Guest Post: On ‘The Shadow,’ Harry Potter, and the Dark Lord

From Ying Zhao, an Augustana College student and serious reader of Harry Potter. I wish Eric, the name he asked me to use when I spoke with him at the Stronghold Castle retreat, had spent more time in this paper clarifying Jung’s idea of the Shadow and I am uncomfortable with the relativist aspect of Taoism, divorced from its foundation in the Absolute. The paper, however, is certainly an important stepping off point for excellent conversation! Enjoy.

Dark, the Other Side of Light

The conflict between the good and the evil has lasted for thousands of years. We say that the evil belongs to darkness; the good is blessed by brightness. However, what exactly are the evil and the good? Are they totally opposite to each other, or are they related, but we fail to see the hidden connection? As we can see in the novel series, Harry Potter, its main theme is also the battle between evil and justice, dark against light, Lord Voldemort versus Harry Potter.

So the question becomes: is Voldemort truly evil or is he the “shadow” of Harry which Harry must own and turn toward good? Of course, those who are Potter supporters will argue that Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, is evil and destined to be overcome by justice, because of his mercilessness, racism, cruelty and his unhesitant ability to murder. However, if we see the seven Harry Potter books as a whole circle, which is the transformation of both Harry and Voldemort, we shall find that the hero and the Dark Lord are connected tightly, and to some extent, Harry “is” Voldemort and Voldemort “is” Harry. It is Voldemort who makes Harry the hero of the wizard world.

Thus my view toward this controversial question of whether Voldemort is evil or not is that Voldemort is the other side of Harry, like his shadow which Harry must own, and because of Voldemort, Harry becomes good. In Tao Te Ching, the main book of Taoism, Lao Tzu expresses his view upon the evil and the good that there is no real evil or good, and the darkness (called “Yin”) is only the other side of the brightness (called “Yang”). Together they make the universe whole, as is written in Chapter two: “For truly ‘Being and Not-being grow out of one another’” (Lao Tzu 2). So is the relationship between Harry and Voldemort: the two are connected, being the reflections of each other, and Harry must have Voldemort as his shadow so that he can fulfill his destiny, to go toward the real good.

Carl Jung explains his famous archetype theory in his book Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. He classifies humans’ archetypes into three kinds: anima, animus, and the shadow, which, he demonstrates, “the most accessible of these, and the easiest to experience, is the shadow” (Jung 8). The Shadow “is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real” (Jung 8). These findings challenge common assumptions that evil is just evil, and good is just good, but in fact, there is evil, or the dark side inside of us. The Shadow is connected with the Self, but differed from it in other ways. Thus, if we see Voldemort and Harry as a whole, then we can think that Voldemort is like the shadow of Harry, to some extent. They are linked by the wand cores and childhoods, etc. like the self and the shadow within one body, but varied by the different believes in love, too.

Initially, we definitely should underscore the connection of Voldemort and Harry throughout the seven books. To start with, I would like to focus on the connection of their wands. Common sense seems to dictate that the wand is only a tool that the wizards use to cast spells. But in Harry Potter, not only are wands the symbol of power and wizards’ dignity, but they can choose their own masters. The wand maker, Ollivander, explains in the beginning and the end of the novel series: “The wand chooses the wizard” (SS 65 & DH 424). Harry and Voldemort’s wands are “brothers”, in a way. They share the same core, which is a feather from the Phoenix of Dumbledore, Fawkes. This is a symbol of that both Harry and Voldemort shall come back to life after their death because the phoenix is also called the resurrection bird. Besides the wand core, what distinguishes Harry and Voldemort is the wood material of their wands: Harry’s is holly wood. The word “holly” comes from “holy”, and according to the European culture, the holly wood can disperse evil, therefore, it represents purity and holiness. Voldemort’s wand is made of yew wood. As we know, the leaves of yew are toxic, and the yew trees usually grow in the tomb yard, like described in The Goblet of Fire, when Harry and Cedric come to the Riddle family’s grave yard through the Triwizard Cup, “they were standing instead in a dark and overgrown graveyard; the black outline of a small church was visible beyond a large yew tree to their right” (636). Thus, the yew represents death. These qualities of the wood materials are in their personalities, too. Harry becomes the hero and Voldemort becomes the Dark Lord. Ultimately, what is at stake here is that with the common wand cores but different quality of the wands’ wood materials, Voldemort becomes a shadow of Harry, and also because of the same wand cores, Voldemort can never kill Harry, despite other important reasons that Rowling mentions in the books. Although in Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy saying, “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives” (OP 841), in the end, Voldemort died by his own hand, because the elder wand that he is holding would not attack Harry who is its real master, and the killing spell “Avada Kedavra” rebounded like it had when Voldemort first attempted to end Harry’s life in infancy. Hence, they are connected in a shadow archetype relationship, that is, no one can destroy his or her own shadow and a person must have shadow.

Besides their wands, the two characters in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter also have many other things in common to build up the shadow relationship between them. Literally, Harry and Voldemort are two people, but if we see them all starting from their childhoods, they can be seen as the two different life paths of one person, and the two life paths reflect each other. Voldemort and Harry are both orphans and their real home is Hogwarts, their school. Also, they both can speak to snakes, in spite of that Harry possesses a part of Voldemort’s soul because of being one horcrux that Voldemort made accidentally. When they were sorting, Harry and young Tom Riddle both showed that they have the quality of Slytherin, “resourcefulness, determination, a certain disregard for the rules” (CS 333). Travis Prinzi demonstrates this point in his book, “this is Rowling’s literary way of getting at the Shadow idea” (150). With the building up of these connections between Harry and Voldemort, Rowling makes Voldemort the dark side shadow of Harry, and Harry the bright side shadow of Voldemort. They reflect each other. They both become special in the whole story because of these connections. If there were only one left, then the novel would be completely on the dark shadow side or completely on the bright shadow side. We would not see the contrast of the two sides, or the soul transformation of Harry. In other words, without Voldemort, there would be no resolution of contrary between Harry and Voldemort. Therefore, Voldemort is the shadow that Harry must own.

Moreover, nothing is more obvious than their different spirits, life paths and ends if we want to see how Voldemort is both similar to Harry and different from him. Their unique paths, in a way, could be connected, too. Prinzi argues, “Voldemort is a symbol of all that could have gone wrong in Harry Potter’s life had he chosen his darker impulses” (Prinzi 149). With regard to this issue, as is described above, Harry and Voldemort share the same life path when they were young children, being orphans and half-bloods, but at last they end up with totally different results. Harry becomes the hero because he embraces the love around him, and Voldemort becomes the villain in that he refuses to love. As a child, Harry, on the one hand, was adopted by the mean Dursley family; however, this does not affect how he shows his kindness to others, even little animals. For instance, in the first book, The Sorcerer’s Stone, in Chapter two, Harry tries to comfort the snake because he understands that Dudley’s behavior is annoying. Harry talks to the snake even though he does not know that he can speak the Parseltongue. On the other hand, when in the orphanage, Tom Riddle sometimes hurt other kids and stole items from others with his “gifts”. “Young Voldemort was an orphan and denied any kind of parental affection or love, so he’s been an isolated figure from a very young age” (Newsweek 1). Also, Harry, as a hero, needs the villain to fulfill himself. Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents, but his body got destroyed by the rebounded killing spell when he was trying to kill Harry. Harry, in the first two books, stops Voldemort from coming back, to protect the Philosopher’s Stone, to save Ginny, and more importantly, to avenge for his parents. He could not let the murderer of his parents come back, and the hatred makes him not be like Voldemort but to be a good man. However, in the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, Voldemort does come back, and Harry realizes that the Dark Lord would put the whole wizard world in danger. Then Harry goes through a spiritual transformation. He set his dream to be an Auror; he wants to join in the Order of the Phoenix. In this way, Harry’s spirit is elevated to a higher, brighter dimension. As for Voldemort, his spirit falls into darkness, becoming the other side of Harry’s. “He is a demonic spirit. He’s a satanic force” (Newsweek 1), explained in the journal. In the finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as explained above that the Dark Lord cannot kill Harry with his original wand, so Voldemort at first wants to kill Harry with Lucius Malfoy’s wand because he thinks he understands the controversial relationship between him and Harry, but he could not kill Harry, either. In the battle of Hogwarts in the end, Voldemort thinks he can kill Harry with the elder wand, but he could not make it as well. Eventually, Voldemort is destroyed by his own killing spell that rebounded again. Hence, the justice wins again and Harry becomes the needed hero. As a whole story line that Rowling builds up, these books, “were interpreted as Good overcoming Evil” (Ballard 2), and that is why Harry Potter is so popular. Voldemort went to his own elimination because he did not understand so many things that Harry understood. On J.K, it explains the other main reasons which are more than the deep laws of magic that Voldemort does not understand, “he refused to feel remorse…the wand that is really Harry’s. It does not work properly against its true owner…Harry has a deeper and truer understanding of the meaning of the objects and past events, but his greatest powers, those that save him, are free will, courage and moral certainty.” Indeed, Voldemort has been wrong since the beginning. He has been thinking that his weakness is death and he can obtain immortality by making Horcruxes. However, his real weakness is that he does not understand nor believe in love. Therefore, he is destined to be defeated.

Furthermore, never should we forget that Harry turns good because of Voldemort. As is discussed above, Harry and Voldemort are connected, like shadows, and they head toward different directions in the end. After all, Harry cannot be the hero, or be the truly good character without the Dark Lord. It is the bad guys that make the good guys good; it is Voldemort who makes Harry the hero, as mentioned in the beginning. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry is at the sorting, the sorting hat tells him that he could be great if he joins in Slytherin, but Harry just keeps thinking “not Slytherin, not Slytherin” (91). By focusing on Harry’s thought, Rowling shows the readers that Harry refuses to be like Voldemort in the beginning of the novel series. It is the contrast between the darkness and the brightness that make the brightness brighter. Because of Voldemort, Harry chooses the side of light, not the darkness; because of Voldemort, Harry experiences sadness and desperation; because of Voldemort, Harry goes through the soul transformation and gets to know what heroism and justice really are. “The satanic here is more a shadowy background force, once again in contrast to the bathos and bluster of its heavy metal counterpart” (Mathews 118). This explains some popular culture like music, as well as the themes in Harry Potter. The whole story between Harry and Voldemort is a resolution of contrary, Harry standing for the brightness, and Voldemort standing for the darkness. With the conflict between the dark and the light, we see the dark, darker, and the light, brighter. From the shadowy background, Harry rises as a true hero. Thus, like all that has been demonstrated, Harry turns into good from the dark shadow of Voldemort.

The whole spiritual transformation through the story that Harry endures is like understanding himself, or finding the undiscovered self. Carl Jung, in his book The Undiscovered Self, demonstrates: “The contradiction, the paradoxical evaluation of humanity by man himself, is in truth a matter for wonder, and one can only explain it as springing from an extraordinary uncertainty of judgment – in other words, man is an enigma to himself” (43). The novel series is the hero’s journey. Harry comes back to Hogwarts to face Voldemort and fulfill his destiny, with solving that enigma to himself. He becomes the hero; he saves Hogwarts and the wizard world, and all that happens because of Voldemort, the Dark Lord, the final enemy, the murderer of his parents, and of course, his shadow archetype, and because he understands the relationship between him and Voldemort. With the understanding of love, truth, and the meaning of magic, Harry achieves courage, morality, and the will to defeat Voldemort. Harry, the hero, overwhelms the Dark Lord, and that is how the story should end. Hence, to become the final good, Harry has to own Voldemort as his shadow.

Consequently, throughout the seven books, from the destruction of Voldemort to the elimination of him, Harry undergoes a soul transformation and becomes the hero that he is destined to be, and all of this reflects the other side of Voldemort’s life. Their starting points are the same and it is “the choice” that makes or destroys oneself. There is shadow because there is light, so darkness is the other side of brightness. Therefore, I believe that Voldemort is like the shadow of Harry, and Harry has to own this “shadow” in order to turn to the ultimate good.

Works Cited

Ballard, S. B. “Thoughts on Harry Potter: Wizardry, good and evil”. Anglican Theological Review. Winter 2000, Vol. 82 Issue 1, p173. 3p. Print.

Jung, C. G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Trans. Hull, R. F. C. Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York. 1959. Print.

Jung, C. G. The Undiscovered Self. Trans. Hull, R. F. C. Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Ltd. 1957. Print.

Lao, Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Wordsworth Editions Limited. 1997. Print.

“Lord Voldemort Responds to Critics”. Newsweek. Vol. 158 Issue 3, p64-65. 2p. July 18th 2011. Print.

Mathews, Chris. Review on The Lure of the Dark Side: Satan and Western Demonology in Popular Culture. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. Vol. 17, No. 2 (November 2013), pp. 117-119. Web. 10th April 2014. JSTOR. Print.

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination: the way between two worlds. p149-164. Zossima Press, 2009. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. London. 2004. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York. 2007. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York. 2000. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York. 2003. Print.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York. 2007. Print. “What exactly happened when Voldemort used the Avada Kedavra curse on Harry in the forest?”.


  1. Chris Calderon says

    One of the questions I have for Eric is whether or not his take on Taoism may be a Post-modern reading of a more Traditional (and therefore more complex) philosophy that is not as simplistic as he makes it out to be. Also bear in mind the myriad ways of looking at Taoist concepts.

    When it comes to dealing with the problem (or question) of evil I think the virtue of Prudence is the first rule thumb that ought to be applied, that and a cool head that is willing to deal with these issues in as controlled and Scholastic a manner as possible. For my part, I’ve seen no proof of the Calvinist (or even dualist) doctrine of inherent “depravity”. My own experience leads me to believe it is all something one actually has to put (crazy as it is) genuine effort into it. It takes a metaphorical monkey riding one’s back in order to sink to such a low (remember Macbeth). In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to say one has to create a false sense of self-conceit before anyone can march themselves over the proverbial cliff.

    I also think he oversimplifies Jung, especially his idea of Archetypes. My own readings of Jung is that his own thought was constantly evolving even to his last days, and are not easy to pigeonhole.

    This may sound crazy, but one of the questions I asked myself was whether or not Jung was influenced by Coleridge’s concept of Imagination. It’s a topic I’m still curious about, and I have discovered that two certain influences on Jung were German Romantics Friedrich Schiller and Goethe. I found all this in Paul Bishop’s Analytical Psychology and German Classical Aesthetics.

    I also have found an interesting connection between Schiller and Coleridge. Not only did Coleridge make an English translation of Schiller’s play Wallenstien, but their do seem to be interesting parallels between Schiller’s “Aesthetic (i.e. Artistic/Literary) Education” and the “Biographia Literaria”, as well as Burke’s “Sublime and Beautiful” (which almost seems to precursor Barfield’s “Poetic Diction” by the way).

    There also does seem at least to be some kind of correspondence between Jung’s thinking on Archetypes and Schiller’s “Living Forms”. What all this says about Jung I’m not entirely certain, except that the more he studied the Imagination, the less interested in materialism and more into metaphysics.

    As for the relation of Harry and Voldemort, I think it makes more sense to see them in terms of negative doppelgangers, and the destruction of the antagonist as more a matter of “burning out the dross”.

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