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What is the Mirror of Erised?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 23, 2024

The Mirror of Erised is a magical object which is prominently featured in the first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). The name of the object is actually a clever pun, as the mirror image of “erised” is, of course, desire. The Mirror of Desire reflects the most profound wish of the person who is standing in front of it, showing him or her sublimely happy.

Readers are first introduced to the Mirror of Erised when Harry Potter encounters it stored in a side room while fleeing Argus Filch. The frame of the mirror bears the words “erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi,” which when reversed read “I show not your face but your heart's desire.” Harry Potter looks into the mirror and sees his parents and family, stretching back for many generations. When he takes his friend Ron back to the room to look into the mirror, Ron sees himself as a highly successful Hogwarts student, holding the position of Head Boy and being praised by his family.

Although Harry does not understand how the Mirror of Erised works, he becomes obsessed with it and returns night after night. Albus Dumbledore becomes aware of this, and appears one night to tell Harry that the mirror is being moved, and that he should not look for it. Dumbledore also clarifies what the mirror does, telling Harry that the mirror does not predict the future or reflect reality, but rather the desires of the viewer. When Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees, Dumbledore says that he sees himself holding a pair of socks, which may not be strictly true.

The Mirror of Erised returns at the end of the book as the last challenge in a series of puzzles which are used to protect the Philosopher's Stone. Dumbledore enchants the mirror so that it will give the stone to someone who wants to find the stone, but not use it. When Harry looks into the mirror, the stone appears in his pocket.

Although the Mirror of Erised is infrequently mentioned after the first book, it may still play a role in the Harry Potter books, assuming that it has not been destroyed. It also provides an important object lesson in the book, because in addition to reflecting desires, the mirror also provides clues into the nature of the person looking into it. Harry, the hero, has noble desires with which readers can sympathize. Voldemort, who is portrayed as greedy and selfish, is unable to unlock the key of the mirror and get the Philosopher's Stone, suggesting that it can only be held by the righteous.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon150358 — On Feb 07, 2011

anon80207: "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru out on woshi" :

when mirrored and correctly spaced, reads "I show not your face but your heart's desire"

By anon89216 — On Jun 09, 2010

answer to bmcdonald: Dumbledore must have heard Harry and Ron discussing what they saw. They were talking about it out loud, and dumbledore was in the room with them, if invisible.

By Niskd1 — On May 13, 2010

I was so proud of myself when I first decoded the message by myself!

By anon80207 — On Apr 26, 2010

the inscription above the mirror says "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru out on woshi." now try to read that backward. It blew my mind.

By anon35981 — On Jul 09, 2009

This is directly from the live chat with jk rowling through bloomsbury (UK publisher)

Allie: What did dumbledore truly see in the mirror of erised

J.K. Rowling: He saw his family alive, whole and happy - Ariana, Percival and Kendra all returned to him, and Aberforth reconciled to him.

so now we know for sure that it wasn't socks =)

He saw the same thing harry did; his family.

By anon11935 — On Apr 26, 2008

Dumbledore is probably pretty good at Legilimency (mind reading), he's good at most other magic.

By bmcdonald — On Mar 25, 2008

Wisegeek- Can you answer this question that I received in my blog? "How does Professor Dumbledore know what other people see in the Mirror of Erised, if it only shows “your” heart’s desires?" (I can't find an answer!)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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