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Mirror of Erised

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"The Mirror of Erised is an ancient, ornate mirror. It has clawed feet and a gold frame inscribed with the phrase " Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." The mirror shows the most desperate desire of a person's heart, a vision that has been known to drive men mad."
—Description[src]

The Mirror of Erised is a mirror, which, according to Albus Dumbledore, shows the "deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts." The name "Erised" is "desire" spelled backwards, as if reflected in a mirror. The happiest person in the world would look in the mirror and see a reflection of them, exactly as they were.

The writing engraved on the frame of the mirror is supposedly in a foreign and probably dead language, but if you look closely it says "I show not your face but your heart's desire" backwards, with the spaces rearranged. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

History

Early history

"Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible."
—Albus Dumbledore explaining the danger of the mirror to Harry Potter[src]

The Mirror of Erised was created before the end of the nineteenth century. It is unknown who the creator was. The mirror is one of those magical artefacts that seems to have been created in a spirit of fun (whether innocent or malevolent is a matter of opinion), because while it is much more revealing than a normal mirror, it is interesting rather than useful.[1]

It is unknown how it came to be at Hogwarts. A succession of teachers have brought back interesting artefacts from their travels, so it might have arrived at the castle in this casual manner, either because the teacher knew how it worked and was intrigued by it, or because they did not understand it and wished to ask their colleagues' opinions.[2] The Mirror had been kept in the Room of Requirement since around 1891.[2] It was only about a century later, in 1991, that Headmaster Albus Dumbledore brought it out and, tucking it out of sight in a disused classroom, initiated some key modifications to the mirror, so that it could hide the Philosopher's Stone.[2]

1991-1992

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
—Albus Dumbledore, when he discovers that Harry has been using the Mirror[src]
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Harry Potter standing in front of the mirror

The Mirror was discovered by Harry Potter on the night that he used his father's Invisibility Cloak for the first time, to search the restricted section of the library for information about Nicolas Flamel. In his attempt to stay hidden from Argus Filch, the school caretaker, he stumbled upon the classroom where the mirror was being stored. Upon looking into it, Harry saw himself surrounded by his late parents and relatives. He saw several smiling family members. Some had the same green eyes, one had the same knees, one of his grandmothers was nodding and smiling at the same time. On his next midnight visit to the mirror, he brought Ronald Weasley, hoping to show him his family. However, Ron saw himself as the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain and Head Boy, holding up the Quidditch Cup, as he has always been overshadowed by his brothers and is always striving to be noticed by others.

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Dumbledore advising Harry from seeking out the Mirror of Erised again

Over the next few days, Harry proceeded to visit it as often as he could to see his parents' faces. Dumbledore found Harry visiting the mirror one night, and after explaining to Harry what the mirror was all about, told him that the mirror was to be moved and requested that Harry not go looking for it. Before heading back to bed, Harry asked Dumbledore what he saw when he looked into the mirror. Dumbledore claimed to see himself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks, telling Harry that "one can never have enough socks."[3] If this had been true, it would suggest that Dumbledore was so content with life that the only things he wished for were small things. However, Dumbledore was lying — the matter being a very personal one. As revealed to Harry in 1998 Dumbledore always, since the incident in his youth, saw his family whole and intact, free of any pain or suffering.[4]

In 1992, the Mirror was the final guardian of the Philosopher's Stone in its Chambers. Dumbledore placed an enchantment on the mirror, hiding the stone inside of it, and allowing the mirror to transfer the stone only to one who wanted to find the stone but not to use it. Anybody wishing more than simply to find it would see themselves making gold or the Elixir of Life, or in Professor Quirrell's case presenting the stone to his master. This is because the greatest desire of anyone wanting to use the stone would not have their greatest desire to be finding it in the first place; anyone just wanting to find the stone but not use it would thus have their greatest desire to find the stone thus have their wish granted.

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The mirror guarding the Philosopher's Stone

When Professor Quirrell ordered Harry to look into the mirror, Harry focused on finding the stone, and, uninterested in actually using the stone for his own purposes, saw his reflection pocketing the stone, at which time it magically appeared in his real pocket.[3]

It is not known what happened to the mirror after the events described here. It might have stayed in the chamber or returned to its classroom.

Powers

"Let me give you a clue. The happiest man on Earth would look into the mirror and see only himself, exactly as he is."
—Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter

The Mirror shows the greatest desire of the one looking into it upon its surface, often with them having achieved some goal or ambition. However, since each person is unique, only they can see it from their point of view. According to Dumbledore, the Mirror shows neither truth nor knowledge, and some have in fact gone mad from staring at it. Dumbledore later bewitched the Mirror to hold the Philosopher's Stone, where the only one who could retrieve it from the Mirror would be one who wanted to find the Stone but not use it or have it used.

Known desires

"And slowly, Harry looked into the faces of the other people in the mirror, and saw other pairs of green eyes like his, other noses like his, even a little old man who looked as though he had Harry's knobbly knees — Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life."
—Harry sees his extended family for the first time[src]
Person Date Desire
Albus Dumbledore 1991 (Purportedly) A pair of thick, white woollen socks (claimed) — whether Dumbledore actually does like socks and did want some for Christmas, as he complained that people "keep giving [him] books", is unknown.
1899-1997 His family alive, whole and happy — Percival and Kendra all returned to him, Ariana properly using magic and alive, and Aberforth reconciled to him.[5]
Harry Potter 1991 His parents and extended family[3]
74
4 June, 1992 Himself shaking hands with Albus Dumbledore after winning the House Cup (claimed)[3]
Himself holding the Philosopher's Stone (was able to get the stone becuse he had no intention of using it).[3]
Mirror stone
1997 Lord Voldemort defeated and dead[6]
Hermione Granger Herself and her friends alive and unscathed, Voldemort defeated, and herself in a romantic embrace with a "certain person".[7][8] (theoretical)
Ron Weasley 1991 Himself as Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, and standing apart and being better than all of his brothers.[3]
Quirinus Quirrell Himself presenting the Philosopher's Stone to his master, Lord Voldemort[3]
Lord Voldemort 1997-1998 Himself, all powerful, more than anyone, immortal, and with no Harry Potter to stop him.[6][9] (theoretical)

Etymology

The word "Erised" (pronounced eer-eh-said) is "desire" spelled backwards, meaning the name could also be known as the "Mirror of Desire". The backwards spelling symbolises how mirror reflections flip images around (for example, "erised" when reflected in a mirror spells "desire"). However, because this is no ordinary mirror, the text also shows how the mirror is very different from standard mirrors, in the way that it shows the inner desires and not the outside appearance of a person.

Behind the scenes

JKR Mirror of Erised illustration
  • Albus Dumbledore lied to Harry Potter in 1991 about what he saw in the Mirror.
  • The quote "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi" on the mirror mentioned by Dumbledore reversed is "ishow no tyo urfac ebu tyo urhe arts desire", which with proper spacing becomes "I show not your face but your heart's desire".
  • In the video game adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the mirror is shown with the ability to reflect spells.
  • In LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, Ron sees himself in a Quidditch uniform while receiving a kiss on the cheek from Hermione Granger.
  • In LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, when Harry touches Voldemort's face his parents applaud in the mirror. When Harry is knocked unconscious and Voldemort fails to grab the stone, his parents laugh at Voldemort.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, when Harry finds the lost diadem in the Room of Requirement, Draco (along with Goyle and Blaise) stands in the way of Harry's progress. Behind them the mirror can be seen among a pile of other hidden objects. Thus, it is quite obvious it was destroyed with everything else in the room by Goyle's spell, unless the prop was being reused as an easter egg for the fans. Neither is yet to have been confirmed.
  • In the video games, the mirror is often used as a way to defeat Quirrell; how this often occurs varies:
    • In the PC and GBA versions of The Philosopher's Stone, Harry must use the proper side of the mirror itself to deflect Quirrell's spells back at him in the second phase of the battle. In both cases, he must cast the Knockback Jinx on it to orient it properly.
    • The PS2, Xbox and Gamecube versions instead involve having Harry stay close to the mirror, with Quirrell deeming that its power is protecting him; this is indicated with a white trail of magic connecting Harry to the mirror if he stays within a certain range of it, allowing him to absorb Quirrell's main offensive spell with no damage and to fire it back at him.
    • The PS1 version instead, involves Harry charging the mirror with a spell cast at it; a second one right after fires a beam straight from it that can damage Quirrell, but the mirror is unable to be oriented and Quirrell must be in proper position.
    • However, the only exceptions so far are in the GBC version of the game and in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, where Quirrell is engaged in direct combat with the mirror having no involvement in the battle.
  • In 2003, J. K. Rowling said that she would probably see herself as she is on the Mirror, because she had had another child, David Rowling Murray, just a few months before. She also added that she would like to see her mother alive again, and would hope that "there'd be room over [her] shoulder to see a scientist inventing a cigarette that would be healthy" and "a particular journalist being boiled in oil."[10]
  • The Mirror is possibly inspired by the magic mirrors in classic fairy tales such as Snow White, in which the desire of the story's antagonist, The Queen, is to be the fairest in the kingdom.
  • Contrary to Dumbledore's words, the mirror does give its users knowledge, as it shows them what they want the most, even if they do not know for certain.
  • The scene where Harry sees his parents in the mirror for the first time makes an appearance in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix during Harry's Occlumency lessons with Snape.
  • The Mainland Chinese version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone included various footnotes from the translator explaining various aspects of British culture to Chinese readers. The footnote for the Mirror of Erised's inscription incorrectly claims that it is a secret Taoist charm.

Author's comments

"Albus Dumbledore's words of caution to Harry when discussing the Mirror of Erised express my own views. The advice to 'hold on to your dreams' is all well and good, but there comes a point when holding on to your dreams becomes unhelpful and even unhealthy. Dumbledore knows that life can pass you by while you are clinging on to a wish that can never be - or ought never to be - fulfilled. Harry's deepest yearning is for something impossible: the return of his parents. Desperately sad though it is that he has been deprived of his family, Dumbledore knows that to sit gazing on a vision of what he can never have, will only damage Harry. The mirror is bewitching and tantalising, but it does not necessarily bring happiness."

Appearances

Wiki
The Harry Potter Wiki has 25 images related to Mirror of Erised.
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The Mirror of Erised

Notes and references

  1. Pottermore - Writing by J.K. Rowling: "The Mirror of Erised" (transcription available here)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Pottermore - Writing by J.K. Rowling: "The Mirror of Erised" (transcription available here)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  5. Bloomsbury.com Webchat with J.K. Rowling, 30 July 2007
  6. 6.0 6.1 16 July 2005 Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview with J.K. Rowling
  7. Accio Quote: Hermione Granger
  8. It is unknown if Hermione ever looked into the Mirror of Erised; J. K. Rowling only confirmed what Hermione would see if she looked into it.
  9. It is unknown if Voldemort ever looked into the Mirror of Erised; J. K. Rowling only confirmed what he would see if he looked into it.
  10. "Fry, Stephen, interviewer: J.K. Rowling at the Royal Albert Hall, 26 June 2003" at Accio Quote

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