Friday, 1 January 2016

Mr Trump goes to Hogwarts

OK, so I'd sworn never to mention the planet's trendingist buffoon again in this blog, but thanks to a mixture of ironic process theory and J K Rowling, here we are again. Here's what Jo Rowling tweeted about You-Know-Who last year:

I think she's wrong. Not about how vile the man's influence is,* but about which character from the Harry Potter books he most closely resembles.

I had no detailed knowledge of the boy wizard's adventures until recently, mainly because I was in my mid thirties at the time when the first books were released, with readers less than half that age in mind and had plenty of grown-up books to read at the time. But The Offspring's current bedtime story routine involves me working my way through the series, so I'm belatedly getting up to speed on the stories.

Still, it's a bit arrogant of me to disagree with a best-selling author about her own characters - all I can say is stay with me on this one and see what you think. The Harry Potter books must be set texts somewhere, because here's what an on-line set of students' notes has to say about the wizarding charlatan, Gilderoy Lockhart, who appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Remind you of anybody?
Professor Lockhart is the second Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher they've had in as many years. In addition to embarking on his new teaching career, Professor Lockhart is also busy marketing himself. He's got a line of books (Break with a Banshee, Gadding with Ghouls, Holidays with Hags, etc.) that give full details about how awesome, heroic, and beautiful Professor Lockhart is. In fact, Harry, Ron, and Hermione first meet Lockhart at a book signing of his new autobiography, The Art of the Deal Magical Me, where he is surrounded "by large pictures of his own face, all winking and flashing dazzlingly white teeth at the crowd" . As you may guess from this introduction, Professor Lockhart's primary characteristic is that he is extremely, extremely vain.

Like many vain people, Professor Lockhart is also quite insecure. He can't stand to share the limelight with anyone else. He clearly feels threatened by Harry Potter's fame and takes care to run him down when he can: "Let me just say that handing out signed pictures at this stage of your career isn't sensible – looks a tad bigheaded, Harry, to be frank". Of course, if anyone is bigheaded, it's Professor Lockhart. He's just jealous of Harry. He even goes so far as to force Harry to help him sign autographs for detention...

Professor Lockhart's vanity and insecurity would be easier to stand if he was capable of doing anything at all. Of course, he isn't: in his first class with the second years, he releases a bunch of Cornish pixies to wreck the classroom and then can't figure out how to stop them. He drops his wand while trying to teach Harry a Disarming Charm during the first and last meeting of his Dueling Club. Most pathetic of all, when Harry breaks his arm during his Quidditch match against Slytherin, Professor Lockhart manages to remove all the bones in his arm rather than fix them.

So Professor Lockhart is quite pathetic. We only discover how sinister he can be at the end of the novel, when he tries to cast a Memory Charm on Harry and Ron. The two boys have found out that Professor Lockhart's books are all a pack of lies. He's been taking credit for things other people have done by using memory modification spells (his one talent). The only thing that saves Harry and Ron from the same thing is Ron's broken wand, which backfires on Professor Lockhart and gives him complete, incurable amnesia. Throughout the book, we've rolled our eyes at Professor Lockhart's stupid antics. In this final scene in the tunnel on the way to the Chamber of Secrets, though, we see how powerful self-centeredness can really be. Professor Lockhart is willing to leave Ginny to die and to modify Harry and Ron's memories just so that he can maintain his reputation. He may be a weak coward, but that's why he's surprisingly dangerous.

There's your "Master Wizard", right there behind the curtain, pretending to be some great and powerful wizard. Pull back the curtain and he's just another snake-oil salesman from a travelling show with a good line in fraudulent patter to fool a few wet-behing-the-ears farmers.

* IMO right down there with the manipulative, bullying bigotry spewing from people like Trump's man-crush Vlad Putin, or Marine Le Pen, or Erdo─čan, or any of the other cynical chancers currently trying to appeal to the worst of the worst in the world's democracies