Lord Voldemort is a major character in the Harry Potter fantasy series, authored by J.K. Rowling. He is considered by many readers to be the personification of evil, and plays the role of nemesis to Harry Potter's protagonist. The books are not extremely informative about who Lord Voldemort is, although his deeds are well documented and discussed. The theme of good and evil which plays out in the books is resolved in an final battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort in the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
In the Harry Potter novels, Rowling sets up a fantasy world where a magical community exists side by side with the real one. The majority of wizards and witches are caring, law abiding people, but others choose to pursue the “Dark Arts,” magic which is intended to be harmful. Pursuit of the Dark Arts is frowned upon by most of the wizarding community. Lord Voldemort is portrayed as the ultimate practitioner of the Dark Arts, bent upon domination of both the magical and normal worlds. He stops at nothing to achieve his goal, engaging in murder, torture, and acts of greed to advance himself and his followers.
In the first five books of the series, the novels did not convey very much information about Lord Voldemort, who is referred to as “He who shall not be named” by wizards. The fact that Lord Voldemort is evil, and that his name is an anagram for Tom Marvolo Riddle, his true name, is essentially all that readers know about him. In the sixth book, however, much more information about Lord Voldemort's past is provided. Harry Potter goes through a series of memories with his mentor and teacher, Albus Dumbledore, to learn more about Lord Voldemort in the hopes of defeating him.
In the memories, readers learn that Lord Voldemort is the child of a witch and a muggle, a member of the non-magical community. The witch is a member of a very ancient wizarding family fallen on hard times, and she falls in love with the muggle, ultimately casting a spell on him. However, the muggle abandons her, and she dies giving birth to Tom Marvolo Riddle, who is taken into an orphanage. It is clear from the beginning that the child is troubled and odd, and this only becomes more apparent when a much younger Dumbledore arrives to take Riddle to school.
The memories reveal important incidents from the past of Lord Voldemort which provide clues into his personality and actions. They make it apparent that Lord Voldemort is on a quest for immortality, and that he is a very private, independent person who only cares about himself. In his struggle for immortality and domination, Lord Voldemort becomes less than human, and slowly more and more evil. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort first cross paths when Harry is a baby and Lord Voldemort attempts to kill him, because of a prophecy which suggests that Harry may be the one to put a stop to Lord Voldemort.
Although the books slowly build up to an ultimate conflict between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, Harry's nemesis is far from simple. Like other evil characters in the books, Lord Voldemort is not one dimensional. Readers are offered glimpses of a difficult past which create some sympathy for the monster that Lord Voldemort has become. This tactic is characteristic of Rowling's books, which often provide deep perspective into characters which would otherwise seem relatively straightforward.