Is the First ‘Hallows Quest’ in Philosopher’s Stone? Yes.

Right on the heels of William Sprague’s fascinating connection of Literary Alchemy and Ring Composition published here last month, Adam Ross has made another great catch affirming the loop of the series in the conjunction of Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows. Read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Hallows’ at his site, or make the jump below where I have posted it with his blessing. The Ring Composition formal structure of the series grows in importance with each one of these discoveries and I’m delighted that HogPro All-Pros are sharing their finds here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Hallows

Posted by on August 16, 2011

My mind immediately jumped to the three Deathly Hallows, and I wondered if there was any connection between Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows. In other words, is there a Hallows quest in Philosopher’s Stone? There are enough connections (over thirty direct parallels, in fact) between the two books to make such a thought at least possible, and so I set out here below to meditate on this possibility.

There are three Hallows in the final book; the Invisibility Cloak, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand. Are there three comparable objects in Philosopher’s Stone to justify arguing for such a thing? I think so, though we must look carefully and closely to find them. I think there are indeed three objects in Stone to warrant such a claim. The invisibility cloak is found readily enough, but what of the Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand?

The philosopher’s stone itself is the Resurrection Stone; or at least, the two are structurally parallel, and Rowling is asking us to compare them. The story arcs which Harry goes through with regard to both stones is nearly identical. In Stone, when the trio first discover what the philosopher’s stone does – make one immortal and turn all it touches to gold – Harry says, “Who wouldn’t want it?” In Hallows, Harry similarly desires the Resurrection Stone (DH, 414). Though Harry’s angst in Stone is not clearly shown, it is there in the parallel.

In both books, Harry arrives at the end of the book and it is in not desiring each Stone that allows him to possess it. In Stone, he seeks the Stone not for himself but to keep it from evil purposes, and he gains the Stone. In Hallows, Harry reaches the forest again and finds the Stone within the Snitch and realizes that the Stone works for him because he is not trying to bring the dead back: “He was not really fetching them: they were fetching him,” and therefore it does not “matter about bringing them back, for he was about to join them,” (DH, 698). Furthermore, Harry gains both Stones just before undergoing a death-and-resurrection; in Stone he gains the Stone only to fall into unconsciousness, rising on the third day; in Hallows, Harry finds the Stone in the forest, just before surrendering to Voldemort and being literally killed and raised from the dead.

So what then is the Elder Wand? The answer is not immediately clear, because we will hunt in vain for an invincible wand in the first book. The solution will be somewhat more subtle and buried. We must look to the deeper things. The central aspect of Harry’s hunt for the Wand is desire; he is blindly and irrationally obsessed with desire for the Wand. To find the third Hallow we must look for an irrational obsession or desire in Philosopher’s Stone, one which occurs in the middle portion of the book (since Harry’s desire for the Elder Wand spans the middle portion of Hallows).

If you’re any sort of serious reader of the Potter books, only one incident leaps to mind. The Mirror of Erised. Erised, of course, is Desire, spelled backward, and the Inkling scholar Colin Manlove (in the same Hog’s Head essay collection) identifies the central theme of the first book as Harry dealing with desire (p. 9), and particularly in transforming selfish desire into selfless desire to rescue and save and protect. Harry becomes obsessed with seeing his parents every night, and finally Dumbledore must intercede and remind Harry that it is not good to dwell on dreams and forget to live; in so doing, Dumbledore is reforming Harry’s desires. He is saying that it does not do to dwell on desires and forget to live.

This is paralleled in Hallows when Harry must again choose to listen to Dumbledore’s instructions and abandon his selfish desires for the Wand and selflessly hunt for Horcruxes instead. He is essentially internalizing Dumbledore’s earlier statement: “I must ask you not to go looking for it [the Mirror] again.” And indeed, Harry does not look for it, but he does find it. Just so, in Hallows, Harry gives up the Hallows hunt and does not look for them again, but he does find them again. By not looking for them, they are delivered into his hands, just like with the Mirror.

Another close tie between the Wand and the Mirror is Dumbledore himself, who serves almost as a bridge between them. Indeed, what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror is his sister Ariana, who was tragically struck down because of Dumbledore’s own selfish desire for the Hallows, and in particular, the Elder Wand itself – the only Hallow Dumbledore and Grindelwald desired or valued in their youth. Though we are given little textual information on this, it would not be a stretch to imagine that after Ariana’s death Dumbledore became just as obsessed over the Mirror as Harry was. Dumbledore is, after all, in some ways the Mirror’s keeper, and it is his contribution to the protections given to guard the Stone; thus, Harry’s turning away from the Mirror itself mirrors Dumbledore’s own journey from selfishness to selflessness.

Yet there is another structural connection, and this is in the progression of revealed objects in each book. In Philosopher’s Stone, the Cloak comes first, then the Mirror, then the Stone. The progression is the same in Deathly Hallows, in which we have Harry frequently using the Cloak, then we have Harry’s burning desire for the Wand, and then at the very end of the book do we have the Stone. Cloak/Cloak, Mirror/Wand, Stone/Stone.

This does nothing but further reveal to me just how intricately plotted and structured the Harry Potter books really are.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always. Many thanks to Adam Ross for sharing his insights here.


  1. Thanks for posting this, John! Incidentally, I ran across another link between the Philosopher’s Stone and the Resurrection Stone in DH itself. Hermione goes right out and says it: “Beedle probably took the idea from the Sorcerer’s Stone; you know, instead of a stone to make you immortal, a stone to reverse death,” (DH, 416, paperback).

  2. John, (and Adam) those are fascinating connections. I do want to say one thing about the Mirror of Erised. I got in to Pottermore early and the only added information about the mirror is that it ended up at Hogwarts but no one knows where it came from, how long it’s been there or who brought it. Rowling explains that Dumbledore “improved” it so it could be used as it was to protect the Philosopher’s Stone.

    I’m not sure I see the parallel between the mirror and the wand, though. The mirror is all about finding what one desires. It has a melancholy effect on Harry while it has an encouraging and hopeful effect on Ron. The wand however is all about power and control over other people. How do those two fit together, or if you will, mirror each other?

  3. Oh, the other thing that Rowling adds about the mirror is that sometimes the professors found interesting objects when they travelled and brought them back to Hogwarts to share with the other teachers because they had interesting or useful properties and sometimes they brought them back because they wanted help in figuring out what something was or how it could be used.

  4. I like the Mirror/Elder Wand connection very much, also because of Dumbledore’s reaction to both. Though in possession of these two fantastic objects, he does not use them in the way others would assume: the Mirror only brings him sadness and regret, and he never reveals the Elder Wand’s true nature nor attempt to use it to subjugate others, as all its previous owners did. He keeps it primarily to keep others from using it, just the same way that the Mirror protects the Stone by making it appear only to one who is motivated by the same urge to keep a dangerous object out of the grasp of those who would use it to evil ends.
    Even the fate of the owners is parallel, as the Wand and its usually attendant bragging usually result in a short, violent life for the wizard who bears it, and Dumbledore warns that men “waste away” beofre the Mirror, as consumed by its temptations as those who possess the Elder wand.
    Thanks, Adam!

  5. Eeyore, thanks for the info on the Mirror. I’m not in Pottermore, so that was unavailable to me.

    The connection between the Mirror and the Elder Wand is not in what the object is, so much as it is in the effect it creates in Harry and Dumbledore. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that they function in the same way. In other words, it is Harry’s obsessive desire for the object, not the object itself, that warrants the connection. Both obsessive desires take place in the middle portions of the book, and are linked by Dumbledore’s past and in Dumbledore’s warning that both are lures for the foolish. Both objects are linked by Ariana’s presence as well (struck down in the pursuit of the Wand; she is what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror).

    Elizabeth, great thoughts. Piggybacking on your last paragraph, could it be that Dumbledore speaks of “wasting away” as a reference to himself? Could his knowledge be more than historical. We know how powerfully he desired Ariana returned to life, surely the Mirror would have presented a unique temptation for him. You’re right to link him wasting away over the Elder Wand too, I think; we know that he still had a strong obsessive draw to the Wand – his commentary on the Tale of the Three Brothers starts by saying the quest for the Wand is the inverse of the meaning of the story, and then (almost as though he is unable to restrain himself) spends the rest of his time talking about all the Wand’s owners through the ages. He’s clearly spent a lot of time “wasting away” over historical study of the Wand, bless him.

  6. I like the mirror/wand parallel. Another connection that drives the point home is that through his transmutation of selfish desire to selfless desire, and consequently his changed relationship to both objects, both the mirror and the wand come to be the tools (if somewhat indirect) that Harry uses to overcome Voldemort. In PS he uses his “mastery” of the mirror, which is really means a mastery of his desire, to thwart Voldemort’s return to life. In DH, he uses his mastery of the wand, which he only came to through mastering his desire over it, to kill Voldemort. Both the mirror and the wand, and Harry’s changed relationship to each, are instrumental in defeating Voldemort in the final battle of the two books.

  7. It seems to me that Harry’s wand in the first book corresponds as well to the elder wand. The acquisition of wands in Sorcerer’s Stone gives Harry power over nature that he didn’t have before. The elder wand is pretty clearly linked to power. In addition, they are both wands. However, the quest for the wand in sorcerer’s stone was very short and limited (but highly amusing).

  8. Mike, great thoughts! While I personally wouldn’t want to say that Harry “killed” Voldemort (Voldemort really killed himself by using a wand that didn’t belong to him), I think there’s good insight in how how Harry’s relationship to each object works in his victory.

    SteveB, there may indeed be a connection between the Wands, especially in the light of John’s Ring Composition structures. At the end of DH, Harry repairs his own wand with the Elder Wand. I’m not sure, though, that we could really consider going into Ollivander’s wand shop a “quest” for the wand. What is more, isn’t it true that the wands are actually contrasted rather than compared? Harry’s wand is a good thing; the Elder Wand is ultimately a bad thing like the rest of the Hallows, a gnostic way of esoteric immortality that finally proves futile. Harry attains the end that the Hallows point toward, but he doesn’t follow the path of the Hallows to get there. But I think there is some sort of connection between them, and a great catch. I would want to paint it as a contrast, rather than a comparison.

  9. Carrie-Ann Biondi says

    And to build on what both SteveB and Adam said about Harry’s wand in Sorcerer’s Stone: It’s not just that Harry’s wand “chose” him, but that that particular wand did so–that is, the one whose core of phoenix feather came from the same phoenix (Fawkes) as did the one in the core of Voldemort’s wand. Ollivander notes that Voldemort did great but terrible things with that wand, so we already see in the first novel the seeds of a powerful connection between the two wands and the wizards who wield them.

    Just like the Sorting Hat was tempting Harry to go into Slytherin, Harry could have used his wand for evil as Voldemort did, so the compare/contrast issue is not entirely clear at that point. The temptation is latent (and Ollivander thought that they could expect great things from Harry based on Voldemort’s having the “brother wand”), and readers don’t yet know just how Harry will choose in the face of desire, fear, insecurity, or temptation.

    Thus, there may be something connecting the foreshadowed power of those two wands with the Elder Wand of Deathly Hallows; and we see the activation of that powerful connection in the middle novel Goblet of Fire that gets echoed again in the Final Battle of the last novel.

  10. Fascinating. Just came on this whole concept of ring cycles and chiasm for the first time in my life tonight! Hahaha!

    A couple of thoughts/observations on this thread: (1) The contrast between the EW and Harry’s is mirrored (sorry) in that Harry’s wand, and Tom Riddle’s, has a core of phoenix feather, a Christ-like bird that rises from the dead (was it three days later in the books?) while the EW has a core of thestral tail hair, a horse that is symbolic of the living dead; the phoenix and the thestral are easy enantiomers. (2) Voldemort’s two encounters of mortal significance with Harry, when he was a baby and when V was finally killed, involved his killing spell reflecting back upon him. In the movies, the mirroring of the spell trails issuing from their wands and meeting, surging back and forth, evokes the concept of mirroring, too.

    Finally, any thoughts on the fact that Harry’s wand is of holly wood, the EW of elder wood, and Tom Riddle’s of yew?

  11. Also, pondering this, the whole concept of a ring-cycle is inherently mirror-centric, is it not? At least from the end-points and from the center-point, right? I’m new to this, so don’t leave bruises, please…

  12. MattN

    My thought on Harry’s wand being constructed of holly wood is that it was anticipating the pure Hollywood gold of the movies (just kidding).

  13. Arabella Figg says

    This is all really excellent, and fascinating food for thought.

    I suggest that the Philosopher’s Stone paralles the Elder Wand. Harry was obsessed with both and determined to keep them out of Voldemort’s hands. Each had “eternal” meaning. One gave the owner power over human life and the other power over human death. Both were inadvertantly rescued by Harry, neither was kept by him, and both were placed beyond misuse.

    I suggest the Mirror is the Resurrection Stone for Harry and Dumbledore.

  14. Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been out of town last week. Now, to catch up a bit.

    Great thoughts on Harry’s wand in Stone, Carrie-Anne and MattN. There are a few places where these two share some common elements. The difficulty is that the Phoenix/Elder wand comparison do not line up. They clunk and grate structurally, when we have a full connection to the Mirror in such a way that harmonizes both objects by way of Harry’s desire.

    Arabella, interesting thoughts. The Mirror and the Resurrection Stone both have certain similarities to one another. I didn’t address these in the essay because of space, but there are certain connections. Harry sees his parents in both the Mirror and with the Stone, for instance. So I think we could safely say that the Mirror serves several different purposes, and overlaps the Wand and the Stone Hallows.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think we can say that the Stone parallels the Wand on the level of a Hallows Quest, not least because it and the Philosopher’s Stone are already parallels, and DH makes this connection explicitly (DH, 416). Harry is never really drawn to the Philosopher’s Stone for itself, and so he can’t really be said to “obsess” over it in the way he obsesses over the Wand. He wants to find it, sure, but never to use it for himself. The Wand, on the other hand, Harry does desire to have for itself. The Wand is a temptation he must overcome and which he has a “weird, burning desire” for. The Mirror is a parallel temptation to this, which structurally appears in the same middle portion of each book, connected by Dumbledore’s family history, and which is not finally resolved until a denouement moment with Dumbledore. Both the Mirror and the Wand are a “lure for fools.”

    I do think there are connections we can make between Harry’s wand and the Stone and the Elder Wand and they should be teased out of the text, but none of them fit better than the Mirror. There are far more parallels between the Mirror and the Wand than there are with any of the other objects, and the parallels are generally stronger, going down into the thematic purposes of each book.

  15. i have been having difficulty subscribing to this blog for years. I do not see anything on the home page which allows me to subscribe. When I press “subscribe” it just brings up pages of letters and numbers which are not regular English but some code of sorts. Can anyone help by letting me know how one can subscribe to Horwart’s Professor? Thank you in advance.

  16. Carrie-Ann Biondi says

    Thanks for your reply, Adam. While re-reading Sorcerer’s Stone recently, I kept your thesis in mind, and am now persuaded of it. What stood out especially this go-around was the passage in “The Mirror of Erised” chapter where Harry’s desire to see his family clearly distracts him from his narrative quest:

    “Harry couldn’t eat. He had seen his parents and would be seeing them again tonight. He had almost forgotten about Flamel. It didn’t seem important anymore. Who cared what the three-headed dog was guarding? What did it matter if Snape stole it, really?”

    Talk about the Seeker dropping the Snitch-ball!

  17. Carrie-Ann Biondi says

    A quick p.s. on this discussion: The point is nicely captured in the Rolling Stones lines: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes well you might find. You get what you need.”

  18. Cathy,
    I don’t know about “subscribe,” but you can type in the address:
    at any time and access the blog. Click on the different tabs lined up above the title to get more information.

    I keep the HogPro address current with my favorite websites…so easy to click and read!!!! Good Luck, and welcome to the family!

  19. Dear pj,

    Thanks so much for the suggestion. Oddly enough, all of a sudden the daily posts are coming into my mail box. It must have been the house elfs who set it up for me 🙂

    Thank you for the warm welcome pj.


  20. have there been no new postings of articles since the 7th of September or is my browser bringing up only stored pages??

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