Dickensian Cryptonyms: Is Lockhart a Pullman Stick-Figure?

Probably not.

Over at the Barnes and Noble Book Club (please join the discussion!), a violist admitted not caring much for Mozart — and how this tick gave her some sympathy for the problem Professor Bloom and Ms. Byatt may have in ever appreciating Ms. Rowling’s books. I found her posts and the consequent exchange on that thread both edifying and challenging. Barnes and Noble.com is great.

In the spirit of “true confessions” on that thread, I have to admit here a blind-spot or taste problem with reading an author many of my friends admire. I have been unable to get past the first chapters of any of Philip Pullman’s books after reading several interviews with him in which he proclaimed his atheism as the true faith — and that C. S. Lewis was a writer children should not be allowed to read because of the transparancy of his evangelical message. (Pullman critics in the UK call him the “UnLewis” because of this opinion, after a character in Lewis’ *Perelandra* called the UnMan. Note the opening of the *His Dark Materials* books being a child in a wardrobe…) I have heard two men I admire, Philip Nel at KSU and Vincent Kling at LaSalle University, both Rowling admirers, sing Pullman’s praises. I just can’t get my head around the disdain Pullman feels for a writer I admire, disdain rooted in a belief that Lewis was a Puritanical, misogynist and allegorical writer. There are plenty of reasons not to like Lewis (Tolkien liked to share these reasons with Lewis and his friends) but Pullman’s seem just an atheist’s prejudices about a Christian artist.

But isn’t my inability to enjoy Pullman’s books, what Nel calls “the Gold Standard” for children’s literature and no doubt more to Professor Bloom’s liking in terms of prosaic aesthetic heights, just the mirrored image of his prejudice: a Christian’s disregard for an atheist’s artistry? I’d love to think it was just a matter of taste, as in not *liking* Mozart, but I’m almost convinced this is a failing more like religious believers who cannot read and enjoy Harry Potter because they still believe in their heart of hearts that the books are gateways to the occult. Maybe this is why I have a hard time getting upset with these folk, even when they call radio stations to tell me on-air that I’m hell spawn.

Two or three notes about names and things while we’re talking about Pullman and Rowling, the two living giants of English children’s literature…. Pullman has said in an interview that Ms. Rowling told him at a party that she has not read his books (he asked her if she liked them…). I point this out because whenever I bring up Philip Pullman I am inevitably reminded by Fandom that Ms. Rowling has recommended that children read his books. They usually neglect the fact these recommendations are made in long lists of authors children can read, not in “please read Philip Pullman” announcements.

And what about Gilderoy Lockhart? I wrote in my first book that he could be based on Philip Pullman (several of Pullman’s stories have a young heroine whose last name is “Lockhart;” if a character appeared in a Pullman novel named “Potter,” a double-take would be in order, especially if the character spoke like Rowling does in interviews). There’s not any evidence I can find, though, about this beyond the name and the interview persona of self-importance and self-infatuation. Rowling said in 2004:

Are any of your characters based on real people?

The only character who is deliberately based on a real person is Gilderoy Lockhart. [Laughter]. Maybe he is not the one that you would think of, but I have to say that the living model was worse. [Laughter]. He was a shocker! The lies that he told about adventures that he’d had, things he’d done and impressive acts that he had committed… He was a shocking man. I can say this quite freely because he will never in a million years dream that he is Gilderoy Lockhart. I am always frightened that he is going to turn up one day. He is just one of those people from your past whom you feel you have never quite shaken off. I will look up one day at a signing and he will say, “Hello, Jo”. [Laughter]. Other people have contributed the odd characteristic, such as a nose, to a character, but the only character who I sat down and thought that I would base on someone is Gilderoy Lockhart. It made up for having to endure him for two solid years.

That last bit of enduring him “for two solid years” makes it sound like she’s talking about her ex-husband or a boyfriend but her comments on her website rule that out:

Section: Extra Stuff
Gilderoy Lockhart

I have only once set out to depict somebody I have met and, unlikely though it might seem, the result was Gilderoy Lockhart. I assure you that the person on whom Gilderoy was modelled was even more objectionable than his fictional counterpart. He used to tell whopping great fibs about his past life, all of them designed to demonstrate what a wonderful, brave and brilliant person he was. Perhaps he didn’t really believe he was all that great and wanted to compensate, but I’m afraid I never dug that deep.

You might think it was mean of me to depict him as Gilderoy, but you can rest assured he will never, ever guess. He’s probably out there now telling everybody that he inspired the character of Albus Dumbledore. Or that he wrote the books and lets me take the credit out of kindness.

Section: Rubbish Bin

Symbol(s): Pure Garbage, Toxic
Gilderoy Lockhart is based on JKR’s first husband

No, he most certainly is not. I have always been honest about the fact that Gilderoy Lockhart WAS inspired by a real man (see the ‘Extras’ section). For obvious reasons I am not going to identify the person in question – however irritating he was, he does not deserve that – but I can state categorically that I never married him. I do not lie about the inspiration for characters (although at times like these, I wonder why I don‚Äôt refuse to answer these questions at all!)

The name seems to have come to her from chance or passing inspiration:

SF: Exactly. Isn’t it perfect? 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?

JKR: 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.

This last bit about “hollowness” is important, I think, if easy to overlook in Ms. Rowling’s misdirection about the origin of the name (“something I happened upon somewhere – just chance!”) and it having a certain sound she liked (more hints of arbitrariness). What she liked about the names, their combination, the sound and total effect, it seems, was that it gave an impression of a falsely heroic front with no back to speak of. Ultimately, then, it was the meaning she wanted that drove the choice of name not where it appeared first.

Names are important to her, it turns out. She’s into the Dickensian Cryptonyms in a big way (if anyone asks, I’ll tell the story of Tyndale cutting the Peter Pettigrew name exegesis out of Looking for God in Harry Potter because they were convinced that Christian book stores wouldn’t carry the book with a penis reference in it — oh, I guess I’ve told that story now…).

Lydon: What about names themselves? Muggles, to begin, but the whole catalogue of – er – wizards: Albus Dumbledore, Voldemort – er – Hagrid.

JKR: I’m big on names – I like names, generally. You have to be really careful giving me your name if it’s an unusual one, because you will turn up in book six. Erm – I – I collect – some of them are invented; Voldemort is an invented name, Malfoy is an invented name, Quidditch is invented, erm – but I also collect them, from all kinds of places: maps, street names, people I meet, old books, old saints, erm – Mrs Norris, people will have recognised, comes from Jane Austen. Erm – Dumbledore is an old English word meaning bumblebee. Because Albus Dumbledore is very fond of music, I always imagined him as sort of humming to himself a lot.

I remind myself of this when Fandom mavens tell me Lockhart cannot be Philip Pullman and that Harry’s name is meaningless because Ms. Rowling has said Potter comes from the name of some childhood friends. I think the suggestion she has named the hero of the books something arbitrary when relatively bit players like Dolokhov and Pettigrew and Black have profoundly or comically meaningful names is at least twice the stretch I make in trying to figure out the meaning of “Harry Potter.”

Should we have a Character Names thread here on HogPro? Lemmeno.

One more thought here about Lockhart…. Ms. Rowling regrets ever mentioning this character was based on a real person:

George: My question is, are any of the characters based on people you know?

Jo: Well, I did mistakenly say that Lockhart was based on someone I had known.

Judy: Oh, really.

Jo: Yes. And that got rather an annoying lot of newspaper space because they thought it was the wrong person. They went after the wrong person.

Judy: He is the very vain one that we were talking about before.

Jo: Yes, and I barely exaggerated, believe it or not. Someone I knew quite a long time ago.

Richard: Was he in television?

Jo: No. There are a lot of Lockharts knocking around are there in television?

Richard: They are all a part of TV.

Judy: I love him.

Jo: That was the only time I sat down and consciously thought I am putting X in as a character, and I did.

Richard: And did you like X?

Jo: No, I absolutely loathed X, as I think probably comes across by making Gilderoy Lockhart.

Judy: Do you think X knows?

Jo: No, I think X’s egotism is such that X is probably wondering around saying “We were like that. She adored me. She wanted to marry me – I turned her down.” believe you me.

Richard: You know Carly Simon had a very private dinner for charity with the person who nominated the most, and she told them who was the character of “You’re so vain” – her first hit song – you should do the same thing in a few years, you should say I’ll tell you who …

Jo: Well, I don’t want to ruin X’s life.

Richard: He sounds a complete S-H-I-T

Jo: I know, I still don’t want to ruin that person’s life.


  1. I read the entire His Dark Materials on a whim in college (that was also the time I read for the first time The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and yes, Harry Potter…call it a fantasy craze). I liked the first two books and was, for the most part, able to not pay attention to how the “church” (also called the kingdom of heaven in the books) was portrayed. I didn’t know Pullman was an atheist; all I knew was that he was big on Paradise Lost, which was the inspiration for his title for the trilogy. I naively thought that the third book would somehow vindicate the “church” but I was wrong. An important and “good” character calls Christianity a big mistake and God is shown to be an old powerless deity on his deathbed. It was then that I did the research and learned that Pullman is an atheist and has no liking for C.S. Lewis. That said, as much I want to believe that Lockhart is based on Pullman, it doesn’t seem that J.K. Rowling knew Pullman for two years solid as acquaintances. It doesn’t seem that Pullman would be obnoxious as Rowling is building up this mysterious real-life Lockhart figure, although the fact that she does not want to “ruin that person’s life” by revealing his identity could point to him being a recognized figure already…like Philip Pullman. Thank you for bringing to light that Pullman said that Rowling said that she never read his books. That fact alone brings me relief.

  2. I have wondered if Lockhart could have been based upon a professor she had. Someone older than Jo but who could entertain delusions of romantic interest. I suspect many women who have spent time at a university have met a Lockhart or two. Mine was my graduate college advisor (ewww).

  3. “I didn‚Äôt know Pullman was an atheist; all I knew was that he was big on Paradise Lost, which was the inspiration for his title for the trilogy…It was then that I did the research and learned that Pullman is an atheist and has no liking for C.S. Lewis.”

    The irony is that Lewis was a leading expert on Milton and Paradise Lost. His lectures-turned-book, “Preface to Paradise Lost,” was a seminal work of criticism on Milton’s magnum opus and it still considered authoritative. The assertions that Lewis makes about PL (from memory, so don’t quote me), was that:

    1. Milton was using the Epic poetic form–poetry which recounts meaningful historical events–to tell the story.

    2. Milton was working was conventional theological understanding of the day, e.g. he hadn’t introduced any heresies or “theological novelties” when he penned his work.

    3. Milton’s Satan is a figure with delusions of grandeur, believing himself to be a hero when he is the villain and subverting his own position by rebelling against the one who created him and to whom belongs all rightful authority.

    Pullman’s interpretation, from what I gather, follows along conventional modern lines, that Milton’s Satan is something of a Byronic hero and that Milton was writing a subversive work by casting Satan in a sympathetic light. The fact that he seems completely unaware of Lewis’s authority on the subject or his differing interpretation completely undermines Pullman as a serious author, whatever his virtues as a wordsmith may be.

  4. errere_est_humanum says

    I found that Pullman was just as fervent an advocate for atheism and paganism in his dark materials series, as Lewis is an advocate for christianity in the Chronicles of Narnia. He is very hypocritical to criticize Lewis for propagating christianity in his books, when in his books he directly condemns christianity, and says that God is a rebellious usuper who upsets the mothergodess (at least that’s what I remember happening in his books, it has been a long time). One question though, how do you know that Rowling and Pullman had some prior acquaintance?

  5. Sounds like Pullman should read Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy”. Then he may actually find he has something in common with all of us after all.

  6. Well, John, I’m just jumping in to say that you are not being judgemental in finding Pullman annoying, because his books *are* annoying. And what is most annoying about them is that he is actually a gorgeous writer – he’s a far better stylist than Rowling, with a terrific grasp of how to keep a plot moving and keep a reader’s interest. But all this skill is ultimately in the service of – what, exactly? As a colleague says, his plots creak, and he is extremely didactic. The first two books of his trilogy, though marred by unneeded violence, raised some fascinating questions. I am not bothered by criticism of the Church as a political entity; all too often, my Church has deserved that criticism. And I was hoping that, in spite of the problems I had with the first two books, Pullman might be able to come up with something truly original in the third. He didn’t. Instead, he ended up writing something extremely heavy-handed, contrived, and annoying. The series just fell apart for me, and I have no interest in ever rereading any of those books. This is an artistic failure, not a theological one. His characterisations became one-sided, inconsistent, and therefore frustrating. He dropped the ball on a couple of the questions he’d raised in the earlier books (what does dust have to do with conscience and consciousness, for example, and what do those things have to do with each other? What sort of truth does the golden compass tell, and why can Lyra read it so easily? Is it manipulating her, or is she manipulating it? Questions like those kept me reading – and, in the end, he had absoutely nothing to say about them. As I said, this is an artistic failure.)

    But, most of all, I agree with errere-est-humanum above. Pullman is incredibly hypocritical to criticize Lewis for being didactic and allegorical, and then to be even more didactic and allegorical himself. Millions of children of all faiths, and none, have read Lewis’s books (and now, seen the movie) without ever being disturbed by any Christian message. Nobody could possibly read Pullman’s work without being very consciously aware of the anti-Christian message.

    All of this is to say that, after all, and in spite of Pullman’s strengths as a stylist, Lewis is by far the better and more honorable artist. So is Rowling, in spite of her artistic flaws. They are merely cosmetic, while her plotting and characterisations are sound. Pullman’s works are rotten at the core, IMHO.

    Just my two dimes!

  7. Sorry _ just wanted to add a little to the above, because that last post, in the end, struck me as just a lot of words. As some of you know, I’m a librarian, and I had the opportunity to talk to two young people I like and respect about Pullman’s work. The first was a young Orthodox girl; she was 14 or 15 (or so) at the time, and she said she was quite disappointed by the third volume. Her exact words, as closely as I can remember them, were: “It’s wrong to deceive childrem through half-truths.”

    The second child was the son of a friend, a few years younger than my Greek Orthodox friend, and he said, “It’s stupid.” This boy is reform Jewish, and, like the young girl, very sincere in his faith and in his desire to do good in the world. Both children were (and are, as young adults) intelligent, avid readers, and huge fantasy fans, especially of Tolkien and, of course, Rowling. I don’t think anyone could add to what they said – the young girl in particular.

    “It’s wrong to deceive children with half-truths.” It is, indeed. And, even if she disappoints me in all the ways I’m fearing, Rowling will not have done that. I will simply have misread her work and her intentions, but her story will still hang together, as Pullman’s books do not.

  8. I agree with those above who said Pullman isn’t worth reading, even if he wasn’t an atheist. I dislike his books because I think he lacks a fundamental human sympathy. At least I can’t connect with any of his female figures, including Sally Lockhart. They just seem really heartless to me. Pun intended.

    I’d love it if Pullman was Lockhart though!

  9. Hi John (and everyone)

    never read Pullman, but read ABOUT him and his athieistic beliefs that he loudly proclaims in his books…which is why i won’t read them…i was rather distressed that Paolini was so enamored by him

    and i would love to call in to a show you were on…just to say hello, not to call you hell spawn >grin

  10. I only ever read The Golden Compass, in fifth grade. Alarm bells went off inside my head. After that book, I never read the other two, because I realized that while his writing is polished, Pullman’s message is shallow. He will never be equal with Lewis because Lewis was DEEP. The meaning in Lewis’s books are almost infinate, and i feel that there is a great wisdom there.

    By the way, i wouldn’t worry too much about what Christopher Paolini thinks. Although he is totally different from Pullman, he has the same basic problem with his writing: He is polished and well written, but the substance is horrible. After all, he was only a homeshooled little boy when he wrote Eregon. It is frustrating that he is so successful when he is so bad. He reminds me of STALE CRACKERS!!! D:

  11. Schrodinger's Snape says

    Stick figures and Knife figures

    The following says nothing (directly) of the Lockharts, Gilderoy or Sally. And I’m the last person who could ever qualify as a literary critic. And it’s been a very long time since I read His Dark Materials.

    Nevertheless, I do remember Mr Pullman’s Subtle Knife (alias Æsahættr, “God-Destroyer”). Way back in 1997, this handy little gadget was busily being used by Pullman’s hero to cut through most any substance within the Pullman universe, including to slice open windows between worlds.


    So, I ask: was it entirely a coincidence that, just three years later, Ms Rowling ladled from the “Cauldron of Story” a certain knife also? A knife which echoed some of the qualities of Pullman’s Subtle Knife? Rowling’s knife, Sirius’ gift to Harry, was described as “a handy penknife with attachments to unlock any lock and undo any knot” (GOF27) – a tool, like the Subtle Knife, that facilitated passage through otherwise problematic portals.

    And what further of this Rowling knife? Well, in 2003, in the very next book, the worm firmly turned. Ms Rowling unceremoniously (and – I couldn’t help imagining as I read OP for the first time – with a sly little wink to Pullman’s readers) consigned the magical knife to the rubbish-bin. The blade not only failed to open a certain door for Harry in the Department of Mysteries (OP34), but was instead utterly destroyed in the attempt:

    ‘Sirius’s knife!’ said Harry. He pulled it out from inside his robes and slid it into the crack between the door and the wall. The others all watched eagerly as he ran it from top to bottom, withdrew it and then flung his shoulder again at the door. It remained as firmly shut as ever. What was more, when Harry looked down at the knife, he saw the blade had melted.

    ‘Right, we’re leaving that room,’ said Hermione decisively.

    The particular door which was the knife’s ultimate nemesis, we later learn, was not that of just any old DoM room, neither – it was the entrance to the Love Room.

    Coincidence? I thought at the time (and still think) not. Take that little gibe, Mr Pullman. Your “God-Destroyer” is ultimately annihilated by … love. Nay, not even love; rather, the mere entrance to love. Nope, no chance of it being reforged this time, sorry.

    (signed) an atheist who greatly appreciates His Dark Materials, Harry Potter Books 1 through 6, and love (not necessarily in that order)

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