Tuesday, July 12

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 16 comments
As I look back over the Harry Potter series as a whole, I see some interesting patterns. Today I'd like to consider Rowling's villains and what seems to make them tick.

The Dursleys

The Dursleys' bullying and abuse of Harry seem over the top to the point of parody in the vein of Roald Dahl. But unlike Dahl's villains, their primary motivation isn't selfishness. It's fear. They fear being judged by neighbors so much that they'll ruthlessly cover up and squelch anything that might mark them as "not normal" in the community. Once Harry's magical nature is revealed, they're far less concerned about his ability to hex them. No, they continue to tremble at the thought the neighbors might find out one of their blood kin is "a freak."

Ironically, we never, ever see the Dursleys enjoying the fruits of their supposed good reputation. They aren't having backyard barbecues with the neighbors, nor do they seem to entertain much. Their fear blocks them from having genuine friendships.

The Malfoys

The Malfoy family seems to have everything going for them--they're rich, well bred and attractive. They seem to genuinely love one another as well, which isn't something you can say for most of Lord Voldemort's lackeys.

So why are they attracted to the dark side? Fear. Unlike Voldemort, who comes from nothing and scrambles for power and privilege, they come from privilege and fear losing it. They have a lot to lose, and want to stay on the winning team.

But there are limits to the Malfoys' willingness to risk, partly because of the strength of their love for one another. In moments when this primary love is tested, it always trumps whatever harm Voldemort threatens--they go along only to keep one another safe. Even in this haughty family, Rowling shows the biblical idea that "perfect love casts out fear."

Next in the series, I'll talk about Rowling's other villains: Umbridge and Voldemort, as well as the antihero, Snape.

What do you think about villainy motivated by fear? Do you see other parallels between the Dursleys and the Malfoys?


  1. Great post! I thought one of the most touching moments of the series was when Narcissa leaned over Harry's "body" to verify he was dead for Voldemort, whispered to ask if Draco was alive, and then lied to Voldemort to protect her son. JK Rowling used this mother as a foil to Lily to once again show that love is the most powerful force there is, and the world is not divided between Death Eaters and the Order, but most are a tangled mixture of both.

    Looking forward to seeing all these HP posts. Going to check out the others! :-)


  2. Awesome! Interesting analysis here. The whole thing with the Malfoy's actually loving each other and sticking together as a family is almost enough for me to make up for the bad. Almost :)

    And I'm stoked for tomorrow. Snape is absolutely my favorite character in Harry Potter, by far.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  3. I just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series. There sure are a lot of villans, and their motivations are myriad. Its a large part of what makes the stories so interesting.

  4. I think Petunia was also fueled by jealousy. Jealous that her sister went off to a magical school and became so special to her parents. That jealousy made her react in the only other way that she could--by targeting her sister and Lily's world and freakish, and embracing the normal.

    1. ... and Draco is also fuelled by jealousy at least at the beginning. Yet another parallel between the families

  5. I love this analysis. As a fan of villains in general, I enjoy learning about what made them who they are. Fear is such a strong force, one that heroes often choke back and villains deny being controlled by. Thanks for this insight!

  6. Love this post. The analysis is perfect. I do think Narcissa although evil or villainous was a loving mother....crazy....but loving.

  7. I wonder if Rowling had her villains and their motives all mapped out before she started writing or if they fleshed themselves out as she went.

    I look forward to hearing about the rest!

  8. Susan; thanks! All of the one-son familes resonate with each other--from the Dursleys and Malfoys to the Potters and Longbottoms and Riddles. many interesting parallels and contrasts to explore!

    Sarah: Indeed what Voldemort considers weakness in Narcissa and Lucius is what in the end redeems them--love. It takes Draco all seven books to learn this from/about his parents.

  9. Merissa: Indeed Rowling gives us a host of villains, each with some differing motives and yet--fear is a recurring theme.

    Jenna: For sure there are streaks of jealousy in Petunia's reaction to Harry and magic.

    Shelley: It's no accident that Rowling's heroes come from Gryffindor, known for COURAGE. Clearly as an antidote to what drives evil--fear.

  10. Jennifer: In the end, love makes Narcissa brave enough to do what is right. This seems like a clear sign that the Malfoys are redeemable and taking steps way from evil toward good.

    Elle: The courage/fear contrast in her good and evil characters seems quite deliberate when she sets up a whole house at Hogwarts as "the brave ones." I imagine analyzing any villain in her world, you'll find fear lurking.

  11. Love your comparrison of the Dursley's with Roald Dahl! You are SO right. They really do seem similar to villains in his book. And yeah look at the message- even if you try THAT hard to look good and keep up with the Jones', no one notices anyway.

  12. This is so well written and so fascinating. I love how you break down the bad guys. It's amazing how fear can lead us to do terrible things. And it's interesting that both of these families are motivated by fear in such different ways. You certainly are a Ravenclaw Miss Laurel. Such a smart way of looking at things! :-)

  13. Abby: I owe that insight to my smart hubby. After reading James and the Giant Peach to Hobbit Girl, I can see how Dahl set the standard for horrific adoptive guardians in literature!

    Melissa: If it weren't for the whole fear of public speaking thing, I might have gone into academia. ;-) I fell into this topic in a backwards way. I was wondering why courage was so important in Rowling's world (being a bit on the timid side as I mentioned). Then it hit me--fear twists people to do evil. You see it in all the bad guys.

  14. Hi, Laurel,

    I never made the connection between the Malfoys and the Dursleys. Interesting point. Great insight.

    I find the point of villains driven by fear is very intriguing. Even Voldemort has a terminal fear of death.

  15. Great post! Thanks for sharing!