Lord of The Rings V. Harry Potter (A Rebuttal)

by Adam S.

Summary: Here is a comment I posted on the article “9 Reasons why Harry Potter wipes the floor with Lord of the Rings.” I really like both series, actually, although I would definitely say my allegiances ultimately lie with LOTR. I answer each of the author’s points, one by one with a counter-argument.

9: It Has A Superior Main Character: I have no reply here at face value. This is a great point – Harry Potter is a great character and we see him grow over a longer period of time than Frodo. I disagree with the author’s moral judgments made towards Frodo, however, in regards to Frodo’s care for only the Shire vs. Harry’s care for his friends. While Tolkien is clear that LOTR is not an allegory in any way, we do Tolkien an injustice if we don’t look at the context in which he wrote. One of the main aspects of Tolkien’s personal context is the horror of WWI in Britain, furthermore, his Christian worldview influences him in a certain way as well. As a result, Frodo’s longing for the Shire is not merely a longing for a return to a comfy chair to put his feet up – it’s a longing for the world to be set right, for people to be at peace with one another, for the earth to be green and flourishing in contrast to Mordor’s barrenness and waste. It is a longing for a restoration of an Eden of sorts. This certainly contrasts with Harry’s dedication to his friends and his parents, as well as (to some extent, because of old Voldemort’s designs) the world at large. But it certainly is not lacking in comparison. Also, this statement trivializes the variety of main characters in the Lord of the Rings.

Frodo is not the main character in LOTR. He is a very important one, but it really is Aragorn, Gandalf, and possibly Sam, alongside Frodo that make up the “main character,” in a sense. Part of the complexity of the Lord of the Rings is that the evil in it is so huge, so powerful, that it cannot be faced by one character alone. We’ll come back to this shortly.

8. Complex Villain: This is something I definitely disagree with for several reasons. First of all, Voldemort is (unfortunately) a prime example of a character that has really been ripped off from LOTR. His bodily return and the Horcruxes (rather similar to Sauron’s Ring) do a little more than “echo” LOTR. We could talk a lot about all the things that Harry Potter rips off of LOTR, but instead of wasting time doing it, I’ll just point you to this handy little Sporcle quiz so that you can indulge yourselves on your own time.

But the bigger problem here is that the author simply doesn’t know enough about the LOTR world to make this assessment fairly. Is the author familiar with the history of Sauron, as Morgoth’s right-hand man? Is he familiar with the cunning and guile he used to trick the elves into forging the rings at Eregion? Does he know that before suffering a grievous wound he could shapeshift, and would often do so into the form of a Wolf? Is he familiar with the colorful cloak and handsome face he donned to trick the men of Numenor in the 2nd age into taking him to their Island Kingdom, whereupon he poisoned and destroyed the Kingdom single-handedly from the inside out? Is he aware of his standing in relationship to Gandalf as a Maia from the land of the Valar? Sauron’s history is rich and varied, playing on the personal as well as the cosmic evil. He is bent on the domination of the world but he never forgets personal scores. And finally, to speak to a specific point the author makes, he certainly commands more than minions. His deception of the elves and the Numenorians, his claiming Sauruman, a wizard of greater rank than Gandalf (initially) to his side, and not to mention his command of the Nazgul (former Kings of men, and the greatest of them to boot!) show that this is no slave driver of mindless orcs. This is a great, deep, vile, personal evil that has servants to match.

7. Deeper Moral Complexity: The author is a little out of his depth here. Even more so than Harry Potter, LOTR speaks to not only the moral complexity of the story, but the moral complexity of human life. There are no “good” or “bad” characters in LOTR, save Morgoth and Sauron. How many characters switch sides? The Nazgul, Sauruman, the evil men of Dunland, just to name a few. Furthermore, Tolkien does something in how the ring affects his characters that Rowling doesn’t touch in her story: Tolkien shows that the dividing line between good and evil cuts right in between ourselves. Not issues, not factions, not leaders, but us. No character that comes into contact with the rings remains unscathed. Gandalf won’t touch it. Galadrial has a major power trip when she realizes she could be an evil queen. Boromir loses his mind. Frodo, after everything, can’t even throw the Ring into the fire. Gollum is completely perverted by it. Sam desires it. Sauruman throws away his position as the top of the order of the Istari to pursue the Ring. Faramir almost falters at the sight of the ring. Not a single good character is “safe,” not even Gandalf, the character the author states is a “good guy.” And I won’t even go into all the Kinslaying and infighting that goes on between not only the Elves and Dwarves in the 1st and 2nd ages, but amongst the Elves themselves, and the Elves and Men! While in Harry Potter sometimes you don’t know who to trust or who is on what side, at the end of the story everything is made clear. “Ah, yes, Snape was always a good guy. He was just cranky at the same time, so we could never tell.” In LOTR, even the good guys have to fight against themselves to not become bad guys. Talk about moral complexity.

6. Influential Female Characters: Not much detail to go into here except to say that LOTR has just as many rich and varied female characters. Galadrial, who I have already mentioned, is a great one, and her story goes all the way back into the first age and the Silmarillion. In fact, she might be the most powerful being on Middle Earth, right up there with Sauron and Gandalf. Arwen is a love interest for sure, but she is far from a damsel in distress. She saves the day when she out races the Nazgul to the Ford of Brunien and fights the standard of her people and chooses the hope of love and a family with Aragorn over immortality and peace with her people. And don’t even begin to say that Eowyn is only a love interest for Aragorn. Talk about a badass girl that rides into battle with a hobbit on her back and beats the hell out of the Witch King. Not someone that is to be trifled with at all. I won’t go into female characters in the extended Tolkien literature, but surely Luthien wins major points in the story of her and Beren. Finally, talk about a bad-nasty female bad guy… Shelob, and her unholy mother, Ungoliant. I’ve had nightmares for years about Ungoliant darkening the lights of Valinor, and Shelob gobbling up goblins in her foul belly.

5. Harry Potter Has Shaped A Generation: This is, I think, the strongest point the author makes, and it is certainly valid. Harry Potter has had an incredible appeal to my generation, unlike that of any popular fiction that has ever been released. I want to make a few points about this, though: First, Harry Potter had the HUGE aid of mass media, marketing, and a far more international community than Tolkien had at his disposal in the 1930s. Furthermore, Harry Potter is written specifically for that generation. It is written in a style that appeals to a certain group of people. It remains to be seen whether or not HP will stand the test of time like LOTR has, traversing not only various generations but literary styles, which as the author has mentioned a few times, is a large barrier between himself and LOTR. Also, while LOTR did not have the advantages that HP had during the time of its release, it certainly blew up in its day in its own right, probably very relative to its own ability, as HP did in the context it blew up in. Finally, LOTR has done more than shape a generation: It has shaped multiple generations. LOTR is the greatest fantasy epic ever written. It might not have the mass appeal that HP has in its current context, but before we dethrone the reigning fantasy epic for the last century, we need to see if the popularity of HP lasts into the next decade.

4. Digestible Length and Complexity: This one I don’t need much space to reply to, because frankly, it isn’t a very good reason. To say that Harry Potter is better because it is more “digestible” doesn’t reflect on the quality of the work of HP or LOTR, it in fact reflects on the ability of a society to take in diverse, complex works, and what kind of attention span and comprehensive ability they have. It is like saying that “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is a better movie than “Dances with Wolves” because its length and complexity is “more digestible.” I understand that analogy trivializes it slightly, but the point is still made. We have to remember that we live in the most overstimulated culture since (quite possibly) the Roman Empire. Just because a work is more easily accessible to our culture now doesn’t mean it is better than a work written 80 years ago. The only conclusion we can take from it for certain is that our society simply can no longer digest works of substantial length or literary complexity. And that certainly is no bar to compare works by.

3. Lighthearted Tone: I’m not going to comment on this one because it is so contextual and reflective of the goals of popular media that there really isn’t anything to say. Actually, I lied, I have one thing: LOTR has tavern songs. That are about how good the beer is. No such songs in HP. Beer songs vs no beer songs. Case closed. 🙂

2. Greater Variety Of Whimsical Characters: This one also is a mix of the author not understanding Tolkien and character appealing to context. In terms of contextual appeal, just because our society desires more and more characters that have lost their minds in order to be entertained doesn’t mean the work is better or worse. It is simply a reflection of society. This is reflected in our television programming. We have plenty of “whimsical” characters in shows like Hoarders, Grimm, Big Bang Theory, almost any CW show, and heck, I’d even argue those clowns on the Jersey Shore. Does it mean our TV is higher quality or is it a reflection of what society needs to be entertained? Furthermore, Tolkien has not only a vast variety of “whimsical” characters but even better, he has a lot of sane characters that have whimsical sides. Song is all over LOTR, and while modern-day readers skip over them, those songs were Tolkien delving into the culture of a people and bringing them to life. The dwarven songs, the songs about the Green Dragon. Aside from song, many evil characters are full of wit and riddle, such as the great worm Glaurung, and then the classic example being Gollum and Bilbo in the riddle scene in The Hobbit. Don’t forget the wit and humor of Merry and Pippin, hilariously contrasted next to the dryness of the Ents, and then, of course, Gandalf, who says everything with a twinkle in his eye. Whimsical? Maybe there are more in HP, and some good ones at that. Who doesn’t like Dobby? But does it mean anything about the quality of the work versus LOTR? Not really.

1. Deaths: The main thing to bring up here is that the author isn’t familiar with the extended Tolkien literature. The LOTR trilogy begins in age 3. Ages 1 and 2, recorded in a variety of other works, are basically all about the good guys getting the crap kicked out of them. They all die. Turin, Fingolfin, Beren, Feanor, Finrod, Glorfindel, Isildur, Ecthelion, Turgon, basically all the Kings of Arnor and all the Dwarven leaders, the entire realms of Numenor, Gondolin, Nargothrond, Doriath, Khazad-Dum, Arnor, and Erebor are sacked by the forces of Evil, not to mention the notables that die in the third age such as Haldir, Boromir, Theoden, and Gandalf (who was not brought back because Tolkien “couldn’t let his wizard die”). The price that the good guys pay in finally bringing down evil is AMAZINGLY high. The amount of death that occurs is staggering. Tolkien is clear: There is a high price to pay when fighting evil.

Here ends my insanely long post. Thanks again to the author for writing, and I hope that my reply does not come off as snarky or demeaning in any way, that is not my intent. My intent is solely to bring to light the brilliance of the Lord of the Rings, as it has had a profound impact on my life. Hopefully, this inspires at least a few people to delve into the literary treasure trove that it is.