Both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are historic in the annals of movies and literature. The Lord of the Rings made author J.R.R. Tolkien and director Peter Jackson legends, while Harry Potter turned children back onto the written word. The legacy of The Lord and the Rings and Harry Potter in film and literature pop culture is endless, and so are comparisons between the two. Ultimately, while famous franchise holds up better in book form, and in movie form?
For The Lord of the Rings, the book series was one of the first to take science fiction and fantasy, and turn it into an obsession for its audience. Lord of the Rings became of the first major “geek” obsessions, and has stayed that way even decades later. The Lord of the Rings books created new fantasy worlds that were ahead of their time, and yet rooted in classic historical parallels and parables. J.R.R. Tolkien set the gold standard in fantasy fiction with Lord of the Rings, as pretender after pretender has failed to top it over the years.
If any franchise has come the closest, it is Harry Potter. In many ways, Harry Potter is an even more unlikely achievement. Harry Potter was released at a time where literature and long, complex novels were not often read by young audiences. By the end of Harry Potter, young readers everywhere were dying to read novels that were over 600 pages long, something that no other book series could have possibly done.
The Harry Potter series reaches a far different demographic than Lord of the Rings does. But whereas Lord of the Rings deals in grim, adult storytelling and brutal war, Harry Potter gives all ages a compelling story, and increasingly dark life lessons. Though Harry Potter began as a pleasant diversion, J.K. Rowling slowly turned the series into a modern-day parable about the troubles of growing up, finding a family and friends, battling inner demons, and confronting loss and great evil. The readers of Harry Potter grew up along with Harry, and thus Rowling reached them deeper and deeper with every passing, troubling year.
Overall, Lord of the Rings has a deeper fantasy world, but Harry Potter is the more emotional experience in book form. In movie form, however, Lord of the Rings has had a greater advantage.
The success of the Lord of the Rings movie series is just as unlikely as the Harry Potter book series. Lord of the Rings was a make-or-break gamble for New Line Cinema, one of the few series to shoot multiple movies at the same time and actually work, and was helmed by a director who was often best known for dirty puppet movies. After seeing how so many other fantasy films with gigantic CGI effects failed in the years after Lord of the Rings, the success of these movies is even more unique and special.
The Lord of the Rings series brought Tolkien’s world to life with the most elaborate, jaw-dropping special effects of our time – to say nothing of the historic achievement in bringing Gollum to life. By the time Return of the King finished off the triumph, 11 Oscars had to be given over to honor the entire three-year run.
For the Harry Potter series, the movies have been a bit more problematic, but have soared at their best. The first two films were largely panned for being too close to the books, and for having Chris Columbus at the helm. But just like the books, the Harry Potter movies became more captivating and deeper as things went on, and as the characters got older. As the Harry Potter movies near an end, audiences feel as much of a connection in seeing the adult Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up in front of their eyes as they did reading about it in the books.
However, the Harry Potter films are frequently criticized for replacing CGI effects with the real wonder of the books. The Lord of the Rings series could survive complaints like that, since massive CGI was the only thing that could bring the battles and locations of Middle Earth to life. Such CGI wizardy is more tame and less revolutionary today than it was when Lord of the Rings came out, which hurts the Harry Potter series a bit, even as it relies a little less on special effects.
In book form, the Harry Potter series is more likely to hold a special place in people’s heart than Lord of the Rings, despite the lasting power of Rings. But in the movies, Lord of the Rings has cast too great a shadow for Harry Potter to completely catch up to, though there are still two more adventures left to film in Hogwarts.
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