Is Voldemort Harry Potter's Real Father? Say It Isn't So!

Harry Potter is an original creation of J. K. Rowling, copyright by her, all rights reserved. Mention or discussion of copyrighted characters and terms in this critical essay is not intended, nor should be interpreted or construed, as a challenge to those copyrights.

Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi are copyright 1977, 1981 and 1984 by Lucasfilm, LTD. References to them in this critical essay are not intended, nor should be interpreted or construed, as a challenge to those copyrights. Brief quotations from those movies are used only for illustrative purposes.

There has been a rumor going around that Voldemort will be revealed to be Harry Potter's real father in one of the later Harry Potter books. It is of my opinion that this would be a very bad idea, and would be completely at odds with the storyline that J.K. Rowling has been developing through the existing books.

The most obvious parallel is with the Star Wars series of movies. Those of us who are old enough to remember the original screenings of The Empire Strikes Back still recall the electrifying effect of the confrontation between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader at the climax of that movie.

As they are fighting a desperate battle in the inner workings of Cloud City, Darth Vader asks Luke if he knows what happened to his father. Luke answers what Obi Wan told him in Star Wars -- that Darth Vader killed his father.

Darth Vader then tells him no, it isn't true. Then he speaks the words that struck audiences numb:

"I am your father"

For the next several years the speculation was rife in the fannish community. What could this mean? Was Darth Vader simply lying to throw Luke off balance? Had Obi Wan lied to Luke, and if so, to what purpose? Everyone had a theory.

By the time Return of the Jedi hit the theaters, people were primed with curiosity. How would that puzzling line be explained?

When Luke returns to Dagobah, Obi Wan owns up to his well-intentioned deception. He explains that his statement was true, from a certain point of view: the good man that was Anikin Skywalker was "killed" by his evil aspect, which became Darth Vader. Obi Wan had told Luke what he did to spare the youth the difficult truth.

To this day I can still remember how much thinking I did about that scene -- about the nature of truth and of language, and of the wisdom of "shielding" young people from unpleasant or complex truths by comforting half-lies. Those were some pretty heavy thoughts for someone still in high school.

Fastforward to 2000. The Harry Potter books are wildly popular among young people. A rumor begins to circulate that one of the later books will reveal Voldemort (the Dark Lord, the principal villain of the series) to be Harry's actual father, rather than James Potter.

However, the elements that made this twist work so well in the Star Wars trilogy are completely absent from this series. In fact, other elements are present that would make such a twist completely disastrous to the storyline that has been developed.

In the Star Wars trilogy, the revelation worked because the identity of Luke Skywalker's father was kept so completely vague prior to the revelation. We knew only the barest fragments, so there was plenty of room for that development.

However, too much has already been revealed about Harry Potter's parents in the existing four books -- we know that James Potter was slain by the Aveda Kedavera spell while trying to protect his wife and son from Voldemort's attack. We know from too much other evidence that he and Voldemort are two separate characters with completely different backstories. After we've already learned that Voldemort is an orphan named Tom Riddle, there's no way to insert a "they're really the same person" fudge.

To have Voldemort be Harry Potter's real father, this would have to imply some form of wrongdoing between him and Harry's mother, Lily Potter. Although the Harry Potter books have been growing steadily darker and more mature over the series, hints of adultery and/or rape just don't seem to fit with the tone that has been developed to date.

Furthermore, the parallel to the Star Wars trilogy is simply too obvious, and will undermine the impact of such a revelation by making it look like a cheap rip-off instead of a legitimate plot development.

In sum, any rumor that Voldemort will be revealed to be Harry's real father should be dismissed. To even entertain it seriously is a literary absurdity.

Obviously this essay is now of only historical interest, since J. K. Rowling ended up taking the storyline a completely different way. But it's interesting to see just how much was on the table and how much intense discussion was going on in the fan community when those last few books were coming out, especially during the long wait for book five.

Last updated October 12, 2012