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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 24, 2001

Potter and Baggins join ranks of classic heroes

By Al Brumley
Dallas Morning News

They're two little guys who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in the position of fighting the ultimate evil while, you know, trying not to get killed or horribly maimed or anything.

Left: Frodo Baggins, raised by his cousin Bilbo Baggins, must leave his beloved home to destroy a ring that would give Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, ultimate power.

Right: Harry Potter's first quest is for his identity. Orphaned as an infant by the evil Lord Voldemort, he is raised by his cruel and decidedly un-magical aunt and uncle.

Frodo Baggins photo • New Line Cinema

Harry Potter photo • Gannett News Service

And now Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins are both in the movies: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" having opened last week to universal acclaim, and "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring," part one of a three-part epic, opening Dec. 19.

What is it about these tiny warriors that touches their fans so deeply? Plenty of theories exist about the appeal of young Harry and Frodo the Hobbit.

Both stories represent the classic "quest myth," one of our most primal sources of entertainment, and in so doing join the ranks of such classic tales as King Arthur, Odysseus and, what the heck, Batman.

Joseph Campbell made a career out of studying the quest myth, breaking it down into its basic components and finding that it exists in cultures around the world.

In simplest terms, the hero is called upon — usually unwillingly — to perform a difficult task. Along the way, he meets powerful allies and undergoes some sort of magical transformation. He pits himself against his foe in a vicious confrontation, emerges victorious, and returns a hero with an expanded world view.

The quest myth appears in — and appeals to — nearly every culture because it represents a "condensed life story," says Dr. Mark Greene, who earned his doctorate in mythological studies with emphasis in depth psychology.

"It's our story — it's really everyone's story," says Greene, who teaches as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Dallas. "How many times are we called upon to make a separation or a departure? I think these stories are something against which we can measure our own journey."

Between the two films, "Lord of the Rings" clings most tightly to the classic quest outline. The hero, Frodo the Hobbit, must leave his beloved Shire to destroy a ring that would give Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, ultimate power should it fall into his hands.

Frodo never intended to take on such a challenge. He simply wanted to live a peaceful life at Bag End, the ancestral smial (underground home) of the Baggins family of Hobbiton, where he had been raised by his cousin Bilbo Baggins. The most trouble he expected to endure was putting up with his meddling relatives.

Harry's quest is at first a more personal venture: a search for his identity. Orphaned as an infant by the evil Lord Voldemort, he is raised by his decidedly un-magical (make that Muggle) aunt and uncle.

At the age of 10, Harry receives word that he has been admitted to a school for witches and wizards — startling news for a kid who doesn't even know he's a wizard.

Harry arrives at school and begins to learn more about his background. And, of course, he and his friends go on to have a big, hairy adventure, although it becomes more of a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew exercise than a quest in its purest form.

Greene notes that the mythical hero is nearly always raised by someone other than his parents. "Over and over again, for whatever reason, the hero does not know his true identity and does not know his powers," he says. "The hero is distinguished from 'normal' people in that there's no filial explanation for their powers. When someone is being raised by people other than his parents, there's something 'other' about him. He's not part of the normal scheme of things."

Harry and Frodo have other things in common, as well: Both assume their new responsibilities dutifully (albeit a little hesitantly), both perform feats they never dreamed they were capable of, and both are, well, short.

They're also immensely popular. J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" have created generations of Middle-earth lovers who have mapped his world, alphabetized and translated his word creations and written theses on his works. A recent Web search for "Lord of the Rings" turned up 433,000 hits.

But Tolkien's books, though wildly imaginative, often make for slow going and appeal more to older readers. It's hard to imagine an 8-year-old in this age of quick-cut editing and Pokemon-style, 30-minute justice settling in for a long discussion on the history of Elves.

The four books written thus far in the Harry Potter series, are also a phenomenon, having made author J.K. Rowling the second-richest woman in Britain, behind only the queen herself, according to a recent report in USA Today.

But the books themselves are simple reads — cotton candy to Tolkien's taffy — which is understandable, considering the target audience. They're also well-written and guaranteed to hook any grown-up who delves into them.

Looking a little deeper at either Harry Potter or Frodo, you find that beneath the magic are good lessons for children: loyalty, patience, devotion, acceptance of differences, perseverance, honesty, and trust.

Ultimately, that might be another key to the universal appeal of the quest myth: It's an affirmation that the good guys will win out if they maintain their virtue and their values (or, as someone once put it, if they avoid the dark side).

 •  Harry Potter vs. Frodo Baggins


• Harry Potter: Apparently the only wizard able to stand up to the evil Lord Voldemort without getting blasted to bits

• Frodo: A very popular young hobbit who, through no fault of his own, finds himself having to save the world by destroying an evil ring

Family situation

• Harry Potter: Parents killed by Lord Voldemort in attack that leaves baby Harry with famous lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Raised by repulsive aunt and uncle

• Frodo: Parents killed in boating accident, leaving Frodo to be raised by cousin Bilbo Baggins


• Harry Potter: Lord Voldemort

• Frodo: Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor

Best friend

• Harry Potter: Ron Weasley, fellow wizard-in-training

• Frodo: Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, loyal servant and fellow Hobbit

Support staff

• Harry Potter: Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid, the gigantic Hogwarts groundskeeper

• Frodo: An ever-changing assortment of hobbits, elves, dwarfs, and men

Life goals

• Harry Potter: To graduate from Hogwarts, avoid getting killed by Lord Voldemort, and learn how to pronounce "Hermione"

• Frodo: To hike across Middle-earth, avoid Dark Riders, kill a few Orcs, make it to the Crack of Doom, and get rid of that dang ring

Method of turning invisible

• Harry Potter: An invisibility cloak

• Frodo: That dang ring

Favorite pastime

• Harry Potter: A spirited game of Quidditch

• Frodo: Listening to his buddies sing songs, preferably during a meal

Snack of choice

• Harry Potter: Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans

• Frodo: Pretty much anything edible

What to do in a tight situation

• Harry Potter: Hope that Hermione has a good spell up her sleeve

• Frodo: Wait for Tolkien to concoct an outrageous escape


• Harry Potter: Adulation and products galore

• Frodo: Enough characters, geography, vocabulary and history to make a Harvard Ph.D.'s head spin

— Dallas Morning News