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What makes villains do the awful things they do in the stories we watch? Understanding a villain’s backstory shapes how we understand their choices and even the story as a whole. In the process of adaptation from book to film the backstory and motivation of a character can sometimes be oversimplified and distorted. In the Harry Potter movies, Voldemort’s motivation is oversimplified and his past is glossed over. This oversimplification makes Voldemort seem two-dimensional – an evil villain who is driven by a desire to subject muggles to cruelty just for subjugation’s sake. It makes Voldemort come off as a one-dimensional villain without digging into the complicated stuff that made him that way – details we learn in the books.
In the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling gives Voldemort a more complete backstory. Voldemort’s hardships and traumas give readers a better understanding of who he is and why he ended up a villain. Voldemort’s backstory makes him relatable and believable. In the books, Voldemort does not pursue evil just for the sake of it, but rather as a way to right the wrongs he’s experienced. And as a reader, his story feels bone-chilling.
What Is Voldemort’s Backstory in the Harry Potter Movies?
When it comes to the Harry Potter movies, some aspects of Voldemort’s backstory are condensed or left out altogether. While we still get glimpses into his past through flashbacks and dialogue, certain details are missing. This results in a slightly different portrayal of Voldemort’s motivations and character development on screen.
In the movies, we see three elements of Voldemort’s past to help us better understand him as a villain. The first is explored in the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, regarding young Voldemort’s (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) time spent in an orphanage. This experience serves as a foundation for his resentment and desire for power. Through this detail, we learn that Voldemort grew up without parents who loved him or friends who understood him. The audience also discovers that, as a child, Voldemort showed a tendency to enjoy inflicting pain on others. These details argue that Voldemort was born evil and that his childhood cemented this tendency.
The second and third elements explored in the movies are Voldemort’s deep-rooted hatred for muggles, those without magical abilities, and his complicated relationship with his father. Both elements are shown in the same scene with Christian Coulson as Voldemort. In the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort refers to his father as a “filthy muggle,” implying a potential connection between his hatred of muggles and his relationship with his father.
The Harry Potter movies are great at filling in the blanks as to what Voldemort wants, but not too good at explaining why. Voldemort hates muggles, hates his father, and has enjoyed hurting people since childhood. All these elements help us see Voldemort as the villain that he is, but only the motivations fueling his hate can truly help us understand him as a more well-rounded character.
How Is Voldemort’s Backstory Different in the Harry Potter Books?
In the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling delves deeper into Voldemort’s past, revealing his troubled childhood as well as his family history. From his humble beginnings as an orphaned child in a Muggle orphanage to his discovery of his magical abilities at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we are given a glimpse into the formative years that shaped him into the dark wizard he would become.
Voldemort’s mother, named Merope Grant, was a pure-blood witch descendant of Salazar Slytherin. The Gaunts – an ancient wizarding family with a dark lineage – play a pivotal role in shaping Tom Riddle’s path toward darkness. Unearthing their troubled past reveals secrets long buried and sheds light on how Voldemort became entangled with pure-blood ideology.
Voldemort’s father was a rich muggle from Merope’s town. He was called Tom Riddle. Merope became obsessed with Tom Riddle and used a love potion to marry him. After the wedding and before the birth of Voldemort, Tom finds out and decides to leave Merope with his unborn child. Voldemort was the child of a loveless couple, conceived under the influence of a love potion, rendering him incapable of experiencing love or empathy. This incapacity to feel love is deeply explored throughout the books as being Voldemort’s weakness and one of the causes of his evil tendencies.
Alone and without anything Merope went to an orphanage to give birth. There, Merope died, and Voldemort never forgave his father whom he killed soon after leaving Hogwarts. These factors contributed to Voldemort’s belief that muggles were responsible for the deterioration of his magical heritage, compelling him to take drastic measures to avenge and prevent further destruction.
As a child in the orphanage and a student of magic, Rowling paints a complex portrait of a young Tom Riddle as he manipulates those around him to achieve power. The books provide a comprehensive exploration of Tom Riddle’s origin story, allowing readers to witness his transformation from an orphaned boy to the embodiment of evil. Yet, through it all, we are constantly reminded of the hurt he suffered and of the fact that he is still human.
Why Does Voldemort’s Backstory in Harry Potter Matter?
Usually, the characters that get a comprehensive backstory are our heroes or protagonists, yet the backstory of the villain is just as, if not more, important. The more audiences know about the life story of a character the more they empathize with them. The Harry Potter books humanize Voldemort, allowing the audience to empathize with him. In the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is infinitely more terrifying since the audience gets to better understand who he is and his hidden motivations. This enhanced comprehension makes the character all the more plausible and relatable, instilling a sense of dread within the audience. In the books, Voldemort does not seek evil for evil’s sake, but rather as a means of rectifying the injustices inflicted upon him. This deeper motivation makes understanding and empathizing with him utterly chilling.
Learning to see villains as humans lends us a better understanding of why a person, a child, could become this evil and capable of such harm. Voldemort’s backstory does not justify the evil being he becomes but rather offers a more concrete way to understand it. Only by understanding evil are we able to learn from it and actively choose good.