When Weaknesses Are Strengths

Remember when I chatted about the evolution of my feelings on pride as a downfall? My husband and I have been reading through Harry Potter again so I can finally do a villain review. Surprisingly, it’s only the second time I’ve read through the series. I remember thinking little of Voldemort, and after watching the movies, thinking even less but as we are working through Deathly Hallows, I’m struck by a thought: Voldemort may have many flaws as a great villain but as an imperfect human being (sorry, Tom, butcha are human) he’s written very well. Rowling wasn’t trying to make a villain to be the beacon of all villains; she was trying to write about a very specific person, one Tom Riddle that had a series of imperfections and quirks. Did some of those lead to his ultimate downfall in a way that makes me cringe? Yes. Is that a bad thing, though? Let’s discuss.

DeviantArt user JuliaDeBelli’s piece “Horcruxes T-Shirt”

If I was going to split my soul into seven and seal them into objects, you know what I absolutely wouldn’t ever, ever choose? Precious objects of great value to myself that would be the obvious choice. I would take a handful of incredibly dull pebbles and throw each one into a different ocean over the deepest point. Find THOSE, Harry. (Course, I have a pretty strong attachment to my soul so I wouldn’t split it up.) People criticize Voldemort for his fancy choices of horcrux but on re-reading it, Rowling gave Voldemort a personality quirk: trophies. The man loooves himself a good trophy. The items that little Tom the Orphan stole weren’t about stealing at all, but of gaining memorabilia of his victories. This is a trait that Rowling runs with throughout the entire series and you can see that when you read, looking for that, that self-gratifying display of objects. That’s something I can get; I like to have trophies and icons and decorations and cool things too.

Bec Noir (Homestuck) also had a fling with collecting trophies from his victims for a little bit; trophy collecting isn’t that uncommon a trait.

My desire for shinies is different than Voldemort’s in many ways, but not so different that I can’t appreciate his “Ha, ha, I have the Founder’s stuff and I’ve literally claimed them with my soul” thing he has going.

The thing about this quirk is that it’s not just in the horcruxes. Voldy had wanted his grandfather’s ring before he was going around making horcruxes. He wanted the Deathly Hallow wand, yes because it was powerful, but I think also because it was another trophy.

See the thing is, Rowling gave Voldemort a weakness that was, due to the nature of the weakness, “not too hard” to overcome (compare finding the horcruxes as they were to say, six random pebbles lost long ago around the world). But she didn’t do it to build in a way to defeat the villain; she did it because that was just who Voldemort was. And that makes Voldemort less of an obscure necessary evil and more of an actual character honestly participating in the story.

There are other examples, but we’ll talk about that when I DO write the review on Voldemort.

However, from this we can learn that if you’re going to give your villain a flaw, you’d best run with it. Give your villain a flaw because he’s a person, not because you need your hero to beat the villain, and then don’t forget about that  flaw. If your villain always has to have some extra flourish, some mark to let others know it was him, think how that might come up in everything he does. If there’s just something he can’t resist, it might be interesting to see that come up in a low-stakes environment. These suggestions are incredibly vague, but there’s so much you can do with a villain that to say one thing would be to neglect infinite others. Think of what makes your villain human (more in the, “I can relate to this character” sense than the racial sense), and how that would make their every-day life. Take them out to lunch, see how that goes.

Because, you see, when your villain is more like an actual person and less like something you had to have for an antagonist, the stronger of a character that villain becomes. Weaknesses make our characters strong.

For the record? I still think Umbridge is a better villain than Voldemort.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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4 Responses to When Weaknesses Are Strengths

  1. I think the reason that Voldemort had to choose objects of value was so that people could fall upon these objects and use them, and then be corrupted by him. Some objects were in plain sight, so that they would come easily into use and he could expedite his return, and other objects were hidden, so that if people figured out what he was doing and destroyed the ones that were easy to get to, the hard to find ones might remain until people forgot about the Voldemort horcruxes.


    • Well, Rowling via Dumbledore makes it preeetty clear that Voldemort wouldn’t possibly have chosen anything but awesome super shiny trophies to put his precious, precious soul in, so it is canon that my stated reason is why he chose the ring, locket, diadem, and cup. He DID do the journal for the sake of possessing a future heir of Slytherin, and the last two were sort of accidents, Nagini more of an “uhh I only made five horcruxes well I don’t have any more Things so I guess you’ll do” and Harry of course being a total accident.
      So you are correct about the journal for certain. That could have been an ulterior motive but again, it would have been more clever then to pick really random objects that were highly mundane AND useful and not likely to end up stuck in a DI or something like a fridge or toilet. But I really can’t see ANYONE wanting to stick their soul in a toilet let alone prideful Voldemort, so I get why that didn’t happen (could you imagine that? Being possessed by an evil toilet?).
      Of course, he hid the ring and the locket AND the diadem AND the cup so…no one’s getting possessed by those things on purpose.


  2. Caroline says:

    Trophy-collecting is also a common trait of serial killers. Also, there’s somewhat of an implication that Voldemort wanted to keep his horcruxes around not just to keep them safe, but in case he needed them later—for what purpose I’m not certain, and it doesn’t ever say, although the diary is an example of something he used not just for keeping his soul, but for actively possessing and influencing other people. If you needed them later, or were obsessive about keeping them safe, then the pebble method would work very poorly. So it’s pretty internally consistent. I also agree, relating to the trophy-collecting, that the Founders’ objects gave him a sense of ownership and dominance over the Founders and Hogwarts themselves.


    • Because it is internally consistent, I’ve been able to enjoy Voldemort as a character a lot more this second read-through than I did the first time when I was just starting to figure out villains, really pay attention to their methods and the effectiveness thereof.


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