Literature Study GuidesHarry Potter SeriesHarry Potter And The Sorcerers Stone Summary

Harry Potter (Series) | Study Guide

J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter (Series) | Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone | Summary

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About the Title

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry must keep the Sorcerer's Stone, a magical object used to create the life-extending Elixir of Life, from falling into the hands of the evil Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Summary

"The Boy Who Lived"

Perfectly normal Vernon and Petunia Dursley wake up as usual one morning in their home at 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging, England. Outside, however, strange things are afoot. People in long cloaks walk about town. Mr. Dursley overhears some of these strange folk talk about "the Potters." Something has happened in the magical world—something of such importance the strictly enforced separation between magical and Muggle (nonmagical) worlds is temporarily blurred. The Dark Lord, Voldemort (often referred to as "You-Know-Who" out of fear) has disappeared. Voldemort had just killed Lily and James Potter and had been trying to kill their young son, Harry, when something unexpected happened. The killing curse Voldemort cast rebounded from the young boy, hitting Voldemort instead. The child has been left with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.

Harry Goes to Hogwarts

The newly orphaned Harry is left with the Dursleys—his nosy, finicky aunt and self-aggrandizing uncle—who reluctantly take him in. Harry lives with them until he turns 11, enduring their neglect while his cousin, Dudley, is indulged. The Dursleys never reveal to Harry his parents were magical, so it is something of a surprise when, on his 11th birthday, he is invited to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Over the objections of his aunt and uncle, he leaves their home accompanied by Rubeus Hagrid. Harry visits Gringotts, the wizard bank, where his parents' money has been kept for him. He obtains a wand and other items necessary to a magical education in Diagon Alley, a street of magical shops, and Hagrid buys him an owl for his birthday. Taking his new possessions with him, Harry boards the Hogwarts Express. On the journey to Hogwarts, he meets Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, who are destined to become Harry's best friends. He also meets Draco Malfoy, a snobbish boy from a wealthy family, who will become his enemy at school.

At Hogwarts, Harry quickly learns about a magical world in which he is already famous for being the "boy who lived." He is sorted into Gryffindor House—one of four school Houses—by a magical mind-reading Sorting Hat, as are Hermione and Ron. He attends classes in Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, History of Magic, Potions, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. The sinister-looking Potions master and head of Slytherin House, Severus Snape, takes an instant dislike to Harry, favoring Slytherin Draco Malfoy and his brutish friends Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.

In flying lessons Harry proves to have a natural ability to handle a broomstick, and he is recruited as Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Quidditch is the main sport of the magical world. It involves hitting a ball called the Quaffle through three hoops while the Seeker tries to locate and catch a small winged ball called the Golden Snitch. Quidditch is played high in the air with all balls airborne and all players flying on broomsticks as they attempt to score and block points.

Secrets and Discoveries

During the flying lesson, Harry embarrasses Draco Malfoy by foiling his attempt to bully Neville Longbottom. As a result, Malfoy challenges Harry to a wizard's duel—"wands only"—and that night Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak out of their dorm rooms to meet for the midnight duel. Though Malfoy never shows up, the three encounter a giant three-headed dog that seems to be guarding something in a forbidden corridor of the castle. The next day Ron and Harry speculate about what the dog could be guarding, but Hermione is miffed they broke school rules and refuses to take part. Meanwhile, Harry receives a broomstick, a Nimbus Two Thousand, and team captain Oliver Wood teaches him the rules of Quidditch.

On Halloween Ron makes a disparaging remark about Hermione's sanctimonious attitude. Having overheard this remark, Hermione spends the rest of the day reportedly crying in the girls' bathroom. During the Halloween feast, turban-wearing Professor Quirrell enters the great hall, shouting a troll is loose in the school dungeons. Ron and Harry worry about Hermione, who is still missing. Later, they sneak away and find her trapped by the troll. They fight the troll and knock it out.

November begins. Harry sees Professor Snape with a bite on his leg and believes Snape was bitten while trying to get past the three-headed dog to steal whatever it is guarding. Harry plays his first Quidditch match and miraculously catches the Golden Snitch in his mouth, ensuring a Gryffindor win. After the match, Harry, Ron, and Hermione have tea in Hagrid's hut, where Hagrid lets slip the three-headed dog's name is Fluffy.

For Christmas Harry receives an anonymous gift, an Invisibility Cloak that had belonged to his father. Late that night, Harry uses the cloak to explore and discovers the Mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows the viewer his or her deepest longing. In it he sees himself with his parents. He becomes obsessed with looking in the mirror, and eventually Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, moves it.

Hermione deduces Fluffy is guarding the Sorcerer's Stone, which can be used to produce the Elixir of Life. Harry becomes convinced Professor Snape is trying to steal it. Meanwhile, Hagrid obtains a dragon egg (which is illegal to have). When the egg hatches, Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak out and visit Hagrid's hut. Unfortunately, Draco Malfoy follows them and sees the young dragon. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione help Hagrid by handing off the baby dragon to friends of Ron's brother Charlie at night, all four of them, plus Neville Longbottom, who had been trying to warn Harry about Malfoy, are caught out of the dorms after hours and are given detention. They serve their detention by accompanying Hagrid into the Forbidden Forest, where they find a murdered unicorn, and Harry encounters a mysterious hooded figure. Harry also meets several centaurs, and one of them, named Firenze, helps him deduce it is Voldemort who has been killing the unicorns and drinking their blood to gain enough strength to steal the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry grows more and more worried Voldemort might return. As the days go by, his scar begins to burn, and he is plagued with nightmares.

A Confrontation

Exams come and go, and suddenly it occurs to Harry something is not quite right about Hagrid's story about how he obtained the dragon egg. He asks Hermione and Ron, "Don't you think it's a bit odd ... that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is a dragon, and a stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg in his pocket?" Hagrid, it turns out, had mentioned to the mysterious stranger Fluffy goes to sleep when music is played. Harry is certain the mysterious man was either Snape or Voldemort, and the three rush to the room with the trapdoor. Harry puts Fluffy to sleep by playing the flute Hagrid gave him, and they go through the trapdoor.

A series of magical obstacles challenge the three friends, and Harry is forced to leave Ron and Hermione behind as he makes his way past the final one. He is surprised to encounter Professor Quirrell and the Mirror of Erised in the room. Quirrell is frustrated because he knows the Sorcerer's Stone must be nearby, but he can't find it. Harry, looking into the mirror, feels the Stone drop into his pocket. Suddenly, Quirrell takes off his turban to reveal a second face emerging from the back of his head—the face of Voldemort. Voldemort orders Quirrell to seize Harry, but when Quirrell touches him, the touch burns. Quirrell lets Harry go. Harry realizes Quirrell cannot touch him, and then he passes out.

A Mother's Love

Harry wakes in bed in the hospital wing. Dumbledore tells him the Stone was destroyed, but Voldemort escaped. As they talk, Harry asks Dumbledore why Voldemort wanted to kill him back when Harry was a baby. Dumbledore replies, mysteriously: "I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now." So Harry asks why Quirrell couldn't touch his skin. Dumbledore answers: "If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love." He explains Harry's mother died to save him—an act of love—and that act gave Harry magical protection from Voldemort.

After an end-of-year feast, Harry and the other students take the Hogwarts Express back to London.

Analysis

Not So Ordinary

As the first installment of the Harry Potter series, the book introduces the not-so-ordinary protagonist, Harry Potter, with his untidy hair, round glasses, and mysterious scar. He has been raised by neglectful relatives who clearly resent his presence. While Dudley is spoiled and pampered, Harry lives in the "cupboard under the stairs" and his birthday, when it comes, is barely acknowledged by his family. For his 10th birthday, for example, the Dursleys gave Harry "a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks." These painful circumstances make it extremely rewarding for readers when Harry learns he has the exciting ability to do magic and he will be leaving the hateful Dursleys for somewhere wonderful and magical. To make the situation even sweeter, Harry is famous in the magical world. He is propelled from a life of being overlooked to one where everyone is always looking at him (or at least at his scar). While this change might seem quite satisfying, it does not satisfy Harry. He longs for something else entirely—family. When he looks in the Mirror of Erised, he sees the deepest desire of his heart: his parents with him. The characterization of Harry as an orphan on the cusp of adolescence shows this series will be a coming-of-age story. The fact that he is neglected and unloved by his relatives and longs for a loving family adds poignancy. The nature of his parents' deaths adds mystery and tragedy.

While the content of the chapters devoted to the Dursleys is serious, the tone is humorous. The Dursleys are ridiculous, and readers are meant to laugh at them; Petunia Dursley calls her son "Ickle Dudleykins," after all. J.K. Rowling's uniquely humorous tone and ability to create memorable characters is evident in these first chapters, and it continues throughout the series even as the subject matter becomes increasingly dark. Her ability to make readers laugh while describing serious matters is a hallmark of her style and one that has made the series hold up well over time.

Love, Death, and Power

It might seem odd, given the lack of love in Harry's homelife, that love is cast as an identifying feature of the boy wizard, specifically maternal love. His mother, by sacrificing her life in an attempt to save him from Voldemort, showed courageous and unconditional love. This act leaves an imprint on Harry in the form of protective magic. Since fantasy novels often use magic to talk about real aspects of being human, this protective magic suggests a real-life parallel. That is, unconditional maternal love has a tangible effect on a person. Love has real power. It can protect, and its effects and protection can reach from beyond the grave. Rowling had an infant daughter when the idea for Harry Potter popped into her head, and she lost her own mother during the planning phase of the novels. These life events clearly informed and brought depth and authenticity to her development of this concept.

Love's power is also part of a broader theme about power—its types, uses, and abuses—that pervades the series. In this book the difference between Harry's power and Voldemort's can be seen as the difference between giving and taking power. Love's power is given to Harry by his mother when she gave her life. The power of friendship is also shown to be a giving power, illustrated by Harry's new friendships with Hermione and Ron. In both the confrontation with the troll and with the magical puzzles guarding the Sorcerer's Stone, the three must work together to overcome challenges. Each one brings something to the mix, and the final result is a successful collaborative effort. The power Voldemort seeks, in contrast, is exploitative. Voldemort kills a beautiful magical creature to prolong his own diminished life. He wants to achieve immortality using the Sorcerer's Stone, and he will go to any length to get it. Voldemort sees power as something to seek and take, not something to give. Professor Quirrell describes this taking type of power when he tells Harry, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it." This development of ideas about power sets up a theme that becomes increasingly important as the series progresses: self-sacrifice versus self-preservation.

A comparison of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy also supports this theme of power. Both boys are the central figure in a group of three: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are roughly parallel to Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle. However, the power structure of each group is quite different. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are equal partners. They give input and are given their share of the credit. In contrast, Draco is a bully and his friends are more like lackeys. Crabbe and Goyle do not speak; Draco does all the talking and they laugh in agreement. Draco uses his friends as thugs to intimidate and support his own power.

In the Beginning

The first installment of the Harry Potter series has its own plot arc, ending in the destruction of the Sorcerer's Stone. Still, it also has to do the heavy lifting of setting up a seven-book series that ranges over seven years of Harry's life. It introduces most of the major players, the magical system, and the setting. It uses several structural elements that will be revisited in nearly every book. For example, important events in the books often happen on Halloween and Christmas. The school calendar is important: the end of summer vacation, the arrival at Hogwarts, Quidditch games, classes, exams, and other school activities are additional anchor points for plot events. The books often introduce a new magical object toward the beginning (here, the Sorcerer's Stone that Hagrid takes from the Gringotts vault) that is crucial to the book's climax. At the end of the book, Dumbledore and Harry debrief the book's events (this summary occurs in a slightly different way in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince but is otherwise a reliable feature). Harry also often must face a final test or challenge alone. Although Harry's friends go with him through the trapdoor, Hermione and Ron are prevented from going with him past the final challenge. With little variation, these structural elements occur in each book of the series.

The book also shows Rowling's careful planning. Just as she introduces magical objects in early chapters that become important in later ones, she introduces details in early books that become important later. Notable examples in this book include Snape's immediate dislike for Harry, the appearance of the Invisibility Cloak, and the lack of details about why Harry's parents were killed and Harry's being targeted by Voldemort. The latter example provides a bit of suspense to hook readers into the next installment. When Harry asks Dumbledore why Voldemort wanted to kill him when he was a baby, Dumbledore replies, mysteriously: "I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now." Readers know they will need to read on to find out.

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