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Fantasy face-off: Lord of the Rings vs Harry Potter

Today I will be offering my viewpoint on one of the biggest fan wars: the war between the fans of Middle-Earth and Hogwarts. While I’ve addressed this issue previously in my post about geekdom, today I think I need to go deeper and discuss my experiences with both franchises.

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I was raised on Harry Potter. I saw the final two films in the cinema and have seen the others multiple times through my childhood. I did read the books, but stopped during Goblet of Fire because they got too long. I have nothing against long books (the final Skulduggery Pleasant book is 605 pages long and I’m making my way through a long Bond book) but Harry Potter got way ahead of itself. I know detail is required, but did I really need to know what every character in the room was thinking at every moment? I did listen to the audiobooks and I think I read Deathly Hallows in full at some point, so I have experienced every book and film of the Potterverse.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if I’m going to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It doesn’t have any characters from the other films but I may watch it just to add variety to the movies I watch this year. The book is awesome and full of strange creatures, but it’s a supplementary book which is supposed to be one of Harry’s schoolbooks. It’s an encyclopedia on magical creatures in the Potterverse, so it seems bizarre that Hollywood is making a trilogy(!) from it. Adapting The Tales of Beedle the Bard would have been smarter.

But anyway, time to move onto my experience with Middle-Earth. Unlike Harry Potter, I haven’t read the books (I know, I know) and I didn’t watch the films for a while. I think it’s because the idea of 12 hours of interconnected storytelling put me off. However, last year my dad and I finally sat down and watched the trilogy (extended, of course) slowly through about five months, finally finishing Return of the King in October. I haven’t watched the Hobbit films yet, as I’ve heard bad things, but I like the Star Wars prequels so I will probably like the Hobbit films too. My Lord of the Rings experience is much newer than my Potter experience, but I regret not being a fan from the start, as the trilogy is AMAZING. I fully support a Peter Jackson written/directed Doctor Who story and while it may be cliche to say it, the films really have made me want to go to New Zealand and visit Hobbiton and the spectacular landscapes.

So, let’s have Potter vs Frodo, Shelob vs Aragog, Gandalf vs Dumbledore and Voldemort vs Sauron!

The story

The stories in both franchises are quite different. Lord of the Rings is a continuous story about Frodo taking the Ring to Mount Doom while the other characters are embroiled in the war. There’s subplots but the focus of the trilogy is clear. Harry Potter has standalone stories for the first three movies. Then, when Voldemort shows up the story moulds into a really long talking plot which only really picks up during Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter starts magical and child friendly, while Lord of the Rings opens on a war. The two really are different plot wise. Philosopher’s Stone is more accessible than Fellowship of the Ring, as the former is standalone while the latter is the first part of a story. In fact, my first Potter film was Chamber of Secrets.

Another difference in the story is the quality of the parts. Lord of the Rings starts slow and then escalates through the other two films, making it basically one 12 hour movie. As a result, while each film is better than the last, it is only because more stuff happens in each and more themes and character arcs are resolved. The trilogy is consistent in pacing, story and overall quality, even more so than the original Star Wars trilogy, which has three distinct parts which are heavily linked and have a clear superior film.

Harry Potter is very fragmented. Every movie has a beginning, middle and end and the pacing escalates towards the end of each film before dying down again. What made the earlier films to me more interesting was the constant mystery around the events and something was always happening. Nothing was really happening in Order of the Phoenix when concerning the overall plot except for the end. Half Blood Prince had slightly more happening except it still could have been slightly more interesting. This isn’t the film’s fault; the books were even more padded. In my opinion, the best Harry Potter film is the Chamber of Secrets, not just for nostalgic reasons but from a storytelling and entertainment standpoint. In second place is Deathly Hallows Part Two, followed by Prisoner of Azkaban.

However, overall, when it comes to the storytelling as a whole, I think Middle-Earth wins this one, but Potter gets a point for accessibility. I can watch any Potter movie at any time, while the Lord of the Rings have to be watched in order.

So far, 1-1.

Characters

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In term of awesome characters, I think Lord of the Rings is stronger. Aragorn is simply an amazing leader and action man, selflessly throwing himself into fights with the strength of a king. He deserved the throne of Gondor. Legolas and Gimli provide many great banter moments and fight scenes, and while I don’t find the central characters Frodo and Sam as interesting as the rest, they are still great characters. And that’s not even getting into Gollum and his brilliance. My favourite character overall has to be Gandalf. He’s just so cool, and is both a capable warrior and contemplative wizard. The characters all evolve and grow through the trilogy, whether it’s by each other or by destiny. Either way, there’s a reason these characters are remembered so well.

However, the Harry Potter characters are also great, if not as awesome. Harry, Ron and Hermione all complement each other well and grow and evolve through the films. Harry, despite being the Chosen One, is a perfectly normal kid who struggles at school, yet he steps up to the challenges of Basilisks, Dementors, dragons and Voldemort. Ron starts off as a humourous yet dim boy who is very cowardly, yet he grows to be an action hero in his own right, while Hermione starts off as an obnoxious and slightly unlikeable character, before being influenced by the others to be more open and fun. The adult characters are all strong, with Snape and Dumbledore providing many of the deeper moments. My favourite Potter character is Hagrid, who is so fun and huggable and awesome. I love him every time he’s on screen, mostly because of his flying motorbike.

Overall though, I feel like the Lord of the Rings nabs this one fair and square. I just like the characters more.

2-1.

The Villains

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Lord of the Rings is special because while Sauron is the main villain of the trilogy, he’s a giant eye who doesn’t do much physically. The active antagonists through the films are Saruman and the Nazgul, led by my favourite Lord of the Rings villain, The Witch King. He’s the Boba Fett of Middle-Earth. Saruman is a great threat through the first two films. At first he seems good, and then he turns on Gandalf and starts amassing the armies. His presence in The Two Towers is great, and it’s a credit to Return of the King that the movie still feels epic without him. His role is taken by the Witch King and Gothmog, the awesome orc general of the armies of Sauron.

What’s great about the films however are the morally grey characters due to the Ring, meaning Sauron’s presence is felt through the trilogy. Boromir gets corrupted by the Ring but sacrifices himself for the rest of the Fellowship. Gollum is literally torn between himself and Smeagol, with one side trying to get the Ring destroyed while the other side trying to murder Frodo and Sam. Even Frodo gets corrupted in Return of the King, which makes Sam saving him from Shelob and carrying him up to Mount Doom so satisfying to watch. There are physical threats in the trilogy, but it’s the internal character conflicts which drive the conflict from an emotional perspective.

In Harry Potter, the threat is obvious: Voldemort. While others like Quirrel, the Basilisk, Dementors, Wormtail and Death Eaters serve as supporting villains, the main villain is clearly Voldemort. Like Sauron, he starts off weak and in the background, but he becomes physical and a genuine menace from Goblet of Fire. As a result, he feels more threatening and real than Sauron, and the flashbacks to his past help flesh him out. It also helps that the Death Eaters are really threatening as well. Like Lord of the Rings, the morally grey characters like Malfoy and Snape give the films more layers with the characters.

I’m really torn here. On one hand, Harry Potter has a brilliant central antagonist, but the conflicts in Lord of the Rings are more character driven and the villains are very impressive and visually great. However, I conclude that, because of the constant threat of Voldemort and being an overall better villain than Sauron, the point goes to Potter.

2-2.

Action

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Lord of the Rings has the best action I’ve ever seen. Helm’s Deep and The Battle of Minas Tirith are simply stunning to behold for their sheer ambition and scope. The build up to the action scenes is incredible. There’s nothing to add here that hasn’t been said except for the fact that the action is simply riveting. Spectacularly filmed and the fact that these characters have been built up and developed means that the fights have meaning.

But, even though I know what franchise will get this point, it’s only fair to look at Harry Potter’s action too. The action isn’t as frequent, but when it happens it’s great. The Battle of Hogwarts is exhilarating and very epic, with nearly every character returning to beat the Death Eaters. There are great set pieces through the movies. Harry versus the Basilisk and Dumbledore versus Voldemort are my two favourite fights in the series.

But let’s be honest, Lord of the Rings wins this fair and square.

3-2

Word building and monsters

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It’s London and the mountains of Scotland versus the mountains of New Zealand. Both worlds are fleshed out and complex. Harry Potter blends the real world with the magical world, so as a result it feels real. The in depth history of spells, items and magical creatures make the story and the world come to life. The world building is superb. Hogwarts feels like an actual school, Gringotts is an actual bank and Diagon Alley feels like one of those places that my mum would love to spend time at.

Middle Earth is arguably even more fleshed out. The books were written as a mythology for Britain, with Middle Earth’s landscape being based on England. The different societies, cities, races and history behind the War is brilliant. I don’t really know anything about the various appendixes in the books, but I can gather that the history of Middle Earth is very comprehensive. Thanks to the real landscapes and practical locations, Middle Earth feels like a place you can visit, which of course you can.

So, what about the creatures? Harry Potter has several brilliant original creatures. My favourites are the Basilisk, Dementors and the Hungarian Horntail. Lord of the Rings has the awesome Oliphants, Shelob and of course the Eagles. The orcs are very effective threats, thanks to the brilliant make up.

However, overall I think that thanks to the use of iconography, real world parallels and fascinating world building, I think the point goes to Potter.

3-3

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, honestly it’s hard to conclude.

My childhood is based partly on Harry Potter. Even now I still think they hold up, with great characters, an immersive world and riveting storytelling. However, on a purely objective level, I think Lord of the Rings is a better story. The story is more focused, once the plot gets going it never stops, the pacing is better (multiple endings aside) and it’s just more entertaining to watch as a whole. Harry Potter dips and dives, with action, then 30 minutes of talking followed by more action, to the point where the films drag a bit. Overall though, they are still great.

So who wins? On a nostalgic level, Harry Potter. But in terms of films I look up to when it comes to quality, it has to be Lord of the Rings. I just find the characters riveting, the action spectacular and the story simple yet filled with strong themes and ideas. Like I said, Harry Potter is amazing, but the world of Middle Earth appeals to me more. In fact, as a whole, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favourite movies. If I have to choose one, it has to be Return of the King.

However, both franchises represents the apex of fantasy storytelling. Both are in my five favourite film franchises, along with Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and James Bond. They both hold a special place in my heart and I will never tire of either of them.

Now, time to book those tickets to New Zealand…

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About Ben Williams

I'm 16 years old. I like animals, lasagne, comic books, films, role-playing games and Doctor Who. I write cool stuff - Doctor Who, science fiction, film reviews, and quirks about Britain. I have a blue-tongued skink called Georgy and a cat called Billy.

5 responses »

  1. Graham Williams

    I have had the misfortune to have several friends that were Lord Of The Rings fanatics and they all thought that Harry Potter was ‘kids’ stuff’. I think you did a good job in trying to compare the two, but I am not convinced that they are comparable – Lord Of The Rings has a scope and breadth that Harry Potter cannot match (and, to be fair, does not try to).

    Reply
    • Harry Potter is more or less for the same audience than Lord of the Rings, not to mention tackled darker themes and grittier emotions. Anyone saying Harry Potter is kids stuff is an arrogant asshole. The series is meant for teens and adults.

      The series does have breadth. There’s a wizarding community in every time period and country on this earth, and Rowling presents us with intricate back stories and descriptions of setting etc that Tolkien never offered up.

      Reply
      • Do you actually read what you have written before you press Post? I think your assumption that anybody who holds a different opinion to you is ‘arrogant’ and/or an ‘asshole’ says more about you and your intolerant and blinkered attitudes than it does about them. And yes, I have read this through before posting it.

  2. I like Harry Potter and I like Lord of the Rings – the books and the films. Of course there are comparable themes; good versus evil, overcoming adversity, loss of innocence, strength of friendship, but as a genre they are very different. Lord of the Rings is epic, vast and spread across an immense world, with a great variety of beings, both good and bad. It is essentially about the weakness of man, and the impact that can have. Harry Potter has a much narrower scope, reflecting the world as viewed through the eyes of the children (Harry, Ron, Hermione), and expanding as the three children grow up.

    To me, the Harry Potter is a coming-of-age saga. The books are extremely well written and the films are well made – especially the later films. However, it doesn’t leave me pondering wider issues. Despite being a fantasy, Lord of the Rings makes me think about what is happening in our real world. As Saruman tears down the trees, I think about the environmental damage we are inflicting on our planet, as the Orcs and Uruk Hai march off to fight, I think about all the wars that have happened and continue to happen, and as Boromir gives in to the power of the ring, I think about all the weak, greedy people who have pursued money at huge cost to society and the economy.

    Lord of the Rings was written as a political commentary, and now 80 years later, its messages are still relevant. I don’t see Harry Potter having the same long-term thought-provoking impact.

    As for the films themselves, I agree that that villains and the heroes in Lord of the Rings overpower those in Harry Potter. For the baddies, I love the Nazgul – especially when they ride out on the black horses, and I think Lurtz (from the Uruk Hai) is brilliant. For the goodies, I guess Sam is the ultimate hero, but I find him a little irritating; Arwen is fabulous and of course Aragorn is the ultimate hero.

    My favourite scenes are under the mountain in The Fellowship of the Ring, The Battle of Helms Deep in The Two Towers and Gollum’s internal struggle in Return of the King.

    As you can tell, I’m a bit of a fan of LOTR! Harry Potter is great – entertaining and enjoyable, but my personal opinion is that Lord of the Rings is in a completely different league.

    Reply
    • I’ve just realised that post was published in the name of a blog that I manage – I must have been logged in when I wrote it. But it’s actually me, Helen!

      Reply

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