I first read the Harry Potter books as an adult—I began them when book four was still only available in hardback—so my reaction to them and their characters might be expected to differ from how I responded to those tales that had first begun to grip me when I was younger, such as The Lord of the Rings. Yet, like so many millions of others, I was enthralled by Rowling’s work. When the new volumes were published, I was one of the midnight-pickup pre-buyers, waiting in the bookstores in the wee hours for my copies the day they came out.
Unlike many of my earlier reactions to such sagas of good versus evil, I was not—at first—particularly interested in the bad guy, Lord Voldemort. Based on the first three books, which only showed us Voldemort in fragmented or highly reduced form, he seemed a petty villain to me. Racist and otherwise bigoted, he—if his followers were any indication—was simply a spoiled bully, a reflexive defender of ancient and unearned privilege raging against a more modern, rationalist, and egalitarian way of life, embodied most fully in Dumbledore. I did enjoy the plays on words Rowling made with his name, but he himself didn’t seem very interesting. He didn’t elicit a feeling of overwhelming threat and natural force like Sauron does, and I thought it a bit cheeky for anyone to call him “The Dark Lord,” a title I scarcely felt he merited. He didn’t have the tragic sense of twisted, broken, could-have-been greatness embodied in the likes of Darth Vader and Doctor Doom. And he certainly didn’t have the cool, detached intellect, that sense of an almost alien intelligence, that Hannibal Lecter possesses. Continue reading