Putting Things in Perspective
Abstract: Harry Potter has become such a large phenomenon and its fanbase grew to such proportions, it was inevitable that people would eventually compare it to other great pieces of work it undoubtedly joined. The last time I wrote an editorial was disputing a relationship that never came to be, namely that of Neville and Luna. Now, I write one not disputing, but putting things in perspective. The home page of this website reported on none other than a piece by Jacob Saville on why Harry Potter not only beats Lord of the Rings, but wipes the floor with it, a rather bold remark, particularly against a well-known, well-loved series, and deservedly so. Before I go further, I must advise all to read the piece before continuing.
Now, for those who have read the piece (and for those who decided to ignore it and continue), I have this to say. He is right in a sense, but things must be put into perspective. Ultimately, the better story depends on a variety of personal factors such as taste and flavor but when it comes to which is well written and which has a better storyline universally, we start raising voices and may do so forever. Harry Potter has earned its place among the classics, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. This is why I will look at each argument posed by the original piece and put it into my own perspective and the judges will of course be the readers.
Jacob points first to the reason we can compare the two storylines. They are both fantasy, and both have analogous characters that can be compared (Dobby and Gollum, Frodo and Harry, Voldemort and Sauron, and Gandalf and Dumbledore). This is enough reason to compare the two apparently and while one can make an argument otherwise, let’s argue on his grounds and put things in perspective for the sake of honesty.
Point One: Superior Main Character
As Jacob rightly pointed out, the main character is significant to the dignity of the story. I must go further and say the main character is the center of the story; the main character is the reason we read the story. So, whichever wins this one will determine the course of the battle. Jacob makes the case that Harry is the superior character because he is more selfless and admirable, and gave himself a mission out of free choice and a desire to protect his friends. Frodo on the other hand constantly wants to go home and has his own interests, and possibly the interests of the Shire, at heart while Harry thinks only of his friends.
I would like to point out a fallacy in this and as stated, put it in perspective. Frodo was incredibly selfless. Who was the one who, of his own free choice and against Gandalf’s wishes offered to take the Ring to Mordor? Frodo. He too went on this mission out of choice when he had free reign to go back home and return to the Shire. But his desire to protect the Shire and his need for adventure spurred him to embark on the quest, invoking the pity of a host of lovable characters we will get to in a moment. So, Frodo is definitely not less selfless. And yes, both have flaws but Frodo undertook a very heavy burden. The power of the ring is not to be underestimated and for Frodo to endure it for months till he reaches Mordor and finally succumbs to it, shows bravery, resilience, and unimaginable strength of will. When did Harry succumb? When Lucius Malfoy demanded the prophecy under threat of killing his friends. Harry nearly handed it to him and would have if Sirius Black had not shown up. Harry too constantly states how he wished none of this would have happened, how his parents had never died, how he wants a quiet life, and so forth. I’m not saying that Harry is less moral than Frodo, but that both have endured, strived on, and succumbed.
The verdict: In terms of the main character, the battle is even and sets the stage for an epic fight between Middle Earth and Hogwarts. But as Witches and Wizards of Mugglenet, we too will strive on as Harry did and partake in this battle. Let’s look at the second point.
Point Two: Complex Villain
Jacob looks next at another significant aspect of a storyline. The villain and his/her complexity and back story. While Harry and Frodo duke it out to a stalemate, this has the potential to turn the tide in favor of one or the other. A bad villain makes for a boring storyline. While we have the whole history of Voldemort before us, we know nothing of Sauron, or so Jacob says. Let’s look at each character and judge for ourselves, shall we?
If we count side stories of Lord of the Rings , including The Hobbit and other companion storylines that delve into Sauron’s character, we learn a little more about him. He was originally an evil lieutenant in the army of another big baddie and when the big baddie fell, he repented for his evil deeds and fled, only to return and forge a few deceptive rings, including the infamous One Ring. Voldemort on the other hand lacked love due to being conceived outside of love, murdered at a young age, commanded a Basilisk, framed another student, and artistically got away with murder. He went on to create Horcruxes that split his soul out of a common desire for immortality (let’s face it guys, how many lovers of immortality do we know in fiction?)
Yet, Voldemort was once a student like Harry. His past is similar to Harry’s in that he never knew the love of a mother and yet, Tom Riddle went down one path and Harry went down another. He represents what Harry may have become given a certain mindset. Riddle is not only powerful but a lonely teenager who embarks on a solo quest for Dark Arts and immortality. Given the influence Herpo the Foul seems to have had on him (see Chocolate Frog card), Voldemort became the most feared Wizard and took on an almost monstrous appearance. Sauron, we don’t know.
So, backstory of Sauron or not, Voldemort is the more complex. While he seems to be a vengeful, immortality-driven megalomaniacal psychopath, Sauron is evil because… he just is. So, it seems Voldemort wins this battle by far. Sauron simply lacks the required backstory of a villain. But… his very presence is enough to instill fear in everyone, just like Voldemort. But Jacob pointed to something else: the base of support around such villains. Sauron, he alleges just has Orcs while Voldemort has an array of creatures, including Inferi (Orcs) and Death Eaters. I agree on principle, but while Voldemort has an array of creatures that may still defeat Sauron in any battle, let’s not count the Great Eye out just yet. Sauron has the support of wicked men commanded by the Wizard Saruman the White and Grima Wormtongue. These men rode atop elephant-like creatures and even held safe haven in Mordor as well as driving out the good of Rohan. Both Dark Lords hold massive support among the living; however, as we see Voldemort has Werewolves, giants, Acromantula, Inferi and Death Eaters, including inside the Ministry itself.
The verdict is that both are masters of deception, infiltration, and therefore, the battle is once more even but leaning toward Voldemort due to the latter’s sheer genius and gifted talents and knowledge of all magic, save for one ancient kind: love. Let’s see the third point.
Point Three: Deeper Moral Complexity of Characters
Jacob points out the moral complexities of the characters and how Lord of the Rings has less of them. All of them are simply good guys or bad guys and I feel the need to argue that this is simply not the case. Aragorn, one of the wholly good people he pointed to was conflicted as to whether or not he should take up the sword and return to the throne of Gondor, Gimli is deeply prejudiced against elves, Frodo is easily swayed judging by his attitude towards the untrustworthy Gollum, Pippin is addicted to tobacco… the flaws go on. Yet, they all hold certain sides in the conflict just as Harry Potter characters do. Even Saruman was once good, and the evil snake Grima killed Saruman in the end. However, as Jacob rightfully pointed out, the presence of Snape alone sings of moral complexity and him alone is enough to beat any Middle Earther without a sweat.
The verdict is simple. Vastly untrue but nonetheless granted due to the mere presence of Severus Snape.
Point Four: A Female Presence
Kinda goes without saying doesn’t it? Middle Earth is almost so devoid of females, one wonders how their population is sustained. Tolkien seems to have gone for the idea that women don’t take part in war, which Harry Potter would like to dispute. Apart from the fact that the creator of the Potterverse is a woman, we have Hermione, Luna, Ginny, Molly, and loads of others enough to feminize Lord of the Rings completely. One can say Jacob was being unfair though, seeing as how Lord of the Rings was written a long time ago, before feminists started demanding rights. However, one only has to look at Tolkein’s friend C.S. Lewis and see the role of women there to make the case that despite the point in history it was written, if one friend can write women in, so can another. Tolkein declined.
The verdict is of course that Harry Potter wins hands down no matter what.
Point Five: Generation Shaping
Now that was unfair. Harry Potter shaped a generation because it could. With the use of internet, television, newspapers, and word of mouth, Harry Potter ’s popularity could only grow. Lord of the Rings did not have that happy power because of the inconvenience of birth. Dumbledore said himself “It matters not what you’re born but what you grow to be.”
The same can be said of Lord of the Rings . It was not as serialized and wide spread because it could not be, but it got there. The proof is the existence of this very debate in the first place.
The verdict is that as much as I love Harry Potter , I cannot in good conscience give this round to anyone. For that, I apologize because believe me when I say this, I would love to see Hogwarts surpass Middle Earth.
Point Six: Digestible Writing
This was so true, it actually more than made up for the previous point I deemed false. The writing of Harry Potter is simple, straightforward, and digestible. Lord of the Rings is so complex, slow-moving, and too descriptive for its own good, leaving little for the reader to imagine for themselves. However, description is a major talent and the fact Tolkein possesses it is an indicator of his skill. He may very well be a better writer than Rowling, but this time it worked against him for lack of effective deliverance and execution.
The only thing I will criticize about Jacob’s point is when he criticized the movies for being too long and praised the Harry Potter movies for being short enough. The HP movies missed out on so many important details like the mirror and the Marauder’s story, they could have used the length of Lord of the Rings and adapted the books better. Fair warning, when you go to films, Lord of the Rings wins hands down. For the sake of original execution of storyline, let’s stick with the books. As Lord of the Rings was faithful to its source material, at least they can stand on something.
My verdict is that he was so right, the unfair shaping of generation argument was made up for. As I decided to stick with books, I will not hold the movie opinion against him. I am personally critical of the movies but for those who love them, I will not rain on their parade.
Point Seven: Humor, light and tender
Jacob next makes a point that Harry Potter is filled with humor at points it is most appropriate, where Lord of the Rings is almost devoid of such things. This may be seen as true and he does pointedly say the movies have pitiful stabs at humor concerning the competition between Legolas and Gimli or the quirks of Merry and Pippin, but I must disagree. This is where I must point something out. First of all, humor is relative. What is funny to one may be nowhere near as funny to another. So when dealing with humor, one must be careful and avoid generalizations and universality. In fact, this point should not have been made. There are better points to make concerning these two series rather than points of humor where sometimes, it is not called for.
Would Lord of the Rings be acceptable with the same degree of humor Harry Potter has? No. And where did most of the humor come from in Harry Potter ? Can’t say for sure because I do not represent everyone but in my opinion, the bulk of laughs come from the first four books, before Voldemort returns. The fifth book, in its length derives its humor from the Weasley twins who make a spectacular show of leaving and the sixth is almost devoid of humor for all the romantic drama we have and the seventh… is not funny at all. Maybe one or two at the beginning but the rest is filled with seriousness to the scale of Lord of the Rings . When in war, humor dies and what makes the books amazing is that Rowling points this out with the tragic death of Fred.
Another viciously false point he made was how it translated to the big screen. As I said, I will not rain on the parade of movie lovers but half the books’ fans hardly like Gambon’s style. While Jacob seems to be of the opinion that Gambon had the twinkle of Dumbledore, I am of the opinion that Gambon has the appearance of a graying old man with dirty fingernails and a nasally voice. That’s barring the fact he feels he does not need to read the books because Dumbledore is easy to portray as he is a Headmaster and therefore scary. Something Gambon got wrong. Dumbledore is not scary.
But I may be disagreed with. I can almost hear a chorus of people yelling at me, reminding me of jokes from the later books, a chorus of people voicing their hatred because they love the movies, and to them I say you’re right. Humor is relative and I forgot them because they simply did not cross my mind as relevant. The movies are also debatable and the fact that this entire point is debatable makes it moot and it therefore should not have been made.
My verdict is that this is a useless point in its relativity and we need to stick with what’s really important: characters, which brings us to the next point.
Point Eight: More Unusual Characters
Jacob tries making the point, effectively too, that there are more quirky characters in Harry Potter than in Lord of the Rings . A lot of people look down on the importance of minor characters, but I disagree. They add color and life to a story otherwise completely about the main character, and Harry Potter would not be what it is without the impatience of bookish Hermione Granger, the quirks of Luna Lovegood, the drawl of Draco Malfoy, the insanity of Bellatrix Lestrange, the madness of Albus Dumbledore… I could go on.
Lord of the Rings has none of these, he alleges. And the side characters he points to are all same-same. The Riders of Rohan are no different than the Men of Gondor. While we seem to be forgetting the Hobbits and the Elves, we barely get to see them as much as we’d like and I cede this point.
My verdict is of course that Harry Potter does have more colorful characters and a wider variety of personalities within them. We turn to something more obvious; the next point, which I do not know why I bother addressing, seeing how obvious it is.
Point Nine: Deaths
Need we say more? We, in this day and age are suckers for death. The more deaths, the better. Ironically, the more we cry, the happier we are. Sirius died and we predicted a heroic comeback in Book 6, only to accept fully his demise in time only to be slapped in the face by Dumbledore’s death… and we were happy when Rowling told us to go through the five stages of grief and accept he was not pulling a Gandalf. Gandalf is worthy to point to because that man came back.
If there is one thing I dislike in a story, it is a character magically coming back to life. Gandalf does this and to add insult to injury, he comes back with little to no explanation as to why, except that he was sent back as Gandalf the White. Well, where is Sirius White? Where is Dumbledore the Sane as opposed to Dumbledore the Mad? Now, we all love Lord of the Rings so we don’t care about the absence of deaths, but when all is said and done, it seems Harry Potter has the upper hand in the matter of death.
Rowling understands that when someone dies, they die. Tolkein spares almost everyone and gives a half-ass attempt at the end by getting rid of Frodo. Miraculously, a war for Middle Earth had very few notable casualties. One could say our notable heroes had better skill, but how is this the case? How is a lone strider like Aragorn more skilled than Men of Gondor? How is an archer like Legolas more skilled than Haldir (albeit only in the movie.)
My verdict is of course that Harry Potter has more deaths.
My verdict for the entire argument: Harry Potter takes the majority, but not by loads. Main characters and main villains ran even, deaths gave it to Harry Potter , a few points like humor, character moral complexities, and generation shaping should not have been made, and all in all, it seems Harry Potter wins. For me it does. For everyone on this site, possibly. But for everyone else…
But where did it win? Deaths, unusual characters, digestible writing, and female presence. The rest were either moot or dead even. But where Harry Potter won may not be considered important for another reader. What if someone loves the overly long style of writing Tolkein has? What if someone feels the lack of female presence is justified due to the nature of Lord of the Rings ? Or what if someone points to Arwen and Eowyn and gives an essay on those two and their significance, and why they measure up to the likes of Hermione and McGonagall? What if someone makes the case that unusual characters cannot be used in Lord of the Rings because of its nature or that deaths are sometimes not needed? Deaths don’t make a story. We just appreciate the writer who has the guts to do it.
You know who makes these arguments? The other side? The side we’re arguing against. Middle Earth makes this case and because this case is so controversial between two worlds that in the end cannot be compared no matter what Jacob had to say, it does not need to be argued. Lord of the Rings is based on Nordic mythology and Harry Potter on a hidden world of magic. We of the Potterverse will gladly draw our wands and fight for Hogwarts, but for the sake of fairness and honesty, that does not mean that we successfully disarmed Middle Earth.