Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez’s Locke & Key faced a long and arduous road of failed adaptations before we finally got a Netflix show earlier this year. Of course, the show made significant changes to the source material like adding a bunch of new keys, but no change is as enigmatic and full of potential as the addition of one Chamberlin Locke.
In the show, Chamberlin only made a short appearance in Episode 3 as a ghost on the grounds of the ancestral Keyhouse home. In the comics, though, Chamberlin has slowly been making a name for himself as a sort of parallel to Rendell Locke, father of the Locke children and the guy whose death kickstarts Locke & Key.
The very existence of Chamberlin Locke and the one-shot issues he appears in stem from the idea that Keyhouse has stood for hundreds of years, with endless stories taking place in and around that giant house. Just as The Haunting of Bly Manor is telling a different, yet thematically similar ghost story to that of The Haunting of Hill House, who is to say that the same can’t be done with Chamberlin Locke and his family?
Chamberlin Morse Walton Locke was first introduced in the 2011 “Open the Moon” standalone issue. Like Rendell, Chamberlin also grew up having all the magical keys of Keyhouse at his disposal. Only, instead of following in his father and grandfather’s tradition of using the keys to turn the tides of war in his favor, Chamberlin seemingly prefers to use them to explore the world, and even to use as magical gifts for his children.
This is all to say that, when Chamberlin’s son Ian got terminally ill and none of the keys seemed able to fix him, the old man became visibly distraught and heartbroken. What’s the use of a set of magical keys that helped win the Revolutionary War if they can’t save the one you love? Though only a one-off story, the themes in “Open the Moon” resonate with the comic’s main series, and how Tyler and his mom Nina Locke spent a lot of Locke & Key‘s run wishing they could find the one key that can bring Rendell back.
If Locke & Key is the last chapter in a long story of magical keys and their painful legacy, the story of Chamberlin Locke is the middle chapter — a story of growing up fully aware of this legacy and yet still being too naive to see how it can easily mess up your family forever.
Like Chamberlin, Rendell Locke grew up in Keyhouse with all the magical keys at his disposal. But by the time Rendell came of age, a key was added to the house that would make adults forget about magic. Rendell, being a hot-headed teenager who had grown used to relying on magical keys to help him get better at school and to make friends with his classmates, decided to prevent this by making his own key so he and his friends would remember magic. As we saw in the TV show, things went south and Rendell’s actions resulted in the death of most of his best friends.
Chamberlin never allowed demons to possess his children, and unlike Rendell’s parents, he was fully aware of the power of the keys when he was raising his kids. Chamberlin was able to teach his kids about both the wonders and the dangers of the keys, but he was as powerless as Rendell in stopping the keys from destroying his loved ones.
Chamberlin’s next two appearances in “Small World” and “In Pale Battalions Go” reinforce the idea of the main comics series that maybe, just maybe, raising your kids with magical keys that have previously served as weapons is not the best idea. In “Small World,” Chamberlin gives a magical dollhouse to his daughters Mary and Jean, but they accidentally let a spider into the house which turned into a giant spider in the real life-sized house. Though the problem gets solved rather quickly, watching the young Locke kids shows how different their upbringing was and how different their way of thinking is because of growing up with the keys compared to the Lockes of the Netflix show.
And in the latest Locke & Key mini-series, “In Pale Battalions Go,” Chamberlin’s house of cards is finally crumbling. The mini-series, which will serve as a prelude for the upcoming crossover with DC’s Sandman focuses on Chamberlin’s oldest son, John, in the early years of WWI. Growing up with stories of how his ancestors used the keys to win the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and having already shown his passion for fighting in “Small World,” John decides to betray his family, steal the keys, and head out to Europe to fight in the war.
We don’t yet know how “In Pale Battalions Go” ends, but the preview for the Sandman crossover says that John has been dead for 10 years. Additionally, the only other comics appearance by Chamberlin’s children takes place in “Grindhouse” during the depression era and we only see Chamberlin’s daughters Jean and Mary living in Keyhouse. No matter how big of a pacifist Chamberlin was, or how much he tried to shield his kids from the more dangerous keys by locking them away safely, he still loses his family because of them.
After realizing that living around magical weapons brings nothing but pain and suffering, Rendell Locke spent his entire adult life trying to get as far away from Keyhouse as he could — and yet that didn’t prevent his wife and kids from moving into Keyhouse and become the target of an interdimensional demon as seen in Locke & Key. Both men knew about the history of the keys and the Locke family, both the good and the bad, yet both were powerless to save those they loved from suffering because of the keys. Locke & Key, both the comic and the TV show, has history repeating itself as a major theme, with the Locke children doing many of the same mistakes their father did. And with Chamberlin Locke, we are now learning that the stories of magical keys messing with people’s lives go back decades before Rendell ever tried to open a door to another dimension.
Now that Locke & Key is about to go back into production, we may already have an answer for what the show may do if it goes beyond the story of the comics (which may happen sooner rather than later, given the first season already adapted half of the original comic). The story of Chamberlin Locke is not only an exciting and tragic story in itself, but it offers an interesting parallel to that of Rendell Locke and his children, opening up the possibility for the Netflix adaptation to go beyond Tyler, Bode, and Kinsey.