image/svg+xml Discover Menu

Writing by J.K. Rowling

Gilderoy Lockhart

By J.K. Rowling

Early Life

Born to a witch mother and a Muggle father, with two older sisters, Gilderoy Lockhart was the only one of his parents’ three children to show magical ability. A clever, good-looking boy, he was his mother’s unashamed favourite, and the realisation that he was also a wizard caused his vanity to blossom like a particularly pernicious weed.

School

The young Lockhart’s arrival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was not the triumph that he and his mother had expected. Somehow, Lockhart had not appreciated that he would be in a whole school full of witches and wizards, many of them more accomplished than himself. (In fact, he had visualized for himself an entrance into Hogwarts not unlike the one that Harry Potter experienced, decades later. He had imagined walking down the corridors to excited whispers of his magical prowess, it never having occurred to him that every student at Hogwarts had had similar experiences before starting school.) In Lockhart’s own mind he was already a fully-fledged hero and genius, and it was a most unwelcome shock to discover that his name was unknown, his talents were unexceptional and that nobody was particularly impressed by his naturally wavy hair.

This is not to say that Lockhart had no talent. Indeed, his teachers felt that he was of above-average intelligence and ability, and that, with hard work, he might make something of himself, even if he fell short of the ambitions he shared freely with classmates (Lockhart told anyone who would listen that he would succeed in making a Philosopher’s Stone before leaving school and that he intended to captain England’s Quidditch team to World Cup glory, before knuckling down to becoming Britain’s youngest Minister for Magic).

Sorted into Ravenclaw house, Lockhart was soon achieving good marks in his schoolwork, but there was always a kink in his nature that made him increasingly unsatisfied. If he was not first and best, he would rather not participate at all. Increasingly, he directed his talents towards short cuts and dodges. He valued learning not for its own sake, but for the attention it brought him. He craved prizes and awards. He lobbied the Headmaster to start a school newsletter, because he liked nothing better than to see his name and photograph in print.

Never very popular, he nevertheless achieved his primary goal of school-wide recognition through repeated, attention-getting exploits. He received a week’s worth of detentions for magically carving his signature in twenty-foot-long letters into the Quidditch pitch. He managed to create a massive, illuminated projection of his own face, which he would send skywards in imitation of the Dark Mark. He sent himself eight hundred Valentine’s cards one year, which caused such a pile-up of owls in the Great Hall that breakfast had to be abandoned (far too many feathers and droppings in the porridge).

Post-Hogwarts Career

When Lockhart finally left Hogwarts, it was to a faint sigh of relief from the staff. He was soon heard of in foreign parts, where his exploits began garnering increasing publicity. Many of his ex-teachers began to feel that they might have misjudged him because he was demonstrating both bravery and resilience in ridding various far-flung places of dangerous, dark creatures.

The truth was that Lockhart had found his true calling at last. He had never been a bad wizard, only a lazy one, and he had decided to hone his talents in one direction: Memory Charms. By perfecting this tricky spell, he had succeeded in modifying the recollections of a dozen highly accomplished and courageous witches and wizards, allowing him to take credit for their daring exploits, returning to Britain at the end of each ‘adventure’ with a new book ready for publication which retold ‘his’ feats of bravery with a wealth of invented detail.

Within a decade of leaving school, Lockhart had achieved bestseller status with his series of autobiographical books and a reputation as a world-class defender against the Dark Arts. He even received the Order of Merlin, Third Class, became an Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League and – his good looks untarnished by the many life-and-death, tooth-and-claw battles he claimed to have had with werewolves, banshees and the like – won Witch Weekly’s Most-Charming-Smile Award no less than five times in a row.

Return to Hogwarts

Many staff were baffled as to the reason that Albus Dumbledore chose to invite Gilderoy 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’.

Lockhart might not have been keen to return to Hogwarts, given how well his career of stolen glory was progressing, had Dumbledore not dangled the promise of Harry Potter over his fame-hungry head (a ruse that Dumbledore was to repeat four years later, when another teacher needed to be persuaded to come back to school). By subtly suggesting that teaching Harry Potter would set the seal on Lockhart’s fame, Dumbledore had set a lure that Lockhart could not resist.

By the time that he arrived at school, Lockhart’s magical skills (once rather good) had become rusty almost beyond repair. The only spell for which he had real ability was the Memory Charm, which he had been using repeatedly for years. His classes quickly became a charade, as he was revealed to be completely inept at everything in which he claimed, in his books, to be expert.

The accident that cost Lockhart his sanity occurred at the end of his year at Hogwarts, when he was hit by a backfiring Memory Charm that forever erased his past. He has since resided in the Janus Thickey Ward of St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

J.K. Rowling's thoughts

An extract taken from a BBC Radio 4 interview with Stephen Fry and J.K. Rowling, recorded in the late summer of 2005 and broadcast as a Christmas special in December 2005:

Stephen Fry: Now do you actually trawl through books of rare words or OED [Oxford English Dictionary] or things, or are they just things that you somehow, you've got a good memory for words?

J.K. Rowling: Um…I don’t really trawl books. They tend to be things I’ve collected or stumbled across in general reading. The exception was Gilderoy – Gilderoy Lockhart. The name Lockhart, well, I know it’s quite a well-known Scottish surname…

SF: Yeah.

JKR: …I found on a war memorial. I was looking for quite a glamorous, dashing sort of surname, and Lockhart caught my eye on this war memorial, and that was it. Couldn’t find a Christian name. And I was leafing through the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable one night. I was consciously looking for stuff, generally, that would be useful and I saw Gilderoy, who was actually a highway man, and a very good-looking rogue.

SF: Really?

JKR: And Gilderoy Lockhart, it just sounded perfect.

SF: It is a perfect, perfect…

JKR: Impressive, and yet, in the middle, quite hollow, of course.

SF: Indeed, as we know, he was.

JKR: As we know.

© HNP Limited 2005

Harry replies to Lockhart's fanmail during detention.