‘Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’
Albus Dumbledore says this to Harry when he starts to say the name Voldemort, but corrects it to You-Know-Who. It’s a piece of wisdom that the Headmaster gives, but alas, not many others in the wizarding world of Harry Potter seem to follow that lead. Perhaps the fear of what it would be to cross Lord Voldemort, even after years since his supposed demise, is what makes people still afraid to use the name. When he was dominant, the terrible things that he did, like killing Harry’s parents, or many other powerful wizards, not condemning his followers for torturing the Longbottoms etc., would have been quite unforgettable to the world.
You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is the terminology that is quite consistent through the Harry Potter series. Even though readers would know that he is Lord Voldemort after reading the first book, or that his name was Tom Marvolo Riddle after reading the second book, it’s You-Know-Who that most readers would still connect to, maybe even feel a little afraid of, if they are so involved in reading the world of Harry Potter, as I was when I first read the book.
You-Know-Who is perhaps the second most hated character in the entire series. The only character that trumps him in terms of the evilness of a villain is Professor Dolores Umbridge. Looking back at his life through the pensieve in the sixth book, and through the character development in the series, we come to know that he’s not that different from Harry in a few ways. He’s a half-blood, with a Muggle father and a witch mother, Merope, who was a descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Like Salazar, he’s also a Parselmouth, having the ability to talk to snakes. He’s also orphaned at a young age, but finds out that he can do magic. His wand has a tail feather from the phoenix Fawkes as well. But character wise, the similarities end there.
You-Know-Who from his childhood has a very bossy, proud, controlling attitude. He likes to take what’s not his, and hurts those who stand in his way or who bully him, or even if it is just for fun. He’s as cruel to his followers as he is to his enemies too, choosing to punish them if he does not get his way. Choosing Draco Malfoy to be a Death Eater is a way to punish Lucius Malfoy for failing to retrieve the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries. He also despises Muggles, especially after knowing how his Muggle father wronged his witch mother. He chooses to do what he wants to do, and goes to any lengths to survive, be it splitting his soul or to share a body with another wizard, or to slay something as pure and innocent as a unicorn.
Till the end, the curiosity in the series is to see if Harry triumphs over You-Know-Who, if good triumphs over evil. Before the release of the last book, the debate on this was so strong that quite a few fans went as far as writing to Rowling hoping for the book to end the way they hoped it would. Some of my friends opened the book to the last page first, to check what happened. For me, You-Know-Who’s character is one that shows how the powerful oppress the weak, and use them to achieve whatever end necessary. And his character also feels the perfect villain for Harry Potter’s character as well.
(© 29th April 2016)