Dolores Umbridge and Voldemort are the most despicable characters in the Harry Potter canon. But which is more despicable? Hannah and Jessica argue the evil-ness of each.
Dolores Umbridge and Voldemort have much in common in Harry Potter. They are the only people to leave physical scars on Harry; they both use muggleborns as scapegoats and torture them; and they are both hideously evil. But of the two, Umbridge definitely wins the most-evil award.
Here’s a reminder list of all the atrocities she committed:
-Scarring students (literally) for perceived infractions
-Trying to get Hagrid sacked because she’s a dirty racist
-Getting Trelawney actually sacked
-Ignoring the evidence while banning the Weasley twins and Harry from Quidditch
-Actively preventing students from performing spells to practice for O.W.L.s. (Okay, maybe it’s just me and Hermione who got irate about that, but still!)
-Plucking Mad-Eye Moody’s magical eyeball from his corpse and using it to spy on her staff
-Destroying families because of blood status (JKR says some of the victims of her muggleborn commission died while in Azkaban)
If none of that gets your blood boiling, nothing will.
Voldemort’s inability to love comes from his origin as the progeny of a parent under the influence of a love potion, but Umbridge doesn’t have that excuse. According to JKR’s writings , she was a sadistic asshole even when she was young. There’s no reason for her to be so violently against part-humans (half-giants, werewolves, etc.) and muggleborns. Umbridge doesn’t have an excuse for her lack of empathy, her desire to punish and control others, or her pleasure in inflicting pain. Unlike Voldemort, she had the ability to grow into a loving human being. She didn’t. She instead uses her abilities to make others suffer.
Even more appalling, Umbridge brings an air of legitimacy to her brand of evil, because she’s backed by the Ministry, both those of Fudge and Scrimgeour and of Voldemort’s puppets. She believes her actions to be “for the greater good,” from illegally sending Dementors to Privet Drive to discredit or eliminate Harry, to her muggleborn Registration Commission. Umbridge believes she has not just the right but the duty to do these things that cause pain, suffering, and death.
In discussing Umbridge, JKR writes that her “desire to control, to punish and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, are, I think, every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.” And her latest tweet to make the news goes even further in condemning dangerous politicians like Umbridge. After our friend Donald Trump stated his desire to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and people started comparing him to Voldemort, J.K. Rowling tweeted: “How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.” Like Umbridge, Trump has a semblance of legitimacy, as a leading candidate for president. That makes both their ideas of “purity” even scarier.
If Umbridge is the equivalent of Trump, and Trump is worse than Voldemort, then Umbridge is worse than Voldemort.
Ultimately, Umbridge and Voldemort really are two sides of the same coin; she’s just a little more “polished” because of her legitimacy and therefore more dangerous to the magical world. It’s the type of evil that can sneak up on you, that seems like it’s for the greater good—until it’s too late.
Voldemort is truly evil personified. Though I suppose that depends on your definition of evil. For me, evil is about making choices that promote destruction and lack compassion. An evil person imposes not only themselves, but also their ideologies upon others—the greater the influence, the greater the level of evil.
Tom Riddle’s evil emerged in his early years at the orphanage when he would terrorize the other children and murder rabbits. It progressed into his teens when he decided to murder his entire family and reached its pinnacle during his journey toward dictatorship and mass genocide.
What a sweetheart.
The degree of his destruction makes it difficult to choose one thing as being the “most evil,” but let’s give it a go. Look at the case of Ginny Weasley and the Chamber of Secrets. Ginny, a scared but well-meaning 11-year-old girl, discovers a diary among her school books, which unbeknownst to her, contains one eighth of Tom Riddle’s soul, implanted after the murder of his entire family.
Clearly her school year is not off to the best start.
Tom, seeing her good intentions, decides to manipulate her into freeing a beast capable of killing her friends and emotionally scarring everyone else. I hope someone at Hogwarts offered Ginny some counseling after that because I don’t see how you could ever recover from knowing you could’ve killed your friends and family. Voldemort’s brand of evil is so destructive because he plays with his food before he devours it. He’s not just manipulating the demise of innocent children, but he’s mind-fucking with them the whole way for maximum devastation.
Now you may have a different moment from the series that struck you as particularly evil, but we all need to keep in mind that every story we know about are related to Harry’s narrative. There are probably hundreds of stories that we don’t know about from either of his reigns of terror that would incited similar levels of disgust.
It’s this wide, boundless net that makes Voldemort’s choices more terrifying than ever. No one can escape his wrath.
Is his evil really all his fault? After all, he is the product of a manipulative love potion between Merope and Tom Riddle Sr. and spent his childhood in an orphanage, leaving him feeling unwanted and forgotten. He displayed magical powers from a young age, which only led him to feeling even more excluded, resulting in a dark turn toward rebellion. Although Dumbledore comes in and offers him a home at Hogwarts, he knows that Dumbledore remains wary of him and feels disconcerted by that distrust.
Dumbledore once said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” I would argue that our choices outweigh our circumstances in life as well. While we may pity Tom for his miserable childhood, he chose to act out of menace rather than compassion, and for that, he is truly the most evil character in the Harry Potter series.
Featured image via screengrab. Voldemort image via Facebook.