Harry Potter: this character worse than Voldemort

Posted on January 14, 2023


By John Miltimore.
An article from the Foundation of Economic Education

At first, I was unable to enter the Harry Potter universe. When the first volume of the saga of JK Rowling was released on September 1, 1998, I was a die-hard fan of Game Of Throneswaiting impatiently Clash of Kingsthe sequel to GRR Martin’s bestseller.

I had little time or interest in Hogwarts, the school with the ridiculous name (let’s be honest) where children with British accents learn magic and witchcraft. Even when the movies came out, I wasn’t very interested and only watched the first half of the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Years later, things have changed. My kids suddenly fell in love with Harry Potter. My 10 year old daughter read Harry Potter at the Sorcerer’s Stone and, as a family, we watched the movies at full speed.

I can’t say I love them, but they’re fun to watch with kids, and parts of Rowling’s epic fantasy story are endearing, wise, and instructive. Some of the characters are also wonderful, especially Dumbledore, the Gandalf-looking wizard grandfather, full of knowledge and humble wisdom.

However, when my children asked me what my favorite character was, I answered without hesitation: Dolores Umbridge.

Best villain since Hannibal Lecter?

Dolores Umbridge, played in the films by English actress Imelda Staunton, is not an apparition from beyond or a creature from the forbidden forest. She is the Principal Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, the one who runs the government (the Ministry of Magic) in Rowling’s fictional world.

Umbridge wears pink, preaches propriety in a honeyed voice, smiles constantly, and looks like a sweet but stern grandmother. However, his intense, staring gaze suggests something malevolent lurks below. And it is.

Horror novelist Stephen King, in a critical of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixthe book where Umbridge is presented confided:

“The sweet-smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and short, tight fingers, is the greatest fictional villain since Hannibal Lecter. »

Umbridge’s desire to control and punish

What makes Umbridge so evil that King compares her to Hannibal Lecter, the most greatest villain of all time ?

I asked myself this question, and I believe the answer lies in the fact that Dolores Umbridge is plausible – and in more ways than one.

First of all, it is interesting to note that to create this character Rowling was inspired by one of her professors that she didn’t like at all.

In a blog post written several years ago, she explained that her dislike of this woman was almost irrational (and seemingly mutual). Although she had a “strong taste for cheesy accessories” (including “a tiny plastic sliding bow” and a penchant for “pale lemon” colors which Rowling said were more “appropriate for a three-year-old girl years”) Rowling said a “lack of warmth or real charity” lurked beneath her bland appearance.

This description reminded me of another detestable fictional villain: Nurse Ratched, Randle Murphy’s dastardly antagonist in Ken Kesey’s magnificent novel, Flight over a cuckoo’s nest (1962).

Kesey’s description of Nurse Ratched evokes a character similar to Umbridge’s.

Her face is smooth, calculated and precise, like a luxury doll, her skin like flesh-colored enamel, a mix of white, cream and baby blue eyes, a small nose, small pink nostrils – it all works together, except for the color of her lips and nails…

While Dolores Umbridge and Nurse Ratched’s appearances have similarities, their real commonality lies in what’s behind them.

In The Order of the Phoenix, we learn that Dolores Umbridge is a power-hungry tyrant who will destroy anyone who challenges or even disappoints her authority. She has Professor Sybill Trelawney (Emma Thompson) fired on the pretext that she could not make a prophecy on the spot.

No ! NO ! It can’t happen…it’s impossible,” Trelawney snarls. ” You can not ! You can’t fire me! I’ve been here sixteen years! Hogwarts is my home.

Umbridge is unfazed by her colleague’s pleas.

“It was your house until the hour before, when the Minister of Magic countersigned your dismissal order,” she replies. “Now please step out of this room. You put us to shame. »

Professor Dumbledore intervenes on Trelawney’s behalf, pointing out that Umbridge may have the power to dismiss her, but not to expel her from the compound.

“The Headmaster has that power,” Dumbledore points out as Trelawney is led back inside.

Umbridge just smiles at Dumbledore. “For now,” she said without blinking.

She’s not wrong. Dumbledore himself is soon forced to flee, and Harry and his friends must learn defense against dark magic in secret, far from the eyes of Umbridge and her acolytes, who have suppressed the teaching of this subject.

Rowling explained the psychology of the monster she created, and compared it to Voldemort, “the Dark Lord” and main antagonist of Harry Potter:

” Desire [d’Ombrage] to control, punish and inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, is, I think, just as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished embrace of evil. »

The author is not wrong. In fact, I’d say Umbridge’s malevolence is worse precisely because of her polish (so to speak). That’s what makes her more sinister than Voldemort. Her cruelty is far more real, much like the one Kesey portrays through Nurse Ratched, who torments and dominates the patients she cares for and ends up lobotomizing one of them.

Bromden, the narrator in Flight over a cuckoo’s nest, portrays Nurse Ratched as essentially power-drunk, afflicted with an insatiable desire for control. For this reason, it is considered as representing “authority, conformity, bureaucracy, repression, evil and death”.

The greater good?

My kids didn’t like me saying that Dolores Umbridge was my favorite Harry Potter character, but I wasn’t kidding.

Of course, the character I like the most is Dumbledore; this was especially true when the character was played by the Irish actor Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two films before his death in 2002. But Umbridge is the best character, the one who can teach us the most.

In a sense, it is the unbridled power of the state personified. At one point in the film, she ties Harry to a chair and is about to cast a forbidden spell on him to extract information from him.

Dolores Umbridge: “Very well. You leave me no choice, Potter. Since this is a matter of departmental security, you leave me no other choice. The Curse Cruciatus should loosen your tongue. »

Hermione Granger: “It’s illegal!” »

Dolores Umbridge: [pose une image sur son bureau] “What Cornelius doesn’t know won’t hurt him. »

Later, in Mirkwood, Umbridge points her wand at Harry, Hermione, and Ron and is apparently ready to destroy them. She says :

“For the greater good, I want to do what needs to be done. »

The greater good

Those are three of the most dangerous words in history, and there’s a reason they’re spoken by the villain of Rowling’s story. These words are usually uttered to admit that one is going to do something wrong, bad or diabolical, but for a supposedly good reason.

The improved questioning techniques of the CIA – a euphemism for torture – were used to the greater good. This seems to have made an impression on Rowling, who posted The Order of the Phoenix in 2003, when these techniques were used in the context of the war against terrorism, thus giving rise to many debates.

We have heard a lot about this notion of greater good over the past two years. These three words were spoken to perpetuate some of the great evils of history.

“We need to start doing things for the greater good of society and not for idiots who think they can do their own research,” CNN host Don Lemon recently said, “or that they’re at the above the law and that they can break the rules. »

Lemon made the comments to praise Australia’s pandemic policies, which have turned the country into a virtual police state…all for the greater good of society.

Like Dolores Umbridge, Australia’s leaders (and Lemon) apparently have no problem using force for the greater good, including army use to enforce lockdowns and ban gatherings.

They are a chilling reminder of what Christian author CS Lewis has described as perhaps the most dangerous type of oppression.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised sincerely for the good of its victims can be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral institutions. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his greed may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us endlessly because they do so with the approval of their own conscience. »

Today’s covid authoritarians are a lot like Dolores Umbridge, who loved bureaucracy, order and authority so much that she created a wall of rules to enforce behavior. Like Umbridge, these individuals are power-hungry, repressive, mean-spirited, and very eager to trample others while pursuing the greater good.

But the truth is that freedom is the highest good. Villains like Dolores Umbridge can help us remember that.

Counterpoint Translation

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Article originally published on February 5, 2022

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Harry Potter: this character worse than Voldemort

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