Mirrors in art and literature often have very diverse meanings and interpretations. In class we discussed the way in which the portrait of Dorian Gray might be interpreted to function as a mirror, reflecting the unrestrained truth of Dorian’s soul. However, we also talked about how mirrors themselves don’t show the truth but instead show only reflections. What we see when we look into a mirror is not what others see when they look at us, but a flipped version of reality. Mirrors do not show truth, but merely an echo of what is.
The Mirror of Erised, from Harry Potter, is said to show the true desire of the person who gazes into it and takes the question of mirrors as revealing truth even farther. The engraving on the frame of the mirror, when read backwards (with adjusted spacing), states “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” When Harry Potter looked in the Mirror, he saw himself surrounded by family, his parents and other relatives, none of whom he had ever seen before but who he saw and identified as family. Ron Weasley saw himself as Quidditch Captain, having won the Cup, and as Head Boy. Neither of these things were truth, Harry’s family was dead, and each individual sees something different, a person is unable to see anyone else’s reflected desires. The Mirror essentially fails as a mirror, not reflecting what is but instead what is desired. Like with Dorian Gray’s portrait showing the truth of his soul, the Mirror claims to show the truth of the heart.
However, according to Dumbledore, the Mirror shows neither truth nor knowledge and is in fact very dangerous. The Mirror is only able to show what the viewer most wishes and even then can only give the illusion of the desired.
“It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 157)
The Mirror is dangerous in the same way the Resurrection Stone, one of the Hallows from the 7th book, is dangerous. Both can only create shadows of desire and life. The Stone can conjure a shade of the dead but it cannot return them to life. The Mirror can reflect desire but there is no truth to the reflection. The story of the Hallows tells the danger of the Stone, the second brother going mad with grief, able to see a shadow of the woman he loved but knowing they were separated still, killing himself so that he could be with his dead love who the Stone could not truly bring back. Dumbledore tells Harry of the similar danger of the Mirror, that people have gone mad sitting in front of it, enticed by the reflection of a desire that is nothing more than a shadow and which, for those like Harry, can never be more than that.
Dorian Gray believes that his portrait brings understanding, that each time he views the portrait he learns something of who he truly is. Ultimately this drives him mad. The Mirror of Erised offers no such understanding, but a similar madness. The Mirror shows an echo, not of what is but of what is desired, offering nothing more than lure it can never satisfy.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling