Gilderoy Lockhart and Tom Riddle: More Alike Than We Think?

J.K. Rowling’s second installment of the Potter series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, returns readers to Hogwarts for yet another turn of events. The Chamber of Secrets is said to have been opened again, and Harry finds himself at the center of suspicion. Chamber of Secrets is unique from Sorcerer’s Stone in that it shows just how wizards and Muggles are alike. While in Sorcerer’s Stone, readers were introduced to the Wizarding World, Chamber of Secrets shows the Wizarding World is not much different from the Muggle world; they share the same human flaws, desires, the same tendency to want to distinguish themselves from others–i.e., the bigotry towards Muggle borns. This is the first book in which this bigotry is introduced, and it continues to play a significant role in the rest of the series.

One character that particularly stood out to me in this book is Gilderoy Lockhart. We all remember Lockhart–that charming, handsome, self-absorbed wizard who manages to capture the attention of seemingly every witch, who even has Hermione Granger convinced. But, Gilderoy Lockhart is much more than just an arrogant, annoying (former) Hogwarts professor. Lockhart is an embodiment of pride, a pride that could be argued is similar to Tom Riddle’s pride. Initially, Lockhart’s pride seems the most silly, the most harmless, the most foolish form of pride. When Lockhart is first introduced, he appears nothing more than a self-absorbed wizard with good looks but not much wit. When Harry returns to Hogwarts, Lockhart assumes that Harry flew Mr. Weasley’s car to school simply to receive more publicity, more fame. He constantly gives Harry tips on becoming famous and handling fame, believing that Harry finds these bits of advice valuable and ignorant to Harry’s true thoughts on Lockhart. He tells Harry, “Gave you a taste for publicity, didn’t I?…You got onto the front page of the paper with me and you couldn’t wait to do it again” (91)*. He mistakenly believes that Harry is giving out signed photos (after Malfoy announces it loudly when Colin Creevey asks for one) and is “deaf to Harry’s stammers” as he gives Harry more advice, claiming to have “covered up” for Harry so that “[his] schoolmates won’t think [he’s] setting [himself] up so much” (98). In addition to Harry, Lockhart appears quite oblivious to his colleagues’, as well as the other (mostly male) students’ attitudes toward him.

However, Lockhart does share similarities to Tom Riddle. Although Lockhart’s desire is simply fame and recognition, and although he does not quite wish for invulnerability to death and absolute power, as Tom Riddle does, Lockhart goes about attaining his desires in a way that is harmful to others. Like Riddle, Lockhart has no reservations about harming another wizard in a way that is permanent, simply for the sake of self-preservation. In the chapter titled, “The Chamber of Secrets,” Harry and Ron learn that Lockhart did not actually do the things he claimed to have done in his books; he simply took credit for what other wizards did and cast a Memory Charm on them. He tells Harry, “My dear boy…My books wouldn’t have sold half as well if people didn’t think I’d done all those things” (297). Moreover, Lockhart is perfectly willing to cast Memory Charms on Harry and Ron simply to preserve the reputation he so carefully created for himself. Although a Memory Charm is not as severe, not as evil as the many Killing Curses Tom Riddle has cast on many people, Lockhart’s intent behind the Memory Charms are the same as Tom’s intent behind his Unforgivable Curses: to exercise complete and absolute control over another, for the sake of fulfilling a selfish desire. Lockhart has forever damaged people’s lives through Memory Charms, and he feels no remorse for it, because his only concern is his fame and his reputation. Like Tom Riddle, Lockhart will go to great lengths, will damage other human beings beyond repair, in order to get what he wants. Both Lockhart and Tom Riddle disregard the lives of others, disregard the consequences of their actions toward others, because their primary (and perhaps only) concern is the accomplishment of a selfish goal. For Tom Riddle, it was ultimate power, invulnerability. For Lockhart, it was fame. In this sense, he is much like Tom Riddle because he regards the lives of others as nothing more than obstacles getting in the way of his desires.

Moreover, both Lockhart and Tom Riddle meet their demise because of a blindness caused by their great pride. When Lockhart tried to cast a Memory Charm on Ron using Ron’s broken wand, the charm backfired, hitting Lockhart instead. Lockhart’s fervent desire to remain famous, to keep his reputation, caused him to overlook Ron’s damaged wand, which would not have performed the charm correctly. Likewise, at the end of the series, Voldemort’s demise comes from an oversight–he is mistaken about the true owner of the Elder Wand, and just like Lockhart, the Killing Curse he casts at Harry rebounds and hits him instead. In the Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle, gleeful that he has beaten Harry, forgets that Fawkes’s tears have healing powers; thus, Harry defeats him by stabbing the diary with a basilisk fang. For Lockhart and Tom Riddle, their pride was a primary cause of their downfall. It was the root of their actions, which ultimately led them away from what they each sought most. The actions of both Lockhart and Tom Riddle are motivated by pride, that causes them to disregard the lives of others, to underestimate others, and ultimately, to overlook details that bring about their downfalls. Their desires are motivated by pride; Riddle and Lockhart feel a sense of entitlement toward their goals. Lockhart and Riddle are alike in that they are motivated by the same type of pride, and their actions cause similar kinds of irrevocable damage to other human beings simply so that they can further attain their selfish goals.

In Chamber of Secrets, pride is often what differentiates the likable, good characters from the evil ones. Lucius and Draco Malfoy are unlikable because of their pride and disdain toward others whom they consider below them. Tom Riddle and Lockhart are unlikable for the same reasons–for their lack of humility and their belief that they are entitled to absolute power and, in Lockhart’s case, fame. Lucius Malfoy, his son Draco, Tom Riddle, and Lockhart are all afflicted by their own pride, which ultimately gets the better of them. In Chamber of Secrets, the theme that resonates with readers (at least, with me) is the dangers of pride, a very human flaw. Wizards, with their ability to do magic and accomplish miraculous feats with their spells, are no more immune to pride than Muggles are. What distinguishes good from evil (for lack of a better word), or likable from unlikable, are not degrees of magical talent, but rather, humility as opposed to pride. Just like in Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets shows that greatness comes not from magical ability, but from virtues such as humility, bravery, and selflessness (which, when you think about it, are all one and the same).

*All direct quotes taken from the Scholastic edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling.

6 Replies to “Gilderoy Lockhart and Tom Riddle: More Alike Than We Think?”

    1. Haha, I agree. I think what makes Lockhart so irritating is how he’s so oblivious to what people actually think of him, because he’s so self-absorbed, while Voldemort knows he’s feared, and that’s what he wants people to think. But, Lockhart does get less annoying when he casts the Memory Charm on himself, and he’s probably much better off that way 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment! 🙂 Yeah, Lockhart’s character is really interesting in that way. While I don’t know if I’d outright call him evil, I think if his personality and characteristics were distorted to a more extreme form, he could potentially be a character like Voldemort. What complicates the comparison between these characters more is that Voldemort is completely incapable of love and beyond any sort of redemption, while we don’t know if Lockhart is or isn’t–and arguably, it could go both ways. But I think it’s still interesting to think about their similarities, because they are quite striking–especially how similar they meet their demise.

  1. Ahh, this makes sense to meh. 🙂 and I also like how Dumbledore could see Toms flaws so well. That Tom doesn’t seem to see the bigger picture, but only of himself and his own personal gain. That’s why he has no friends.. That’s why he does what he does… He does “evil” with the intention that he can better himself. And overlooks the good that soon gets the better of him.

    1. Yeah, definitely! A fatal flaw of pride, I’m afraid, and it’s demonstrated consistently by prideful characters in the books. Vice and evil tends to manifest itself as something good, so often, the characters in the series (I think Snape most notably demonstrates this) tend to believe that their actions are good, which is why they do it in the first place. I’ll write a post about Snape sometime in the next few weeks–he’s my favorite character in the series!

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