There are many things in the world of Harry Potter that don’t quite hold up under scrutiny – or at least, are somewhat absurd. One of my favorites, for instance, is this scene, in which Harry – a full five+ books in, and in complete belief that Dumbledore is likely the greatest wizard of all time – is downright amazed that his headmaster knows a spell for…. how to clean up?
One matter I find particularly suspect, which I’ll be focusing on today, is the existence and status of Harry’s second-year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor: the one and only, Gilderoy Lockhart.
Our first encounter with our subject occurs at the beginning of The Chamber of Secrets, when our protagonists happen upon Lockhart at a book signing. It’s here we get our initial whiff of the vain charlatan he ultimately proves himself to be. But even before that – and long before we learn you definitely need LifeLock around this dude – it is established that, practically speaking, Lockhart is a famous and successful celebrity-author. At this point in our narrative, he’s penned numerous bestselling books (e.g., Gadding with Gouls) and earned myriad laurels, named as both Order of Merlin, Third Class and Honourary Member of the Dark Force Defence League.
It is also established early on that Gilderoy is a Grade A stud, with Mrs. Weasley fawning over this dude the instant she sees him (tough look for Arthur!). And we’re not even talking run-of-the-mill handsome. He’s a five time winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award. That’s the equivalent of People’s Sexiest Man Alive; nobody in the real world’s won that more than twice!
To summarize: my guy was decorated, handsome, desired, successful, famous, and assuredly quite wealthy.
Smash-cut to: he’s… leaving that all behind to go teach children at a boarding school in an isolated part of the country?
Now, look, that’s a noble type of move; investing in the education of our youth is as admirable as it gets. No issue with that. I’m simply making the point that that’s not the motivation here, and thus this chain of events is wildly unrealistic.
Yes, Lockhart is desperate for attention and praise. Yes, the entire Wizarding world eventually revolved around Hogwarts. But at the time of Book 2, nobody in that World could have predicated that! You-Know-Who wasn’t even back in his body, not to mention known to be back at all. There’s no way Lockhart saw that coming. And if he had, and knew we were headed toward the climactic Battle of Hogwarts, he certainly wasn’t taking the job!
The theory Rowling posits (side note: does it still count as a ‘theory’ if you’re Rowling, and can just decide your theory is canon?) is that Lockhart’s decision actually does align with his drive for celebrity: that he was enticed by Dumbledore “[subtly dangling that] teaching Harry Potter would set the seal on Lockhart’s fame.”
Strong disagree. I just don’t buy it. Maybe if Lockhart were washed up, or we got the sense that his books weren’t selling. There’s no reason to think that, though. Based on everything we’ve been led to believe, Lockhart’s time in the limelight showed no signs of slipping.
I could also maybe see some sort of “grass is always greener” argument, but Lockhart reached the top in the first place specifically because he knew how to stick to his lane: Obliviating anyone with an interesting anecdote! I just don’t think he would be cocky enough to radically shift gears out of his comfort zone and risk everything he’d built to date.
So, I think we can all agree – it’s wholly out of character for him to take the job. But that’s not my only problem with it: it’s completely out of character for Dumbledore to offer him the job in the first place!
I mean, why on Earth is Albus hiring this fool? At least Rowling doesn’t expect us to believe Dumbledore failed to see through Lockhart’s act when she offered up her own explanation in Pottermore:
Many staff were baffled as to the reason that [Dumbledore] chose to invite [Lockhart] back to Hogwarts as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. While it was true that it had become almost impossible to persuade anybody else to take the job (the rumour that it was cursed was gathering strength both inside and outside Hogwarts), many teachers remembered Lockhart as thoroughly obnoxious, whatever his later achievements.
Albus Dumbledore’s plans, however, ran deep. He happened to have known two of the wizards for whose life’s work Gilderoy Lockhart had taken credit, and was one of the only people in the world who thought he knew what Lockhart was up to. Dumbledore was convinced that Lockhart needed only to be put back into an ordinary school setting to be revealed as a charlatan and a fraud. Professor McGonagall, who had never liked Lockhart, asked Dumbledore what he thought students would learn from such a vain, celebrity-hungry man. Dumbledore replied that ‘there is plenty to be learned even from a bad teacher: what not to do, how not to be’.
This is one of those justifications where at first you’re like, “hmm… okay, okay… I guess he did have plans…. that makes sense,” and you start nodding your head in agreement. You tell yourself, “Dumbledore’s so wise. How sage of him to realize you can learn from others’ mistakes!”
No. Absolutely not. That’s just outrageous, for two main reasons:
- As the headmaster, you’re deliberately hiring teachers you know are incompetent, hoping your pre-pubescent students can come to that conclusion on their own? And then identify positive takeaways? That’s such a rogue and delusional strategy, what would that even look like?
- Fudge: Hey Albus, good to see you. It’s been awhile. How’s Aberforth?
- Dumbledore: Enough with the small-talk, Cornelius! I needed to see you because I’ve come up with my most brilliant idea yet!
- Fudge: Fine, fine. Down to business. Typical. Well, let’s hear it, I’m all ears.
- Dumbledore: Well, what if… and just hear me out… what if what would actually improve student achievement is if we hired INCOMPETENT TEACHERS! <mic-drops his wand> Boom!
- Fudge: Wow… that’s… quite radical?
- The way Rowling positions this, it sounds like really what happened was Dumbledore got resentful, and possibly obsessive, toward Lockhart’s underhandedness, and simply hired him as a ruse to expose his lies. And what was the ultimate outcome Dumbledore’s reaching, petty vigilante justice? Lockhart had a mental breakdown that institutionalized him in St. Mungo’s for the rest of his life.
That’s fucked up, Wulfric.