Reading, Writing, Rowling: It’s Tolkien!

From Laurie Beckoff’s write-up at MuggleNet:

What does the Wizarding World owe to Middle-Earth?

This month, Katy and John talk about the fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling with guests Dr. Sara Brown (Rydal Penrhos School and Signum University) and Dr. Amy Sturgis (Lenoir-Rhyne University). Though Rowling has minimized the influence of Tolkien’s saga on her own world-building, readers can spot several connections at the superficial level, from names (Wormtongue/Wormtail, Butterbur/butterbeer, Longbottom) to frightening magical beings (Ringwraiths/Dementors, Shelob/Aragog) and important magical objects (Mirror of Galadriel/Mirror of Erised/Pensieve). The influence carries over to the themes (coping with mortality, loyalty, and friendship) as well as their critiques of modern society. Both series classify as “fairy stories” according to Tolkien’s definitive essay on the subject. Dr Sturgis calls Rowling’s work “a modern-day Tolkienian project.”

Such influence does not mean that Rowling’s wizarding world is derivative. John explains how the source of the two critiques of the modern operate in different ways (conservative or subversive). Sara agrees that both are responding to modernity, though they approach the modern from distinctive points of view – one longingly looking to the past and the other hopefully looking toward the future – which relate to the distinctive times in the 20th century during which they wrote their fiction. Their approaches to transformation are revealed in their uses of literary alchemy, and Sara provides an alchemical metanarrative for the Middle-earth saga. John suggests that Rowling did not learn literary alchemy from Tolkien, but that both authors derive their understanding from deep reading in the western literary tradition.

We delve into the authors’ world-building, their narrative patterns, their evocation of mythology, and even their creation of new collective myths. Comparing these two authors’ worlds allows readers to deepen their understanding of how narratives work to depict as well as create profound transformation.

And that is only Part 1!


  1. Brian Basore says

    For a steady diet of comparing and contrasting Conservative and Subversive in British fiction, see the claymation animated film series, Wallace and Gromit (1989-2005). Wallace is the Subversive, and Gromit, his dog, is the Conservative. “Gromit saves Wallace” is the motif.

    It is evident that Rowling was influenced by Tolkien, but I wonder at there being no evidence of the influence of Wallace and Gromit on the HP books, given W&G’s immense popularity in the UK at the time she was planning and writing HP.

    I’m thankful that JKR wrote the HP books as she did, but I also like being able to place her within the traditions of British writing and popular humor. Wallace and Gromit has allowed me to do that.

  2. Brian Basore says

    Oh, and if Bellatrix LeStrange and Lord Voldemort get you down, catch the (voice) performances of Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in W&G’s Curse of the Were- Rabbit (2005).

    Fiennes plays the part of the villainous Lord Victor Quartermain, and Carter plays the part of Lady Campanula Tottington, of Tottington Hall.

  3. Hmm! And then there’s the blood pact that needs to be destroyed, kind of like the ring.

Speak Your Mind