Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
Harry lies, telling Quirrell that he sees himself in the mirror winning the house cup for Gryffindor. Voldemort tells Quirrell that Harry is lying. Wishing to speak directly to Harry now, Voldemort tells Quirrell to unwrap his turban. Harry is shocked to find Voldemort’s face on the back of Quirrell’s head—Voldemort is a shape-shifter and has been using Quirrell’s body. Voldemort tries to persuade Harry to give him the stone, which he knows is in Harry’s pocket. He tells Harry to join him rather than resist and be killed like his parents. Harry refuses and Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize Harry. Quirrell tries, but each time he grabs for Harry, his hand blisters as if burned. Harry grabs Quirrell, putting him in tremendous pain; meanwhile, the pain in Harry’s forehead scar is steadily increasing. As the struggle intensifies, Harry feels himself losing hold of Quirrell and falling.
When Harry regains consciousness, Dumbledore is standing over him. Harry starts telling Dumbledore that Quirrell has the stone, but Dumbledore tells him to relax. Harry realizes that he is in the hospital. He asks Dumbledore again about the stone and Dumbledore tells him that he arrived just in time to save Harry from Quirrell. Dumbledore adds that he spoke with Nicolas Flamel and they decided to destroy the stone. He explains also that Quirrell could not touch Harry because Harry was protected by his mother’s love. Dumbledore also reveals that it was he who left the invisibility cloak for Harry and explains that there was enmity between Snape and Harry’s father, much like the enmity between Malfoy and Harry. Furthermore, Dumbledore explains how Harry ended up with the stone; Harry was the only one who wanted to find the stone for itself rather than for what the stone could obtain.
Harry gets out of his hospital bed to go to the end-of-year feast. The dining hall is decorated in Slytherin colors to celebrate Slytherin’s seventh consecutive win of the championship cup. Dumbledore rises to speak and announces that in light of recent events, more points need to be given out. He awards Ron and Hermione fifty points each and Harry sixty points for their feats in getting to the stone. Gryffindor thus pulls into a tie with Slytherin. Dumbledore then adds that Neville has been awarded ten points for learning bravery. Gryffindor pulls ahead into first place, thus winning the house cup.
When school grades finally arrive, Harry and Ron do well, and Hermione is at the top of the class. They all pack and head to the train station to go back to their homes. Harry, Hermione, and Ron say their good-byes for the summer and Harry heads home, eager to use a little magic on Dudley Dursley.
Quirrell’s comment about the Sorcerer’s Stone and his affections for Voldemort that “[t]here is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to see it” evoke important philosophical ideas. The sentiments Quirrell expresses underlie one of the classic works of political theory, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. In this sixteenth-century work Machiavelli wrote about how rulers should expand their power with no regard for morality or justice. The distinction Quirrell makes here between “power” and “those too weak to see it” follows the principles that Machiavelli laid out. Quirrell’s statement also echoes the thought of nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that individual human will and striving are more important and relevant than morality and more impressive than flimsy notions of right and wrong. The ideas of these two philosophers emphasize the individual at the expense of the common good, and Voldemort embodies their values.
By placing these sentiments in the mouth of Quirrell, who is as pathetic and squirrelly as his name suggests, Rowling rejects the idea that the world should be based on power and domination of others. It is fine to cultivate power; Dumbledore’s power, after all, is exceptional and praiseworthy. But the story suggests that with power comes responsibility toward others and that responsibility includes a sense of what is right and wrong. Dumbledore shows the students that Slytherin House may have acquired a lot of points but that victory should go to the house that has been engaged in a just and righteous struggle. This is surely also the reason that Flamel is induced to destroy the Sorcerer’s Stone; it is a source of incredible power, but there is no guarantee that its power will be used properly, and so it must be destroyed. Power is important, but morality is more so.
The wisdom of limiting one’s desires is revealed at the end, when Dumbledore tells Harry that, for Nicolas Flamel, dying will be a pleasant experience of relief, “like going to bed after a very, very long day.” Dumbledore’s earlier advice to Harry to refrain from looking in the Mirror of Erised becomes relevant here, as Dumbledore suggests that while it is important to reflect on one’s deepest desire, it is also important to keep that desire in perspective and perhaps even to limit it. Eternal life—the very thing promised by the Sorcerer’s Stone and the very thing many have been desiring—might not be as valuable as those seeking it have thought. Flamel is close to achieving immortality, and yet he prefers to die. Dumbledore points out that living forever could actually become tiresome, and that the desire for it may be misinformed.
While Flamel and Dumbledore ultimately understand that eternal life may not be such a good goal, Voldemort’s fatal flaw is that he is misinformed about what is important in life but is never able to realize it. Voldemort lives for his own desires, but as we discover toward the end, he is not really living at all: he does not even have his own body, but must live by stealing others’ bodies (again, one meaning of the French word vol is “theft”). But Voldemort lacks more than a body; he lacks a soul as well. Living by desire, he has no real life. Nor does he have any love, as Dumbledore explains to Harry. Love is the one thing that Voldemort cannot understand, which is why he is burned by the traces of motherly love on Harry’s body. The greatest lesson learned throughout this adventure may be that love for others is more valuable than the pursuit of one’s own desires (which is really nothing more than love for oneself).