You Will Never Guess Who Was the Inspiration Behind Harry Potter’s Snape
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is full of references to the real world, and Severus Snape is not entirely fictional either
The grumpy Potions Master is one of the most controversial characters in the wizarding world. Snape is an extremely layered individual, and part of that is due to the real-life inspiration behind him.
When Rowling was creating Harry’s most hateful (hated?) Hogwarts professor, she based him on her own high school Chemistry teacher, the late John Nettleship. He was reportedly in his thirties at the time he taught Rowling (just like Snape in the books), and he was described by his students as “whip-thin,” “ghostly white,” and with long, rather greasy black hair, which he wore in the same way as Snape would later do.
When Nettleship found out that Rowling had based Snape on him, he was mortified at first. The teacher admitted that he was pretty strict with his students, but he didn’t think that he was nearly as bad as his book counterpart.
However, John later came to appreciate his connection to the Harry Potter character. In his last interview before his death in 2011 (with WalesOnline), Rowling’s teacher reflected on his time teaching the famous author and his feelings about the famous character.
His students remembered him as “demanding and exacting,” which Nettleship acknowledged, saying that he was “rather like Professor Snape” and “wouldn’t suffer fools gladly.” He mentioned that he had no idea whether Rowling actually feared him, but stated that she was “a somewhat timorous child” who hated Chemistry, the subject he had taught.
John also remarked that the first Harry Potter book “gripped” him, yet he failed to spot a resemblance with any character, including Snape. It wasn’t until the third book was published that the teacher began to suspect something.
Funnily enough, Nettleship’s wife, Shirley, immediately got the reference, but decided to keep the information from her husband, knowing that he “wouldn’t like it.”
Anyway, John Nettleship eventually learned to take joy in his association with Professor Snape once he discovered that Alan Rickman, who portrayed the character in the films, was quite popular with “ladies of a certain age.” That’s one way of looking at it!