Facts About Tom Riddle Before He Was Voldemort (Why did Tom Riddle turn evil?)

Facts About Tom Riddle Before He Was Voldemort (Why did Tom Riddle turn evil?)

One of the most impressive things about the Harry Potter villain Voldemort is how effortlessly he became one of the Big Bads of our pop culture. In a landscape dominated by imposing characters such as Darth Vader, Voldemort managed to hold his own among fans. It helped that he looked just as scary as he acted, with a reptilian face that advertised that his blood ran very cold. And over the course of the series, his villainous plan takes shape as he returns from near-death to wreak absolute havoc on the wizarding world once more.

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However, as much as the evil of Lord Voldemort is seen and felt throughout the story, many fans don’t know about his humble beginnings, back when he was known only as “Tom Riddle.” The last name is appropriate, too, as his childhood and teenage years (which were invariably filled with torture, death, and seduction) showed him to be a mysterious riddle that no one (not even Dumbledore) could fully unravel before it was too late.


Updated on April 21st, 2022 by Stuart Kilmartin: With Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone recently celebrating its 20th anniversary with the Return to Hogwarts reunion special, it’s now been twenty years since audiences were first introduced to the Dark Lord of the wizarding world: Voldemort. Throughout the eight Harry Potter movies, young Tom Marvolo Riddle was played by a number of different actors across a number of different time periods in the Harry Potter timeline as his backstory and motivations were explored. Despite this, there were many details and facts that the movies left out when exploring Tom Riddle’s past and the reasons why he turned evil.

A Man Of Many Faces

Over the years, the Harry Potter movies gave us several glimpses of what young Tom Riddle looked like. While the general details of his appearance remained the same (dark hair, dark eyes, dark lord), Voldemort has been played by no less than three young actors and two actors portraying his older form. One of those actors had a very special connection to the older Voldemort.

Our first onscreen glimpse of Tom Riddle was in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In that movie, he was played by Christian Coulson, who was 23 at the time. Our next real glimpse of the future evil wizard came in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That movie featured two actors inhabiting the role: the older Tom Riddle (the one who conned the secrets of the Horcruxes out of Professor Slughorn) was played by Frank Dillane, who was 16 at the time. The younger Tom Riddle seen in that movie was played by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin. This young man is the nephew of Voldemort actor Ralph Fiennes. The movie’s director, David Yates, insisted the casting was not based on family connection but based on the young actor looking like a miniature Ralph Fiennes!

He’s Harry’s Cousin

Tom Riddle and Harry Potter

Over the course of the Harry Potter series, Harry and Voldemort develop into mortal enemies. To Voldemort, Harry emerges as the clearest threat to his attempts at worldwide domination. However, the great irony of this is that Tom Riddle and Harry Potter are actually related to each other.

To be fair, it’s a pretty distant relation, but it’s all related to the story of the Deathly Hallows. That story told the tale of the Peverell family line, and the three brothers: Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus. Harry’s father, James, was related to the third brother, Ignotus (the one who gets the invisibility cloak), and Tom Riddle is related to the second brother, Cadmus (the one who gets the resurrection stone). Therefore, while Harry and Voldemort ended up on a fatal crash course towards each other, the two are actually distant cousins.

He’s A Half-Blood

When he assumed power as Voldemort, one of Tom Riddle’s biggest obsessions was the so-called “purity” of wizards. He hated “mudbloods” (wizards who did not come from magical parents) and “half-bloods” (those who had one magical parent and one non-magical parent). This is ironic, of course, because young Tom Riddle was a half-blood himself!

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When it comes to young Tom Riddle’s parents, his mother (Merope Gaunt) was a wizard who died very shortly after giving birth to Tom, while his father was a Muggle who had been under the spell of Merope’s love potion. Tom Riddle was angry when he found out about his mixed heritage, and as Voldemort, he would basically deny it altogether. Later in life, he would present himself as a pure-blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin and publicly railed against those without pure wizarding blood in their veins. All of this is darkly funny considering how many people would eventually flock to the “pure blood” banner being held high by Tom Riddle, half-blood!

Young Tom Riddle Was Quite Attractive

Tom Riddle seeing his role as Voldemort.

When it comes to visualizing Tom Riddle, most fans end up thinking about how he looks as Lord Voldemort. There are a number of striking details of Voldemort’s body, including his snake-like appearance, pale skin, and noseless face. This makes it that much more surprising, then, that young Tom Riddle was not the monstrous entity his older self would become.

Despite the questionable genetics of his family line, Tom Riddle ended up being tall and handsome, with dark hair and captivating dark eyes. These good looks are one of the ways that he both recruited people into what would become the Death Eaters and also pulled the wool over most of his teachers’ eyes. It’s also one of the ways that he was able to manipulate young Ginny Weasley in the Chamber of Secrets, as Voldemort was able to use his diary to appear as his brooding younger self and sweet-talk Ginny into doing terrible things.

His Mother Died Of A Broken Heart

In a weird way, Voldemort has something in common with Luke Skywalker: both of them had a mother who died of a broken heart. In the case of young Tom Riddle’s mother, she died after a long bout with depression that sapped both her will to live and her will to use magic.

As mentioned previously, her entire relationship with Tom Riddle’s father was a sham. She won his affection with a love potion and continued doping him with it during most of their marriage. When she stopped doping him, he left, and basically took all their money with him. Thus, she ended up poor and miserable and wasn’t even willing to use magic to save her life. Shortly after Tom Riddle was born, she dropped him off at an orphanage, gave the boy his name, and died an hour later.

He Had A Terrible Day Job

Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Young Voldemort with Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in orphanage Harry Potter 6

Voldemort would eventually go on to threaten the entire wizarding world on multiple occasions. At any given point, it would have been fair to say that he was one of the most powerful people in the world, if not the absolute most powerful. However, everyone has to start somewhere, and before he was threatening world domination, Tom Riddle was just another worker in the wizarding world.

When he was a teenager, Tom Riddle worked at the magical shop of Borgin and Burke’s. He was basically a sales assistant: one part salesman, one part clerk. He was actually pretty good at his job, helping his employers score some really cool and really rare magical artifacts. Of course, because he’s Tom Riddle, he had ulterior motives. This allowed him to locate certain powerful relics such as Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup and the Locket of Slytherin, which he would later transform into Horcruxes.

He Could Manipulate All Teachers, Except Dumbledore

Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in Harry Potter

The more audiences learn about Tom Riddle’s childhood, the more unusual it seems that no one in Hogwarts ever discovered his evil deeds. After all, he spent his formative years torturing orphans, murdering relatives, and organizing future murderers. So, how was a young Tom Riddle able to fool some of Hogwarts’ best teachers and staff?

The simple answer is that despite their fantastic magical powers, the Hogwarts staff were only human. To them, Tom Riddle was a poor child who excelled in all of his studies and made a positive impression on all of his teachers, even though it was all an act and Riddle was secretly using this time to learn secrets and consolidate his power. Not surprisingly, the one person who always seemed to see through the act was Dumbledore. Dumbledore had seen the true Tom Riddle when they first met: the boy who tortured, stole, and completely abused his powers. As a result, Dumbledore never fully trusted him, and Tom never even tried to win Dumbledore’s trust. Dumbledore’s knowledge of Tom Riddle’s true nature, and humble origins, was one of many reasons that Riddle was so scared of Dumbledore later in life.

He Was A Prefect At Hogwarts

Yet another part of Tom Riddle’s surprising time at Hogwarts was that he ended up as a Prefect. In the world of Hogwarts, this is a very important student position: each house only has about six Prefects active at any given time. And these Prefects have additional privileges and responsibilities, basically serving as an extension of the professors’ authority. Fans don’t know a lot about Tom Riddle’s time as a prefect, although he seems to connect his service with his general appearance to all of the teachers at the school, describing himself as a “model student” who was also “so brave.” As with everything else, though, this was just a ruse that helped him manipulate his teachers and also earn the loyalty and respect of his peers.

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It also gave him increased access to Hogwarts, which young Tom considered his true home, and his desire to continue learning the secrets hidden in its walls was one of the primary motivations in his repeated attempts to become a professor there.

He Was A Teacher’s Pet

Professor Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Later in life, it’s fair to say that Voldemort had problems with authority. After all, he waged war against authorities such as the Ministry of Magic and authority figures such as Dumbledore, and he wasn’t satisfied until he had himself and his cronies installed in relevant positions of power. All of this makes it that much more surprising that young Tom Riddle was a teacher’s pet during his time at Hogwarts. Perhaps the best evidence of this is that he ended up as a close friend of Professor Slughorn, and he was invited to join the so-called “Slug Club” along with other impressive pupils that Slughorn thought would go on to make a major difference in the world.

However, Tom Riddle did everything for a reason, and his primary reason for being so friendly with Slughorn was so that he could get forbidden secrets from the man. This included knowledge of how Horcruxes worked, which ended up being a key part of Riddle’s future plans as Lord Voldemort.

He Was A Kleptomaniac

Harry Potter holding one of Voldemort's horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

When it comes to Tom Riddle’s antisocial tendencies, Harry Potter fans tend to focus on the bigger ones. For instance, all of the manipulation, torture, and murder. However, he had a weird habit that developed early in life, and one that Dumbledore called him out on: he was a thief and a kleptomaniac.

Tom Riddle was raised in an orphanage, and unfortunately, this was where he had to spend his summers when he was away from Hogwarts. One of the things he liked to do in his earlier orphanage years was to steal things from other orphans and then hide them in his cupboard. When Dumbledore first came to visit Tom, he made him return everything to the orphans and warned Tom that stealing was not tolerated at Hogwarts. Tom learned to be more sneaky, but he never really stopped his thieving ways. He stole the Gaunt family insignia, and he would later kill Hepzibah Smith to steal both the Slytherin Locket and Hufflepuff Cup that he coveted, objects that Voldemort would choose to be his Horcruxes.

He Became A Teenage Serial Killer

When Tom Riddle finally found out about his half-blood heritage, he was furious. It occurred when he was investigating his mother’s family and met his uncle, Morfin Gaunt. Morfin mentioned how much Tom looked “like that Muggle”, a reference to Tom’s father. When Tom Riddle realized it was true, he stunned Morfin, stole his wand, and proceeded to kill not only his own father but his grandfather and grandmother as well.

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While the act itself was grisly enough, Tom Riddle exhibited another serial killer trait: the need to display trophies. He ended up framing Morfin for the killings by rearranging his memory (causing Morfin to be sent to Azkaban for the rest of his life) and stealing a family signet ring from Morfin. This ring became Riddle’s second Horcrux, and he openly wore it around Hogwarts as a private reminder of his terrible crimes. In a way, these murders were also part of his ongoing cover-up of his humble heritage, making it easier later to imply that he was actually pure-blooded.

He Comes From A Family That Practiced Inbreeding

Another reason that Tom Riddle was so obsessed with the genetics of wizards is that he comes from a family full of inbreeding. He was the last surviving member of the House of Gaunt, and the family’s history offered a grim preview of Tom Riddle’s later life: many of them were unhinged, violent, or both. This was a result of the inbreeding, and there is an interesting person responsible for this warped familial sense of magical purity: Salazar Slytherin.

Slytherin, of course, was a true believer in the purity of wizard blood. Because of this, his descendants (such as the Gaunts) tried to protect the purity of their family’s blood by marrying cousins rather than mixing with lower-class wizards. As it turns out, all of the magical power in the world isn’t enough to keep the effects of generations of inbreeding from ravaging the family line. All of this being said, Tom Riddle was actually extraordinarily lucky that he ended up so good-looking, although the family history of inbreeding may have contributed to his own significant mental instabilities.

He Spent Summers Torturing Orphans

Fantastic Beasts secrets of dumbledore could include voldemort tom riddle

While he would grow to use the full power of the magical world to torment and kill his enemies, young Tom Riddle started out pretty humble. In fact, his first real victims were the fellow children in the orphanage where he grew up. He spent years tormenting and torturing them, and when he returned to the orphanage every summer, he came with a legacy of fear because of what he had done.

Some of his more notable behavior included hanging a boy’s pet rabbit from some rafters and traumatizing a couple of orphans by taking them to a cave and doing unspeakable things. Other times, he simply moved objects and spoke to snakes to prank and terrify those around him. While all of this is nothing compared to what Lord Voldemort would do to the world, it highlights how Tom Riddle started taking pleasure from the pain of others at a very early age.

His Mother Seduced His Father With A Love Potion

Voldemort leads the Death Eaters.

As mentioned before, Tom Riddle’s mother seduced Tom’s wealthy Muggle father with a love potion. While some fans dismiss this as just one more bit of magic in the world of Harry Potter, the ugly truth is that Tom Riddle’s mother committed a serious crime. She magically forced a man to be with her against his will, and this is how Tom was conceived. If that wasn’t grim enough, J.K. Rowling herself claimed that this may have doomed young Tom Riddle.

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This contributed to Tom’s inability to understand love, and it’s why he often sparred with Dumbledore on the idea of love being the most powerful magic of all. If his mother had not used that love potion, the older Voldemort would not have underestimated the love that Harry’s parents had for their son; a love that ultimately saved Harry’s life. Then again, if he wasn’t born from a loveless union, Tom Riddle may have never become evil in the first place.

He Assembled The First Death Eaters At A Young Age

Harry Potter Death Eaters Pointed Hoods

In many ways, the formation of the Death Eaters was one of the darkest things in the Harry Potter series. While Voldemort himself was powerful and frightening, his legion of followers was proof of how attractive his poisonous ideas were. Furthermore, the Death Eater masks hid their identities (before they openly walked the streets), forcing wizards to always live in fear that someone close to them could be reporting to Voldemort. These were prominent people in the wizarding world (such as Lucius Malfoy), but they had humble beginnings as Tom Riddle’s “friends.”

While he was at Hogwarts, Tom Riddle assembled a group of Slytherin bullies as his friends and allies. While Tom wasn’t truly anyone’s friend, becoming the leader of these thugs increased his power and influence. It also allowed young Tom to manipulate certain events without being connected to them himself, as this would ruin his “model student” image. Years later, when Tom Riddle formed the first Death Eaters, many were from this same group, hungry to use their increased power and prominence to overthrow the Ministry of Magic and assume total control of the wizarding world.

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