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nott theodore

Was Tom Riddle destined to be evil?

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I know, I know - Tom Riddle/Voldemort was always designed to be the antagonist of the series, and to represent evil to counteract Harry's good.  But what I want to know is whether Tom Riddle ever had a chance to follow a different path. 

 

Obviously, he could have made different choices, but J.K. Rowling has said that Tom Riddle couldn't understand love, which caused the hate he felt.  There are theories that being born from a love potion made him incapable of love - but there are other children born to couples who don't love each other, and they are more than capable of love.  So was it his birth (and nature) or his upbringing - in the orphanage without anyone to care for him - (nurture) which caused him to be the way he was?  A combination of both?  Another reason entirely? 

 

Was Tom Riddle always destined to be evil?

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My theory is that Voldemort had RAD. OK, I really don't think he is intended to have, but it makes so much sense. It is caused by not forming a secure attachment to a caregiver in something like the first 18 months or two years of life, so can be found in children raised in institutions. One of the defining things is that people with RAD often appear charming but cannot form real attachments to anybody. Dumbledore's comment about how Voldemort had never had a friend and never wanted one.

 

I generally see it as his upbringing combined with his choices. Yes, his family history definitely shows a lot of instability but I think his background explains a good deal more. Even apart from my RAD diagnose, he grew up in an era when children growing up in orphanages were considered to be pretty much on the lowest rung of society, then he went into a world where he was descended from a famous historical figure and where certain sectors of society considered those who looked down on him to be on the lowest rung.

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This is an interesting one for me. Going strictly from canon, I go with my stand-by that nobody is "destined" to be a certain way or that as certain outcome is their "fate" - there are far too many exceptions to too many similar circumstances for me to believe that way.

 

Additional information though makes you wonder. On the one hand, we have JKR, who has stated that Voldemort was incapable of love and so, in that way, I think if not destined to become who he became, he was destined to be a dark, dangerous individual because it is love (or at the very least empathy and the ability to truly connect with other human beings) that prevents us from acting selfishly at all times and remorselessly using or manipulating others.

 

On the other, I found it interesting the quote that was inserted into the HBP film with Draco and Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower - "...years ago, I knew a boy who made all the wrong choices." Now, there is obviously a lot of controversy about who that statement is about (some say Voldemort, others say Snape, Grindelwald, or even Dumbledore himself), but I like to think it's about Voldemort and it suggests, even if very weakly, that the idea that he was "destined" to be evil is not true. That he chose that path. I think it's supported by canon in that he had opportunities in the form of people that supported him and believed in him and wanted success for him that he turned away from for his quest to be the Dark Lord.

 

TL;DR: No. Like anyone else, he chose his path. There may have been underlying reasons, including possible mental health disorders that made it harder for him to make the right choices, but I don't think he was "destined" for evil.

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Something else that has just occurred to me: I don't think being unable to love, however we choose to interpret that, means necessarily being evil. I mean, we all love a limited number of people and we don't start murdering or stealing from or oppressing those we don't love. Being unable to love may make it easier to do these things as you don't have that little voice saying "what if it was my mother or father or grandparent or child," but I still don't think it necessarily follows. And this reminds me of a sermon by a local priest, when he said, "we can't love everybody, but we can be kind to everybody."

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I think you make a good point, Margaret.  Of course we cannot love everyone, and that does not doom us to hate them or be unable to do right by them.  At the same time, though, Tom Riddle apparently cannot feel any sort of affection for anyone but himself.  So, like, what does it do to you if you cannot feel even the least desire to care for someone else, the vaguest concern for their well-being, because you simply don't care?  Perhaps in an extremely introverted personality, that would only result in being antisocial and a bit of a jerk.  But in someone with Tom Riddle's inherent charisma and ambition?  I think it's that blend that doomed him.  He had an inherent desire to rise, without any checks on that ambition.  He lacked the ability to care about people--could not even understand why someone might care, thought it made them weak, stupid, and unworthy--so why would he hesitate to murder anyone in his way?  With that combination, I think he was essentially doomed to be a villain. 

 

That isn't to say that everyone who has issues forming attachments is bound to be a terrible person.  But I think the combo of Tom's hunger to be important, along with his inability to love anyone in any way, is what made him such a villain.  And, like you say, there's also the whole mess of other things in his background: mentally unstable, inbred bloodlines; an extreme lack of appropriate care in his childhood; being told he was great and, at the same time, having spent much of his life being seen as the lowest of the low. 

 

But really, we have most of that in Harry, as well.  The Potters seem fairly well-adjusted, but let's keep in mind that they were considered Purebloods before James married Lily.  Even if it didn't manifest the same way, it's likely that Harry's genetic pool isn't all that much more varied than Tom's was.  He, too, suffered abuse for his entire young life.  He's told that he's this hero, the child of heroes, and gets to go off to magic school, but at the same time, there are always so many people looking down on him.  Sometimes he just wants to prove himself. 

 

But Harry never does that at the expense of others.  He cares about other people and, while he messes up like any kid, he consistently puts his friends, and even strangers, first. 

 

As far as I can see it, the main issue between Harry and Tom Riddle really does seem to be that Harry can understand love and Tom cannot. 

 

TL;DR: I think Tom was doomed, but not just by his inability to love.  It could have been the combination of the ambition he was born with (and that arose from growing up with nothing), along with the inability to understand or feel any sort of affection.

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Something else that has just occurred to me: I don't think being unable to love, however we choose to interpret that, means necessarily being evil.

 

This reminds me of an AU fic I read where Harry is sent back in time in some undisclosed freak accident and ends up raising Tom (I went through a phase of reading loads and loads of AU and/or time travel fics, do not judge). In the fic, Tom grows up as an inherently good child, though he still gets sorted into Slytherin, but admits that he feels like there's something wrong with him, something missing. Harry knows it's because of how he was conceived, but he doesn't say anything since at the end of the day, Tom does love his mum and Harry and eventually Minerva.

 

So I guess what I'm saying is that a lot of it is to do with nurture. Tom grew up in a horrible situation. I've read fics that have written him as abused since he would've displayed signs of being magical/shown "devilish" behaviour or just generally not having the steady love he needed to be a good person. I'm fairly sure I've seen sources saying that even JKR said that if Tom had grown up with a loving mother, he would've been a very different person.

 

However, maybe there is something inside him that was naturally inclined towards "evil" for lack of a better word. Now I should say that I don't agree with the theory about him not being able to love because of how he was conceived. I feel like it takes something away from his character. But maybe he was born this way. I don't really know much about socio/psychopaths or antisocial disorder behaviour so I can't really comment on that, but I can say that I believe it was a combination of nature and nurture. All the "bad blood" in him probably contributed, but the more influential factor was the environment he actually grew up in. :)

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With all we know about him - yes.

I'd say that he was truly a psychopath and he exhibited signs from an early age. It fits the bill perfectly. 

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My thing about psychopathy is that I'm not sure that I think that's enough to make him 'evil'. From everything I understand about it, it's truly a personality disorder and people can't help the way that they are. There's no cure, no easy treatment, and with the fundamental characteristics of it a person that is a psychopath wouldn't be in a position to seek help. No matter how callous or vicious a person is, I'm not sure that I necessarily hold it against them if it's something they can't help. I think in 100 years they'll look back and be horrified at our treatment of psychopaths.

If I'm being honest I think I blame the adults in Tom's life much more so than anything else. If it was a genetic predisposition or in this case a magical predisposition, the adults in his life should have made up for it with environmental factors to the best of their ability. I find it very hard to believe that there were absolutely no magical foster families that could have taken him in and he didn't have the mother's love garbage that Dumbledore had harped on about with Harry. I feel like from the very beginning it seemed like Dumbledore held animosity and judgment for him. With love and help from mental health professionals (surely someone at St Mungo's had some training in that) I think they could have easily seen warning signs and corrected the issues. 

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The wizarding world does seem to have almost 19th century level understanding of mental health. People like Gilderoy Lockhart and Neville's parents being placed in the Locked Ward for example. They seem to be getting little or no treatment. And of course, in the era Tom Riddle was growing up in, even the Muggle world would have written him off as a "delinquent". I don't think there were many supports for orphans showing signs of psychopathy or ODD in the '40s.

I totally agree with you that Tom was failed by all the adults in his life, both Muggle and wizarding. I'm not sure it's entirely their fault because I'm not sure how much information people had about the impact of early deprivation at the time when Tom was growing up, but he was definitely "written off" to a certain extent. I can't entirely blame the staff of the orphanage either because they were clearly overworked, probably didn't have much training, certainly not in child psychology or anything like it and under the circumstances, I think it is probably natural and understanding that their sympathy would be with the children being bullied rather than the bully. But certainly, it was not a good environment for a child to be raised in, especially one who may already have had a genetic disposition to mental illness.

I also completely agree with you that being a psychopath does not mean one is evil. It could even be argued that that would be an argument against him being evil as it is beyond his control. Not of course, that being a psychopath means you behave like Voldemort did but it would raise questions as to how much of his behaviour is a conscious choice and how much is a result of his condition.

You raise an interesting question, and one I have previously wondered about, about orphans in the wizarding world. Did they have orphanages like the Muggle world did in Tom's era? Do they still? Given how old-fashioned the wizarding world is in some ways and the fact that it is so small and therefore, it might be hard to find people willing to foster, I wouldn't be surprised if it still had orphanages rather than foster families. Or are wizarding orphans placed in the Muggle system like Tom was? Or are orphans usually cared for by the extended family, as in the Muggle world, and children simply left in abusive and neglectful situations. There is some evidence to support the latter, given that nobody even checked up on Harry and that a lot of things that we would consider abusive are mentioned casually as if no big deal - Neville's extended family's treatment of him, for example.

Edited by Margaret
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