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MonkeyNotes-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
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Themes

Death

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

Dumbledore’s statements about death echoes Socrates’ speech in Plato’s Apology: “Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things--either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?...What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.”

As Harry grows older he realizes that death is a part of life. His parents’ death, Ron’s self-sacrifice on the giant chessboard, and Quirrell’s grisly demise force him to realize this. Rowling admits that coming deaths will be characters that she and her readers have grown to love: “there’s worse coming.”


Dumbledore is increasingly aware of his age and his mortality as the series goes on, and even in book one it is insinuated that Harry is to succeed the aging Dumbledore as the next leader of the forces of good.

Rowling’s perspective on the theme of death: “Harry has already dealt with death, of course. He lost his parents very young, in book four he witnessed a murder, which is a very disturbing thing. So this is not news to anybody who has been following the series, that death is a central theme of the books. Dumbledore and death... But, yes, I think it would be fair to say that in book five he has to examine exactly what death means, in even closer ways. But I don't think people who have been following the series will be that surprised by that.”

(CBC Interview)

Appearances are Deceiving

“Yes, Severus does seem the type, doesn’t he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?”

Harry trusts the timid Quirrell and suspects slimy Snape, but in the end he realizes he has it all wrong. Fang and Hagrid are also examples of deceiving appearances. Another deceptive character is Dumbledore, who appears innocent (with his humming and goofy nose and mannerisms) considering that he is the most powerful wizard alive.

Fang exemplifies the appearances vs. reality theme: he looks ferocious but is friendly and sometimes cowardly. Malfoy, who judges on appearances, chose to go with Fang into the Forbidden Forest because of Fang’s long teeth. But when the unicorn-killing monster appears, Fang is among the first to run.

JK Rowling Interview Excerpt

Lauren: In all your books, the continuing theme is that people are not what they appear to be. Sometimes they seem dangerous, and are good. Sometimes helpful people are bad. It looks like Harry is being taught to overlook first impressions and to be suspicious of people. The Dursleys judge on appearances alone... Do you think that's something kids need to learn more than other generations?

Rowling: You're right, this is a recurring theme in the books. People are endlessly surprising. It's a very jaded person who thinks they've seen every possible nuance of human nature. (CBC Interview)

The theme of deceptive appearances is central to Shakespeare’s play Othello, in which Othello’s “best friend” Iago is trying to ruin Othello behind a mask of kindness.

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