JK Rowling reveals Dolores Umbridge inspiration

MYSTERY surrounds the true identity of one of JK Rowling’s most evil characters after the author revealed she based witch Dolores Umbridge on a hated former teacher.
Imelda Staunton plays Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films. Picture: Murray CloseImelda Staunton plays Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films. Picture: Murray Close
Imelda Staunton plays Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films. Picture: Murray Close

The best-selling author, who lives in Edinburgh, let slip clues to the identity of the teacher, played by Imelda Staunton in the Harry Potter film series, in an essay on her Pottermore website for Halloween yesterday.

Rowling revealed Umbridge, a teacher who torments the boy wizard at Hogwarts, was inspired by a teacher she “disliked intensely on sight”. “The woman in question ­returned my antipathy with interest. Why we took against each other so instantly, heartily and (on my side, at least) irrationally, I honestly cannot say.”

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She said Umbridge was “one of the characters for whom I feel the purest dislike”, adding: “Her desire to control, to punish, and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order, are, I think, every bit as reprehensible as Lord Voldemort’s unvarnished espousal of evil.”

She revealed the woman had been one of her teachers “long ago…in a certain skill or subject.”

Rowling noted the woman’s “pronounced taste for twee accessories,” including “a tiny little plastic bow slide, pale lemon in colour,” which she felt was more “appropriate to a girl of three”.

Rowling is believed to have previously dipped into her school years for material for her novels. She attended St Michael’s primary in Winterbourne, near Bristol, and it has been suggested Hogwarts’ Albus Dumbledore is based on its headmaster Alfred Dunn.

She later attended Wyedean, Gloucestershire, where her best friend had a turquoise Ford Anglia similar to the flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

“I have noticed more than once in life that a taste for the ineffably twee can go hand-in-hand with a distinctly uncharitable outlook on the world,” she adds “A love of all things saccharine often seems present where there is a lack of real warmth or charity.”

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Rowling also revealed Umbridge is a “half blood” – the daughter of a wizard and a non-magical person, or Muggle – a status frowned on by some wizarding families.

Fans of her Potter books first met Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, published in 2003, as Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic. Later she joins Hogwarts as its new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and shows a fondness for fluffy pink cardigans and lace and speaks in a “sweetly girlish voice”.

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Harry likens the black velvet bow on the top of her head to “a large fly perched unwisely on top of an even larger toad”.

The relationship deteriorates further when she gives him detention for speaking out in class about Voldemort and makes him use a magic pen to write the line “I will not tell lies”, which then appears on his hand.

In a review of the book, Stephen King wrote that “the gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter”.