Chamber of Secrets: Harry’s Eye-dentity

Today at lunch I was talking with my family about the talks I’ll be giving at Summer School in Forks: A Twilight Symposium (Register today, if you haven’t already!). The first one will be Bella Swan at Hogwarts: The Important Influence of the Potter Novels and Potter Mania on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. I’ll be discussing the similarities and differences in how Mrs. Meyer and Rowling use story voice to win reader buy-in and identification, apply Gothic touches for a ‘fallen world’ backdrop, build a school setting, blend genres, foster a ‘shipping controversy, push the pervasive message that choice is the life-defining value, and develop a theme of hidden magic in which supernatural reality is just out of sight.

At lunch, though, what I talked about was eyeballs, because both these authors hang much of their meaning on their use of eyeballs in an exploration of ‘vision.’ [If you want to read about this as it applies to the meaning of Harry Potter, see chapter 5 of my The Deathly Hallows Lectures, ‘The Seeing Eye.’] My children have heard the Deathly Hallows eyeball lecture enough times that they can verbally reel off the five eyeballs in the series finale without straining and they were curious to hear about the Twilight eyes. I made an aside to my eight year old, Zossima, about Harry being a story symbol for spiritual vision, hence his ability to see but not be seen under the Invisibility Cloak. The Z-Man responded, “Just like in the Flying Car in Chamber of Secrets.”

All of us said “What do you mean?” because we didn’t remember a ‘Harry as Eyeballs’ scene in Chamber of Secrets. But there is one. He ran to the bookshelf, pulled down Chamber, and showed it to me.

Ron pressed a tiny silver button on the dashboard. The car around them vanished — and so did they. Harry could feel the seat vibrating beneath him, hear the engine, feel his hands on his knees and his glasses on his nose; but for all he could see, he had become a pair of eyeballs, floating a few feet above the ground in a dingy street full of parked cars. (Chamber, Chapter 5)

Now, I knew that Deathly Hallows was not the first place Ms. Rowling explored ideas of vision, understanding, and reality via eye imagery. Order of the Phoenix, for example, largely turns on ideas of Occlumency, Legilimency, and eye contact. I haven’t gone through the first six books, though, to run down the more interesting pointers she puts in text to the idea of Harry as divine sight or ‘eye of the heart.’

After Zossima’s find, I guess I should. He has been enlisted in the effort and is now combing the books for every reference to Harry’s and Dumbledore’s eyes.

Can you think of any eyeball occurrences that are perumbrations of the Hallows use? For example, does at least one character in every single book make the “you have Lily’s eyes” comment? Hagrid does on meeting him in Stone, Lupin makes the observation in his office in Prisoner, and drunk Slughorn notes the resemblance in Hagrid’s hut in Prince; can you think of the others? Any more floating eyeball references for Harry?


  1. Steve Morrison says

    Elphias Doge does in Order of the Phoenix chapter 3:

    “Oooh, he looks just like I thought he would,” said the witch who was holding her lit wand aloft. She looked the youngest there; she had a pale heart-shaped face, dark twinkling eyes, and short spiky hair that was a violent shade of violet. “Wotcher, Harry!”

    “Yeah, I see what you mean, Remus,” said a bald black wizard standing farthest back; he had a deep, slow voice and wore a single gold hoop in his ear. “He looks exactly like James.”

    “Except the eyes,” said a wheezy-voiced, silver-haired wizard at the back. “Lily’s eyes.”

  2. Arabella Figg says

    I’m rereading HPB in prep to be disappointed in the film (heh!).

    Actually Slughorn mentions Harry’s eyes when he first meets him (p 68):

    “You look very like your father.”
    “Yeah, I’ve been told,” said Harry.
    “Except for your eyes. You’ve got—”
    “My mother’s eyes, yeah.” Harry had heard it so often he found it a bit wearing.

  3. Elizabeth says

    It isn’t Harry’s eye, of course, but he always seemed particlulary freaked out by Mad Eye Moody’s magical eye, especially when it is out of its socket. Even before all the really complex uses of that eye in DH (which you have pondered beautifully, John), that eye is a concern for Harry, as he wondered what it can see through,etc. It may seem natural for a teenager to focus on the gruesome war injuries of the old Auror, but it seems he seldom notes Moody’s missing leg in contrast to the many references to the eye.

    Totallly unrelated except for the fact that Arabella posted before me: We took the kiddos to see CATS yesterday(which they loved, of course), and it just occurred to me–could Crookshanks (or maybe even creepy old Mrs. Norris) be a Jellicle cat? 🙂 Our cat is named Crookshanks, and I think my little girl is sorely disappointed now that he neither sings nor dances, at least when we’re watching!

  4. Elizabeth, good point about Harry’s preoccupation with Mad Eye Moody’s magical eye, even quite early on. JKR always seems to be drawing our focus there. The chapter in GoF where Harry works out the egg clue in the prefect’s bathroom and then gets into trouble on the stairs with Snape and the Marauder’s Map (and has to flag Moody’s attention when he’s under the invisibility cloak) is even titled “The Egg and the Eye.”

  5. ‘The Egg and the Eye’ chapter title, while certainly referring to the egg and eye in Harry’s late night confrontation with Severus and Alastor on the stairwell, is also a joking reference and tip of the hat to the novel, movie, and teevee series titled The Egg and I. The Eye/I assonance that is a large part of Harry’s seeing an eye where his ‘I’ should be in the mirror, of course, is a big part of Ms. Rowling’s meaning in Deathly Hallows. Harry’s victory, interior and exterior, at the series finale is in his finally accepting his eye-dentity, i.e., his being essentially ‘conscience’ or the ‘eye of the heart.’

    Moving right along…

    If you have a copy of The Deathly Hallows Lectures (and, really, isn’t it time you picked one up if you don’t?), the explanation of the symbolism of the ‘Mad Eye,’ its powers, and the importance of how Harry chooses to bury it is in those pages where I unpack the anagogical meaning of the Deathly Hallows’ symbol, the bisected and triangulated circle (“the triangular eye”), pages 223-233.

    Any more finds about Lily’s eyes?

  6. Arabella Figg says

    Elizabeth, I would bet all WizWorld cats are “Jellicles,” under “the Jellicle moon” (white orb).

    It struck me while reading a HBP passage about inebriated Trelawney: are her crystal balls an antethisis to the eye/I? Because they have to do with “seeing” and no one sees anything in or because of them (at least in the books). They seem to be the fraudulent “eye” in which the viewer is deceived or deceives themeselves.

  7. Lily Luna says

    When Harry first looks in the Mirror of Erised in SS, he notices that his mother’s eyes “are just like mine” — bright green, exactly the same shape, and she is both smiling and crying. At the time, Harry is under his invisibility cloak.

  8. Lily Luna says

    Skimmed fast through GOF and didn’t see a reference to Lily’s eyes, but there is this comment about Harry’s eyes:

    Moody tells the class with regard to Harry’s first almost successful attempt to fight the imperius curse, “watch his eyes, that’s where you see it.”

  9. The eye posts are great!!! I just want to add to all of the water/mirror quotes. Don’t forget that the mirror/water/glasses etc….. are reflections or Harry and others. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and your reflection shows that. Harry and mum have green eyes, symbolis of sacrifice and resurrection in the traditional symbolic way. Mad eye, can see evil/negative souls through his eye, since he is an auror(I think). Reflections of the self/soul the real essence of the person are what should be focused on. Sorry if I sound like I’m lecturing, it’s the teaher coming out in me now.

  10. schmalchemy says

    Yes, but what about Harry’s knobby knees as portrayed in the reflections of his family in the Mirror of Erised? Their significance?

    By the way, I believe Harry took off his cloak before looking into the Mirror. He only wore it to get to the schoolroom where it was located.

  11. schmalchemy says

    As my husband, who is an author, reminded me…this is a book series and an author has to describe the characters in some way so that the reader knows who he or she is and what other way to describe Harry consistently as both a child of his father (“looks just like James”) and his mother (“he has his mother’s eyes”) throughout each and every book. Yes, the eyes of Harry are important (especially to Snape ultimately), but Rowling had to remind us for continuity sake, too!

  12. Arabella Figg says

    I need to add, after my Sybil speculation above, that she was uncannily correct in her gloomy predictions in HPB Perhaps what she needed all along to help her accuracy was a bit of the hair of the Grim, er dog. 😉

  13. Lily Luna says

    The first time Harry looks in the Mirror of Erised he keeps the cloak on because he wants to repeat what he did earlier in the evening when he looked in a regular mirror, which was NOT see himself. The second and third times that he goes back he takes the cloak off. I believe in the movie he takes the cloak off the first time, but that is not what happened in the book. To me this is significant because it means the mirror knew he was there even though he was invisible.

  14. blacks_descendent13 says

    I know that in the first chapter you read about Harry in Deathly Hallows that he picks up a broken piece of glass that was from the Tw-Way mirror that Sirius have given him for Christmas in book 5 and he thought he saw a bright blue eye in it. Then he goes on tho think how he will never see Dumbledore’s eyes again. Kinda solem, but good all around.

    Others have already been mentioned as to however many times Harry has been told by others that he has his mother’s eyes. The references to the crystal ball being a fake eye as it were.

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