Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone features an extraordinary number of doors. In this first book Harry Potter enters the magical world, physically and emotionally. His progress towards knowledge, to unravel the plot, can be measured by his passing through the story’s many doors and portals. All the book’s major characters meet Harry, or establish the tone of their relationship with Harry, after some business with a door.
Outside Four Privet Drive, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Hagrid pause to give a silent, reverent goodbye to baby Harry. On the doorstep of his aunt and uncle’s house, bundled up in blankets, the Boy Who Lived dozes peacefully; a wizard child on the threshold of Muggledom.
A page and a decade later, Harry is called to consciousness by Petunia Dursley rapping on the cupboard door. Dudley’s birthday. The family goes to the zoo. Harry’s magic asserts itself: he opens a door to release a snake (he vanishes the glass but it amounts to the same thing). The first Hogwarts letter arrives. Vernon throws Harry and Dudley into the hall and slams the kitchen door. The boys have a furious but silent fight over who will listen at the keyhole. When more letters follow, Vernon stands guard at (well, lays in front of) the front door, then seals the letterbox.
But the truth cannot be shut out. On the rock island Hagrid knocks the door off its hinges. Magic enters the Dursleys’ sanctuary, and cannot be banished.
Hagrid is the Keeper of Keys. The half-giant escorts 11-year-old Harry to London. At the Leaky Cauldron, he taps on a brick wall, which becomes a doorway. Harry spends a day in the magical world. A month later, at King’s Cross station, Harry penetrates another unusual doorway, the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters – in partnership with Ron Weasley.
ALL HOPE ABANDON, YE WHO ENTER HERE
[Ron] had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him.
The Muggle world behind them, the train carries the trainee wizards north to school. Harry and Ron’s compartment door opens several times, to introduce Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy (by name), Crabbe and Goyle.
After the Lake crossing, the castle door opens to reveal Professor McGonagall. Then, double doors into the Great Hall. Harry is Sorted into Gryffindor. The gateway to the common room is a round hole in the wall, behind a portrait of a fat lady in a pink silk dress. Harry arrives at his new home.
Hallowe’en. A loose troll in the castle. Harry and Ron lock it in the girls’ bathroom. Then, hearing a scream, they unlock the door and rush in, to rescue and seal their friendship with Hermione. Christmas. Harry goes exploring in the Invisibility Cloak. A door, conspicuously ajar, lures him to the Mirror of Erised and communion with his late parents. The same room hosts his first conversation with Dumbledore. In a psychological sense, mirrors symbolize the threshold between the conscious mind and unconscious mind. Looking into a mirror is looking into the depths of the unconscious.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is stuffed with unusual doors. Some need polite asking to open. Others need to be tickled, or are solid walls pretending. There is the risk of running through a ghost. Peeves the Poltergeist bursts out of a classroom when the gang are out sneaking. To hide from Filch the caretaker, Hermione uses her first non-classroom spell to unlock a door: Alohomora. There, the giant three-headed dog Fluffy stands on a trapdoor.
“Through the Trapdoor” is Chapter 16, the last but one. After said hole in the floor, the Trio utilize broomsticks to snatch a flying key, unlock a door and progress to the giant chess board. Unconscious troll. Door. Seven bottles. Two doors: forward or back. Harry chooses to go forward, through the door with black flames to face Lord Voldemort, to meet his fate. This marks Harry’s progression to bona fide hero, as Hermione confirms: “Harry – you’re a great wizard.”
The return of the Mirror of Erised is the book’s final threshold. Harry wins the Stone because the mirror responds to what deadDumbledore later calls Harry’s remarkable selflessness. And then, the exit to Dursleyland at the very end: the barrier return into Muggley old King’s Cross.
THE LAND OF MORE DOOR
“I won’t let you do it,” [Neville] said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole. “I’ll – I’ll fight you!”
– Neville tries to prevent the Trio’s adventuring, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The metaphor of doors continues across the series, subtly. In ‘Chamber of Secrets’, the barrier at 7 www.therowlinglibrary.com King’s Cross is closed, as if Harry has been rejected by the magical world. Harry and Ron must find another way to enter Hogwarts. Later, Harry’s suspicious Slytherin skills allow him access to the Chamber of Secrets. He can open the Parseltongue-password doors in Myrtle’s bathroom and beyond.
The horror author Stephen King, in his review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, observes that doors are always slammed in J.K. Rowling’s wizard stories. This might, in fact, be a deliberate onomatopoeia to supercharge these everyday objects. Anyway, Book Five subverts the portal. The visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic, for instance, is a mundane telephone box. Harry dreams of a door, and faces 12 doors at the Department of Mysteries. But the outcome is tarnished, a trap. Is there anywhere a creepier door than the Veil?
In the final books Harry pushes through doors to reach understanding or a prize: the Griffin door to Dumbledore’s office (by invitation), and those into the Lestrange Vault (via Imperius’d goblin), Ravenclaw Tower (thanks to Luna) and the Room of Lost Things (having ejected Ginny). Ron applies his talented tongue to snake-talk and opens the sink portal in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.
At the Hog’s Head Inn, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, another portrait swings open like a door, that of (alleged Squib) Ariana Dumbledore, and Neville Longbottom comes to bring the Trio home. Neville is shut out of the Gryffindor common room in the first and third books after forgetting the password. Progress, like the portrait-door, is closed to him in the early tales. As 17-year-old Neville leads the Trio into Hogwarts, he recounts how he was chased by the Carrows: responding to his thought, the Room of Requirement supplied him a way-in as a way out. Neville has mastered doors! No Squib, not at all, Neville finally claims his place in the magical world. He is a wizard like his father before him, and a thumping good one.
Endnote: THE MAN WITH TWO FACES
Fluffy, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the Philosopher’s Stone obstacle course, is a reference to Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades (the Underworld) in Greek mythology. The final chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is called “The Man With Two Faces”. In Roman mythology, the god Janus has two faces. Janus is identified with doors, gates, and all beginnings.