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One Harry Potter villain scared Stephen King, and it’s not Voldemort

Stephen King was asked by Entertainment Weekly to review the Order of the Phoenix book when it came out, and he had high praise for the main villain.

Harry Potter

The fifth Harry Potter book – Order of the Phoenix – was delivered into the hungry arms of a rabid fanbase in the summer of 2003. And Entertainment Weekly asked one of the other most successful authors of all time – Stephen King – to review it.


He had many thoughts, including criticising Rowling’s over-use of adverbs. But the review is overwhelmingly positive, with him being very aware that this series of phenomenally popular books were critic-proof by this time. He particularly singled out the novel’s main Harry Potter villain – Professor Dolores Umbridge – as a highlight of the book.

“A great fantasy novel can’t exist without a great villain, and while You-Know-Who (sure we do: Lord Voldemort) is a little too far out in the supernatural ozone to qualify, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts does just fine in this regard. The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toad-like face, and clutching stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter.” High praise indeed from the foremost horror writer of our times.

King continued; “One needn’t be a child to remember The Really Scary Teacher, the one who terrified us so badly that we dreaded the walk to school in the morning, and we turn the pages partly in fervent hopes that she will get her comeuppance… but also in growing fear of what she will get up to next. For surely a teacher capable of banning Harry Potter from playing Quidditch is capable of anything.”

Umbridge would go on to be played in the Harry Potter movies by Imelda Staunton, who perfected her irritating little coughs and giggles. Umbridge is a grating presence in more ways than one – her method of punishment during detention is to scratch lines into the back of students’ hands, until they are bleeding.

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Order of the Phoenix is proof that Voldemort is not the only great villain in the Wizarding World, and Harry Potter characters such as Bellatrix Lestrange, Barty Crouch Jr, and Fenrir Greyback also get their chances to shine at various times. Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge are much more insidious forms of villain, however – bureaucrats who are more interested in denial and control than more obvious violence.

For more spell-casting, out our guide to the best fantasy movies.