It seems like many parallels can be made between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Firstly between Sauron and Voldemort:

They both crafted magical items so that they could transcend death. They are killed in a war, becoming ephemeral until dark magic allows them to retake a human form. Upon which they are able to rise a second time, instigating a further conflict as they rise to power. This/These item(s) used are then destroyed to weaken the villain and ultimately destroy them.

Now Hobbits (Frodo/Bilbo) and Harry Potter:

Unassuming, and mostly ignored previous to their discovery with a massive burden imposed on them and a connection to some great evil (scar/ring) in some form.

It seems like these parallels are quite obvious, and I was wondering if JK Rowling ever cited The Lord of the Rings as an influence?

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    And why did Uncle Owen make Frodo sleep in the cupboard under the stairs? – Keith Thompson Feb 28 '12 at 6:25
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    All modern fantasy is inspired by Lord of the Rings. – BBlake Feb 28 '12 at 14:02
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    @Sachin, Terra Nova isn't fantasy, it's Sci-Fi. I can't think of any Sci-Fi that has immortal Great Lords of the Dark and unimpressive protagonists opposing the entire domain of evil. (BTW, in my interpretation, Star Wars is also Fanatsy) – GetSet Aug 17 '12 at 14:13
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    AND Daniel Radcliffe looks similar to Elijah Wood. The conspiracy thickens. – Möoz Mar 21 '14 at 1:36
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    More like Harry Potter was inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin's 1968 novel A Wizard of Earthsea, which featured a young spellcaster attending a wizarding school. See this question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/49293/… – RobertF Mar 2 '17 at 16:05
up vote 51 down vote accepted

Well, she's been asked that question. From Wikipedia:

Rowling maintains that she hadn't read The Hobbit until after she completed the first Harry Potter novel (though she had read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager) and that any similarities between her books and Tolkien's are "Fairly superficial. Tolkien created a whole new mythology, which I would never claim to have done. On the other hand, I think I have better jokes."

And then, there is this quote:

"Me. I truly never sat down and thought, What do I think kids will like? I really, really was so inflamed by the idea when it came to me because I thought it would be so much fun to write. In fact, I don’t really like fantasy. It’s not so much that I don’t like it, I really haven’t read a lot of it. I have read “Lord of the Rings,” though. I read that when I was about 14. I didn’t read “The Hobbit” until I was in my 20s-much later. I’d started “Harry Potter” by then, and someone gave it to me, and I thought, Yeah, I really should read this, because people kept saying, “You’ve read ‘The Hobbit,’ obviously?” And I was saying, “Um, no.” So I thought, Well, I will, and I did, and it was wonderful. (Sheepish smile)

It didn’t occur to me for quite a while that I was writing fantasy when I’d started “Harry Potter,” because I’m a bit slow on the uptake about those things. I was so caught up in it. And I was about two thirds of the way through, and I suddenly thought, This has got unicorns in it. I’m writing fantasy!" (Jones, Malcolm. “The Return of Harry Potter,” Newsweek, 10 July, 2000)

I'd have to say that although she may not have consciously intended any parallel, having read the LoTR (as she admits) it's likely that it influenced her writing.

Again, from Wikipedia:

Tolkienian scholar Tom Shippey has maintained that "no modern writer of epic fantasy has managed to escape the mark of Tolkien, no matter how hard many of them have tried."

He makes a good point; it could be argued if she had never read them (although they influence many other works that she would have run across that it's still questionable), but since she admits that she DID, I think the LoTR series should be considered influences for Harry Potter.

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    That's an excellent answer. – AncientSwordRage Feb 27 '12 at 22:32
  • Although I disagree that she has better jokes.. I mean: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. (The earlier versions were even more amusing though more insulting too). And what about the invention of golf? There are many others but of course this is opinion anyway (and she possibly forgot about these and others). Even so it's true that an author's experiences can influence them in some ways. Doesn't mean it's inspired by though. – Pryftan May 30 at 21:27

Because both Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings borrow from folklore and mythology, they would necessarily share many elements. And when we cherry-pick the ones that seem to match, it makes it feel like their structure is similar, when in fact it's just random points of congruence. Unlike Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara, which is a total LotR rip-off. :)

Take some of these elements you mentioned. "magical items to transcend death", for instance. This is a common trope in legend and folklore. Lloyd Alexander used a similar one in Taran Wanderer, in 1967, with the sorcerer Morda storing his life in his little finger, and that one borrowed heavily from Welsh myth. Wars, of course, are also nothing new, and the fear of wars to come is a staple both in mythologies and for 20th century writers.

Young, unassuming protagonists chosen by destiny is also, of course, a common scenario. In fact, Harry Potter and LotR are the first listed in TVTropes (warning: TVTropes) under "Literature".

When you take the time to cherry-pick specific aspects, these two books can seem very similar. But I can do the same with the differences. Harry Potter is a bildungsroman, a coming of age novel which spans Harry's (and his friends') growing up. LotR is more of a Paradise Lost-style loss-of-innocence. LotR has The Journey as its focus while Harry Potter doesn't. I can find more, but I hope you get what I mean - that the superficial similarities don't necessarily imply a deeper connection.

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    Exactly my thoughts! Great answer, +1 from me. – sbi Feb 29 '12 at 12:24
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    "Unlike Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara, which is a total LotR rip-off." - [citation needed] – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 2 '14 at 13:21
  • If any citation is needed, quoting the first couple chapters of SoS would do nicely. Never been able to get past them. ;) – Dan J Apr 15 '15 at 20:20

Harry Potter is far more similar to Star Wars:

There is quiet, unassuming Luke/Harry who lives with his aunt and uncle after the death of his parents. He meets kind, lovable Obi-Wan/Hagrid who tells him he is a Jedi/Wizard like his father. He travels far away and makes friends with Han and Leia/Ron and Hermione who eventually fall in love. The is danger and threats from evil and powerful Vader/Voldemort.

At the end of the film he celebrates after destroying the Death Star/winning the Quidditch cup.

It you try you can do this with many stories.

It comes down to the fact that there are many generic plots which form the back bone to most stories. A humble protagonist facing a powerful enemy is a standard. It works far better (in terms of building excitement etc) than a powerful hero stomping over a helpless enemy.

However, if you try the above with the more details points of the film you will notice that the differ very much.

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    This is because of Campbell and overall human archetypes – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 1 '12 at 19:07
  • Potter pulls from so many archetypes of fiction, including very Dickensian names and the world of books like Tom Brown's Schooldays. That's not a dig, it's almost impossible to write something that's 100% new. The key is making what you do with those idea exciting and as new as you can. – VBartilucci Aug 10 at 19:08

In general, there are a few works such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, and others that are so pervasive in the spheres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy that they define the discussion. Even if you haven't read or watched the specific works in question, they've become so ingrained that they seem to be enduring facts of the genre, instead of merely ideas that a mortal person came up with.

The more I think about it, the more I see parallels and similarities. I completely agree with your observations of Dark Lords Sauron/Voldemort and the main Hobbits and Harry Potter.

Adding to that: Sauron's/Voldemort's soul being part of the one ring/ horcruxes, Fred and George being similar to Merry and Pippin. There is even an old meme showing how similar the following characters are in visual appearance as well as mannerisms in the movies(movies being made from the books, I would assume they were described similarly) : Gandalf/Dumbledore, Gimili/Hagrid (major difference (among many other differences) being a flip between dwarf to giant), Frodo/Harry. One other similarity that come to mind at a stretch: Nazgul/ death eaters. I am sure if one thinks about it, there would be a lot more parallels that arise.

(Interestingly I also found many parallels between Hitler and Voldemort, but that's irrelevant here.)

It seems to me that the Harry Potter universe is a mish-mash of a lot of existing mythology, fiction and real life history. I agree that this is often how new fiction is created, but personally for me there seems to be too many similarities between LOTR and Harry Potter to accept Rowling's claim that such similarities are "Fairly superficial")

  • Would you consider Gollum and house-elfs a parallel? They serve almost entirely different purposes, one's a corrupted individual and the other is an entire race of beings - but there's a vague similarity in appearance in the movies - both are short, both have pale skin.... Hagrid is nothing like Gimli in character - both happen to be sturdy, strong, and hairy. Nazgul and Death Eaters may be similar - but one could make much the same parallels between them and any bad guy's henchmen. – RDFozz Aug 10 at 18:57

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