Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Man with Two Faces

Stop VoldemortThe concluding chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone bring Harry through the trap door and face-to-face with Voldemort for the second time in his life. After the last exam in History of Magic, Hermione mentions that she need not have learned about “the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager.” Given Professor Binns’s fascination with the dealings of goblins, I have a hunch that Elfric the Eager was a goblin involved in some rebellion or other. The Werewolf Code of Conduct is presumably an agreement or set of rules dictating werewolf behavior. Fenrir Greyback probably disregards the whole thing, but my hunch is good werewolves like Remus Lupin follow the code.

Another thing I noticed in chapter 16 was when Harry decided he would have to go through the trap door that night and plans to use his invisibility cloak, Ron says, “But will it cover all three of us?” As Harry tries to convince them not to come, Hermione insists that he will need their help. She turns out to be right, as it is unlikely he would get past McGonagall’s chess set or Snape’s logic puzzle without them. However, it caught my eye because we see Ron and Hermione’s insistence in following Harry into danger when he tries to go it alone repeated later, especially in Deathly Hallows when they go on the run with Harry.

Neville bravely tries to stop the trio from going out again, and we later learn that this act of courage will earn him the only points he will earn his first year. We also get to see Hermione’s power as a witch as she casts a rather horrible full Body-Bind curse on Neville. She is kind of scary.

For the second time in this book, Mrs. Norris is skulking around while Harry is under the cloak. She looks right at him both times, and both times he seems unsure whether or not she knows he is there. I would contend she knows something is there; after all, she can smell. The night vision of cats is notoriously good. Peeves can also sense the trio’s presence, but Harry fends him off with a clever ruse.

I love the part when Hermione is trying to remember how to combat Devil’s Snare, and the change made to that scene in the movie is kind of pointless. Hermione remembers Devil’s Snare hates fire, but she doesn’t have any wood! Ron, aghast, screams, “HAVE YOU GONE MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

Later on, Ron shows true Gryffindor bravery when he allows himself to be taken in the giant chess game. I always liked that part. He is so frequently overshadowed by his brothers and Harry. He puts up with it very well for the most part, but he gets tired of it, and it is always good when he has moments like these. Knowing that he and Harry go on to be Aurors together, it’s fairly safe to say he spends his career in Harry’s shadow, too, but he has revealed a sense of humor about it by the time we see them sending their own children off on the Hogwarts Express.

In the last chapter, Quirrell describes Snape as “swooping around like an overgrown bat.” This throwaway line introduced a lot of speculation among Harry Potter fans that Snape was a vampire. His appearance, his preternatural ability to discern when Harry was up to something… there is more, and I’ll return to it when I discuss Prisoner of Azkaban. But Rowling has said no, Snape is not a vampire. He’s just really unpleasant. He’s actually my favorite character, for reasons that will become clearer as I discuss the rest of the series.

Sure enough, Quirrell confirms that Snape was already on to him by Halloween, and that Snape had gone to the third floor to head Quirrell off. I am definitely going to have to look for what Snape says about Quirrell in the memory Harry sees in the Pensieve.

We also learn that Snape and James Potter had a deep and burning hatred for each other, much, as Dumbledore points out, like Harry and Malfoy.

Quirrell says that Voldemort taught him that “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” You know what this statement reminds me of? It reminds me of the corruption of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Palpatine says to Anakin: “Remember back to your early teachings. ‘All who gain power are afraid to lose it.’ Even the Jedi.” He then tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise (Palpatine’s own former master, whom he killed, as is the way of the Sith), including the fact that Plagueis had discovered how to conquer death. Anakin remarks in surprise, “He could do that? He could actually save people from death?” to which Palpatine replies, “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” When Anakin asks what happened to Plagueis, Palpatine says, “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.” Harry, unlike Anakin, realizes that there are things worse than death, and one thing we discover by the end of the series is that there are ways to be more powerful in death, just as some of Jedi discover in Star Wars.

My point in bringing this up is that Palpatine’s seduction of Vader is similar to Quirrellmort’s attempted seduction of Harry. Where Palpatine was successful in swaying Vader to the Dark Side, Voldemort fails. Harry doesn’t see the world in the same way as Voldemort, and he is not as afraid, even as an eleven-year-old boy, to face death. He fights in this scene and nearly loses his life, but he plunges forward anyway because not to do so would allow Voldemort to win, at least in his mind. Vader is too scared to lose Padmé and is too desperate to learn how to be master over death. In so doing, he only ensures that Padmé will die. It is rather like the scene when Macbeth wonders whether or not he need really kill Duncan to be king. “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.” If Vader had done nothing, the result might have been different, but his actions may have brought about the events he was desperate to prevent. Likewise, Voldemort, who is like Plagueis in that he was only afraid of losing power, eventually lost his power, too. Harry knows there are more important things in life, and that there is indeed a difference between good and evil.

Harry is an interesting mirror for Voldemort in which to examine himself. They had similar childhoods, but Harry’s choices led him down a very different path. Even Voldemort notices the similarities, which may be why he saw Harry as a threat and marked him as his equal.

Interestingly, when Rowling is asked about how the novels became darker as the series wore on, she often brings up Voldemort’s face on the back of Quirrell’s head as horrific example of darkness in the first book. And indeed, she does begin the story with the deaths of James and Lily Potter. But there is a much darker tone as the series continues. One thing I sense as I re-read is that the tone is just about right for Harry’s age in each present book. Because the story is filtered through his point of view, that makes sense.

After Dumbledore arrives to save Harry in the end, Harry wakes up in the hospital wing, surrounded by sweets. Dumbledore remarks that “What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.” Anyone who has ever worked in a school, or perhaps anywhere, knows this is one of the truer statements about human nature in the series.

However, in their conversation, Harry does learn some important things:

  1. Voldemort is not truly alive, so he cannot truly be killed. Dumbledore probably has his suspicions about how Voldemort accomplished this, but he is not yet certain. And yes, this means Voldemort can come back, but Dumbledore holds out hope that they can delay his return indefinitely.
  2. Voldemort singled Harry out for a reason, but Dumbledore does not think he is ready to hear it yet. Maybe one day.
  3. Love is some of the most powerful magic of all.
  4. Dumbledore sent him the cloak (though he probably should have figured that out based on Dumbledore’s earlier remark about it).
  5. Harry’s father saved Snape’s life, although it should be mentioned that it is not nearly as noble as Dumbledore makes it out to be here. He was just doing the right thing and not really sticking his neck out for Snape. In fact, his motivation might even have been to prevent Sirius from being responsible for Snape’s death rather than rescuing Snape himself. I don’t think Snape does anything this year out of any sort of debt to James. But we learn all about that later.

Later the trio speculates that Dumbledore must have known Harry was going to try to go after the Stone, so he taught Harry just enough to do it. I’m with Hermione on this one. “That’s terrible,” she says. They are a bunch of first year students! I find Dumbledore to be terribly frustrating sometimes.

As I pointed out in my previous post, it’s really Ron’s 50 points that makes the largest difference in Gryffindor’s winning the House Cup, which no one really notices, by the way. Taking into account the 50 points lost together with the 50 points Dumbledore gives her, Hermione breaks even. Neville lost 50 and earned 10, so he is -40. Harry lost 50 and gained 60, so he really only earned 10 points for defeating Quirrellmort. Ron didn’t go out that night with Norbert to the Astronomy Tower, so he didn’t lose any points. He gained 50 full points.

Another interesting thing I hadn’t noticed before: when the exam results arrive, everyone does well, and Hermione is top of the class, but “Even Neville scraped through, his good Herbology mark making up for his abysmal Potions one.” I have read this novel I don’t know how many times, and I didn’t pick up on that before. Obviously, Neville later shows a very strong aptitude for Herbology and becomes Herbology professor when Harry and Ron’s children go to Hogwarts. Nice!

I think the main purpose of this first book is to establish the wizarding world and introduce the conflict between Harry and Voldemort. We don’t find out as much about nuances, such as the anti-Muggle and Muggle-born prejudice, until the second book. It strikes me that it is Chamber of Secrets that sets the tone and establishes the themes that will concern the rest of the series. But at the end of Philosopher’s Stone, the threat of Voldemort seems very distant indeed, and we don’t even find out about his followers until later.

2 thoughts on “Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Man with Two Faces

  1. Hahahahah, I love your math-based defense of Ron. Hooray for Ron! But I think we're meant to take away from this story the fact that Neville is the best and has always been the best and nobody should be surprised about what he does later on in the way of heroism.

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