The other day, I asked my daughter which Harry Potter book was her favorite. Without hesitation, she answered, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” When I inquired about her reasoning, she mentioned a certain villain that stood out in that particular book. Though the Harry Potter series boasts a plethora of complex, fascinating, and sometimes horrifying villains, both my daughter and I agree that Dolores Umbridge from the fifth book is, without a doubt, the best. Here’s why.
While Voldemort is the overarching villain of the series, Umbridge is a more subtle, insidious character. She’s the embodiment of the corrupt government, with all of its bureaucratic red tape and ruthless power plays. Unlike Voldemort, she’s human, which makes her even more chilling in some ways. She’s the kind of person who would be happy to exert her authority over you, to strip you of your rights, and to take pleasure in it.
There’s no denying that Voldemort is a fearsome character, but he’s also very one-dimensional. He’s evil for the sake of being evil. He’s ambitious, cruel, and power-hungry, but he’s not much more than that. On the other hand, Umbridge is multifaceted. She’s both manipulative and outright sadistic, but she’s also an excellent bureaucrat who knows how to get things done. She’s clever, calculating, and not afraid to get her hands dirty.
What makes Umbridge truly terrifying, though, is her ability to exploit the system. She’s not just a villain, she’s also a representative of the Ministry of Magic, with all the authority and legitimacy that comes with it. She’s able to abuse her power and get away with it, all while wearing pink cardigans and a sweet smile. She’s a reminder that true evil can lurk behind a benign facade.
Umbridge is more relatable as a villain than Voldemort. While Voldemort is an all-powerful wizard with the goal of achieving immortality and dominating the wizarding world, Umbridge is a more grounded character who represents a type of villain that many readers may have encountered in their own lives: the petty, bureaucratic tyrant who abuses their power for personal gain.
Umbridge is also more directly and intimately involved in the lives of the main characters than Voldemort. While Voldemort is often a distant and abstract threat, Umbridge is a constant and insidious presence at Hogwarts, tormenting Harry and his friends on a daily basis. This makes her actions more personal and her presence more unsettling.
Umbridge is a symbol of the darker aspects of the Ministry of Magic and the wizarding world as a whole. Her character represents the ways in which authority can be corrupted and used to suppress dissent, as well as the dangers of blind obedience to authority. Her actions are a reminder that evil can exist even within seemingly benign institutions and individuals, making her a powerful and thought-provoking villain.
Umbridge’s character also has staying power. Long after you’ve finished reading the Harry Potter books, you’ll find yourself still thinking about her. That’s the mark of a truly great villain – one who lingers in your mind, long after the story has ended.
Who’s your favorite Harry Potter villain and why?