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.
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 VS. FRODO: HOW TWO
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).
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.
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
Parents killed in boating accident, leaving Frodo to be
raised by cousin Bilbo Baggins (who often refers to
Frodo as his nephew).
Everyone loves Frodo, although Lobelia can be a pain in
Harry Potter :
Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor.
Harry Potter: Ron
Weasley, fellow wizard-in-training.
Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, loyal servant and fellow Hobbit.
Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid, the gigantic Hogwarts
ever-changing assortment of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and
BASIC LIFE GOALS
Harry Potter: To
graduate from Hogwarts, avoid getting killed by Lord
Voldemort, and learn how to pronounce "Hermione."
hike across Middle-earth, avoid Dark Riders, kill a few
Orcs, make it to the Crack of Doom, and get rid of that
METHOD OF TURNING INVISIBLE
Harry Potter: A
way-cool invisibility cloak.
That dang ring.
OTHER NIFTY TRICKS
Harry Potter: Can
snag a Snitch quicker than you can say, uh, Snitch.
a sword that lets him know when evil is afoot.
Harry Potter: A
spirited game of Quidditch.
Listening to his buddies sing songs, preferably during a
SNACK OF CHOICE
Harry Potter: Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
Frodo: Pretty much anything edible.
PROBABLE FAVORITE SONG
Harry Potter: "Magic Man," Heart
"Misty Mountain Hop," Led Zeppelin
WHAT HE WOULD DO IF CONFRONTED BY A GRIZZLY
Harry Potter: Hope
that Hermione has a good spell up her sleeve.
Wait for Tolkien to concoct an outrageous escape.
Harry Potter: Just
about any kid you can find. And the kid's parents, too.
Fans of fantasy fiction who came along before Harry
Potter and are now reading his adventures to their own
Harry Potter: Adulation and products galore.
Enough characters, geography, vocabulary and history to
make a Harvard Ph.D.'s head spin.
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
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
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
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
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
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
And if a little spell-casting along the way can help, well,
why not? In these frightening times, we could all use a little