Happy Birthday Gilderoy Lockhart! Pride as a Real and Fictional Flaw

We sometimes hear the word “pride” tossed around so much that it just becomes another slogan. People are encouraged to be proud of everything from their sports teams to their genetic make-up. However, this week, after a wonderful sermon on why pride is a problem (thanks, Pastor Alan), I re-read the first sentence of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a line that is surprisingly Image result for gilderoy lockhart harry potterrevealing, and I began to ponder pride a little more in terms of its role as a spiritually corrosive force in fantasy literature, just as it is in life. So, let’s visit that deadly sin that rears its ugly head around so many real and fictional corners.

Pride, not to be confused with self-respect or satisfaction with a job well done, is a sin that is ridiculously common among human beings.  No less a personage than Benjamin Franklin pointed out that if we think we have really overcome pride, then we will become proud of our humility. We are, by our very nature, easily drawn into pride. Perhaps that is why it is such an effective element to characterize fictional people. By creating characters who suffer from the sin of pride, authors can make these characters more believable while, at the same time, using that pride to make readers dislike them. For, strangely enough, although everyone has succumbed to pride, it tends to be an easy sin for us to condemn, even while we are guilty of it ourselves.

Pastor Alan Yawn, who delivered the wonderful sermon I mentioned (and which you can listen to by clicking the link above), looked at four different types of pride, all of which can be corrosive to our spiritual well-being and harmful to others. Interestingly, these are also types of pride that we can frequently see manifested in some of literature’s more disagreeable characters. With Pastor Yawn’s kind permission, let’s take a look at those four flavors of pride, and at some familiar characters who display it.

Vanity

ThImage result for evil queen snow whiteis form of pride is probably the most obvious, showing up in evil but beautiful queens and handsome but cruel hunters. It is personified clearly in characters like the ego-maniacal Gilderoy himself. He is totally self-absorbed, delighted with his own appearance and image. It is not coincidence that the word vanity also refers to futility. Lockhart is, at his core, absolutely useless. His vanity makes him so focused on the surface that he completely lacks substance. This does not mean he is harmless, as his vanity leads him to seriously endanger others, and only Ron’s broken wand prevents him from being a more terrifying threat. Other fantasy characters are similarly daImage result for gaston beauty and the beastngerous. In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory Kirke’s vain Uncle Andrew, preening and selfish, is indirectly the cause of great immediate and long-term evil in both London and Narnia.

 

Stubbornness

Though it seems like a separate problem, stubbornness is a manifestation of pride, as it stems from our fixation on our own opinion and viewpoint as being paramount. Characters who dig in their heels and refuse correction and counsel can be just as threatening as those who actively do harm. The dwarfs of The Last Battle, in their motto of “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” constantly refuse to be “taken in.” Unfortunately, this means that they cannot be “taken in” to the new Image result for dolores umbridgeNarnia, and they remain trapped in the mental prison of the Stable that only they see as enclosing them. They are only really harming themselves, but other stubborn characters reflect a truly dangerous pride. Dolores Umbridge, in her campaign to force her stamp on Hogwarts, is one of the most malignantly stubborn figures in literature, in stark contrast to characters like Harry, whose campaign to promote the truth is not a self-promoting effort. Harry does not want his story to be told because it Image result for jadisis his story, but because it is the true story.

It is stubbornness that leads Queen Jadis of The Magician’s Nephew (later to become the White Witch of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to destroy her home world of Charn, refusing to surrender to her sister, who has rightfully won the war. Instead, Jadis uses her superweapon, the Deplorable Word, to kill every living thing  in the world, except herself, so stubborn that she cannot concede, cannot surrender. Instead of protecting the people she has fought to rule, she destroys them all, ironically blaming her sister and saying that “her pride has destroyed the whole world,” when of course, Jadis’s pride is what destroyed Charn, and what nearly destroys Narnia.

Comparison

Comparison is the form of pride that appears so clearly in those characters we meet in the very first line of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” The first thing we learn about Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia is not that they are bad parents, nor that they are Image result for aunt petunia and uncle vernonprejudiced, nor that they are materialistic. The first thing we learn is that they are proud. That is an impression that will never change. They are proud of their house, proud of the horrible child they have damaged with their awful parenting, proud of their opinions and beliefs, but most of all proud of how “normal” they are. Their normalcy, is of course, a normalcy of comparison. Petunia constantly compares herself to her freak sister and her sort to prove how very normal she herself is. She is nosy into other people’s business in order to constantly prove her superiority to them, and must thus conceal anything that mars her superior normalcy. Vernon is just as comparative, not merely being greedy for a nice car or green lawn. He just wants a nicer car than his neighbors, a greener lawn than theirs.  Most of all, the Dursleys want Dudley to be better than Harry, whom they constantly demean and oppress to enforce their perspective. They have passed on this prideful comparison to their son, who counts his birthday presents to ensure that the stack is larger than the one from the year before and who wants a bigger dessert than others have not because he is hungry, but because he pridefully wants to have more than anyone else around him.

Exclusion

Pastor Yawn stresses that exclusion is the most dangerous of the types of pride, at least for those of us who do not possess access to Deplorable Words. This form of pride is that which does not only Image result for death eaters dark markwant to be better than everyone else, but which denigrates everyone else as unworthy and puts the individual on the throne that should only be occupied by God. People who suffer from this form of pride want to dethrone God because, as C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, when we are looking down on everyone and everything else, it is hard to see what is above us. This pride creates the pureblood mania that drives the Death Eaters, who thrive on exclusion and elitism. It is the same cruel pride that makes kids refuse to let others sit at their school lunch table, taken to its dangerous, adult level. Like Cinderella’s terrible stepmother and sisters leaving her behind when they go to the ball, those whose pride tends to exclusion seek to push away others, in direct violation of the command to love others. No one is good enough for them, hence Voldemort’s complete lack of friends. He has only followers, for his pride is such that he excludes everyone, even those he leads.

Though it would be nice to think that pride, like  an Unforgivable Curse, was a fictional invention that might just stay safely between the pages of books, it is , sadly, a very real sin that we must all face and with which we should admit that we all struggle, if we are honest. But perhaps, by seeing the fictional characters who embody these manifestations of dangerous and sinful pride, we will be able to strive against our own prideful natures and do better. Perhaps we can work toward a less prideful spirit in ourselves, even if we might occasionally want to sign some autographs with a peacock quill.

 

Special thanks to Pastor Alan Yawn of Banner Elk Christian Fellowship. To learn more about Jadis’s role as a personification of pride and her connections to other literary figures who do the same, see Milton, Spenser, and the Chronicles of Narnia, by yours truly, Professor Lockhart).

Comments

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Somebody interestingly pointed out to me how distinctly Newt Scamander and Gilderoy Lockhart compare and contrast with one another, with Gilderoy a sort of insincere imitation of Newt.

  2. Calvin Sommers says:

    Others have pointed out that Lupin is also a good antithesis to Lockhart, because while Lockhart loved to brag about his conquests of magical beasts and his magical skills but was actually very weak and unskilled at magic, Lupin appeared as a mild-mannered frail jockey sort but was actually a very brave and skilled wizard who wrestled with lycanthropy.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Indeed, David and Calvin! Gilderoy, like the fake gilding, imitating royalty, that his name implies, is a false version of sincere, genuine characters like Newt and Lupin. Even Newt, who could brag about his impressive travels and discoveries if he so chose, is more focused on the work, on the creatures, than he is on his own fame. I have also often thought that Gilderoy, though based on a real person, is also a personification of the fears of many authors, that we will become this person, this fame-feeding, shallow facade, with nothing behind it!

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