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Thoughts about 'The Prisoner of Azkaban'

I have now rewatched all three of the Harry Potter films. I can highly recommend the DVDs, especially for the numerous cut scenes included on each. Although you do generally have to leap through rather tedious hoops in order to get to see them, especially on the DVD of the first film where they are the reward you get for solving various puzzles. Great for hyperactive kiddies: merely irritating for adult film aficionados.

I have also begun reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is the first book in the series that I have not yet read. This, of course, means that I am reading it having already seen the film, so I have a couple of questions in mind which arose from seeing the film, and which I am hoping the book will either answer or, at least, illuminate.

Cuts follow for spoilers and rather excessive length:

Question one: Sirius Black and Azkaban.

Question one is fairly simple: it is, how the hell did Sirius Black escape from Azkaban, anyway? We're told a couple of times in the film that it's incredibly secure, and that no one's ever escaped from it before, and yet (unless I missed it) we never seem to be told how Sirius Black nonetheless managed to do it. I'm pretty confident this will be answered in the book: it's the kind of fairly obvious detail that must surely have been addressed by JKR, but then cut out of the film for the sake of time.

Question two: Alan Rickman, J.K. Rowling and Snape's legilimency.

Question two is a bit more complex, and I don't expect the book to answer it as such: I'm just hoping it will shed a little light on it.

To explain myself, although I have not read books 4 or 5 (or, as yet, the latter two-thirds of 3), I have read enough about them on various fan-sites to know a fair amount about the revelations contained therein. I have paid particular attention to details about Snape, since he's blatantly the coolest character in the books, so I do know all about things like his legilimency, his role as a Death Eater / spy, and his past history with the Marauders (as revealed through e.g. his 'worst memory' in the Pensieve).

Naturally, knowing all this casts a rather different light on Snape's behaviour in the first three films, as indeed in the first three books. I am also aware that J.K. Rowling took Alan Rickman aside when he was first cast for the role, and told him various things about the character of Snape which were not yet generally known, but which he needed to know in order to play the character appropriately. Some of those things are probably still top secret, but one of them will of course have been that Snape is able to read minds. So far as I can make out, this is revealed in Order of the Phoenix (published summer 2003) so was not yet known to the general public on the release of either of the first two films (winter 2001 and 2002), but would already have been known to Alan Rickman.

Once you know that Snape is a legilimens, its possible to identify plenty of scenes in the books where he is using this ability, as amply demonstrated here. And once you realise that Alan Rickman must have known all along that Snape is a legilimens, it's also pretty obvious that he played this as part of the character from the beginning.

The first book, for example, hints that Snape may be using (or trying to use) legilimency when confronting Harry, Ron and Hermione about how they came to be in a girls' bathroom with a mountain troll, rather than at the Halloween feast. And sure enough, in the film too, Alan Rickman here makes Snape give all three (and particularly Hermione as she lies to protect Harry and Ron) some pretty probing looks as he checks out their story. Nothing explicit comes of this, but in either the film or the book, this can be explained by saying that if Snape has realised through legilimency that Hermione is lying, then, although he may be surprised at such behaviour, ultimately he doesn't really care either way whether she takes the rap for the boys or not, since it's trouble for them all and points from Gryffindor anyway.

In the second book, too, there are a number of scenes where Snape's ability to mind-read is suggested. In this case, they aren't matched precisely in the film, but the film does provide its own apparent instance of Snape using legilimency, when Mrs. Norris has just been found, petrified, in the corridor. Harry, Ron and Hermione are once again having to lie to explain why they were in that corridor at all, without revealing that Harry is hearing weird voices, and Alan Rickman’s Snape stares penetratingly at them as they do so. Again, here, if Snape is supposed to be reading the truth from them that they are perfectly innocent of petrifying Mrs. Norris, he chooses to ignore it and to carry on insinuating that things look very suspicious, because although he knows this isn’t true, it suits him better than the truth, since it means our Golden Trio are in trouble again. It is only Dumbledore, apparently also using legilimency himself (in the film and in the book) to determine that the trio are innocent, and checking Snape with the words “Innocent until proven guilty, Severus,” that saves them from punishment.

Finally, in the third film, comes the scene I’m hoping will be further illuminated by the book: the scene in the Shrieking Shack. Here, Snape runs in in the middle of the (apparent) confrontation between Sirius Black and Remus Lupin on one side, and the Golden Trio on the other, and threatens Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) with his wand. At this point in the film, the audience do not yet know that Sirius had actually been wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban, and that it was in fact Peter Pettigrew who betrayed Harry Potter’s parents to Voldemort; and we have also not yet found out that Ron’s rat is actually Pettigrew. My understanding is that this is the case at this point in the book, as well, although I have not yet read it in enough detail to be quite sure about that.

Certainly, even if someone watching the film does know that Sirius is innocent, and that Pettigrew is both guilty and alive in the form of Scabbers, there is no reason to assume at this point that Snape knows any of this (although he probably did know that Pettigrew was capable of transforming into a rat due to his interactions with the Marauders at school). When he bursts in, then, he would appear at first to be performing, to the best of his knowledge, the same role he’s been playing for Harry in the previous two films / books: saving his life, albeit this time with the extra pleasure of getting his revenge on Sirius Black in the process (“Vengeance is sweet”, he hisses, as he first bursts in).

Later on, we all discover that Snape was misguided: Sirius was innocent, and Pettigrew was the one who needed to be handed over to the Dementors. But wait... did Snape continue to labour under an illusion throughout that scene? My reading of Alan Rickman’s performance there, based on the previous portrayals of Snape’s legilimency which he has incorporated into the role, suggests that he actually doesn’t. Yes: there is another probing glance, another narrowing of eyes, and it comes at the point when Gary Oldman is speaking the words which I have bolded and italicised in the following exchange:

SNAPE (to Lupin): ‘I told Dumbledore you’d been helping an old friend into the castle, and now here’s the proof’
SIRIUS BLACK: ‘Brilliant, Snape. Once again you've put your keen and penetrating mind to the task and, as usual, come to the wrong conclusion. [approaches Snape] Now if you'll excuse us, Remus and I have some unfinished business to attend to.’

Could it be that Alan Rickman is conveying to us here that Snape is reading Sirius Black’s mind as Black speaks to him, and that, as he does so, he can see perfectly well that Black is innocent and that Peter Pettigrew is the real traitor?

If so, this of course then casts a whole new light on the rest of the scene, since it would mean that, once again, Rickman’s Snape chooses to ignore the truth which he has uncovered through his legilimency, because the apparent, and widely-believed, scenario in which Sirius Black is guilty actually suits his purposes better. In other words, he is quite prepared to let Pettigrew go free, knowing that he, rather than Sirius, is really guilty, so long as he achieves his personal goal of having Black thrown back into Azkaban.

And this is what I want to discover from the book. Is this something which Alan Rickman has inserted into the film of his own accord (perhaps following discussions with the director, or even JKR herself), or is it something which can be supported by a reading of the original book? I know JKR won’t make it explicit that Snape is using legilimency in Prisoner of Azkaban, since Harry doesn’t seem (as far as I understand) to find out about this until book 5, and we only ever know what he knows. But is it hinted at? And if so, what can we make of it, especially as regards the pressing question of where Snape’s true loyalties lie? After all, Pettigrew, although dormant as a rat for 12 years, had been a servant of Voldemort’s. Could Snape, in ignoring Sirius’ innocence, actually have been trying to protect Pettigrew, as well as nobble Black? Maybe, but I think I prefer the idea that he is simply motivated by a personal grudge: it seems so much more like Snape as I understand him.

Maybe all of this is simply rather too much to read into one narrowing of Alan Rickman’s eyes? More reading is clearly required on my part, but I may well return to this question once I have done it.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC)
I'm answering them in notepad, so sorry if someone gets there first.

The Dementors feed on positive thoughts. Sirius had two advantages: a) the fact that he's innocent isn't a positive thought, and they couldn't take it, so he retained his sanity. b) he is an animagus, and Dementors are less sensitive to dog emotions, so he could spend time as a dog when being human was too much. He also could slip past them in dog form, both at Azkaban and at Hogwarts.

At this point in the book, we know Black's innocent, but not that Scabbers is Pettigrew, IIRC.
I never looked at it in a legilimens way, but Sanpe just doesn't care whether Sirius is guilty or not: he hates him that much ("Snape's worse memory" is NOTHING compared to what Sirius did to Snape the next year, which we find out in Prisoner). I certainly don't think there's anything between Snape and Pettigrew...

Thanks for bringing this up.I'm going to have to read all the books again now from a legilimens PoV.

BUT... legilimens is quite a complex and forceful spell. It requires an incantation, and from Harry's experience in Order, it's pretty violent.
Jan. 16th, 2005 12:30 pm (UTC)
On Sirius, the Dementors and his ability to change into a dog, thanks. That definitely isn't explained in the film, but I'm glad to hear it's covered in the book.

"Snape's worse memory" is NOTHING compared to what Sirius did to Snape the next year, which we find out in Prisoner

On this, yes. I do know about the whole werewolf trick thingy, and James Potter saving Snape's life and so on. This is part of why I'm quite prepared to believe that Snape is happy to persist in trying to get Sirius put back into Azkaban, even if he does actually know perfectly well that Sirius is innocent.

I certainly don't think there's anything between Snape and Pettigrew...

No, you're right, it doesn't seem that likely. But I do know that I need to find out more about Snape's real loyalties and motivations to understand the full meaning of his actions in this scene: always assuming that I am right about him detecting Sirius' innocence, and it isn't simply that he is misguided.

BUT... legilimens is quite a complex and forceful spell. It requires an incantation, and from Harry's experience in Order, it's pretty violent.

Yup, I've gathered this too, mainly from reading this. Yet there are quite a few scenes in the books where Snape does nonetheless seem to be able to get at a fuller version of the truth than might be expected if he wasn't using legilimency, despite the fact that he doesn't seem to speak any incantation. I'm wondering if a fairly basic version of legilimency can be practised by Snape without any incantation: enough to detect basic truths and lies, anyway. There are various instances on the page I linked to above which support this, such as:

"Snape's eyes were boring into Harry's. It was exactly like trying to stare down a hippogriff. Harry tried not to blink... 'Malfoy is not having hallucinations...if your head was in Hogsmeade, so was the rest of you.'" (PA14)
Jan. 16th, 2005 01:41 pm (UTC)
It appears notification emails aren't quite up to speed yet.

There non-incantation form of legilimens is probably a less-effective way. He can get some ideas, but not pictures. He never found out about the Polyjuice Potion is book 2, for instance, and had to threaten Harry with veritaserum.
Jan. 16th, 2005 02:01 pm (UTC)
He can get some ideas, but not pictures.

That's about what I was suspecting. Enough to detect Sirius' innocence, do you think?
Jan. 16th, 2005 02:04 pm (UTC)
I hope not. I hope he's just petty enough to convince himself his enemy is guilty without trying to find out the truth.
I don't want Snape to be the man who knows Sirius is innocent and wants him Kissed anyway. That's just too evil for me.
Jan. 16th, 2005 02:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I know what you mean: it's pretty heavy stuff if he does know. I'm torn about whether I like the idea that he is that fundamentally unpleasant, or whether it goes too far to be consistent with his other actions.
Jan. 16th, 2005 12:09 pm (UTC)
To answer the first question (and this is revealed in the book, I *think* so apologies if it's spoiling anything for you!): Sirius knew all along that he was innocent of *all* the crimes for which he had been imprisoned and this gave him a particular strength, a (positive?) strength which meant he could resist the Dementors more than anyone else. Given that the Dementors couldn't continually suck the life out of him, it meant that he was also free to transform into a dog at will and the Dementors were unable to sense this, as far as I'm aware they can't detect animals as easily as they can prisoners. So it was in this form that he was able to sneak out past the guards. At least, I think that's correct!

To answer the questions about Snape: the first point you make is very interesting, but I think that Snape may have realised that Hermione was only lying to save her friends, and he said nothing because it added to his already-existing suspicions about Quirrell. Someone remarked in the first film that after the incident with the troll, Snape never trusted Quirrell again. Perhaps he never trusted Quirrell again solely through reading Hermione's mind and realising that Quirrell let the troll in. Just my thoughts on that one anyway.

In the second book, there's 2 suggestions. The first is that Snape is a bastard and enjoys making Harry suffer (which is true, to an extent, he projects what James did onto Harry and so dislikes him). But the second is that he knows exactly what is going on, but given that the entire school pretty much believes that Harry is the heir and that he's the one petrifying students then Snape may realise that nobody else would believe him (or that if he does say anything, it could cause more trouble - after all, they don't know or what who the real culprit is yet) and he wants further evidence before he says anything.

As for the third point...I can't remember what happens in the book, it's been a while since I read it! But I do think Snape could either be exacting revenge for what Sirius did to him when they were kids, or he could just be deceived. I'm not sure if he was able to read minds whenever Sirius was first sent to Azkaban, hence he could be under the belief that Sirius was actually guilty, and so didn't know any better. But for some reason I'm inclined to go with the 'Snape is a bastard' theory :P

Anyway just my thoughts as I say, no idea whether any of this throws any light on the really interesting points you raise.
Jan. 16th, 2005 12:48 pm (UTC)
To answer the first question (and this is revealed in the book, I *think* so apologies if it's spoiling anything for you!)

Don't worry: I'm actually not at all bothered by spoilers, hence me being quite happy to read loads of web-sites about what happens in books 4 and 5. Your explanation of how Sirius survived Azkaban, and managed to escape, chimes well with innerbrat's explanation, above, so I presume that means you're both right!

In book one, I would say that Snape probably already distrusts Quirrell before the incident with the mountain troll, since otherwise, why would he think to run straight to the place where the Stone is being guarded, rather than to the dungeons like everyone else? I think he does this because he suspects that Quirrell will appear there as soon as his diversion has got rid of everyone else. I also don't see how Snape could read from Hermione's mind that Quirrell had let the troll into the castle, since she doesn't know this herself, does she?

In the second book... Snape may realise that nobody else would believe him...

Yes, that's a good point too.

I'm not sure if he was able to read minds whenever Sirius was first sent to Azkaban, hence he could be under the belief that Sirius was actually guilty, and so didn't know any better.

I don't mean that think Snape could have known that Sirius was actually innocent before Sirius went to Azkaban, or before the Shrieking Shack scene. My contention is that, at least as Alan Rickman plays the role, he may be finding out about it right in the middle of the Shrieking Shack scene, but choosing to continue as though he didn't know it all the same, because of his own desire for vengeance on Black. I remain to discover whether this is suggested in the book, too, or not.
Jan. 16th, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
I also don't see how Snape could read from Hermione's mind that Quirrell had let the troll into the castle, since she doesn't know this herself, does she?

Sorry, to clarify that as it wasn't clear: I meant that McGonagall is completely under the belief that Hermione did let the troll in, because it did appear that way - after all, why would she lie about something like that? So by reading her mind, perhaps Snape is able to see that it wasn't her, and perhaps it just adds fuel to his belief that Quirrell is up to no good. He looks at Quirrell just after her 'confession' and Quirrell is looking very uncomfortable.

My contention is that, at least as Alan Rickman plays the role, he may be finding out about it right in the middle of the Shrieking Shack scene, but choosing to continue as though he didn't know it all the same, because of his own desire for vengeance on Black.

sorry - I meant that myself. I really am not being very clear this afternoon :P No, I meant that perhaps he was *originally* under the belief that Sirius was guilty of everything and then is blinded by rage at finding the person who tormented him (and nearly got him killed) so he refuses to believe that Sirius is actually innocent; or he just refuses to accept it anyway in favour of finally getting his revenge.
Jan. 16th, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, right, on both! Yes, I think we are on the same page after all about both of these! ;)
Jan. 16th, 2005 03:42 pm (UTC)
I think it was a bit too early for me when I typed that first comment! I hardly got any sleep cos I was waiting in the vain hope that LJ would get up and running earlier than it actually did...I don't make much sense when I'm shattered :D
Jan. 16th, 2005 12:48 pm (UTC)

Snape looked back at him for a moment and then said contemptuously, 'Surely even you could have worked that out by now, Potter? The Dark Lord is highly skilled at Legilimency --'

'What's that? Sir?'

'It is the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person's mind --'

'He can read minds?' said Harry quickly, his worst fears confirmed.

'You have no subtlety, Potter,' said Snape, his dark eyes glittering. 'You do not understand fine distinctions. It is one of the shortcomings that makes you such a lamentable potion-maker.'

Snape paused for a moment, apparently to savour the pleasure of insulting Harry, before continuing.

'Only Muggles talk of "mind-reading". The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing, Potter -- or at least, most minds are.' He smirked. 'It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain conditions, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly. The Dark Lord, for instance, almost always knows when somebody is lying to him. Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so can utter falsehoods in his presence without detection.'

Then Snape tries to teach Harry Occlumency. The Legilimens spell is a violent attack, like an overpowering curse, and Harry is at first staggered then has to summon up great power to resist it.

So if even the Dark Lord can only do some truth-checking undetected, that is without it seemingly like an attack, then Snape certainly can't ascertain much by subtle means.
Jan. 16th, 2005 01:12 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I know I still have more to read about this, but from the position I'm in, I'm still not convinced Snape can't do some basic probing without the incantation. I see the incantation as opening up a subject's mind entirely to unfettered exploration (unless the subject knows Occlumency), but lower-level testing of truths and lies as possible to those who have a basic natural ability in legilimency (see my response to innerbrat, above, for an example).

Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort can definitely do this, after all, and we also know that Snape is skilled enough at Occlumency to use it without Voldemort knowing he is (otherwise, how could he survive as a spy?). So it doesn't seem too much of a leap to me to at least suspect that Snape can similarly apply at least a degree of legilimency undetected, too.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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