Guest Blogger: Shannon Stewart
Ask most fans of Harry Potter what their least favorite book of the series is, and most will tell you The Order of the Phoenix. I would be right there with them, and it’s not just because of the spoiler *sob sob* or the fact that Harry is an angry angsty-pants the whole book. The main reason it was not as fun to read was a frog wearing pink tweed: Delores Jane Umbridge. (Note that I did not say “Not fun.” In my opinion, the only not-fun part of the Harry Potter franchise is movie 7.1…Oh look at that, the other one with Umbridge in it.)
Why is Delores Umbridge so odious, so—dare I say—umbrageous? First, she strangles the disorderly joy of Hogwarts, which one of Dumbledore’s first lines so deliciously demonstrates: “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!” (Sorcerer’s Stone 123). We’re like Harry on his first trip to Diagon Alley when we read the series; everything sparkles, everything is unexpected. Umbridge and her obsession with bureaucratic control sucks the fun out. I pick up The Order of the Phoenix expecting a trip to Hogsmeade and I end up feeling like I’m in line at the DMV.
More importantly, let’s not forget Umbridge’s moral failings: racism, torture, coercion, bullying, spite, blind obedience to questionable authority, wearing a bow in her hair at her age. I’m sure I’m forgetting some because I believe Rowling designed her to be the most unlikeable character in the Potterverse. Voldemort has a certain magnificence, Uncle Vernon can be unintentionally funny, the Malfoys earn a strange sort of sympathy, and even Peter Pettigrew has at least some store of cleverness (born of cowardice, but hey, villain). The only character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (excepting Imelda Staunton’s excellent film performance) is Umbridge.
But the most teeth-grindingly horrible thing about Umbridge is that she never “gets hers.” For the entire series, she remains completely satisfied with herself, certain that she is right and the heroes are criminally wrong. No punishment, no regret, no moment of tortured realization. In other words, no justice. The slight comeuppance she does get at the end of Book 5 doesn’t deliver catharsis, because in Book 7 we see that she has learned no lesson from it. I could swallow all that other vile stuff if at least she got a Bellatrix or even a Ludo Bagman ending.
I was musing about how exactly Rowling managed to make her so hateable one day (see results above) when I realized…I am Umbridge.
Okay, before you ask, I have no problem with centaurs and I don’t torture my students, though I have been VERY tempted to scream “I WILL have ORDER!” in class before.
The infuriating thing about Umbridge is her complete self-satisfaction, her absolute assurance that she is without fault, right? If I’m honest, I am much the same way. I, too, go through life perfectly satisfied with many selfish choices I’ve made. I, too, am painfully ready to justify myself when confronted with sin. I, too, live my life completely oblivious to some of my worst faults.
But a truer and a better statement is this: I am Umbridge…“but God.” Those famous two words that occur in so many beloved New Testament passages are famous and beloved for a reason. God patiently waits through years of my complacent, self-justified willingness to hurt others and offend Him. Then God opens my eyes to my harmful ways, forgives me, and molds me into a humbler, braver person.
Thank God that He can save even an Umbridge. Thank God He can save even me!
Shannon Stewart is a high school English teacher with an MA in English Literature still curled in its mail tube in her closet. The real prize, her love for British fiction, is on exuberant display in her classes each week. So far, she’s completed several of her life goals: naming her two children after fictional characters, getting her husband to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and completing her first WIP, the fantasy Callia-Born, this year.