Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic/Mirror of Erised

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
Mirror of Erised
Type Magical device
Features mirror
First Appearance Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Overview[edit]

The Mirror of Erised is a mirror that shows the user his or her heart's deepest desire. There is "an inscription carved around the top":

Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi

Extended Description[edit]

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

Harry stumbles upon this mirror when, attempting to evade capture by Filch and Snape after starting a book screaming in the Restricted section of the library, Harry retreats through an open door. In the Mirror, he sees himself and his father and mother, standing behind him, and all his extended family behind them. Harry then brings Ron to the mirror to show Ron his family; Ron, instead, sees himself as Head Boy holding the Quidditch cup.

Harry revisits the Mirror several times during Christmas vacation, until he is surprised there one night by Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore tells Harry that the mirror is very dangerous, that people have starved to death sitting in front of it, but that he is glad Harry found it and so now somewhat understands its power. Dumbledore goes on to say that he will now move the mirror to a new hiding place, and asks Harry to not go looking for it. Harry impulsively asks Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror, and Dumbledore replies that he sees himself holding a pair of warm, woolly socks. He goes on to explain that he always seems to be given books as gifts, and never has enough socks. Later, Harry thinks to himself that this had been an awfully intrusive question.

In the final chamber under the trap door, Harry finds the mirror once again. This time, Harry, forced to look into it, sees himself with the Philosopher's Stone in his pocket. As he sees this, the stone itself appears in his pocket.

Later, recovering in the Hospital Wing, he speaks with Professor Dumbledore concerning the mirror. Dumbledore says that he was rather proud of the enchantment that placed the Stone within the mirror. The only person who could retrieve the Stone would be one who dearly wanted the Stone but did not want to use it.

In the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry thinks back to the Mirror of Erised, and wonders again about his question to Dumbledore: was Dumbledore entirely truthful when he told Harry what he saw in the Mirror? Could it be that Dumbledore, like Harry, saw his family standing behind him?

Analysis[edit]

The inscription over the mirror, when reversed, reads:

ishow no tyo urfac ebu tyo urhe arts desire

Which, by changing the spacing and punctuation, reveals:

I show not your face, but your heart's desire

Thus, the inscription does describe exactly what it does, and many readers, seeing what is clearly reversed text, have deciphered the text quickly. Why Harry does not do so is uncertain, as he is clearly aware of it. It is possible that Harry has been exposed to so much in the way of apparently nonsensical text, with the spell incantations and other writings being often almost nonsense words, that he no longer automatically tries to decipher writings that he does not immediately understand.

One must wonder somewhat about the nature of the enchantment protecting the Stone. Professor Quirrell says that he sees himself holding the Stone and presenting it to his Master; by the letter of the enchantment, the Mirror should have surrendered the Stone to him as he was not planning to use it himself, only to give it to Voldemort. Two possibilities appear to account for its failure to release the Stone. One is that, as Voldemort was at that point riding the back of Quirrell's head, and was in some manner sharing life force with Quirrell, the enchantment might not have been able to distinguish Quirrell from Voldemort, and Voldemort certainly wanted to use the Stone. Alternately, and more likely given the individuals involved, Quirrell could have simply been lying about not having any desire to use the Stone himself, and thus lying about what he saw in the Mirror. That does assume that Quirrell understands the nature of the Mirror of Erised, something that is by no means certain – he does ask, at one point, what is the nature of the mirror.

It is also possible that the enchantment is working on a slightly different level than the mirror. Yes, Quirrell's deepest desire may be to give the Stone to his Master, but at the same time, his intent is to use it to get Voldemort off his head and out of his mind. The enchantment may well be seeing that as sufficient "use" of the Stone to prevent liberating it. Of course, Quirrell has hands, while Voldemort does not at this point; Quirrell would have to be the one who used the Stone to create the elixir that would revive Voldemort, which would definitely qualify as "using it".

We also have the issue of Harry's deepest desire. We are told that at that moment, Harry's deepest desire is to "find the Stone before Quirrell does." This would seem to most readers to be not quite realistic; one would think that Harry's deepest desire would be for Dumbledore to appear and make it all go away. The author's point in showing Harry trying to do everything on his own, as has happened numerous places through this book and in the series, suggests that having Harry want the Stone, rather than adult rescue, is a deliberate limning of Harry's personality by the author. Harry is, of course, the series hero, and must therefore be heroic; making him not only willing, but desirous of handling things on his own, is necessarily going to be part of his character if he is to be at all a convincing hero.

There is a very large question that remains unanswered concerning this mirror. Clearly it has some ability to read minds, it must in order to know what one's "heart's desire" is. But Harry has no conscious memory of what his parents look like. Yet, the Mirror is able to show them to him. We know that the Mirror's depiction is accurate because, in later books, and later in this book, Harry will find artifacts that show his parents and will not discover that the Mirror got it wrong. How can the Mirror know something that Harry himself does not? Similarly, neither Harry nor Quirrell has seen the Stone. How can the Mirror show it to them, if they don't know what it looks like? In this latter case, the Mirror could present the mental image each had of the Stone; it is enough to show something that the individual recognizes as "the Philosopher's Stone," even if it does not match the reality of what the Stone looks like.

Questions[edit]

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

  1. What does Harry's vision in the Mirror of Erised say about his character?
  2. What do you think other characters would see in the Mirror of Erised?
  3. What parallels can we draw between the Mirror of Erised and the effects of Boggarts?

Greater Picture[edit]

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

Given that the mirror can read minds to some limited extent, there are two possible explanations for the mirror being able to show Harry his parents. The first, obviously, is that the mirror may be able to see more of Harry's memories than Harry can himself; we do retain memories from infancy, though we often cannot access them, and the Mirror, being magical, may be able to reach those memories that Harry cannot. Additionally, it is possible that the mirror could have seen what Harry's parents look like through his scar, which we find out in the final book is an indicator of the soul shard of Voldemort's that remains in Harry. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we find out that Voldemort recalls both Harry's parents and their appearance, and so presumably that information is available through the linkage between their souls.

One interesting fact from the author's web site: The author herself was offered the role of Harry's mother in the Mirror Erised scene of the first Harry Potter film, and turned it down. The reason she gives for her refusal seems somewhat contrived, making it probable that there are other reasons, perhaps some that she did not want to go into at that point in the series. One strong possibility is that even at this early point in the writing of the series, the author was aware that Harry's mother was going to have a larger role in the series than could be expected, given that she had died before the first book. Lily Potter would not, as one would suppose from the first book, be restricted to roles in which she simply smiled and waved, in the Mirror and in Wizard photographs. More than that, she would have a speaking role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in the duel in the Cemetery, and would appear three times in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: once in Voldemort's memory of the night of her death, extensively in Snape's memories, and finally when summoned by the Resurrection Stone. It is entirely possible that, knowing her own limitation as an actress, and knowing the role Lily played in the series as a whole, the author believed the role in the context of the entire series would be beyond her capabilities, and elected to stay with what she could do well.