Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings

Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter

THERE CAN BE ONLY O…no wait, wrong movie. (Photo by David Dj Johnson.)

Gather round, little hobbitlings, for I have something quite controversial to say. A knockdown, drag out fight between perhaps the two greatest fantasy franchises thus far. It’s Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings.

But I don’t even think it’s a fair fight.

In recent years the world has experienced a moderate transformation with the expansion of geek culture to become part of the mainstream. I credit the long-term fandom of Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings films, World of Warcraft, and the irrepressible Harry Potter juggernaut in allowing references to orcs and goblins to be spoken without dirty looks of derision. Others have followed in their wake, many in admirable ways, but I think the grandfathers listed above the ones who ushered in these waves.

As an occasional fan of fantasy novels I find its elevation in the popular consciousness quite satisfying; not because I am a fan of the genre and want it to be successful, but because I am a believer of the equal playing field and want fantasy to be appreciated, as well as criticized, like any other field of work. The Odyssey was a fantasy story, after all. There should be no stigma, nor fanboy adoration.

It is with regret, then, that I was introduced to the novels of one J. R. R. Tolkien. Whether in book format or film reinterpretation I find them excruciatingly as well as inexplicably overrated. I will highlight but one of my many reservations with Lord of the Rings with a simple character study, and why I find the “children’s books” of J. K. Rowling to be vastly superior as literary achievements than that of her fellow Briton.

Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings:

Player vs. player

Harry: We know Harry quite well, quite quickly. We know he is principled, brave, loyal, honest, and fair; generic hero traits, to be sure, but we also know he is quiet, keeps to himself, takes insults quite poorly, especially when directed at his friends, can rarely muster the intellectual capacity to respond with verbal witticisms, lets his frustrations get the best of him rather frequently, can be quite stubborn, is modest and insecure, but not self-loathing, is uncomfortable with fame, not particularly bright, has few good friends but values them greatly, will go out of his way for their sake, and treats acquaintances with due respect and compassion. I could go on, but this is a pretty good picture of a well-developed character.

Elijah Wood, Lord of the Rings

Now that I look at him with glasses, he wouldn’t have made a bad Harry Potter. (Photo by Parriswells.)

Frodo: Contrast this with what we know of Frodo, which is next to nothing, particularly in the books, as the movies by necessity had to expand on his personality because there was none to be found. He possesses the required traits: fights against evil, even when scared and in danger, like any hero of myth. He looks quite introverted as well, but this is a trait that describes a few billion people on the planet. He values his friendships too. Not exactly nuanced. Is there anything more? Can we describe his sense of humor? What he likes to do with his time? Whether he is well-organized? Frugal? Contemplative? Open-minded? Jealous? Pessimistic?

To be fair, his compassionate treatment of Gollum gives us at least the insight into his capability for forgiveness. But this, along with a few other traits, is the paltry list we can compile after a good thousand pages or eight hours on film that we have spent with him. By comparison it was effortless in only a partial page count of the Harry Potter megalith to compile the above list of traits with no inconsistency further in the text to contradict earlier presentations of his personality.

HP vs LOTR scorecard:

Harry Potter one, Lord of the Rings zero.

Again, character quality is but one of quality literature’s characteristic qualities. I have my misgivings with the Harry Potter novels as well, but I shall leave you with one further thought experiment. Spoiler alert, kids. I am going to discuss Lord of the Rings book 1, and Harry Potter book 6. Stop now if ye shall be heartbroken.

Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings

To be fair, this guy elevated the proceedings more than anything else in the films. (Photo by Southbanksteve.)

Remember when Gandalf “died.” Did you cry?

Remember when Dumbledore died. Did you cry then? And I mean actual tears.

These are identical characters, stricken with every archetypal quality we have developed for thousands of years. If one character is more beloved by its audience, it is purely a matter of superior writing. HP wins on characters, hands down.

Harry Potter two, Lord of the Rings zero.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on what a “strong” female character Eowyn is. She’s what people who have never seen a strong female character think a strong female character is supposed to look like. 2 minutes of Hermione and you’ll be all better.

Harry Potter three, Lord of the Rings zero.

I could go on, but I’m gonna open up Goblet of Fire for the 14th time. Bye bye!

Feeling furious? Share your thoughts on Harry Potter vs Lord of the Rings:

Which one does it for you? HP or LOTR?



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