Quirrell explains to Harry, “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” This is how Voldemort views the world, his paradigm. The events of this chapter show us that the Dark Lord is wrong— good and evil do exist, and so does power. In this case, the power of love and good is superior to the power of evil. A few points about this:
- Harry rejects the power of the Sorcerer’s Stone and is able to receive it from the mirror.
- Good and evil are so opposed that evil cannot survive the touch of one who has been so deeply loved.
- The Mirror of Erised provides a protection that is qualitatively different from the other six protections. The first six protections can be overcome by magical power or cleverness. The Mirror is not controlled by any kind of power but by the desires of the heart. In other words, for the Mirror, there is only good and evil, not power.
Another power that shows up in this chapter is the power of truth. Harry’s habit of lying has long been a problem with adult readers who fear that young readers will follow his example. Harry lies to Quirrell about what he sees in the Mirror. Voldemort lies to Harry about his parents’ deaths, but when Harry calls him on it, he tells a different story. When Harry asks Dumbledore for the truth, the Headmaster sighs, “The truth…It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you’ll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie.”
Dumbledore encouraged Harry to tell the truth about Voldemort by calling him by name, “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing himself.”
In the midst of this display of magical power, good, evil, love, and truth, I am reminded of the ridiculously arbitrary power that adults hold over children, particularly in a school setting. I love the description of Hagrid in the hospital wing: he “looked too big to be allowed.” That Hagrid wouldn’t be allowed is not only a hint of what will come later from Hogwarts’ High Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge, it echoes children’s unquestioning acceptance of adults’ power to declare something or someone to be not allowed. It also reflects Hagrid’s stance as a vulnerable child, stuck in his third year of school, expelled and not allowed, sobbing and being comforted by an eleven-year-old, once again.
At the closing feast, Dumbledore grants 50 points to Ron, 50 points to Hermione, and 60 points to Harry, which creates a tie for the house cup between Gryffindor and Slytherin—“if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.” Fortunately, Neville earns 10 more points for standing up to his friends, making Gryffindor the definitive winner. Does this strike anyone as incredibly arbitrary? Yet everyone accepts Dumbledore’s declarations as somehow True, as if in a book somewhere it’s written that “courage to stand up to friends” is worth 10 house points. Granted, we don’t get any quotes from the Slytherin table, but we get the feeling that the overwhelming sentiment among all Hogwarts students is that the house point system, school rules, and orders from adults are True and are to be followed and obeyed. Only when Dolores Umbridge ramps up her reign of terror do students start to question the authority of adults.
And the nomination for anticlimax of the year? The academic final exam results. Harry, Ron, Neville, and even Goyle pass their classes. Hermione, we learn, makes the highest marks of all the first years. By now, we know that the Hogwarts saga is not about academics, even though the bizarre, ancient, exclusive British boarding school in is essential to the series. JKR dedicates a single paragraph to reporting academic results for the entire school year. All those hours working in class, studying in the library, cramming in the common room, the official reason for a school to exist—one paragraph.