Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

In Memory of Alan Rickman & the Series that Changed My Life

I was in second grade when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in theaters around Christmas, but I didn’t know yet that the series—the films, the books, the characters—would change my life forever. I sat, transfixed, in the dark theatre, surrounded by my mom and my two best friends. From the moment the opening music started to play, I was hooked.

For the remainder of the film, I wasn’t just a casual moviegoer enjoying what would soon become a cultural phenonemon in our generation. I was right there beside Harry, Hermione and Ron. When Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) was introduced, he instilled a fear into my ten-year-old heart as if I, too, were a Hogwarts first-year student. The Golden Trio were convinced that Snape was supporting Voldemort, and so was I. When they learned the truth about Professor Quirrell, I literally gasped in surprise and began to feel guilty for assuming Snape was “the bad guy.” 

Alan Rickman’s performance as Snape was a cornerstone for my love of the Harry Potter film series. From the get-go, he played such a complicated, nuanced character with an air of mystery that kept me guessing. By the time the second film was released, I had already the remainder of the book series and I was eagerly awaiting the publication of the next book.

I knew what to expect from Snape from then on, but Rickman’s performance still drew me in. In the last two films, when Snape’s backstory involving Lily is revealed, it was Rickman’s acting that made me cry. As a character, I can admit to very mixed feelings about Snape. He’s undoubtedly a compelling character. He’s not easy to understand, and his motivations and actions aren’t always admirable. But I definitely don’t always like him, especially when I consider that unrequited love for Lily doesn’t excuse his more deplorable decisions. When I cried in that theater as Snape passed away, I wasn’t crying entirely for the character—I was crying for Rickman. As an actor, he’d taken up hold in my heart, after six films of getting to know him, love him, loathe him and fear him. 

It’s difficult for some people to understand how someone could love an actor they’ve never met, or a fictional character that doesn’t even exist. That’s what the Harry Potter series has been in my life. I know I’m not alone, and the existence of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal proves that. As a whole, the series means so much to me that I couldn’t even imagine marrying someone who didn’t share my love of Harry Potter, someone who couldn’t curl up with me for a marathon of the movies, someone who wouldn’t be just as thrilled at the idea of styling our wedding invitations like they were Hogwarts acceptance letters. 

I was in second grade when I saw the first film. I’m not among the many people who were inspired to read just because of Harry Potter. I was an avid reader, like my mom, and she and I would take turns reading chapters out of the Harry Potter books aloud to one another. She cackled at the corny jokes, like Arthur Weasley’s Shrinking Door-Keys in The Chamber of Secrets, and we often fell asleep in the living room after long hours of reading. For each new film released, she was right beside me in the theater, squeezing my hand in delight as we downed Pepsi and Crunch bars. For Christmas after the first film came out, I got a Hermione doll, and Emma Watson became my first celebrity crush. I slept in the closet under our staircase for weeks on end with a pair of rounded reading glasses I bought from the pharmacy. 

When my mom passed away in 2004, Harry Potter became our legacy. I carried it with me as if it were a part of her that I could not be separated from. The series meant so much more to me—after all, Harry’s loss of his parents is a major theme in both the books and the films. When I re-watched the scene with the Mirror of Erised for the first time after her death, it felt like someone had picked up the series like a snow globe and shaken it, until what was once familiar was blanketed in snow. It was the same scene, but I watched it with new eyes, with shaking hands and blurred vision. I finally understood what it meant.

The series taught me how to understand and accept loss as a part of life. Harry’s parents aren’t the only characters we lose throughout the series, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried over Fred Weasley’s death. We’re able to see how other characters loved and lost Lily and James as well, including Snape and his complicated history with the pair. And then, nearing the end of the series, we lose Snape, in one of the most emotionally nuanced character deaths, because we aren’t given a character who is wholly good or wholly evil. At the end of the series, we understand that none of the characters are one or the other, and we mourn them each for who they were, not who Harry wanted them to be when he was a child.

Alan Rickman wasn’t just an actor. I watch Love Actually every year during the holiday season, and it’s yet another film where he portrays a very complicated character. Because he’s portrayed by the incomparable Rickman, I can’t help but like him, even as I scream at him for his treatment of his wife. That was Alan Rickman. He was a larger persona than the roles that he played, in a way that captivated me beyond his character. 

I watch most of the Harry Potter series every year during the holidays, too, and every time, the snow falling over Hogwarts makes my heart ache. This is the series that inspired me to become a writer, knowing that author J.K. Rowling similarly lost her mom and struggled before she was successful. This is the series that kept me going after my mom passed, when I would reread the books in bed late at night if I couldn’t sleep, sometimes pulling the covers over my head as if I were Harry practicing spells in secret from the Dursleys. 

This series was a small dose of magic for me, and Alan Rickman was a huge part of that. I feel his loss and think of my mom, who found him creepy and fascinating in the early movies. I feel his loss and think of how she never got to finish the series, because neither the books nor the films had been released by the time of her passing. I feel his loss, and I imagine the conversations my mom and I could have had: was Albus Severus a fitting name for Harry’s son? Did we like the inclusion of the epilogue? What does it mean to love someone who doesn’t feel the same way?

I feel his loss, and I think of ten-year-old me, sitting in the theater before the music began, not even knowing how much my life was about to change. I feel his loss, because the Harry Potter series may have ended, but it’s never really over. It’s in every YouTube compilation made to show us how heartbreaking Snape’s journey of losing Lily is. It’s in every fanfiction written about George coping after Fred’s death. It’s in every one of us who still believes in magic, even after all this time.

This is for you, Alan Rickman. Always. 

Alaina Leary is an award-winning editor and journalist. She is currently the communications manager of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and the senior editor of Equally Wed Magazine. Her work has been published in New York Times, Washington Post, Healthline, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Boston Globe Magazine, and more. In 2017, she was awarded a Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her dedication to amplifying marginalized voices and advocating for an equitable publishing and media industry. Alaina lives in Boston with her wife and their two cats.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️