The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series are both highly popular series that have shaped the literary journey of many young people. However, If you’ve read both of them, you may have noticed many similarities. Considering the Lord of the Rings came first, can we say that J.K. Rowling got inspiration from Tolkien?
J. K. Rowling didn’t get inspiration from Tolkien for Harry Potter, even though there are similarities between the two series. The resemblances are familiar tropes used in the hero’s journey concept. The Bible, Iliad, and English folklore are cited as influences for her series.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss why J.K Rowling doesn’t consider Tolkien’s works as inspiration for her series and show you some actual inspirations she has acknowledged. I will also include specific elements that have made some Tolkien fans believe that the similarity is not accidental.
Has J.K. Rowling Read Tolkien’s Works?
As soon as the Harry Potter series was published, loyal Tolkien fans noticed similarities that made them think that J.K Rowling may have been inspired by Tolkien’s works. However, the author has not mentioned Tolkien and any of his works as an inspiration for her series.
When asked about this very issue, J.K. Rowling maintained that she had read the Lord of the Rings when she was 14. However, she claims she had not read the Hobbit until she was in her 20s and had already started working on Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling denied being inspired by Tolkien and maintained that the similarities between the two series are coincidental and superficial. You could say that Rowling may have been inspired by Tolkien to create a series based on a fantasy world, but anything further than that seems just an assumption.
Similarities Between the Lord of the Rings Series and the Harry Potter Series
The reason this discussion started in the first place is a variety of elements that seem very similar in both series. Some of them are characters and plot elements, but some, according to Tolkien fans, are similar names, which could indicate that Rowling could have copied Tolkien.
Let’s see some of these elements:
- Both series revolve around the story of the chosen one. Both Frodo and Harry are suddenly chosen for a higher purpose and must go through a difficult journey to achieve it.
- Both Lord Sauron and Lord Voldemort are terrifying villains who cannot be named. In both series, other characters feared merely mentioning their names because of the terror they had caused.
- Gandalf and Dumbledore are both wise wizards who guide the main characters. The resemblance is also uncanny in their portrayals in the respective film adaptations.
- The telepathic connection between the main villain and the main character is uncanny. In Tolkien’s work, the Ring Bearer is telepathically connected to Sauron, while in the Harry Potter books, Harry can communicate with Voldemort thanks to mind reading.
- The Ringwraiths and Dementors are both scary villains that signal doom and destruction. These two creatures are very similar in appearance, as they both are covered by a black cloak.
- There are similar names in both series. For instance, there’s Wormtongue and Wormtail, both devious characters. Also, the famous phrase “He Who Must Not Be Named” used in the Harry Potter series seems similar to the phrase “Him That We Do Not Name,” which the character Boromir uses for Sauron at some point.
While there’s no way of knowing if J.K Rowling is really inspired by Tolkien despite denying it, some of the above similarities can be explained as common tropes in literature.
The protagonist, who is chosen by destiny and becomes the hero, is common in literature. It would make sense for J.K Rowling to have stayed loyal to this particular concept, which was incidentally also used by Tolkien. The same could be said about the wise old mentor who tries to guide the main character through their challenges.
A long white beard on these characters is fairly common, as it symbolizes wisdom.
Acknowledged Influences for Harry Potter
While J.K. Rowling has denied being inspired by Tolkien, she has mentioned several different influences over the years. It’s important to stress that she doesn’t maintain that any of the below works inspired the Harry Potter series in any way, but only that they influenced it directly or indirectly.
Before I delve into the influences, I should warn you I may spoil some key details of the series, so skip this part if you haven’t read the books and are planning to.
- The Bible seems to influence certain parts of the series, especially in the last novel. The temporary death of the main character and the subsequent resurrection certainly resembles the story of Jesus Christ.
- British Folklore is mentioned as an influence by the author, as she maintains that she has used and transformed parts of the mythology.
- Dorothy L. Sayers’ detective novels have influenced Rowling to include certain elements that make each book in the series resemble a mystery thriller.
- Emma by Jane Austen is one of the inspirations for Harry Potter, according to J.K. Rowling, as unlikely as it may sound to you. The influence, according to Rowling, is the tendency to create a twist and an unexpected ending, just like Austen did in Emma.
- The Chronicles of Narnia is also a significant influence, as Rowling is a huge fan of the series and has claimed to have used certain moments as inspirations. However, she makes sure to emphasize the many differences between the two series.
- The Iliad served as an influence for a very particular moment in the series. According to Rowling, Harry saving Cedric’s body was influenced by the story of Achilles and Patroclus.
The Harry Potter series is one of the most successful series of all time, and for good reason, as it offers a complex and fantastic journey through a magical world that makes you wish you were part of it.
However, it seems quite similar in certain aspects to another massively successful series by J.R.R Tolkien.
J.K. Rowling denies being inspired by this author and acknowledges influences by other important books. Although there are many similarities, the most important ones can be written off as simply common tropes that occur in literature.
- Quora: How has J. R. R. Tolkien influenced JK Rowling?
- CBR.com: Did JK Rowling Copy Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for Harry Potter?
- SparkNotes: 9 Things J.K. Rowling Totally Stole From Tolkien
- Peter Harrington Journal: Harry potter and the Literary Allusions: J. K. Rowling’s influences
- Go Spark Press: Let’s Talk Tropes: The Chosen One
- Hogwarts Professor: Tolkien and Rowling: A Case for “Text Only”
- The Dorothy L. Sayers Society: Home
- JASNA: Emma
- Narnia.com: Home
- Gutenberg.org: The Iliad of Homer