“It is not what someone is born, but what they grow to be”

Ged, from A Wizard of Earthsea, and Tom Riddle (Voldemort), from the Harry Potter series, are very similar characters, both in their initial personalities and their upbringings. They are prideful, powerful, and arrogant. They have similar family lives and school experiences. Yet Ged grows up to be a hero, while Riddle becomes one of the worst literary villains. These two characters show us that through choices and life experiences two very similar characters can have very different endings.

Both Ged and Riddle came from very poor upbringings. Born in a small village and an orphanage respectively, each boy’s mother lived just long enough to give them names that would not follow them very far in life. Although both of their fathers remained living neither was very loving: Ged’s father used him to herd the goats and work the bellows in his silversmith shop and Riddle’s father abandoned him before he was born, never bothering to look for him later in life. Despite their home lives both boys would become powerful wizards and they discovered their powers at a very early age. At the age of seven Ged heard his aunt use a rhyme to control a goat. The next day “he yelled the rhyme aloud, and the goats came to him.”(3) He was almost trampled by all of the goats and so at an early age, he had at least experienced some fear with magic. Riddle never experienced this fear with magic. He too discovered his powers very young, but he also discovered that he could put them to evil uses, “He scares the other children…there have been incidents…nasty things.”(Rowling 267) Even before he was trained Riddle used his powers to cause fear, but he never felt fear from them. This initial fear of magic that Ged feels is key to what he grows up to become.

As these boys become preteens or young teenagers, their magical skills are each recognized by a great wizard and they are taken away from their dismal homes to further their magically learning. Ged is taken away by Ogion, a wise and powerful mage, to be his prentice, but Ged is too power hungry and impatient to learn from Ogion’s slow teaching exclaiming “how am I to know…when you teach me nothing…I have done nothing, seen nothing.” (23-24) He soon leaves Ogion to attend the wizard school on Roke Island. Riddle is visited by the powerful headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, and then enrolled in Hogwarts. Once the boys arrive at their respective schools, they flourish showing themselves to be the most skilled and brightest boys that have ever passed through their schools. Both boys are ambitious, power hungry, and eager to leave their heritage behind taking on new names for themselves: Ged becomes Sparrowhawk and Tom Riddle becomes Lord Voldemort. This naming is significant of what each boy will become. Ged’s name is a childhood name given to him by the people of his home village. Riddle’s name is one he fashions for himself, one that shows just how power hungry he is by calling himself “Lord.”

Though both boys are skillful, their thirst for power leads them to commit evil acts that will define them as adults. Ged, in an effort to prove himself to a fellow student, attempts magic that he is unsuited for and releases an evil “shadow” in the world. This shadow hunts Ged and tries to kill him on several occasions. Riddle experiments with many evils at school, but the worst by far is the path to immortality. Both young men are also afraid of death. The “shadow” that Ged releases into the world represents death that is always following, like a shadow. Ged fears death and at first tries to hide from and then fight it. Neither of these actions work and they lead to him running from death. Riddle also fears death which is evidenced by his obsession with immortality and the creation of horcruxes. Riddle creates horcruxes by murdering many people in order to rip his soul into several pieces so that he will be immortal. This is where significant differences  in the boys emerge. Although both are afraid of death Ged chooses to hide from it, whereas Riddle uses the deaths of others to make himself immortal.

This spilt in the ways that these characters handle death bring about Ged’s salvation and Riddle’s downfall.  Ged’s fear of death causes him to avoid and run from his “shadow” the symbol of death. This running does not intentionally hurt anyone and it gives Ged time to think and get advice. His old master Ogion tell him, “turn around…You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter.” (127-128)Upon hearing this Ged comes to the realization that he can’t keep running, that he must actively seek and face death if he wants to be free. Once he arrives at that revelation Ged begins to look for death by hunting down his shadow. Eventually, he meets death, makes peace with it, and becomes whole once more. His acceptance of death allows him to live through the encounter and return whole and unscathed. Conversely, Riddle’s reaction to death brings about his destruction. Riddle never ran from death, instead preferring to take unspeakably evil measure to make himself immortal. Even when he  tries to kill Harry and his magic yields frightening results, he does not fear his magic nor does he accept death, but continues to search for a way to make himself invincible. In his eagerness to evade death, Riddle forgets about some very important aspects of living, such as love and friendship. When Riddle finally meets death, he is given the opportunity to repent his actions and accept death, instead of fearing it. Even in the face of death, Riddle cannot accept it and he clings to this frightened stubbornness until he is dealt the fatal blow.

Although Ged and Tom Riddle begin life similarly arrogant and power hungry their experiences with magic and death change who they are and shape the adults they become. Ged’s initial experiences with magic and death were frightening, causing him to seek to master magic and hide from death. Eventually Ged’s kind heart and his respect and love for his master and friends lead him to accept death and be saved. Riddle’s initial experiences with magic were ones in which he was in control; he was the one causing the fear and pain. This leads Riddle to grow up to be afraid to have anything out of his control, even death. He uses his magic only for evil purposes, such as to cause pain and become the master of death. The evil and fear in his heart makes him refuse to accept death and so cause his death.  These two characters started life almost the same yet one ended a hero, the other a villain because of their choices and life experiences.

One response to ““It is not what someone is born, but what they grow to be”

  1. Libby,

    I really enjoyed reading your comparison and contrast of Ged and Voldemort. Within your blog you brought up some interesting thoughts. I especially liked your idea about how the names of the characters affect their actions as adults. Another part I enjoyed was when you discussed death. This idea got me thinking that Voldemort’s killing for immortality backfired on him and Ged’s fear of death shows who of these two wizards is indeed the most powerful: the one who is the most humble.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *