Posted in Essays

Un-mourned and un-sung: all praise to the conquering Anti-Hero

What do Samson, Anakin Skywalker, and Severus Snape all have in common? If you said their surnames all begin with “S” you’re only part right. For those of you who said they are anti-heros give your self a pat on the back.

I know many of you are wondering why I’m devoting a whole essay to the concept of Anti-hero. Some of you no doubt think I’ve lost my mind. Let me clarify a few things. The word “anti-hero” is a false antonym. Most of you will probably think that the anti-hero is the same thing as an antagonist. It’s not!!!

An anti-hero in fictional works will typically take a leading role, performing acts which might be deemed “heroic” (at least in scale and daring), but using methods, manners, or intentions that may not be so – indeed they are often underhanded or deceitful. Usually rebellious and rival to that of a protagonist, but would do things for the greater good even if that is unseen.

Anti-heroes are very important to the plot of a book because the hero is typically shown as being the living embodiment of virtue. And as virtue, the hero is restricted in how low they can go to achieve the greater good. But along comes the anti-hero to do the dirty work so that the greater good can be achieved.

1. Samson

Samson was one of the Israel judges in the Bible. He was the son of Manoah and his wife. An angel appearred to this couple separately and told them that they would have a son who would free the Israelites from the Philistines. The child would be a Nazarite from birth. As a result Samson’s mother was required to drink no alcohol or eat any unclean thing during her pregnancy. In addition they were required to bring Samson up according to Nazarite requirements from birth which meant that his head was never to be shaved.

Once Samson reached a certain age he married a Philistine woman. Now Israelites weren’t supposed to marry non-Jews unless they had be proselytized which this woman hadn’t. In arranging this marriage we have the first demonstration of Samson’s strength by killing a lion with his bare hands. Later once the marriage was arranged he went back by that same spot and saw a honey comb growing in the lions carcass and took it. Nazarites weren’t supposed to touch dead things either.
At the wedding there were 30 groomsmen, for lack of better word, who came. Samson gave them the following riddle with the promise that he would give them 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes if they could answer it:

Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet

.” The men threatened the new bride into getting the answer from her husband. Samson killed 30 men to get the garments; then he left his wife and returned home. In the meanwhile his father in law gave his wife to someone else. Samson got 300 foxes and tied them tail to tail with torches and burned alot of fields. So the Philistines burned the woman and her father. So in revenge Samson slaughter a great many of them. The Philistines attacked some of the Israelites in revenge and Samson allowed the Israelites to turn him bound hand and foot. This is the next demonstration of Samson’s strength; he slew 1,000 men with a jawbone of a donkey.

Soon after this he ends up with Delilah. After being approached by her countrymen, she seduces Samson into telling her the secret of his strenth which is his hair. So he is captured and has his eyes put out and is put on display for 3000 of the Philistine lords. Samson prays to God for strength and collapses the pillars on which the building rested killing all the people including himself who were within. See Judges chapters 13-16.

2. Anakin Skywalker

In Star Wars Luke Skywalker is portrayed as being the hero. In fact there are many that mistakenly believe that Luke was the Chosen One to whom the Jedi prophecy referred. However this is incorrect. George Lucas confirmed that Anakin Skywalker was indeed the Chosen One who would bring balance to the force. To understand this we are going to have to take a hefty duty tour through the Star Wars Universe. But do not fear, you have me Bluestocking as your guide!!!

The Jedi and Sith battled on and off for thousands of years. The climatic battle that destroyed the Sith was the Battle of Ruusaan. The Army of Darkness led by Lord Kaan employed a Sith thought bomb that drained the life energy of any force-sensitive in the area. The only Sith to escape was Darth Bane who set the following rule for the continuation of the Sith order:

Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it.

This new order of Sith went into hiding and perfected the skills of deception and manipulation to gain power for a millenia till the Order resurfaced in Emporer Palpatine. The Jedi meanwhile became stagnant. The Battle of Ruusaan was a battle of light versus darkness. The Jedi were victorious and this victory made them complacent. The Order did not adapt and change with the times rather they replayed that last battle over and over. They schooled each successive generation to be light. Into this was born Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin was a slave on Tatooine to Watto. According to his mother Shmi, Anakin had no father. When found by Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wa Kenobi, Jinn believed that Anakin was the Chosen One because Anakin had the highest amount of midi-chlorians in any Jedi. According to the prophecy the Force itself though midi-chlorians would bring this person into being. Eventually Anakin is trained to be a Jedi by Kenobi. In Attack of the Clones and the preceeding books, we see that Anakin has developed into an arrogant loner who feels that Kenobi is holding him back. He also feels the political process doesn’t work and doesn’t think that a dictatorship would necessarily be bad depending upon the dictator. In this book we see Anakin’s first step into becoming a Sith. After his mother’s death at the hands of Tuskin Raiders, Anakin goes into a blind rage and slaughters the whole tribe including women and children. We know that at the end of Attack of the Clones Anakin marries Padme Amidala. In this three years after this book, Anakin is made a Jedi Knight. However his arrogance doesn not end there. He grows to resent the Jedi Council for not allowing him to become a Master on the Council. Revenge of the Sith starts off with Anakin killing Count Dooku in cold blood. He goes farther down the path of the dark side when he dreams his wife will die in childbirth. He is determined to save her at any cost which is why he ends up becoming a Sith Apprentice. He wipes out the Jedi temple including the children and helps Darth Sidious find and destroy any remaining Jedi and Jedi instruction. Just for hard core Star Wars fans out there. In Revenge of the Sith, Kenobi reveals that the prophecy of the Chosen One does not specify that the Chosen One would be a Jedi! Everyone assumed that the Chosen One would be a Jedi.

How did Anakin’s actions benefit the greater good? According to Yoda’s epiphany during his duel with Sidious, the Force became imbalanced because the Sith had adapted to the times while the Jedi had not. Shining brightly (which had been the Jedi goal) to overcome the Darkness was not sufficient when the Republic’s War had become the Darkness’ tool. Yoda realized to late that the Jedi way of doing things was not the only way and that their rigidity had doomed them. The Force would balance itself. The Old Jedi Order had to end. And end it did! Then came along Luke Skywalker who gave his father the push he needed to destroy the greatest evil. Then the Force returned to equilibrium.

3. Severus Snape

As the Harry Potter series is not complete it may turn out that I am completely wrong about this character and he really is a bad guy. For the present I believe Snape is good. What do we know about Snape. We know his mother was a pureblood wizard and his father was a Muggle. From the Occlumency lessons described in Order of the Phoenix, Snape does not appear to have had a happy childhood. The memory we see shows Snape’s father yelling at his crying mother with Snape as a child cowering in the corner. We also see Snape being made fun of and in Snape’s Worst Memory we see him being completely humiliated in front of the school by Sirius Black and James Potter. We know based upon Snape’s Potions book that he was a brilliant student; he invented several spells. But he was not liked. I’m sure this is what pushed him into becoming a Death Eater. Now we know from Dumbledore that Snape overheard part of the prophecy and told Voldemort. We also know that Snape changed sides before Voldemort’s downfall. So Snape is a double agent. The questions is whether he’s loyal to Dumbledore, Voldemort, or loyal to none.

We are first introduced to Snape in the Sorcerer’s Stone. The first thing we know about him is that he doesn’t like Harry at all because Harry is the spitting image of his father save his eyes which are his mothers. The second thing we notice about Snape is that he doesn’t like any student except those in his own house. (Think about his cruelty to Hermions in the 4th book when he says he notices no difference in her buck teeth that have grown out of control due to being jinxed). But despite Snape’s ill treatment of Harry we discover at the end of the 1st book that Snape has been trying to save Harry’s life in payment for the fact that James Potter saved his life as a child. In books two and three we regularly see Snape try to have Harry kicked off the Quidditch team or expelled. In the Goblet of Fire, Snape is one of the teachers who goes to Harry’s aid when the false Moody is trying to kill him. Later on in the book Snape puts his credibility on the line by showing Fudge proof that Voldemort had returned as Harry had said. In the Order of the Phoenix, Snape attempts to teach Harry Occlumency. Although Snape uses the lessons to torment Harry, Snape actually reveals more about what is going on with Voldemort than any adult has done thus far.

I think that HBP (Half-Blood Prince) shows what a precarious position Snape is really in. The rest of the Death Eaters don’t trust him, and even the members of the Order of the Phoenix have reservations about him. The chapter entitled Spinner’s End shows that Snape is squarely on Voldemort’s side at first blush. But on a closer reading it is interesting to note that none of the information Snape claims to have provided can actually be verified. For instance Snape claims to have provided the information that resulted in the death of Order of the Phoenix member Emmaline Vance. It would be a logical conclusion for Bellatrix to make that Snape probably provided the information, as he is a double agent. But Bellatrix can’t and won’t get Voldemort to verify that. As Dumbledore stated, Voldemort has no confidantes. None of the Death Eaters can actually claim to be his friend. He only shares with his Death Eaters what he wants them to know. Bellatrix Lestrange who was supposedly “honored” by Voldemort for going to Azkaban for him isn’t in the loop. We know that she is in disgrace for her failure to obtain the prophecy for Voldemort so she can’t ask. Snape also claimed that he didn’t kill or harm Harry because it would turn Dumbledore against him and Dumbledore is the only reason he wasn’t sent to Azkaban. Again this seems like a logical question. However Snape is a brilliant wizard and a Potion’s Master to boot. How hard could it be for him to whip up an undetectable poison? In addition putting a thousand underage wizards in a contained space is dangerous; children will experiment. Snape is clever enough to make it look like an accident. It is interesting to note in this chapter that Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow. He knows that he will die if he does not complete Draco’s task; yet he puts his life on the line for Draco. Why? Snape states that he thinks Voldemort intends him to kill Dumbledore in the end. Snape also knows that Voldemort is essentially sending Draco to his death in asking him to kill Dumbledore. Is it possible that Snape knows that murder will destroy Draco’s soul and would rather that he suffer the damage rather than an innocent child?

Finally the scene in which Snape kills Dumbledore isn’t as clear as it looks either. We see this scene from Harry’s perspective. Harry notes the look of hatred on Snape’s face before he kills Dumbledore. Harry interprets this hatred as Snape hating Dumbledore. Later on when Snape is fleeing Hogwarts we wee him give an inhuman scream when Harry taunts him about being a coward. Snape snaps and knocks Harry to the ground. I submit that the look of hatred on Snape’s face is the same self-loathing that Harry feels on being forced to feed Dumbledore the poisonous potion in the Cave. Before Snape kills Dumbledore, Dumbledore begs, “Severus, please.” What was Dumbledore begging of Snape? We know that Dumbledore is not afraid of death. In fact he says, “To the well organized mind, death is but the next adventure.” We also know from the Cave scene that Dumbledore believes that he is less valuable than Harry and would rather injure himself than let Harry injure himself. Dumbledore knows that Draco and Snape will be in mortal danger if he is not killed. Dumbledore further knows that Snape still has some plot to play. Based upon this Dumbledore is entirely the type of man who would sacrifice himself so that others can go on to fulfill their destinies. I believe that Snape like Harry hates that he is being asked to perform a task that while so necessary is also so repugnant.

How will Snape’s actions benefit the good? First (this will make more sense after the essay on the Hero’s journey) the mentor had to die. In the Hero’s Journey, the mentor’s death gives the hero the push that he needs to complete his task. Second, Snape is not finished helping Harry. Even while Harry repeated try to attack Snape for killing Dumbledore, Snape continues to help Harry. In my opinion Snape tells Harry the only way to defeat Voldemort in a duel. “Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter.” Harry must learn to successfully use non-verbal spells and learn Occlumency to shut his mind so that Voldemort can’t possess him. Finally, Snape is now a serious threat to Voldemort. Voldemort has been unable to kill Dumbledore. As I stated in my review of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore was 155 and Voldemort was ~66. Voldemort is less than half Dumbledore’s age and he was still incapable of defeating Dumbledore. I believe that Voldemort was trying to determine where Snape’s loyalties lay. The unfortunate thing about being a double agent is that it’s hard to know who the ultimate master of the agent is. Three outcomes were possible: Snape would refuse to kill Dumbledore and then Voldemort would kill Snape for his disloyalty, Snape would die in the attempt, or Snape would succeed. I personally think Voldemort was hoping for option one or two. Voldemort is obsessed with being the greatest sorcerer in the world, and he will have no rivals. To defeat Dumbledore (who is the only wizard Voldemort has ever feared) means that Snape’s powers may be on par with his own. Oh yes! Severus Snape would do well to watch his back very carefully.

In conclusion, the anti-hero often has the nerve, skill, and bravery that the hero possesses. No they don’t often have the virtue. But when the tie comes to roll up the sleeves and literally get own and dirty, anti-heroes are your man. So next time you run across one in a book remember the unsung hero!!

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