The comparison between The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter has existed ever since the latter series became one of the widest read works of fantasy, urging the world to take notice of it for The Lord of the Rings was, and still is, the first and last word in the Genre and well nigh in all of English fiction.
As a fan of The Lord of the Rings (which I shall henceforth refer to as LOTR) the first thought that struck me when I read Harry Potter was that it was yet another spin off of the grandfather of the genre, and I still hold that view with great foundation.
However, many Harry Potter fans would beg to differ. They apparently believe that the Harry Potter series is different from LOTR, while it is as clear as daylight that, to quote a fellow reviewer, (who has worked along the same lines,) Rowling would probably never have been able to come up with her creatures and names had the ultimate definition for such works of literature not been set up by J R R Tolkein.
“True fantasy fans will argue that while the Harry Potter series is fun and exciting, it really does not compare to the grandfather of them all: J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings is considered a classic by all literature experts; it is incredibly well written, featuring some amazing prose and poetry, as well as a writing style that makes Middle Earth simply jump out of the pages. Tolkien’s world is far more detailed that the world of Harry Potter.”
Considering that LOTR was a work that Tolkein took fifteen years to complete—and Rowling managed to write seven books within that period, and still have a whole year to spare—the former is, without doubt, the deeper origin-work; this breaks down any argument of it being the other way round. Parenthetically, LOTR was written half-a-century and a decade before the Harry Potter series, literally making it the grandfather of the fantasy genre. Lastly, I wish to point out that many people refer to LOTR as a trilogy, while it was really one, single, book merely published in three parts for—as Tolkein’s publishers put it—the sake of economy (or, to put it bluntly, because the work was way too huge to be published as a single book and there were chances that it’s sheer size might turn some people off.)
How it all began
J R R Tolkein
John Ronald Reuel Tolkein was an English poet, author, philologist and the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959, both at Oxford University, UK.
Tolkein, along with his friend and famed author, C S Lewis, was a member of the informal literature discussion group called the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972.
From what he once confessed, Tolkein had what he called a vice: he loved inventing new languages. The important aspect here was not that he created languages because almost every author of works of fantasy comes up with a couple of words, and Harry Potter happens to be a treasure trove of silly sounding collections of letters its fanbase claims are spells.
What Tolkein invented, however, was much more deeper, denser and—to sum it all up in one word—complete. The many languages he created, most notably the Quenya tongue of Elvish, are complete in that one can learn them just like he would, perhaps, learn English or French or Spanish. The language was such that one could talk it freely, and their open-ended structure was such that it has a scope (and has well nigh achieved it) of having a vocabulary as detailed as the English language itself.
Apart from this, Tolkein’s languages have a strict, complete rule of grammar—much like any other language one may know—and these hold a prominent place in his works, most notably in The Lord of the Rings and The Similarion. There are Elvish poems and sayings and Elvish talk that Tolkein wrote in their own tongue in his novels that have now been translated by people who have studied for years and become proficient in various Elvish tongues.
This, in my opinion, adds an authentic feel to the story. It does not just render the texts as some form of strange poppycock (as opposed to Potter’s colloportus or alohomora—whatever they may be.)
Such a vice and the fantastic worlds into which Tolkein propelled himself, coupled with his brilliant exploitation of English (and Welsh, as legends have it) led him to create LOTR from 1917 onwards, first publishing a finalised book in 1945!
J K Rowling
British author Joanne Rowling (she put in that fictional initial of K on the (strange) request of her publishers) is best known for her Harry Potter series for which she got the idea while on a train in England and began writing while in an inn in England.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of the best-selling novels in the series, sold over 44 million copies becoming the 23rd bestselling novel ever. (For the curious mind, The Lord of the Rings reigns as the highest selling work of fantasy and the second best-selling novel ever written in any language at well over 150 million copies sold!)
[While we are on the topic of best sellers, one might be interested to know that Tolkein’s The Hobbits follows LOTR as the third highest selling novel ever. Tolkein’s friend, C S Lewis’, novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe holds the sixth place, having sold over 85 million copies (recall Narnia?) And, while Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is just three spots below at 80 million copies, the next Harry Potter novel we find is way down the page somewhere beyond the 100th spot where reliable sources do not bother keeping track of it.]
Rowling’s Harry Potter is, however, the best selling series followed closely by R L Stine’s Goosebumps series (the last of which I read in elementary school) and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series (which entertains me to this day.) But this would hardly fit into our comparison considering that, while Harry Potter is a series, LOTR—as I already mentioned—is just a single book.
Another comparable factor is the films that have been made, based on these works. While I will try not to bring in films into this comparative review, it would help to mention them fleetingly.
LOTR has been made into three films, a little over three hours each (as opposed to one ten-hour long film nobody can sit through) by the very able Peter Jackson who promptly saw to it that each film is better than the last, the third one, LOTR: The Return of the King, arguably being the best, which went on to win eleven Oscars—the highest number won by any film ever shot. In the meanwhile, of the seven Harry Potter films shot, only four of them were ever even nominated and none won anything. The eight—and, thankfully, the last—is out just now and, in my opinion, will not see better times either.
The Lord of the Rings
I shall smartly leave this to Wikipedia:
The story takes place in the context of historical events in North-West Middle-earth. Long before the start of the novel the Dark Lord Sauron forged the One Ring in the year 1600 of the Second Age to gain power over other rings held by the leaders of Men, Elves and Dwarves. He is defeated in battle in the year 3441 of the Second Age, and Isildur, son of Elendil cuts off the One Ring and claims it as an heirloom for his line. Isildur is later killed by Orcs, and the Ring is lost in the river Anduin. Over two thousand years later, the Ring comes into the hands of the hobbit Déagol, who is then strangled to death by his friend Sméagol, who takes the ring, is banished from his community and hides under the mountains, where the Ring transforms him over the course of hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature called Gollum. Eventually he loses the Ring, which, as recounted in The Hobbit, is found by Bilbo Baggins. Meanwhile Sauron takes a new physical form and reoccupies Mordor, his old realm. Gollum sets out in search of the Ring, but is captured by Sauron, who learns that Bilbo Baggins has the Ring. Gollum is set loose, and Sauron, who needs the Ring to regain his full power, sends forth the Ringwraiths, his dark, fearsome servants, to seize it.
The novel begins in the Shire, as Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring from Bilbo, his cousin and guardian. Both are unaware of its origin, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, learns of the Ring’s history and advises Frodo to take it away from the Shire. Frodo leaves, taking his gardener and friend, Samwise (“Sam”) Gamgee, and two cousins, Meriadoc (“Merry”) Brandybuck and Peregrin (“Pippin”) Took, as companions. They nearly encounter the Ringwraiths while still in the Shire, but shake off pursuit by cutting through the Old Forest, where they are aided by the enigmatic and powerful Tom Bombadil, upon whom the Ring has no effect. After leaving the Forest, they stop in the town of Bree, where they meet Aragorn, Isildur’s heir, who joins them as guide and protector. They leave Bree after narrowly escaping attack, but the Ringwraiths follow them to the look-out hill of Weathertop and wound Frodo with an accursed knife. Aragorn leads the hobbits toward the refuge of Rivendell, while Frodo gradually succumbs to the wound. At the Ford of Bruinen, the Ringwraiths attack again, but flood waters controlled by Elrond, master of Rivendell, rise up and overwhelm them, saving the company.
Frodo recovers in Rivendell under the care of Elrond. The Council of Elrond reveals much significant history about Sauron and the Ring, as well as the news that Sauron has corrupted the wizard Saruman. The Council decides that the threat of Sauron is too great and that the best course of action is to destroy the Ring by returning it to Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take the Ring, and a “Fellowship of the Ring” is chosen to accompany and protect him: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, and the man Boromir, son of the Ruling Steward Denethor of the realm of Gondor.
After failing to cross the Misty Mountains via the pass below Caradhras, the company pass through the Mines of Moria, where they are attacked by Orcs. Gandalf falls while fighting the ancient and terrible Balrog, allowing the others to escape. The remaining company take refuge in the Elven forest of Lothlórien. With boats and gifts from the Lady Galadriel, the company then travel down the River Anduin to the hill of Amon Hen. There Boromir succumbs to the lure of the Ring and attempts to take it from Frodo, who breaks from the Fellowship to continue the quest to Mordor alone, though Sam insists on coming to assist and protect him.
Meanwhile, orcs sent by Sauron and Saruman kill Boromir and kidnap Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas pursue the orcs into the kingdom of Rohan. Merry and Pippin escape when the orcs are slain by the Rohirrim. The hobbits flee into Fangorn forest, where they are befriended by the tree-like Ents. In Fangorn forest Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas find not the hobbits but Gandalf, resurrected after his battle with the Balrog and now the significantly more powerful “Gandalf the White”. Gandalf assures them that Merry and Pippin are safe, and they travel instead to rouse Théoden, King of Rohan, from a stupor of despair inflicted by Saruman, and to aid the Rohirrim in a stand against Saruman’s armies. Théoden fortifies himself at Helm’s Deep along with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli while Gandalf rides off to gather more soldiers. Helm’s Deep is besieged by Saruman’s orcs, but Gandalf arrives with reinforcements, and the orcs are defeated.
The Ents attack Isengard, trapping Saruman in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf, Théoden and the others arrive at Isengard to confront Saruman. Saruman refuses to acknowledge the error of his ways, and Gandalf strips him of his rank and most of his powers. Merry and Pippin rejoin the others and Pippin looks into a palantír, a seeing-stone that Sauron had used to communicate with Saruman, unknowingly leading Sauron to think that Saruman has captured the Ring-bearer, so Gandalf takes Pippin to Gondor.
On their way to Mordor, Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who has been following them from Moria, and force him to guide them to Mordor. Finding Mordor’s main gate impassable, they travel toward a pass known to Gollum. Gollum betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo is left seemingly dead by Shelob’s bite, but Sam fights her off. Sam takes the Ring, and forces himself to leave Frodo. Orcs find Frodo’s body, and Sam learns that Frodo is not in fact dead, but unconscious. Frodo is carried to the tower of Cirith Ungol, and Sam determines to rescue him.
Sauron begins his military assault upon Gondor. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith in Gondor with Pippin to alert Denethor of the impending attack. Minas Tirith is besieged, and Denethor, under the influence of Sauron through another palantír, loses hope and commits suicide. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come to Gondor by the Paths of the Dead, where Aragorn raises an undead army of oath-breakers in fulfilment of an old prophecy. The ghostly army help him to defeat the Corsairs of Umbar invading southern Gondor, and the forces freed from the south, along with Rohan’s cavalry, help break the siege at Minas Tirith.
Sam rescues Frodo, and they journey through Mordor. Frodo weakens as they near Mount Doom, but is aided by Sam. Meanwhile, in the climactic battle at the Black Gate of Mordor, the vastly outnumbered alliance of Gondor and Rohan fight desperately against Sauron’s armies, with the intent of diverting Sauron’s attention from Mount Doom. At the edge of the Cracks of Doom, Frodo is unable to resist the Ring, and claims it for himself. Gollum reappears, struggles with Frodo for the Ring, and bites off Frodo’s finger, Ring and all, but in so doing falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him. The Ring is thus unmade. In the instant of its destruction, Sauron perishes, his armies retreat, his tower crumbles into dust, the Ringwraiths disintegrate, and the War of the Ring seemingly ends. Aragorn is crowned Elessar, King of Arnor and Gondor, and marries his long-time love, Arwen, the daughter of Elrond.
Meanwhile, however, Saruman has escaped his captivity and enslaved the Shire. The four returning hobbits raise a rebellion and overthrow him. Saruman is killed by his former servant Gríma Wormtongue, who is in turn killed by Hobbit archers. The War of the Ring thus comes to its true end on Frodo’s very doorstep. Merry and Pippin are acclaimed heroes. Sam uses his gifts from Galadriel to restore the Shire, and marries Rosie Cotton. Frodo remains wounded in body and spirit, and some years later, accompanied by Bilbo and Gandalf, sails from the Grey Havens west over the Sea to the Undying Lands to find peace. After Rosie’s death, Sam gives his daughter the Red Book of Westmarch, containing the story and adventures of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry. Sam then crosses west over the Sea, the last of the Ring-bearers.
The Harry Potter series
The novels revolve around
Harry Potter, an orphan who discovers at the age of eleven that he is a wizard, living within the ordinary world of non-magical, or Muggle, people. Wizard ability is inborn and magical children like Harry are invited to attend a wizarding school to learn the magical skills necessary to succeed in the wizarding world. Harry becomes a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and it is in here where most of the events of the novels take place, as Harry develops through his adolescence, learning to overcome the problems that face him, magical, social and emotional, including ordinary teenage challenges such as friendships and exams, and the greater challenge of preparing himself for the confrontation that lies ahead.
Each book chronicles one year in Harry’s life with the main narrative being set in the years 1991–98 The books also contain many flashbacks, with a significant number being from the year 1976 when Harry’s parents were in their fifth year at Hogwarts. Other memories date from various determinable and undeterminable periods after 1945, although little reference is made to historic features or events of any period. The only specific dates given in the series are in the second and seventh book. In the second, Chamber of Secrets, a 500th anniversary of a date of death is stated to be measured from 1492 (making the year of the 500th anniversary 1992). In the final book, on the grave of Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, their year of death is given as taking place in 1981.
In what appears to me to be a frail attempt to authenticate Potter, Rowling released a few books explaining the Wizarding world better. (Sounds remarkably similar to Tolkein’s Appendices, does it not? Albeit, LOTR has appendices much more vast.)
It is said that “Fans of author J. R. R. Tolkien have drawn attention to the similarities between his novel The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series; specifically Tolkien’s Wormtongue and Rowling’s Wormtail, Tolkien’s Shelob and Rowling’s Aragog, Tolkien’s Nazgûl and Rowling’s Dementors, Old Man Willow and the Whomping Willow and the similarities between both authors’ antagonists, Tolkien’s Dark Lord Sauron and Rowling’s Lord Voldemort(both of whom are sometimes within their respective continuities unnamed due to intense fear surrounding their names; both often referred to as ‘The Dark Lord’; and both of whom are, during the time when the main action takes place, seeking to recover their lost power after having been considered dead or at least no longer a threat). Several reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows noted that the locket used as a horcrux by Voldemort bore comparison to Tolkien’s One Ring, as it negatively affects the personality of the wearer. Rowling maintains that she hadn’t read The Hobbit until after she completed the first Harry Potter novel (though she had read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager) and that any similarities between her books and Tolkien’s are “Fairly superficial. Tolkien created a whole new mythology, which I would never claim to have done. On the other hand, I think I have better jokes.” Tolkienian scholar Tom Shippey has maintained that “no modern writer of epic fantasy has managed to escape the mark of Tolkien, no matter how hard many of them have tried”.”
[IN THE NEXT PART: I examine such startling similarities between LOTR and Harry Potter that it almost makes one wonder if Harry Potter is not a modern-tongued retelling of Tolkein’s works—or at least a spin-off, albeit with far shallower characters.]