Who’s More Hateful? Crossover Edition: Umbridge vs. Trunchbull
I rewatched POA about a month ago after listening to the audio book -remembering all the reasons why I love it! and around the same time introducing myself to Matilda the Musical (so amazing), and all I could think of was how similar the Dursleys and the Wormwoods are – and the sons parallel as well and Umbridge vs Trunchball – a case for which teacher is the worst – a hard case to argue, as they are both vile/evil. I’m sure if the Trunch had a torture quill she would have used it. And Matilda is kind of magical. Perhaps you may see a Matilda/Harry Potter crossover fanfiction [sic] soon!
Which, of course, got me all in the mood to attempt to make the case for which character is the worst, Matilda’s Agatha Trunchbull or JKR’s Dolores Umbridge?
(Cool fact: Pam Ferris, the actress who played Trunchbull in Danny DeVito’s Matilda, played Aunt Marge in Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban. She is excellent at playing the horrible, hateful, spinster type.)
Umbridge: Umbridge doesn’t so much have a villainous backstory as she appears in Order of the Phoenix, spends one horrendous year at Hogwarts, and then continues her rise up the ranks of the Ministry in later books. We know that she is ruthless, a pure-blood, loves pink and cats, chooses to surround herself with similarly minded people, and a Slytherin.
Trunchbull: Trunchbull is Miss (Jennifer) Honey’s aunt. She was a shotput champion, who had to retire after breaking her arm. She initially moved in with Magnus Honey to help raise Jennifer after Mrs. Honey died. Trunchbull killed Magnus so as to take over his house and money and keeps Jennifer close so that she has reasonable hold on the inheritance.
Umbridge: J.K. Rowling gleefully describes Umbridge as toad-like, with a nasty expression on her face. But beyond that bit of gratuitous detail on her appearance, Umbridge is nasty through-and-through. The movie worked hard to create a wardrobe and look for Umbridge that was exactly at odds with her diseased insides; her makeup and clothes get progressively pinker and girlier as the movie goes on. We know, however, that Umbridge can’t stand dissent or disorder. She revels in humiliating her victims and does her darndest to uphold her own beliefs and corrupted moral compass.
Trunchbull: Ugh. She’s a psychopath who hates children and prides herself on not having fun when she was a child. Not only does she taint Slytherin green with her military-esque uniform, but she also gives spinsters and chocolate-lovers a bad name. Her miserable life is threatened by anything remotely related to joy and magic, and her personality reflects everything stereotypically haunting, terrible, and dreary about British boarding schools. Luckily, she wears her disgust on her sleeve, which makes it easy for the viewer to hate her.
Umbridge: Constantly, gratingly “hem hem”s. Her entire wardrobe is pink. Can’t stand children. Loves cats. Disapproves of sloppy dress, PDA, creative thinking, disrespect for authority, emotion, weakness, disorder, and Harry Potter. Always wears hats. Arrogant.
Trunchbull: Greedy for chocolate, to the point of punishing anyone who has the gall to take her share of it. Excellent at shotput, possibly a past champion. Deathly afraid of cats. Hates children with every fiber in her being. Terrified of the supernatural. Prone to threatening those she has a problem with. Can’t stand pigtails on girls or long hair on boys. Wears her hair in the exact same hairstyle, no matter the occasion: pulled severely back in a high bun.
Umbridge: She surprisingly blends in with the rest of the Wizengamot. She isn’t able to don her signature pink until after the trial, but she makes her voice known, questioning Dumbledore’s on-the-nose disapproval of Fudge’s decision to call the kind of jury only reserved for criminal cases for Harry’s disciplinary one.
Trunchbull: She strides onto screen, literally towering over the students, glowering at her fate of being principal over these tiny beings. Matilda gets a quick warning about Trunchbull’s character before she sees her in action, sneering down at poor Amanda Thripp.
Umbridge: We get a glimpse of her true character when she shrieks at Hermione and Harry at their first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. She would rather treat 15-year-olds like grade schoolers, giving them a dumbed down version of defensive magic, than admit that a war is brewing. She’s a mouthpiece of Fudge, a spy who has ingrained herself into the school.
Trunchbull: Spparently, it’s not just enough that she wields her terror on the school’s blacktop. She needs to assert her grown-up-ness against these tiny grade schoolers, and she does so with her weekly check-ins to all the classrooms.
AGGRESSION AGAINST OUR HERO
Umbridge: Her first definitive aggressive maneuver against Harry is detention. Before detention, all we had on Umbridge was her annoying little quirks and her blind allegiance to Fudge. Her simpering words of loyalty to the Ministry seemed harmless. Oh ho, how quickly things change: Umbridge has absolutely no sympathy for a boy like Harry, whom she believes is a liar and a show-off who has been brainwashed by Dumbledore to go against what is “right.”
Trunchbull: Trunchbull intimidates on the regular, and she doesn’t discriminate on age, gender, or situation. Her first significant aggression against Matilda, however, echoes the daily microaggressions that Matilda has to deal with at home. In fact, Trunchbull echoes Mr. Wormwood’s exact words of “I’m big and you’re small, and I’m right and you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Um, yes, there is, you idiots. Matilda can make things move with the power of her mind. DO NOT PISS OFF THE TELEKINETIC.
PETTY ATTACK ON SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER
Umbridge: Trelawney! Every other Hogwarts professor is more than capable of ignoring Umbridge’s meddling, but Trelawney, who experiences life through a daze of spectacled mysticism, without the backing of Dumbledore, crumbles under Umbridge’s casual dismissal.
Trunchbull: Narrowing down her bullying to just one incident had me pick between the chocolate cake scene and the pigtails scene. But after some deliberation, the pigtails scene definitely stood out. At least Bruce Bogtrotter in the chocolate cake scene had some retribution; Amanda Thripp, however, has to endure insults about her mother and the possibility of 1) getting her hair ripped out and 2) landing on the spiky fence that surrounds the school, all because of Trunchbull’s hate for pigtails.
HER IDEA OF PUNISHMENT
Umbridge: The Black Quill. A magical quill that draws its ink from the blood of the wielder, actually scratching into the person’s hand, leaving a scarred reminder of his or her naughtiness. She saves her special quill – which, of course, is a beautifully plumed pen, hiding its menace behind a gilded gleam, just like her – for the truly terminal, voiceless cases.
Trunchbull: The Chokey. Like Umbridge, Trunchbull believes that violence is the best way to punish children, to keep them in line, to remind them who has power and who doesn’t. However, unlike Umbridge, who likes to keep her sadism under wraps. Trunchbull has turned herself into a physical manifestation of sadism. Hence, the Chokey: a freaky chamber, barely narrow enough to house one child, jagged nails stuck in the door, which exists purely to scare the living crap out of whoever’s unfortunate enough to incur her wrath.
HOW SHE REACTS UNDER PRESSURE
Umbridge: After George and Fred’s raucous prank, Umbridge is pissed. Rightly so: They’ve made a fool of her, disrupted her perfectly ordered final exams, and do not give one hoot about her powers as stand-in Headmaster/Ministry minion. This is the tipping point for Umbridge. She rips away the last veneer of grin-and-bear-it and leverages everything she has against Harry and co.
Trunchbull: Granted, Matilda threw her for a loop when she basically poltergeist-ed Trunchbull’s house. Appropriately, Trunchbull totally freaks out, sure that her brother’s spirit was finally avenging her treatment of Miss Honey. In the book, she turns insane after this incident, but in the movie, it takes a bit longer for her to throw in the towel and leave town.
While both Umbridge and Trunchbull are heartless, baseless, and completely void of a moral conscience, they’re actually quite different in terms of evilness. That’s partly why I changed the parameters of “how evil is she?” to “how hateful is she?” If we were to compare and contrast these ladies on pure evilness, then Umbridge would win, hands down. (She blithely threw non-pure-bloods under the Dementor bus and stood, grinning, by the Ministry of Magic’s new, demeaning statue.) No amount of bullying and terrorizing can compare to purposefully allowing soul-sucking horrors interrogate innocent victims.
However: Trunchbull is the more hateful of the two because she had a personal, vested stake in her reign of terror. We can argue that Umbridge cared so much about her career that it was a utilitarian decision to align herself with the interests of the Death Eaters. We cannot ignore the fact that Trunchbull hated Miss Honey and anyone who reminded her of Miss Honey’s idyllic childhood; her reign of terror, then, is her maliciously taking revenge against happiness. That, in and of itself, makes her absolutely hateful.