Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Hallows

Just finished Hog’s Head Conversations: Essays on Harry Potter, edited by Travis Prinzi, which is a fine collection of essays (which I have reviewed here). But I did want to hit a brief thought that occurred to me in the course of reading David Jones’ essay, “Interpret Your Findings Correctly: Harry’s Magical Self-Discovery.” In this essay, Jones argues that Harry’s self-education comes through his contact with his invisibility cloak, the Mirror of Erised, and the Pensieve.

My mind immediately jumped to the three Deathly Hallows, and I wondered if there was any connection between Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows. In other words, is there a Hallows quest in Philosopher’s Stone? There are enough connections (over thirty direct parallels, in fact) between the two books to make such a thought at least possible, and so I set out here below to meditate on this possibility.

There are three Hallows in the final book; the Invisibility Cloak, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand. Are there three comparable objects in Philosopher’s Stone to justify arguing for such a thing? I think so, though we must look carefully and closely to find them. I think there are indeed three objects in Stone to warrant such a claim. The invisibility cloak is found readily enough, but what of the Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand?

The philosopher’s stone itself is the Resurrection Stone; or at least, the two are structurally parallel, and Rowling is asking us to compare them. The story arcs which Harry goes through with regard to both stones is nearly identical. In Stone, when the trio first discover what the philosopher’s stone does – make one immortal and turn all it touches to gold – Harry says, “Who wouldn’t want it?” In Hallows, Harry similarly desires the Resurrection Stone (DH, 414). Though Harry’s angst in Stone is not clearly shown, it is there in the parallel. In both books, Harry arrives at the end of the book and it is in not desiring each Stone that allows him to possess it. In Stone, he seeks the Stone not for himself but to keep it from evil purposes, and he gains the Stone. In Hallows, Harry reaches the forest again and finds the Stone within the Snitch and realizes that the Stone works for him because he is not trying to bring the dead back: “He was not really fetching them: they were fetching him,” and therefore it does not “matter about bringing them back, for he was about to join them,” (DH, 698). Furthermore, Harry gains both Stones just before undergoing a death-and-resurrection; in Stone he gains the Stone only to fall into unconsciousness, rising on the third day; in Hallows, Harry finds the Stone in the forest, just before surrendering to Voldemort and being literally killed and raised from the dead.

So what then is the Elder Wand? The answer is not immediately clear, because we will hunt in vain for an invincible wand in the first book. The solution will be somewhat more subtle and buried. We must look to the deeper things. The central aspect of Harry’s hunt for the Wand is desire; he is blindly and irrationally obsessed with desire for the Wand. To find the third Hallow we must look for an irrational obsession or desire in Philosopher’s Stone, one which occurs in the middle portion of the book (since Harry’s desire for the Elder Wand spans the middle portion of Hallows). If you’re any sort of serious reader of the Potter books, only one incident leaps to mind. The Mirror of Erised. Erised, of course, is Desire, spelled backward, and the Inkling scholar Colin Manlove (in the same Hog’s Head essay collection) identifies the central theme of the first book as Harry dealing with desire (p. 9), and particularly in transforming selfish desire into selfless desire to rescue and save and protect. Harry becomes obsessed with seeing his parents every night, and finally Dumbledore must intercede and remind Harry that it is not good to dwell on dreams and forget to live; in so doing, Dumbledore is reforming Harry’s desires. He is saying that it does not do to dwell on desires and forget to live.

This is paralleled in Hallows when Harry must again choose to listen to Dumbledore’s instructions and abandon his selfish desires for the Wand and selflessly hunt for Horcruxes instead. He is essentially internalizing Dumbledore’s earlier statement: “I must ask you not to go looking for it [the Mirror] again.” And indeed, Harry does not look for it, but he does find it. Just so, in Hallows, Harry gives up the Hallows hunt and does not look for them again, but he does find them again. By not looking for them, they are delivered into his hands, just like with the Mirror.

Another close tie between the Wand and the Mirror is Dumbledore himself, who serves almost as a bridge between them. Indeed, what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror is his sister Ariana, who was tragically struck down because of Dumbledore’s own selfish desire for the Hallows, and in particular, the Elder Wand itself – the only Hallow Dumbledore and Grindelwald desired or valued in their youth. Though we are given little textual information on this, it would not be a stretch to imagine that after Ariana’s death Dumbledore became just as obsessed over the Mirror as Harry was. Dumbledore is, after all, in some ways the Mirror’s keeper, and it is his contribution to the protections given to guard the Stone; thus, Harry’s turning away from the Mirror itself mirrors Dumbledore’s own journey from selfishness to selflessness.

Yet there is another structural connection, and this is in the progression of revealed objects in each book. In Philosopher’s Stone, the Cloak comes first, then the Mirror, then the Stone. The progression is the same in Deathly Hallows, in which we have Harry frequently using the Cloak, then we have Harry’s burning desire for the Wand, and then at the very end of the book do we have the Stone. Cloak/Cloak, Mirror/Wand, Stone/Stone.

This does nothing but further reveal to me just how intricately plotted and structured the Harry Potter books really are.

  4 comments for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Hallows

  1. Malachi Clark
    September 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    My reading of he Hallows is that it was Ron who was obsessed with the wand. When the three declared which Hallow they would want most, Ron said, “The wand,”; Hermione said, “The cloak”; and Harry said, “The stone”. But his main concern for the hallows was to have all three.

  2. September 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Malachi, thanks for commenting. It is true that when each of the trio declares which Hallow they want most, Ron does say he desires the Wand. But in the middle section of the novel, it is the Wand Harry is most obsessed with. The book uses those terms several times, “longing,” “burning desire,” “obsessing” for Harry toward the Wand. It’s all he can think about for a long span of chapters from (roughly) chapter 21 when he hears the tale, all the way to the burial of Dobby at Shell Cottage. “desire for the Elder Wand . . . . unbeatable, invincible, swallowed him once more . . . . he could think only of the Deathly Hallows . . . longing for the Hallows burned inside him.” (DH, 435). Finally at Shell Cottage, he realizes “he no longer burned with that weird, obsessive longing,” (DH, 479, 484).

    It is the major temptation which Harry must confront and overcome. Harry wants the Stone personally, but in the end the Wand would enable him to destroy Voldemort. It would guarantee his survival, and giving it up becomes the first step towards his ultimate sacrifice later at the end of the novel.

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