Archetypal Parallels in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings

Anna Dickens

Representing two of the most highly acclaimed literary fantasies of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series both effortlessly invoke a world of mystery, awe, and magic for readers of all ages. The similarities between these two fantasy tales are striking. Of course, we can begin with the obvious comparisons: both novels construct enchanting alternate universes; both experienced tremendous popularity upon publication; both were later adapted into major blockbuster films. These statements are all true, yes; but dive into the world of archetypal thought, and we are able to unearth several compelling parallels between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings that extend far deeper than the mere obvious.

We’ll start by examining the protagonists of the two stories. Needless to say, Harry and Frodo aren’t exactly the strapping, muscular heroes we would normally entrust with the role of saving the world. Far from exuding the air of bravado, these young men are gangly, awkward, and altogether seemingly unremarkable. They stumble into their roles as hero rather blinkingly and unassumingly. Yet despite their less-than-macho appearances, both Harry and Frodo rise to the occasion, allowing their quiet yet powerful bravery to shine through as the stories progress.

In the two stories, we also find evidence of what Jung calls the “wise old man,” a sage of sorts who employs knowledge and wisdom to guide the hero on his or her quest. On both accounts, this archetypal character can be quite easily identified. Hmm, let’s take a wild guess: Gandalf and Albus Dumbledore, perhaps? Indeed, Gandalf the Gray of LOTR and Professor Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter conform quite perfectly to the archetypal persona of the “wise old man.” Sure, they are both seemingly ancient, sport long, flowing beards that could make Santa Claus envious, and possess some crazy mad skills. But more importantly, Gandalf and Albus serve as crucial counselors for Frodo and Harry, respectively, offering the characters with support and invaluable advice as they proceed on their individual journeys. Moreover, they represent enduring forces of good in a chaotic, uncertain world threatened by evil.

A dark and ominous agent of destruction who serves as a foil to the “wise old man,” another archetypal character present in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings is that of the Shadow. Again, it is quite obvious who plays this archetypal role in the two stories. Need a clue? Think creepy, evil, and of questionable sanity. Yes, you guessed it—Lord Voldemort and Sauron. Manifestations of man’s great capacity for evil, both characters display a strong, overwhelming desire for world domination. To this end, they have employed a legion of minions to systematically carry out their dark designs. In Harry Potter, Voldemort dispatches a troop of dreadful hooded spirits called “Dementors” to circulate the land and wreak havoc, while Sauron, in a similar spirit of world domination, forms an army of malformed men called the Nazgul.

Finally, both fantasies contain a so-called Trickster, a cunning, often foolish character who contrives many convoluted schemes and promotes chaos. In Harry Potter and LOTR, there exists a strong, undeniable similarity between Gollum and Dobby. Gnarled, grotesque little buggers who speak in serpentine whispers, Gollum and Dobby are really quite good at screwing things up for Frodo and Harry. Essentially, they’re like obnoxious mosquitoes who follow the protagonists around and make more problems than they’re worth. But they do, at times, in their own special way, elucidate certain truths and offer the heroes with valuable little pearls of wisdom.

Clearly, Carl Jung would have a hay-day examining Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, as both fantasies are brimming with a multitude of classic archetypal characters. From the gangly protagonists to the endearing grandfather-like sages to the annoying “tricksters,” these two fantasies contain many undeniable character parallels.


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Isn’t Fair, Life

By: Amir Aschner

This week’s first topic, ‘Who is the protagonist in the King of Kong’ just is not a fair question. A protagonist is a term specifically for fictional stories. Lord of the Rings has a protagonist, Harry Potter has a protagonist, Shakespeare’s plays have protagonists because all of those literatures are fiction; they are not real.

The King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters is not a fictional story, but rather a true story. That means it was a part of life and life does not have protagonists or antagonists because that is too black and white and life is grey. I’m sorry but there are no good guys and bad guys in life; there is only perception, relativity and point of view. Someone to one person may be a hero, the definition of a ‘good guy’ or protagonist but to another person that same someone could be the exact opposite. Take a look at an example directly from the movie. Steve Weibe is definitely a good guy/hero, or for the sake of argument a protagonist, to his family. Surely his wife does not see him as a bad guy. However, in Billy Mitchell’s point of view Steve is the bad guy, trying to overthrow him of his hard-earned title. Billy’s wife probably has the same outlook. She sees Billy as a protagonist and Steve as the antagonist. It would be wrong to classify one of these people or anyone else in The King of Kong, or in the entire world, as a protagonist – it only applies to fictional characters. That is why I must give, in the words of Stephen Colbert, a wag of my finger to the makers of the movie for their ‘artistic touch’ on the movies presentation.

Although there is no protagonist in real life The King of Kong movie definitely portrays Steve as the protagonist, focusing on his journey to overcome obstacles and become victorious and portrays Billy as an antagonist trying to stop Steve. Far more video is devoted to Steve and developing his back story which lets us, the audience, relate to him and his family. On the other hand, the handling of Billy’s video time is focused more on him either talking about his accomplishments or conspiring with Brian Kuo against Weibe or just talking smack. He is kind of portrayed as arrogant, condescending and devious. We never see Billy interact much with other people because most of his shots have just him or only one other person in the picture so we relate much less to him. Simply put the directors made Billy look like an ass and Steve look like the family man trying to overcome the odds – and that isn’t fair, but I guess Life isn’t fair.