“Many Harry Potter readers don’t question Lord Voldemort’s actions. They just accept the fact that he is evil and kills at least 20 people, if not hundreds more, and move on. However, I believe that there is always an excuse, or at least a reason, behind everything — even the actions of an evil wizard. That’s why I want to delve into Lord Voldemort’s crimes and why he commits them. Although Lord Voldemort’s actions are wrong, he has reasons for them. Some of them could be valid, others might just be interesting to explore.”
Many Harry Potter readers don’t question Lord Voldemort’s actions. They just accept the fact that he is evil and kills at least 20 people, if not hundreds more, and move on. However, I believe that there is always an excuse, or at least a reason, behind everything — even the actions of an evil wizard. That’s why I want to delve into Lord Voldemort’s crimes and why he commits them. Although Lord Voldemort’s actions are wrong, he has reasons for them. Some of them could be valid, others might just be interesting to explore.
The first reason is that Lord Voldemort is traumatized and twisted by his parents and circumstances in his early life. Even in the orphanage he grows up in, he already expresses some odd behavior, as you can see from observations he makes in the sixth book of the series, saying, “I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.” (The last two sentences are especially alarming.) Secondly, his lack of a conscience makes it easier for Voldemort to consider killing in service of his goal of immortality. The extent of his crimes and murders demonstrates a profound lack of compassion. This is worth considering, since insane people are also not held accountable for their decisions, and I posit that his lack of compassion is evidence of insanity. And third, he galvanizes the wizarding world to fight for everyone’s safety, including muggles and half-bloods. Although this is a reason that can be explored, I would not say it justifies Voldemort’s actions. Sure, those communities get their acts together, but it isn’t worth all the deaths that Voldemort causes. So let’s get exploring.
Lord Voldemort starts off life in an orphanage after his mother dies in childbirth. This is because his father has abandoned him and his mother, even after realizing that she has been pregnant. This may have been his mother’s fault as well, however, because she has used a love potion to make Voldemort’s father love her. Eventually, she can’t deceive him anymore and lets it wear off, and when he comes to his senses, he leaves. She can’t live on without Tom Riddle and dies. Virginia Zimmerman, a scholar at Bucknell University, writes in her article “Harry Potter and the Gift of Time” that “[both] Harry and Voldemort suffered from the loss of parents at a very young age. For Harry, though, his mother died to save his life; for Voldemort, his mother died because she could not live without Tom Riddle” (qtd. in Emily Anderson). Although Harry and Voldemort have similar situations at the beginning of their lives, Harry’s mother cares for her family, as opposed to Voldemort’s mother, who only seems to care about her husband. This small difference may have led to Lord Voldemort becoming evil instead of good as well as leading him to resent his parents. Once Lord Voldemort is old enough to understand what has happened, his hatred towards muggles (non-magical humans) and half-bloods (half-wizard, half-non-magical humans) grows. In the second book of the series, Voldemort says, “Surely you didn’t think I was going to keep my filthy Muggle father’s name? No. I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak, when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world!”
After learning about his past, Voldemort later goes on to kill his father and his father’s family. This sounds brutal, but as I said, Voldemort doesn’t have that much of a conscience. He kills easily, which shows just how messed up he truly is. He goes on to kill more people in order to obtain Horcruxes, which allows him to split his soul and store it safely in objects in order to become immortal. In order to further understand Voldemort, I tried to recreate the story of how Voldemort’s first Horcrux is created. His first Horcrux is a plain, dark diary. It looks old, but it feels smooth and worn. It smells musty and dusty. Lord Voldemort, who is still Tom Riddle at the time, buys it from a Muggle store. I doubt there is much that is significant about Lord Voldemort obtaining the diary at the time — its importance comes later. In Lord Voldemort’s fifth year at Hogwarts, he manages to open the Chamber of Secrets, which is a secret chamber created by Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts. A basilisk lives inside of it, a deadly monster that can turn people to stone with its gaze. He uses it to attack several students, including a girl who is always crying in the bathroom. After using it to kill her, he embeds part of his soul in the diary, making it into a Horcrux. Voldemort’s personality is expressed through the cruelty in which he kills in order to get his first Horcrux. However, if there had been another way for him to achieve immortality, he would have chased it that way instead. He wants immortality, and he is going to do anything he has to in order to achieve it. In the first book of the series, Voldemort says, “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” In the very first book, Voldemort already shows that he believes that he is not evil, but the most powerful person alive and deserving of immortality. He is blinded by his goal and does not care for anyone. He uses anyone he could to get what he wants. Something else that could contribute to this worldview is the fact that killing in the wizarding world is so easy. All you have to do is mutter two words and a person would instantly die. Because of this, it is a lot easier to be detached when killing someone. It wouldn’t feel as personal as stabbing someone or something. Honestly, I don’t know if it makes a difference (I myself have never killed someone) but it’s a thought. Of course, killing is wrong, but Lord Voldemort doesn’t see it that way. In sum, Lord Voldemort isn’t killing these people because he wants to — he is killing them because they are in his way. He views people as obstacles rather than individuals.
The resurgence of Lord Voldemort may have been unfortunate, but one way it is actually advantageous is because it allows the wizarding world to come together in order to fight him. The incumbent Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, is extremely incompetent. He is driven out of office because he fails to recognize that Voldemort has come back. He thinks that the announcement that Voldemort is back would hurt his career. As the fourth book says, “‘You are blinded,’ said Dumbledore, his voice rising now, the aura of power around him palpable, his eyes blazing once more, ‘by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius! You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be!’” From this, we can gather that Dumbledore recognizes that Fudge is not making the right preparations and tries to tell him as much, but still Fudge refuses to do anything. Eventually, it is too late, and Cornelius is forced to resign after it is revealed that Lord Voldemort has returned. In the long run, I think this led to a better wizarding world because the next Minister of Magic is more competent. However, without Voldemort, the wizards will likely grow complacent and will not be ready if another threat appears. Lord Voldemort is the main threat for a while. Without him, the wizards would not realize smaller crimes are being committed. Eventually, the criminals behind these small crimes may grow bolder and commit larger transgressions, and there would be another large crisis. An example is the unscrupulous case of Rita Skeeter, a journalist who abuses her powers as an unregistered Animagus (an animal shape-shifter who abuses her ability to spy on private conversations). A whole industry of Rita Skeeters would indeed cause a large crisis.
Although Voldemort should not be forgiven for his actions, I think they can be understood. Voldemort is twisted even as a child, changed by his trauma, which is why he commits all these horrible crimes. He feels no remorse and thinks of every terrible crime he commits as a stepping stone towards immortality. In the end, he helps the wizarding world get their act together and makes them step up to stop him. Although his actions cannot be forgiven, we can at least understand the reasons behind them and the effects they have. I hope this essay was able to show Lord Voldemort’s actions and crimes from a different lens. Will you be able to forgive him? Nah. But maybe you can at least understand him.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
Zimmerman, Virginia. “Harry Potter and the Gift of Time.” Children’s Literature, vol. 37, 2009, p. 194-215. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/chl.0.0814.