Review: Harry Potter
(And before anyone starts to comment... this article is a copy, not my own creation, I just agree totally with the author of this piece.)
The Harry Potter books are rapidly becoming the most popular fiction in the history of literature. In just four years they have sold a staggering 100 million copies, and made their author, J.K. Rowling, a very rich woman.
Explaining the secret of their success, critics point to the brilliant invention in the plots and characters, the creation of a whole parallel world, and the attraction of the struggle of good against evil.
With the film version of the first book - which describes a magical boy's first year at a school for witches and wizards - released on Friday, interest is sure to increase even more.
Yet for all their richness, there are more than a few echoes of other classic stories within the pages of the Potter books, particularly from The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, a film of which is released next month, competing with Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.
Of course, when it comes to literature there's no such thing as an entirely original story. Even Shakespeare happily raided myths, chronicles and even contemporary authors in search of the ideas for the finest plays ever written.
It is part of the tradition of all great art - and this applies to music and painting just as much as literature - that ideas are passed down through the generations, constantly adapting and evolving as they go.
So while there's no denying that J.K Rowling's achievement is truly staggering, it's fascinating to look at why some elements of her stories seem rather familiar.
DAVID THOMAS reports.
- The Lord Of The Rings, published in 1954, has a good wizard - Gandalf - as a central character who guides the little hero and has a long, white beard and flowing hair.
Harry Potter has a good wizard, Dumbledore, as a central character who guides the little hero and has a long, white beard and flowing hair.
- The Lord Of The Rings has an evil, dark force who has fallen from power but is growing strong again: Lord Sauron.
THE Harry Potter books have an evil, dark force who has fallen from power but is growing strong again: Lord Voldermort.
- WHEN the hero of The Lord Of The Rings, Frodo, is close to the dark lord, the ring he is carrying grows heavy in his hand.
WHEN the hero of Harry Potter is close to the dark lord, the scar on his head burns with pain.
- IN THE Lord Of THe Rings there's a small, sniveling, treacherous character who is the sidekick of an evil wizard. His name is Wormtongue.
IN HARRY POTTER there's a small, sniveling, treacherous character who is the sidekick of an evil wizard. His name is Wormtail.
- IN THE HOBBIT, also written by J.R.R. Tolkien, there's a dark forest which the heroes fear to enter.
IN HARRY POTTER there's a dark forest which the heroes fear to enter.
- IN THE forest in The Hobbit there is a colony of talking giant spiders who try to murder the hero, Bilbo.
IN THE forest in Harry Potter there is a colony of talking giant spiders who try to murder the hero, Harry.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings Frodo becomes invisible when he slops on his magic ring.
IN HARRY POTTER Harry becomes invisible when he slops on his magic cloak.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings there are evil, half-dead, black-cloaked figures who can sense the hero's presence and seek to suck out his soul: the Wraiths.
IN HARRY POTTER there are evil, half-dead, black-cloaked figures who can sense the hero's presence and seek to suck out his soul: the Dementors.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings the Elven Queen has a pool of liquid - the Mirror of Galadriel - in which she can see events far away and at different times.
IN HARRY POTTER, Dumbledore has a pool of liquid - the Pensieve - in which Harry can see events far away and at different times.
- IN THE HOBBIT the hero is attacked by a huge mountain troll.
IN HARRY POTTER the hero is attacked by a huge mountain troll.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings, the ancient sword of Anduril is used to cut the ring from the dark lord's hand.
IN HARRY POTTER, the ancient sword of Godric Gryffindor is used to slay the Baslisk, a serpent doing the bidding of the dark lord.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings, Frodo and his companions visit a village pub, The Prancing Pony, and are served by Barliman Butterbur.
IN HARRY POTTER, Harry and his companions visit a village pub, The Three Broomsticks, where they drink pints of butterbeer.
- IN THE Lord Of The Rings, Gandalf is carried away from danger from the top of a wizard's tower by a giant eagle.
IN THE third Harry Potter book Harry's godfather Sirius Black is carried away from danger near the top of a tower by a giant Hippogriff (which is half-eagle).
- AT THE beginning of the Narnia book THe Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis - the final installment of the series published in the Fifties - the children leave a railway station platform and are thrown into the magical world from the train.In the book The Secret Of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson, there is also a secret link into a magical world via a railway station platform.
NEAR the beginning of Harry Potter, he and his friends use a railway station platform - nine-and-three-quarters at King's Cross - to move into the magical world.
- IN NARNIA there are wise and magical centaurs who befriend the Pevensle children.
IN HARRY POTTER there are a wise and magical centaurs, one of which, Firenze, lets Harry ride on his back.
- IN THE The Magician's Nephew, the children Diggory and Polly ride on a flying horse to save Narnia from an evil witch.
IN HARRY POTTER Harry and Hermione fly on a Hippogriff (a beast which is half-horse) to save the innocent Sirius Black. (Also, one of the characters in Harry Potter is called Cedric Diggory. Unusual name, isn't it?)
- AMERICAN children's author N.K. Srouffer, in her 1984 book The Legend of Rah And the Muggles, used the term Muggles and the book includes the charter Larry Potter. J.K. Rowling uses the word Muggles to describe 'non-wizarding peoples' and, as we all know, her hero is called Harry Potter.
- STOUFFER'S book contained a castle, like Hogwarts, which was approached by boat across a lake. And there was a character called Nimbus, who could fly - as does Harry Potter's flying Nimbus 2000 broomstick.
- IN STOUFFER'S book the Muggles form a group called Nevils.
In Harry Potter there is a character called Neville.
- IN STOUFFER'S book there is a character called Lilly Potter.
HARRY'S mother is called Lily Potter.
- STOUFFER'S lawyers claimed that: 'There are many more similarities (between the books), all of which cause further confusion, infringe upon Stouffer's trademarks and unfairly compete with her properties'.
IN THIS case, however, it is Rowling and her U.S. publishers Scholastic, who have sued Stouffer. The matter will be settled in a Manhattan courtroom.
AND OTHERS ...
- IN ROALD DAHL'S Matilda the Wormwoods are a nasty, suburban family who refuse to recognise the gifts belonging to their brilliant - and magical - daughter Matilda, and pretend she is criminal.
IN HARRY POTTER the Dursleys are a nasty suburban family who refuse to recognise the gifts belonging to the brilliant - and magical - Harry and pretend he's been sent to St. Brutus's a school for Incurably Criminal Boys.
- IN T.H. WHITE'S Sword In The Stone, the young King Arthur, known then as Wart, is tutored but the friendly wizard, Merlin, and pulls a sword from a magical stone.
IN HARRY POTTER, Harry is tutored by the friendly wizard Dumbledore, and pulls a sword from a magical hat.
- IN SNOW WHITE a mirror talks to those looking in it, often dispensing unwanted advice.
IN HARRY POTTER a mirror talks to those looking in it, telling Harry to 'tuck your shirt in, scruffy!'
-IN THROUGH The Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, there are talking chess pieces.
IN HARRY POTTER the chess pieces talk back, offering advice on what moves the players should make.
- IN THE Worst Witch, by Jill Murphy, pupils attend Cackles Academy. The heroine, Mildred Hubbe, learns about spells and potions. She flies on a broomstick, which she uses for school sports. And she fights with her friends against a gang of nasty pupils, who are female equivalents of Harry Potter's enemy Draco Malfoy and his pals.
IN HARRY POTTER, of course, most of the action takes place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they learn about all aspects if magic and fly broomsticks, most memorably when playing Quidditch, the violent, airborne team game involving four flying balls.
- IN STAR WARS Luke Skywalker is an orphan (or so he believes) raised by his aunt and uncle, who don't acknowledge his true heritage.
HARRY POTTER is an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle, who don't acknowledge his true heritage.
- LUKE SKYWALKER'S mentor is Obi-Won Kenobi, who tells Like the most important thing about the Force is how he chooses to use it. HARRY'S mentor is Dumbledore, who tells him: 'It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.'
- LUKE SKYWALKER fights Darth Vader, who cuts off his hand.HARRY fights Lord Voldermort, who wounds his arm.
Darth Vader, of course, turns out to be Luke's father. Can there be any serious Potter reader who does not wonder whether we are going to discover, one day, that Harry and Voldermort are related?
- FINALLY, in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire there appears a sneaky, headline-hungry, utterly unscrupulous and deceitful woman journalist called Rita Skeeter, who horribly exploits and misquotes poor Harry.
I have been in Fleet Street journalism for a full 20 years. And in all that time I've never come across any fellow professional remotely like Rita Skeeter. Well, not many, anyway.