JK Rowling could have chosen any of her wicked characters as the subject for a special Halloween story, but she picked Dolores Umbridge. Why?
The pink-frilled, Ministry of Magic employee-turned-Hogwarts professor is, according to Rowling, “One of the characters for whom I feel the purest dislike.”
Her new story, released today on website Pottermore, goes some way in explaining why the blood quill-wielding Umbridge is “every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldermort’s unvarnished espousal of evil”.
To read the story yourself, sign in to the Pottermore website and head to Book 5, Chapter 13 using the sliders below the map. But first, we’ve rounded up some of the juiciest details from the special JK Rowling back story.
1. Dolores Umbridge was based on a real person. JK Rowling reveals in the notes at the bottom of the story that a certain teacher provided the inspiration for the hideous character. “I took instruction in a certain skill or subject (I am being vague as vague can be, for reasons that are about to become obvious), and in doing so, came into contact with a teacher or instructor whom I disliked intensely on sight,” she writes.
This teacher loved “twee accessories,” including “a tiny little plastic bow slide, pale lemon in colour that she wore in her short curly hair”.
Rowling adds, “It’s true to say that I borrowed from her, then grossly exaggerated, a taste for the sickly sweet and girlish in dress, and it was that tiny little pale lemon plastic bow that I was remembering when I perched the fly-like ornament on Dolores Umbridge’s head.”
2. She is just as evil as Lord Voldemort, and similar to Bellatrix Lestrange. The story confirms that Dolores is the only person, other than Lord Voldemort, to leave a permanent scar on Harry Potter, “having forced him to cut the words ‘I must not tell lies’ on the back of his own hand during detention”.
JK Rowling compares her to Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange, saying, “She actively enjoys subjugating and humiliating others, and except in their declared allegiances, there is little to choose between her and Bellatrix Lestrange.”
In the notes at the end of the story, Rowling concludes that, “Her desire to control, to punish, and to inflict pain, all in the name of order, are, I think, every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldermort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.”
2. The name Dolores Jane Umbridge was very carefully chosen. “’Dolores’ means sorrow, something she undoubtedly inflicts on all around her,” Rowlgin says. “‘Umbridge’ is a play on ‘umbrage’ from the British expression ‘to take umbrage’, meaning offence.
“It is harder to explain ‘Jane’; it simply felt rather smug and neat between her other two names.”
3. Dolores gets her comeuppance in the end. After the events in the final book, Rowling reveals how Umbridge was put on trial for her “enthusiastic cooperation” with the Voldermort regime, which saw her send many Muggle-born wizards to a grim fate in Azkaban. She was eventually “convicted of the torture, imprisonment and deaths of several people,” the story reveals.
4. She hated her time as a pupil at Hogwarts. Her experience as a girl at the wizarding school made her return in a position of power all the sweeter, explaining why she attempted to control her classes with an iron fist.
“She had not enjoyed her time at school, where she had been overlooked for all positions of responsibility, and she relished the chance to return and wield power over those who had not (as she saw it) given her her due,” Rowling writes.
5. Dolores was embarrassed by her real parents. The story reveals how Dolores was born to Orford Umbridge, a wizard, and Ellen Cracknell, a Muggle. “Dolores’s parents were unhappily married, and Dolores hated both of them,” Rowling says.
The family eventually split, and Dolores never saw her Muggle mother or squib brother again, giving her an opportunity to pretend that she was pure-blood.
But even her wizard father, who worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry, embarrassed her, and she persuaded him to take early retirement, trying to hide the connection whenever possible: “Whenever she was asked (usually by workmates who did not like her) ‘are you related to that Umbridge who used to mop the floors here?’ she would smile her sweetest, laugh, and deny any connection whatsoever.”