Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: The Keeper of the Keys← Chapter 3 | Chapter 5 →

Synopsis edit

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

BOOM! The loud knocking continues outside the door. Vernon rushes in with a rifle as the door is smashed in. A huge man with a bearded face enters. He twists Uncle Vernon's gun barrel like a pretzel, sits down and wishes Harry happy birthday, then gives him a squashed cake. The giant makes himself at home, starts a fire, makes tea and cooks sausages. He introduces himself as Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Hagrid is dismayed that the Dursleys revealed nothing to Harry about his past or about his parents and furious that Harry was told that his mother and father died in a car crash. Hagrid explains that Harry is a wizard — a very famous wizard, in fact. He presents Harry his letter, now addressed to him at the shack. The letter invites Harry to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Hagrid sends an owl to Professor Dumbledore, saying he found Harry and will take him to get his school supplies. Petunia begins ranting, and Harry learns that she and Uncle Vernon have always known about his past. Hagrid tells Harry about a Dark wizard named Voldemort (though Hagrid seems to have enormous difficulty saying the name, apparently afraid), who ten years ago (when Harry was only one-year-old) tracked down and murdered Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter. He also tried to kill Harry but failed and left Harry the scar on his forehead. When asked what happened to Voldemort, Hagrid tells Harry no one is certain, but something happened to him (on the Halloween night he tried to kill Harry) that drove him into hiding.

Harry questions whether he is really a wizard, but Hagrid asks whether he has ever made things happen when angry or scared. Harry remembers things he had done, most recently the boa constrictor, and smiles. Uncle Vernon interrupts, saying Harry is not attending a magic school. Harry is angry that his aunt and uncle knew he was a wizard, as were his parents, and that they lied about how James and Lily died. Vernon refuses to pay for the school and then insults Albus Dumbledore, calling him "some crackpot old fool". Hagrid, infuriated, uses his umbrella to give Dudley a pig's tail. The Dursleys scramble into the other room, terrified. Hagrid asks Harry to avoid mentioning to anyone at Hogwarts that he performed magic, as he is forbidden to use it, though he was allowed to use some only while on his mission to retrieve Harry. Hagrid explains that he was expelled from Hogwarts during his third year, though he changes the subject when Harry questions him further. It is late, and Hagrid says they have much to do the next day. At that, they go to sleep, Hagrid on the couch, Harry under Hagrid's huge coat on the floor.

Analysis edit

Without realizing it, Harry has reached the most significant milestone in his life thus far: his 11th birthday. Hagrid's arrival on that day not only liberates Harry from his miserable existence, it has given him knowledge about himself that, though he may have realized later, he never had imagined before. He is also empowered to stand up against the abusive Dursleys—forever altering their relationship; from here on, his life will never be the same. Now Harry is empowered to make choices that will determine his destiny. He alone decides whether to stay with the Dursleys or attend Hogwarts, leaving behind the Muggle world where he subconsciously felt he never belonged. By choosing Hogwarts, Harry shows his budding maturity and independence and a new ability to chart his life's course. Later in the series, Harry develops a reluctance to put his faith in the unknown, but this time he unhesitatingly believes this is his true path and that nothing could be worse than what he already must endure. He trusts Hagrid to lead him on those first tentative steps. Harry is livid that his aunt and uncle hid the truth, as adults often do to protect children, though the Dursleys were entirely spurred by hate and resentment rather than any attempt to shield a child from something unpleasant or hurtful. The obstinate Dursleys' refusal to allow Harry to attend Hogwarts is clearly intended to deny him what they know he wants most. Even though the Dursleys detest Harry's presence, and his departure would alleviate much-unwanted responsibility for his care, they want to keep him at home purely to be spiteful. However, Petunia may have an additional reason: jealousy. This time, however, the choice is Harry's alone, and he opts to leave the Muggle world (and the Dursleys) behind, though we expect he will periodically revisit Privet Drive at vacations and other times when the school is closed until he reaches adulthood.

As an astonished Harry learns about his true past and how his parents actually died, we discover more about what happened the night Lord Voldemort came to Godric's Hollow. Despite being defeated ten years before, we sense the dread most wizards feel for Voldemort or even the terror his name alone evokes. This lingering apprehension indicates that the Wizarding world may still be uncertain whether Voldemort is truly dead and whether he can or will return. Harry lacks this fear, perhaps because he was never conditioned to it as other Wizards have been over the years. Instead, he comes to consider Voldemort as his foe, but not an invincible one.

These books' central themes are prejudice, divisiveness, and fear of the unknown. This chapter, particularly Petunia's tirade, shows a biased view from the Muggle side of the Muggle-Magic divide toward anything that is seemingly strange or different. The Dursleys' behaviour is also a classic example showing how human ignorance and fear tend to go hand-in-hand. In a vicious circle, their ignorance perpetually causes them to be frightened by magic, while that fear prevents them from developing a better understanding of it. In contrast, Harry's willingness to accept his magical nature when the evidence is presented and his intuitiveness regarding his abilities indicate his open-mindedness.

Questions edit

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review edit

  1. Why did Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon hide the truth about the deaths of James and Lily Potter?
  2. Why might Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia want to hide the truth from Harry?
  3. What does this chapter say about Aunt Petunia's character?
  4. What is the significance of Harry being given a birthday cake?
  5. Why did Hagrid give Dudley a pig's tail?

Further Study edit

  1. Why is Hagrid afraid to speak Voldemort's name?
  2. Why does Petunia seem to hate her sister, Lily?
  3. Can the Dursleys stop Harry from attending Hogwarts, and do they have the right to? Explain why or why not.
  4. Why might Hagrid have been expelled from Hogwarts? Why is he trusted with fetching Harry?
  5. Why were the Potters murdered?

Greater Picture edit

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

This chapter briefly mentions Hagrid's expulsion from Hogwarts, a critical plot element in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Hagrid's fear of speaking Voldemort's name aloud will be echoed throughout the series, with people referring to him as "the Dark Lord," "You-know-who", and "He who must not be named", as well as other variants. This dread, though constant, is significantly reinforced in the seventh book when Voldemort places a taboo on his name, such that anyone uttering it is immediately detected and subjected to reprisals. The taboo is generally aimed at those fighting him, as they are among the few who dare speak his name, especially at Harry Potter, who has become public enemy number one under Voldemort's new regime. While only speculated, a similar taboo could have existed during Voldemort's initial reign and engendered a fear of his name among the Wizarding populace. By contrast, Harry is also known by a different moniker, "the Boy Who Lived" (and later, "the Chosen One"), though none in the Wizarding world fear using his real name.

Petunia's tirade is meant to show how Muggles fear and disdain what they cannot fully understand. While this becomes a recurring theme in the series, Petunia's reaction is actually motivated by jealousy that her sister, Lily, is a witch while she is not. After Lily received her Hogwarts letter, Petunia also desperately wanted to attend but lacking any magical ability, she was forced to remain behind in the Muggle world. To console herself, she became convinced that Lily was a freak and that the Wizarding world and anything or anyone tied to it is "abnormal", and she resolved to be as opposite from that as possible; she has since inflicted her bitter resentment and animosity onto Harry, and her refusal to allow her nephew to attend Hogwarts is a feeble attempt to deny him what she was unable to have. Fortunately, it is Harry's decision alone whether or not he will attend the school.

By learning his true nature, Harry has taken the first step on the path leading to his eventual destiny. He will continue on it throughout the series, with some occasional setbacks.s.

Connections edit

  • Petunia's hatred of her sister and fear of magic is introduced. It will reappear in each book in turn, though less pronounced than here until finally the reason is revealed in the final book of the series.
  • This is the first instance where we see the Wizarding mail system, owl post, being used. This recurs throughout the series.