A Prelude to Evil in ‘Half-Blood Prince’


The Tom Riddle narrative is presented in kernels in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, leaving significant portions of Voldemort’s life to the imagination. This is a perfect storm for J. K. Rowling to write a spin-off book (fingers crossed for plural) and elaborate on the events that twisted young Tom into a Dark Lord. Given the memories Harry and Dumbledore explore in the Pensive, I’d like to examine the great potential to elaborate Tom Riddle’s character development after this prelude to evil.

I think this would be an excellent character study and a way of understanding what turns people to do “good” or “bad” — The hero in one story is the villain in another. We may see key scenes in Tom’s life with relation to his Horcruxes; however, there’s still the small moments that truly define a character’s arc that remain unmentioned. Moreover, there’s the question of what happened at Wool’s Orphanage before Dumbledore came to collect him? Yet Tom isn’t the only character in Prince who went sour. What about Bellatrix, the Malfoys, even the anti-hero Severus Snape? What if there was a whole anthology of short stories about these people and their “fall” to the Dark Arts?

What am I particularly interested about in this investigation of villainy? It is my belief that nobody wakes up and thinks ‘I’m going to be evil today!’ Something contributes to that decision, just like something contributes to someone wanting to uphold peace and the rights of all.

In chapter twelve ‘The Secret Riddle,’ we visit for the first time a young Tom Riddle and are told that he is “odd” and “scares the other children” (267). We see him tell Dumbledore that he can “make bad things happen to people who annoy [him]. [He] can make them hurt if he want[s] to” (271). Dumbledore reprimands Tom for the box of objects he stole from the other orphans. Tom even resents Dumbledore when he refers to the barman at the Leaky Cauldron for sharing his name. While all of this is great for the story Jo was telling (about Harry), there’s so much more material to be fleshed out regarding Tom Riddle. What happened during those early years that led to his proclivity for inflicting pain on others. Most importantly, where does he acquire this fear of death when he expressed doubt that his mother “couldn’t have been magic, or she wouldn’t have died” (275)?

I am utterly dissatisfied that we are just supposed to accept Tom Riddle as a creepy kid because he grew up without parents or in an orphanage. Well Harry too grew up without parents and in an abusive household to boot. It should go without saying that Tom and Harry’s past are to be paralleled. So how come Harry is a model for heroism despite his crippling upbringing; whereas, Tom turned out to be the embodiment of wickedness. Are we to assume that living with people who treat you worse than dogs is better than an orphanage?

“Because that’s the way the story was written.” I can hear people who will tell me I’m thinking too much into this. Maybe I am. But, as a writer, I feel we must “think too much into it” in order to train at our craft at the highest capacity. I should be encouraged to do this. Besides, Jo is too clever a storyteller to permit such a simple, traditional answer. I know there is more to the origins of Tom Riddle. My question now: when is she going to fill the gaps?


***This post is part of my Perusing Potter – a series of exploring the known and not-so-known aspects of the Harry Potter Series***

8 Comments Add yours

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