7 mvs 7 yrs
January 08, 2004
Chess: a metaphor for war.
The chess game Harry, Ron, and Hermione play at the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is a metaphor for the Second War.
These wars between the forces for good, led by Albus Dumbledore, and the forces for evil, led by Lord Voldemort, is central to the overall plot of the series. The very last chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is called “The Second War”.
As we discussed this over internet instant messaging, emails, and livejournal posts, we made a connection.
There were actually two chess games played during the tasks of the last part of PS/SS — the first by Professor Quirrel whilst possessed by Voldemort (Quirrelmort), the second by Harry, Ron and Hermione (the trio), just as there are two wars fought against Voldemort. The second game, which will be discussed here, is the one played by Ron, Harry, and Hermione in which they take the places of existing chess pieces: Knight, Rook, and Bishop, respectively.
Chess was explained to us, as a game, where the object is to defend your side. To win the game, you must make a variety of defensive and offensive moves. The trick to wining is to keep your opponent guessing as to what move will be next.
What follows is a section-by-section analysis of what we believe the game represents to the players and to the characters themselves (a link to the full text of the passage examined follows at the end.):
“Ready?” Harry asked the other two, his hand on the door handle. They nodded. He pulled the door open.The next chamber was so dark they couldn’t see anything at all. But as they stepped into it, light suddenly flooded the room to reveal an astonishing sight.
Harry pulls open the door to reveal a dark chamber, a metaphor of having lived in a dark cupboard all his life. When he leaves the cupboard, steps into the room, he is flooded with light and the knowledge of the wizarding world and his role in it.2)
They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly — the towering white chessmen had no faces.
The stage is set; The first game has been fought (the one Quirrelmort played to get to the stone). The trio see the second game set for play, ready for action, much the way the second war is set waiting to be fought. The detail of the height and scale is representative of the Trio’s point of view on the Wizarding World around them and the wizards therein: they are young, and inexperienced — everything else looms large.
Lycoris (who came up with a chess theory about the same time we did) pointed out that the white chessmen have no faces, much like Death Eaters wearing faceless masks. The black pieces are representative of the undercover nature the forces of good must operate under, as we see the clearest example of in OotP.[Edited to add link.]3)
“Now what do we do?” Harry whispered.”It’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Ron. “We’ve got to play our way across the room.”
Behind the white pieces they could see another door.
“How?” said Hermione nervously.
“I think,” said Ron, “we’re going to have to be chessmen.”
The trio acknowledges that in order to win the game, they must actively play the game themselves, become chess pieces in the game, fighters of the war. thinkmilly had the brilliant observation that this is a metaphor for the trio making the decision to accept their invitations to Hogwarts. Harry says: What?, not knowing what would entail — the endeavor he is about to take on. Ron thinks it’s obvious; he knows that’s what is expected from him, being the one who knows about the world he lives in. Hermione says How?, accepting the invitation, but wanting to know what she must do. Hermione needs knowledge, she needs a practical plan of action. Typical Hermione.
He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight’s horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.”Do we — er — have to join you to get across?” The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.
“This needs thinking about…” he said. “I suppose we’ve got to take the place of three of the black pieces….”
At this point, the Trio have not joined the game so they have no positions. The Knight tells them to play the game in order to get across the room, and Ron eventually takes his place. Ron, the strategist, is the one who must direct the game. Ron has a dual role here: he is the metaphorical player, as well as the Knight. This will become very important later.5)
Harry and Hermione stayed quiet, watching Ron think. Finally he said, “Now, don’t be offended or anything, but neither of you are that good at chess –“”We’re not offended,” said Harry quickly. “Just tell us what to do.”
“Well, Harry, you take the place of that bishop, and Hermione, you go next to him instead of that castle.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going to be a knight,” said Ron.
The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at these words a knight, a bishop, and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board, leaving three empty squares that Harry, Ron, and Hermione took.
Ron is the one giving orders.
Harry and Hermione do what he says, without question. We believe the pieces sent off the board to be replaced by the trio represent individuals who fought in the First War against Voldemort. We believe these are: James Potter, the bishop Harry takes the place of, Alice Longbottom, the Rook (castle) Hermione takes the place of, and Frank Longbottom, the Knight Ron takes the place of.As a common image in many English stories and histories (Le Morte d’Arthur, etc.), it is often a knight that helps to defend and in turn is provided for by the castle he defends. They are a linked pair of images and ideas, much like the Longbottoms are linked in marriage and the way Ron and Hermione are linked in their relationship. The Bishop, on the other hand, is independent, like Harry is.
“White always plays first in chess,” said Ron, peering across the board. “Yes… look…”A white pawn had moved forward two squares.
The first move is a white pawn, forward two spaces. This is a standard move, as it was explained to us by a couple expert chess players and easily found references online.This pawn is playing against our heroes, the side of good, and on the side of Voldemort (symbolized by the white pieces). It’s likely a stand-in for Quirrel: The first move is the break-in at Gringotts in an attempt to capture the Stone, the second is setting the Troll on Hogwarts during the Halloween feast.
The next four paragraphs are key:
Ron started to direct the black pieces. They moved silently wherever he sent them. Harry’s knees were trembling. What if they lost?
Pieces and players are being “placed” and sent into action, ready to undertake their roles. As Player, general, field marshal and leader, Ron directs the others. Harry trusts Ron, but he is scared about the outcome, just like Harry is scared in the first years of his life at Hogwarts.
“Harry — move diagonally four squares to the right.”
Harry is set on his course. Making the right decision, he follows through as directed, without question, in a diagonal to his goal.
Harry’s moves are layered in meaning beyond the chess board. This could be interpreted as four righteous decisions – the first four people he meets at on his way to Hogwarts. However, we think that the four moves are representative of the first years of Harry’s life at Hogwarts. (Note: The Bishop can move unlimited number of spaces strictly in diagonals. The moves described in the text are legal moves in chess.)
Their first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.
Notice that the first major piece we see fall (others may have fallen first) is the Black Knight, taken down by the White Queen. If the chess game played by the trio is a metaphor for the second war, this casualty (the loss of the first Black Knight) represents Sirius Black. The piece that takes out the Knight is the White Queen, which we believe must be Bellatrix Lestrange, who fells Sirius in the Department of Mysteries.
“Had to let that happen,” said Ron, looking shaken.
Ron, the Player directing the game, tells Harry that the sacrifice of the Knight was necessary. They cannot make it through the game (war) without casualties. Juxtapose this with what Dumbledore tells Harry in his office at the end of OotP. “It is my fault that Sirius died,” said Dumbledore clearly. (US OotP Ch 37 Pg 825)
“Leaves you free to take that bishop, Hermione, go on.”
This move clears the way for Hermione to take out the White Bishop. Draco Malfoy, perhaps? In the books, Draco is set up as Harry’s opposite. What Harry could have been had he grown up in the wizarding world and accepted a spot in Slytherin. If Harry is a Black Bishop, we believe Draco is a White Bishop. Hermione taking him out may not actually be Hermione killing Draco. We just don’t see that in her character. However, we do see Hermione frequently taking Draco down a peg or two. (US CoS: remark about buying their way into Quidditch, US PoA: the slap at making fun of Hagrid, US GoF: the scare tactic of calling out for Prof. Moody, US OotP: Telling him to shut up US OotP: reporting him for his abuses as a Prefect.)
Another possibility is that Hermione may take Draco to the side of good. In OotP, she is a strong proponent of inter-house relations, and even defends the possible inclusion of Slytherin to Harry and Ron. Though neither thinkmilly nor Lizardlaugh are in favor of a Draco/Hermione romance, we suspect that there is SOMETHING going on there that Harry isn’t aware of.
Every time one of their men was lost, the white pieces showed no mercy. Soon there was a huddle of limp black players slumped along the wall. Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Harry and Hermione were in danger. He himself darted around the board, taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones.
In this passage we see what J.K. Rowling (JKR) has been telling us over and over again: “…there are deaths, more deaths coming…” This passage tells us to expect these deaths on the side of the Black pieces, some of them may be the boggarts Molly Weasley sees in OotP. (US OotP Chp9 Pg 176)
Also, Ron, as the Knight, has to both take White pieces and to keep Harry and Hermione safe. We see one of the two occasions in PP/SS when in the girls lavatory Ron “only just noticed in time that Harry and Hermione were in danger,” (US SS Chp 10 Pg 218-219), and he takes out the Troll on all Hallows Eve.The second of the two occurrences, where Ron has a hand in physically noticing in time that his two friends are in danger, has yet to be revealed and we believe will occur later.
Finally, Ron goes on, taking out possibly the same number of white pieces as have been taken out of the black side. Then…
“We’re nearly there,” he muttered suddenly. “Let me think — let me think…”The white queen turned her blank face toward him.
“Yes…” said Ron softly, “It’s the only way… I’ve got to be taken.”
“NO!” Harry and Hermione shouted.
“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she’ll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”
Ron realizes the game is nearly won. It’s pointed out to us he wants to be allowed to think. This is not just JKR telling us this, but Ron himself says it aloud. This is a clue as she makes a point of having one of her important characters state this, especially one not known for thinking.
The White Queen, Bellatrix, turns to him knowing she can take him out if he makes a particular move. She knows that by attacking Ron, she may draw Harry out and thus give her the advantage to end the game. Her overconfidence will be her undoing, because, as we know, Harry stands his ground as Ron is taken out of the game.The only way to win the game is for Ron to let himself be taken by the White Queen so that Harry is free to checkmate the White King. With this as a metaphor, we predict that Ron will sacrifice himself to the fate Bellatrix has for him.
“But –“”Do you want to stop Snape or not?”
“Look, if you don’t hurry up, he’ll already have the Stone!”.
The marked hesitation on Harry’s part here, marks a full departure from his full cooperation without question at the beginning of the game, an indicator or foreshadowing in the game of Harry’s change of character that comes later in the series as seen in OotP.It’s possible there is more to this passage with regards to Snape, the issue of speed, and the mention of the Stone.
There was no alternative.”Ready?” Ron called, his face pale but determined. “Here I go – now, don’t hang around once you’ve won.”
He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor – Hermione screamed but stayed on her square – the white queen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he’d been knocked out.
Now, JKR tells us plainly there is no alternative.Even when it’s time for Ron to make his final move as the Knight, he is still giving direction to his players as to what to do after he is taken out. Ron is determined to take his action and follow through on it. He sustains his blow to the head and is dragged to one side by the White Queen. Where will the White Queen take Ron after she strikes him?
JKR points out to us that he looks as if he’d been knocked out..
The first Knight, Sirius, doesn’t fall the same way the second one does:
“The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.”(US SS Chp 10 Pg 218-219)
With the second Knight, Ron, the scenario goes thusly:
“She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor … the white queen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he’d been knocked out.” (US SS Chp 10 Pg 218-219)
A lot of people have looked at the above as evidence of Ron’s untimely demise, that he will sacrifice himself for Harry in that good old fashioned best friend/side kick way. We think that is too easy. Ron will live, but more one that later…
Shaking, Harry moved three spaces to the left.
Harry’s last move. We feel this move is symbolic of the last three books. Harry’s first move (to move four spaces to the right) is symbolic of the first four books. The Bishop moves a total of seven spaces, a completely legal move in chess. The exact number of years a student stays at Hogwarts as shown by each book in the Harry Potter series.Harry’s fifth year, the fifth square on the chess board the Bishop moves along, the change of direction on the chess board is to the left, a sinister or darker direction (something we see in Harry in OotP with abundance).
This move to the left can be seen as one that brings balance to his first four righteous moves/years from earlier in the game/school years.
Going left, Harry takes a very different turn in terms of his outlook, attitude, and position in the war as seen in OotP. Before OotP, Harry was unquestioning, largely in the dark. Now he knows his where he stands. He is questioning authority, even Dumbledore. He is taking a proactive stance in forming D.A., lashing out at fellow classmates (friends and foes), challenging his Professors. etc.. Because of the Prophecy, Harry is aware of his new direction.
In summary of Harry’s piece, his Bishop has moved a total of seven spaces, four to the right, three to the left, leaving him in a position to checkmate the White King chess piece. Each of these seven moves represents a single year of Harry’s seven at Hogwarts.
The white king took off his crown and threw it at Harry’s feet. They had won. The chessmen parted and bowed, leaving the door ahead clear. With one last desperate look back at Ron, Harry and Hermione charged through the door and up the next passageway.”What if he’s –?”
“He’ll be all right,” said Harry, trying to convince himself. “What do you reckon’s next?”
Checkmate. The three of them have won the game. They remaining players move forward with one last look back at Ron, wondering about his state of being. Here, it’s Harry who reassures both himself and Hermione and then pushes forward to what the next task will be.Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone Chp16 pg 281-284: Full text of passage.