Literary Allusion in “Harry Potter”: Links Between “Philosopher’s Stone” and “Deathly Hallows”

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,  we are delighted to welcome Dr. Beatrice Groves, fellow and Shakespeare tutor at Trinity College, Oxford University, as a guest blogger for the week. Dr. Groves is the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, available now, and will share some of her astute observations this week on MuggleNet!

Her first post, “Closing a circle: Links Between the First and Last Harry Potter Novels” can be found below.

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The anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone seems an auspicious moment to look at some of the connections between the first and last novels of the Harry Potter series. As has been convincingly demonstrated by J. Steve Lee, John Granger, and others, the novels are connected to each other in a “ring” or “criss-cross” structure that knits together the whole series. The first novel is paired with the last, the second with the sixth, and the third with the fifth, leaving the fourth novel as the “pivot” around which the pattern turns.

Rowling has noted some links between the first and last novels in interview[s] – “that was closing a circle” – and the connections between these two novels are particularly clear. Philosopher’s Stone, for example, is twice explicitly quoted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (when Harry remembers Dumbledore’s claim that he sees himself holding socks in the Mirror of Erised and when he recalls Hagrid’s advice not to rob Gringotts [DH, Chapters 2 and 26]). In another link, the first time that Harry enters the Forbidden Forest he hears the prediction of his death at Voldemort’s hands, an event [that] becomes reality as he enters the Forest for the final time in Deathly Hallows. Likewise, Seamus’s irrelevant and ghoulish question about the Bloody Baron at the opening of the series – “how did he get covered in blood?” (PS, Chapter 7) – turns out by its conclusion to have been highly pertinent[,] and the tall, ghostly lady who wafts past Harry in his night-time wanderings in Philosopher’s Stone will make a crucial return in Deathly Hallows to tell this story.

The echoes between the first and last novels generally show a growth in significance or complexity. When Hermione shouts back at Ron his words from the first book (“Are you a wizard, or what?” (DH, Chapter 32; see PS, Chapter 16), we may suspect a change in the power dynamic within their relationship. Likewise, when Dumbledore turns out street lamps in the series’ opening chapter, his Deluminator is little more than a party trick, but when it returns at the close of the series, it marks Dumbledore’s deep knowledge of Ron’s character and communicates (through that knowledge) insight and hope to Harry (DH, Chapter 24).

In another growth in moral seriousness, Griphook takes Harry to a vault in Gringotts on his innocently wandering trip in the first novel and then guides him to a Gringotts vault again in Deathly Hallows, in what has become a much more morally complex and difficult journey. In the first novel there is no question that Harry might steal from Gringotts, but – though his later robbing of the bank is morally correct – Griphook’s refusal to help Harry without the promise of the Sword of Gryffindor involves Harry in one of his most conflicted and difficult decisions of the series.

Richard A. Spencer’s recent study of Rowling’s classical allusions proves the extensive influence of Greek and Roman myth on Harry Potter, and it seems possible that Rowing may have been inspired by Sophocles’ play Philoctetes in Harry’s moral dilemma over the sword. When Harry asks for Griphook’s help in the final novel, the Goblin keeps a protective grip on the Sword of Gryffindor during the conversation, and Harry’s difficulties revolve around gaining Griphook’s trust while also keeping the sword the Goblin believes is his by right. Harry needs the help of Griphook – an injured Goblin, someone who lies outside wizarding society – and he lies to him in order to cheat him out of a famed weapon, the ancient sword of Gryffindor; for without it, and without Griphook’s help, the battle against Voldemort cannot be won. In Philoctetes the young Neoptolemus needs the help of Philoctetes – a wounded outsider – and lies to him in order to take from him his famed weapon, the ancient bow of Heracles; for without it, and without Philoctetes’ help, the battle for Troy cannot be won.

In both texts the moral paradox surrounding a great, ancient weapon – a symbol of valor – embodies the hero’s struggle between personal morality and the needs of the group (the phrase “For the Greater Good” [DH, Chapter 25] enters uncomfortably into Harry’s head as he justifies his lie to himself). The situational echo of Sophocles’ staging of the question of how far the ends justify the means, and the relationship between an individual’s morals and the demands of the group, marks the increase in complexity of Harry Potter’s moral vision by the end of the series.

Rowling plays Dumbledore to our Hermione: she has given us books to ponder with the promise that if we read them carefully, they might teach us more than we might at first have thought they could. The internal patterning of self-referencing within the series trains its readers in an attentive, literary mode of reading [that] is nourishing in and of itself but also leads us out into other literature.

My next post will look at another pair in the series: the third and fifth novels. Links between Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix include the appearance of the Knight Bus and Neville’s growth in narrative importance. The trivial connections forged between Neville and Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban (when Harry takes Neville’s name as an alias and dreams Neville replaces him on the Quidditch field) form a pre-echo of the mirroring of their fates revealed in Order of the Phoenix. (And in a nice reversal, the humiliation that dogs Neville after forgetting the common room passwords in Prisoner of Azkaban changes into delight in Order of the Phoenix when the new password turns out to be Mimbulus Mimbletonia). The main link between these two books, however, is that they are the two “Sirius” novels: the novels in which Harry’s surrogate father is found and lost. Sirius Black’s name, as we all know, means “black dog,” and fittingly, therefore – as I hope to show in my next post – these are the Harry Potter novels [that] contain an echo of another novel about a black dog: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

  • Silverdoe25

    Great article! Love the exploration of the Ring Theory.

  • stephforeigncountry

    Love pieces like this! Will be picking up Dr Groves’ book as soon as I can.