Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Most Hated Woman Ever
This post is brought to you by a conversation I had with several friends about Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge from the Harry Potter books. If you're anything like me, you read the meme above and nodded enthusiastically. Isn't that interesting? She's not a Dark Lord, not the big villain of the books, but watching her go down brought a sweet joy that Voldemort's death didn't. Why is that?
So, here I go, speculating. Why was Umbridge so much worse than Voldemort? My first thought is this: we have no guarantee she'll lose. The whole structure of the Harry Potter books tells us that Voldemort is going to lose to Harry, eventually. We know the outcome there. But, as Umbridge is a minor character (relatively), she might just get away with it. And that offends my sense of justice.
But get away with what? Ooh, boy, where do I start? Sadistic punishments, power-hungry take-over of Hogwarts, nasty poison personality...all of which make me hate her. But I've read villains who've done this, and worse, and I don't loathe them. For me, the reason Umbridge is so intolerable is because she is COMPLETELY BACKED UP BY THE LAW.
Umbridge has the Ministry on her side; they support her fascist regime at Hogwarts. Voldemort, on the other hand, is an outlaw. Umbridge is worse, I think, because we, the readers, know that Harry is right about Voldemort's return, but he has no power to fight back as Umbridge gives him creepy detentions ("I must not tell lies", anyone?), prevents real preparation to fight the Dark Arts, and even withholds Quidditch, Harry's favorite activity, from him. No one, not Harry, not Dumbledore, and not the other professors can challenge Umbridge without getting attacked themselves. They are powerless for so long, and we, as the readers, chafe against those limitations.
Maybe that's why the Weasley twins become our kings when they fly off like bosses.
I guess the lesson to take from Rowling's excellent character creation here is to legitimize the bad guy. If the bad guy is fighting for the "good" side and the law supports them, they can do whatever they want, and the reader's sense of justice is offended without any promise of punishment.
At least, until the centaurs arrive.