Sunday, June 3, 2012

Villain of the Month: Voldemort

Last month, it was The Dictator's Handbook, and this month I’ve just finished reading The Psychopath Test. Both are EXCELLENT and highly recommended for picking up details like sociopaths dream in black and white (crazy, huh) in order to create an authentically wicked character. This time, the book itself got me inspired to look more deeply at he-who-shall-not-be-named, the villain of Harry Potter fame who J.K. Rowling claims was a psychopath, and after reading TPT, I'm inclined to agree. I think he definitely scored at least a 30 on Hare's test (really interesting set of 20 questions).  

I wish what I had to say about Voldemort was half as interesting as what's on Wikipedia (I know. I know. But this time it's good stuff) so instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'm going to post a few of my favorite points from Wikipedia's take on that Slytherin Sociopath. Ssssss.....

(The following material that is smaller is directly copy and pasted from Wikipedia so you may catch the footnotes there. The stuff I added is larger and in italics.)

* How to track your victims: 
"In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a Taboo is placed upon the name, such that Voldemort or his followers may trace anyone who utters it. By this means, his followers eventually find and capture Harry, Ron, and Hermione..." In modern terms, if you don't have a magic "taboo" for your villains to know when a name is uttered, I recommend using Facebook or Internet scanning technology. It's ever-evolving, and making it that much easier for Death-eaters-- I mean Dictators' assassins-- to find those who dare to have the audacity to call someone what they really are.

* Rowling is a naming genius:
 "According to an interview with Rowling, 'Voldemort' is pronounced with a silent 't' at the end, as is common in the French phrase "Vol de mort", meaning 'to flee from death.'"  In 2006, Rowling told an interviewer that Voldemort at his core has a human fear: the fear of death. She said: "Voldemort's fear is death, ignominious death. I mean, he regards death itself as ignominious. He thinks that it's a shameful human weakness, as you know. His worst fear is death."[8]..."In a 2002 paper, Nilsen and Nilsen suggest that readers get a "creepy feeling" from the name Voldemort, because of the French word "mort" ("death") within it...' '...Rowling also said that the difference between Harry and Voldemort is that Harry accepts mortality, and thus Harry is in the end stronger than his nemesis.[24]"

* How to choose victims?=What we hate in ourselves:
 "When talking about Voldemort's fixation on mudbloods: 'In a 2000 interview with the BBC, Rowling described Voldemort as a self-hating bully: 'Well I think it is often the case that the biggest bullies take what they know to be their own defects, as they see it, and they put them right on someone else and then they try and destroy the other and that's what Voldemort does.'[5]"

* I wonder if she read Hare's test, too: 

"In the same year, Rowling became more precise about Voldemort. She began to link him to real-life tyrants, describing him as 'a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering'.[6] In 2004, though, Rowling said that she did not base Voldemort on any real person.[7] " 

*Racism=bad, Megalomania=bad & Use of third person=megalomania in characters:
 "Rowling described Voldemort as... 'He believes he is superior to everyone around him, to the point that he frequently refers to himself in the third-person as 'Lord Voldemort.' Rowling also stated that Voldemort is 'incredibly power hungry. Racist, really',[40] and that if Voldemort were to look into the Mirror of Erised, he would see 'Himself, all-powerful and eternal. That's what he wants.'41]

*Coercion and rape create monsters:
"Rowling also stated that Voldemort's conception by influence of Amortentia — a love potion administered by the witch Merope Gaunt to the Muggle Tom Riddle — is related to his inability to understand love; it is 'a symbolic way of showing that he came from a loveless union – but of course, everything would have changed if Merope had survived and raised him herself and loved him. The enchantment under which Tom Riddle fathered Voldemort is important because it shows coercion, and there can’t be many more prejudicial ways to enter the world than as the result of such a union'.[24] Brilliant metaphorical depiction of the multi-generational "curse" coercion and evil may have.

Wow. I've long-held that the power of the Harry Potter books is Rowling's deep -- near primal --  understanding of the horrors man is capable of. If you aren't convinced yet, check out her commencement address at Harvard & listen as she talks about poverty, failure, studying the classics, & (most significantly) her time at Amnesty International interviewing victims of sociopathic dictators. It may be the best 20 min. of your week. 

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