Philosopher Stone Faves (and what should Dumbledore have told Harry?)

Once again, I must apologize for not being present this week to comment on my own blog post! I have just reached that point in the semester when first papers need to go back to students. So I got caught in the “Non-Stop Grading Zone.” And believe me, grading essays is typically not much fun.

So back to the topic at hand. We have had some lively discussion concerning Dumbledore’s lies to Harry at the end of PS/SS. And I personally have said everything about PS/SS that I’ve been dying to say.

Before the PS/SS discussion, though, draws to a close, I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. What have you been dying to say about PS/SS that we haven’t really covered?
  2. What would you have told Harry after he regained consciousness from the battle with Quirrellmort if you had been in Albus Dumbledore’s position?

The Comments thread is open. But I’m also taking suggestions for “End of PS/SS” Guest Posts. Anybody game?

When we move on to Chamber of Secrets (the book, not the Forum), I’ll do a quick read and post on random stuff that jumps out at me… and then go back and get into a bit more depth about the book.

One thing that occurred to me this morning is that CoS is really the first book that digs into biographical detail concerning Tom Riddle. Of course, we already know from PS/SS that he was a Slytherin and that his diminished form resided in Albania before Quirrell found him. But there’s not much that we know about the man himself until we open Riddle’s Diary/Horcrux in CoS.

Should be fun.

And now… what is it that you’re dying to say about PS/SS?

The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore

“Don’t be a fool,” snarled the face. “Better save your own life and join me… or you’ll meet the same end as your parents…. “They died begging me for mercy….”

“LIAR!” Harry shouted suddenly.

Quirrell was walking backward at him, so that Voldemort could still see him. The evil face was now smiling.

“How touching…” it hissed. “I always value bravery…. Yes, boy, your parents were brave…. I killed your father first, and he put up a courageous fight… but your mother needn’t have died… she was trying to protect you…. Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.”


We expect the lie from Voldemort, just as we expect defiance from Harry. Voldemort lies in claiming…

  • That Harry’s parents died begging for mercy
  • That he values bravery
  • That Harry’s father put up a courageous fight

In actuality, Harry’s father rushed at Voldemort without a wand in his hand, Voldemort cast the curse, and…

James Potter fell like a marionette whose strings were cut….”

That’s it.

In context, fear has failed to motivate Harry to give Voldemort what he wants, so Voldemort reverts to flattery, reciting the key Gryffindor quality of bravery. And no doubt, James Potter bravely rushed at the Dark Lord. But put up a courageous fight? There was no fight.

Voldemort’s lie about Harry’s father, however, is ultimately less destructive than Albus Dumbledore’s. Once the Stone has been saved, Dumbledore promises Harry to answer whatever questions he can… without, of course, lying. But when Harry asks if it’s true that Snape hates him because he hated his father, Dumbledore replies:

“Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive.”


“He saved his life.”

That’s not exactly true. James Potter got cold feet on a Marauders prank that would have gotten Severus killed, and James intervened to stop it.

But Severus never believed that James’ primary intention was to save his life. He believed that James’ intent was merely to save himself and the other Marauders from getting expelled.
(And when we see what James did to Severus shortly afterward in the SWM, who can blame Severus for denying James any benevolent intent?)

But the question of James’ intent is not at the core of Dumbledore’s lie. It’s in his claim that Snape, in essence, was angry over owing James a life debt – a life debt that Severus never believed he owed. In framing Snape’s hatred in those terms, Dumbledore glosses over the true source of Snape’s fury: severe, public humiliation and abuse in SWM (what I would call a form of gang rape, frankly). And then, the worst of all possible humiliations: James winning Lily’s hand.

Yes, I know why Dumbledore might feel compelled to lie on this matter. Snape swore him to secrecy, admonishing Dumbledore never to reveal his [Snape’s] motives for protecting Harry – and putting Dumbledore in a bit of a bind. So it’s possible that Dumbledore invents an alternate scenario to explain Snape’s protection (i.e., attempting to retire the life debt) while at the same time honoring his word to Severus.

But the lie doesn’t help. It doesn’t really explain anything about Severus’ antipathy toward James to Harry. It merely helps to escalate the tension between Harry and Snape. And a couple of years later, Harry uses the lie when he throws his father’s life-saving “courage” right back in Snape’s face.

So my question is: How conscious is Dumbledore that he’s telling a lie? Has he, like Harry, created some ideal “James” in his head? Or is he deliberately misleading Harry in order to protect Severus’ secret? Or what?

I await your comments.


“A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it… Since then, I have served him faithfully, although I have let him down many times. He has had to be very hard on me.” Quirrell shivered suddenly.

Well, I’m back! It took a bit longer to get breathing space than I thought it would, and in the meantime, my sister finished reading the Harry Potter series!!! What this means is that she is now no longer banished from my blog. (And btw, she’s pro-Severus, and really angry at Albus). Maybe she’ll peak her head into the comments at some point and say “Hi.”

But let’s get back to Quirrell.

There is something profoundly sad about Quirrell’s account of how Voldemort seduced him. Quirrell has become so deluded that he now thinks that his former belief in the existence of good and evil was a “ridiculous idea” – and that “power,” not morality, is the true foundation for action.

These views sound remarkably similar to how the philosophy of Nietzsche is described – both by those sympathetic and those antipathetic to his work. Personally, I have never managed to stomach Nietzsche enough to actually read him, but I would be curious – from those who have some better acquaintance with his work than I do – if Voldemort’s perspective is authentically Nietzschean… or if it’s a weak reading or caricature of Nietzsche’s ideas of good, evil, and power. (I welcome your comments in the Comments thread)

Regardless of Voldemort’s relationship with Nietzsche… what becomes apparent from Quirrell’s words is that the influence Voldemort exerts over this young follower is like the influence of a cult leader. Quirrell has ceased thinking for himself. He believes that in balking at Voldemort’s commands, he is in the wrong, and that it is only fitting that Voldemort “be very hard on” him when he fails.

Quirrell never considers that perhaps prior to his fateful meeting with Voldemort, his notions of good and evil were correct… or that balking at Voldemort’s commands is merely how a normal human being with a conscience would act. We know from what Harry overheard in the classroom that Quirrell begged Voldemort not to make him harm another unicorn:

“No – no – not again, please – “

For a moment in that classroom, Quirrell’s conscience made an appearance, offering a normal human reaction to Voldemort’s monstrous command. But Voldemort has so deeply programmed Quirrell (perhaps through a deadly combination of brainwashing and magic) that the young professor believes he must serve Voldemort faithfully, no matter what horrific deed the Dark Lord asks him to perform. And so, he does kill the unicorn… and now aims to kill Harry.

Quirrell does not even question the necessity of sharing his body (and, as Dumbledore mentions, his soul) with Voldemort. But all Voldemort aims to do is use Quirrell for his own ends (just as he tells Quirrell to “Use the boy… Use the boy…”). Once Quirrell becomes a liability, though, Voldemort simply leaves him to die.

This is Voldemort’s modus operandi – to seduce, use, and discard. And personally, I think there is plenty of foreshadowing here for later books in the series.

In Quirrell’s words, we get a glimpse of how Voldemort seduced the previous generation of Death Eaters – teenage boys, really, recruited from within Hogwarts. He appears to have preyed on class and “blood” prejudices, and perhaps offered visions of nearly limitless power.

Though a couple of Death Eaters (Regulus Black and Severus Snape, in particular) had experiences horrifying enough to jar loose their programming and see through to the true nature of Voldemort’s regime, most of their compatriots remained loyal to the cause.

Actually, Severus Snape becomes almost the anti-Quirrell. Just as Quirrell is the man with two faces, Snape looks two ways – towards the Death Eaters and towards the Order of the Phoenix. In fact, Rowling quite consciously made his birthdate January 9 – the celebration of the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces:


The difference between Snape and Quirrell, though, is that Snape’s “double nature” is a product of his being a double agent. He fakes loyalty to the Death Eaters. He is authentically loyal to the Order.

And just as Voldemort casts Quirrell aside the moment he has no more use for him, he kills Snape because he wants something that he believes Snape has. As Dumbledore tells Harry at the end of PS/SS:

“he shows just as little mercy to his followers as to his enemies.”

Voldemort truly believed double agent Snape to be a “good and faithful” follower. But it was the death of “faithful Quirrell” here at the beginning of the series that put the reader on notice that such things could happen… even all the way at the end.