?

Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Tom Riddle and Voldemort - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Tom Riddle and Voldemort
"Really," a fan confides, "I think Tom Riddle is much more interesting than Voldemort."

I know what that means, of course--young Tom, still struggling his way toward Evil Overlord status, is more compelling as a character than the single-minded psychopath he later becomes--but it still tweaks me on some level, because Voldemort is Tom. I don't mean that in the sort of "Well, duh" sense that I'd use in a total rant. I mean that everything that's interesting about Tom went into creating the persona of Lord Voldemort. Voldemort is a man who was created by the choices made by the boy Tom Riddle. Voldemort is what Tom wants to see himself as. That, by itself, is interesting to me.

Some things are plainly consistent from the young Tom of Hogwarts days to Voldemort--his rage at all things Muggle, his inability to see other people as anything but objects (eg, when Myrtle dies, he decides to stop, not because he killed someone, but because Dumbledore was watching him and he'd get caught if he didn't re-seal the Chamber), his inflated sense of his own prowess and importance, his toxic ambition levels.

All of those are driven by the same psychological force throughout his life. Whatever predilection for sociopathy he may have been born with (and it is thought to be hereditary), it's fixed and focused on his abandonment by his Muggle father, who also betrayed and abandoned his mother. Between his father and the Muggle orphanage to which he'd been abandoned, his view of the Muggle world is just bad (as Harry's is), and going to Hogwarts would have been like being rescued from purgatory.

Except that Tom brought his purgatory with him.

To replace the unsatisfactory birth father, Tom discovered the much more acceptable father figure of Salazar Slytherin, a distant ancestor who had accomplished great things, and in whose house Tom lived. He'd have discovered early on that Slytherin was obsessed with pure-bloodedness, to a point of it causing a permanent rift between the founders, and his experience in the Muggle world would have led him to the conclusion that Slytherin was right--here in the wizarding world, he has a lot of power (the world as it should be) and is given the respect he feels is due to him. Any infiltration from the outside world is a bad thing, because the outside world doesn't treat him properly.

At Hogwarts, he devises a scheme to open the Chamber of Secrets and purge the school of Muggle-borns, probably because he has identified totally with Salazar Slytherin by this point. Later, he'd have to have realized that Slytherin would have rejected him, as a half-blood, and went on a thorough blood-purity fetish. Physically, he couldn't possibly "purify" himself, but he could certainly decide to purge himself of all influences he considered Muggle in origin. Whether rightly or wrongly, he seems to have decided that putting any limits on magical power isn't something a real wizard would do, so he purges any inclination to do so that he might ever have had--in essence, he seems to have decided that human decency is a Muggle contrivance, and a fully magical being would be interested only in power and self-aggrandizement. (This strikes me as reminiscent of certain philosophies that become popular from time to time, which boil down to, "Hey, do what's right for you and let it be a learning experience for everyone else." Voldemort misses the irony of the fact that it's his Muggle father who can be shown to have had this attitude.) He draws further and further into himself, feeding that bloated ego of his because, after all, he is the Heir of Slytherin, certainly not some no-name half-blood whose own father couldn't be bothered to take him.

As this is going on, he makes more and more choices to support this view of himself (we all do that; it's not unique to evil overlords), and the shape of his personality sets and hardens. Once he's powerful enough that he doesn't need to ingratiate himself to anyone, he stops bothering with that facade.

And by then, he's Voldemort as we know him.

Same guy, having carefully re-created himself to be exactly what he chose to be.

And the funny thing is, in choosing to consciously reject his humanity, he does become a dull character (as a character; he's fine as a plot point or a rallying point for other characters), because it's humanity that makes a character interesting. There's never going to be a moral dilemma for Voldemort, no choice between what is easy and what is right, because he discounts the notion that there's any merit to the concept of "right." Life is all about me-me-me, and if it feels good to him and contributes to accomplishing his goals, that's all the "right" he needs to think about. It may be something intellectually difficult or challenging, but morally, it's always the easy way, because all moral choices are easy when they reduce to, "What's in it for me?" And that, just by its nature, makes for bad drama and flattened character. (Again, as far as Voldie himself is concerned. A flat megalomaniac makes for a good villain in an epic because more time can be spent on the heroes, whose choices are of the more interesting variety.)
9 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: arwencordelia Date: March 29th, 2005 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Commenting mostly on the Tom vs. Voldemort part of this; like you, I can see where it's coming from. For the entire first book, though we're told right away that Voldemort was an "evil" wizard, we get the "flat megalomaniac" version of him; the classic, epic villain who is evil and nothing more, no grey areas at all (down to the scary face on the back of poor Quirrell's turban!). But in COS, we find out that this evil wizard was once a 16-year-old boy; unbalanced and dangerous, even then, but still a boy, just like Harry. It's the human side of him, I think, that makes people wonder why, exactly, even given his history, he made the choices that he did. This is not exactly uncommon in literature but it's what makes human villans more interesting to me (to switch fandoms for a bit, why a find Gollum much more interesting than Sauron).

I agree with you that Tom's choices are what led to him becoming Voldemort - that he is now exactly what he wanted to become. I've wondered before what he hopes to accomplish (does he really want to destroy the Muggle world, and take over Wizarding society?), but I think he's already accomplished it. As long as he's worshipped by his followers, and feared by everyone else, I think he's happy. And maybe his bumbling plans that (so far) usually fail, fail because his only real goal is to promote the image he has cultivated - everything else, I'd be willing to bet, is secondary to him.

So while Voldemort himself is boring (though, as you said, as good villain for an epic), I would be interested in finding out more about what led Tom Riddle down this path - what caused him to be so powerfully motivated toward this end that nothing, in his first 17 years, led him to question it or second-guess himself.
s8219 From: s8219 Date: March 29th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Bravo! I'm totally adding this to my memories. You captured something here that really pulled me in
subtle_shades From: subtle_shades Date: March 29th, 2005 10:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooohhh...I'm too tired to think of something brilliant to add - it'll probably come to me later - but for now...Brilliant!

Definately adding this to my memories.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 30th, 2005 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's because he was shown immediately there--Voldemort has all the same skills that Tom Riddle had at 16, and has added to his arsenal. He's every bit as dangerous.

The problem with the books, of course, is that all of the grown-ups, for quite a long time, have to be fairly inept so that Harry can win before he's had much experience.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: March 30th, 2005 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)
It's also that the carnage has been discussed but not shown, and is thus far less 'real' to readers, even discounting some fairly evocative descriptions of what 'those times' were like. Cedric wasn't developed enough for us to feel his loss as acutely. To really get a feel for how Voldemort is eeeeeeevil, we need some events to happen.

(There's also the argument that Voldemort-as-Lord Voldemort started out more like Tom Riddle--charismatic and reasonable and convincing--and has since gone more self-involved and insane and dragged the DEs who might now be reluctant along with him. But I don't quite buy it; it's an idealization of Tom.)
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: March 30th, 2005 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's because he was shown immediately there--Voldemort has all the same skills that Tom Riddle had at 16, and has added to his arsenal. He's every bit as dangerous.

Logically, yes. He does seem to have abandoned some of the skills he used to use, though -- you point this out yourself, when you say he dropped the facade of being ingratiating, but I'd go further and say that we haven't really seen evidence of his being particularly charming lately either, and I think that particular skill often gives off the feeling of being more dangerous than brute force.

But then, part of my initial reaction to CoS was, "Well, what if--" and wanting to explore the potential he'd thrown away. It seemed to me that he was being set up in a "There but for the grace..." comparison with Harry -- not the best term, given the emphasis on choice as opposed to circumstance, but I can't find one I like better right now. And I was interested in what might happen if he chose differently, or if something prompted him to.

The problem with the books, of course, is that all of the grown-ups, for quite a long time, have to be fairly inept so that Harry can win before he's had much experience.

This is actually something I like about the Young Wizards books, though it obviously won't make up for the fact that they just don't interest you. *g* There's an entire... support structure predicated on the idea that a wizard's abilities and advantages change over time, and that we're being told one story out of many -- including those of the adults, who aren't incompetent but performing different (and no less critical) functions.
cs_luis From: cs_luis Date: March 30th, 2005 01:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Here via the snitch -

There's never going to be a moral dilemma for Voldemort, no choice between what is easy and what is right, because he discounts the notion that there's any merit to the concept of "right." Life is all about me-me-me, and if it feels good to him and contributes to accomplishing his goals, that's all the "right" he needs to think about.

This is a fabulous essay - thanks for making me think. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 1st, 2005 09:35 am (UTC) (Link)
There's never going to be a moral dilemma for Voldemort, no choice between what is easy and what is right, because he discounts the notion that there's any merit to the concept of "right." Life is all about me-me-me, and if it feels good to him and contributes to accomplishing his goals, that's all the "right" he needs to think about.
IMO, the majority of people *don't* think about right and wrong that way *anyway*. "Right" is what feels right, and "wrong" is what feels, well, wrong. Even when one is trying to think of things rationally, the deciding factor isn't reason or logic, it's the emotions and instinct.
It's only when one's "inner sensor" parameters don't match the "sensor" parameters of most of the people around one that things get troublesome...Or so I think, anyhow.
Tessa
9 comments or Leave a comment