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Mairead McNulty

Reconsidering the Tragic Tale of Voldemort’s Parents

The parallels between Harry Potter and Tom Marvolo Riddle—and the ways in which their differences and similarities influence their choices—is one of the most significant dynamics in the entire Potter series. A key aspect of this duality is introduced in The Half-Blood Prince in the form of Voldemort’s parents. Merope Gaunt: poor, unloved, and magically inept despite her pure-blood status, is the antithesis of the gifted, affluent, and adored Muggle-born Lily Evans. Inversely, Tom Riddle Sr. and James Potter had several things in common: both treasured only children of privileged backgrounds, their upbringing led them to be arrogant and entitled (though James apparently changed his ways later in life). They also happened to be killed by the same person, so there’s that, too…

The contrast between the two couples and their narrative roles is underscored by what we’re told about their respective deaths: whereas Lily and James died within moments of each other while trying to save their son, Merope willingly abandoned hers, giving up on life after being forsaken by Tom Riddle Sr., who was killed sixteen years after the fact by the child he deserted. Given this interpretation of events, it’s clear that the Potters’ bravery inspired their son to strive to do good, while Merope and Tom’s cowardice and neglect drove theirs to crave power. This narrative condemns the latter two for not only producing the most evil wizard of all time, but inspiring him to become so.

[But is this the best interpretation of the story?]