Love Potions and Voldemort: Why It Makes Me Uncomfortable
Lord Voldemort’s most important and most well-known characteristic in Harry Potter is his inability to love. This character trait is used to explain his evil ways, and ultimately becomes the reason for his defeat. However, this trait does raise one question. Why is he incapable of love? Eventually, J.K. Rowling revealed to us that the reason Voldemort is unable to feel love is because he was conceived under the influence of a love potion.
Now, when I first read that, I couldn’t quite place my finger on why that concept made me so uncomfortable, why I felt a vague sense of unease while thinking about it. However, over the years, I’ve been able to pin down and articulate that reason. Put simply, this idea implies that Voldemort is evil because he is the child of rape.
Now, that may not have been J.K. Rowling’s intention when she came up with the idea. Indeed, I doubt it was. Still, once you begin to examine the metaphor more closely, that’s the message it sends. I will break down why.
To start off, love potions are basically fancy, magical date rape drugs. The reason for this is because while under the influence of a love potion, it is not possible for someone to give informed consent. We’ve seen in the books how after taking love potions, people become obsessed with the person who gave it to them to the point of irrationality and the inability to recognize the strangeness of their behavior. They might find themselves mortified or confused after the potion wears off. Given these mind-altering effects, someone cannot consent while under the influence of love potion.
So this means that Merope Gaunt’s relationship with Tom Riddle, Sr. was not consensual. He was not in his right mind during it, and given that he left immediately after the love potions wore off, it’s pretty unlikely he would have consented otherwise. So Voldemort, being a child of that union, is also a child of rape.
Now here’s where the real problem in the metaphor comes out. Children of rape exist. It’s sad, but it’s true. However, those children are not responsible for the circumstances of their birth. The sins of their parent are not passed onto them, and those children begin their life with the same capacity for good or evil that every other child has.
But in Harry Potter, the circumstances of Voldemort’s birth doom him from the start. It’s made explicitly clear that Voldemort’s biggest flaw is his inability to feel love, that this trait is what drives his villainy throughout the series. And that means he was practically destined to grow up evil because of what his mother did.
This is why the concept made me so uncomfortable since it implies that children born of rape have something wrong with them, that they are born broken some way, and that they have no chance of overcoming the circumstances of their birth. This isn’t true, and such an implication can be damaging, both to the children themselves and to those around them.
So while I find Voldemort to be an interesting and engaging villain in many other ways, I can’t say I’m a fan of his backstory. As I mentioned earlier, I doubt these implications were intentional, but they’re still there and can still do harm. We know that people are influenced by the media they consume. In many ways, this can be positive. Not so long ago, there was a study showing that reading Harry Potter increases empathy. However, negative messages can be internalized alongside positive ones. This is why it’s important to examine the works we create carefully, paying attention to all the messages within them, intentional or otherwise.