“A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it… Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me.” Quirrell shivered suddenly.
Well, I’m back! It took a bit longer to get breathing space than I thought it would, and in the meantime, my sister finished reading the Harry Potter series!!! What this means is that she is now no longer banished from my blog. (And btw, she’s pro-Severus, and really angry at Albus). Maybe she’ll peak her head into the comments at some point and say “Hi.”
But let’s get back to Quirrell.
There is something profoundly sad about Quirrell’s account of how Voldemort seduced him. Quirrell has become so deluded that he now thinks that his former belief in the existence of good and evil was a “ridiculous idea” – and that “power,” not morality, is the true foundation for action.
These views sound remarkably similar to how the philosophy of Nietzsche is described – both by those sympathetic and those antipathetic to his work. Personally, I have never managed to stomach Nietzsche enough to actually read him, but I would be curious – from those who have some better acquaintance with his work than I do – if Voldemort’s perspective is authentically Nietzschean… or if it’s a weak reading or caricature of Nietzsche’s ideas of good, evil, and power. (I welcome your comments in the Comments thread)
Regardless of Voldemort’s relationship with Nietzsche… what becomes apparent from Quirrell’s words is that the influence Voldemort exerts over this young follower is like the influence of a cult leader. Quirrell has ceased thinking for himself. He believes that in balking at Voldemort’s commands, he is in the wrong, and that it is only fitting that Voldemort “be very hard on” him when he fails.
Quirrell never considers that perhaps prior to his fateful meeting with Voldemort, his notions of good and evil were correct… or that balking at Voldemort’s commands is merely how a normal human being with a conscience would act. We know from what Harry overheard in the classroom that Quirrell begged Voldemort not to make him harm another unicorn:
“No – no – not again, please – “
For a moment in that classroom, Quirrell’s conscience made an appearance, offering a normal human reaction to Voldemort’s monstrous command. But Voldemort has so deeply programmed Quirrell (perhaps through a deadly combination of brainwashing and magic) that the young professor believes he must serve Voldemort faithfully, no matter what horrific deed the Dark Lord asks him to perform. And so, he does kill the unicorn… and now aims to kill Harry.
Quirrell does not even question the necessity of sharing his body (and, as Dumbledore mentions, his soul) with Voldemort. But all Voldemort aims to do is use Quirrell for his own ends (just as he tells Quirrell to “Use the boy… Use the boy…”). Once Quirrell becomes a liability, though, Voldemort simply leaves him to die.
This is Voldemort’s modus operandi – to seduce, use, and discard. And personally, I think there is plenty of foreshadowing here for later books in the series.
In Quirrell’s words, we get a glimpse of how Voldemort seduced the previous generation of Death Eaters – teenage boys, really, recruited from within Hogwarts. He appears to have preyed on class and “blood” prejudices, and perhaps offered visions of nearly limitless power.
Though a couple of Death Eaters (Regulus Black and Severus Snape, in particular) had experiences horrifying enough to jar loose their programming and see through to the true nature of Voldemort’s regime, most of their compatriots remained loyal to the cause.
Actually, Severus Snape becomes almost the anti-Quirrell. Just as Quirrell is the man with two faces, Snape looks two ways – towards the Death Eaters and towards the Order of the Phoenix. In fact, Rowling quite consciously made his birthdate January 9 – the celebration of the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces:
The difference between Snape and Quirrell, though, is that Snape’s “double nature” is a product of his being a double agent. He fakes loyalty to the Death Eaters. He is authentically loyal to the Order.
And just as Voldemort casts Quirrell aside the moment he has no more use for him, he kills Snape because he wants something that he believes Snape has. As Dumbledore tells Harry at the end of PS/SS:
“he shows just as little mercy to his followers as to his enemies.”
Voldemort truly believed double agent Snape to be a “good and faithful” follower. But it was the death of “faithful Quirrell” here at the beginning of the series that put the reader on notice that such things could happen… even all the way at the end.