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This article about an unrelated movie deploys a piece of terminology I have never encountered: 'Voldemortian'.

Unlike most modern film violence, there's nothing exploitative, no sense of boundary-pushing for its own sake. Evil isn't some cheap Voldemortian blood-right.

The author (Film critic Phil Hoad) seeks to imply that the level of Voldemort's malevolence is somehow in excess of the conditions of its own fruition: as though to imply that Voldemort was somehow 'inherently' evil to begin with.

It seeks to discredit the characterization of Evil within JK Rowling's work as lacking in substance; evil for the sake of evil, without explanation.

Its understandable why this would be received so negatively. The concept of someone's behavior being anything other than a result of their conditions of existence is problematic, and the idea of a 'naturally evil' entity is often deployed in horror for exactly this purpose (think The Omen, The Unborn, The Bad Seed, Children of the Corn Etc. Etc.).

I recall parts of the HP novels exploring Riddle's past, but is there enough within his personal history to substantiate his eventual malice?

Which school of thought does Rowling endorse; 'Born Evil' or 'Worn Evil?'

Is there any credibility to Hoad's claim that Voldemort's immorality lacks plausible heritage?

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Hey, um, I don't have nearly enough potter knowledge to write an answer, but didn't his soul get literally fragmented seven times? I think that might explain why he was so evil, at least after he started comitting murders for the sake of fragmenting his soul... –  Zibbobz Apr 25 at 13:48
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@Zibbobz - are you stipulating that he wasn't evil when he committed the first murder? –  DVK Apr 25 at 13:55
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I don't think he was born evil. He was certainly one who didn't mind hurting others, but not evil. He was affected by his mother being left by his father - which started his hatred towards muggles. In the end, he just wanted power, and would go to any end to get that. –  The Dragon Rider who Lived Apr 25 at 16:28
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@TheDragonRiderwhoLived That's exactly what I was going to point out. I don't think it's so much that he was "inherently evil" as that he had particular goals (power, influence, adulation) and chose evil means to accomplish them. –  starsplusplus Apr 25 at 18:04
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Related: Did Merope's love potion have anything to do with the fact that Voldemort doesn't love? - I am of the opinion that Voldemort was born evil, but not due to his genetics. It was due to what happened to him before birth. –  Izkata Apr 26 at 1:36
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2 Answers 2

There are 3 parts of this answer, to answer two independent sub-questions you asked.

  1. is there enough within his personal history to substantiate his Malice?

    Yes, depending on how you define "Malice". He exhibits typical sociopathic (or even psychopathic) tendencies early in life.

    • He hurts other kids deliberately; and repeatedly. However he always does it without a good (to him) reason.

      Apparently she decided she could, because she said in a sudden rush, "He scares the other children.
      "You mean he is a bully?" asked Dumbledore.
      "I think he must be," said Mrs. Cole, frowning slightly, "but it's very hard to catch him at it. There have been incidents. . . . Nasty things ..."
      Dumbledore did not press her, though Harry could tell that he was interested. She took yet another gulp of gin and her rosy cheeks grew rosier still.
      "Billy Stubbs's rabbit. . . well, Tom said he didn't do it and I don't see how he could have done, but even so, it didn't hang itself from the rafters, did it?"

      "But I'm jiggered if I know how he got up there to do it. All I know is he and Billy had argued the day before. And then" — Mrs. Cole took another swig of gin, slopping a little over her chin this time — "on the summer outing — we take them out, you know, once a year, to the countryside or to the seaside — well, Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop were never quite right afterwards, and all we ever got out of them was that they'd gone into a cave with Tom Riddle. He swore they'd just gone exploring, but something happened in there, I'm sure of it. And, well, there have been a lot of things, funny things. . . ."

      She looked around at Dumbledore again, and though her cheeks were flushed, her gaze was steady. "I don't think many people will be sorry to see the back of him."

      (src: Half-Blood Prince; Chapter 13: The Secret Riddle)

    • He also lied (including to Dumbledore about Any Benson and Denis Bishop to Dumbledore right after)... and admitted himself that he hurts people:

      ...I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.

    • He also has delusions of grandeur (justified, granted, but that doesn't help the case here)

      "I knew I was different," he whispered to his own quivering fingers. "I knew I was special. Always, I knew there was something."

    • He also stole AND clearly didn't feel like he did anything wrong.

      "Is there anything in that box that you ought not to have?" asked Dumbledore.
      Riddle threw Dumbledore a long, clear, calculating look. "Yes, I suppose so, sir," he said finally, in an expressionless voice.
      "Open it," said Dumbledore.
      Riddle took off the lid and tipped the contents onto his bed without looking at them. Harry, who had expected something much more exciting, saw a mess of small, everyday objects: a yo-yo, a silver thimble, and a tarnished mouth organ among them. Once free of the box, they stopped quivering and lay quite still upon the thin blankets.

      "You will return them to their owners with your apologies," said Dumbledore calmly, putting his wand back into his jacket. "I shall know whether it has been done. And be warned: Thieving is not tolerated at Hogwarts."

      Riddle did not look remotely abashed; he was still staring coldly and appraisingly at Dumbledore. At last he said in a colorless voice, "Yes, sir."


  2. A second part is about whether your Film critic Phil Hoad is right when he, in your words, consides:

    "Voldemort's malevolence is somehow in excess of the conditions of its own fruition: as though to imply that Voldemort was somehow 'inherently' evil to begin with" as you put it; or "evil for the sake of evil".

    That is a completely wrong reading of Voldemort.

    JKR portrayed Voldemort very explicitly as not "Evil for the Evulz".

    He is a socio-/psychopath - but he isn't in it merely to "be evil".

    He merely doesn't concern himself in his head with any distinction between "good" and "evil" and will choose what other people would consider evil IF it achieves his ends and desires better (but won't choose evil "just because it's evil"; and will choose "good" when good would work better).

    But he himself knew full well what the outside world's ideas about good vs evil were - he CHOSE not to make the distinction; but he COULD make one. In other words, he was what's defined as a highly functioning sociopath.

    Of course, as we all know from Master Yoda, evil will always triumph because good is dumb evil (Dark Side) is the easier path, so it just happens that Voldemort usually chooses evil acts. People who read that as Voldemort being evil merely commit the logical fallacy of confusing correlation with causation.

    But we have sufficient canon proof that he never chooses to act "evilly" only because something is "evil" and appeals to him because of its evilness.

    • He doesn't kill merely "to kill":

      • He saw the small boy’s smile falter as he ran near enough to see beneath the hood of the cloak, saw the fear cloud his painted face. Then the child turned and ran away. . . . Beneath the robe be fingered the hand of his wand . . . One simple movement and the child would never reach his mother . . . but unnecessary, quite unnecessary... (src: Deathly Hallows, Bathilda’s Secret).

      • He offered Lily Potter to live (instead of indiscriminately slaughtering her right away)

      • He offered Neville to live in DH

    • He also was a Prefect (presumably a good one) and a model student at Hogwarts when it served his purposes to do so. Both required him to act as socially adept "good" member of society on a continual basis for years.

    • even the abovementioned hurting other kids in the orphanage wasn't don't "for the evulz" - he hurt them "when they annoyed him". E.g. he didn't just pick a random kid to hurt because it amused him. He had in his own mind a valid justification for his actions. His sociopathy manifested in his drastically inadequate response to the offense. He stole because he wanted their things (and not because he enjoyed the pain of someone whose thing was stolen).


  3. To summarize: If your question is "Is Voldemort evil", the answer is "it depends on how you define evil".

    • If you define "evil" as someone who does evil things because they want to do evil things (merely because they are evil) and cause pain needlessly, Voldemort is NOT inherently evil.

    • If you define it as "a person who chooses to commit evil acts towards others", he was unquestionably evil.

    Personally, I would choose the latter definition, since for the victims of his evil acts, it really isn't that much of an important distinction whether they were victimized because the victimization served some logical purpose for Voldemort or because he enjoyed the evilness of it.

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From my understanding, a Sociopath is unable to differentiate between good and evil, and lacks the ability to discern why their actions are condemned: does this fit Voldemorts profile, or does he recognize Evil and choose to consciously embrace it in pursuit of the power it brings? –  John Smith Optional Apr 25 at 13:56
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@JohnSmithOptional - google "High functioning sociopath". Voldemort fits to a T. he doesn't "embrace" evil - he merely uses whatever he wants to get to what he wants. He uses "good" as well (he befriends old lonely lady; I'm sure he helped his "friends" with their studies; he was a prefect; etc...) when it suits him. –  DVK Apr 25 at 13:59
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@JohnSmithOptional: we’ve had “is Voldemprt a sociopath” on this site before, although it was closed scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/40851/… –  alexwlchan Apr 25 at 14:00
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@alexwlchan - incorrectly closed IMHO. I just VTROed and suggest you do too –  DVK Apr 25 at 14:12
    
@DVK well, isn't this the definition of evil? I mean, "plain evil" as opposite to "evil stupid". –  Lohoris Apr 25 at 16:19
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DVK's answer is quite good, but I have some things to add.

In the chamber with the mirror of Erised Quirrell says:

A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to see it.

This supports DVK's theory of Voldemort not being able to tell the difference between good and evil, but because it isn't Voldemort but Quirrell, one could say this is only Voldemort's propaganda, and Quirrell fell for it.

The second thing I want to add, is that Voldemort's anti-muggle attitude likely comes from the fact that his father (a Muggle) abandoned his mother (a Witch) before he was even born.

Voldemort was also in an orphanage (and a terrible one at that), meaning there was less individual care compared to still having parents. My point is that parents maybe had noticed Voldemort being a sociopath and could have helped him adapt to the common moral, but in the orphan home he grew up in they didn't have the time or the people needed.

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'This supports DVK's theory of Voldemort not being able to tell the difference between good and evil'... I don't think DVK asserted this; this came from my understanding of a sociopath. DVK elaborated that Riddle does know the difference between Good and Evil, because he knows when to use one and not the other... –  John Smith Optional Apr 25 at 18:03
    
This part of DVK's answer directly contradicts your comment: JKR portrayed Voldemort very explicitly as not "Evil for the Evulz". He is a socio-/psychopath - but he isn't in it merely to "be evil". He merely doesn't see any distinction between "good" and "evil" and will choose evil IF it achieves his ends and desires better (but won't choose evil "just because"; or when good would work better). @JohnSmithOptional –  11684 Apr 25 at 18:19
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@11684 - I was a shade imprecise. He knows the difference on a level of "this is what my teachers would consider good or evil". He merely refuses to make that distinction himself. Which is even more strongly supported by your quote. –  DVK Apr 25 at 18:23
    
@DVK Thank you, maybe it's an idea to add that to your answer? –  11684 Apr 25 at 18:24
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@11684 - done,,, –  DVK Apr 25 at 18:28
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