As with her cast of characters, Rowling fills the Harry Potter novels with symbols and metaphors too numerous to enumerate extensively in this space. The following, however, figure prominently in this first book of the series.
The Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone
In medieval alchemy (see Analysis for Chapter 11), as in this novel, the Philosopher's Stone (the name of the object was changed for the American edition of the book, as well as the U. S. film adaptation) was not only the key to transforming base metals into gold but also held the secret to eternal life. While it is, in both alchemy and Rowling's novel, a literal object, it is also a metaphor for an elusive and ultimately unattainable perfection. Even though Nicolas Flamel, in Rowling's book, creates the Stone, he must in the end destroy it. On some levels, it mirrors the forbidden fruit of Genesis 3 and represents knowledge humanity is not meant to possess. As Dumbledore explains to Harry, "the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all-the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." Furthermore, the specific qualities associated with the Stone-wisdom, rejuvenation, healing, immortality, and so on-echo those associated with the Holy Grail of medieval legend. According to world mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, the Grail symbolizes "the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness" (The Power of Myth, p. 197). Likewise, the Stone, as a human technological achievement (even if the "technology" in this case is mystical alchemy) symbolizes the ultimate fulfillment of humanity's possibility. Unfortunately, the Stone as symbol warns us that humans are not to fulfill their potential through technology. Rather, it is qualities such as those embodied by Harry and his friends-courage, loyalty, and compassion, among others-which truly define the human being.
As do other locations in the novel (for example, the Forbidden Forest), this magical train platform serves as a metaphor for a crossroads (even the name of the train station at which the platform is located is-conveniently though perhaps not coincidentally-King's Cross station), an intersection of two "worlds" or realms. It is what literary scholars often refer to as a liminal location. The adjective "liminal" describes anyone or anything at an edge or on a threshold where normal boundaries (such as the barrier between Platforms Nine and Ten) fade away. New possibilities emerge in liminal situations. Rowling's ingenious creation of Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters suggests that, even in the most seemingly mundane circumstances, these new possibilities are open to us, if we will only abandon our "Muggle" preconceptions and see the world for the "enchanted" place that it truly is.
The Mirror of Erised
As Dumbledore tells Harry, the Mirror of Esired shows those who look into it what they most desire to be true, not necessarily what actually is true. As such, it can be either a dangerous trap (as Harry's repeated longings to look into it illustrate) or a helpful tool (as when Harry uses it to save the Stone from Quirrell, because it in a sense amplifies his true desire to defeat evil). Mirrors are often, in literature, a metaphor for our perception of the world and of ourselves (for example, the apostle Paul's mention of a mirror in 1 Corinthians 13:12, or the Mirror of Galadriel in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). Mirrors reveal more about the one looking into them than they do about objective reality. Their reflections are not always trustworthy; indeed, as the name of the mirror in Rowling's novel implies, they can lead us to see ourselves and life completely backward. In short, mirrors as metaphors remind us that human perception is imperfect and incomplete, and must be mastered (as Harry does in the novel's climax), rather than being allowed to master us.
On a literal level, Harry's lightning bolt-shaped scar is the constant reminder of his encounter with Lord Voldemort when an infant. So it is on the non-literal level as well. Harry has come face-to-face with a great (albeit evil) power, and he cannot remain the same. He is, literally and metaphorically, "scarred" by the experience. In our own lives, we bear "scars"-physical, emotional, mental, spiritual-of encounters with powers (good or evil) greater than ourselves. We may wish we did not have to live with these scars, but these scars can, in fact, prove redemptive-after all, the pain in Harry's scar alerts him to the proximity of Voldemort and prepares him to do battle with evil. This paradoxical metaphor of scars that heal or bring healing can be found throughout literature, such as the wound of the Fisher King in Grail legends, or the stripes and scars of Christ in the New Testament. Just as their wounds help define these characters, so does Harry's scar help define him. It is the proof that he is, as wizards refer to him, "the boy who lived"-the hero who can face evil and survive.