This election season, the American people are caught in the middle of a battle for two very different visions of our nation. Lorrie Kim, a West Philadelphia writer and confirmed Harry Potter superfan, thinks it's not unlike the battle between Potter and the Death Eaters, led by the creepy Lord Voldemort. (Author J.K. Rowling has likened the villain to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump but hedged: "Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.")
In the face of all that, Kim says, the only hope is if we, the voters, invoke our inner Severus Snape.
Kim, 47, the mother of two kids, 8 and 12, has been thinking a lot lately about Snape, the villain-turned-hero who was Potter's most hated teacher and later his savior. As the newest Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was rolled out to typically frenzied fans last week, Kim was promoting her own new offering, Snape: A Definitive Reading. (The book, $16.99, was published by Story Spring and is available online and at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mount Airy, where she'll lead book discussions on Sept. 3 and 24.) She analyzed the books herself and conferred with fifth-grade students for their insights.
Kim said academic Potterian studies was still a niche field but was growing. (She plans to speak at the Harry Potter Conference, an academic gathering Oct. 20-21 at Chestnut Hill College.) But, she said, her book is for everyone: academics, parents explaining the Rowling books to their kids - or, this year, the voting public, looking for moral guidance from a magical realm.
What's your attachment to the Harry Potter books?
I started reading the series before I had kids, but once I had kids it was something that kept me sane while I was taking care of babies. I was reading it as a story about the things that parents can do for newborns to protect them emotionally for the rest of their lives. It made me really think about what I was doing in parenting. [Now, as my kids get older], one of the things I really love about the series is children who read it will have a very different perspective from adult readers, and their readings will be at least as valid.
Why an entire book about Snape?
He was immediately recognizable to me, and archetypal and yet original. I tried to understand how the author did it, because she creates two contradictory interpretations for every single one of his actions or utterances. And there are arguments within young adult literature and Harry Potter fandom about this character more than any other. A lot of it centers around people who have had the experience of being bullied by an abusive teacher, or who identify with the kind of abuse this character himself suffered as a teen. There's such a range of responses to this character. It's the same words on the page, and yet some people absolutely love him and others loathe him. It hits something primal.
Where do you stand?
There are people who are moved by the heroic aspects of this character, and others are horrified by the evil things he's done. To me, the point of this character is he's both. Even if you've done bad things and truly hurt people, you haven't forfeited your right to do good. It's about perpetrator guilt. Suppose you do something really evil: What are you supposed to do? Where do you go from there? A lot of this year's horrific news has reminded me of things that I thought about while I was writing this book.
You know [Tony Schwartz], who was Trump's ghostwriter? He's been all over the media saying, "I should know. This guy is really corrupt. Don't vote for him." He reminds me of characters in the series who became Death Eaters, stayed silent out of fear, and then got spurred to speak out anyway at a risk to themselves. Signing up with Voldemort and getting a dark mark, the thing is, you can't just hand in your resignation, and if you try to speak out against this regime, you're putting yourself in danger. That's the kind of threat and dilemma we're seeing within the Republican Party right now.
Who is Snape in this scenario? The voter?
The unbelievable pressure that Severus Snape, the character, endures in this series is similar to the state the American voter is being put in this year. We can't just listen to candidates and decide who we're going to vote for: You have to really feel it. I think we all kind of feel some Snape-level stress.