I’m going to have to beg your forgiveness this week – not just because you did read the title right = and I am about to attempt to defend one of the most unambiguously evil literary figures of all time. No, I’m asking your forgiveness because my column is called “Chick Literal” and Harry Potter is not, strictly speaking, chick lit so much as it is a children’s fantasy series. However, it was written by a woman and I’d venture to say a lot of women enjoyed the books/movies, so if we could call it close enough for this week, I’d be grateful.
Now, onto the more important things, like why on earth I am attempting to defend someone who is, without a doubt, horrible. Let me say that I certainly do not defend any of Voldemort’s actions. Kidnapping, torture and killing are never acceptable under any circumstances. What I’m defending here is Voldemort’s motivations. Fundamentally, these motivations aren’t very complex; he states them very clearly in the first book: “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” The message of this book, and the next six, is to refute this statement and show that Voldemort’s greatest weakness is his inability to understand love.
While this is all well and good for a children’s series, I think that in real life, Voldemort might actually be closer to the truth of things. While these books and many others (not to mention movies, songs, and the entire greeting card industry) would have us believe that love does triumph over all, I can’t shake the feeling that in reality, everything boils down to power.
I have anecdotes in spades about relationships where the woman has seemingly handed over her wants, needs, dreams, last name and ultimately, her power on a silver platter, all in exchange for a diamond ring and some vague promise of companionship and security. I know too many women who have moved across the country for the sake of a husband’s job, who have remained devoted and faithful and who have stayed at home and raised children at the expense of their own professional ambitions, while their men Don Drapered about*, spending too many hours at work, flirting with too many other women and continued living their lives like single men. I know there are exceptions to this rule; I know there are relationships that are balanced and fair, or ones where women are the breadwinners, but these are not relationships I’ve personally witnessed. Of the relationships I do see, I’ll be the first to admit that as someone who isn’t in any of those relationships, I can’t do anything more than speculate on the balance of power.
The only thing I can draw from is my own experience, and that has been that love is not some magical force that invokes safety and protection, as it does for Harry Potter. For me, looking back on my last two relationships, I can pinpoint the exact moment that the balance of power shifted out of my favor, and it was the moment the word ‘love’ came into the picture. The first time around, I was the first one to say “I love you” and I spent the rest of the relationship regretting it. I thought saying the words would be owning up to something powerful, but ultimately, it felt like admitting a weakness. It was tantamount to saying “I am the one with the stronger feelings” and suddenly we both knew it, which left me at a disadvantage. Suddenly I was no longer being showered with promises and affection, I was looking for jobs and planning my future around where he wanted to go, while he forged ahead with his life exactly as he’d planned it, just assuming I’d follow along. The second time around, I thought I’d learned my lesson and vowed not to be the first to say the words, but it turns out, the only thing worse than being the one to say “I love you” first is being the one who wants to say I love you and has to try and find a way to get the other person to say it first. The ultimate result is the same; you both know who the weak one is, and I was once again left scrambling for leverage in the relationship, and finding I had none. Once again, I was left making plans and altering my future to make it match with someone else’s, except it turned out that someone else didn’t really care if I fit into his future or not.
So I can see why Voldemort focuses on power and doesn’t waste his time on a gamble like love, and he lives in a world where love can invoke a lifetime of magical protection. I live in a world where love just seems to open you up to getting hurt. Love is the thing everyone told you was worth changing and compromising for, but it doesn’t work if the person on the other side of it won’t change or compromise. Power, on the other hand, is something you can get all on your own through hard work and dedication, and doesn’t require someone else to feel the same way to make it legitimate. What you do with power once you have it makes all the difference in the world, which is where my defense of Voldemort ends, for power, once acquired, can (and should!) be used just as easily for good, rather than evil.
*I have seen exactly two episodes of Mad Men, so my actual knowledge of Don Draper is limited to those. It is possible he turns out to be a dedicated husband, but I get the general impression that this is not the case.
Image via EBC Faculty Blog