Reader Question! Snape, Littlefinger and Tumblr

21 Jul

Yesterday we received the following comment from emmyaist:

There’s an incredibly popular post making rounds on Tumblr, which goes “friendly reminder that if harry would have been a girl snape would have treated her like petyr baelish treats sansa stark.”
What do you think? I’d say false, but it’s more more intuition than logical reasoning; however, I’d really really really appreciate it if either/both of you could help me come up with a refutation.
Thanks in advance!

As such questions tend to do, this spawned a rambling discussion that eventually became a full blog post, because we’re both incapable of short answers when the subject is interesting! As with emmyaist we both felt the argument was false, but it took a while before we managed to frame reasons why. Hopefully this makes sense.


If you’re going to map Snape onto Game of Thrones characters, you’d get a lot closer by imagining him as Walder Frey, with Voldemort in the role of Robb Stark (who broke his word regarding an important promise, in Snape’s case not to kill Lily) and Dumbledore in the role of Tywin Lannister (manipulating Snape into sacrificing everything for the sake of revenge). Not that that’s much more flattering, but still – and I’d argue he still comes off much better than Dumbledore there at least.

Despite whatever surface similarities they’re reacting to, there actually isn’t much of a parallel at all between Snape and Baelish. Baelish’s revenge fixation is over the fact he feels slighted by the world and wasn’t given the things he felt he deserved (e.g. he believed the trope that the underdog gets the girl, etc). Snape is motivated by a desire to expiate his own past mistakes more than anything else; if anything, what you’d get if Harry weren’t male (and therefore didn’t resemble James Potter so closely) is a likelihood that his very appearance wouldn’t be triggering to Snape and he might be treated like any other student.

You can’t draw a parallel between Brandon Stark and James Potter – if they’re trying to say that Catelyn’s preventing Brandon from killing Baelish after the duel is comparable to Lily’s half-hearted attempt to stop Potter’s abuse of Snape (notice that even at first, before Snape lashed out at her, Lily is portrayed as struggling not to laugh along with his abusers), they’re missing the actual important differences between those scenes. Baelish was the instigator there, and challenged Brandon to the duel; if it hadn’t been for that, and for his naively optimistic belief in certain tropes, it’s doubtful Brandon would even have noticed him. Contrast this with Snape; James Potter had been bullying him for years, and their enmity began entirely in Potter’s head. (Let’s note that if anything, James maps more closely onto Baelish than Snape does. Look at James and Snape’s first meeting, which I think you have to read at least partly as James becoming jealous that someone he views as inferior is friends with someone he likes the look of, and deciding to ruin Snape’s life as a consequence.)

Now, truthfully, I don’t know what the Tumblr meme is even trying to say. If we accept the surface reading it’s based on, I can’t see it as anything except an attempted insult of anyone who respects Snape more than they do Baelish. The problem is that it relies on that surface reading to do so, and the vast majority of people who actually do like Severus Snape as a character aren’t doing that themselves, so the attack fails. Admittedly, there is one respect in which I think they might not be wrong: I don’t think Rowling has any respect for the character she inadvertently created, and she might well agree with that misreading of his motivations if she herself were doing the alternate-gender rewrite.

And on another note, I feel it’s imperative to point out that Sansa Stark is significantly brighter than Harry Potter, and comparing the two is a grievous insult to her.


Overlooking the gender-essentialism of the Tumblr meme – why would such a situation only occur between a male and a female? – I think the premise behind it is flawed. On a personal level without the revenge fixation Mitchell explains above, Baelish’ apparent motivation is that if he can’t have Cat then he’ll settle for Cat 2.0; her father never did anything to Baelish except perhaps mildly inconvenience him and can be completely ignored. Snape would never want Lily 2.0 because regardless of the child’s gender he or she would still be the spawn of James.

In addition, the way genetics appears to work in the wizarding world, a female Potter would look exactly like Lily and rather than being attracted I feel he would be triggered as powerfully as he is by the James-clone, only in a different way; I think we’d see less rage and more depression, but in the end we’d get the same dislike (and assuming female!Harry is as stupid and thoughtless as male!Harry we’d end up with the same justified anger after stunts such as the Pensieve).

I’d also like to point out that in one specific way Snape does treat Harry as Baelish treats Sansa – both men take risks in order to protect the child of the woman they love. The difference is that for whatever reason Baelish likes Sansa because of her parentage, whereas Snape dislikes Harry because of his. I don’t see that changing regardless of Potter Junior’s gender, and that essential difference between the two characters is likewise not going to change.


Posted by on July 21, 2014 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , ,

3 responses to “Reader Question! Snape, Littlefinger and Tumblr

  1. Number27

    July 21, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I have a horrible feeling that the upshot of that meme is supposed to be:

    [CN: Misogyny, MRA bullshit] “If Harry were a girl, Snape would totally help him all the time instead of bullying him. Girls totally have it easy.”

    I’m not certain, since my fluency in dipshit leaves something to be desired, but I can see the sort of person who would post a meme like that being unable to distinguish between Baelish’s self interested and creepy actions and actual concern for Sansa;s wellbeing. Also, there is a subset of the fandom who thinks Baelish is all of the unadulterated awesome.

    • mcbender

      August 4, 2014 at 1:07 am

      I’ve been thinking about this comment off and on ever since you posted it and I still really don’t know what to say. I hadn’t even considered a possible MRA-ese interpretation of it, but that could make a lot of sense (I’d forgotten about the Baelish fans too; mercifully I seem not to have encountered them enough for them to have made a lasting impression). I thought it was unlikely because Tumblr tends to lean feminist, even if not always in a particularly nuanced way, but that’s speculation at best and I’m really not very familiar with the dynamics of that community.

      I’m not sure which interpretation of it I find more unsettling, honestly.

  2. Jeyna Grace

    July 22, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Tywin is definitely a more blunt Dumbleore.


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