Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic/Philosopher's Stone

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
Philosopher's Stone
Type Magical device
Features Red stone, generally small size
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Overview[edit]

The Philosopher's Stone (known in the United States editions of the books as the Sorcerer's Stone) is an artifact that can turn inexpensive metals into gold or create an elixir that would make humans younger, thus delaying death. We are told that elixir produced by the Philosopher's Stone is actually capable of returning someone to full life if there is even the tiniest bit of life left within him.

In the Muggle world, it was a longtime "holy grail" of Western alchemy. In alchemy, making the philosopher's stone would bring enlightenment upon the maker and conclude the Great Work. It is also known as materia prima.

Extended Description[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The Philosopher's Stone is, of course, the key object in the first book of the Harry Potter series. The specific instance we see in this story is about three inches long, and is kept under heavy guard much of the time. We are told that this is the only known Philosopher's Stone in the world at present.

When we first see it, the Stone is in a grubby little paper parcel in one of the high security vaults under Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It is retrieved from the vault by Hagrid, and apparently brought to Hogwarts.

Once Harry, Hermione, and Ron discover what the object is, they understand why people seem to be seeking it. They do eventually determine where it is hidden, and that it is guarded by means of enchantments set by many of the teachers at Hogwarts.

Determining that the Stone is at risk, the Trio then seek out its hiding place, apparently in the hope of defending the Stone. In the end, Harry alone reaches the chamber where the Stone is hidden, and manages to retrieve it from its hiding place and defend it from Professor Quirrell.

In the final chapter of the book, Professor Dumbledore says that he has destroyed the Stone. This upsets Harry, as he has learned that a friend of Dumbledore's, Nicolas Flamel, has been using the Stone to make the elixir that keeps him alive, but Dumbledore says that, after a very long life, Flamel and his wife Perenelle are quite prepared for death.

Analysis[edit]

The Philosopher's Stone is a unique magical artifact; there is only one in the world, and at the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone it is destroyed. Although it appears only in this one book, its influence does show up in other books, most notably in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where it is believed by many that another unique artifact mentioned in that book is simply a distorted impression of the actions of the Philosopher's Stone.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

  1. Describe the differences between the archetypes of good and evil, and how this difference is portrayed in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone through intents and actions with the Stone.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

One of the key differences between the two sides in the battle of the entire series is actually highlighted by the Philosopher's Stone, and its role in the first book in the series. Much of the book, and the main conflict at the end of the book, is Voldemort, from his perch on the back of Professor Quirrell's head, attempting to capture the Philosopher's Stone and the return to life that it promises, against Harry attempting to keep him from that goal with the assistance of Professor Dumbledore and, surprisingly, Professor Snape. Voldemort, we learn, will stop at nothing, including the death of Unicorns, and of his host Quirrell, to return to life himself. Contrasted to that, we have Dumbledore, speaking of Nicolas Flamel (but possibly equally speaking of himself), telling Harry that "after all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Although we have not yet properly met Voldemort, we can already see his fear of death, and his willingness to sacrifice anything and anyone else, in order to retain his life; and we can see Dumbledore's acceptance that death comes to all people, Muggle and wizard alike. This difference in the understanding of what death is, and how one becomes master of it, is something of a theme throughout the entire series. We will learn about the Horcruxes that Voldemort has used to anchor his soul to this world even when his body is destroyed, and we will learn about the Deathly Hallows, which according to legend give the holder mastery over Death.

In an interview, the author has stated that the theme of death and the afterlife became somewhat more prominent in the series following the death of her mother, which occurred while she was writing. While she did not specifically say which book she was writing at the time, one suspects that it was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, because this particular theme comes into prominence in that book.