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Mystical matchup: Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings: Clash of the fantasy titans, coming soon to a theater near you


By AL BRUMLEY / The Dallas Morning News

Harry Potter and Frodo of The Lord of the Rings will be dueling for box-office dollars in two of the holiday season's biggest fantasy flicks.


Harry Potter: Apparently the only wizard able to stand up to the evil Lord Voldemort without getting blasted to bits. Thus, though only a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he's easily the most famous person not a Muggle (a non-wizard or witch).

Frodo: A very popular young Hobbit from the Shire who, through no fault of his own, finds himself having to save the world by destroying an evil ring.


Harry Potter: Parents killed by Lord Voldemort in attack that leaves baby Harry with famous lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He is raised by repulsive Muggle aunt and uncle.

Frodo: Parents killed in boating accident, leaving Frodo to be raised by cousin Bilbo Baggins (who often refers to Frodo as his nephew).


Harry Potter: Draco Malfoy.

Frodo: Everyone loves Frodo, although Lobelia can be a pain in the neck.


Harry Potter : Lord Voldemort.

Frodo: Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor.


Harry Potter: Ron Weasley, fellow wizard-in-training.

Frodo: Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, loyal servant and fellow Hobbit.


Harry Potter: Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid, the gigantic Hogwarts groundskeeper.

Frodo: An ever-changing assortment of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and Men.


Harry Potter: To graduate from Hogwarts, avoid getting killed by Lord Voldemort, and learn how to pronounce "Hermione."

Frodo: To hike across Middle-earth, avoid Dark Riders, kill a few Orcs, make it to the Crack of Doom, and get rid of that dang ring.


Harry Potter: A way-cool invisibility cloak.

Frodo: That dang ring.


Harry Potter: Can snag a Snitch quicker than you can say, uh, Snitch.

Frodo: Has a sword that lets him know when evil is afoot.


Harry Potter: A spirited game of Quidditch.

Frodo: Listening to his buddies sing songs, preferably during a meal.


Harry Potter: Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.

Frodo: Pretty much anything edible.


Harry Potter: "Magic Man," Heart

Frodo: "Misty Mountain Hop," Led Zeppelin


Harry Potter: Hope that Hermione has a good spell up her sleeve.

Frodo: Wait for Tolkien to concoct an outrageous escape.


Harry Potter: Just about any kid you can find. And the kid's parents, too.

Frodo: Fans of fantasy fiction who came along before Harry Potter and are now reading his adventures to their own kids.


Harry Potter: Adulation and products galore.

Frodo: Enough characters, geography, vocabulary and history to make a Harvard Ph.D.'s head spin.

If we ever needed a little fantasy in our lives, now's the time. And soon, two of the most popular works in fantasy literature will find their way to the silver screen.

Excitement over Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy has reached a pitch usually reserved for new Star Wars or Stanley Kubrick films.It's a lot of hubbub over two little guys who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in the position of fighting the ultimate evil while, you know, trying not to get killed or horribly maimed or anything.

And now they're competing head-to-head in what could be one of the most interesting cinematic duels in recent memory. Harry Potter strikes the first blow by opening Friday; The Lord of the Rings opens Dec. 19.

The spin so far on both films is positive, but even if it were rotten, theaters on opening weekends would be packed. What is it about these tiny warriors that touches their fans so deeply? Will young Harry Potter fans find themselves drawn to Frodo, too? Can the holiday season support two legendary fictional characters? Did any Tolkien fan ever really envision Elijah Wood as Frodo? (Sorry – that's another story.)

Only time will answer most of those questions. But plenty of theories exist about the appeal of young Harry and Frodo the Hobbit.

Both stories represent the classic "quest myth," one of our most primal sources of entertainment, and in so doing join the ranks of such classic tales as King Arthur, Odysseus and, what the heck, Batman.

Author and teacher Joseph Campbell made a career out of studying the quest myth, breaking it down into its basic components and finding that it exists in cultures around the world.

In simplest terms, the hero is called upon – usually unwillingly – to perform a difficult task. Along the way, he meets powerful allies and undergoes some sort of magical transformation. He pits himself against his foe in a vicious confrontation, emerges victorious, and returns a hero with an expanded worldview.

The quest myth appears in – and appeals to – nearly every culture because it represents a "condensed life story," says Dr. Mark Greene, who earned his doctorate in mythological studies with emphasis in depth psychology.

"It's our story – it's really everyone's story," says Dr. Greene, who teaches as an adjunct faculty member at North Lake College, El Centro Community College and the University of Dallas. "How many times are we called upon to make a separation or a departure? I think these stories are something against which we can measure our own journey."

Between the two films, The Lord of the Rings clings most tightly to the classic quest outline. The hero, Frodo the Hobbit, must leave his beloved Shire to destroy a ring that would give Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, ultimate power should it fall into his hands.

Frodo never intended to take on such a challenge. He simply wanted to live a peaceful life at Bag End, the ancestral smial of the Baggins family of Hobbiton, where he had been raised by his cousin Bilbo Baggins. The most trouble he expected to endure was putting up with his nettlesome relatives.

Harry's quest is at first a more personal venture: a search for his identity. Orphaned as an infant by the evil Lord Voldemort, he is raised by his decidedly un-magical (make that Muggle) aunt and uncle.

At the age of 10, Harry receives word that he has been admitted to a school for witches and wizards – startling news for a kid who doesn't even know he's a wizard.

Harry arrives at school and begins to learn more about his background. And, of course, he and his friends go on to have a big, hairy adventure, although it becomes more of a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew exercise than a quest in its purest form.

But Dr. Greene notes that the mythical hero is nearly always raised by someone other than his parents. "Over and over again, for whatever reason, the hero does not know his true identity and does not know his powers," he says. "The hero is distinguished from 'normal' people in that there's no filial explanation for their powers. When someone is being raised by people other than his parents, there's something 'other' about him – there's an 'other-ness' about him. He's not part of the normal scheme of things."

Harry and Frodo have other things in common, as well: Both assume their new responsibilities dutifully (albeit a little hesitantly), both perform feats they never dreamed they were capable of, and both are, well, short.

They're also immensely popular. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have created generations of Middle-earth wannabes.

We're not talking casual acquaintance here. Tolkien's imaginary world has been mapped out, his strange words and names have been alphabetized and defined, and the series has spawned volumes of philosophical dissemination. A recent Web search for "Lord of the Rings" turned up 433,000 hits.

Dr. Greene notes that Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the Rings trilogy in direct response to C.S. Lewis' fiction, which contains "overtly strong Christian messages."

Tolkien wasn't looking to promote paganism, Dr. Greene says, but he wanted to show that "there are ways we can talk about big issues without relying on Christian symbolism."

But the books, though wildly imaginative, often make for slow going and appeal more to older readers. It's hard to imagine an 8-year-old in this age of quick-cut editing and Pokémon-style, 30-minute justice settling in for a long discussion on the history of Elves.

The four books written thus far in the Harry Potter series, on the other hand, have been known to generate lines of youngsters around bookstores. They've also made author J.K. Rowling the second-richest woman in Great Britain, behind only the Queen herself, according to a recent report in USA Today.

And the Harry Potter merchandising machine is running full tilt, offering everything from Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans to plush dolls to action figures to school supplies to trading cards to costumes to collectible sculptures.

The books themselves are simple reads – cotton candy to Tolkien's taffy – which is understandable, considering the target audience. But they're also well-written and guaranteed to hook any grown-up who delves into them.

"More is expected of our kids these days," Dr. Greene says. "Kids are more aware at a younger age of the pressures to succeed, and here's this incredibly wonderful, magical escape, a way out. They don't have to work on their résumé as an 8-year-old, which our society is asking right now."

Meanwhile, the Harry Potter series has generated controversy among some parents concerned that the books promote witchcraft as a viable alternative to a Christian lifestyle. Presumably, then, these parents don't let their kids watch such dangerous fare as Snow White or Cinderella, nor can they accept the terrifying notion of allowing a child's imagination to run free once in a while.

And should those parents take the time to look a little deeper at either Harry Potter or Frodo, they'd find that beneath the magic are good lessons for children – lessons such as loyalty, patience, devotion, acceptance of differences, perseverance, honesty, and trust.

Ultimately, that might be another key to the universal appeal of the quest myth: It's an affirmation that the good guys will win out if they maintain their virtue and their values (or, as someone once put it, if they avoid the dark side).

And if a little spell-casting along the way can help, well, why not? In these frightening times, we could all use a little magic.

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