a depth to the narrative, establishing him as the antethesis of Harry, overshadowing the actually villan, The one who should not be named. He mouthed some of the most iconic lines of the movies, like “Turn to page 394”, or “Clearly, fame isn’t everything”, or the most loved of all “Always”. With the last one, Rickman made Snape immortal.
Through Snape’s character depiction, Rickman narrated the central themes of the story: His love for Lily Evans which transformed his petronas into a doe, his disdainful treatment of Harry Potter who he saw as a living example of her preference for another man, of redemption and repentence. Ultimately, Snape dies not for revenge or hate, but for love. So did Rickman.
He died at the age of 69. The symbolism attached with this should not be ignored. The number 69 is also used as a Taijitu, or a diagram representing Ying and Yang. They are complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Much like the life of Severus Snape. Much like the life of Alan Rickman.
His passing away has been devastating for the Potter generation. In many ways, we just (long pause)… knew….he was the perfect casting. His voice teased and tamed, mocked and despaired. He was cynical. He blurred the lines between real and magic. It was hard to guess where Severus Snape ends and Alan Rickman begins. When he died for his love Lily Evans while protecting her boy Harry, we all wept in unison. We do so again, now. With his death, I feel an important part of my teenage gone as well. For me, he will never cease to be a storyteller though. In his own words, “It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller.” Thanks for being that storyteller, Alan Rickman. Always.