The Lord of the Rings vs Harry Potter

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Just in time for the Christmas holidays, two fantasy block-buster movies released, both the first in a series based upon popular books. Boasting similar packaging and small, youthful heroes, it would be easy to assume the Harry Potter books and movie would be similar in nature to The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie and trilogy.
The timing of the release of The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the similarity in the look of the books/movies do beg a comparison. While both works are fantasy, and both deal with wizards and some magic, there is a clearly defined system of values throughout the Lord of the Rings not found in the Harry Potter books or movie.
In LOTR the fate of the world (Middle Earth) depends on the self-sacrifice of Frodo and to lesser degrees on Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others in the Fellowship. Each member of the Fellowship is willing to lay down his life for another and for the good of the world. The members of this noble Fellowship, as well as Faramir, Bilbo and the Elves, make the choice at various points throughout the story to show mercy in sparring the life of Smeagol, a cunning creature corrupted by the Ring who deserves death and who threatens the Fellowship.
The themes of the Harry Potter series, on the other hand, seem to be based upon a willingness to break the rules (often for the sake of a friend), to lie, and to disregard authority and “muggles” – people who don’t believe in magic. Traditional values such as obeying your parents/teachers, honesty, patience, etc. are frequently belittled. The idea of right and wrong often only appears in the context of discrimination against “mudbloods” (magical children born to non-magical parents), werewolves, and other magical beings. The message of Harry Potter is that as long as you’re trying to defeat Voldemort, it’s okay to lie, cheat, steal (potions and other needed items) and break the rules.
The Potter books are not without some redeeming qualities. Besides being entertaining, there is a message of self-sacrifice both for the greater good that slowly evolves through the story.
Both books deal with wizardry, and in the case of Gandalf there is a somewhat ambiguous message both because he is a wizard and also because he is apparently “resurrected” as a powerful force for good/light after battling with a demon Balrog. However, the other two major wizards in Lord of the Rings are clearly involved with something dark, dangerous, and decidedly evil. In the Harry Potter books, witchcraft, sorcery and wizardry are not only acceptable but applauded.
In LOTR, Tolkien creates a clear parallel to his Christian faith although he has stated he did not set out to write an allegory; It is not ‘about’ anything but itself. Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political. The only criticism that annoyed me was one that it ‘contained no religion’… # 165 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
However, in a letter to Father Robert Murray, a Jesuit Priest, Tolkien states: The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.
He adds, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful to have been brought up (since the age of eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe my mother, who clung to her conversion… From a letter to Robert Murray, S.J. (grandson of Sir James Murray, founder of the Oxford English Dictionary) dated December 2, 1953 (#147 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien).
The Lord of the Rings is clearly Christian in its essence, even if not obviously so in its content. Tolkien’s portrayal of the battle between good and evil was influenced by his Christian faith. Self sacrifice, self control, justice, courage, meekness, mercy and love are the virtues that ultimately overcome the dark wizard Sauron. In LOTR it is clear that evil can only be overcome with good. This profoundly Christian teaching is evidenced in nearly every twist of the plot in both the books and the movie.
Tolkien’s depiction of the characters: the truth and honesty found in all the fellowship, the theme of justice, the pure love of Arwen and Aragorn, the love all the Fellowship held for each other, the virtue exemplified by the Elves and the Fellowship, even the virtue and loveliness of the Shire and the lands of the Elves, the purity and nobility of each character and the nobility of the mission are Tolkien’s version of the fruits of the spirit. Philippians 4:8.
The temptation and redemption of Boromir, the oppression and deliverance of Theoden, the coming together of distinctly different personalities to form a body/assembly/fellowship for the common good are consistent Biblical themes. While Tolkien may not have designed the book as an allegory, his faith is found on every page. The very choice of the word “Fellowship” for the diverse group assembled to carry out a noble mission speaks volumes.
Biblical themes abound in the books and the movie:
* The “least” — the diminutive, childlike hobbits became the greatest in the kingdom. Matthew 18:1-4.
* The hobbits, perceived as foolish and weak are used by an unnamed but acknowledged good power to confound the wise and overcome evil principalities. 1 Corinthians 1:25-29.
* The wisdom of the Saruman, Denathor, and ultimately Sauron is brought to ruin.1 Corinthians 1:19.
Every major character in the books overcomes a desire to take the ring and use it to rule the kingdoms of the world. Matthew 4:8-9.
The Lord of the Rings could perhaps be best described as a darker cousin to works by L’Engle, Peretti and especially CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.” C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were not only contemporaries but admirers of each other’s works. Among other things, Lewis said of the Tolkien works, “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.” As with Narnia, if you can get past a “good” wizard and other mythological characters, there is a profound message to be found here.
However, The Fellowship of the Ring is a dark and brooding movie shot through with humor, heroism and scenes of great beauty as well as warfare, wizards and violence. Children under 13 are probably too young to understand this fantasy flick and may be too young for some of the more frightening scenes. This movie is not for everyone and will offend some Christians.
Harry Potter is too ambiguous and muddled for impressionable children. It is entertaining and fun (with its share of scary scenes), and the books are not without some admirable characters, but the message is often confusing. In the final analysis, Harry Potter is more an exciting presentation of situational ethics where the end justifies the means and less focused on virtue and strength of character. Children 13 and older should see it with a parent or guardian who can discuss the situational ethics.
The Fellowship of the Ring – Thumbs Up (for mature viewers)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Thumbs Down (for mature viewers)
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Lord of the Rings Tennessee Fellowship


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