November 3, 2014
J.K. Rowling resurrects Harry Potter villain for Halloween
by Nick Davies
J.K. Rowling, creator of Rubeus Hagrid’s beard, made good on her promise last week to release even more new Harry Potter material on fan content site Pottermore by Halloween. Like her story of a grown-up Potter made available on the site over the summer, the Halloween story—about draconian teacher/bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge—is accessible on Pottermore for subscribers, and in an online exclusive from NBC’s “Today.”
Umbridge made her debut in the fifth book in Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in which she takes over as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and High Inquisitor at Hogwarts. Doling out cruel punishments to students who questioned her authority, she was an unequivocal villain of the series, and “The story of Dolores Jane Umbridge” does little to alter that perception.
Rowling’s new profile of the character portrays her as ambitious and ruthless from the start, ashamed of her Muggle (that’s a non-magic person, for those of you who have somehow eschewed Potter vernacular for the past seventeen years) mother, and “even at seventeen…judgmental, prejudiced and sadistic.”
The piece concludes with further thoughts from Rowling on her inspiration for Umbridge, whom she says was partially inspired by a teacher whose taste for “twee” accessories was instantly repellent:
I am always a little wary when talking about these kinds of sources of inspiration, because it is infuriating to hear yourself misinterpreted in ways that can cause other people a great deal of hurt. This woman was NOT “the real Dolores Umbridge”… However, it is true to say that I borrowed from her, then grossly exaggerated, a taste for the sickly sweet and girlish in dress, and it was that tiny little pale lemon plastic bow that I was remembering when I perched the fly-like ornament on Dolores Umbridge’s head.
Perhaps most damning, she says that Umbridge is on par with Lord Voldemort, the very embodiment of evil in the Harry Potter books, in terms of pure villainy: “Her desire to control, to punish and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, are, I think, every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.” With the dark details of Voldemort’s own upbringing covered in some detail in the books, the new story seems like the appropriate place to turn for a Halloween tale of one of the more sinister characters from the Potter universe.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.