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.