When the Harry Potter (HP) and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) mania was sweeping across the world, I resisted its call for as long as I could. However, a couple of days of mind-numbing ennui on two separate occasions, forced me to pick up the books and/or movies and now, I have finished reading all the HP and LOTR books and watching the movies. To my surprise, I found some striking similarities between the two stories - so striking in fact, that I began to wonder if HP was inspired by LOTR.
1. Both are stories about underdogs who have been predestined to be the key players in the ultimate battle of good versus evil. Both accept their roles very grudgingly. Neither is physically imposing or exceptionally intelligent, but both have an innate courage and strength to persevere and complete their tasks. (I am going to assume that Harry is able to destroy Voldemort, because really, how else would the series end?)
2. Both are fighting the most powerful forces of evil of their time. Sauron and Voldemort are both omnipotent villains, who if victorious, would plunge the world into decay and darkness. Furthermore, both are disembodied as a result of a previous defeat - Sauron is a giant fiery eye and Voldemort, at least in the first half of the series, is an incorporeal being as well.
3. Both are assisted by the most powerful “good” wizards of their time. Gandalf and Dumbledore both have long hair and beards, large noses and wear pointy hats. They are instrumental in helping Frodo and Harry respectively with their tasks, but even they must leave the final fight to their mentees.
4. Both HP and LOTR have the brilliant concept of the soul or the spirit of the villains being contained in one or more objects. These objects must be destroyed in order to kill the villains. Voldemort’s soul is in the seven Horcruxes while Sauron’s spirit is in the One Ring of Power.
5. The Ring-wraiths or the Nazgul in LOTR are quite like the Dementors in HP. In addition to similarities in their wardrobes, they both inspire chilling dread and despair amongst those they encounter. Furtheremore, just as a Patronus charm is used to dispel the Dementors, so too does Gandalf project a beam of bright white light to scatter the Nazgul.
6. Giant spiders make appearances in both books. Harry and Ron have to escape from the clutches of Aragog (which sounds awfully like Aragorn) and his family while Shelob tries to make a meal out of Frodo and Sam.
7. Wormtail (Peter Pettigrew) and Grima Wormtongue (the advisor to King Theoden) are both weak creatures who are greatly influenced by their evil leaders (Voldemort and Saruman respectively) and betray the people they are supposed to protect, namely James and Lily Potter in HP and King Theoden in LOTR.
8. Voldemort is supposed to inspire so much fear that magical folk do not even like to speak his name out loud. Instead, they refer to him as He Who Must Not Be Named. In LOTR, instead of calling Sauron by his name, Faramir calls him The Unnamed, The Nameless and most interestingly, He whom we do not name.
9. This point is a minor point, but the name J.K. Rowling is quite similar to J.R.R. Tolkien. Most people would know the names but not what the letters stand for. (I did not myself, and had to look it up.) Incidentally, the initials stand for Joanne Rowling (the K is for her grandmother’s name Kathleen) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
Admittedly, any fantasy series involving magic must be given a little latitude because great forces of good and evil battling for control over the world, a Merlin-like wizard, characters preserving their souls in a separate object and so on are not exactly uncommon features. It is quite easy for one to seem inspired by another. However, there are some elements in the HP series such as the name used for Voldemort in the magical world (He Who Must Not Be Named) and the Dementors which seem to have been shamelessly pilfered from LOTR. Consequently, this makes the reader feel less charitable towards all the other similarities.
Despite the similarities, it seemed as though in many ways the HP series is a diluted version of LOTR.
Having finished the latter just a few days ago, I am still a little awed by the scope of the book. J.R.R. Tolkien has created one of the most incredible worlds in fiction. He clearly could picture every house, field and crag of Middle Earth in his head - from the bucolic Shire to the gorgeous Rivendell and Lothlorien to the eerily magical Old Forest to the dismal and terrifying terrain of Mordor. No wonder then that he needed over a thousand pages (in an omnibus) to describe the minutiae of all these places and more. On the other hand, J.K. Rowling set her series in contemporary England which made her task not quite as creatively challenging. This by no means detracts from the clever way in which she incorporated her magical world into the real world (for instance, Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley etc), but as far as the scale of the books is concerned, LOTR surely wins.
There is a certain amount of disparity between the characters as well. Most of the characters in LOTR are larger than life. For instance, Aragorn is every man’s man. He is “faithful in love, and dauntless in war”, he is intelligent, resilient and is also a healer. In short, he can do everything. Gandalf, too, is another example. He is so powerful, especially as Gandalf the White, that he actually glows with an inner light. In one of the best scenes of the book, while trying to protect the Fellowship from Wargs (wolf-like creatures, but worse), he mutters an incantation and, just like that, a tree bursts into flames and soon, the entire hill is on fire. He is infallible. He is not just powerful, he is power.
On the other hand, in HP, the main characters are not perfect. Dumbledore, while very powerful, is not infallible. The readers also get an unnecessarily detailed description of Harry’s adolescent angst in the fifth book while Ron adds to the tedium of the sixth book with his Don Juan-esque behavior. Perhaps, the charm of HP characters lies in their very flaws and their “normalcy”. These characters are going through trials and tribulations that we all have encountered, though in a different context. This makes it much easier to relate to the teenage Harry in England than it does to a fifty-odd year old hobbit called Frodo in the fictional Middle Earth.
Whether it can be considered a somewhat watered-down version of LOTR or not, Harry Potter is a phenomenon. Since it is one that had encouraged children to turn off the TV and pick up a book, I cheer whole-heartedly for it. I must admit that I too am a huge fan and am eagerly anticipating the last installment in the HP series.
J.K. Rowling has already told us that two of the main characters are going to die. Is it going to be Harry? Ron? Or Hermione? Where does Snape fit in all of this? What are the other Horcruxes? And who is R.A.B.? I can’t wait to find out.
Also by Bean
- Movie Review: Ratatouille - July 18th, 2007