OOP has never been my favorite of the Harry Potters, coming in a close second to Chamber of Secrets as the one I disliked most intensely.
However. (There's always a however in a post like this, right?) I recently began a Harry Potter re-experience. I can't call it a reread, because I am most listening to them - the Jim Dale narrations recently having come available on audible. I listened to Sorcerer's Stone & Chamber of Secrets, then I was off work for several days over the holiday, so I read Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. I returned to listening when I returned to work, and made my way back through Order of the Phoenix.
Order of the Phoenix is uncomfortable, like sitting on an itchy, wool couch while wearing a sweater with an irritating collar. Harry and the gang are fourteen, and I don't think that there is a more awkward age. Couple that with the fact that Ministry of Magic has spent an entire summer mean-girling him behind his back, so everyone thinks he is completely nuts, and, well, it's hard to read.
But, I really want to talk about Dolores Umbridge. This isn't really a review, and it isn't like the world needs more reviews of Harry Potter. It's more of an argument - and my argument is: Dolores Umbridge is more evil than Voldemort.
Fundamentally, Voldemort's evil comes from a place of inadequacy, a deep sense of inferiority that has been instilled in him, bone deep, by the rejection of, first, his wealthy muggle father, second, his weak witch mother, and third, his "noble" magical ancestry. He is in a constant struggle to make himself something that he can never truly attain - he will never be Lucius Malfoy, or even Sirius Black. Voldemort could only come out of a hidebound society with a hereditory aristocracy, and the impulses that motivate him, well-channelled, have the ability to end in great change. He never wanted change, however, he liked the idea of lording it over others - he wants the birthright he can never have and will take it by force.
Don't get me wrong. He's evil. But he's openly and enthusiastically evil, raising self-aggrandizement to an art. And, with Voldemort, what you see is what you get - he doesn't pretend that he doesn't desire power above all other things.
Umbridge, though, holy fuck that woman. Beneath the pretty pink sweater beats the heart of a monster. If Voldemort had the Machiavellian wherewithal of Dolores Umbridge, the Order of the Phoenix would have been totally screwed. She is the person who orchestrates evil from behind the scenes, wearing a simpering smile and an air of innocence. And, to make her all that much more evil, she doesn't just pretend to be on the side of right, she believes it.
She is the ultimate "the ends justify the means" character. Murdering children is not beyond the pale for her, if she gets what she wants. She believes that she comes from a place of altruism, but she is just as power-hungry as the average dictator. And, yes, I do believe that J.K. Rowling intended that her adult readers get the sense that there was a stirring in her knickers when she got engage in a spot of child torture.
I hate her. I hate her more than Voldemort. And the fact that she never got what she deserved still bothers me. Because that is exactly how it works with that kind of evil bureaucrat - they slide back into the shadows, their plausible deniability firmly established, emerging, like Dick Fucking Cheney, two administrations later, still oozing darkness, still in power.