Sunday, July 3, 2011

Harry Potter: Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters

The Death Eaters in the Harry Potter novels are followers of the evil Lord Voldemort.

Lord Voldemort was born Tom Marvolo Riddle. (The letters in the name "Tom Marvolo Riddle," when rearranged, also spell "I am Lord Voldemort.") Tom's father was a Muggle (a non-magical person) who abandoned Tom's mother while she was pregnant with Tom. Tom's mother, a witch, died shortly after giving birth to Tom, who was raised in an orphanage. Tom never felt at home until he began attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (a boarding school) at age eleven.

Tom made it his business to learn all he could about the Dark Arts. He wanted power. He wanted to be the most powerful wizard who ever lived. In fact, he wanted to overcome death and live forever. He kept pushing the boundaries of magic, achieving more magical power than had ever been achieved and then pushing for even more.

Voldemort's followers, the Death Eaters, seem to me to fall into three types.

FULLY COMMITTED. A few Death Eaters are fully committed to Lord Voldemort and his evil ways. When Voldemort loses his power after trying to kill the one-year-old Harry Potter, these Death Eaters remain faithful. They are ever alert for a sign of Voldemort's return to power and are always ready to help and support him. Two such Death Eaters are Bartemius Crouch (son) and Bellatrix Lestrange.

WISHY-WASHY. Most Death Eaters are of this type. They are attracted to the power and evil of Voldemort, but they will support Voldemort only as long as he remains powerful. When Voldemort loses his power, this type of Death Eater "repents" of having followed him so as to be in the good graces of the kinder and saner wizards now in charge at the Ministry of Magic. When Voldemort regains his power, these Death Eaters "repent" of having defected and return to Voldemort's side. These Death Eaters would like to follow Lord Voldemort, but their main concern is to stay in the good graces of whoever is in power at the moment.

DISILLUSIONED. A few Death Eaters follow Lord Voldemort because they are attracted to power and to the excitement of pushing the boundaries to see how far magic can go, but they retain a core of goodness within themselves that causes them to turn away from Voldemort's evil in the end. For a while, this third type of Death Eater is able to deny or excuse the evil in Voldemort. When Voldemort ruthlessly punishes one of his followers for a mistake, this third type of Death Eater initially justifies the cruelty by telling him- or herself, Of course Lord Voldemort had to punish So-and-So. The Dark Lord cannot allow such mistakes to hamper the quest for power, which, after all, is for the greater good of all.

Eventually, though, Lord Voldemort's cruelty reaches someone whom this third type of Death Eater loves. That is what makes the difference: this type of Death Eater can still love. Voldemort knows nothing of love. This happens with Severus Snape, when Severus sees that Voldemort has killed the woman whom Severus truly loves--Lily Evans Potter, Harry Potter's mother. It also happens with Regulus Arcturus Black, when Regulus sees that Voldemort has callously used Regulus' beloved house-elf, Kreacher, as a guinea pig and left Kreacher for dead. Both Severus and Regulus are suddenly and completely disillusioned with Voldemort and break away from him. In both cases, this eventually results in their deaths.

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