My Wizard vs. Your Wizard
I like the Peter Jackson movie The Lord of the Rings. My children do not. They prefer Harry Potter. I like The Lord of the Rings not because of the main actor, Elijah Wood, who is a mediocre talent, but because of the grand, sweeping, universal and enduringly human story it tells. But I suspect that my children’s preference for Harry Potter - my daughter’s, anyway - is entirely wound up with the lead actor who plays the boy wizard, Daniel Radcliffe. (My daughter’s original avid interest in the Harry Potter films stemmed, I think, from the actress who plays Hermione Granger, Emma Watson, with whom she shares the same name.)
Elijah Wood was once fanatically popular among Japanese girls. But I think that infatuation was premature. When the girls became more familiar with his face, his voice and his films their ardor cooled due to Wood’s less than charismatic talent. I can’t help but feel the same about Radcliffe because, after all, he was chosen for the role in the course of a nation-wide talent hunt searching for a suitable unknown. But for the time being, anyway, he is the foreign actor of the moment.
I have a VHS videotape of the original Lord of the Rings film, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and I like to slip it into the video machine now and then for a brief diversion. But the children squeal, “Tsumaranai!!” (“Boring!!”)
How can it be boring? Look at it!
My wife says almost the same thing. She says that The Lord of the Rings has too much war in it, which is exactly what she says about all of the Star Wars films that she similarly dislikes. She doesn’t like the dramatizations of fighting.
Maybe some of the appeal of Harry Potter lies in the fact that the story deals with children who, although they are battling evil in their school, are not going out and destroying the world. Supporters of the Harry Potter books and films often cite its proactive presentation of the virtues of friendship, loyalty, honesty, steadfastness, etc., in the face of conservative (Christian) opposition to its seductive presentation of supernatural magic. But for me, Harry Potter is just a self-centered, whiny, selfish teenager - which are my criticisms of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli movie, Romeo and Juliet. I loved the movie in high school and thought, “Yes, this is true love.” But the more I re-watch it the less patient I am with the main characters’ behavior: dumb teenagers killing themselves in a tragedy of errors.
I’m less interested in Harry Potter’s world than I am in the parallel fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a parallel world reflecting our real world and its mythologies whereas J.K. Rowling’s world - although set in a real and contemporary Britain - has less to do with real life than I can tell. That means, J.K. Rowling’s fantasy is more escapist that Tolkien’s, and I don’t need so much escapism. The real world is weird enough for everybody. Tolkien’s writing is fine, intricate and multi-valent literature whereas Rowling, although easy to read and fun, seems to have lost control of her story. I don’t see any multi-layered sophistication in Harry and his friends and their experiences. But I could be wrong.