“He Who Must Not Be Named.” This is how Harry Potter’s nemesis is introduced to us when we're first introduced to him. Tom Marvolo Riddle, or in his known name — Lord Voldemort. That fear alone, the fright just from saying his name absolutely engulfs most of the main characters in the first film in the Harry Potter series.
We are told that he is a cruel wizard who murdered Harry’s parents in cold blood. When he tried to assassinate the boy himself, he failed decisively, left a lighting shaped scar on Harry's forehead and almost died. After that, he became something less than a human — bodiless, homeless — a lost soul wandering the world and trying to get back to greatness. This short, mysterious backstory about Voldemort in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone immediately makes him an intriguing and attractive character. So intriguing, that it gives the viewer a great desire to know more about his past and his origins. Voldemort's only desire, however, was supreme and absolute power. This was ultimately also the reason for his defeat. It was his pursuit of absolute strength that made him the wandering ghost he was in the first films of the franchise.
Voldemort Versus Sauron (LOTR): The 'Origins' Of The Dark Lord
In this sense (and some others) it seems as if J.K. Rowling drew some inspiration from another rich imaginary fantasy universe – that of Lord of the Rings. There are many similarities between both of the stories, one regarding the young hobbit and his friends who seek to destroy The One Ring in order to eliminate the Dark Lord Sauron. The other, concerning a young wizard and his friends, who need the destroy the Horcruxes in order to eliminate another Dark Lord Voldemort.
Alongside other similarities between the two stories, there's the old, wise wizard who acts as a mentor to the protagonist: Gandalf and Dumbledore, or the fact that all characters left comfortable homes for the adventures in the big world: Frodo leaving The Shire, compared to Harry leaving the Dursley’s house. There's also huge, terrifying spiders hungry for human-flesh in both stories. Alongside these similarities, it seems as if the most considerable similarity is between the main antagonists.
Voldemort is clearly based on Sauron. Both seeking power at any cost, both referred to as "the Dark Lord," both would cease to exist if the magical items related to their souls would be exterminated. They also both command a dark army (The Orcs and the Death Eaters) and both can harm the protagonist even from a distance. Furthermore, both of them are also considered heirs of even more malevolent sorcerers, that we only hear about in the two different films series.
Sauron is the servant and successor to Melkor (Morgoth), who presents the ultimate evil in The Lord of The Rings universe and was, in fact, the one, true Dark Lord. Likewise, Voldemort sees himself as the successor of Salazar Slytherin, an ancient sorcerer who was one the Hogwarts founders that abandoned the school of witchcraft and wizardry because his accomplices did not share his ideals towards pure-bloods. With his departure, he built The Chamber of Secrets in the magical castle in order for his devoted follower to purge the school of all the half-blooded magicians on a given day.
A Villain Of A Clear Vision
Here lies the main difference between the two villains, the attribute that distinguishes Voldemort and grants him his unique roughness. It's his will to enslave or eliminate everyone who is not pure-blooded or is muggle (a person who lacks magic abilities). The thing that makes Voldemort such a successful villain for a teenager's fantasy movie is the fact that his character — his acts and the actions of his supporters — reflect a wonderful historical lesson. Voldemort, in three words, is Adolf Hitler. His racist beliefs, his will to purge, and the way he terrorizes and abuses the weaknesses of those under his command make him the leader of the Nazi Empire of the Harry Potter Movies.
In the two final chapters of the saga, his motives become even more clear as half-blood wizards are become judged and condemned for no reason, just because of their origins. Also, an enormous statue with the words "Magic is Might" engraved in it is placed in the Ministry of Magic after the Death Eaters seize it. The sculpture disgracefully shows muggles carrying the allegedly superior wizards on their backs. This is akin to the the Nazi propaganda that was, at the time, meant to suppress Jews and show them as being inferior, subhuman.
In addition to these elements, which make Voldemort a great villain who has clear agenda, goals and ideals, there are additional features that deepen his image and contribute to his Dark Lord persona. It is not only his external appearance — his snake-like face, long fingernails, pale skin and black cloak — but also his past and the traumas that shaped his identity.
His hatred towards his muggle father who left him after he was born, the social alienation and the isolation he felt as a child, the abusive way he used his magical powers to harm others in his childhood at the orphanage, murdering his father and his father’s family as a revenge for neglecting him — these are only a part of the seminal life events that affected his merciless approach towards the world. Young Voldemort, known then as Tom Riddle, never felt love nor warmth. As a result, he increasingly became a person who cannot express those feelings toward others. His heart is motivated solely by the fantasy that he will someday rule a world subordinate to his supreme will.
Harry And Voldemort: Different Sides Of The Same Coin?
Above all this, the element that makes Voldemort such an extraordinary villain is the fact that Harry and he complete each other. They are both different sides of the same coin. Harry’s tragic life circumstances — the murder of his parents, his childhood with a family that alienated and mistreated him — they could have made him the exact person he fights. Both Harry and his sworn nemesis are half-blooded. Both orphans, raised by muggles and both, in their childhood, have been gifted a secret, unique talent that is much more special than most human beings.
Unlike Voldemort, Harry is not driven by lust for endless power nor a desire to rule and control. He is driven by love, by the desire to save the lives of those dearest to him. He appreciates the things Voldemort is so disgusted by: friendship, affection, unity. Things that both of them lacked as children. Therefore, before presenting a battle between good and evil, Harry and Voldemort present a struggle between love and hate. Voldemort is a marvelous antagonist because he reflects rivalry and hatred – everything Harry could have become if he only gave in to his wicked impulses.
Still, the cinematic version of Voldemort has been shaped in a way that makes him appear more human than in the books. His character in the books is displayed as the devil on Earth, a man who suffered in his youth and is therefore completely deviated from the path of the righteous. Over the course of the books, there is nothing that makes the heir of Salazar Slytherin a lighter character.
In the movies, however, the case is entirely different. On the one hand, cinematic Voldemort loses some of his value due to little nuances in his behavior instigated by the movie directors throughout the saga. On the other hand, those nuances make his character much more fun and colorful than in the written material.
For instance, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, before he was reborn and while still in his rudimentary body, Voldemort is tossed to a giant cauldron by Wormtail. During the fall, in a moment that should be chilling, he groans ridiculously. Shortly thereafter, before he battles Harry, he touches Harry's scar and instead of a frightening moment, Voldemort sighs and smiles in an amusingly creepy way. In fact, he does that quite a bit. Even in the last film in the series when he shouts “Harry Potter is dead!” he laughs afterward in such a funny way that it softens his dark nature and strengthens the humorous side of his character.
A Perfect Villain Or A Clever Gimmick?
Despite all of the above (and maybe thanks to them) Voldemort is the perfect villain for the Harry Potter film series. True, softening his image to make him fit fantasy films for teenagers does not allow him to stand on a par with the greatest, most iconic, cinema villains of all time, including: Hannibal Lecter, Keyser Söze, Darth Vader, Norman Bates, The Joker, or Nurse Ratched. However, he is the best villain for this rich, thrilling young adult fantasy series — a film series that grew and matured with its fans.
Now that #FantasticBeastsandWheretoFindThem is just around the corner, the excitement among HP enthusiasts is immense and fans all over the world are looking forward to November 17th. It makes me wonder: Will the main villain in the new film step into the shoes of "He Who Must Not Be Named"? Will he torment the life of the new hero like the Dark Lord has done to Harry? Will he be revealed as the perfect villain or will he not even come up as a clever gimmick? Time will tell. In any case, we will surely always have good old Voldemort.