[Paleopsych] Merlyn: His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings

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Fri Sep 30 20:50:33 UTC 2005

His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings

By ]Merlyn, Webmaster
mailto:merlyn at bridgetothestars.net

They're compared constantly. Three great tales, two contemporary and
one already considered a classic. But are these constant comparisons
justified? Just what similarities do His Dark Materials, Harry Potter,
and Lord of the Rings share? What is their purpose, who is their
target, and why do they have the appeal that they do? We'll try to fit
these three tales into the basic stages of the myth as listed by
Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero With a Thousand Faces' and cover the
various aspects of the three works from characters, good and evil,
philosophy, religion, and conclusion.

First off, it must be noted that the Harry Potter story is still being
completed: only five of the seven books have been written to date, and
I have not yet had the chance to read the fifth one (no, thank you, I
am NOT spending that amount of money on a book that'll take me two
days to read I can wait until it's in at the library). Still, there is
enough of the story present to cover the majority of the aspects
mentioned above, if not as completely as for the other two works.

Joseph Campbell wrote an excellent book in 1948 about the similarities
of world myths and religions. He lists 17 stages and aspects that seem
to be basic to every mythical story, and since the three works we're
looking at here are mythical in nature, they should contain these
stages. The stages are listed in three parts of a cycle: Departure,
Initiation, and Return. Departure takes the hero/heroine from their
home and places them in situations that lead up to Initiation, where
the hero/heroine must prove themselves to be worthy of the
enlightenment that they seek. Once they have done so, they must Return
to their homeland so that what they have learned or gained can be
shared with the rest of the world.

The first stage is The Call to Adventure. So far the three works are
pretty similar: Lyra is content to live at Jordan College until Mrs.
Coulter arrives and offers to take her with her on an adventure to the
North. The Master gives Lyra the alethiometer to help her on her way,
and she sets out. Harry receives the strange letters in the mail from
Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Hagrid comes to
collect him from the Dursleys. Harry's situation at home is slightly
different from Lyra's. Lyra was happy to be the little savage that she
is and live in Jordan, while Harry dreams of somehow getting free of
the horribly cruel Dursleys, the family of his mother who have taken
him in (grudgingly) after his own parents were killed when he was an
infant. Frodo's adventure begins when his uncle Bilbo leaves him the
Ring, and the wizard Gandalf instructs him that it must be taken to
Rivendell (and later to the Cracks of Doom in Mordor) because it is a
ring of extraordinary power, and greatly coveted by the Dark Lord,
Sauron. Frodo really has no other desire to leave the beautiful Shire:
if he hadn't inheireted the Ring, he would have been content to stay
at home like any decent hobbit and live out his days gardening and
smoking pipeweed. But, he has events thrust upon him that he cannot
control, and whether he wants to or not, he is forced to set out on a
journey that will span thousands of miles and many months, and which
will affect not only the rest of his life, but the future of the world
of Middle Earth. Three adventurers, each with a few friends and a goal
in mind, that set out from the peacefulness of the home they know to
face dangers in faraway lands.

Of course, there is also the Refusal of the Call. In His Dark
Materials, Lyra feels reluctant to leave the only home she has ever
known, adventurous as she may be. Frodo moves from Bag End to a house
in a different part of the Shire, biding his time and waiting for more
knowledge before setting out. But where Lyra and Frodo are reluctant
to begin, Harry couldn't dream of anything better than to set out. The
Dursleys do their very best to prevent Harry from reading one of the
letters from Hogwarts, and go so far as to move to a desolate island
in the middle of a stormy sea, but once Hagrid arrives, Harry doesn't
hesitate to go with him. Nothing seems to bind him to the cruel, but
only, family he has lived with all of his life.

Once they have set out, the heroes and heroine receive supernatural
aid early on- this comes in the form of the Alethiometer (which, we
learn later, is driven by none other than angels) and the rescue by
the Gyptians for Lyra, Tom Bombadil for Frodo & company in the Old
Forest, and the various wizards that Harry encounters, probably Hagrid
most notably at this point, since he is the one who gives the most aid
to Harry this early on in the story.

Rescued from the first peril, the characters are now ready to Cross
the First Threshold, as Campbell calls it. Lyra joins the Gyptians on
their journey to the North, Harry enters Diagon Alley and then
Hogwarts itself, and Frodo crosses the Old Forest and the town of
Bree. They have all left the (relative) safety of home behind, and are
now in the new world that they know little to nothing of, and will
soon have to face many perils and dangers along the way.

The last stage of the Departure is the Belly of the Whale, where the
hero/heroine dies to their old ways and is reborn (metaphorically)
into the second part of the Cycle, the Initiation. For Lyra this would
be her capture and imprisonment at Bolvangar, where she almost has her
soul cut away by the dreaded Silver Guillotine. Once she passes out of
that, unharmed (though terrified), she is no longer the brat of
Jordan, but is the heroine who knows that she must help the other
children out of this horrid place and lead them to safety. That was
her goal all along, but only once she had passed through the terrors
of Bolvangar itself could she really gather the courage to do so.
Harry doesn't have quite so literal a Belly of the Whale experience -
for him it's more adjusting to life at Hogwarts, and he dies to the
"muggle" aspect of himself and is reborn as a wizard in training.
Frodo's wounding by the Nazgul lord and subsequent flight to Rivendell
to be healed fits the category, as he very nearly dies when he feels
the touch of the evil blade, and it is only the skills of Elrond that
save him from becoming a wraith. He has left behind the Shire, and now
prepares to set out from Rivendell to Mount Doom, no longer as simply
the protector of the ring until it can be placed in safer and wiser
hands, but the Ring Bearer himself, with the task of destroying the
Ring in the land of Mordor.

Now reborn, the heroes and heroine of these three stories begin the
process of initiation, facing the Road of Trials. Each goes through
varying challenges, from deceiving Iofur Raknison, to facing Voldemort
at the end of the Sorcerer's Stone, to the journey through the Mines
of Moria. Harry Potter begins to present a problem here, since the
events of the first three books, while different, seem very similar in
their rhythm, and really don't get Harry past the Road of Trials. At
the end of the first book he returns home, but his story is hardly
over. An abridged version of the rest of the cycle is passed through
by Harry in each book, culminating with his (yearly) meeting and
conquering of the evil Voldemort. Since the last two volumes have yet
to be written, perhaps a general cycle will emerge, with much of the
middle books covering the Road of Trials aspect, and the ending of the
last book covering the Return nearly all on its own. In a sense this
makes Harry out to be more complex a layout than the other two: he
doesn't go through the 17 stages once, but 7 times. But does this
work? We'll look at that later on.

When the Road of Trials has been passed (and this differs in length
for each work, probably including meeting Will for His Dark Materials,
and most of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers for Lord of
the Rings), there is a "Meeting with the Goddess/Divine". Rather than
assume the literal for His Dark Materials and say that this is the
meeting with the Authority, the Goddess is probably symbolized by
Serafina Pekkala for Lyra. She is far more powerful, beautiful, and
older than a normal human being, and her wisdom and aid help Lyra and
Will multiple times through the course of their journey.

And, of course, there is the temptress whom the heroes and heroine
must encounter. For Lyra personally it is Mary Malone, when she tells
Lyra and Will the story of how she fell in love, which puts the idea
into their heads for a new way of looking at each other. There is also
Mrs. Coulter as a temptress throughout much of the story, and for more
than one character. For Harry this is a little less clear. Is the
temptation his love for Cho Chang? (Remember, I've only read the first
four books, so I don't know what happens with that) Perhaps his
longing for his parents as seen in the Mirror of Erised, or the
similarity he bears to Voldemort, and the delicate line he walks that
he could so easily become like Voldemort? So far there appears to be
no specific temptress for Harry- it is more of the temptation of Good
and Evil and human desire overall that tempts him. Frodo's temptation
is similar- there really isn't a set tempter or temptress- just
himself, when he claims the ring on the crack of Mt. Doom. He, like
Lyra, falls but whereas Lyra's fall is to her benefit, and the benefit
of the many worlds, Frodo is only saved by the blind fate of Gollum.
He also desires the Ring, and biting the Ring off Frodo's hand, slips
and falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him. This brings up the
view on religion that the different authors take- Pullman's view of
the original Fall by Eve was a good thing, and lead towards the wisdom
of mankind instead of blissful ignorance. Tolkien, a devout Catholic,
viewed the Fall as a bad thing, and the state of life in Eden as more
desirable than that of life after the Fall. Perhaps he also saw
temptation and Fall as inevitable- Frodo, the most innocent character
that could be found, was given the Ring in the hopes that he would not
be overcome by it. But even he fell to its power. Harry, at the point
to which I've read, has yet to Fall, or even really be tempted. He has
faced Voldemort a few times now, and it is certainly within his power
to do evil, but he has yet to really face something that will truly be
a struggle for him.

After Temptation there is the Atonement (or at-one-ment as Campbell
says) with the Father, when the Hero/Heroine is accepted by their
father figure, or the person that they have set out to save or
protect. The probably comes in Asriel and Coulter's decision to
sacrifice their own lives in order to make sure that Metatron can no
longer pose a threat to their daughter. They both love her now, and
realize that the Republic has only come into being to protect her.
Harry's Atonement might come towards Dumbledore (although he seems to
have accepted Harry from the start), or somehow with the ghost of his
own dead parents. But they too love him already- maybe the Atonement
will come with Snape, or some other powerful figure who has disliked
Harry, but now find themselves helped by him? We've yet to see this
part of Rowling's story. Frodo's Atonement is also a little unclear,
though it is likely that it would be with Gandalf- Frodo's friend,
yes, but perhaps a skeptic that he would be a success? Frodo did
succeed- though with the unwilling help of Gollum- so perhaps that was
what he needed to at last be accepted by Gandalf?

Once the task for which they have set out for has been completed,
successfully, the heros and heroine reach a state of Apotheosis, or
Enlightenment. For Lyra it is the realization that she cannot stay
with Will, and that the only window that can remain open is the one
leading from the World of the Dead. Some have said that this is her
real temptation, since it is something that she does not wish to
accept or carry out, and which she does have the option to avoid
(close the window for the dead and leave one open for her and Will,
save the knife and make new windows at the cost of more specters etc),
but which she decides to do anyway since it is better for the many
worlds even if it is painful for her. Harry's Enlightenment will
probably come after he finally destroys (or is faced with the chance
to destroy) Voldemort, probably the conclusion of the seventh novel.
Frodo's is the realization that the Shire cannot be his home and that
he will be forgotten despite what he did and to avoid the pain of
living in the homeworld that shuns him, he sets out for the Grey
Havens to go with the Elves to the Undying Lands across the sea. (This
is jumping around a bit with the order of events and the order in
which the stages go, but the Enlightenment of the characters varies a

The Ultimate Boon stage signifies when the hero can no longer be
harmed by evil forces- they are oblivious to the dangers around them
for they have reached Enlightenment. Lyra and Will go unharmed by
Father Gomez, Harry, try as he will, cannot be harmed by Voldemort
(yet), and Frodo successfully saves the Shire from the minions of

The third and final part of the cycle is that of the Return. After the
Hero/Heroine has reached the object of their quest, whether it is a
physical act like the destruction of the Ring, or a mental state like
Lyras when she chooses to be apart from Will, the character which we
have followed so far must make the journey back to the world of the
everyday, the world where the story began. At first, they Refuse, or
do not wish to return. Lyra wants to spend the rest of her days with
Will. Harry is forced at the end of each school year, to return to his
horrible life with the Dursleys, and leave behind the world of
Hogwarts. Frodo, now finished with his task, does want to return to
the Shire, but he rightly fears that it will not be the same,
Eden-like paradise that he has left behind. Each one of them have
experienced so much that they dont quite know how to behave in the way
that they did before they left- they have been changed by their
adventures in more ways than one. All three of them could have been
seen as children, innocent, before they left. Now, Lyra has fallen in
love and been torn apart by having to be separated, Harry has learned
of a magical world that lies in hiding from the normal world and he
has become a part of it, and Frodo has seen cruelty, corruption, and
carried with him the very essence of the Dark Lord. They will not be
the same when they return, so they do not wish to do so. Yet they
must, willing or not, and they do.

They are transported back to the world they knew by the Magic Flight:
the gyptian ship that (somehow?) has sailed to the Mulefa world and
come to take Lyra and Will home, the return journey of the Hogwarts
Express, and the uneventful return to the Shire (although once there,
dangers arise once again). There is a Rescue From Without, in the form
of Balthamos, Dumbledore, and Gandalf, when the hero/heroine is in
more danger than they can know or do anything about. (Again, the order
of events differs slightly from the basic order of the stages). They
return across the Threshold to the world they once knew, through the
window, platform 9 ¾, and Rivendell. When they have returned they, as
said before, have been changed so that they are now the Master of the
Two Worlds, with the wisdom and experience from their adventures now
at their disposal for use in Jordan College/St. Sophias Boarding
School, Privet Drive, and the Shire. What they do is now up to them-
it is the Freedom to Live as they please, whether building the
Republic in the here and the now, pestering Dudley with the threat of
magical force, or freeing the Shire from the evils of Saruman.

So Lyra, Harry, and Frodo have passed through their adventure,
changed, grown up, and empowered by their experiences, with new
friends and different outlooks from when they began. They have lost
their innocence, and become Enlightened, each in their own separate

Weve seen now that the three stories embody many of the same
characteristics, and although Harrys story is incomplete, it appears
that the cycle is recognized in each of the separate books, and will
be evident as a whole once the final volume is published. They each
follow this basic format for the legend, but each does so in a very
different way, with the views and styles of the author greatly
affecting them.

Lyra sets out on her journey and begins to see her purpose in the
first book, joins Will and gains the Knife in the second book, and
travels through the land of the dead/Falls in the third book. The
story is divided into three separate sections, yet each flows into the
others. The third book divides into multiple sub-plots, some of which
dont really seem to add much to the trilogy (Coulter in Geneva?), and
are there more to space out the suspense of Lyra and Wills story. It
works, and the flow of the main plot feels right. It also allows the
adventure of Mary Malone to be brought into play, and the culture and
experiences of the Mulefa to show what kind of world the Republic of
Heaven is striving to create. The last few chapters of The Amber
Spyglass are strong, well written, and very, very painful. Some have
said that His Dark Materials could have benefited if Pullman had
included some characters for comic relief instead of being so somber
and dark all the time. I disagree- the strength of the story was in
its pain, and that was where Pullman focused. It isnt a comedy, and
isnt as light as Potter, but it does have its humorous bits- take this
quote from The Amber Spyglass:

Ill explain if you like, but you dont seem very interested. Oh, I find
whatever you do a source of perpetual fascination. But never mind me.
What are you going to say to these people who are coming?

Balthamoss sarcasm fits well with the story, and its enough to keep
the mood at that delicate balance between light and dark. I would have
been disappointed if Pullman threw in a character just to crack jokes.

Harry goes through the three aspects of the Cycle each year, in each
book, climaxing each time with his meeting with Voldemort. He learns a
lot along the way, and puts it into use at the end. But does this
yearly cycle work? It gives a nice rhythm to get used to, but it makes
the Cycle seemed rushed at times, and I personally think that because
Voldemort is encountered all the time, a lot of the fear for his
character will begin to disappear. If hes always met and always
defeated (or prevented from hurting Harry), wheres the threat? The
division of the books into the years spent at Hogwarts makes sense,
and perhaps it couldnt have been done better a different way, yet it
just seems to get boring after a time. If Voldemort was kept as a
distant threat that got closer and closer each year, with his minions
facing Harry instead of himself, all leading up to a final meeting in
the seventh book, perhaps the story would have been strengthened.
Humor here is more evident, with the constant effects of spells gone
wrong, talking paintings, half decapitated ghosts and other such
fanciful creatures that give a lighter mood. Aside from a few bits in
The Goblet of Fire (I havent read Order of the Phoenix, so I cant
judge it) there really arent any DARK bits. It stops being funny, yes,
but it never goes to some of the depths that His Dark Materials does.
But, it works for the story and what Rowling is trying to do. She
wanted to present a creative world that was absurd at times, and to
make you laugh, while still getting a few themes in here and there,
and she does so successfully.

Frodos story, like Lyra's, is divided up into three books, the last
two of which are split in half between the story of Frodo and Sam and
that of the rest of the fellowship, whether it be Aragorn and Legolas
and Gimli at Helms Deep, or Merry and Pippin with the Ents. The movies
were done differently, and, I think, for the better, by jumping from
one plot to another instead of doing half and half. That way the
climaxes of each thread comes at the same time, rather than one half
way through and the other at the end. Tolkiens writing style can get
very windy after awhile, and moving between stories helps to move the
plot along at a better speed. Other aspects of the book to movie
adaptation werent so brilliant (notably the change in Faramir), but
thats not what this commentary is about. Humor in Lord of the Rings
hangs mostly on Merry and Pippin and their errors and mishaps along
the way some of Gimli and Legolass relationship is funny as well, and
Frodo and Sam each have their wry bits. I think Tolkien was also
successful in finding the right tone of humor for the story that he
was telling.

The way that Pullman, Rowling and Tolkien take on characters is also
quite different, and each has their own merits and flaws.

His Dark Materials focuses on two major characters, Lyra and Will,
whose lives and ways are quite different. One is a fluent liar, the
other good at making himself invisible/uninteresting to those around
him. Through chance (and a lot of it), they are thrown together on a
quest that takes them to the land of the dead and out of it, and
charges them with the responsibility of saving the worlds. They are 11
and 12 when the stories begin (and somewhere between 5-9 months pass
throughout the course of the story), and by the end they have fallen
in love. All the while they meet and befriend armoured bears (who are
brave and virtuous, yet must forge their own souls, and can be quite
fierce and whose customs are often times confusing and different), the
witches (who are beautiful and wise, yet not all powerful: their
spells fail occasionally, and they are divided between the two
opposing forces), the gyptians (who are warm and friendly, yet are
also quite dangerous) and finally Lyras own parents, Lord Asriel and
Marisa Coulter. These two embody Pullmans point that it is not people
who are good or evil, it is the acts that they perform; both are, in
the end, brave and strive for a great vision, yet on the way commit
many acts of cruelty and torture or kill innocent children. Are they
good or are they evil?

In Harry Potter, Harry himself is probably the strongest character- he
is driven by his own morals and values, yet does make mistakes (some
humorous, some not) that result in pain for others. His friends, Ron
and Herminone, offer guidance and help, once again sometimes
humorously and sometimes not. They are there for him, and though they
each make mistakes, their friendship is strong enough that they can
forgive each other. The teachers of Hogwarts are also there to guide
Harry, but some seem more bent on getting in his way than helping him.
Others, like the headmaster, Dumbledore, seem to come in as
all-knowing and benevolent, always there to catch Harry when he falls.
(At least up through the fourth book). Evil is clearly defined:
Voldemort, Draco Malfoy etc. They have no good in their hearts, as far
as Rowling shows them; just greed, corruption, and malice. There is no
good or evil, Voldemort tells Harry, Just power, and those who too
weak to seize it (paraphrased).

Frodo and his friends and companions also have a strong friendship: if
it werent for Sam, I strongly doubt that Frodo would have had the
strength to ever get him to the Cracks of Doom. Some are
well-intentioned, yet overcome by the Ring, like Boromir, others are
strong enough to resist its temptation, like Aragorn. Gandalf is the
all-knowing and benevolent in Lord of the Rings, although he is
somewhat darker than Dumbledore. Evil has a more grey range to it,
touching on some but not truly overcoming them, while those like
Sauron are entirely evil, filled with nothing but cruelty and the lust
for Power. I think he would have agreed with Voldemorts statement

Yet, Voldemort was once a regular wizard, and very similar to Potter,
though he was placed in the house of Slytherin instead of Gryffindor.
Sauron was once a Maia, or minor angel, like Gandalf. Both fell to the
corruption of Power, and (to this point) neither show any doubt or
regret of their choices. In the discussion about good and evil, some
who discuss these books overlook that His Dark Materials also has the
all evil being: The Authority. Greedy for Power since the very dawn of
time, claiming to those who came after him that he was their maker. By
the time we meet him in The Amber Spyglass, he has delegated his power
to yet another all-evil being, Metatron, while he himself becomes a
bumbling old fool contained in a glass cage until Lyra and Will
release him, allowing him to drift apart. He never fell from a state
of grace like Sauron, and he was never like the young Voldemort:
surrounded by power and driven to conquer it himself. He was always
this way, always corrupt, and weakening in power rather than gaining
it like the other two.

While all three stories have characters that are all evil, do any of
them have any characters that are all good? Frodo falls to the Ring in
the end, Harry is a disturbed teenager who makes a lot of mistakes and
is responsible for a lot of pain and suffering, and Lyra certainly
does harm along the way. Dumbledore and Gandalf also make mistakes,
though their wisdom seems to be more powerful in the end. To Lyra, the
all knowing character would probably be Iorek or Lee, but both of them
also make mistakes and kill. The Mulefan race has an excellent look to
it, and its members are wise and good, yet that comes from the fact
that they have glorified the Fall from grace by riding the wheels.
This is a good thing for them (Pullmans point that the Fall brought
Wisdom to humanity), but they are no longer in the state of pure

Each book also has rather stereotypical/cardboard characters: Father
Gomez and the other priests in His Dark Materials, the Dursleys and
Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter, and the orcs in Lord of the Rings. The
priests in His Dark Materials are the props that Pullman attacks
without giving them a chance to defend themselves (one of the great
flaws of His Dark Materials is that there arent any priests/clerics
who are good), the Dursleys and Malfoy annoy Potter and restrict him,
but they dont really present any serious danger to him: theyre just
there to annoy him. The orcs, similarly, are just underlings of Sauron
without any real thought or will- theyre bred to do the evil works of
Sauron, and arent meant to be developed as characters.

Just as the characters of each book are portrayed in a different way,
so too are the views on Good and Evil. His Dark Materials portrayal is
summed up by Mary: I stopped believing that there was a power of good
and a power of evil outside us. And I came to believe that good and
evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can
say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or thats an
evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have
simple labels. This is probably the strongest aspect of His Dark
Materials, in its attempt to understand just what is good and just
what is evil. In the end, as Mary says, it comes down to whether an
act is good or evil, not whether a person is good or evil.

Potter and Lord of the Rings are different, going for the more
traditional fantasy portrayal of a Dark Lord as the opposing force,
and the Good Guy (Harry and Frodo) and their companions up against
him. Where His Dark Materials tries to understand the nature of good
and evil, the other two simply use them as backdrops, telling us that
this person is good and that person is evil. Of course, all three
works have characters that are in the grey: who struggle with
themselves and temptation- its just that there is more of this in His
Dark Materials than in the other two, and thats where the focus lies.

Very closely tied to Good and Evil is the portrayal of religion. This
is one of the weaker points in His Dark Materials, due to the
cardboard characters like Gomez, and how everything priests do is
condemned as evil (all the constant descriptions of dirty fingernails
and the like), and the being who has portrayed himself as God is
targeted, as if Pullman thinks that the Almighty is responsible for
humanitys mistakes and misinterpretations. Much of what religion has
done has been bad, and has brought suffering to those who believe
differently, and for that His Dark Materials has a good point- if you
wish to see the Authority as portraying the evil acts done in the name
of religion, then it isnt so bad. But James Bow says in his essays
about His Dark Materials (probably the best look at the trilogy from a
Christian viewpoint) that he wishes Christians in the worlds of the
books had been given a chance to stand up to the tyrant of the
Authority and join Lord Asriel- the way that the Authority and his
forces behaved are nothing like what Christians believe, and they
teach completely different messages. If anything, the rebel angels of
His Dark Materials resemble Jesus and the way that Christianity is
supposed to be enacted. Bow thinks that by generalizing the priests
and believers in His Dark Materials, Pullman excluded those Christians
who would agree whole-heartedly with the concepts of the Republic of

Harry Potters stance on religion is a bit harder to find. Rowling is
Christian, but no references to God, angels, or religion in any sense
comes up in the books to this point. It would seem that Harry and
company are all atheist, or at least agnostic. They believe in Good
and Evil, but no driving force behind them. Spells and magic are
performed, but they arent in worship of the devil- theyre just done.
There is a Christmas break at Hogwarts, but the birth of Christ is
never mentioned.

Lord of the Rings is the balance between the two: God, or Eru as he is
referred to in the Silmarillion, created the world, and placed the
Valar (high angels) in charge of different aspects of it. As Tolkien
was a devout Catholic, a lot of subtle references to religion appear
throughout the books. But, his point was not about religion like
Pullmans was: most think that Lord of the Rings is a commentary on the
Industrialization of England, (the Shire) by the Machine (the Ring)-
it is a thing in the power of human beings, yet it controls us.
Tolkien destroys the Ring like Pullman destroys the Authority-
Progress can go on without the destruction of the environment, and
people must be responsible for their own acts of evil instead of
saying that God told me to do it.

Lets recap:

His Dark Materials is strong in ambition and its attempt to understand
the nature of Good and Evil. Its main characters are well rounded,
with different strengths and weaknesses both in their character and in
the way they are portrayed. It strives to ask questions of its readers
and makes them question what it is they believe about life, death,
good and evil, and why. It is weak in its portrayal of organized
religion due to the stereotypical characters of the priests, who
should have been allowed into the grey region of good and evil like
the other characters instead of written off as automatically being

Harry Potter, though unfinished, produces a good core of characters
that struggle with themselves and those around them. Its settings and
plots are creative and adventurous, and quite gripping. Its themes and
messages arent quite as strong as those in the other two, and are more
normal in that they dont so radically question the readers beliefs.
Weakest point lies in Voldemort- who comes back every year to present
a new threat, which Harry always manages to get out of. It gets a bit
tiresome after a time, and many have said that the fifth book is
long-winded (although I havent read it myself, so I cant judge).
Harrys struggle with himself balances this out- its interesting the
various parallels between himself and Voldemort (although I hope he
doesnt grow up to be quite so dull), and how he must question himself
and what he does to find the good and evil within himself. (But come
on- does anyone really think Harrys gonna turn out evil?)

Lord of the Rings provides a massive epic and a very creative world
rich with culture and legend that is only partially explored by the
trilogy itself. Its characters are nearly all clear cut- Boromir is
perhaps the only grey figure in the books, and he is killed by his
desire for the Ring. Frodo, like Lyra and Harry, struggles with the
evil in himself and tries to do what he knows needs to be done. The
sometimes weak characters are balanced out by the themes of Good and
Evil, and the underlying messages about the environment (and many
other things).

Im not saying any is better than the others- each is very strong in
their own field, and each accomplishes what they set out to do: they
also each have their flaws, which is only to be expected. Some are
more philosophical than others, some have better flow than others,
some are written in a more appealing style than others, and some are
more entertaining than others. In the end, its up to the reader to
decide which he or she prefers more but whatever they choose, that
doesnt mean that they automatically dislike the others- in fact, its
very likely that theyll enjoy all three. Each could be put above the
others for their own reasons, but the best choice would be to put them
side by side as three very different, yet equally good, works of

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