In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: Voldemort
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Often the protagonist of their tale, the creator may also be known as the architect, the artist, and the dreamer—there is a fancifulness to them, even in realistic fiction, as they are regarded by their peers as someone “ahead of their time” in their ideas and experiments. Usually portrayed as well-meaning, the creator’s arc can also lead them astray.
Since the creator is likened to a god(dess), the power they hold may come at the price of their usual innate goodness, and can culminate in less pure notions of the creator’s potential. Indeed, the creator may abandon morality for the sake of their work, and thus a villain is made: They play god, allow the end to justify the means, and determine what’s best for the masses without consulting them or considering varying points of view.
Such is the case with Voldemort, who was never well-meaning, but rather his best intentions were never good for anyone he deemed unworthy. Voldemort may not abide by some of the more traditional aspects of the creator—that is to say, their initial purity and desire to help his fellow man—but this is how he perceives himself.
But Voldemort does, in some ways, meet the sort of whimsical criteria of the creator, who’s driven by the need to see dreams become reality, whilst providing structure and progress to the world: In his pursuit of immortality and power, Voldemort puts himself in a position to better the world as he sees fit.
Even during his Hogwarts years, Voldemort proved his penchant for examining and pushing the boundaries of human reality and perception; his desire to conquer death is unnatural but all-consuming. While inquiring about Horcruxes, the young Tom Riddle is not content with what he judges as limitations.
The creator’s mind is always searching for the next step, as Tom does in his conversation with Slughorn in the latter’s memory, as seen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
“It is natural to feel some curiosity about these things…. Wizards of a certain caliber have always been drawn to that aspect of magic….”
“Yes, sir,” said Riddle. “What I don’t understand, though—just out of curiosity—I mean, would one Horcrux be much use? Can you only split your soul once? Wouldn’t it be better, make you stronger, to have your soul in more pieces, I mean, for instance, isn’t seven the most powerfully magical number, wouldn’t seven—?”
“Merlin’s beard, Tom!” yelped Slughorn. “Seven! Isn’t it bad enough to think of killing one person? And in any case… bad enough to divide the soul… but to rip it into seven pieces…”
In his eagerness to push the limits further, Tom makes even Slughorn uneasy, although the man had already acknowledged that Tom was no ordinary wizard, and so his curiosity is well-founded.
While there was always some indication that Voldemort, like any creator, fears mediocrity, we get a more and more firm sense of that as the books go on. Even his adolescent self feared the limitations of only one Horcrux, regardless of the evil required to make one, let alone multiple. In his thirst for the knowledge that would push him further than any man had gone before, Voldemort cared nothing for his soul, his well-being as a human, because he didn’t want to be human. The ability to die and the necessity of it, to Voldemort, would always mean humans were less than what they could be. Never one to shy away from belittling others, Voldemort makes this plain shortly after his resurrection in Goblet of Fire, when explaining to his Death Eaters the nature of his alleged downfall thirteen years prior:
“I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost… but still, I was alive. What I was, even I do not know… I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal—to conquer death. And now, I was tested, and it appeared that one or more of my experiments had worked… for I had not been killed, though the curse should have done it.”
Generally, the creator gains rivals as easily as he innovates. Say what we will about Voldemort, but his quest for immortality would have been a resounding success had it not been for the combined efforts of Regulus Black, Albus Dumbledore, and Harry Potter. Not that Voldemort let them off scott-free; no, he challenged them and all his enemies by bulldozing over them with further implementation of his ideals. He charged his followers to carry out despicable crimes in his efforts to “purify” the Wizarding world; he overtook the Ministry of Magic and, as a result, the entirety of Britain’s magical community, as well as wreaking havoc upon the Muggle one. He viewed his opposition as troublesome but disposable, people who challenged his status quo because they were too weak and simple-minded to understand his power, or any power at all.
This is demonstrated especially whenever Voldemort faces off with Harry, at which times he simultaneously disparages and praises Lily and James Potter for their bravery in the face of his power, which may have boiled down to foolishness in Voldemort’s opinion, but it was a courage he was inclined to respect nonetheless. We see this as early on as Sorcerer’s Stone, when Voldemort tells Harry: “I always value bravery… Yes, boy, your parents were brave… I killed your father first; and he put up a courageous fight… but your mother needn’t have died… she was trying to protect you…”
In GOF, too, Voldemort alludes to the deaths of Harry’s parents, and says, “And now you face me, like a man… straight-backed and proud, the way your father died…”
Later, in Order of the Phoenix, when Harry learns of Sibyll Trelawney’s prophecy, he learns too that his parents had defied Voldemort three times. At least one such occasion, as stated by J.K. Rowling, was when Voldemort tried to recruit Lily and James both to his cause and they refused him. Both of Harry’s parents exhibited skill that Voldemort admired, even if he sneered at Lily’s parentage and scoffed at the Potters’ history of Muggle support and sympathizing. This once more paints Voldemort as the creator, who acknowledges what others can do to benefit himself and his vision of the world, and how he tries to bring them around to his way of thinking. When that fails—as it did with Voldemort in the case of Lily and James—the creator adds yet another rival to the list, and works to eliminate them.
Before it’s even all said and done, Voldemort proves himself the sort of creator whose arc ends with him as the unadulterated villain. Harry may implore him to try for some grief, some remorse, during their final showdown in Deathly Hallows, but there was never any redemption to be had for Voldemort—he didn’t want it, didn’t want anything that would make him human, because to be human is to eventually fail. Voldemort viewed death as that ultimate failure, the last enemy that he could not succumb to, and so devoted his life to not overcoming death, but avoiding it. Even with the security seven Horcruxes may have given him, he had to know that they could be destroyed.
But that’s the curse of a creator such as Voldemort: He values his own innovation, and so underestimates the power of others, because it’s not a power he deems valid. Voldemort had nothing to fight for but himself and his fear, and failed to realize that what he regarded as human weaknesses could just as easily serve as human strengths. He saw no ultimate power in anyone but himself, and fancied himself a god in his experiments, his achievements, and doomed himself to be destroyed at the hands of someone who had a reality to fight for, when all Voldemort had were his dreams of indestructibility. For all his efforts, he couldn’t escape death forever; and when he fell, he fell just as human as he always feared he would be, no matter how he’d fought to the contrary.
Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.