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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Essay Q&A

1. Identify the classic, archetypal elements of the Hero's Quest in Harry Potter's story.
In Harry Potter's story, we can identify: (1) a call to adventure (e.g., Harry receives the letters from Hogwarts School); (2) a separation from the known world (e.g., Harry leaves for Hogwarts with Hagrid); (3) initiation into a new world (e.g., the Sorting Ceremony); (4) threats to the successful achievement of the quest (e.g., animosity with Malfoy; the Mirror of Erised); (5) the fellowship of close companions (Ron, Hermione); (5) the guidance of a mentor (e.g., Hagrid, Dumbledore); (6) a descent into darkness (the passage through the trapdoor and the final confrontation with Quirrell and Voldemort); (7) a rebirth or resurrection (Harry's victory over Voldemort); and (8) the transformed hero's return to the old world (Harry returns home, but with a new knowledge of who he is).

2. Select a traditional element from mythology or folklore that appears in Rowling's work and explain how she uses and adapts it to serve the purposes of her story.
While examples abound, perhaps the clearest one is that of the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone itself. Rowling draws on the history about and legends surrounding the real French alchemist Nicolas Flamel (see Analysis for Chapter 11), adapting many of the details from folklore and alchemy (e.g., the properties of the Stone; the details of "sightings" of Flamel and his wife) in order to argue against the goals of alchemy as suitable for human existence (see Dumbledore's final speech to Harry in Chapter 17). Students' further, self-directed research will reveal many other instances in which Rowling has creatively employed pre-existing mythological, folkloric, and legendary materials.

3. How does Lord Voldemort function in the novel as a metaphor for fear?
While Lord Voldemort is clearly an actual character in the book, he also serves the larger purpose of illustrating the power of fear. As early as Chapter 1, even as the wizarding world is celebrating Voldemort's downfall, most wizards do not refer to their supposedly vanquished foe by name. Even Deputy Headmistress McGonagall is shocked when Albus Dumbledore calls Voldemort by name. Throughout the novel, most characters-save Harry himself, who does not know the full history of Voldemort and so thinks nothing of calling him by name-refer to their enemy as "He Who Must Not Be Named" or, even more succinctly, "You Know Who." But, as Dumbledore points out, refusing to use Voldemort's name only grants him more power. In this way, Voldemort functions as a symbol of fear. When fear is not acknowledged, confronted, or explicitly named, it tends to gain more and more control over us. On the other hand, if we openly name our fear, we have taken the first step in defeating it. As other characters in the book realize at some level when referring to Dumbledore as the only wizard brave enough to use Voldemort's name, such open confrontation of fear is an act of courage. It is simpler and may seem easier to avoid our fears; however, only in grappling with them openly and honestly can we find any hope of mastering them.

4. Discuss the role prejudice plays in Rowling's novel, and the implications her treatment of the subject have for us as readers.
Prejudice is a theme that recurs not only in this novel but throughout the Harry Potter series. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are prejudiced against wizards and witches (even though Ron's father is fascinated with non-magical "Muggles," a fascination most clearly and humorously displayed in an early scene in The Goblet of Fire). Centaurs are prejudiced against humans (that is, if we are to judge from Ronan and Bane, who may or may not be typical of their species-thus Rowling makes readers confront their own prejudices even while examining those of her characters). Hagrid mentions that Dumbledore is a great man because he does not share others' prejudice against giants. Draco Malfoy is prejudiced not only against Muggles, but also and even more so against wizards from non-magical families. Clearly, Rowling consciously chose to make prejudice as much a part of her imaginary world as it is of the real world because she thinks it is an important issue to address and to work against. It is a threat to the community of self-realized individuals which she envisions, and must be overcome.

5. What positions about destiny or fate are evident in the novel? In your opinion, does the book make an overarching statement about destiny? Why or why not?
For some characters, destiny or fate is out of human beings' control. In the Forbidden Forest, for example, the centaurs Ronan and Bane refuse to intervene and assist Hagrid, Harry, and Hermione because "Mars is bright tonight." Their practice of astrology shows their belief that human fates are fixed and immovable; destines are, in fact, so established that they can literally be "read in the stars." Harry is at some points inclined to believe in this conception of fate, as, for example, when he confides in Ron his fear that, as Bane "predicted," Voldemort will kill him. On the other hand, readers should note that Harry is reading a great deal into Bane's words; Bane's exact words were a question-"Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?'-that does not receive an explicit answer in the text. This fact might reasonably lead readers to conclude that the novel does not ultimately support a blind fatalism. The episode of the Sorting Hat, for example, suggests that destiny is not so fixed as the centaurs would believe: while the Hat says that Harry would do well in Slytherin, it ultimately respects his free choice of Gryffindor. (In the Hat's words: "Not Slytherin, eh? Are you sure? . . . . Well, if you're sure-better be GRYFFINDOR!") Or, readers may take the more nuanced view that the novel suggests that, while some broad destiny may wait for human beings (as Harry is destined to be a "great wizard"), the exact form that destiny takes is up to them to shape (as Harry can choose to be "great" for either evil or, as he does choose, good).


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