In The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers), Faramir refers to Sauron as "him who we do not name." Apparently the Gondorians avoided speaking Sauron's name, just as most wizards avoid speaking Voldemort's name. I've read that J.K. Rowling admired J.R.R. Tolkien's writing, and I have begun to wonder whether she might have gotten her initial idea of a ban on Voldemort's name from Tolkien. Is there any canon evidence (interviews or Pottermore fine, but not the Harry Potter Wiki) that addresses this question?

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    The idea of the evil that cannot be named goes back a lot longer than Tolkien...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 1:25
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    As the old saying goes, "Speak of the Devil, and he will appear."
    – Joe L.
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 3:30
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    Related: Was Harry Potter Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings, for good points (mine, among them) on possible influences, and where these apparent influences are just shared culture. Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 4:51
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    WARNING! TV TROPES LINK!! Older than Feudalism, says tvtropes WARNING! TV TROPES LINK!!
    – AakashM
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 11:53
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    In some cultures you weren't supposed mention the Devil at dusk. In some cultures you could not call God by his "true" name. In some cultures you could not mention bears directly. Tolkien was already part of a very large choir.
    – Misha R
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 6:13

5 Answers 5


I think it's doubtful. You'll find a lot of speculation on the Internet about the similarities of JKR's works to JRRT's, but Rowling consistently denies the influence.

Question: Hello, I was wondering how much Tolkien inspired and influenced your writing?
J.K. Rowling responds: Hard to say. I didn't read The Hobbit until after the first Harry book was written, though I read Lord of the Rings when I was nineteen. I think, setting aside the obvious fact that we both use myth and legend, that the similarities 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.

Question: Did you write Harry Potter because you like fantasy books, or just because the idea came to you?
J.K. Rowling responds: The latter. In fact, I am not a great fan of fantasy books in general, and never read them!

And here's an excerpt from a Time Magazine article:

Fans send Rowling wands and quills by the bushel, but she admits, a bit shamefacedly, that she never actually uses them and that the wands go straight to her oldest daughter, Jessica. The most popular living fantasy writer in the world doesn't even especially like fantasy novels. It wasn't until after Sorcerer's Stone was published that it even occurred to her that she had written one. "That's the honest truth," she says. "You know, the unicorns were in there. There was the castle, God knows. But I really had not thought that that's what I was doing. And I think maybe the reason that it didn't occur to me is that I'm not a huge fan of fantasy." Rowling has never finished The Lord of the Rings. She hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There's something about Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves. "There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex," Rowling says. "I have a big problem with that."

Grossman, Lev. "J.K. Rowling Hogwarts And All," Time Magazine, 17 July, 2005

While she doesn't outright deny any influence, the way she responds seem to imply that she thinks the similarities are not intentional. They are superficial, and she wasn't a heavy reader of Tolkien.

As WhatRoughBeast's answer and a comment mention, the Speak of the Devil trope is quite old. It has historical, real-world significance.

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    Thanks for the kind word. Yours is the better answer. Commented May 9, 2015 at 16:27

No. Taken from http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/0705-tlc_mugglenet-anelli-2.htm :

ES: What prompted people to start referring to Voldemort as You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?

JKR: It happens many times in history — well, you’ll know this because you’re that kind of people, but for those who don’t, having a taboo on a name is quite common in certain civilizations. In Africa there are tribes where the name is never used. Your name is a sacred part of yourself and you are referred to as the son of so-and-so, the brother of so-and-so, and you're given these pseudonyms, because your name is something that can be used magically against you if it’s known. It’s like a part of your soul. That’s a powerful taboo in many cultures and across many folklores. On a more prosaic note, in the 1950s in London there were a pair of gangsters called the Kray Twins. The story goes that people didn’t speak the name Kray. You just didn’t mention it. You didn’t talk about them, because retribution was so brutal and bloody. I think this is an impressive demonstration of strength, that you can convince someone not to use your name. Impressive in the sense that demonstrates how deep the level of fear is that you can inspire. It’s not something to be admired.

  • Great answer, and very on-point. Thank you! Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 13:53
  • And thank you @Gallifreyan!
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 13:54

Whether Rowling actually cribbed from Tolkien is hard to prove or disprove. However, the idea that speaking the name of an entity will draw its attention is extremely widespread and far predates Tolkien. In English the phrase is "Speak of the Devil and he will appear," which goes back to the Middle Ages. And it's not clear that many languages exist which don't contain an equivalent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_of_the_devil

So, the prohibition is so close to universal that it seems unnecessary to suggest Tolkien as the source for JKR, unattributed or not.


Rowling seems to take a lot from Tolkien. The Horcruxes are her versions of the one Ring. The Deluminator is her version of The Phial of Galadriel. Kreacher is her version of Gollum. Dumbledore is her Gandalf. And "he-who-must-not-be-named" is "him who we do not name." There are many more examples. Unfortunately there is no proof to this. But, if Rowling does really like LotR, then one can guess that that's where she got the idea for the ban on Voldemort's name (especially when you look at all the other similarities in their books).

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    Can you back up these assertions that she took the ideas FROM Tolkien? The fact that they are similar does not necessarily mean that they were consciously or subconsciously inspired by them.
    – phantom42
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 14:25
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    Besides being opinion, this answer also strikes me as a tautology. "Assuming she borrows from Tolkien, we can assume she borrows from Tolkien".
    – DavidS
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 16:37
  • no no, i'm saying "assuming she borrows from Tolkien, backed up because of similarity" Commented May 6, 2015 at 16:40
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    @CreationEdge But Gandalf and Dumbledore aren't just wizards, they're mentors who sacrifice themselves for the sake of the hero's quest. Surely that's unique, right?
    – KSmarts
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 19:59
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    @albusseveruspotter And to continue: the only ban on Sauron's name was to his own; and there was no taboo curse. Meanwhile Voldemort could survive even without his Horcruxes but when the One Ring is destroyed Sauron is diminished to a shadow who can never threaten the world again. The Phial is also different: it had a specific light in it and it didn't take light away. And Dumbledore is absolutely not like Gandalf; Gandalf wasn't even human and was different in personality too. And he too was around for far longer. The similarities are vague and more circumstantial than anything else.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 21:52

I feel like something special about the fantasy and sci-fi genres that are so interesting is that both allow for a lot of similarities and repeated ideas, while still remaining individual. So even while Tolkien may have claimed it first (and defense of Tolkien's originality is a whole other argument in itself), does it really make that much of a difference where Rowling got her ideas if the end product is what really counts? I love this quote by Abe Lincoln: “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all.” I'm not discrediting you at all, and as a direct answer to your question, I have no proof. Sorry

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    It does matter, as that's precisely what the OP is asking. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 23:19
  • I normally don't vote down on answers or anything really as I don't find it constructive but somehow I can't help but do so here. Question for you: exactly what do you think Tolkien claimed first? He didn't have this idea the question poses in the first place. So not only are you saying something false (and entirely irrelevant too) about Tolkien but you're also not answering the question - and it is the former that makes me down vote. Your answer at best misleads but I feel it's more than that.
    – Pryftan
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 21:18

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