Transcript – Episode 199

[Show music begins]

Michael Harle: This is Episode 199 of Alohomora! for August 6, 2016.

[Show music continues]

Michael: Welcome back, listeners, to another episode of Alohomora!, mugglenet.com’s global reread of the Harry Potter series, except now we’re not so much a reread this episode. I’m Michael Harle.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Kat Miller: I’m Kat Miller.

Alison Siggard: And I’m Alison Siggard, and our guest this week is Frank. Welcome, Frank. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Frank Ng: Hello! My name is Frank. I post as WizardorWhat on the website every now and again.

Alison: Oh!

Michael: Yay!

Frank: I’m Sorted into Ravenclaw on Pottermore, which broadly suits me because I dabble in academia as an academic lawyer, and I’m a barrister.

Kat and Michael: Oh. Wow.

Kat: Wow, okay, I am out of my Ravenclaw element here.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: No, he’s really rocking the Ravenclaw today.

Kat: Yeah. He is, for sure. He’s the flip side of the coin for me. I’m the weird, quirky, weird Ravenclaw, and he’s the very smart studious Ravenclaw, so… It’s good. It’s good.

Michael: Frank, what’s your history with Harry Potter? When did you get into it?

Frank: I got into it in about 1999. I was given a copy of […] Prisoner of Azkaban by a family friend, so I read […] Prisoner of Azkaban first – which I think helped a lot because I think it’s the best one – and then was later given […] Chamber of Secrets, which I read, and then […] Philosopher’s Stone and then started reading them in order because they didn’t go back any further.

Michael: Oh my goodness. So you started at [Book] 3, went backward to [Book] 1, and then went from [Book] 1 on.

Frank: Then went [Book] 4, [Book] 5, [Book] 6, [Book] 7, yeah.

Alison: Oh, wow.

Michael: Oh my goodness.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: That’s a very different approach, but you’re right. Prisoner of Azkaban is a great one to start with.

Frank: Yeah, well, it matters less than you’d think because they don’t actually spoil each other much. They don’t really cross-refer anything as much as you’d think they would when you’re reading them forward.

Michael: Yeah, no, I think that’s something that a lot of people consider a positive about the earlier Harry Potters is that, in many ways, they can stand alone.

Frank Yes. That’s not so true with [Book] 5, [Book] 6, and [Book] 7.

Michael: No. You definitely have to have read the other ones to really fully understand those. But what an interesting way to approach it, though, still. Usually when we get an unusual approach, it’s… The most unusual ones we get are people who are like, “I saw the movies first; then I read the books.” So that is a whole other deal entirely. That’s really cool, though.

Frank: Yeah. I’m not a particularly big fan of the films. I thought they were a bit underwhelming.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: As you know, we have our very strong opinions about the films, and we know you listeners out there have very strong opinions about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We ask, we beg, we plead with you to hold them in as tight as you can. We will give that book, that play, that script, its fair due in the next four episodes because we’re going to devote each episode to one act of each part. So we’ll get there. Just keep tweeting us about it because you’ve been doing great with that. We’ve been seeing all of your tweets and trying to respond and help you through this strenuous time.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Michael: We will work on breaking the curse of Cursed Child in the next episode. But Kat, tell us what we’ve got coming up today.

Kat: Sure. We’re going to talk about some more of our very strong feelings because our topic this week is Umbridge, and I’ve been waiting for this one a while. I think it’s going to be very good, very interesting, the antithesis from our McGonagall episode, which was the last episode. So I think this is going to be a good one. I’m excited. Dolores Umbridge is the topic. So definitely be sure to check out her backstory on Pottermore just as a refresher before you listen to the episode so that you know what we’re talking about because we’re not going to go through it bit by bit. So have a read before a listen.

Alison: But before we jump into that, we just want to remind you of our Patreon and to tell you that this episode is sponsored by Richard Casey on Patreon. So thank you so, so much. We appreciate…

Kat: Yay! Thank you! [makes kissing noises]

Michael: Thank you, Richard Casey.

Alison: We appreciate all of you. You’re absolutely amazing, and you’re the reason we are still here doing this, and if you want to sponsor us, you can for as little as a dollar a month, and we’re going to continue to release exclusive tidbits for all of our sponsors. So head on over to either our main site and click the Patreon tab or to patreon.com/alohomora.

Michael: Before we get into our main discussion, we want to make sure [to] let you listeners know the points about Umbridge that we’ve each picked out to examine a little further because there’s a lot, obviously, about Umbridge to discuss. We’re not, probably, going to even get to every topic you would like to discuss about her today, and for that, we ask that you listeners head to the main site, alohomora.mugglenet.com, where you can leave your thoughts as we go through this discussion, but we’ll let you know [which] points we’re honing in on today. I have personally selected some of Umbridge’s relationships and interactions with those she encounters throughout the series. I’m particularly interested in some of the stuff that was revealed in Pottermore, but that definitely ties into some of the people [whom] she had encounters with in the books.

Kat: And I’m very interested in exploring the comparison that is often made between Umbridge and Lord Voldemort because you hear a lot of people say, “I think Umbridge is worse than Voldemort,” and we’re going to explore that today. I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be so good!

Alison: And for my part… It’s a little bit more niche, but [since] I am going to start teaching in 15 days, I am looking at Umbridge as an example of the worst kind of teacher.

Kat: Are you sure you don’t mean Snape? Sorry.

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Michael: That’s a whole other episode.

Alison: Here comes the can of worms.

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Kat: Frank, what are you interested in in Umbridge?

Frank: I’m interested in the other stuff she’s trying to do in that year, so I’m going to talk about why she doesn’t really achieve anything of what she set out to do during the fifth year.

Kat: That’s a long list.

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Kat: We’ll get there. But I suppose, for now, we should start with some quick facts. That sounds like a good place to start, I think, [to] ease us in to the hole ripping that I think is going to be happening on this episode. As we all know, her full name: Dolores Jane Umbridge, although there is a little fun fact about that, that actually… Hermione’s middle name was changed from Jane to Jean because… When was it changed?

Michael: So that was changed around the point that Umbridge was introduced to the series because very, very early on, Rowling gave Hermione’s middle name as Jane, but she changed it to Jean because she felt that associating Hermione and Dolores with the same name was a mistake because they were so opposite. So that’s why she changed it.

Alison: But we don’t ever hear Hermione’s middle name in the books until after that change, right? I’m not crazy?

Michael: Yeah, I don’t think so…

Kat: Okay, yeah, I thought so.

Michael: All other instances of her middle name happen outside of canon, I believe. I think the next time it was mentioned was either an interview with Rowling or on her old website.

Frank: Jean is mentioned as a name in Deathly Hallows when they’re reading the will.

Michael: Oh, that’s right.

Alison: That’s the only one I could think of, but…

Kat: Same. Either way. So talking a little bit more about Umbridge’s name – this is from J.K. Rowling on Pottermore, just so you know – it says,

“Umbridge’s names were carefully chosen. ‘Dolores’ means sorrow, something she undoubtedly inflicts on all around her. ‘Umbridge’ is a play on ‘umbrage’ from the British expression ‘to take umbrage’, meaning offence. Dolores is offended by any challenge to her limited world-view; I felt her surname conveyed the pettiness and rigidity of her character. It is harder to explain ‘Jane’; it simply felt rather smug and neat between her other two names.”

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Which, yeah, I mean, I’m trying to think if I know any Janes, and I don’t think I do. I kind of wish I did, so I could know if they’re smug and mean-feeling.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Alison: I do, but it’s spelled differently, and she’s very much not smug. [laughs] So…

Kat: Wait, how do you spell “Jane” with a Y?

Alison: Yeah.

Kat: Oh, okay.

Michael: I like that this is one of those rare instances where it truly is Rowling just being like, “It sounded nice.”

[Alison laughs]

Michael: She never says that. [laughs] She always has got a really long, complicated reason for something, so it is nice to see that every once in a while, yeah, she just chooses something because it sounds nice.

Kat: Umbridge’s birthday is August 26, which, for the record, makes her a Virgo, which is funny because the traits of Virgos are, it says, “You often impress others with your discipline, trustworthiness, and generosity.” So she doesn’t exactly fit that description.

Frank: Which, I mean, she does impress people with her discipline and trustworthiness.

Kat: I suppose that’s true, but generosity, most definitely not.

Michael: I guess, in a way, it’s a fun little play on things since that’s all the things that she tries to appear to be. She isn’t actually those things, but she definitely strives to appear that way.

Kat: Right, like the Patronus and how she… Yeah, the pure of heart thing. Same thing. Her wand is eight inches, it’s made of birch, and the core is dragon heartstring. And birch is, unfortunately, not one of the woods that is summarized on Pottermore by Ollivander; however, there’s a little note here that says it was used in the Firebolt, and it’s known to give an extra oomph for high ascents. So take from that what you will.

Michael: I thought that was interesting that it’s not summarized by Ollivander because… and I don’t know if that means potentially that she got her wand from somewhere else, because Ollivander’s list is a comprehensive list of all of the wand woods he uses.

Alison: Yeah, that is strange.

Kat: Interesting.

Michael: So it’s possible that she got it from somewhere else because there are other wandmakers.

Kat: Where did she grew up? What part of England?

Michael: Doesn’t say, I don’t believe.

Alison: Yeah, I don’t think it says. I’m interested that… Maybe I’m just going crazy. So in Order, it says that her wand is unusually short. But it’s eight inches. Is that unusually short? Am I just thinking of things differently?

Kat: Yeah, my wand is 13 and 3/4 inches.

Michael: My wand is 10 and 3/4. So yeah…

Alison: I think that’s mine as well, actually. Okay, that makes more sense, then.

Michael: Yeah, that would be… I mean, even if you’re not counting the handle as part of that length, yeah, that’s still a pretty short wand.

Kat: And I suppose the last final thing that we should mention, which I think is obvious to everybody from the moment we meet her, she was, is, and will always be a Slytherin.

Michael: I know a lot of people were upset about that, though, when that was revealed, because there was the feeling that…

Kat: It seems a little easy.

Michael: Yeah, a lot of people thought she was just dumping characters we don’t like into Slytherin.

Alison: Oh, I see it, though. I see her overwhelming pride and ambition – not good ambition, I guess, I should say – which are the bad sides of Slytherin.

Michael: Yeah, I do think her cunning and ambition is the overwhelming point of her personality, so it would seem that Slytherin would be a good fit for her. I could only…

Frank: She also has the pure-blood supremacism.

Kat: That is definitely true.

Alison: Which, when she was Sorted, was probably a much bigger deal.

Kat: Right, back in the day. Oh, I lied. My wand is 14 and 1/2 inches long. I just looked it up.

Alison: Wow!

Michael: Your wand is really long.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Yeah, and Hagrid’s is something like 15 something, or 16 something, right?

Michael: Yeah, I think it’s over 16.

Alison: Wow.

Kat: Yeah, I remember when I got it, I was like, “Man, how long is Hagrid’s wand?” I had to look it up.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Yeah, it’s very long. It’s very long. Yeah, that’s over a foot. That’s a giant wand. [laughs]

[Alison laughs]

Michael: The thing to remember, too, about wand length… and it doesn’t necessarily… This isn’t completely the meaning depending on what your wand wood is and your core, but Ollivander generally believes that partially wand lengths are determined by height, but that’s not very common. It’s usually because of personality. There'[re] certain things about your personality, not necessarily that your personality is [fuller] or more complete than somebody else’s, but just certain aspects of your personality contribute, I guess, to your wand length.

Kat: Yes, I scrolled down as you were saying that, and this is in the description of the length. It says, “Abnormally short wands usually select those in whose character something is lacking, rather than because they are physically undersized.” So there you go. Those were all the new things that we learned about Umbridge that were from Pottermore. Pretty much everything else was backstory, which I think is very important, but we’re going to talk about that in each of our focus questions. So Al, I guess this is you. You want to start us off here?

Alison: Yeah. Let’s start off, then, with where we first meet Umbridge, which is in the classroom. So I’ve been thinking about this for a while, actually. A couple of years ago, at my university, we have… It’s called the BYU English Symposium every year, and there was a panel on teaching examples using the Harry Potter books, and one of them that I particularly remembered… I couldn’t quite find it. I looked for it online, so I’m sorry that I can’t link to it or anything, but it particularly focused on Umbridge and Lupin as opposing teaching styles. Obviously, Lupin is the best and Umbridge is the worst.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Alison: And so I said, I’m going to be a teacher very, very soon, which I… Anyway, that’s another story, but I was looking at her methods. One of the biggest things we see, that a lot of the students have a huge issue with, especially coming off of Moody the year before, or Barty Crouch, Jr. as Moody, and Lupin the year before that, is she focuses on reading the textbook over practical application. But that got me thinking, “Okay, but this approach leads to the formation of Dumbledore’s Army, which in a lot of ways is the ideal teaching and learning situation, where students are taking responsibility for their own learning and teaching each other, with just some guidance from a teacher, which, I mean, they don’t have tons, but they have Lupin influencing Harry, giving him some tips, they give him some methods books.” So can we say, then, that maybe she helped them learn more? Do you guys think they learned more this year or would it have been better for her to be a good teacher?

Frank: Only those who actually join Dumbledore’s Army are going to actually learn anything useful. The others are just learning some not-particularly-interesting things in the textbook.

Kat: Yeah, I most definitely would have failed her class in a heartbeat because I have to… I’m a hands-on learner. I always have been, and I’m aware of that of myself, and I definitely would have failed that class. Umbridge also would have hated me wholeheartedly…

[Alison laughs]

Kat: … and I would have been okay with that, but I would have failed, most definitely.

Frank: But wouldn’t you have joined Dumbledore’s Army and you’d be okay?

Kat: Yeah, I would have definitely joined Dumbledore’s Army. I’m all about that.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Especially that cute Dean Thomas.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Michael: If I hadn’t joined Dumbledore’s Army… Which of course I would have, but if I hadn’t, I would have passed her class, but I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it. Because I would have been able to read and take the necessary notes, but it would have felt exactly like I felt when I left my Spanish 101 class in college. Because I passed with an A+, but I left that class thinking to myself, “I can’t speak Spanish at all. Still. I feel like I’m at the same place I was when I came in here. And I definitely don’t want to take Spanish 102 because I don’t feel ready.” Because we didn’t have enough of that… The teacher encouraged us to, if we had the extra time… which in college, who does? But she encouraged us to go to the language groups where we could utilize our Spanish and form groups to do the work outside of class. But it was never in class. It was just the text. It really wasn’t that far off from the text.

Kat: I know “¿Dónde está [el] baño?”

[Alison laughs]

Michael: That is important. [laughs]

Kat: And I could probably count to maybe 14. That’s about it.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Same situation. I took four years of Spanish, and I know almost nothing.

Alison: Actually, she reminds me most of my high school econ[omics] teacher, who[m] someone once called […] “Umbridge” to her face, and she had no idea what we were talking about. [laughs]

Michael: [laughs] Probably for the best.

Alison: Yeah, she unfortunately even looked like [how] Umbridge is described. But there was this funny thing where everyone who actually read the textbook got A’s in that class if they fell asleep in that class, and everyone who tried to pay attention to her teaching failed. Because she was a terrible teacher.

Michael: It’s a good question, though, Alison, about whether she, in a way, helped them or not. I think, though, everything Umbridge did that year inadvertently helped but not in a way she intended it to. She helped by constantly causing the students – at least the students [who] rally around Harry, like Frank was saying – to rebel. She was that bad. And it’s interesting that this class you were giving the example of was specifically comparing her to Lupin because there’s that scene where pretty much all of the previous… Dean basically reels off all of the previous teachers and why they were better. And then Harry even brings up… Because Umbridge… The only one she holds up in high regard is Quirrell, and Harry points out that he had Voldemort on the back of his head. So it’s perfect to look at her against our previous examples. Lockhart is really the only one [who] doesn’t really count in this situation.

Kat: I feel like they learned something from Lockhart, though.

Michael: What not to do.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Yeah. I mean, that’s a valuable lesson, in my opinion. So at least he was good for something, right?

Frank: And how to get rid of pixies.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Yeah, exactly.

Alison: Well, more than that, though, as we know, Umbridge seems to have absolutely no grasp over children and adolescent development or learning style. One of my favorite lines they added to the movie, actually, is when she says, “There will be no need to talk.” And Hermione says, “‘No need to think’ is more like it.”

Michael: Yeah, nice moment, although if she had done that in the book, she would have been put in detention like [snaps fingers] that, so…

Alison: Oh, yes. Which, speaking of detention, that seems to be the kind of thing that Umbridge thrives off of, is her cruelty and punishment. Especially creating an air of fear and oppression. Poor people at Hogwarts [who] weren’t in the DA that year. Can you imagine?

Kat: And it’s funny to compare her to fake Moody because he was a fantastic teacher. They learned a lot from him. And there was a stinking Death Eater inside, and Umbridge is worse. We’re going to get there. We’re going to get to the comparisons later on, but it’s pretty bad when you are worse than an in-disguise Death Eater. That’s pretty bad.

Frank: The in-disguise Death Eater was actually a really good teacher. He seemed to be incredibly capable as a chap.

Kat: For sure. Absolutely, yeah. He was a great teacher.

Frank: Particularly given how busy he was because had to spend half his time plotting and half his time on lessons.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Michael: The reason he’s, of course, so good is [that] he’s been steeped in the Dark Arts. But the thing that I guess is impressive about him is that he managed to put all of his insane beliefs… keep them in his pocket for so long and actually teach a defensive course. So he was like Lupin but the other way around because he came from the other side of the tracks in that regard. He was just as well trained, if not more so, perhaps, in the actual Dark Arts.

Kat: I always wondered what would have happened to him, what Voldemort would have done to him if he didn’t get kissed. But that’s another episode.

Michael: Apparently, we need to have an episode on Barty Crouch, Jr.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Add it to the bottom of the list.

[Michael laughs]

Kat: We’ll be podcasting until 2050.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: I’m sure there will still be people listening at that point.

Michael: Probably could. We probably could.

Alison: Yeah. [laughs] It got me thinking, though. I could only think of one other literary teacher that could be comparable, which is Trunchbull from Matilda. Can you guys think of anyone else who…? I mean, you read Umbridge, and you think, “Oh, that’s a very stereotypical trope that you get in literature and movies.” But I can’t think of any other names.

Michael: I like that you brought up Trunchbull. I distinctly remember this from the film version of Matilda. I don’t remember from the book because it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it. But in the movie, there is this great moment where she has a line where she says something along the lines of [as Trunchbull] “Oh, children, nasty little things. I never was one.” And that embodies Umbridge in a lot of ways to me. Because like you were saying, Alison, that she has no grasp over adolescence and early development at all seems to stem from the fact that she despises children to the point where she certainly would seem to act like she never was one. So I think that Trunchbull is actually an excellent comparison. Cut from the same cloth, definitely.

Kat: I want to put a pin in this discussion and have us remember this when we get down to talking about Percy. So somebody remember these thoughts, okay? Just remember this.

Michael: The only other character… just because you brought up the idea of the fear and oppression, and I feel like there’s another character that could better substitute for this. But I’m only bringing it up because this character specifically talks about it, and I’m not referring to the original Lewis Carroll version. I am referring to the godawful Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. And the Red Queen has a whole piece in the movie where she talks about if it’s better to be feared or loved. And she ends up choosing fear. But she has this momentary lapse where she’s wondering whether she’s doing the right thing. And from what I’ve heard, [Through the] Looking Glass deals more with that, but I didn’t even see it. But I know there are more characters, perhaps in literature, like that, who choose to rule with fear versus love, I guess. I mean, even in Harry Potter, that’s a big thing.

Kat: I’m sure the listeners will have a laundry list of other teachers for you.

Alison: Yeah, I hope so. I even went looking online to see if anyone else had any ideas, but I couldn’t figure out if she seems so familiar because it’s literary tropes or if everyone has just come across a teacher like that in their lives. [laughs] And so… It’s just so familiar to all of us. Speaking of which, in the Pottermore information, Jo says that she based Umbridge on several characters she took a certain dislike to. She tells a story about one who had a yellow hairbow, I think it was, in her hair or something. She just automatically couldn’t stand her, and the teacher couldn’t stand Jo either. So do we think in real life these teachers are really as bad as they come out? I mean, we talked about this a little bit, but do we really find that we all have an Umbridge somewhere along the line?

Kat: I didn’t have an Umbridge, and I don’t know if that’s because I was always that kid who got along with her teachers or because I’m just incredibly lucky. I had a lot of really good teachers, actually, growing up, so I didn’t have an Umbridge – that I remember. I mean, it was a long time ago.

Michael: I had an Umbridge as a boss, but I never had an Umbridge as a teacher. [laughs] And no, I’m not talking about my current job, if anybody is listening. None of you [is an Umbridge].

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Michael: It’s not you, guys. I’ve definitely encountered Umbridges in my life but not necessarily as teachers. I think Rowling even said in her writing that she was fearful that people would take that to mean that these particular individuals were Umbridge, and she said, “Don’t make that the thing.” Because really she insists the only person she directly based somebody [on] was Lockhart and that everybody else, if they were based on somebody in any way, was pieces and parts of them. Because she even says that this teacher [whom] she didn’t like she had an irrational hatred for.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: She didn’t even know why she didn’t like her.

Frank: You’d hope that you wouldn’t find many actual Umbridges as teachers because Umbridge’s job was literally to stop the kids from learning Defense Against the Dark Arts. You’d hope that you can’t really base that on any real teacher whose job is to teach.

Kat: Right. I do wonder if that’s… I mean, I suppose we’ll get there but if that’s the mission that Fudge set her on, to stop them from learning DADA, or if it was more of a monitor and make sure they don’t learn too much.

Alison: Well, that’s my last question. What do we think about Umbridge as [a] commentary on government interference in education? I know, coming from a teaching perspective, that a huge conversation is how much legislation/politics in education is too much. How much is needed? What do you guys think?

Michael: Frank might be able to speak more to this because the three of us can only speak from the US side of things. But there are people here in the US who will tell you that the government shouldn’t be involved in anything, which is funny because then this would be an interesting country if we didn’t have a government at all…

[Alison laughs]

Michael: But some people want it that way. I think from what little I know… and I come more from the library background, and libraries overall are protected by something I’ve mentioned on the show before called the American Library Association and the Freedom to Read [Protection] Act, so we have faced government interference. For example, there have been a lot of libraries [that] have been told not to put up displays for the Black Lives Matter campaign because it’s supposedly pushing an agenda.

Kat: Oh, God.

Michael: Notwithstanding that that is not correct, there are other causes that we as libraries do promote and advocate for in our system to the public – that it is our responsibility to advocate for. So that was a moment of interference from a higher level that was not approved of in the library system, and that even actually did come down from the ALA, I believe, where the ALA was pushing against the library systems about that. But I know the most I could think of here in the schooling system – and Alison, maybe you can speak more to this – is standardized testing. [This] has become the bane of a lot of teachers because the idea of core curriculum and having to meet a certain testing standard puts a lot of stress on teachers, limits their creativity, and doesn’t account for the individual nature of students.

Alison: Yeah. One of the biggest things in that, too, especially is, there’s a lot of concern over who’s setting the standards. Because a lot of times, it’s not people [who] have a background in education, or if they do, they haven’t been in an actual classroom for a while. Which is concerning because then they don’t know “Okay, here’s what our students need to be learning, here’s how our students are learning, here’[re] the things that we need to be focussing on.” And so yeah, that’s a huge conversation in education in the US right now. How do we feel about cores and the common core and state testing and national testing, and how are we supposed to be able to make sure that kids are learning what they need to learn but also not interfering in the individualistic needs of teaching and learning?

Frank: Do American schools not have actual inspections of classes?

Alison: Not really, no.

Michael: No, that’s kind of what our standardized testing makes up for, is that the test results… And there are so many standardized tests now. Those go back to the higher levels, who use those scores to assess how school districts are doing, and then they respond based on that. Unfortunately, sometimes the response can be a tad overextreme, strictly based on the test results.

Kat: That happens in state colleges as well because my niece is in a nursing program, and the three years before her – she hasn’t graduated yet; she’s a sophomore – the classes didn’t do well in the standardised testing, so they’re considering shutting down the program.

Alison: Oh, wow.

Kat: So I feel like… Yeah, bringing it back to Potter, I feel like that would be a thing that I would see happening, if Umbridge had stayed High Inquisitor over the years. I feel like a lot of things would have been shut down over time.

Michael: Alison, what you said about the concern that the people who are making those calls aren’t people who have hands-on experience with what they’re making calls for, I think that’s the main concern we’re meant to take away from Umbridge and the Ministry interference, is that these individuals are not properly capable; they’re not certified to be doing the job they are doing. And maybe that’s what it is, is being more mindful of who has been put in or elected to leadership roles, rather than necessarily so much what they’re doing as the aftermath of being elected or put in that position.

Alison: Yeah, it’s a question of capability. Which I think feeds right into what you wanted to talk about, Frank.

Frank: Yeah. You talked about why she’s a terrible teacher, and I’ll talk a bit about why she’s a terrible everything else.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: I love it. Love it.

Frank: So she goes into Hogwarts, and [there’re] three things she’s trying to do: She’s trying to teach or not teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Later, it becomes apparent that she’s also trying to inspect and get rid of teachers. And she’s also trying to take over the school and suppress Voldemort awareness. She’s trying to make sure people don’t feel like Voldemort is coming back. So she comes into this whole thing with three jobs, really, all of which are really full-time jobs, so you wonder how she’s getting any sleep…

[Alison laughs]

Frank: … particularly because, apparently, she’s watching the fireplaces…

[Kat laughs]

Frank: … and intercepting owls. So I suspect that’s part of the reason why she does such a bad job, is that she’s doing it all on two hours’ sleep a night. But more importantly, I don’t think she’s at all qualified for it. And I think this is what Rowling is trying to say a bit about inspecting of teachers and also about leadership. She’s a pretty terrible inspector, and in England, we do have full-blown inspections of state schools: people sitting in classes and forming views on the standards of the teaching…

Alison: Well, that’s terrifying.

Frank: … and it’s extremely controversial.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Frank: And it’s extremely controversial, and teachers don’t like it, and Rowling was a teacher, so I suspect this is really what she’s getting at in terms of what Umbridge is doing. She’s having a go at Ofsted, [which is] the organization [that] do[es] it. That’s the Office of Standards in Education. And various criticisms are made of Ofsted; the first and most obvious is that it pressures teachers, so you don’t actually see how they normally perform; you see them performing under pressure, and you see that with Hagrid and Trelawney, who just fall to pieces during it. Trelawney is always awful, but Hagrid is better when he’s not under pressure, and you think that’s a criticism of how inspections work. The second big point is that she was seen to be biased, and she wants the teachers to fail, and I think that’s a criticism that’s also made of Ofsted, that it’s not really being supportive. It’s just being inquisitorial. So I think Rowling is having a go at that front as well. And the final thing – I think there is a close allegory with Ofsted – is that Umbridge doesn’t really know anything about teaching. She’s a pretty appalling teacher in her own right, and she’s a civil servant and knows absolutely nothing about it, and I think that’s the same criticism that’s made of Ofsted inspectors, so I think Rowling, by making Umbridge be inspector and having her conduct inspections as she is, is having a go at Ofsted and the idea of inspecting schools. Although she goes a bit further because she makes a point of constantly embarrassing people in public, which rather undermines her relationship with everybody. So that’s her as an inspector, and I think that’s why she’s particularly terrible at it, and I think that’s what Rowling is trying to say. And the second thing she’s trying to do as well as be a teacher, she’s trying to take over the school. And again, I don’t think she’s very good at it. Firstly, she doesn’t keep track of her own rules; so she keeps falling into elephant traps, the obvious one being that she thought that Harry had set up an illegal group because she banned it the next day without making her change in the law retrospective, which was really a rookie error in terms of that.

Alison: [laughs] Discipline rule number one: consistency. [laughs]

Frank: If you’re writing the law, you might as well make it retrospective, mightn’t you?

[Michael laughs]

Frank: And secondly, she just forgets that she can’t appoint a replacement for Trelawney. She forgets about it and doesn’t even think it through…

[Alison laughs]

Frank: … and has Firenze landed on her. So she doesn’t keep track of her own rules, and I suspect that’s because she’s so sleep deprived because she is having to do all these things.

[Everyone laughs]

Frank: And of course, lots of wizards in the wizarding world do seem to have multiple jobs: Dumbledore is apparently a member of the Wizengamot as well as being Headmaster and doing all sorts of other things, and Moody, of course, was a tour de force of plotting Polyjuice Potion brewing…

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Frank: … and teaching at the same time. So people can apparently do it, but I don’t think Umbridge can. But more importantly, I think there’s something about leadership here, which is that no one has any confidence in her because she goes out of her way to alienate everybody. She even alienates the people who[m] you might have thought might support her; the obvious one is Snape, but she gets on his bad side very early by going into his class and constantly asking him about why he hasn’t been made the DADA teacher, and you can see him getting angrier and angrier over the course of it. Of course, he’s actually working for Dumbledore all the time, but insofar as she had any chance with him, it was gone. And she just steadily alienates everybody. It would have been relatively easy, I think, to make Harry Potter relatively illegitimate and seen as incredible, and that’s just trying not to overreact, but she’s incredibly paranoid, and in doing [so], she manages to legitimize him. And finally, she sides with people she knows are really unpopular. She sides with Filch and a really small handful of Slytherins as her base, which will go toward alienating them as well. So she’s pretty remarkably bad in all of her roles, and I think that she’s actually largely a parody of how not to do things.

Michael: It’s fascinating, that mention by you, Frank, about that she alienates Snape because now that I’m thinking about it, maybe there’s more to this that I’m not remembering because Order of the Phoenix was a while ago, but it’s funny that Dumbledore didn’t make Snape befriend her because he could have kept a closer eye on her. I mean, it’s kind of implied that Dumbledore… I guess we go along with [the idea] that his omniscient nature is allowing him to be watchful of her because he still seems pretty aware of what she’s doing, probably because, like you said, she’s not very coded about her behavior. She’s quite sloppy, so maybe that’s why she doesn’t need Snape.

Frank: Another problem she has is, she keeps telling everybody what her plans are.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Frank: She openly tells Harry Potter that all of his post is being opened, which she didn’t have to, but she chose to do. She openly tells him that all the fireplaces except her own are being watched. She just blurts these things out.

Michael: There’s definitely a certain hubris/ego/pridefulness that Umbridge carries about her that is a bit of her undoing as well.

Kat: It’s the monologuing that a lot of villains do at the end of movies when they’ve caught the good guy. But Umbridge just does it in little tiny bits.

Alison: All the time.

Kat: She sprinkles it throughout, because you’re right; it’s definitely a hubris thing, and I always just giggle to myself when she’s going into that monologuing. Even though they’re not very long, they’re sometimes just a couple [of] little sentences or two, but it has the same feeling as that “big villain has caught the good guy and is going to explain the entire thing and how to unravel it all once this person gets loose.”

Alison: She’s so confident in her own rightness that she just expects everyone to hear what she’s saying and understand that, of course, she’s right and just fall under her, I think. I think that’s part of that failing, is that she’s so convinced that she’s right in what she does that she thinks it will be so obvious to everyone else to turn to her side.

Kat: So she’s mansplaining, is what she’s doing.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: And to Alison’s point earlier about how she doesn’t understand teenagers, that also ends up being her undoing because she assumes that by… Her first night in the Great Hall – and I love her speech; her speech is one of my favorite parts of Order because there is so much to unpack in it – she purposefully chooses this very heady, wordy rhetoric to hide her true intentions behind. But like you were saying, Frank, she seems to have forgotten the fact that Dumbledore and a bunch of perfectly capable adults are sitting behind her, and they understand exactly what she’s saying.

Alison: And that there are students [who] are capable…

Michael: Yes, mainly Hermione.

Alison: Well, yes.

Michael: But apparently, some other… And Hermione makes sure… That’s the other thing again with underestimating the students, is that Hermione spreads that information. She doesn’t keep it to herself. She makes it quite clear through her behavior in Umbridge’s class and through what she does with the DA and to Harry and Ron that… She very quickly makes clear how she interpreted that speech to others around her. So regardless of whether they listen or not, yeah, there’s definitely that underestimation.

Frank: In the spirit of underestimating people, she also walks into the Forbidden Forest with Harry and Hermione for no reason.

Michael: Yeah, you have a point here about her paranoia, and that goes along perfectly with the supposition that she’s not getting any sleep, because she does pretty much lose her mind by the end of the book. I think, even more so in the film, Imelda Staunton really played up her unraveling. Especially the way that they… Because they had that directly follow up the fireworks scene, so she was all just frazzled and covered in soot, so it added to the insanity. Plus, they were doing the costuming thing with making her dresses pinker as she was going crazier and taking more control, so that definitely – the aesthetic of her – added to that. And I really… It’s disappointing that they took this out. You were talking about monologuing, Kat. There’s more to her last monologue before she gets dragged off in the movie. She has quite a bit more to say, and it’s great because it really does show how completely off the rails she’s gone. I mean, the movie does it all pretty good on its own with what it’s already got, but what got cut was a nice addition to her insanity. But I’m glad, though, that we have a British listener on the show, because Frank was able to actually speak to that direct criticism that Rowling is probably targeting with Umbridge. I think I’ve heard… I feel like Rosie has mentioned Ofsted before, but I don’t really know that much.

Kat: Probably. It sounds familiar but I don’t know why.

Michael: She probably mentioned it when we were reading Order of the Phoenix.

Kat: Oh yeah.

Michael: [laughs] Did you know more about that, Alison?

Alison: Oh, I just… I’ve a little bit followed British education changes in the past little bit too because I’ve thought about going over there to teach, but… So I mean, I don’t know tons, but I’ve read a few news stories about criticism. [laughs]

Michael: Get ready if you go over there. Now you’re prepared to have an inspection.

Alison: Yeah, that’s absolutely terrifying. No wonder everyone doesn’t do great in Umbridge’s inspections. That’s terrifying. [laughs]

Frank: I don’t think they’re actually quite like that. I think they normally just sit quietly at the back.

Alison: Oh, well, yeah.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Frank: They don’t go…

Alison: Still, that’s a lot of pressure, to see someone [who]’s not normally there and to know that they’re basically judging you.

Frank: Yeah, and apparently a lot of them are surprise inspections, so you’re not told about it until that afternoon or…

Michael: So if you’ve planned a day of fun and the inspector comes in…

Alison: Oh no.

Michael: … and it’s like, “Oh, poo, maybe we shouldn’t do this today, but I don’t have a proper lesson ready.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: I feel like there are some people who would properly enjoy an inspection. Hermione for one.

Frank: I’ve had classes inspected. I teach at a university and at one of the universities used to be inspected once a year. But it was a much easier thing because they were really just telling you how you could improve rather than suggesting that you ought to be fired.

Alison: That’s always better than… [laughs]

Kat: Yeah, that’s a little easier. That is always better.

Michael: That definitely wasn’t Umbridge’s school.

Kat: So is there anything that Umbridge actually goes to Hogwarts to accomplish and actually accomplishes?

Frank: She stops the vast majority of the children [from] learning any practical Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Alison: I think she gets the mission across of keeping everyone in the dark about Voldemort, for the most part.

Michael: She at least keeps everybody wondering. She keeps a lot of people on the fence.

Kat: Until the Quibbler thing.

Michael: Yeah, the Quibbler is where it breaks down.

Alison: Even then, I wonder how many students actually read that and believed it? I always…

Frank: Once she banned it, it became much more widespread.

Alison: But I wonder how many students just decided they were just going to keep their head down that year, so they didn’t go looking for trouble at all.

Michael: I’d say probably a lot because if there’s, say, a maximum [of] maybe 20 to 30 kids in the DA, that still leaves… Oh, what’s 1,000 minus 30? [laughs] And you’ve got 970 kids [who] are still not really participating or doing anything, right?

Kat: I would think that more than just a couple read that because Umbridge wasn’t just vilifying and being obnoxious to just Harry and just Gryffindor; she was doing that to everybody. And I feel like, with the exception of the few Slytherins, maybe other Houses… I don’t know who was in the Inquisitorial Squad, but I feel for the most part people probably hated her. And like Frank said, the minute that she banned it, I feel like more people would’ve read it and been on Harry’s side whether or not they believed it.

Alison: But I wonder, though, how many of them would’ve given in to the fear of “Well, she just passed this…”

Kat: Nah, because I think for the most part that she’s a lot of talk. I mean, sure, she takes action, but I also think that she’s a lot of talk, and I think that speech she gave at the beginning of the year shows that. And I feel like some people would be able to read between the lines of Umbridge and would realize that she doesn’t quite have the wherewithal to catch them in the act because she never actually caught anyone as far as I’m aware. Right?

Alison: Yeah, that’s true.

Frank: I think it says that in terms. I think it says she never seemed to be able to catch anyone with it.

Alison: That’s true.

Kat: Right. So I have a feeling that a lot of people were doing it just as an “F you” to her whether or not they believed Harry or cared about it. That’s what I think, anyway.

Michael: Well, there is that point, too, that I believe Hermione and Ron make to Harry, that there are individuals who do believe that their families are at stake if Umbridge catches them with something because their families work for the Ministry. I believe Marietta is one of those individuals, and that’s why she tattles. So there is that element to remember, too, that there are individuals who might even believe Harry, but they can’t take any more action than just believing him to themselves.

Kat: Right. I think Marietta should learn from that and be more scared of Hermione than Umbridge.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: That’s just me.

Frank: Harry becomes a lot more credible once the Death Eaters escape from Azkaban, and there’s no real explanation for how they’ve done it.

Kat: So overall, she achieved what she pretty much set out to do, even though it wasn’t in the way she expected to. Right? Is that…?

Michael: Until the very end.

Alison: Yeah, I think on paper she did, but I don’t know if she necessarily got everyone with her, especially in taking over the school; I mean, she obviously didn’t. So on paper she took over, but…

Kat: I definitely think she thought she’d be there longer than a year. She was settling in like she was going to be there a while.

Michael: Well, and that’s the one…

Frank: And she didn’t really change the teaching practices either. She got rid of Trelawney but replaced [her] with Firenze, who was probably worse for her. And she couldn’t get rid of Hagrid. So she didn’t… Well, other than [stopping] people from learning practical Defense Against the Dark Arts, I’m not sure she really achieved anything.

Michael: Yeah, pretty much everything she did was temporary. But I think the thing is – and we see that as we go into Half-Blood Prince – that she does have a lasting effect that I think is to her advantage. She manages to stay in the Ministry, and because of that, that has a lot of effect on the Ministry’s relationship to Harry and how she regains power in Deathly Hallows. So she does… I don’t think it’s the end [that] she necessarily had in mind, but she does have another brief victory moving on. And I guess, speaking of, we’ll move forward into some of the points that I wanted to examine, which [were] more about Umbridge’s relationships and interactions with some individuals, especially some of the ones that we learned about on Pottermore. And probably the big thing we learned about with her history is her family on Pottermore, because Umbridge is the daughter of a man named Orford Umbridge and his wife, Ellen Cracknell, and apparently, she also had an unnamed brother who was a Squib. Interestingly enough, her family split right down the middle. Umbridge took her dad’s side; Ellen took Umbridge’s brother under her wing because he was a Squib. Orford and Dolores were very disappointed in him and also blamed Ellen for him being a Squib, and Ellen took Umbridge’s brother with her, and they never saw each other again. But I thought it was an interesting idea that Orford is suggested… I guess I’m unsure because it seems like Orford is suggested to be the root of Umbridge’s prejudice and her unyielding beliefs, but the other funny thing is that she doesn’t particularly like him either, and it kind of flip-flops on him. But her extremism just gets so unbridled that I can’t really… I don’t really feel like just blaming her dad, and this particular instance is really enough to explain her behavior.

Alison: Well, I don’t know if we can because I don’t think she’d have quite so much of a Muggle-hatred. I mean, her mother was a Muggle. So I don’t know if she learned that from her father. That feels to me more like a backlash against her mother than anything. And then I think having a Squib brother helps explain a little bit why she hates anyone who isn’t the way they should be, if that makes sense, so anyone who should be one thing but isn’t, which fits into the half-breed fear she has.

Michael: That’s interesting what you said, though, about the extremism with Muggles because in a way that makes… This set-up reminded me a little bit of the estrangement between Lily and Petunia in some ways. It’s another estrangement of siblings because somebody has magic and somebody doesn’t. But in this case, it’s the other way around, where the magic side is the one that’s being more prejudiced, and the non-magical side is the one that’s taking the brunt of it. But apparently, it sounds like most of the members of the Umbridge family weren’t pleasant people anyway…

[Alison laughs]

Michael: … because neither Ellen nor Orford [was] particularly happy in their marriage anyway. Orford wasn’t exactly a star in the wizarding world. He worked for the Department of Magical Maintenance; it is implied he mopped the floors. Dolores didn’t much care for him because he lacked ambition, and she bought him off to stay out of her life after he retired. She actually got him early retirement and then kept sending him a small fund to keep him out of her way. [laughs] And then she started lying about her father and his employment record, which began… Well, I felt like this was meant to be a hint about the Selwyn lie that she starts telling in Hallows.

Alison: Yeah. I definitely think so too. And I also think this speaks to why she’s a Slytherin because this is definitely the very bad way that Slytherin traits can manifest themselves, where you start using your cunning to cover things up and tell the narrative you want to tell and to reach where you want.

Kat: That all stems from fear of not being accepted and people thinking that she’s less than what she truly is, and that is a self-confidence issue at its core, what it comes down to. And I was thinking about this – and I don’t know any janitors so maybe if somebody out there listening knows somebody – but from what I’ve heard, janitors are actually – at least from what I’ve heard, again – fairly respected, for the majority. Janitors stay at their post a really long time, they have a status in the school, they’re paid very well, they’re that… Every janitor [whom] I know… Even [at] my college, we had the singing janitor. He walked around the school, and everybody knew him. He sang all the time, and he was whistling, and he was just this jovial, really nice guy, and he was super well respected. So I feel like… I mean, maybe that’s totally different in the wizarding world. I don’t know. But it feels like she’s being prejudiced for no reason. I mean, from my experiences… I don’t know.

Alison: Yeah, she seems kind of like a status chaser to me.

Kat: Well, not “kind of.” Definitely.

Alison: Yeah, where she just doesn’t care about what someone is as a person. She cares about all the accolades and titles they have more than anything and…

Kat: Which, personally, I feel like is why she would despise somebody who is a janitor because I feel like she would see that as “You don’t care about your life; you’re cleaning up other people’s filth. You’re worthless.”

Alison: Yeah, even though…

Kat: Which is totally not true.

Alison: Yeah. I was going to say, if you want to know anything about a school or anything, it’s the janitor you go talk to. [laughs]

Kat: Sure, absolutely. And that’s what I mean; I feel like they’re so respected that it just seems like a rude… I mean, we know she’s rude. It just seems like a terrible thing, especially your father. I don’t know. She’s a jerk.

Michael: Well, I think that’s just… Umbridge is… That speaks to the idea [that] anybody with a level head on their shoulders knows that individuals who are in service work like that should definitely be congratulated and paid attention to. In the libraries, the lowest position on the totem pole is a page, where you’re pretty much just running around doing whatever the librarians tell you to do. You shelve, you clean, [and] you get the boring jobs all day. It’s just very monotonous work. But the pages are really some of the most valuable members of the library staff because they shelve everything, [and] they can tell you where everything is a lot quicker than a librarian can sometimes.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: But that speaks, too, to the prejudice in the wizarding world against, and the behavior toward, house-elves, which Umbridge obviously does share because she subjugates the house-elves to punishing themselves when they don’t listen to her, as we see from Dobby. She overrides Dumbledore’s commands to the house-elves and makes them punish themselves again, and Harry has to undo that with Dobby to make sure he doesn’t punish himself. So it’s perfectly fitting what you were saying earlier, Frank, about how she doesn’t think things through because with her lie about the Selwyn family, there are members of the Selwyn family who are Death Eaters who are alive and around her in her immediate vicinity at the Ministry. [laughs] She didn’t choose the best surname to lie about because she could easily have been called out on it. But yeah, it’s interesting to see that she started lying about her parentage from a pretty early age, pretty much right when she got to the Ministry. And speaking of when she got to the Ministry, she had some interesting interactions with her coworkers. As Rowling wrote, “Nasty things tended to happen to people who asked about [her father], or anything that Dolores did not like talking about, and people who wanted to remain on her good side pretended to believe her version of her ancestry.” [laughs]

Alison: That’s a little scary. [laughs]

Michael: It is! It’s terrifying. Like you said, Frank, she was working with fear, but she was already ruling with fear in her early employment days. That’s pretty much how she got where she was. That would explain why she got as high as being on the…

Frank: She’s Undersecretary to the Minister.

Michael: Yes, Chief Undersecretary. Well, and then being in places like Harry’s trial and so many positions in the Ministry. Interestingly – something none of us probably necessarily expected – she attempted to marry some of her superiors, or at least woo them, but her undoing was her much more prominent interest in power than love, and she mostly failed due to her inability to hide her deepest, most vile beliefs after the influence of a glass of sweet sherry.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: Apparently, the things she would say behind closed doors were even extreme to people who were purists in the blood world with wizards. So I can’t really imagine what she was saying that would even make a Death Eater cringe. [laughs] I just can’t even imagine that. But interestingly, that idea of what she would say under the influence of alcohol made me immediately think of both Aunt Marge and Trelawney as interesting character comparisons. I can see it more with Marge because if anything, Marge has also been revealed to… She had a thing for Colonel Fubster, that guy who watched her dogs. But he also didn’t like her because of her personal beliefs that she would share when she got drunk. [With] Trelawney, it’s interesting that there’s a comparison between them considering that they’re mortal enemies, in a way.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: I don’t know what other comparisons you could maybe draw between Trelawney and Umbridge. Any ideas?

Alison: This sounds terrible, but trying to be something they’re not. [laughs] Obviously, Umbridge is trying to be something so much [more] powerful than she is, and Trelawney’s feels [like] more of a pure desire, if that makes sense, where she just really wants to be this kind of person, whereas Umbridge is just looking for the power and so is trying to be a certain kind of person that she thinks can get herself power and status and position in the world.

Kat: Trelawney wants to impress, and Umbridge wants to rule. There’s a very big difference there between the two.

Frank: The biggest difference is that Umbridge is a massive racist.

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Kat: That too.

Michael: And I think that lends to why it’s so interesting that when she targets Trelawney, Harry has… and Harry reflects the feelings of the reader where it’s like, “Well, who[m] do we want to win?” Because through Harry, we’ve set ourselves against Trelawney because she’s just such a crackpot. It’s sort of choosing in this case [between] the lesser of the two crazies.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: I adore Trelawney because I think she’s comical and funny and definitely a light-hearted character despite the fact that she predicts death every year. I think she’s that kooky aunt [whom] you have [who] goes to your wedding, and you [are] sitting next to her for a little while because she makes you feel really good about yourself.

[Alison, Frank, and Michael laugh]

Kat: But I like Trelawney. I have no ill feelings for Trelawney in any way, shape, or form.

Michael: Trelawney doesn’t really aggravate me until Order of the Phoenix, but it’s only because she’s aggravating Harry. He expresses that through his thoughts, so it’s funny that she reaches her peak of grating on Harry in the year when Harry has to side with her. I think, really, by the end of it, mostly Trelawney is just a pitiable character.

Alison: Yeah, I was going to say, that’s my biggest emotion toward Trelawney – just pity.

Michael: Yeah, because you don’t have pity for Umbridge.

Alison: Oh, no.

[Michael laughs]

Alison: She made choices.

Michael: And I think that’s one thing that Rowling made sure not to do, was introduce an aspect of her history that made her pitiable.

Frank: I think Umbridge is almost unique in being… I think with Bellatrix and Uncle Vernon, possibly, of people who are just completely unambiguously bad. Which is very unusual in the writing, because normally, there’s something a bit more ambiguous somewhere.

Kat: Do you really think that she’s not pitiable? I mean, did you guys not listen to Dumbledore? “Don’t pity the dead, Harry. Pity those who live without love”?

Alison: [laughs] But I feel like she made the choice not to love. So that’s on her.

Kat: Okay, so did Tom Riddle, and a lot of people pity him.

Alison: That one’s on him, though, too. I don’t pity him for that.

Michael: [laughs] That’s a fair question, though.

Alison: I pity him for not being taught love.

Kat: Okay, so Umbridge wasn’t either, obviously.

Alison: I don’t know. Was she or was she not? I think she had opportunities to, and she rejected them.

Michael: The most pity I’ve ever had for her – and it was more embarrassment than pity – was reading that section about how she had tried to get somebody to marry her. But it wasn’t out of a genuine need for companionship on her part. From what Rowling writes, it’s purely for power. So that’s… But you’re right that Dumbledore does point out to Harry that should we maybe have pity for those individuals, and that’s what Half-Blood Prince brings up a lot about Voldemort, because Harry starts to actually have pity for Voldemort and quickly says, “No, no, no, I don’t pity him,” and Dumbledore wonders if he shouldn’t. So I don’t know if we should pity Umbridge or not. That’s one we’ll have to throw to the listeners with all of this backstory. Maybe you guys can leave your comments about if you pity Umbridge or you think she should be pitied. Umbridge continued her rise to power in the Ministry by, as we know, stroking the vanity of Cornelius Fudge while simultaneously taking advantage of his insane anxieties over Dumbledore.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: Anxieties that she apparently shared, which, again, were kind of her undoing in this plot. But she got away with it because Scrimgeour… and this is something that’s not really necessarily flat-out said in Half-Blood Prince – it’s more implied – but Rowling confirmed it through the backstory, that Scrimgeour failed to give Umbridge any due punishment, or even really any notice whatsoever for her behavior in Order because he was too busy dealing with Voldemort, and it’s interesting to me to think that Umbridge actually does have a considerable role. Without being in Half-Blood Prince, she has a pretty important role in it. She completes shaping Harry’s view on government assistance, I guess. I know, Kat, you’ve spoken to why Order is so important in Harry’s growth, and I feel like that’s one of those big portions of it.

Kat: Absolutely. He forms so many opinions about life and people and government and all of the above in Order, and you’re right – Umbridge is a big part of the way that Harry forms those opinions and continues to feel for what I’m assuming is the remainder of his life. I haven’t read Cursed Child yet, but I’ll get there.

Michael: Hmm. Yes, you will…

Kat: So we’ll see.

[Kat and Michael laugh]

Michael: The, of course, major interaction she has is in Book 7 with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Rowling had quite a few things to say on this, including that

“She is an immensely controlling person, and all who challenge her authority and world-view must, in her opinion, be punished. She actively enjoys subjugating and humiliating others, and except in their declared allegiances, there is little to choose between her and Bellatrix Lestrange.”

So already we have a pretty intense comparison right there.

“Dolores is the only person, other than Lord Voldemort, to leave a permanent physical scar on Harry…”

… and,

“Her desire to control, to punish and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, are […] every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.”

So to me, that brings up the question, why didn’t she just flat-out become a Death Eater and why did…

Alison: I don’t think Voldemort wanted her. [laughs]

Frank: Yeah, never asked.

Michael: [laughs] Really? Why not?

Frank: Incompetent.

Alison: Yeah, well that, and she’s not crafty evil enough. Whereas I feel most of the people in the Death Eater inner circle are crafty evil. They can do… I don’t know how to describe this. I don’t think this is making sense, but they have some ability to do something that will bring about Voldemort’s ends, whereas that’s not Umbridge’s style. Umbridge wants the recognition. She wants everyone to see how great she is.

Michael: Which makes me raise the question, then: What does make her different, other than her declared allegiances? What does make her different from Bellatrix? Ooh. [laughs]

Kat: Okay, so I’m going to say that I disagree with Alison, actually. I think that Umbridge has a lot of things that she could offer Voldemort. She has influence. She has the – what is that? – iron fist that she definitely rules with. And I think that… I don’t know if she would have joined the Death Eaters if Voldemort had approached or tried to recruit her. I think she would have gone the way of Narcissa because she already believes and supports everything that they do. But I feel like she wouldn’t want to commit herself to something because what if something better comes along?

Alison: So she’s like the Blacks, then.

Kat: Sure, but I do think that she would have stood by him and done anything that he asked her to in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.

Michael: I think Narcissa is an excellent comparison in that case because the Malfoys are definitely that type as well, who run when it’s not to their advantage anymore to be a part of something.

Frank: Well, I’m not sure it can just be about risk adversity because she’s willing to head up the Muggle[-born] registration group. So she knows that if Voldemort falls, she’s going to be in all sorts of trouble as she is. So I can’t see that it’s just a matter of [not] want[ing] to take the risk of this not working out, because she’s in big trouble if he fails.

Michael: That’s true. Well, maybe. The only other thing I can think of is that, until her breakdown at the end of Order, she also has this fanatical allegiance to following the law of the written word, I guess. So because… I think Rowling acknowledges in her writing about Umbridge that that’s what leads to her undoing in Order. She oversteps her boundaries, and she loses Hogwarts, but she doesn’t lose everything, and I think she knows that because she overstepped. So maybe it’s more a question of because… Voldemort’s law is the new law. Because he took over the Ministry, because Pius Thicknesse is his puppet, this is the law and Umbridge, as Rowling says on Pottermore, is finally in her element as the Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission. It’s almost like this is something she always wanted, but she was waiting for the permission to do it. And that’s what she does in Order too. She waits for Fudge’s permission to do everything she asks him. It’s implied that she asks him for that permission so that he’ll give it to her, but she waits until it’s written. So she wants to do the crazy Bellatrix Lestrange stuff, but she wants to do it only if it’s the law.

Alison: Which is why I think – that’s what I’m trying to say – she’s not crafty evil. She’s not willing to be sneaky and subvert the law and subvert what people expect her to do. Which is something that Voldemort expects of the Death Eaters, that you get the job done however you have to get the job done. And she’s not necessarily willing to do that if it includes something outside the law.

Michael: What an interesting aspect of her character, though, that she’ll go crazy, but only if the law allows her to go crazy. Maybe it’s that issue of how culpable she is for things in the end. Which kind of speaks again to what you were saying, Kat – the risk factor. But I guess, like Frank said, that, again, was her undoing because she didn’t have the foresight to think that maybe Voldemort could be undone and that Harry would actually win in the end and undo all of those laws.

Alison: I suddenly just started comparing her to Javert from Les Miserables. [laughs]

Michael: Yeah, I can see that. Yeah, Javert is definitely fanatical in his pursuit, but he does definitely want to do it by the book. And when he fails, well…

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Alison: Spoilers!

Michael: Yeah, that… Yep! Spoilers. But I mean, really, Les Mis has been around for a while.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: Quite a long time. But yeah, [those are] some of the interactions that… I think we’ve explored a lot of the characters that she does encounter in the book through actually rereading the book. But I did think it was interesting that through all of that, we got to the root of perhaps a little bit more of why she behaves the way she does.

Kat: For sure, and I think this is actually a perfect transition into what I really want to talk about, because you ended with Voldemort and the Death Eaters and talked about her interactions with them. And you actually picked up on the first question I wanted to talk about: Would she ever have joined the movement, so to say, and become a Death Eater? And I think that comparing her to Lord Voldemort is a thing that happens a lot. There’[re] those memes all over the place – a picture of Umbridge’s face – and it says “Worse than Lord Voldemort.”

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: All of the political memes that are out comparing Umbridge to different political candidates…

[Michael laughs]

Kat: … and things of that nature. We will not be getting in politics this evening.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: However, I did think that it was an affable comparison between her and Voldemort, and I really am excited to touch on that. And since we already touched on the “Would she join the Death Eaters?” part, I guess I’ll move on to my next point. So we’ve talked about this over the last hour and a half or so about her confidence and why she does the things that she does – her motivations, goals, methods, all of that – and I was thinking about this a lot when I was reading her backstory and thinking about everything we know about her and about Voldemort and their confidence levels in… I don’t want to say “in each other,” but “in Dolores with Voldemort” and also in themselves and how their [pasts come] into consideration for what they believe they can achieve in the future. And I’m wondering… I was thinking a lot about which one is more set up to achieve and who, perhaps, lacks the confidence to do so. And I couldn’t quite come to a conclusion, which is why I really wanted to bring it up with you guys to hear your thoughts on this.

Alison: I think you were right before, Kat. I think Umbridge really does have a confidence issue, and I feel like she has a confidence issue in that she has a stopping point, whereas I feel like Voldemort doesn’t. He feels so entitled to power and to ruling and to this vision of himself he’s created that he feels confident enough that he is this person and he will achieve what he wants at the end. It’s only a matter of time and circumstances and finding it, whereas Umbridge isn’t necessarily thinking that far and just wants things to be in order, and that’s her main goal. And so anytime something steps out of that order and out of the world as she thinks it should be, that rattles her.

Kat: Right, because she does have to wind herself up in order to… Maybe this is a movie-ism – I’m not remembering – but in order to torture Harry with the Cruciatus Curse, in order to get information.

Alison: Yeah, that’s in the book, yeah.

Kat: Yeah, okay. I was pretty sure it happened in both, right.

Alison: Yeah, she’s trying to talk herself into it.

Kat: Yeah, she has to talk herself into it because it’s unlawful, so to say.

Frank: She also massively overreacts to things like the Quibbler article and just Harry being Harry in class, which I think she wouldn’t do if she were much more confident. I think she is very much lacking confidence. But Voldemort I’m not sure is lacking confidence. He’s confident, but he’s very scared because he’s spending all his time trying not to die. But he’s confident about avoiding death.

Michael: Yes, see, I… This is tough because the thing that I’m thinking about in terms of Umbridge’s confidence is one of the most debatable points about her character, as far as extended canon, and it’s the fact that she can produce a Patronus. And that so muddles… So Rowling came out with the story about the young boy who could make a Patronus and the evil Dark wizard [whom] he went up against, who got eaten by maggots trying to produce a Patronus because he wasn’t pure of heart. Rowling did that for Book of Spells, and she did that before she released… She had done that after Umbridge had been shown to cast a Patronus, but it struck a lot of the fans, I think, that she had forgotten that Umbridge [laughs] could make a Patronus. Because Umbridge’s Patronus is probably the most minor Patronus of the entire series. And Rowling very much insisted throughout the series that Voldemort and the Death Eaters… People would ask, “What’s their Patronus?” and she’d say, “They don’t have one.” Snape doesn’t even have one because Death Eaters don’t use Patronuses to communicate, and they wouldn’t be capable of it. So…

Frank: Umbridge’s Patronus is very powerful. It holds off loads and loads of Dementors, and apparently, it’s really warm because she’s in her element.

Michael: And that’s a thing is that’s part of that issue, is that… Part of it is that Patronuses, no matter what animal it is… It doesn’t matter what animal, the strength will also be more based on the individual. And you do have to think, “Well, it’s a little…” She’s got an extra advantage because she’s wearing the locket. So maybe that secures her confidence? But she would have had to have learned to cast a Patronus before then.

Alison: But it’s… When we do see her, in the series, cast a Patronus, like you said, she’s in her element. It’s a very ordered environment, and she is in control of that environment, which I think speaks to her lack of confidence that she feels the need to be in control to be able to do that. She can’t roll with the punches. She has to have everything in order, and she needs to be over it in order to feel secure in that position.

Kat: So I think what we’re talking about here is the difference between confidence in self and confidence in convictions. I feel like those are two very different things that probably play against each other quite often within Umbridge’s mind.

Michael: Yeah, and I do think Voldemort is more confident in his convictions. But I do think they’re both lacking a certain level of confidence in a similar respect because they both react badly when things don’t go their way, and they make rash decisions. Because, I mean, we were ranting throughout Deathly Hallows about how stupid Voldemort was.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Michael: By the end of it, he really just lost his cool completely, and he didn’t think ahead. In very much the same way that Umbridge doesn’t think ahead. And he, like Umbridge, just went for power over strategy in many cases. He was just seeking ultimate power. He went after the Elder Wand without understanding what it even was or what its history was. Umbridge was wearing the locket without realizing what it was and what a dangerous object that was. She was in these positions that weren’t going to last very long, that were temporary positions that she, as we’ve mentioned before, overstepped. So I don’t… In a way, there’s a certain bit of both of their confidence that I think they both fail on equally, I guess.

Frank: When Voldemort’s confidence fails him, though, it’s because some things seriously [have] gone wrong and there’s a reason not to be confident. Like Harry has destroyed his Horcruxes or something like that. Whereas Umbridge loses confidence, can be bluffed very easily, as we saw with Hermione, and constantly overreacts and can get deeply insecure. I’m not sure that Voldemort is someone I would say is not confident. I think he’s very confident except, possibly, in the matter of Dumbledore and such like.

Michael: Yeah, I think you’re right, though, that that maybe… That goes back to what we were talking about with what a stickler she is for the law. That’s what undoes her confidence so quickly.

Kat: I guess, since you bring up the law, let’s fast forward in Umbridge’s life to now, at this moment.

Michael: She’s in jail!

Kat: Right. Okay, is it assumed or is it for sure that she’s still in Azkaban?

Michael: It’s for sure.

Alison: That she’s still there, I don’t know, but that she went is for sure.

Kat: Right. Okay, so I’m going to assume that she’s still there because I want her to be there.

Alison: [laughs] Don’t we all?

Kat: What do we think Azkaban is like for Umbridge?

Alison: A dang sight nicer than what it was for the people she sent there. There'[re] no more Dementors anymore. [laughs]

Michael: Yeah, this is boring. Boring, boring, boring.

Kat: But what do you think she’s doing? What is she thinking about? Is she…? Is she plotting [for] when she gets out? I mean, is she ever going to get out? Is she going to die in there? I mean…

Michael: She will ostensibly die in there because she was charged for the death of Muggle-borns because she sent Muggle-borns to Azkaban, and they didn’t survive, apparently. So I think she’s in there for life. So yes, she won’t be getting out anytime soon. I can’t really imagine her… [laughs] I feel like if Azkaban is anything akin to a regular prison, maybe she’s just figured out ways to climb to the top of the cellmate food chain. [laughs] I don’t know. She has been stripped of everything that would make her, her in her false way. She doesn’t have any frills, she doesn’t have her pink, she doesn’t have all the things that make it easier for her to pretend, I guess.

Kat: Unless it’s all Orange is the New Black up in Azkaban.

[Alison and Michael laughs]

Kat: Her things are being imported and traded and all that stuff. Pink is the new purple.

Alison: I wonder if she has gone mad at all. I wonder if the weight of everything falling apart around her…

Michael: … made her go crazy.

Alison: Yeah. That would make me pity her a little bit.

Michael: I could see her going crazy after all of that. Or maybe she does have this insane, fanatical belief that she’ll somehow get out and get back in the Ministry again. So…

Kat: I, in this moment, compare her and see her as Barty Crouch, Jr., where she just believed so wholeheartedly that she did the right thing, that she is self-righteous, and she’s sitting there, and she’s just telling everybody and preaching about what she did and what is right and what is wrong. And I feel like, probably, prison’s a pretty decent place for Dolores Umbridge, I think. I think she’s feeling good about herself despite the fact that she’s in prison. I feel like she’s probably a little delusional.

Frank: And it’s full of like-minded people for her to converse with. You’ve got plenty of Death Eaters to chat about.

[Michael laughs]

Frank: Superiority too. She might have quite a nice time, then.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Kat: She might have.

Michael: It’s the best place she could be, really.

Kat: Really. No, it’s true, and so I figure since we’re here, since we’re in this moment, I want to dig a little bit deeper into the roots of why people tend to compare these two characters, and I broke it up into a few categories. We have Motivations, Goals, Methods, and then Love and the Heart and just… Emotions, I suppose, could be that fourth category. So the first one here – and feel free to jump in if you guys see something or think of something that’s not on my list…

Michael: Oh, this is so hard because there'[re] things in your list that get brought up in Cursed Child with certain characters.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Okay, we’re not talking about Cursed Child, so pretend that it doesn’t…

Michael: It doesn’t exist yet.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Because it does not exist.

Michael: Just erase it out of the canon for right now. [laughs]

Kat: If it’s in the canon at all is questionable, but we’ll get there.

[Michael laughs]

Kat: So Cursed Child does not exist, whatsoever.

Michael: Zip.

Kat: Okay? So the first category here is Motivations, and for Umbridge, I put down that – as we talked about before – all of her motivations seem to stem purely from the dislike of her mother/Muggles and the embarrassment of her father’s lack of station in life. And then for Voldemort, I put down that his motivation is to rule and to become immortal. Honestly, I felt like that was his core motivation in life, to never die, right?

Alison: I think they both also have a motivation to… They think so highly of themselves, and so I think that’s part of their motivation is to achieve this situation that they think they best deserve, to themselves.

Michael: It’s interesting that you only listed the issue of the mother under Dolores because I do think Voldemort’s mother plays a big part in the early shaping of his motivations, his mother and his father. Because Dolores doesn’t like her mom because she was a Muggle, and she may have ruined the family line. Voldemort seems to feel – as we kind of felt when reading Half-Blood – that his mother was weak and did a disservice to him by dying. But he feels generally the same way though about his father.

Alison: Yeah, I was going to say, they’ve almost flipped which parent they feel a certain way about because Voldemort feels his mother’s weak, Umbridge feels her father lacks any… You could say “weak, lacking in any ambition,” whereas they think their other parent… They think lower of them because they’re a Muggle.

Kat: Right, so in my Love/Heart/Emotion category, that’s pretty much what I had. I had for Umbridge the dislike for her family and the fact that she tried to find a partner, whether misplaced or otherwise but had no luck. And that Voldemort killed his father and thought that his mother was weak and yet never strived for love. Granted, Umbridge didn’t strive for love either, but still, so…

[Prolonged silence]

[Everyone laughs]

Kat: Okay, good, I’m glad we all agree on that one.

Michael: We just… We all know something, so that’s all that is.

Kat: Okay, stop talking about it!

[Michael laughs]

Kat: Cursed Child doesn’t exist! Stop thinking about it. It’s not a thing. It doesn’t exist. You’re giving away stuff, stop.

Michael: I mean, I think what you wrote is still totally relevant, though.

Kat: Of course it’s totally relevant, because Cursed Child doesn’t exist!

Michael: Yes. But no, but even with Cursed Child I think this still is relevant.

Alison: Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Michael: So I’m going to say it is. So yeah, no, I think that’s definitely a big piece of it. The two of them have a really disgusting, warped, incomplete idea of what love is, a complete misunderstanding of how to relate to other people. Because they both play on that idea that there are people who find them worthwhile or interesting or useful. I think more so useful in Umbridge’s case. But definitely the two of them act like they have feelings or emotions toward people to get them to do what they want.

Kat: Which really only motivates them toward their goals, really.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah, it’s all about them.

Frank: But they share a pretty major motivation, which is the creation of a magic-people ruled world.

Kat: For sure, that’s true, definitely it does. It’s definitely a big goal for both of them, for sure. For Umbridge, I have down more goals for her. And they are to be powerful, respected, inflict pain on others, and law and order. All of those things I pulled directly from Pottermore, which are pretty much right in there. And [for] Voldemort I have down to rule, to be powerful, and to kill Harry Potter, which within those first seven years is definitely a goal of his.

Frank: I think Umbridge might share that goal as well.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Alison: Yeah, in some ways.

Kat: She might. I’m not sure she’d ever actually be able to pull the trigger and kill Harry, but she’d enjoy the process up to that moment.

Michael: She’d love for somebody else to do it.

Kat: She’d watch.

Alison: She definitely wants him to be in a lot of pain.

Kat: She definitely does.

Frank: She was up for using the Cruciatus Curse on him, wasn’t she? And I suspect she’d be quite happy killing him.

Alison: Yeah, I think, more than killing him physically, she’d love to kill him. She’d love to kill his spirit.

Kat: Emotionally?

Alison: Yeah.

Michael: I think that’s important that you’ve got, for both of them, to be powerful, but you don’t have for both of them to rule. Because I never… It’s never explicitly stated – and it’s funny because I thought it was in her Pottermore biography, and I could be right in that it just got deleted when it got imported over to new Pottermore – but I could have sworn, and maybe this is just an impression I got from Umbridge, that she is more the type to follow power and to be a sieve for power from the leader rather than lead herself.

Kat: Sure, I mean, just look at what she did with the High Inquisitor position. She’s technically not leading; she’s following the rule of what Fudge wants her to do.

Michael: Yep. And same when she’s at the head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission. She’s not the head of the Ministry; she’s just the head of a department that’s carrying out the rules.

Alison: She wants the ultimate power, but she doesn’t want the responsibility that comes along with that, that you would need to actually be a leader.

Michael: And again, in that way, she’s a lot like the picture that we get of the Malfoys through history from Pottermore, up to the Malfoy family in the seven books, where their goal is to be allied with power but never be in control. Which, just as much to Umbridge’s undoing, that is also to their undoing.

Kat: Sure, and I think the major thing, the difference between the two as far as their goals go, is that Umbridge – as we have talked about many times – is all about the law and order of everything, and Voldemort just does not give an F. He just is going to do whatever he wants, whether it breaks a law or not. And I think that’s a major difference between the two. We’ll get there in a minute; there’s a conclusion that we’re slowly working up to here. Next, I want to talk about their methods and how they actually go about practicing their beliefs, so to say. So for Dolores Umbridge, I have she’s a liar, she’s a dictator, she’s only interested in the pay-off, then strict punishment for those who all oppose her and that she’s very manipulative. Then for Voldemort, I have secrecy, murder, obviously, dictator, and almost that Hitleresque mentality of the pure blood-ism and all of that. I felt a little weird putting “lying” in for Umbridge, but it felt right but, also, wrong.

Alison: It’s not lying; it’s more of bending the truth to be what she wants it to be. Because I wouldn’t say she necessarily flat-out lies, like fabricates things.

Frank: She says she’s a Selwyn.

Michael: Sometimes she’s lying by omission. Where she doesn’t do the whole truth, there are points where she does flat-out lie, but I think, like her opening speech, or like some of the things she says in her little monologues in class at Hogwarts, she tells half-truths. Basically, versions of a story that will be to her advantage. Just enough truth that people believe her, but she sneaks enough of her own stuff in that people can’t really oppose her, I guess.

Kat: So then, I want to rewind a little bit to the quote that you spoke at the end of your point, Michael, where Jo was talking about Umbridge in relation to Voldemort. It says,

“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.”

And I don’t disagree with that. At its core, in some ways, I do disagree with that, but I wanted to have each of us come up with a conclusion about why we think Umbridge and Voldemort are so readily comparable and whether you think they are more the same or more different and why. Written essay.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: Three rolls of parchment.

Michael: Mine would be that they’re both borderline sociopathic, in that they don’t understand other people. They go about their goals, I think we’ve established, in different ways. Where Umbridge is lawful-chaos, where Voldemort is unlawful chaos. But the sociopathy is the major piece, I think. The inability to relate to other people around them and to, because of that, have an excuse, in their eyes, to abuse and torture people would be… I mean, lest we forget, Umbridge made that quill herself. That’s crazy. [laughs] Why would you invent that in your off time? That’s all kinds of not okay.

Kat: Yeah, I always wondered, like, why?

Michael: What inspired that quill?

Kat: Yeah, what inspired it and what happened to her? Because, okay, her life doesn’t seem that terrible. Like, she wasn’t abused. She wasn’t… short of not being picked to become a prefect, which happens to, you know, 1,000 or 990-something kids.

[Alison, Frank, and Michael laugh]

Alison: 992? No, because there are more years, just kidding.

Kat: Because there [are] two per year, and there [are] seven years. So 14. We are so bad at math.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: 986 kids. Plus, the Head Boy and Girl, 984 kids, that happens to, every year. So her life isn’t all that bad, so I always wondered why she made that quill. What was so bad about her life?

Michael: To me, again, that speaks to the sociopathy and the inability to relate to others and in Umbridge’s case, and in Voldemort’s, that idea that you deserve something that you didn’t get. Because Voldemort also believed that he deserved things that he didn’t and that was made clear from Dumbledore’s first memory of him, meeting him in the orphanage. Voldemort took things that didn’t belong to him, and I think Umbridge is very much the same way too because, as Rowling mentions and as you kind of touched on, Kat, she didn’t get what she wanted in school. She wanted positions of power in school, and she didn’t get them, so again, I’m going to go with the sociopathy.

Frank: I think what they really share is that they have the same vision for the world. They’d like to have a broadly wizard-led world, doing various unpleasant things to Muggle-born people and Muggles. Where they differ is how they interact with other people and also, of course, how powerful they are and that Voldemort is extremely charismatic [and] is able to manipulate people and get people, genuinely, to think that he’s a chap worth following. Whereas Umbridge doesn’t really get anyone on board with anything she’s doing; she’s really just a civil servant in all that she does. She’s very much a follower, rather than a leader. Where they’re both willing to do unpleasant things, but Voldemort is a cut above, and he’s willing to go to your house and kill you, whereas Umbridge wouldn’t do that unless she was told to by someone else, I would’ve thought. So I think it sort of comes back almost to confidence, in that I think Umbridge is basically someone who will do what she’s told. Had things not turned out as they had, I think she would be a perfectly happy civil servant, being a bit unpleasant but not really doing anything really bad, whereas Voldemort, I think, was also going to try [to] take over the world and kill as many people as he could in the course of it.

Alison: I think what I’m going to go with is that they’re two different kinds of evil. There [are] some very important distinctions in that, then. I think we see Voldemort as the very… He’s the kind of evil that becomes mythological evil, that becomes… I don’t want to say “legendary,” but he becomes… Think about it in our world; someone says Hitler, and everyone knows exactly what you’re saying. That’s the kind of evil Voldemort is, whereas Umbridge is more of the evil that everyone experiences in their life, to some degree, and so you don’t really think about it. It’s just a part of life until it pops up. So I think it’s very interesting that both of these characters are included, and it reminds us that, just like there are many ways to be good, there are also many ways to manifest evil, and it’s important to recognize both and combat both.

Kat: Which begs the question, then, which is brought up so many times, is she worse than Voldemort? Is she more evil?

Michael: In my head, they’re on a level playing field. They go about things a different way, and as we’ve brought up, Umbridge has stopped short of the law, but like Frank said, if the law allows her to do it, she’ll do it no matter how extreme it is. So yeah, I don’t really see a difference in how evil they are. I see a difference in how they approach their evil.

Alison: I think Umbridge’s evil is more annoying and more human, and so that’s why people hate her more. [laughs] Because it’s more human, it’s more real [and] in your face than big, scary guy with no nose [who] wants to kill everyone.

Michael: Umbridge’s evil is passive-aggressive in that she never takes any responsibility for what she says, and she always puts it on other people. I think that’s what makes Order of the Phoenix such a frustrating read for a lot of Harry Potter fans; [it’s] because we feel Harry’s frustration that everything she does so perfectly, she’s not culpable with any of it. Harry has a really hard time tripping her up and catching her and what she says. Even Hermione has to acknowledge that she may be wrong. But there [are] those points, and that’s why it’s so clever, in a way, that she follows the law. There’s nothing they can do about it. No matter what she’s doing, she’s following the law. Even, I think, McGonagall and the teachers begrudgingly realize that.

Kat: “Have a biscuit, Potter.”

[Alison laughs]

Michael: Well, yeah, that’s what that’s all about. That’s why the teachers are so miffed throughout fifth year; [it’s] because they want to take action, but they can’t. There’s nothing they can do. So yes, the passive-aggressive nature of her evil, I think, is very… Voldemort is not passive-aggressive.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: I’ve always viewed her evil as you could walk up and slap her across the face and turn around and walk away…

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: … and it wouldn’t affect the rest of your life. But if you did that to Voldemort, you’d be dead on the floor.

Michael: What were you going to say, Frank?

Frank: Well, I just said that Voldemort was really quite a bit more evil, in that when Voldemort has a problem he normally thinks of an evil solution to it. So [when] he [has] a problem [and] needs some information, [he says], “Okay, I’ll torture someone and get the information out of them and then kill them,” whereas Umbridge I don’t think [chooses] just the evil solution to things. She bribes her father rather than killing him, and she tries to marry bosses rather than using [the] Imperius [Curse] or doing other unpleasant things. I think Voldemort would always think [of] the most evil solution […] to any given problem, whereas Umbridge, I think, [is] a bit more circumspect and a bit more restrained and not just as much and partly by choice, rather than just because she doesn’t think she can get away with it. I think Voldemort is looking for excuses to do really evil things all of the time, whereas Umbridge just does it some of the time.

Kat: I like Michael’s explanation of lawful and unlawful, which I think is, for me, the defining factor between the two.

Frank: I think it goes to evilness in that if you’re willing to obey the law, then as a general rule, you’re not going to do quite as evil things as the chap who doesn’t feel obliged to obey the law.

Kat: And since we’ve been comparing Voldemort and Umbridge for a while… and we touched about this before, that little pin that I put in earlier when we were talking about Percy; let’s go back to that and unpin it because there were a couple of people – when I was thinking about Umbridge today – other characters that I thought about, and I thought it would be fun to touch on them and talk about them for a minute. And the first one is definitely Percy because there are a lot of things that he and Umbridge share, particularly when you look at their career aspirations, so they’re both very ambitious, and they are ruthless, in a way. However, Percy does end up repenting his actions, where I feel like Umbridge most definitely never does that.

Alison: Yeah, I think that if you go to Michael’s idea, they both share that lawful nature. But Percy is ultimately good, where Umbridge is lawful evil.

Michael: Percy finally recognizes when the law has overstepped and become corrupt. He figures it out pretty late, but he figures it out. He figures it out because he does have the capacity to love, and he’s not a sociopath. [laughs] He basically says by the end that he realized just how much danger his family was in with the Battle of Hogwarts and all that he had to lose in that moment. Umbridge wouldn’t care about something like that. So that’s what breaks him out of his lawful trance. And I think that’s part of the big difference between the two of them. Percy, I think, could have maybe been not as extreme as Umbridge, but I think he could have done a similar thing of clawing his way up to power like Umbridge did, stroking other people’s insecurities to get his way.

Kat: Yeah. I don’t think he would be as alluring as Umbridge.

Michael: No. [laughs]

Kat: No, because she’s very flattering of other people, and I feel like Percy is straighter and more honest and cares less about impressing other people.

Alison: Yeah, I don’t think Percy is manipulative, and Umbridge is very manipulative.

Michael: I don’t think it’s that he cares less about impressing other people; I think it’s more, though, what you said, Kat, that he’s not very good at it because I think we saw that in Goblet of Fire with Barty Crouch, Sr. He keeps calling him “Weatherby.” [laughs] He doesn’t even know who he is, and Percy jumps the gun with how high of a standing he thinks he has and how important he thinks he is.

Kat: So then let’s talk about another wizard here who thinks that he is very important, and that’s Gilderoy Lockhart.

Michael: Oof.

Kat: And he is also very ambitious, he steps on toes to get where he needs to go, [and] he’s a liar and a cheat, and I feel like those are things that are inherent to Umbridge’s nature and have nothing to do with how she was brought up or her feelings on the world. So what do you guys think about that? This one I was really interested to hear what you thought.

Frank: I think Lockhart doesn’t really have the sociopathic fate; he doesn’t have the cruelty, that Umbridge has.

Kat: But he erases people’s memories.

Frank: Yeah, he does, but that’s the only really bad thing he does, and he doesn’t really go any further.

Kat: I feel like that’s pretty bad.

Frank: It is pretty bad, yes.

[Kat and Michael laugh]

Michael: This one’s hard because Lockhart, we really… Well, we do know Lockhart also has that history of thinking that he deserves things that he doesn’t. And he experienced that in his school career from what we know of him, where he thought he was…

Kat: He was never a prefect, right?

Michael: No, but he thought he should have been. He was on the Quidditch team, I believe, but that’s as far as he got. He did things that were more showy than actually everlasting or worthwhile. As far as his school curve went. So he definitely shares that aspect. He does lie about his past like she does; that’s also to his personal advantage.

Kat: Is he ultimately a good person? As Alison pointed out before, Percy is ultimately a good person. Do we think Lockhart is ultimately a good person?

Alison: I think he’s a little bit more neutral. He’s in it for himself in everything.

Michael: But Lockhart is one of the biggest victims of poetic justice in the Harry Potter novels.

[Alison laughs]

Michael: Because he gets exactly what he was giving, so that’s… He’s a more interesting one because in that way, I think especially with Order and seeing it through the trio’s eyes, there is something a little more pitiable about him in his state, perhaps because it’s irreversible. I don’t really know what it is; it’s just that he’s so simple when they see him again. It’s sad in that he has got all these vague recollections of things, but he can’t quite get back to it.

Frank: But he does seem quite happy.

Michael: Yeah, at the same time, yeah.

Frank: I think Rowling is judging Umbridge a lot more harshly. She sends her to Azkaban, whereas Lockhart is happily having inane conversations with people in St. Mungo’s and is otherwise quite content.

Kat: So otherwise harmless, Lockhart, basically.

Michael: Less so now than he once was, perhaps. I feel like you’re touching on reasons why Umbridge is… when she showed up, why she was just so horrible, and I think Frank said it closer to the top of the show, which is that, even in some ways less so with Voldemort but along with Voldemort and Bellatrix, there is really little to redeem her.

Kat: So then let me throw you a curve ball, McGonagall. They both have a cat Patronus, and Patronuses have been said and are generally accepted as an expression of your innermost personality.

Michael: This is what makes the Pottermore entry about Patronuses and everything with this so problematic.

Alison: I don’t see that because I think they share a sense of rigidity and a sense of independence. They can stand on their own two feet. I think it depends on what kind of cat you’re talking about. McGonagall, she is a very much more “can take care of itself cat,” whereas Umbridge’s… I feel like it would be one of those very fussy cats, that they’re very fluffy, that you have to groom constantly or they’ll get massive hairballs and die.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: But that assumes that Patronuses have personalities, which they shouldn’t and they wouldn’t.

Alison: Do you not think they do?

Kat: As Michael said, the strength of the Patronus is dependent on the wizard and not necessarily the form of the Patronus, and that makes a big difference. It’s like if somebody had a grizzly bear or a black bear. They’re still both bears.

Michael: That’s interesting to know because we know that McGonagall… Okay, so we know that her Animagus is a tabby. We don’t know that her Patronus is, but I’m guessing it is. We’re going to have to go off the assumption that it is.

Alison: I think it is because I think in Deathly Hallows, Harry says it’s a cat with square spectacles, which is how…

Michael: Okay, so it looks like her Animagus. We don’t know what kind of cat Umbridge has for her Patronus, so that’s part of the problem. Because the flip side example we have is that Ron’s Patronus isn’t a dog. It’s specifically a Jack Russell Terrier, so that says a lot about Ron.

Kat: However, dog breeds have different personalities than cat breeds.

Frank: But cats cover a wide range of pages themselves. You get some cats [that] are less pleasant than others. Perhaps Umbridge’s cat was the sort of cat that goes on eating birds and such like, whereas McGonagall’s cat was a charming cat that sits on walls and occasionally gets stroked.

[Kat laughs]

Michael: The interesting piece that the Pottermore writing reveals about Umbridge and her relationship with cats is that she actually doesn’t like cats, that she takes on cats as another part of her “cute,” girly persona and that she uses cats, but she has never had a real one because she thinks they’re too fussy.

Kat: Inconveniently messy.

Michael: Inconveniently messy, yeah. She doesn’t want to actually deal with the problem. As you said, Alison, as far as her relationship with power, she doesn’t want to actually take responsibility. She just more likes the idealized concept of a cat than she does an actual cat. Which is funny that her Patronus would be a cat if her Patronus really is a representation of the deepest… Unless her insane beliefs go that deep and managed to manifest in basically a false Patronus.

Kat: It’s a good character study.

Michael: Dang, she’s a pretty powerful witch if she managed that. [laughs]

Kat: I think in her convictions she is intensely powerful. All right, I have one more, which I think is going to be a fun one here, and it’s Snape, Severus Snape. So we already touched on him about how Umbridge alienates him as who was likely to be her closest ally other than Filch, “other wizard ally,” I should say, someone capable of doing magic, and how she alienates him. However, their childhood is intensely similar because Snape disconnects from his father, and Umbridge eventually did that too, but she disowns her mother, so how…? Snape and Umbridge, run with it.

Michael: I think the parental issues are actually more… I think we have found a better parallel between her and Voldemort with… Because Snape doesn’t necessarily disconnect with his mother so much because he renames himself in tribute to her.

Kat: Right, but his father for sure because his father was abusive.

Michael: His father, yes.

Kat: And also, I want to put a little asterisk by Snape here. Let’s try [to] think about the parts of his character that we know are Snape and not the things that were done on Dumbledore’s ask. Because those traits could be something that’s redeemable, and I really want to look at Snape’s character and not his actions.

Frank: In terms of pure character, Snape is incredibly unpleasant, and had he not happened to have been in love with Lily, then he would’ve been a full-blown Death Eater. So but for happenstance, he is pretty close to Umbridge both in viewpoints and in cruelty, I would have thought.

Michael: Love is what sets at least three of these four characters apart from her. Yeah, I don’t know about… Lockhart’s is more just a harmlessness…

[Kat laughs]

Michael: … and a benignness but yeah, definitely three out of the four is love.

Kat: Oh, it always comes down to love, doesn’t it?

Michael: Dumbledore was right. He’d be smiling right now. Yeah, I think you’re right, Frank, that at his heart, if you subtract the Lily stuff and the secretive Dumbledore stuff, he’s just bitter and unpleasant. He has the same disregard for children. I think Snape has a stronger reason for rejecting children because he had a much worse childhood than she did.

Kat: And he’s a better teacher despite the fact that he’s a [censored]. He is a better teacher. Students do learn in his class.

Alison: That’s true, yeah. [laughs]

Michael: Yeah, I still… [laughs] I can’t condone his teaching methods because…

Kat: Oh, agreed.

Alison: But at least they’re learning something. I think it’s more Umbridge is flashier. She wants more attention for what she does, and I think she gets her sense of self-righteousness from getting attention for what she does, whereas Snape is very reserved, and he’s going to keep everything to himself.

Kat: Right. He doesn’t wear head-to-toe black for no reason.

[Alison and Kat laugh]

Alison: Yes. Black and pink. They’re not very…

Kat: Kind of opposites, in a way.

Michael: That is funny, though, because I think in some points, Snape does enjoy accolades when they come his way. He loved the idea of being congratulated by the Minister when he supposedly captured Sirius.

Alison: But I think that’s…

Michael: He really wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts job. There are instances where Snape does enjoy attention. I think you’re right in that he doesn’t crave it quite in the same way Umbridge does, but he doesn’t mind it.

Alison: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think the Sirius one, though, more is that he’s so elated at the thought of one-upping Sirius that…

Kat: And James and Lupin.

Alison: Yes. That he wants that attention. He wants that to be firm in stone that people know he’s better than them. Whereas in his own personal motivations and desires, he does not want those to be displayed to the world. Whereas I feel Umbridge does.

Michael: Yeah, Snape isn’t as much of a grandstander as she is, that’s for sure.

Kat: I’m sure there are a thousand other character comparisons that we could do, and I hope that the listeners out there decide to cling onto these, and I’m interested to hear what they all think about it. But that wraps up our discussion on Dolores Umbridge. That’s it.

Michael: Speaking of getting our listeners’ input, we definitely want to thank Frank for being on the show because, Frank, you’ve been a listener with us for quite a while. We’ve used quite a few of your comments on the show.

Frank: Every now and again, yeah. I haven’t posted for a while, but thank you very much.

Michael: It’s always a joy to see WizardorWhat in the comment section.

Kat: It is. And now when I read the comments, I’ll read them in a nice little British accent.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: It’s perfect. And as we mentioned before, we do want to remind you guys that our next four episodes are going to be dedicated to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Alison: Yay!

Kat: We’ll be doing one act per episode, and we are taking guest submissions right now. So head over to our website, and Alison is going to tell you how to do that.

Alison: Yeah! I am very, very excited. So if you want to come join us, head on over to our topic submit page on the main site and go suggest some things. If you have a set of Apple headphones, you’re all fine. Something with just a microphone and a headphone, that’s good. Don’t need anything fancy. And then just as we’re getting into this, too, please, please, please, please, please everyone be careful with your spoilers on the Internet with Cursed Child. Remember that there are a lot of people who haven’t read it yet or are waiting to see it before they read it. So just be very careful.

Kat: Rosie, for one. Rosie, for one, so don’t tweet at Rosie. Because she doesn’t see it until the end of August, and she will be very mad…

[Michael laughs]

Kat: … if one of our listeners spoils it for her. So don’t tweet at Rosie.

Alison: Just be considerate of people, and be careful with what you say. [laughs]

Michael: #KeepTheSecrets And since this is another one of the examples of our newer format, I do have to ask, Frank, did you enjoy this new format and being a part of this different setup for Alohomora?

Frank: Yes, it was great fun. Thank you very much for having me.

Michael: Good, good. I wanted to make sure. We always like to let our listeners know that we want you guys to help us shape this new look for Alohomora! If you’re not auditioning to be on the show, which we hope you are, and we know a lot of you will be for Cursed Child because we’ve been reading your tweets, but if you aren’t, make sure [to] head over to the main site and give us your feedback about how we’re doing with the show.

Kat: Speaking of tweets, we do have [an] account for the show; it’s @AlohomoraMN. There’s also a list on our Twitter account if you want to follow any of the hosts or talk to us about anything. I’m going to read Cursed Child tonight, so then the only people who will have not read it are Caleb and Rosie. So you can tweet at the other five of us anytime you’d like. You can also head over to facebook.com/openthedumbledore; our website is alohomora.mugglenet.com. You can always send us an audioBoom over at alohomora.mugglenet.com. Press the little record button in the right-hand column, keep your message under 60 seconds, and you could hear yourself on the show.

Michael: I can honestly say I’ve never seen more activity on my Twitter ever…

[Alison laughs]

Michael: … than in this past week.

Alison: You have gotten a lot. [laughs]

Kat: It has been really, really difficult because people are tweeting things at me, and I’m like, “That could be a spoiler! I can’t read it.”

Michael: [laughs] “I don’t know what I’m talking about!” Yeah, no, it’s…

Kat: It’s difficult.

Michael: I made the mistake of the next day being like, “You all okay? Is everybody doing okay? Make sure you eat your food.” And then everybody was like, “Michael! We want to talk to you about everything!”

[Alison, Kat, and Michael laugh]

Michael: Just wait a minute; we have some time before we get to that show. And speaking of that, the reason we get to keep going is because of you, the listeners, because we have a Patreon now. And we want to remind you once again to check out our Patreon. You can sponsor us at patreon.com/alohomora. You can sponsor us for as low as one dollar a month if you so choose. That’s what helps to keep this show going and to ensure that we are here for you…

[Alison laughs]

Michael: … to break the curse of Cursed Child, as I’m choosing to put it. #BreakTheCurse. That’s a thing now.

[Kat and Michael laugh]

Michael: We really thank you once again, and we want to, once again, thank Richard Casey for sponsoring this particular episode. And we want to remind you too that if you have donated for the episodes and you haven’t heard your name yet, that’s because we’ve had a lot of wonderful Patreon donations and we are going through them an episode at a time. You may also hear your name on a recap episode, so make sure to listen to the recap in tandem with the main episode. But for now, we’re going to go hide in the Room of Requirement because Umbridge is patrolling the hallways.

[Show music begins]

Michael: I’m Michael Harle.

Alison: I’m Alison Siggard.

Kat: And I’m Kat Miller. Thank you for listening to Episode 199 of Alohomora!

Michael: [as Umbridge] “Open the Dumbledore, if you must.” [clears throat]

[Show music continues]

Kat: So… [coughs] Excuse me, my goodness.

[Sound of Siri beeping]

[Michael laughs]

Kat: Of course, my Siri goes off.

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: I don’t… I mean, did that sound like I said, “Hey Siri?”

[Alison and Michael laugh]

Kat: I don’t think it did. That’s funny.

Michael: She’s just being ready for anything. She probably thought you needed to go to the hospital or something.

[Alison laughs]

Kat: Mine is a man, and he’s called Sirius, for the record.

Michael: Oh, mine is a man too.

Alison: So is mine!

Michael: I don’t call him Sirius, but yeah, he’s a guy. [laughs]

Kat: You could call him Sirius; I’ll let you borrow it.

Michael: That’s cute. [laughs]

Kat: I know. I’m adorable. [makes sound of kiss]