I’ve written before about the ways in which Kurt Hummel from Glee and Severus Snape from the Harry Potter books may be similar, with the critical difference being age and circumstance. We hope that Snape is the guy Kurt won’t have to turn into, because Kurt has, unlike the professor, family support and requited love.
But after an episode in which Kurt has once again has served as William McKinley High School’s chief functionary around death, I can’t help but want to bring up one of my favorite pieces of pop-culture analysis ever, Clunycat’s “Severus Snape and the Anubis Archetype: Smoke and Mirrors.”
It essentially offers us a checklist of items that allow us to see that Kurt also largely fits this Anubis archetype, although he is not so much yet a master of the underworld as Snape is, but a magician with the power (and need) to visit that underworld, and, eventually, leave it not entirely behind.
Traits that Clunycat points out as part of the Anubis archetype that would also apply to Kurt in her well-sourced piece include: intense introversion, being clearly marked out as other, a significant childhood incident, crying easily, and a collection of other traits that the paper notes could be viewed as commonly present amongst those on the autism spectrum.
This last detail I note specifically because there is a significant degree of speculation in Glee fandom that Kurt may be non-neurotypical in this or some other way because of his avoidance of touch, obsession around texture, tendency to fake eye-contact, use of finger spelling, habit of rocking, and several background interactions with Brittany that indicate they may each have a particularly clear sense of how the other processes the world.
Other traits that Kurt possesses that serve the Anubis archetype include his specific functions around death. Kurt, marked by his mother’s death, plans funerals from that of a pet bird (whose death leads to his own relationship blossoming) to that of Sue’s sister Jean. Both situations are striking because of how they hark back to the living. There is the visceral awakening sexuality of the kiss Kurt and Blaine share over Pavarotti’s casket; and there is also that chocolate fountain as a centerpiece at Jean’s funeral.
It’s food for the living that Kurt seems to bring in times of death, and that too is of the Anubis archetype, who serves as a messenger between worlds and a healer; in fact, Clunycat notes that the Anubis archetype heals by “charms and songs,” although that is a particular reference to Odin, another god of death referenced in the piece.
Kurt is also our public gateway between genders, sexualities and physical locations in the world of Glee. He is many types of messenger and he understands chaos, patterns, and intuition. Really, I can’t urge you to read Clunycat’s piece enough, because I’m leaving out literally dozens of connections I can draw between Kurt’s role and nature in the Glee narrative and the themes of this Snape-related article.
But, of course, to talk about Kurt’s role regarding death, we must talk about Kurt in relation to Dave Karofsky in episode 3.14. It’s a difficult episode, and I know there is a great deal of discussion around many aspects of it, including the idea of victim-blaming and whether it was appropriate or not to show Kurt having guilt regarding Dave’s actions and his own non-responsiveness to Dave’s calls, because Dave is not now, nor has he ever been, Kurt’s responsibility.
Without addressing at too much length what I think was a realistic response on Kurt’s part, even if understandably painful, triggering and murky for some viewers, I do want to talk about how this related to Kurt’s role in Glee as magician, as messenger, and as the boy who secretly rules a kingdom in hell and yet will also ultimately escape that place.
Kurt been kind and generous and sort of unable to let go of the Dave situation as he’s tried to make it into a pattern of events that makes sense and isn’t about his own personal worth, and so it makes sense that when Dave tries to kill himself, Kurt will be present for him, not only out of kindness, but also out of a desire to understand.
Kurt is also consistently drawn to death-related situations in Glee and volunteers his way into them when he doesn’t have to: Pavarotti didn’t need a bedazzled casket or funeral, and Jean was someone he essentially didn’t know, but when death shows up, so does Kurt. Sometimes he’s the person who helps us relate to the death that has transpired, and sometimes he’s the person who holds the door as Death exits the room having taken less than he came for (see: Burt’s heart attack; Dave’s survival; even arguably Blaine’s eye).
That Kurt doesn’t visit Dave until 72 hours have passed should be because of the psychiatric hold, but it’s Glee and we do know Dave has had earlier, prior visitors, at least based on what the God Squad tells us it plans to do and all the flowers in the room. So Kurt shows up appropriately late, after a symbolic three-day interval, to usher Dave back into the world of the living through a guided vision of the future. In the presence of death, Kurt once again provides sustenance to the living.
Kurt holds the door between life and death often in Glee, and it’s a door that swings both ways. At least it is for this boy who likes to open the drawers of his dead mother’s dresser to remember her perfume and who covers himself in oils and unguents as if they are the embalming fluids of Anubis’s trade to stave off age when he is still seemingly a child himself.
As Kurt continues to be a master around Death (because he is not a master of death; death can have no master and Kurt is still learning his powers besides), I think he gets an increasingly clear sense of control over Hell (life at William McKinley High School and in Lima). Look at how Kurt and Blaine sometimes express affection in public now; look at how his outfits have begun to reveal flesh; look at how much less rigid physically he is — this is a boy who is coming to life through the act of mediating around death. And with that control over his hell comes a knowledge for Kurt that he does have power in him, that he can get out, and abandon these realms that will also, always, be his home.
The real question for me is the one that Glee will probably never answer, unless its final episode of its final season is drawn like that of Six Feet Under: Who does Kurt grow up to be?
And I don’t mean to ask whether he becomes a fashion designer or a performer (both are roles that emphasize a chameleon-like nature, another essential part of the Anubis archetype) or whether he and Blaine stay together (I believe they do for narrative structure reasons as much as anything else, but that’s another post for another day).
What I mean to ask is this: How does a boy whose childhood has been defined by matters of sex(uality) and death, who has been a guardian of some terribly feared gates, learn to live in the world? And I think part of the beautiful answer, and part of why many of us love Kurt, is that he doesn’t, but that he’ll do it anyway.