Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the series by J.K. Rowling, is one of today’s most beloved stories. After its first publication in the UK in 1997, it gained widespread popularity around the world among both children and adults. One of the main reasons for the story’s universal appeal was the author’s adept use of archetypes and mythological allusions in the text. Because the book was so well-loved, it was made into a movie by Warner Bros. Pictures in 2001. In some ways, the film enhanced the original novel through visual and dramatic effects, but it also lacked some of the subtle nuances of the text. Therefore, there were both benefits and drawbacks to reimagining the original story in a new medium.
There are many archetypes present in both the book and movie versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. An archetype is a symbolic pattern that has appeared in myths and stories through time and across many different cultures. Some archetypes apply to specific characters, while others describe particular images, objects, or plot elements (“Myths and Archetypes”). In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one of the most evident archetypes is that of the hero, a role into which Harry neatly falls. As an archetype, the hero is usually a male character who was born into a low status or loses status early in life as the result of a tragic event (“Mythical Archetype List”). The latter is the case for Harry; like many archetypal heroes, he lost his initially high status – that is, being born a wizard – when he became an orphan. The purpose of having a hero seem ordinary or even below average is to make him more relatable to the reader, which is achieved in both the text and movie versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
It is important to note that some of Harry’s archetypal heroic qualities are more heavily emphasized in the book than in the movie. For instance, the book spends much more time painting Harry as an underdog while he is living with the Dursleys. The reader learns much more about Harry’s early life and the constant torment that he has had to endure from Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley. Also, Harry’s physical characteristics in the book make him a more obvious underdog than in the movie. According to the book, “Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes,” (Rowling, 14). His hair also grows extremely fast in the book. In the movie, there are a few negative physical features that are retained, like his broken glasses, but he does not stand out from his peers, and it is undeniable that the actor who plays Harry is a cute kid.
Another mythical archetype that is evident in both the text and film versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the hero’s journey plot. Over the course of the story, the hero must overcome a series of challenges to prove himself and ultimately defeat an evil foe (“Mythical Archetype List”). For Harry, the challenges include success in his classes at Hogwarts, playing well in Quidditch, defeating the troll on Halloween, and getting through detention in the Forbidden Forest. The final trial is preventing Voldemort from getting the Sorcerer’s Stone. In the book, the period in which Harry is tested is detailed much more specifically, and there are also particular trials that are left out altogether, such as the proposed duel with Malfoy and the elaborate plan to get rid of Norbert. In some ways, this is detrimental to the film, because the viewer is less fully immersed in daily life at Hogwarts than the reader. At the same time, the film’s vivid visual effects make many of the tests more exciting. For instance, although the written description of the Quidditch game certainly holds the readers interest, the film version captures the speed and suspense of the match.
In both the book and the movie versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the archetype of the mentor is evident in the character of Hagrid. The mythical mentor introduces the hero to the basics of the new world that the hero is facing. Hagrid introduces Harry to the wizarding world when he rescues Harry from the Dursleys on his birthday and takes him to Diagon Alley. Hagrid is also the character to tell Harry what truly happened to his parents. The mentor is often slightly strange (Winkle), and because of Hagrid’s large size, unique interests, and outsider status in the wizarding world, he also fulfills these qualities. Still, because there is less time to dedicate to characterization in the film version, some of Hagrid’s unique personality traits and funny lines could not be included, which detracts from the story.
A key archetypal aspect of the plot that is more fully detailed in the book than in the movie is the initiation scene (“Archetypes”). In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the initiation event is the Sorting, and it serves as the threshold which Harry must cross in order to fully enter the wizarding world. Due to time constraints, much of the scene had to be excluded for the film version. For instance, the Sorting Hat’s song was cut entirely. Not only is the song stylistically clever, but it also sets forth the distinctions between the Houses at Hogwarts, so it helps to define the school and the characters. Specifically, there is also more material in the book dedicated to Harry’s desire not to be placed in Slytherin, which offers insight into his personality and his determination to become a certain kind of wizard.
Aside from Harry as the hero, one of the other clearest character archetypes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is Voldemort as the Devil. The devil is the embodiment of evil, and Voldemort fully fulfills this role in both the book and the movie. From the very beginning, when Hagrid tells Harry about how his parents died, it is clear that Voldemort is irredeemable. In the movie version, the dramatic lines and effects are particularly effective for showing how evil Voldemort is. For instance, when Hagrid is first telling Harry about Voldemort, his words are a voice-over to a shadowy flashback scene in which Harry’s mother tries to save his life, while Voldemort mercilessly kills her and tries to kill Harry as well. Then, in the final scene in the dungeon, Voldemort tempts Harry by promising to bring back his parents, declaring, “There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it,” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). Clearly, the film benefits from its ability to bring the evil of Voldemort to life with visual effects and dramatic scenes.
In conclusion, both the movie and book version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
contain archetypes and mythical allusions, which make the story both familiar and relatable for the readers. There are both advantages and drawbacks to using text and film to tell the story, so the two versions have different strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, both successfully present the story in a way that appeals to readers and viewers of all ages.
- “Archetypes.” Hillsborough Community College, https://www.hccfl.edu/media/724354/archetypesforliteraryanalysis.pdf.
- “Mythical Archetype List.” Eiland’s Online English Materials, http://www.englit.org/eiland_shared/critical/mythicons.htm.
- “Myths and Archetypes.” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_archetypes.html.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Directed by Chris Columbus, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2001.
- Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 1998.
- Winkle, Chris. “The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey. Mythcreants, 2014, http://mythcreants.com/blog/the-eight-character-archetypes-of-the-heros-journey/.