We’re back in the familiar territory of Harry Potter fan theories. Unlike previous occasions, however, we’re only covering one theory today. But I’m sure Dave has managed to balance this lack of theories with some good old weapons grade madness.
Dave: Ok, so you know when Harry first meet Snape?
Yes. It’s during his first potions lesson.
Dave: Exactly. During their first meeting, Snape suddenly throws a question at Harry, out of the blue.
What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?
Dave: And that question is actually a secret message!
Really now? And what, may I ask, might that message be?
Dave: Well, in victorian flower language, Asphodel means “My regrets follow you to the grave”, and wormwood means “bitter sorrow”. This translates to “I bitterly regret Lily’s death”.
Right, I see. So, to start with, how does those two sentences translate to that? It seems like a pretty big leap to make.
Dave: Oh, but it isn’t, because Asphodel is actually a type of lily! It all ties together!
No, it isn’t.
Asphodel isn’t a type of lily. It was believed to be, for a long time. However, it was recently discovered not to be a type of lily at all.
Dave: Well, that doesn’t count! The book takes place in 1991! Snape wouldn’t know that the definition would change after that!
But the book was written in 1997. And even then, when I say it changed recently, I mean relatively speaking. In fact, it changed in 1985, and it was discovered that not only do they not share the same family, they only share a CLADE! In other words, an asphodel is a lily in the same way a HAWK IS A TYPE OF COBRA!
Dave: Ok, but this is the wizarding world! They don’t follow the muggle system of botany, you fool!
Of course they do! Where the hell do you think the word asphodel comes from?! It comes from Asphodelus! As in, the genus for Asphodels! Clearly they do follow our terminology, otherwise they wouldn’t fucking call it an asphodel!
Dave: Oh, so he just picked a pair of flowers who’s hidden meanings just so happened to fit him? That’s a pretty big coincidence, isn’t it?
Not really. Have you actually LOOKED at victorian flower language? That language was created in a time period when flirting and open display of emotions was considered vulgar. The language was there so people could show other people how they felt, without letters or words. There is, for example, no combination of flowers in that language for “Can you pick up some milk on the way home” or “We’ve been invited for tea at the neighbours tomorrow”.
The reason for that is that those are not the messages the language was designed to convey!
In fact, here’s a little game. Here are some common flowers and their meanings according to victiorian floriography.
Adonis: Sorrowful Remembrance Amethyst: Admiration Forget-me-not: True Love Lily: Beauty, Love, Elegance Lupine: Imagination Orchid: Beauty Rose: Beauty, Love Tulip: Declaration of Love/Hopeless Love
Obviously, this is far from a complete list of flowers, but they illustrate my point neatly. These are the kinds of meanings the language is meant to convey! All of them can easily be interpeted as fitting with Snapes character. Other meanings include beutiful eyes, sorrow, devotion, passion, ardour, death.
It’s called Cognitive Bias. You are actively looking for a connection between the very general meaning of the flowers, and Snape’s character. It doesn’t matter what kind of flowers Snape named. The nature of the language means that a connection, no matter how vague, is very likely to be found, simply because you are TRYING TO FIND ONE!
But of course, there are other problems… To start with, Snape just came up with this off the top of his head? Maybe this is just me, but Snape doesn’t seem like the kind of person that keeps an encyclopedic knowledge of floriography. It’d be a bit like finding out that in his spare time, Lucius Malfoy trims Bonsai Trees. I’m not saying he couldn’t, just that it seems a bit unlikely, considering his character.
Not to mention that it’s really lucky that the two plants Snape mentions just HAPPENS to be the ingredients to a super powerful sleeping potion. We’ll just ignore that he asks TWO MORE questions shortly afterwards
(Could be worse, I suppose. It could have been a love potion…)
Furthermore, even if he planned this beforehand, why would Snape send that message at all?
Dave: It’s a tribute to Lily! He’s telling Harry that he is sorry that Lily is dead.
Aaw, that’s sweert. But you know what might be a better tribute? Not treating her only child like crap! And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop Snape from picking on Harry every chance he gets. Not to mention, the message is wasted anyway, since Harry never picks up on it.
But of course, the clincher to me is that the message makes no fucking sense!
You’ve got Asphodel for “My regrets follow you to the grave”. Isn’t that enough of a message, if he wants to convey regret? The bitter sorrow seems a bit reduntant. But then…. what regret is he talking about? He regrets Lily’s death? Why does he regret something HE HAD NO HAND IN!? He didn’t get Lily killed! He may have driven her away, but that’s not what the supposed message refers to, is it?
And then there’s the wormwood. Remind me, Dave, what does wormwood mean, again?
Dave: Bitter sorrow.
That idea is taken from a page on Wikipedia, listing different flowers and their meanings in SEVERAL DIFFERENT CULTURES and often times, these meanings can overlap or outright contradict each other. In victorian flower language, wormwood means absence, not sorrow. Absence and Sorrow are NOT THE SAME THING!
So let’s recap, shall we? The motivation makes no sense, the message makes no sense, the medium makes no sense in regards to the character and one of the supposed meanings is incorrect.
Really, do you want to know why Snape asked Harry that question?
Because Harry is a first year student, who clearly doesn’t know the answer and who (as is repeatedly mentioned throughout the books) happens to look EXACTLY LIKE THE GUY WHO BULLIED SNAPE IN SCHOOL! Hell, later that VERY SAME LESSON, he punishes Harry for Neville messing up a potion!
He is asking those questions because he KNOWS Harry can’t answer! Remember, Snape risked his life, becoming a spy for Dumbledore, specifically to save Lily’s life. And despite this, she still died. Don’t you think it’s likely he has SOME resentment towards Harry, the whole REASON Voldemort killed Lily?
But sure, he’d send a vague, coded messages of sympathy to Harry before tormenting him. It makes perfect sense!
Provided, of course, that you know fuck all about the story or the characters the theory concerns…