the mirror of desire

In keeping with Harry Potter, one particular portion of the series that has been on my mind recently has been one of the objects Harry encounters in his first year at Hogwarts – the Mirror of Erised. It is, to me, one of the most interesting and troubling ideas in the entire series, for reasons I think will be clear shortly.

Harry wanders around the school and accidentally discovers an ornate mirror with the inscription “erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi” – which when reversed says, “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” As Harry gazes into the mirror, he is shocked to see himself surrounded by his family – the parents and grandparents he never knew, as they were murdered just after he turned one year old. He brings his friend Ron, who sees himself as the winner of prizes and awards for the school, surpassing all the achievements of his very successful brothers. On a return visit, Harry is confronted by Dumbledore, the wise, old headmaster of the school, who tells Harry, “The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would see himself exactly as he is.” The mirror, Dumbledore explains, shows us not what we want it to, but rather the deepest and most desperate desires of our heart. This view into our desires, he cautions, gives us neither knowledge or truth. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”, he finishes. As Dumbledore sends Harry back to bed, Harry asks him what he sees in the mirror. Dumbledore replies that he sees himself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks, which Harry suspects, and later finds out, is not entirely truthful. “But then,” Rowling notes, “it [was] a rather personal question.”

All of this is well and good, but as I interact with the characters and the story, the difficult and frustrating part is that Rowling doesn’t allow me to remain an observer to Harry, Ron and Dumbledore as they look into the mirror – rather she places me in front of that unique and interesting magical object and forces me to imagine what I would see in the Mirror of Desire. As I search my own heart for clues about what I would see (happiness, success, popularity?), I am troubled not only because I’m not certain that I would like what I see, but also because I’m not certain I know what I would see. We guard our own deep desires so tightly that even we have difficulty knowing what they truly are. But I am reminded that in the eyes of Christ, all the walls and defenses we put up are useless – he, just like the mirror, sees directly into the depths of our hearts, a place we so often cannot even glimpse ourselves.

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