Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J. K. Rowling
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Chapter 17

Summary Chapter 17

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).