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.
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.
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.