Tom Riddle: Boy Megalomaniac


In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Lord Voldemort, speaking through Quirrill, declares that “there is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” As we meet the young Tom Riddle in the latest installment Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince we see a child so caught up in his special power that he denies a moral order larger than himself. In an interview J.K. Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter books, compares Voldemort to paranoid megalomaniacs like Hitler and Stalin. Megalomaniacs exhibit an obsession with his or her importance and power that psychologists also call “delusions of grandeur”.

Tom Riddle reinvents himself as Lord Voldemort, relying on his hatred and pride to gather power. Whether the magic he employs is good or evil is immaterial to him. In fact he becomes convinced that he will amass greater power employing the Dark Arts. Pride motivates and enables evil. Voldemort, fueled by his evil pride, has complete disregard for the pain of others and may actually find his sense of power enhanced by inflicting pain. This is Voldemort’s M.O. As the young Tom Riddle pride shields him from revealing any vulnerability he may feel.

In a confrontation with Harry in the Order of the Phoenix Voldemort tells Harry that he is weak. This, for Voldemort, is the ultimate insult. Harry responds “You’re the weak one! You’ve never known love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” Voldemort is so far beyond understanding this he simply dismisses Harry as a fool.

Perhaps there was a time when young Tom Riddle might have responded to love or friendship. It seems he was already set in his independent, prideful disposition by the time Dumbledore gets to him. In fact he seems a little disappointed to find he is one of many with magical powers. He rejects Dumbledore’s overtures and insists on visiting Diagon Alley alone in contrast to the support and friendship Harry experienced in his introduction to the wizarding world. As his fascination with the Dark Arts and his ability to manipulate others matures Tom’s isolation, self-importance, and sense of uniqueness escalate. If others also have powers then his goal is to insure that he is the most powerful of them all. In his time as a student at Hogwarts he seems to have found followers but not friends.

Tom’s greatest fear is death. Succumbing to death is the ultimate demonstration of human weakness thus his early fascination with horcruxes. He eventually splits his own soul in an attempt to demonstrate his power over it. Perhaps the very fact that Harry survives certain death causes Voldemort to view him as his nemesis. Harry has demonstrated the power Voldemort most desires.

Though he holds the distinction as the “boy who lived” Harry seems content to be one of the crowd. He doesn’t use this distinction for status. He loves his friends, enjoys being part of the Quiddich team and Gryffindor house. He is delighted to find that he has a godfather in Sirius Black and delights in being included in the Weasley family.

Harry lacks the prideful edge found in those like the Malfoys who enjoy humiliating others and feeding their sense of superiority. Harry has inherited his mother’s love and compassion. Harry’s close friends, like Hermoine, Luna, and Neville are not the most popular people in school and are sometimes rejected.

Harry’s struggle with pride is found in his confidence in his abilities. Dumbledore understands that overconfidence in his own ability is what makes Harry most vulnerable to Voldemort. When he is drawn toward Voldemort and begins to see his thoughts he doesn’t tell those who could help him. He resists Snape’s lessons, convinced that he has the power to resist Voldemort. This may be a bit overconfident for a teenager facing an individual who has been in the business of evil for decades.

When Harry worries that he is turning evil Sirius Black tell him, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” For those who have read the books and don’t mind spoilers from the seventh book, author Gina Burkart has an interesting theory that Harry Potter must overcome each of the seven deadly sins and uses the seven cardinal virtues to destroy Voldemort’s seven horcruxes. Her article What Harry Learned: the Significance of the Seven and the Power of Love is well worth reading.

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