Lord Voldemort: A Monster Defined?
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s essay “Monster Theory: Reading Culture” presents several theories that are useful when examining a monstrous figure from text, film, or history. The first four theories examine different aspects of fictional monsters, such as their creation being the product of a cultural unease or the inability to sort these figures into defining categories, making them unknown and therefore terrifying for humans who favor easy categorization. The particular theory that is applicable to the character of Lord Voldemort is Cohen’s fifth thesis.
Cohen’s fifth thesis discusses the monster policing the border of possibility, controlling the ability for humans to venture past the constraints set up for a moral and ethical society. Cohen’s theory discusses how social and moral wrongs can lead to the creation of a monster. Lord Voldemort was once a mortal human known as Tom Riddle, but years of misdeeds and the use of dark magic transformed him into a menacing figure with red eyes and two slits in place of a nose. He kills without a thought, leaving no survivors once he has decided to strike. No survivors, except, of course, Harry Potter.
Voldemort certainly has explored where other humans have not. After all, he has gone “further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality” (GoF 653). With each severance of his soul, Voldemort became a little less human and a little more monster. The act of creating Horcruxes can only be achieved by “the supreme act of evil. By committing murder” (HBP 498). By committing atrocities and unspeakable evil without feeling any human emotions such as regret, guilt, or restraint, Lord Voldemort was transformed from a human into a terrifying variation of his old self. He may have the basic human anatomy, but by removing his soul from his body, Voldemort ventured into the realm of impossibility. As Rowling writes, “You must understand that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation, it is against nature” (HBP 497-8).
Voldemort was the only wizard to ever venture so far down this path of mutilating his natural soul, and the result was chaos and war. Imagine if more of the human population followed suit and crossed the border between possible and impossible. The character of Lord Voldemort is a cautionary tale, showing the villain being punished by crossing this border. He begins his journey as a handsome, young man whom people can’t say no to, but once he crosses the line and mutilates his soul for the purpose of defying the order of mortal life, the handsome Tom Riddle becomes the monstrous Lord Voldemort, his outer appearance revealing the monster that lives within. What Cohen says of the first werewolf, Lycaon, created out of punishment for attempting to murder the god Jupiter, is also true for Lord Voldemort – “he is both man and beast” (13).
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Theory: Reading Culture” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Web. Feb. 10, 2016.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Print.