Wednesday, July 13

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 17 comments
Today I continue analyzing some of Rowling's villains and what makes them tick. Check out yesterday's post for my thoughts on the Dursley and Malfoy families.

Dolores Umbridge
I find Dolores Umbridge by far the most chilling of all Rowling's villains, in part because she's the type one is most likely to encounter in real life--the evil bureaucrat.

She's power-mad and sees official positions as her gateway to great things. However, I get the sense that his power hunger came upon her gradually. Umbridge is a great example of what Hannah Arendt calls "the banality of evil." This sort of evilness grows within a person who sees him/herself as embodying society's values and assumes the right to protect those values. Little by little, that assumption turns into a compulsion and leads the person down very dark paths.

Underneath it all is a fear that something good will be lost--some essential value. In Umbridge's case, it is a desire to stamp out anything that disturbs the Fudge regime's "peace at any price" way of thinking. At a deeper level, we also see Umbridge is deeply afraid of hybridity, impurity, the Other. She's Aunt Petunia with a wand.

It's usually the most unassuming people who get sucked into this mentality, which makes it all the more chilling. At some level, most can see ourselves in this ordinary person led astray by good desires run amok. This is the path that, for instance, we see Percy Weasley heading toward.

Tom Marvolo Riddle
Rowling's portrayal of Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort is perhaps one of the most deeply psychological looks at the making of a sociopath you'll find in fiction, let alone children's fiction.

Some of the factors that clearly play into Riddle's make up are his conception tainted by deceit (rather than love), his abandonment and his mistreatment and neglect in early childhood. These things warp him so that he never develops empathy and cannot attach to anyone.

The rest of his life becomes a quest to never again be powerless or worthless or at another's mercy. These drives seem to culminate most of all in a fear of death. If he can master death, then he won't have to fear anything or anyone ever, ever again.

I think Rowling points out something here we as a society need to take very seriously. Early intervention in cases of abuse and neglect are ESSENTIAL. Tom arrives at Hogwarts at age 11, already too far gone to be redeemed. All society suffers because of it.

Tomorrow I'll be back with my promised look at Snape, the anti-hero of the series.

What strikes you about the many faces of villainy in the Harry Potter series?
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  1. What a great post. I hated Professor Umbridge. She was so annoying and really, I know people in real life like her! lol And I loved the characterization you did of Tom Riddle. I agree there are people who suffer from abandonment and neglect and never attach themselves to anyone. It's amazing how complex these characters are. I heart J.K. Rowling. :)

  2. LOVED this post. Such detail!!! Here I thought I was coming over to see about Snape... guess I'll have to wait until TOMORROW!

    My friend in Germany saw the film last night and said it was brilliant. NATURALLY I WAS JEALOUS!

  3. I love your look at villains. They are my favorite characters, which probably sounds strange, but they have to be so defined, so round. Tom Riddle is such a great and terrible villain. Rowling really did an amazing job with him. Early intervention truly is so important! I don't think in every case that 11 is too old to be helped. I'm not sure I believe in "too far gone". Love can do miraculous things, but certainly a lot of grief and pain can be saved if we all loved a little more, most specifically every child.

  4. I always thought Umbridge was one of the worst as well. She just gets under your skin and slowly grates at it. Voldemort is definetly the poster-child for a great villain and what made him the wizard he is today (or in the book, not Rowling really did flesh him out and give him a background that many villains in books don't have simply because the author just didn't spend as much time on his motivation. To be honest, I don't show a whole history of my villain in my book. I have some, but I don't dive into his psyche or a lot fo chapters dedicated to his motivation. But maybe I makes you think as an author whether we are putting enough effort into our villains.

  5. Seriously? I thought Dolores was worse than Voldemort!

  6. Umbridge is the best villain in the series, I think. Ooo, how I hate her! She's just as bad as the Death Eaters, only she doesn't have the dark mark tattoo.

    I really like book 6 because we get to delve into Tom Riddle's past. It was fascinating to see the boy who became Lord Voldemort.

  7. Of course Voldemort scares the bejeezus out of me because of the extent of his evil, but it's people like Umbridge who freak me out the most, because you're right, they're all around. I know several Umbridges, especially in the corporate world, and their way of smiling as they stab you in the back is so creepy!

  8. Chantelle: I think a shrink would diagnose him as having an attachment disorder, in addition to the whole sociopath thing! Clearly evil like his and Umbridge's, too, happens gradually.

    Jen: Sorry for the tease. My big brother and sis in law stopped over kind of last minute, so I ran short on time and didn't want to give Severus short shrift.

  9. Nisa: I think clearly Tom is a worst-case scenario. Not only are his early years terrible (unmitigatedly so--far worse than Harry's), but there are some genetic temperament issues coming into play as well from his mother's side. I also don't believe in throw-away people. All along we see Harry trying to show him mercy. And the end he chooses not to ever be "soft."

    Abby: I think for a series of this scope, a really developed antagonist is so important. I've certainly learned a lot about creating bad guys from the series.

  10. Laura P.: For sure I gritted my teeth in passages featuring her far more than any other character. She seems just a few steps away from being equally sociopathic to Voldy. Clearly she is incapable of empathy for those she deems unworthy. She is like one of Hitler's inner circle, while Voldy is more like Adolph himself.

    Laura M: In book 6 we also learn so much about Snape's background too. I also found that such amazing reading.

  11. Melissa: It seems like Voldy-types are kind of once a generation, while Umbridge-type evil is EVERYWHERE. And that's so, so scary, isn't it?

  12. Like Aunt Petunia with a wand---you've definitely got something there. I agree that she's scary because she's realistic. The casting for this part in the movie was perfecto.

    I love that y'all are posting Harry all week. :D

  13. Great idea for a series! Looking forward to Snape :-)

  14. Nicely said, Laurel...

    I can't wait to read about your insights on Snape tomorrow.

  15. I love studying sociopaths, and for some reason I never thought of Tom Riddle as one. But you are totally right.

  16. Nicki: Umbridge and Petunia have such similar fears and jealousies, and I think if Petunia had power, she'd use it similarly to Umbridge.

    Deniz: Thanks. It has been fun to write.

  17. Michael: You can see how I got sorted into Ravenclaw--always analyzing! LOL. :-)

    Jessie: I'd been talking with my social worker brother about the DSM-5 due out sometime soon and how "psychopath" has been replaced with the term "sociopath." Sociopaths are incapable of empathy. They don't connect to other people and see causing pain as an interesting experiment. Suddenly the lightbulb went off--that definition sounded a whole lot like Voldy.