As has become tradition, I take pregnancy as a great opportunity to re-read the Harry Potter series. Actually I seem to make any opportunity a great one for reading my favorite series–I have probably read them all at least half a dozen times– but no one questions you when you’re pregnant. Ever. Want to win a fight? Just be pregnant. It’s like a super power.
Anyhow, I’m currently finishing up the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, and I won’t give you any false idea that I am flying through it as I normally do. In fact, I am downright battling to pick it up and read each page. There’s a reason for my struggle. Sure, blame it on my highly sensitive emotions. Even I am getting whiplash from my own abrupt and violent mood swings. It could also be that I know the books ends with the death of my favorite character. But the main reason I am struggling to read through The Order of the Phoenix is that I’m taking umbrage…
I am almost certain that if I crowdsource Harry Potter fans, the most hated character in the series is Dolores Umbridge. My hatred of her trumps my hatred of the Malfoy family, Bellatrix Lestrange, Peter Pettigrew, and yes, even Voldemort. The Order of the Phoenix is 700 plus pages of jaw clenching, teeth grinding rage because of her.
First of all, I need to say that my struggle with reading this book has nothing to do with J.K. Rowling’s ability as an author. In fact, it’s just the opposite. One of the indications of an excellent writer is the ability to design convincing characters and bring them to life for all readers. Voldemort is terrifying. His reign of terror in the series reminds me of evil masterminds such as Hitler. We have all heard the tales of his depravity, such as genocide of people based on religious beliefs. The use of a loyal regime as terrifying and invincible as a hydra: multi-headed and deadly. These are the stories one might say we tell our children to make them obey. They are true, but their distance from our modern age and first world comfort gives them the air of myth.
But take Umbridge. The genius of the character of Umbridge is that all readers know their own personal Umbridge. She’s like Seinfeld’s Newman, only worse. Imagine that one person in your company’s Human Resources office that just can’t give you the benefit of the doubt. The teacher or Professor who won’t give you a break. I had a teacher that always seemed to give me a bad grade regardless of the quality of my work. I would get in trouble for my attitude with her, which just perpetuates a bad attitude in light of such unfair treatment. And you know what makes this kind of antagonist so awful? You can’t escape them!
Harry faces Voldemort in almost all seven books, while Umbridge only makes an appearance in books five and seven. But in her debut book, The Order of the Phoenix, Harry cannot escape her unlike how he has repeatedly escaped the deadly clutches of Voldemort himself. She is a teacher but keeps sinking her claws deeper into Hogwarts to assert more and more power over the students, and in particular Harry. First she teaches him one class, then she starts auditing all classes, then she has the power to ban him from Hogwarts and fire his favorite teachers. She even manages to capture him and his friends as they train against Voldemort and the death eaters, which leads to the dismissal of Dumbledore as the headmaster–and of course Umbridge assumes the position. Every turn Harry takes runs him directly into the malicious vendetta of Dolores Umbridge to make him as miserable as possible.
Another powerful facet of Umbridge’s terrible personality is that she isn’t a Death Eater or consciously in league with Voldemort. Her behavior is evil because it is ambitious, self-serving, and cruel. I think that in addition to being the common enemy that all of us experience, she is also a great warning for all of us. It is highly unlikely that one of us will be the next Hitler, but we are all capable and guilty of being the thorn in the side of our peers. Umbridge looks for promotion within the Ministry of Magic under the direction of the Minister, Cornelius Fudge. Fudge is stubbornly oblivious of the threat of Voldemort and sees the voices of truth–namely, Harry and Dumbledore–as the biggest threat to his power as Minister of Magic. Fudge himself, just like Umbridge, has no connection to Voldemort, but while inhibiting the truth due to his own selfishness, he is allowing the world’s greatest enemy to flourish.
Selfishness and ambition are tucked in all of our hearts whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it. As was once wisely pointed out to me, the things that bother me the most in other people are often the things I see in myself. It’s actually a realization that I came to as writing this, but I think it holds true nonetheless. Umbridge’s notoriety with readers is undeniably because it is relatable: relatable because we all know or even have a personal Umbridge, but also relatable because we all are one bad decision or bitter heart from being an Umbridge to someone in our lives.
But for real, on a scale of 1 to 10, my hatred for Umbridge is around 57.