Spoilers: For all five books
Email: gmth @ livejournal.com
Personal Website: My website
All page number references are from the US hardback editions of the books.
SS = Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
CoS = Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
PoA = Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
GoF = Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
OotP = Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Lucius Malfoy is one of the most important minor characters in the Harry Potter series. His influence on Harry -- both on his own and through his son Draco -- is a major factor in the books and a driving force behind several key plot points. Although Lucius is only a minor character, I also consider him to be one of the most fascinating characters in the books, mainly because canon provides us with so little information about him, and what information we do have often leads Lucius fans to contradictory conclusions about his personality and motivations.
What We Know About Lucius For Sure, or, The Shortest Part of This Essay
Let's start with the known facts. The Malfoys are, according to Cornelius Fudge, a "very old family" (p. 706, GoF) of pureblood wizarding descent. Lucius, the current patriarch of the Malfoy family, is 41 years old as of OotP (p. 307). He, his wife Narcissa, and their son Draco live in a large house in Wiltshire, UK; the house is large enough to be labeled a "mansion" by the Daily Prophet, though Lucius himself calls it a "manor" (p. 53, CoS). Dobby, the Malfoy's former house-elf, tells Harry the Malfoys are a family of "bad Dark wizards" (p. 381, GoF), an accusation we later discover to be quite true when we learn Lucius is part of Voldemort's inner circle of Death Eaters. We also know Lucius is a bigot who prides himself on being a pureblood wizard and subscribes to Salazar Slytherin's belief that those of Muggle parentage are second-class citizens unworthy of studying or using magic.
And that's about all we really know for certain. Nearly every other aspect of Lucius's life and personality is up for interpretation, and the fandom interpretations are many. The rest of this essay will describe Lucius as I see and write him, and while it is, in my opinion, a logical interpretation of his canon persona, it is not by any means the only reasonable one.
The principal attribute defining Lucius's personality is his bigotry. He exhibits his hatred of all things not pureblood in a variety of ways, not the least of which is upbraiding Arthur Weasley for keeping company with Muggles (in front of Hermione's Muggle parents, no less!) (p. 62, CoS) and sneering at Hermione in front of the Minister of Magic in the Top Box at the Quidditch World Cup (p. 101, GoF). Many theories have been advanced as to the reasons behind this bigotry. I believe it has its roots in resentment toward those who have not been reared in the traditions of the pureblood wizarding world suddenly learning they are able to do magic. I imagine the influx of such people into the highly secretive wizarding world represents not only a security risk but a cultural risk, and I suspect people like Lucius refuse to accept that such change is not only inevitable but necessary for the wizarding world's continued existence. On the contrary, I believe his outrage stems from being told he must accept Muggle-born witches and wizards as his equals, despite the fact that his family has been doing magic for generations and Muggle-borns obtained their powers only recently and most likely due to some sort of genetic accident.
Lucius has a short fuse. He tries to disguise it with a veneer of cold civility, but it seems his temper is always boiling just below the surface, and he has been known to erupt into violent temper tantrums when things don't go his way. He throws Dumbledore's office door open so violently at the end of CoS that it bounces back off the wall, nearly knocking Harry off his feet, apparently so incensed at Dumbledore's return to the school that he left home before he finished attending to his personal grooming (p. 334, CoS). His eyes narrow into "slits of fury" (p. 335, CoS), and his hands "clench and unclench" (p. 336, CoS) as he hisses at Harry before kicking Dobby through the door on his way out (p. 337, CoS). He promises Harry he will meet the same "sticky end" as his parents, then lunges at him once he realizes Harry has tricked him into setting Dobby free (p. 338, CoS). In OotP, he "roars" (p.783) and "bawls" (p. 785) at the Death Eaters under his command in his own brief moments of capslock madness, then barks orders at them angrily once Harry and the other students make their escape. These are brief scenes in the overall scheme of things, but considering how few appearances Lucius actually makes in the books they account for a relatively large proportion of his known behavior.
I believe there is also ample evidence in canon to suggest that Lucius has quite a sadistic streak. I say this first and foremost because he is a Death Eater, one of a group of people who, despite their use of generally benign spells during the battle in the Department of Mysteries, killed a lot of Muggles "for fun" during the first reign of Voldemort (p. 143, GoF). Further, he is not only a member of the Death Eaters, but apparently Voldemort's lieutenant, as we see him in command of other Death Eaters at the end of OotP. Voldemort himself tells us that Lucius "took the lead in a spot of Muggle-torture" at the Quidditch World Cup (p. 650, GoF), an incident in which the Death Eaters suspended a family of Muggles (including two small children) in mid-air, then spun one of the children "like a top" until his head began "flopping from side to side" (p. 120, GoF). (How Voldemort knows Lucius was the leader of this escapade is unclear; however, Lucius does not deny it when Voldemort makes the accusation.) Lucius also treats Dobby abominably. In addition to the vicious kick he delivered to Dobby in Dumbledore's office, he gave the elf the flogging of his life simply because Dobby let his dinner burn (p. 176, CoS) and threatens the elf's life "five times a day at home" (p. 177 CoS). Finally, he chose 11-year-old Ginny Weasley to be the victim of Riddle's influence via the diary just because he disliked her father. Again, these are small incidents scattered throughout the books, but they add up to an undeniable pattern of cruelty and disregard for the feelings and rights of others.
Lucius is not above cutting others down with a variety of petty insults. When he's not calling Arthur Weasley a "disgrace to the name of wizard" (p. 62, CoS) or "a flea-bitten, Muggle-loving fool" (p. 51, CoS), he is calling Harry "Patronus Potter" in front of the Minster of Magic (p. 154, OotP) or referring to Ginny Weasley as a "stupid little girl" in front of Dumbledore (p. 336, CoS). This kind of condescending banter is apparently a running commentary in the Malfoy home, as well, given Draco's first words to Ron ("My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford", p. 108, SS) and his attitude toward Dumbledore during the polyjuice scene in CoS ("Father's always said old Dumbledore's the worst thing that's ever happened to this place", p. 222). Lucius saves his most vehement insults for Arthur Weasley and his family, which is indicative of a long and bitter rivalry between the two men and shows Lucius does not reserve his contempt for Muggles, half-bloods and Muggle-borns alone, but spreads it equally among all whom he considers to be outside his class.
I believe there is also evidence pointing to the idea that Lucius is a coward. I have no direct canon evidence to support this assertion, though an argument can be made that his talking his way out of Azkaban by insisting he was "bewitched" (p. 110, SS) is a sign of cowardice (or, conversely, that he was simply acting like any Slytherin would). He and the other Death Eaters also Disapparated immediately when they saw the Dark Mark after the Quidditch World Cup, an act which Bill Weasley assumes was done out of fear (p. 143, GoF). But in my opinion, the best evidence hinting that Lucius is a coward is the way Draco behaves. Draco appears to be a near carbon copy of his father -- he and Lucius are described similarly in nearly all aspects, from the way they look, to the drawling manner in which they speak, to the use of petty insults on those they hold in contempt, to their bigotry toward those who are not purebloods. Draco has shown himself to be a coward in several instances throughout the series (e.g., he runs away screaming when the hooded figure appears in the Forbidden Forest at the end of SS and nearly "wets himself" [p. 97, PoA] when the dementors board the Hogwarts Express). I believe this tendency toward cowardice is yet another trait that Draco learned from his father. In addition, both Draco and Lucius are bullies, a personality pattern which many theorize springs from cowardice.
Another major personality trait which defines Lucius's character is his apparent need to exert total control over any situation which could be turned to his benefit. There seems to be nothing he is unwilling to do in order to advance his own goals, even to offering up an innocent young girl to the possession of a madman or threatening the families of his fellow Governors if they don't agree to help him oust Dumbledore. He also uses the press to deliver a mixture of half-truth and propaganda whenever the opportunity presents itself. The most consistent manner in which Lucius manipulates his environment, however, is via his wealth, as demonstrated by the following passage from OotP:
"What private business have (Lucius and Fudge) got together, anyway?" (Harry asked.)
"'Gold, I expect," said Mr. Weasley angrily. "Malfoy's been giving generously to all sorts of things for years . . . gets him in with the right people . . . then he can ask favors . . . delay laws he doesn't want passed . . . oh, he's very well-connected, Lucius Malfoy." (p. 155)
Both Arthur and Cornelius Fudge make several references to Lucius's willingness to buy influence through "donations to excellent causes" (p. 706, GoF). While this may have earned him a certain degree of respect in the wizarding world, it is unclear if it has earned him any genuine friendship (though it is equally unclear if friendship actually matters to Lucius; he seems more interested in striking fear into the hearts of his fellows than he does in creating a sense of camaraderie). There is some canon evidence that Lucius and Snape have a friendship of sorts; Sirius's "lapdog" comment (p. 520, OotP) and Umbridge's reference to Lucius speaking "most highly" of Snape (p. 745, OotP) point to a long-term, cordial relationship between the two men (and also serve as canon justification for the Snape/Lucius ship). However, whether the friendship exists today in light of Snape's spying at the end of the first war is unknown. An excellent essay laying out the canon evidence and several possible scenarios for the Lucius/Snape relationship can be found in this post by kitsunelover.
There has been some debate in the fandom regarding the size of the Malfoy family's fortune and whether they are "new money" or "old money," based primarily on the fact that Lucius's ostentatious displays of wealth are inconsistent with the way wealthy Englishmen of old-money families typically behave. As an American, I can't argue with this point of view as it is not something I claim familiarity with, but it is not one with which I personally agree. I believe the Malfoy fortune to be vast, based on Lucius's many contributions and his willingness to purchase seven expensive brooms for the Slytherin Quidditch team in order to procure a spot for Draco. In addition, I dislike applying the standards of the Muggle world on the wizarding world, where such behaviors may be completely different than what we might expect. Also, the very fact that affluent Muggles behave circumspectly about their wealth may be exactly what drives Lucius to flaunt his, as yet another means of separating himself from those he loathes so much.
Lucius As A Husband
We know almost nothing about Lucius's wife, Narcissa. She is mentioned by name only a handful of times in the books, and to date we have only seen her once, when she, Lucius and Draco attended the Quidditch World Cup in GoF. Other than the fact that she is one of three sisters (Bellatrix and Andromeda are her siblings) and cousin to Sirius, we have little or no concrete information about her, and as a result the fandom appears to be of two minds about Narcissa.
On the one hand, there are those who insist Narcissa is a strong woman who wields a lot of power in the Malfoy family. On the other, there are many who characterize Narcissa as little more than a shrewish trophy wife (assuming they choose to create a characterization for her at all). The former view appears to be based on two points in canon, the first of which is the fact that both of her sisters have very strong personalities (Bellatrix is a fanatical Voldemort supporter and Andromeda broke with Black family tradition in order to marry a Muggle-born). The second is the following passage from GoF, which implies that Lucius is willing to be swayed by Narcissa's opinion:
"...Father actually considered sending me to Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts, you know. He knows the headmaster, you see. Well, you know his opinion of Dumbledore - the man's such a Mudblood-lover - and Durmstrang doesn't admit that sort of riffraff. But Mother didn't like the idea of me going to school so far away (Draco said)." (p. 165)
These are valid interpretations of canon, in my opinion; however, they are not interpretations I personally agree with. I find the argument that Narcissa must be a strong woman because her sisters are strong rather odd. Being one of several siblings myself, I know it's quite possible for siblings to have very different personalities. To draw an parallel in the HP-verse, it's like saying all of the Weasley children must be loyal to Dumbledore and the Order because six of them are, and, well, as of OotP we know that isn't the case.
I also have my doubts about Draco's statement regarding his mother not wanting him to attend school so far away. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if Draco is grandstanding for Crabbe and Goyle when he says this. However, even if the statement is true, I don't feel it necessarily leads to the conclusion that Narcissa has Lucius wrapped around her little finger. I personally believe it is more likely that she nagged Lucius about it until he gave in just to quieten her. Draco exhibits this kind of behavior himself, and there is a possibility that he saw it in action at home. I actually see no canon evidence at all that Narcissa is a particularly strong woman; on the contrary, since she appears to share her husband's ideological beliefs, I believe if she truly were strong she would have become a Death Eater herself, whether Lucius wanted her to or not.
The question of Narcissa's personality becomes important when one is trying to decide how to characterize the Malfoy's marriage. The lack of clear-cut information either way leaves plenty of room to play with the nature of their relationship. On the one hand, it is reasonable to assume Lucius and Narcissa are in love with one another, simply by virtue of the fact that they are married and managed to produce a child. Proponents of this point of view tend to characterize Lucius as completely smitten with his wife and willing to go to any lengths to keep her happy. On the other, it is also reasonable to assume they married because each of their families insisted they marry another pureblood and only another pureblood (which, according to Sirius, means their choices were "very limited", p. 113, OotP), and, after producing an heir, never touched one another again. We won't know for certain unless and until we get some solid evidence one way or the other in future books.
Lucius As A Father
Lucius's role as a father is another subject which has inspired a lot of debate in the fandom. The popularity of the Lucius/Draco ship and the many fics which portray Lucius as physically abusive towards Draco have created a kind of backlash from those who believe these characterizations are inconsistent with the way Lucius is portrayed in canon.
Lucius and Draco appear together in canon twice (once in CoS and once in GoF), but we really only see them interacting with one another during the Borgin and Burkes scene in CoS. It is this scene which most critics of the abusive!Lucius characterization turn to as proof of their position, an excellent example of which can be found in this essay by soldurios. I agree with this view to a certain extent, in that I don't believe Lucius is physically abusive. There is no canon evidence that he has ever been beaten (although it can be argued that he has and Harry -- who is not terribly observant, especially when it comes to the Slytherins -- just never noticed). However, I believe there is a strong possibility that Lucius is emotionally abusive toward his son. I base this belief on the following two passages:
"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you? They're just not the same, they've never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families," (Draco said.) (p. 78, SS)
"It's not my fault," retorted Draco. "The teachers all have favorites, that Hermione Granger -"
"I would have thought you'd be ashamed that a girl of no wizard family beat you in every exam," snapped Mr. Malfoy. (p. 52, CoS)
In the first passage, we get our first glimpse of the anti-Muggle/Muggle-born prejudice with which Draco is being raised -- surely an 11-year-old would not have developed an opinion like that on his own. So he is at once being told he is superior because he was born into a pureblood family, and yet also told he is a disappointment because he's not even as good as a common Mudblood like Hermione Granger. Given Lucius's penchant for insults and angry outbursts, I believe it is quite possible that this kind of conflicting message is often delivered in the Malfoy home, as well as a variety of other, even more harmful ones. How confusing that must be for Draco! Is it any wonder he is constantly grandstanding at Hogwarts, trying to make himself seem more important than he really is? I would imagine he needs that kind of validation from his cronies at school in order to build himself up enough to face his father -- whom he clearly idolizes and most likely wants to impress -- once he returns home.
Much has also been made of the fact that Lucius reacted so harshly when Draco was attacked by Buckbeak the hippogriff in PoA. Some interpret this to mean Lucius is a concerned and caring father looking out for his son's best interests. Again, I disagree with this idea, as it seems more likely to me that Lucius is simply looking for yet another way to throw his weight around, both at Hogwarts and within the wizarding community at large. And it doesn't hurt, I'm sure, that by pressing for Buckbeak's execution, he is also making trouble for both Hagrid -- whom he apparently views as "a sort of savage" (p. 78, SS, as spoken by Draco) -- and Dumbledore.
Lucius spoils Draco, this is true, but does he do it out of love? Does he do it because the child whines and nags until Lucius does what he asks, just to shut him up? Or does he use money as a substitute for love? As of the end of OotP we don't know for sure, and all interpretations of their relationship are equally valid. From where I sit, however, I don't see Lucius as a particularly warm or caring father, but rather as a physically and emotionally distant one.
Lucius As A Death Eater
This aspect of Lucius's personality is arguably the most ambiguous of all the mysteries surrounding him. Why would a man of his wealth and influence decide to become a Death Eater? Why would he choose to serve a half-blood master such as Voldemort, when he is clearly prejudiced against half-bloods and Muggle-borns? Is he really loyal to Voldemort? Wouldn't his goals be better served via political means?
Sadly, I don't think these questions will ever be definitively answered in the books. JKR does not appear willing to develop the Slytherins beyond their current roles as one-dimensional Bad Guys, and has, in fact, scoffed at the idea there is anything deeper to them in several recent interviews. It wouldn't surprise me if the many excellent Lucius writers in the fandom have given more thought to developing his character than JKR has or ever will. In any case, I don't believe there is anything more to canon!Lucius than has already been presented to us about him in the books. He became a Death Eater because Voldemort was committed to a cause he believed in, and his wealth was not an issue in that decision. He is loyal to Voldemort because it suits JKR's plot for him to be loyal. And JKR most likely made him a rich man for no other reason than to create an evil character who is the antithesis of everything his "good" counterparts (i.e., the Weasley family) are and stand for, and/or because it would let him talk or buy his way out of sticky situations such as being a suspected Death Eater at the end of the first war. That said, it's still an interesting exercise to try to piece together what might have happened based on the few canon facts we do have.
It is never stated clearly in canon whether Lucius interacted with Riddle's diary or not, but I consider it a safe assumption that he did. He obviously knew what would happen if Ginny Weasley learned how to use the diary, based on the fact that Dobby warned Harry he'd known about "a plot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts" for months (p. 16, CoS). In order to concoct such a plot, Lucius must have known Tom Riddle was the Heir of Slytherin, able to open the Chamber of Secrets and release the basilisk. But did he also know Tom Riddle and Lord Voldemort were the same person?
Perhaps not. Dumbledore tells us: "Very few people know that Lord Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle... he... underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here" (p. 329, CoS). Assuming the diary didn't tell Lucius Tom Riddle had gone on to become Lord Voldemort, it's entirely possible Lucius didn't know Voldemort was actually a half-blood when he decided to join the Death Eaters.
But even if he did, it's not such a big leap to think he would have become a Death Eater anyway. Voldemort is frequently described as second in power only to Dumbledore, who is himself described as the greatest wizard of the current age. Lucius was surely drawn to that kind of power, and the fact that Voldemort was the Heir of Slytherin was likely a big component of the decision, as well. Lucius may have even considered Voldemort's ancestry to be a kind of dispensation which allowed him to justify overlooking the taint of Muggle blood just this once.
This may explain why Lucius joined the Death Eaters in the first place, but why then did he return to Voldemort's service at the end of GoF? Well, I don't see that he had any other choice. When the Mark burned, he knew he had to go or else face Voldemort's wrath. Sirius tells us, "You don't just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It's a lifetime of service or death" (p. 112, OotP). Lucius certainly knew this. Whether he wanted to go or not is immaterial at that point if, as I suggested earlier, Lucius is a coward. He went in order to ensure he didn't suffer the same fate as Regulus Black, and in any case, he may have assumed (falsely, as it turns out) his connections at the Ministry would keep him out of hot water if anything went wrong.
As to why Lucius did not attempt to further his goals via political means, I believe he is the kind of man who prefers to be perceived as the power behind the throne rather than the one seated upon it. This explains why he goes to such lengths to curry Cornelius Fudge's favor rather than seeking the office of Minister of Magic himself, as well as why he sat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors rather than in the headmaster's chair. In this way, he can still exert a considerable amount of influence but also has someone to blame if things don't go exactly as planned (a lesson which was no doubt reinforced when the Killing Curse rebounded on Voldemort and Lucius was able to keep himself out of Azkaban by claiming he'd been under the Imperius Curse). The one time we actually do get to see him in command of others (i.e., in the Department of Mysteries at the end of OotP), he fails spectacularly and ends up paying a terrible price. He appears to be better suited to pulling others' strings than to being the person leading the charge; it's possible he even recognizes himself as an ineffective leader and has chosen to play a lesser -- but still important -- role, instead. Unfortunately for Lucius, the two men to whom he chose to play second fiddle (i.e., Fudge and Voldemort) are not particularly effective leaders themselves.
Movie!Lucius vs. Book!Lucius
While the majority of this essay has dealt with Lucius as he is presented in the books, I would be remiss if I did not mention the impact the movie version of CoS has had on the fandom. Many Lucius fans (including myself) did not truly sit up and take notice of the character until Jason Isaacs portrayed him onscreen. And while there is no question but that he played the character masterfully, in some ways he did the fandom a disservice by creating a fanon persona which bears little resemblance to the Lucius Malfoy of the books.
Primary among the differences between movie!Lucius and book!Lucius is his appearance. JKR describes Lucius as having "sleek hair" (p. 334, CoS) and "the same pale, pointed face and identical cold, gray eyes" as Draco (p. 50, CoS). The image of Lucius with long, blond hair, severely-cut dark robes and an ebony cane with the silver head of a serpent was entirely Jason Isaacs' idea, according to an interview in Total Film magazine (December, 2002):
"When I first got the job I went and met with the costume designer, and he said, 'We were thinking of putting you in a pinstriped suit and cropped hair.' And I went, 'That's interesting, because I would have waist-length blond hair and ermine and fur and paisley.' And he replied, 'Oh shit! Really?'"
This image of Lucius has become ubiquitous throughout fandom since the movie was released. It is rare -- if not impossible -- to find fan fic or fan art that does not incorporate these elements, none of which are present in the books.
The abusive!Lucius characterization I discussed earlier may also have its roots in Isaacs's portrayal of Lucius, especially among fans who own the DVD and have seen the deleted scene in Borgin and Burkes in which Lucius whacks Draco around with his cane a fair bit. Isaacs himself is apparently a proponent of the abusive!Lucius characterization, as illustrated by the following quote from a roundtable interview conducted with Isaacs in October, 2002:
"When I arrived and we played the first scene, we went straight into the first scene, and I just grabbed (Tom Felton) by the ear, and then I rapped him on the knuckles, and he looked up at me really hurt. I didn't know if it was Tom or Draco that was looking so hurt, because I just thought it was right that Lucius is a really horrible dad, a really abusive dad."
Movie!Lucius is also a very smooth character. He radiates menace and tends to speak softly when he is angry, which is also a bit of a departure from the books. With the exception of the ridiculous scene at the end of the movie where he nearly hits Harry with a Killing Curse, he manages to keep his temper below the surface during scenes in which book!Lucius loses his cool, and he does not get into the undignified fistfight with Arthur Weasley in Flourish and Blotts. This smooth, cool characterization has also found its way into fanon, but it is not entirely consistent with JKR's presentation of the character. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual reader; I personally enjoy it because it makes Lucius more fun to write, but I can see how those who staunchly prefer the books to the movies might find the differences objectionable.
Lucius Malfoy is a thoroughly unpleasant fellow, but I love him to bits. Though I would never want to know a person like Lucius in real life, as a fictional character he is fun to read and write about because he is so cold, so angry, so arrogant, so bigoted and so irredeemably evil -- in short, he is one of the most flawed characters in the Harry Potter novels, and it is precisely this flawed nature, in my opinion, that makes getting into his head such an interesting and enjoyable exercise.