Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, follows Harry’s journey as he crosses the threshold into the Wizarding World and finds his place in it. He learns not only magical skills, but also important lessons about friendship, bravery, and self-sacrifice, which shape his character and distinguish him from Lord Voldemort; this distinction is what ultimately helps Harry attain the Sorcerer’s Stone and thwart Voldemort yet again. Sorcerer’s Stone introduces readers to some of the most fundamental differences between Harry and Voldemort: Harry’s selflessness, his ability to love and consequently develop genuine relationships and be a part of a true community, and Voldemort’s inability (and lack of a desire) to do so. In subsequent books in the series, their similarities are expounded on more, particularly when the books go into detail about Voldemort’s past, but in Sorcerer’s Stone, the very essences of Harry’s personality and Voldemort’s personality, and the traits that set them apart, are highlighted.
Chapter 17, “The Man with Two Faces,” presents a key difference between Voldemort and Harry. The root of all Voldemort’s actions is to find a way to be immortal, to be invincible. To Voldemort, death is the ultimate evil, and eternal life is the ultimate good. Voldemort tells Harry, “See what I have become? Mere shadow and vapor…I have form only when I can share another’s body” (293)*. This statement, as well as the ways that Voldemort must resort to in order to continue to exist, shows the very essence of Voldemort and his views on life, death, and power. Long before Voldemort met Quirrell, he had created his Horcruxes so that he would never truly die. Voldemort can only think in terms of the physical and the earthly; he thinks of living in terms of having a living human body, whether or not his soul is intact. Voldemort’s view of human life, and the way he must live, is perverted–while the human soul is supposed to survive whether the body lives or not, Voldemort’s soul cannot. His is the very opposite of human life–his soul is dependent on the physical vessel or the human body in which it lives. In Sorcerer’s Stone, the vessel is Quirrell’s body–Voldemort is dependent on Quirrell’s body in order to live. By searching fervently for a way to make himself invulnerable to death, Voldemort has inadvertently given up his self-sufficiency.
In the same chapter, when Dumbledore is telling Harry that the stone has been destroyed and that Nicolas Flamel and his wife would eventually die, he says, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” (297). This statement also provides insight into Voldemort’s personality–his desired are disordered, his mind is not “well-organized,” for he thinks that there is nothing worse than death. However, even in the first book of the series, at a mere age 11, Harry already finds himself willing to sacrifice his life in order to save others. When he, Ron, and Hermione go through the trapdoor to stop Snape (or rather, Quirrell) from stealing the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry tells Ron and Hermione to escape, save themselves, and alert Dumbledore if something bad happens to him. He thinks not of himself, but of others, of the safety of his friends and of protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone from falling into the wrong hands.
Harry’s relationships with others is vastly different from Voldemort’s, and is a significant reason why Voldemort views death as the ultimate evil, and why he cannot understand love and self-sacrifice. Harry shares deep, genuine relationships with Ron and Hermione, and he puts their safety above his own. When Harry decides to go into the trapdoor and find Snape (Quirrell), he does not expect Ron and Hermione to accompany him; however, they choose to because they care about Harry. The three friends have a selfless love for each other. Ron and Hermione are not willing to let Harry venture through the trapdoor alone, while Harry makes sure that Ron and Hermione are not harmed when they do go after Snape. Ron chooses to sacrifice himself so that Harry can win the chess game and go on to get to the Stone. Harry chooses to go on and meet Snape (Quirrell) alone, while sending Hermione back to safety during the potion enchantment. Harry, Ron, and Hermione put each other before themselves, they are willing to sacrifice their own safety for the sake of each other, something Voldemort has never done. Voldemort regards others as below himself, and he puts himself before others. Voldemort is hard on Quirrell, even though Quirrell reveres him. When Harry catches Quirrell pleading with Voldemort (whom, at the time, Harry believes is Snape), Quirrell sounds fearful, and “he was pale and looked as though he was about to cry” (246). Voldemort treats Quirrell cruelly, no better than how he would treat someone he considers below him, even though he is completely dependent on Quirrell for his own existence. Voldemort’s and Quirrell’s relationship is based on selfish motives–Quirrell wants some of Voldemort’s power, while Voldemort simply needs Quirrell’s body so that he can survive. Most, if not all, of Voldemort’s relationships are based on selfish means, and therefore, he never does have true friendships and never does know love. In the hospital wing, Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort “left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies” (298). While Harry’s relationships are based on genuine care and selfless love for the other, Voldemort only chooses his relationships if they offer him something to gain; likewise, those who choose to form a relationship with Voldemort do so only because they want to gain something from him, usually power–their motives are selfish as well.
Unlike Voldemort, Harry knows that there are things worse than death; for instance, when Firenze tells Harry that unicorn blood will save one “even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price…you will have but a half-life, a cursed life,” Harry says, “But who’d be that desperate? If you’re going to be cursed forever, death’s better, isn’t it?” To Harry, death is better than a life given at the cost of slaying a creature that is pure and innocent; death is much better than choosing to live at the expense of others. What primarily distinguishes Harry from Voldemort is his selflessness, his willingness to die in order to save others. Harry is selfless because he knows love; on the other hand, Voldemort is incapable of love, which is why he only knows physical life and cannot fathom death as “the next great adventure,” nor can he fathom death as a sacrifice for someone else, death for the sake of love. What makes Harry an exemplary wizard is not his magical ability–in fact, Quirrell and Voldemort have magical abilities that likely surpass Harry’s. Rather, what distinguishes Harry, what makes him great, is his courage and self-sacrifice. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the driving message is this: the greatest magic of all is not any sort of complex spell, not any sort of intellectual feat, but rather, something all beings, from Muggles to wizards, have the capacity for–love.
*All direct quotes are taken from the Scholastic edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling.