When Harry first finds the Mirror of Erised, he sees an inscription carved into it.

It was a magnificent mirror, as high as the ceiling, with an ornate gold frame, standing on two clawed feet. There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

Is this an actual language? Is it gibberish? What does it mean?


1 Answer 1


It is backwards, if you look at the inscription (perhaps in a mirror) reversed, it reads:

ishow no tyo urfac ebu tyo urhe arts desirE

Which (after swapping some spaces around) becomes:

I show not your face but your heart's desire

  • 28
    “…another excellent example of JKR's brilliant literary talent.” Really? I love JKR, but this example seems slightly clumsy, and not very plausible in-world. It’s too simplistic to actually hide anything; it wouldn’t actually work in a mirror (since letters aren’t symmetric); it’s not the kind of thing that people who put cryptic inscriptions on beautiful artefacts really use. The main point I can see is making it just enough of a puzzle that the average reader will enjoy figuring it out, with a little thought — but without a corresponding in-world explanation, that’ a bit unsatisfying.
    – PLL
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 13:12
  • 3
    To be able to use such a simple literary device to create an effect of mysticism and culture to an artefact is, imo, very brilliant. Its simplicity is marvellous, but this is just my opinion of course.
    – ZenLogic
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 13:15
  • 10
    @ZenLogic - I'm more with PLL on this, but, as you say, we're all entitled to our interpretation. I agree that it's simplistic, but that doesn't mean that makes it less than. The books were written for a younger demographic -- although they obviously get deeper and darker as each book progresses -- so the inscription on the Mirror of Erised seems age appropriate and rather sweet. Brilliant? I can't quite go that far, but it is enjoyable on JKR's part. :) Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 18:14
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    Look, JKR wrote some fine books, but she'd no cryptic literary genius. This, and "Diagon Alley" and "Nocturn Alley" were not exactly subtle, and the subtly was completely lost in the movies and relied on awkward pronunciation. In comparison, Graeme Base's "The 11th Hour" is a great cryptic book for kids.
    – user20155
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 2:24
  • 4
    @LegoStormtroopr, you might not agree with ZenLogic's commentary in his/her answer, but do you think that warrants an edit to remove said part? Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 12:33

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