Harry Potter antagonist Lord Voldemort is one of pop culture’s most infamous villains. Having tormented the titular young wizard for seven books – and later, eight films – it’s fair to suggest that he’s as instantly recognisable as icons like the Joker, Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader.
Of course, there have been plenty of other questionable characters introduced in the Wizarding World franchise since it’s inception, from Potter’s nemesis Draco Malfoy and Ministry of Magic bully bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge to Voldemort’s right-hand woman Bellatrix Lestrange. One nasty name of note was always Gellert Grindelwald, although we have never known all that much about him other than the fact he betrayed friend Albus Dumbledore by succumbing to Dark Magic.
Spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set up Johnny Depp’s version of the character and sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald looks set to focus on his dastardly rise to power.
In anticipation of the new movie — which is released in the UK and the US on November 16 — we pit Grindelwald and Voldemort against one another and take a look at the reasons why both are bona fide baddies, as well as count which of them has the most dark marks on their sinister score sheet.
Grindelwald Was Expelled from the Durmstrang Institute
We’re all aware of how evil Voldemort is but, in comparison to fellow evildoer Grindelwald, he’s almost a goody-two-shoes — when it comes their school days, at least. At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardly, Voldemort — or, as he was known back then, Tom Riddle — didn’t exactly hide his darker side from Professor Dumbledore and then-headmaster Armando Dippet, but he did complete all seven years of his academic studies. Which is more than can be said for Grindelwald.
Grindelwald attended the Durmstrang Institute, located in the far north of Europe, but was kicked out when he was 16 years old for conducting dangerous experiments and near-fatally attacking his peers.
Some may argue that Voldemort was more calculating, realising that learning all he could about wielding magic before venturing out into the big wide world would be beneficial. But we think Grindelwald’s expulsion speaks volumes.
Both Have Special Abilities – But One is More Associated with Evil
Back in December 2016, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling revealed that Grindelwald is a Seer, a witch or wizard that possesses the ability to see into the future. This fact explains why Grindelwald — as Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves — consistently tells Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) that he’s seen visions of a powerful Obscurial child in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
There’s no denying that having such a gift would make Grindelwald a formidable threat to anyone standing against him, but being a Seer isn’t necessarily associated with the darker side of magic. After all, Professor Sybill Trelawney who teaches Divination at Hogwarts is a Seer.
Elsewhere, Voldemort is a Parselmouth, someone who can converse with serpents and other similar magical creatures. While you don’t automatically turn out to be evil if you can speak Parseltongue — Harry Potter could — snakes are often used in wizardry wrongdoings and heavily associated with suspicious characters.
Grindelwald Wants to Obtain the Deathly Hallows
Interestingly, despite the last book in the Harry Potter series namedropping the Deathly Hallows in its title, they were more Grindelwald’s thing than they ever were Voldemort’s. For the uninitiated, the Deathly Hallows are made up of the supposedly unbeatable Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility. If someone collected all three, they would reportedly become the Master of Death.
Voldemort wasn’t so concerned with mastering death as he was scared of it. Dumbledore actually states in the books that it is unlikely the Dark Lord would even be able to wield the Hallows’ power because of his crippling fear. With that, Voldemort isolates the Elder Wand as his strongest desire and sets out to find it so as to become the most powerful Dark Wizard in history.
Grindelwald, meanwhile, became hellbent on finding all three artefacts and leading a revolution to end the International Statute of Secrecy, that encourages wizards to hide themselves away from Muggles. If he does get a hold of them in the Fantastic Beasts series, heroes Newt Scamander and co. are doomed.
Voldemort and His Horcruxes
As anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films will know, Voldemort was terrified of being defeated and, ultimately, being killed. To better his chances of success and survival, he created seven Horcruxes, objects in which a Dark Wizard hides shattered parts of his or her soul in the hopes of becoming immortal. If the maker’s physical body was then killed, he or she would continue to exist in non-corporeal form.
To create a Horcrux, one must carry out a spell after committing murder, an act that is thought to splinter the soul and make it easier to separate. Creating just one is considered to be the most terrible thing a magical person could do — so much so that Dumbledore banned them from being mentioned in classes at Hogwarts. Voldemort made several. You do the math.
Grindelwald Operates Under the Illusion of a Higher Calling
Just as they differ in attitudes surrounding killing their enemies, the motivations behind Grindelwald’s and Voldemort’s villainy are pretty polar opposite too.
Voldemort can be described as an ego-driven antagonist; he wanted to be the best at being bad, basically. He surrounded himself with individuals who were devoted to him rather than those who were willing to stand beside him in the name of a greater calling. Grindelwald’s actions, on the other hand, are fueled by his thirst for change throughout the wizarding world. His belief is that those gifted with magical abilities should come out from the shadows and start living openly, proudly and — more problematically — rule over non-magical folk.
Now, we’re not saying that Grindelwald’s hopes and dreams, nor the way he goes about trying to make them a reality, are anything but wrong but at least we can see how he’s convinced himself to do it. He believes he’s fighting for his people overall. A fiendish rebel with a cause, perhaps?
Voldemort Takes a Twisted Pleasure in Torture and Killing
Throughout the Harry Potter series, it becomes pretty clear that Voldemort actually likes to torment and kill people; people that don’t even necessarily pose much of a threat to him, either. Take one of the final scenes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for instance. When Potter and fellow Triwizard Tournament champion, Cedric Diggory, find the centre of the maze and grab the cup as part of the challenge, they are transported to a graveyard where Voldemort is waiting.
As soon as the boys make themselves known, Voldemort orders his servant Peter Pettigrew to kill “spare” Diggory, even though they could have easily contained him. That act demonstrates his lack of consideration for human life.
Other examples exist across the franchise. Even the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald trailer revealed one we didn’t know previously: Nagini, the obedient pet snake Voldemort uses to do his bidding, is actually a cursed woman.
Grindelwald has killed too, but it doesn’t seem like he does so for pleasure. For him, it’s a means to an end. He even constructed a prison, Nurmengard, to house his opponents. A little nicer than spouting ‘Avada Kedavra ‘ at everyone who stands in his way, right?
This last entry is an interesting one. When it comes to discussing Grindelwald’s true nature, it’s essential to note that in the novels, Rowling hinted (through Dumbledore) that the wizard showed a glimmer of remorse for the evil he enacted, when he was confronted by Voldemort as an old man.
In the screen version of events, this sequence puts a different spin on Grindelwald’s inherent nature. According to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Grindelwald willingly gave up the information relating to the location of the Elder Wand, betraying Dumbledore’s memory and also escaping Voldemort’s clutches alive.
In the novel, however, when Voldemort visits Grindelwald in his prison cell in Nurmegard, demanding to know who stole the Elder Wand from him, the latter — knowing the culprit is Dumbledore — laughs in the former’s face. He taunts him and refuses to reveal where it is or who has it. Voldemort then kills him.
When relaying this story to Potter in the afterlife, Dumbledore mentions that Grindelwald had supposedly made his regrets over the past known, that he “would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done” and that the lie may have been an attempt to make amends. If Grindelwald’s remorse is real, therefore, he’d clearly be more humane than his evil counterpart. Whether or not this side of Grindelwald is explored in Fantastic Beasts 2 remains to be seen.
But either way, the verdict is in. There’s no doubting that Grindelwald and Voldemort are both crazy-powerful wizards who use the darkest of magic and vicious methods to enact their plans. But based on the evidence presented here, it’s He Who Must Not Be Named that pips Grindelwald at the post to take the crown of most evil wizard.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hits screens on November 16.