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Professor Gilderoy Lockhart was not a talented wizard. We learn this near the end of the Chamber of Secrets when it is revealed that he is a fraud. In short, Gilderoy Lockhart was a scam-artist.

Before we learn that Lockhart is a talentless fraud, Harry suffers a broken arm during a game of Quidditch. Upon seeing Harry getting injured, Gilderoy runs onto the field and attempts to perform a highly difficult spell to mend Harry's broken arm, which fails in spectacular fashion.

My question is: Why did Gilderoy do that? At this stage in the story it has not been revealed to the reader that he is a scam artist, but Gilderoy himself must have been aware that he is incompetent. Why would a man whose entire public image is a carefully woven tapestry of lies run onto a Quidditch field and demonstrate his incompetence in front of the entire school?

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    Because if he had gotten lucky and the spell worked as intended, he'd have gotten massive amounts of street cred – DCOPTimDowd Jul 13 '17 at 15:25
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    Also, we did already get a hint that he wasn't as good a wizard as he claimed when he released the pixies in the DADA classroom and then bailed, leaving it to Hermione to fix it – DCOPTimDowd Jul 13 '17 at 15:27
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    Lockhart was hardly a master of disguise. He couldn't stop himself from boasting continually and everyone who actually met him for any period of time was able to see through him. Lockhart counted on people just reading his books and not actually seeing him do any magic at all. – The Dark Lord Jul 13 '17 at 16:11
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    Because he's both a showboat and a flippin idiot. – heathenJesus Jul 14 '17 at 14:22
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If you know you are incompetent, why try to fix a broken arm? Because you might be a sociopath or psychopath--officially known as antisocial personality disorder. And while psychopaths can be calculating, that doesn't mean they are smart or that they are typically violent.

Recent research suggests a psychopath’s brain is not like other people’s. It may have physical differences that make it hard for the person to identify with someone else’s distress.

The differences can even change basic body functions. For example, when most people see blood or violence in a movie, their hearts beat faster, their breathing quickens, and their palms get sweaty.

A psychopath has the opposite reaction. He gets calmer. Kipnis says that quality helps psychopaths be fearless and engage in risky behavior.

“They don’t fear the consequences of their actions,” he says. FROM WEB MD

There are plenty of real life instances where someone who is pretending to be an expert goes ahead and tries to be, sometimes to disastrous results. In Miami in the 1980s there was a pediatrician who actually wasn't a doctor at all. He knew that. And yet, he treated patients, (I was one of them) sometimes with serious illnesses. This has happened over and over again in real life. Do you know the reason that hospitals vet doctors before allowing them to do surgery? It's because people who aren't doctors WILL try to perform surgery.

Lockhart is what's known in the biz as a bullsh*t artist. The biz being con artistry.

He has established a pretty good pattern, which actually tracks as far as these types of criminals--when his lack of competence puts someone else in danger, he's more than happy to keep on with the bluff. He's been doing this for so long, that basically he knows he can talk his way out of anything. BUT, when his lack of competence might put HIM in danger, he tries to get out of it (he's packs to leave when forced to actually face danger/his own incompetence).

This points to a self-centeredness and lack of empathy. Basically, if it happens to work, he can coast on it for a while. If it doesn't, well, there's a nurse right on the grounds, isn't there?

A sociopath has a weak conscience, a psychopath doesn't have any at all, and they tend to engage in risky behavior, escalating as time goes by. I think that psychopath is more of a fit for Gilderoy. He has zero remorse concerning Harry's arm, in rearranging people's memories and stealing their lives, and in erasing the memories of children. I know that in popular literature and movies that a psychopath is generally violent, but that's simply not true. He's got it all--the superficial charm, the reckless risk-taking, the calculation, pathological lying...

Pretty much, bottom line, psychopath or sociopath, there is definitely something missing from Gilderoy in the empathy department.

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    See also: Catch Me If You Can which is a story about such a con artist. Heck, pretending to be a doctor was one of the things he did. There's a rather famous line at the end about how he managed to pass the bar exam so he could pretend to be a lawyer. – Draco18s Jul 13 '17 at 18:21
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    @Draco18s The difference is Frank was not really a sociopath. And if you pass the bar, you've got at least a base of competence. And in the doctor bit, he actually let other people do most of the work (as a supervisor) and left when he realized it might kill/harm folk. As a pilot he immediately engaged the autopilot when he was offered the controls on a deadhead flight. But there have been con artists who HAVE killed people. The fake doctor I mentioned actually had children die in his care because of his lack of training. – Erin Thursby Jul 13 '17 at 19:54
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    Obligatory XKCD - xkcd.com/699 – marcellothearcane Jul 13 '17 at 19:58
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    @ErinThursby Oh sure, totally. I only mentioned it as it got turned into a rather well known book and movie. Ie. immediately recognizable to most and a "thing to go get" for others. Frank played it smart, not everyone does. – Draco18s Jul 13 '17 at 20:07
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    @MagikarpMaster I don't think he really does believe his own lies. Hence the division--when it puts someone else at risk, he's happy to try it. When it puts him at risk, he won't do it. As for blowing his cover--he's gotten away with it for so long and so successfully--there are plenty of other "achievements" he can coast on if he happens to be unsuccessful. He counts on his ability to bullsh*t. If there's one thing he does believe, it's that people WANT to believe him, and that he's more clever than they are. – Erin Thursby Jul 14 '17 at 17:14
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Gilderoy Lockhart was an arrogant, vain, conceited, narcissistic, self-serving egomaniac. He was simply trying to show off, in the same way he tried to show off with his "Duelling" Club and got his behind handed to him by Snape. He may know he's a fraud, but he still thinks he's brilliant.

He's also trying his best to keep up appearances as a capable DADA teacher, despite being woefully incompetent. In the Chamber of Secrets book (Emphasis Mine):

“Oh, no, not you,” he moaned.
“Doesn’t know what he’s saying,” said Lockhart loudly to the anxious crowd of Gryffindors pressing around them. “Not to worry, Harry. I’m about to fix your arm.”
“No!” said Harry. “I’ll keep it like this, thanks. . . .”
...
“Lie back, Harry,” said Lockhart soothingly. “It’s a simple charm I’ve used countless times —”
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - THE ROGUE BLUDGER - 172

He's very clearly trying to announce to anyone who'll listen how great he is and how fixing Harry's arm is the simplest thing in the world for a Wizard of his caliber. He's also trying to deflect any suggestions that his boasts may be anything other than 100% accurate.

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    To add a slight twist to this answer, it's also possible he knows he is not all that accomplished but in this instance thought something along the lines of "Oh wait, I actually know a spell that will work. This time it'll be different. It will be so easy and I will get all the credit". – M_the_C Jul 13 '17 at 16:04
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    That's a good point that kind of adds to "he still thinks he's brilliant", though it has to be said that the incantation "Brachium Emendo" translates to "Mend the forearm", which doesn't sound like a spell that generally mends bones, but rather something Lockhart made up on the spot to fit the specific situation. – DisturbedNeo Jul 13 '17 at 16:07
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    @DisturbedNeo I dunno, lots of HP spells are more or less vague Latin. – MissMonicaE Jul 13 '17 at 17:15
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    @MissMonicaE EAT SLUGS! – KSmarts Jul 13 '17 at 19:30
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    "He still thinks he's brilliant." Relevant reading: Dunning-Kruger Effect. – jpmc26 Jul 13 '17 at 22:43
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It seems that Lockhart, to some extent, believes his own stories. I had a friend who was a compulsive liar, and Lockhart often reminds me of him.

All in all, it seems the character of Lockhart is meant by the author as a caricature of incompetent and vain public figures, who often believe their own propaganda and who take credit for others' achievements, employ ghost writers, etc. The difference is that Gilderoy Lockhart lacks the practicality which allows those people to sustain their careers based on deception.

It is still unclear whether pathologically lying is a symptom or a disease, and how it affects a person's ability to think logically, but it seems Lockhart is compelled to show off constantly - even when it's much wiser to just keep silent as to not expose himself as a liar and fraud. It would have been better for his image had he not appeared as an incompetent dueller and healer, but it seems that to some extent Lockhart is delusional - he sees himself as a competent wizard and only after he's faced with reality he takes more rational choices. For example, after the cornish pixies fiasco he stopped bringing magical creatures to class, comprehending that doing so in the first place was a mistake. Through the book Lockhart constantly shows off, antagonising the staff and exposing himself as a fraud (he is so incompetent that it's clear even to the students of the second year), but it seems he cannot help it.

On the other hand, he is clearly aware that the accomplishments described in his books aren't his own:

“Books can be misleading,” said Lockhart delicately.

“You wrote them!” Harry shouted.

“My dear boy,” said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Harry. “Do use your common sense. My books wouldn’t have sold half as well if people didn’t think I’d done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He’d look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a harelip. I mean, come on—”

~Harry Potter -The Chamber of Secrets

This dual perception is a very interesting phenomena, and maybe can be explained with studies that show that the prefrontal cortex of pathological liars is different from that of 'normal' people: they have about 25% more white matter. , which allows pathological liars to remember and keep track of lots of conflicting information and geniunely believe in all of it.

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Dunning-Kruger effect. He's never probably tried the spell, and he seems to often think complex magic is easier than it is. He does know what his bread and butter is, but he also doesn't understand his level of ineptitude at other spells. Watching others perform these difficult magic, he probably thought it was a no brainer. Notice, none of the other teachers tried unleashing a group of magical creatures on the classroom, and the only other DADA teacher who tried to jinx Harry on the Quiditch field was trying to kill him on purpose. Additionally, no teacher has tried to heal Harry with an exception of McGonnagal, when M Pomfrey was unavailable, suggesting that healing magic is quite complex, and no one has tried when a healer when M Pomfrey was available.

Also it shows what a boastful coward he is. His ego gets in the way of his judgement, and I'm sure that's the angle JK was showing. Since this is a children's book, or was initially, JK was trying to show, "you will encounter people in this in life, and do not be intimidated by them, but instead stand up to them." He's a slight caricature, but still a very accurate representation.

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    " Notice, none of the other teachers tried unleashing a group of magical creatures on the classroom" - thats ridikkulus :-) – user68762 Jul 18 '17 at 20:36
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    Lupin used a single creature for the students to practice on, and as far as I know, boggarts aren't actually dangerous. Also Lupin could actually handle it, so that's a far cry from Gilroy :p – JFA Jul 18 '17 at 21:02
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    uhh I'd gladly face a whole load of cornish pixies than a boggart masking as kilometres of utterly boring work correspondence, but maybe that's just me – user68762 Jul 18 '17 at 21:06
  • @Nahiri well put :p – JFA Jul 19 '17 at 0:54
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Lockhart had to uphold his public image of a helpful person.

At that point, all students in the school have had classes with Lockhart. Some people like Harry and Ron indeed saw through him as a fraud. They had already seen how he was incompetent with actual magic during the first Defense from the Dark Arts class. It wouldn't change their view of Lockhart if he fails yet another spell, a difficult healing spell in fact that most wizards probably couldn't perform.

Other people like Hermione (or Molly Weasley, who isn't at the school) were blinded by Lockhart's charms and manner and books. They may see it a noble act if Lockhart tries to help the suffering Harry, even if he doesn't quite get the best results possible.

  • His image had to components to it. Helpfulness was one, but the other was competence. If he had stayed in the stadium, he'd have lost no credibility. By volunteering to help and failing, he tarnished both components. And it could have been written differently. If everyone around Lockhart had pressured him into helping Harry because they believe the hype, and Lockhart reluctantly tries to help in order to save face, then that is not acting out of character. – Magikarp Master Jul 14 '17 at 7:20
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You'd be surprised, sometimes people get over-excited in the moment and over-estimate their abilities. It's reasonable that he got excited because he saw some kind of opportunity to impress people and show off and in the heat of the moment convinced himself that he could do it.

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From watching the films you can tell that Lockhart thinks very highly of himself and loves attention. Performing such a spell and having it work successfully would have made him look great in front of the entire school. Unfortunately, as we're all aware, it doesn't quite go as planned.

I feel like Lockhart genuinely believes he is able to perform these spells without problem, as he has been living a lie for such a long time, that even he is starting to believe in his "abilities".

  • the movies take certain liberties with the source material. At the core of my question is this point: Lockhart knows he sucks, because he is a con-artist. All of his success is based on the fact that he is good at appearing to be talented. Given that that is the case, why did he willingly put himself into a position where he could (and probably would) threaten his public image? BTW, is your username a Farscape reference? – Magikarp Master Jul 16 '17 at 14:53

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