20th Anniversary Special – Experiencing the Magic Again: “Philosopher’s Stone” Analysis, Part Three!

philosophers stone

Jun 26, 2017

Posted by: Lainey Ruffner | Comments

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On the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we’re concluding our re-read from where we left off last time at the end of Chapter 12 where Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised with the help of the invisibility cloak. Part three will cover everything from the discovery of the identity of Nicolas Flamel up until the epic conclusion of the book, thanks for reading along with us!

(Find Part One here, and Part Two here)

CHAPTER 13: Nicolas Flamel

Philosopher's Stone Printable by Gaddia

Image by Gaddia gaddia.deviantart.com

FAVORITE QUOTE: “You’re worth 12 of Malfoy. The Sorting Hat chose you for Gyffindor, didn’t it? And where’s Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin.”

FAVORITE MOMENT: Harry winning the Quidditch match as Ron and Neville take on Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle in the stands.

FUNNIEST MOMENT: When Hermione brings out the enormous old book she checked out for a bit of “light reading.”

CHAPTER ANALYSIS: Although the whole book thus far has been dotted with little clues and foreshadowing they now start to come together. The trio finally learns who Nicolas Flamel is and discovers that the hidden item must be the Philospher’s Stone, an item that provides an elixir of life. During this chapter Harry also overhears Snape and Quirrell arguing about the stone in the forest. This confirms their guess about the Philosopher’s Stone and also leads Harry to believe that the stone is only safe as long as Quirrell doesn’t tell Snape how to get past his enchantment and as long as he can’t get past Fluffy. This is when they really start to worry about the safety of the stone since it seems as if there is no way Quirrell will be able to stand up to Snape much longer.

Another key scene that will have a larger role later in the book is the moment when Harry tells Neville that he needs to stand up for himself. Using Harry’s words as encouragement Neville tries to stand up to Malfoy at the Quidditch match and he taunts Ron and him. Unfortunately we also know that Neville’s increasing courage will not be in the trio’s favor later on.

CHAPTER 14: Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback

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Image by Lisa Villella lisaveeee.tumblr.com

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Bless him, look, he knows his mummy!”

FAVORITE MOMENT: Malfoy getting detention.

FUNNIEST MOMENT: Hagrid doting over Norbert as if he were his own baby.

CHAPTER ANALYSIS: It’s always around this part of the first book that I start thinking the story is starting to wrap up and then realize how much still has yet to happen. The whole Norbert fiasco of this chapter doesn’t really add much to the book (or so it seems until we find out about the source of the dragon egg), but it sets up for the trip into the Forbidden Forest. I sort of hate Harry in this scene for getting caught, for a plan that seemed so ridiculous and farfetched to actually be carried out seamlessly  seems too good to be true and then they blow it all by forgetting the invisibility cloak. How they could be so stupid?! Sometimes I find myself becoming unbelievably frustrated at certain parts of the books that I have to pull myself away and remember that it’s just a story.

This is also when we learn from Hagrid that there are enchantments from multiple teachers’ guarding the stone and that Snape was one of the contributors. Instead of this information comforting Harry it makes him concerned that it must have been that much easier for Snape to then figure out how to get past the other teachers’ enchantments. Hagrid, however, assures them he and Dumbledore are the only ones who know how to get past Fluffy which makes them feel a little better.

CHAPTER 15: The Forbidden Forest

The Forbidden Forest

Image by Laura Tolton laurajanetolton.wordpress.com

FAVORITE QUOTE: “I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”

FAVORITE MOMENT: Firenze saving Harry from Voldemort in the forest.

FUNNIEST MOMENT: Hagrid questioning the centaurs about whether they’ve seen anything unusual and them repeatedly  just responding, “Mars is bright tonight.”

FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: The astrological minds of the centaurs are tricky to read, but it’s possible they foresaw Harry’s fate. Not just in this book, but the ultimate defeat of Voldemort and with it Harry’s death also. Firenze mentions that the planets have read wrongly before now and that he hopes this is one of those instances. We don’t know what the planets say, but it’s clear they don’t turn out in Harry’s favor. Perhaps they saw that he would “die” in the 7th book, but they didn’t know that the rest of his soul would be permitted to return to life. It’s possible that they may just be referring to Harry’s encounter with Voldemort at the end of the book and Firenze is hoping that it won’t occur, but to me it seems there is more to the centaur’s message than that.

CHAPTER ANALYSIS: Harry finally has to deal with some serious consequences of sneaking around the school at night and breaking the rules, which despite the number of times he’s done this already, hasn’t happened yet. He loses Gryffindor a ton of house points and vows to try and stay out of trouble, but this doesn’t last very long (Harry never really learns this lesson, but the books would be pretty boring if he was behaving all the time). He shortly after ends up eavesdropping on a conversation involving Quirrell sounding as if he’s given in to someone.

At this point Harry assumes that Snape has been nagging Quirrell to tell him how to get past his part of the enchantments. Now that Quirrell has given in, Snape is one step closer to being able to reach the stone. The only safeguard remaining over the stone is Fluffy. Reading this scene again after knowing the end of the book always makes me slightly disgusted and uncomfortable since I now know that Quirrell is actually arguing with Voldemort who is embedded in the back of his head.

Before Harry can decide what to do about this new knowledge he has another close encounter with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest during detention, which seems like a seriously harsh punishment just for sneaking around the castle at night. Clearly Hagrid did not know that Voldemort was preying on the unicorns, but he had to have known it was something terrible to be able to catch them and to want to drink their blood. To send four kids into the forest is terrifying enough and then to separate them into two groups with one group having only a cowardly dog to protect them is just cruel. Luckily Firenze comes to Harry’s aid or I would hate to think what would’ve happened to him.

I love meeting the centaurs in this chapter because they are such an interesting species of magical creature. They are majestic and mystical and believe strongly in astrology and the messages they receive from the heavens. Firenze seems to be the only centaur that feels they may be able to try and change what has been predicted with their actions. The others tend to ostracize him for interacting and interfering with humans and their problems, not accepting that some of the fates of humans could possibly affect them as well.

CHAPTER 16: Through the Trapdoor

Image result for harry potter through the trapdoor art

Image by Keith Jones hpcompanion.com

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Harry – You’re a great wizard you know.”

FAVORITE MOMENTS: The winged keys, the giant chessboard, and the potion logic puzzle.

FUNNIEST MOMENT: When Hermione forgets she is a witch and panics because there is no wood with which to light a fire.

CHAPTER ANALYSIS: The story really starts to pick up when Harry has a sudden thought, knowing how naïve Hagrid Harry fears that he may have disclosed the secret of getting past Fluffy to a stranger without realizing. Hagrid admits that after a few drinks and with the possibility of winning a dragon distracting him, he was coerced into telling the stranger (that Harry suspects must have been Snape or Voldemort in disguise) that the key to controlling Fluffy is just to play him music. You can’t not love Hagrid, but he does make it difficult sometimes. Even though he is caring and kindhearted, a true gentle (half) giant, he really makes things incredibly difficult for Harry, Ron and Hermione throughout their entire time at Hogwarts. He acts more as a friend than a superior or a teacher and is unfortunately thoughtless and careless on numerous occasions. It’s moments like these that you have to question Dumbledore’s judgment as to trusting Hagrid with things that are truly important.

Now that we know the stone is vulnerable and that Dumbledore has left the school, the sense of danger starts to escalate and the mood of the story becomes much darker. This part actually tends to make me even feel as if I have to read it faster just to keep up with the sense of urgency the characters are feeling.

Learning that Dumbledore is not around to help, Harry, naturally, decides that it is up to him to save the day and so off they go towards the trapdoor. This is a general problem of Harry’s for the entire series. He is too curious, so not only is he always getting in to trouble, but he often ends up in situations where he feels the need to adopt the burden of saving everyone. Harry is unwilling to accept the consequences of non-action, assuming that if he doesn’t do something no one else will and he knows he would regret not stepping in if the results were not favorable. I’m torn on trying to decide if this is a positive or negative characteristic of Harry’s. While it is very heroic and brave it’s also usually foolish, unnecessary, and dangerous as well as frustrating for his friends and teachers (and me as I read these books.)

The scene where Neville steps up to try and stop the trio is another one that I really enjoy because you see Neville growing as a character, trying to take Harry and Ron’s advice and stand up for what he believes in. I wish that this would pay off for him but it really doesn’t, at least not at the time. Instead Hermione petrifies him which again I find a little unnecessarily cruel, but I understand why they felt they had to do it. It’s just seems very typical sad pathetic Neville to finally try and stick up for himself and in return get petrified by his friends. You can just feel his dejection as he lies there on the floor.

The end of the book, where the trio goes after “Snape,” is fun and creative, but also so unrealistic that I have developed a love-hate relationship with it. I love the individual puzzles and challenges set up by the teachers and the concept of them each contributing one of their specialty to protect the stone. They’re basically a life sized magical obstacle course. I still wish to this day that Snape’s logic puzzle would’ve come with a picture so I could try and solve it myself to determine if I was as smart as first year Hermione.

However, as clever as I think the concept is behind the series of enchantments protecting the stone, I cannot bring myself to accept that the combined intelligence and magical skill used by multiple Hogwarts teachers could be easily overcome by three first years. Also the whole fact that there were even solutions to the puzzles essentially makes sure that someone will be able to reach the stone, but only someone (or three someones) that is skilled at flying, chess, and logic…  (Hmm… what a coincidence).

I can’t help but think that it would have made so much more sense if, for instance, Dumbledore had just kept the only flying key that opened the lock or the only potion that would let you through the fire tucked away in the pocket of his robes. Therefore no one would have been able to reach the stone unless they managed to steal them from him. Also I would think that the Mirror of Erised placed behind a magically locked door would’ve offered plenty of security. Especially since the magic that Dumbledore uses on the mirror is really the only thing that thwarts Quirrell/Voldemort in the end.

CHAPTER 17: The Man with Two Faces

Profile- Quirrell- Coloured by Seraphim-burning

Image by Seraphim-burning seraphim-burning.deviantart.com

FAVORITE QUOTE: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

FAVORITE MOMENT: Neville’s 10 house points winning the House Cup for Gryffindor.

FUNNIEST MOMENT: Dumbledore eating an ear wax flavored Bertie Bott’s bean.

FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: When Harry asks Dumbledore why Voldemort wants to kill him he tells him that he cannot tell him now, but that when he needs to know he will. When we first read this we don’t know if Dumbledore knows the answer, but it seems as if he does. He tells Harry to put it far from his mind and Harry did, at least temporarily, and so did we. The importance behind the reason doesn’t seem to matter as much until the later books. Finally in the fifth book, after Harry has had multiple encounters with Voldemort, we learn that Dumbledore did have a pretty solid theory about the answer but chose not to tell Harry because he believed Harry was too young to understand.

CHAPTER ANALYSIS: And here it is — the big twist that no one was expecting! (Except for us, because we already read it, but that’s beside the point) Harry finally learns that despite J.K. Rowling’s carefully placed clues directing all suspicion towards Snape he actually isn’t the villain at all. I think this was also a huge moment for readers not just because it was unexpected, but because, along with Harry, we all wanted it to be Snape so badly.

We already knew Snape was evil because of how he treated Harry and this would have been just another excuse to hate him. Then we learn that Snape was actually trying to protect the stone this whole time and on top of that was trying to protect Harry as well. This is a lot to take in and now we’re so conflicted on whether we still want to hate Snape or not because none of this fits with the character we’ve made him out to be so far.

There is little time to ponder this though because we soon are delivered an even bigger surprise when we find out that not only is Quirrell the bad guy, but he actually has Voldemort’s face under his turban???!! WHAT?!! Didn’t see that one coming that first read through that was for sure. I wish I could go back and be surprised by these moments for the first time all over again, but unfortunately I’ll just have to try and reminisce about what I must have been thinking when I read them.

For one thing I have to wonder where Jo came up with the idea to have Voldemort residing in the back of Quirrell’s head because I find it awfully disturbing. Also did he wear the turban before he encountered Voldemort or was that something he acquired after the fact to hide that there was another face on the back of his head? It is a good thing he didn’t really have any friends or they may have started to wonder why he randomly started wearing a turban 24/7. And how did Voldemort attach and detach himself from Quirrell’s body? Also how does his incorporeal form wear a cloak or move around in the forest? Is that how he spent most of his time or did he spend it in Quirrell’s body and just leave in order to drink the unicorn blood? I have so many questions about this whole concept.

Also, this part always irritates me because I can’t help thinking that if Harry hadn’t gone after the stone it would’ve remained perfectly safe in the mirror. According to Dumbledore’s description of how the enchantment on the mirror worked, Voldemort never would have been able to obtain the stone for himself. If Harry hadn’t gotten involved, Dumbledore likely would’ve come back and found Quirrell still standing there pondering over the mirror. I really think that Harry sort of made things worse here, but of course I realize that him doing nothing would definitely not have made nearly as an exciting end to the story, plus how would Gryffindor have earned enough points to then come back and win the House Cup.

All Harry’s (and our) questions finally get answers (well most of them) during Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore in the hospital wing. This dialogue between the two serves two main purposes, the first being to answer any remaining questions and tie up loose ends, and the second to build on the bond between Harry and Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains how he saved Harry and that he and Flamel have decided to destroy the stone to prevent any future problems arising because of it.

Here we get another powerful Dumbledore quote: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Harry learns that death is not necessarily a bad thing, which must be a difficult concept for someone who has lost both their parents. This is also, we will come to learn in time, one of Voldemort’s biggest flaws as it is clear that he will go to desperate measures to achieve immortality.

Dumbledore also explains that Lily’s love for Harry is why Quirrell couldn’t touch him, that it was he who left Harry the invisibility cloak, and that Snape hates him so much because Snape hated his father. Once again Harry is left being treated unfairly solely because of something his parents did. Leave it to Dumbledore to make Harry ponder over these things for a while and then come through and explain everything in the end.

The year comes to a close with the final feast and to everyone’s disappointment (except the Slytherin’s but no one is counting them) Slytherin wins the House Cup. But wait… Dumbledore has some last minute points to pass out.  Naturally Harry, Ron and Hermione are all rewarded for their heroic measures and Neville finally gets his much deserved recognition by receiving the last 10 points that win Gryffindor the cup. The joy of the characters practically emanates off the page at this point. I find it so amusing that the other houses are also so tired of Slytherin winning the cup that they’re cheering for Gryffindor as well. I would have loved to be sitting in the great hall for this moment.  It’s the perfect way to start to bring the book to a close. It takes the underlying plot events surrounding the stone and ties them in to the traditional school experience.

Then the Hogwarts Express is whisking them away back to Platform 9 ¾ and Harry is dreading a long summer away from Hogwarts, but he can at least threaten Dudley with magic this summer for entertainment.

This beautiful, heartwarming story of good vs. evil, friendship, and magic has everything a great book needs. It will never get old even after I’ve read it 50 times and it will never lose its magic. I know that I will continue to read it well into adulthood and I hope that someday I have children I can share the books with so they can experience the magic as well. Thanks for re-reading along with us, and Happy 20th Anniversary Philosopher’s Stone!

Find Part One here, and Part Two here.

 





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