Arthurian Influence in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter – by Denise O Donoghue

King Arthur’s Influence on The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Ancient heroes have had many reincarnations in modern films. I will be examining the presence of King Arthur in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

The legendary figure of Arthur can be seen in the character of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn was raised by Elrond in Rivendell and by the elves of Lothlórien. Similarly, following Arthur’s birth he was taken by elves and blessed with many enchantments. The role of elves and the fae in the two tales play central roles to the shaping of their kings. They bestow upon the heirs many kingly virtues and qualities either through magic, as in Arthur’s case, or upbringing, as in Aragorn’s case. The two kings’ true identities were hidden from them since birth until they came of age and came into possession of their ancestral swords and began their quests to reclaim their lost heritage.

Both fulfil prophesies by coming into public awareness bearing swords of great importance which allow them to unite and rule kingdoms. Both swords are symbols that herald the return of the rightful King. The ownership of these swords further entitles the bearer to contest their right to the crown. Aragorn and Arthur are instrumental in fighting for their people’s freedom and bringing victory where once there was defeat.
In The Lord of the Rings the island of Avalon is embodied in the forest of Lothlórien. Galadriel can be compared to Morgan le Fay. The “Isle of Apples” is echoed in the “Golden Wood”. While Arthur’s story ends with his journey to Avalon, which becomes his resting place, there is no way back for Aragorn, who chooses to die in Gondor. However, Lothlórien becomes the final resting place for Arwen, his queen.
If we see Aragorn as Arthur, it is easy to find other comparisons between the two texts. Gandalf is clearly the wizard Merlin, sent to aid the rightful and future king to free his lands, unite his kingdom and begin his reign.
Aragorn’s reforged sword Narsil is Arthur’s Excalibur. Although Aragorn does not get the sword through mystical means, he must still earn the sword by fighting for his people and his land.
The Fellowship’s quest to destroy the One Ring bears resembles the Knights of the Round Table’s quest to find the Holy Grail. It is not the king, but a member of the Fellowship who is best equipped to complete the quest and destroy the ring, just like it is one of Arthur’s Knights who earns the grail.
Like Aragorn, Harry’s childhood in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone can be compared to that of King Arthur. Both were orphaned at a young age and grew up unaware of their true birth and identity. It is with the coming of a wizard that they learn the truth about themselves.
Like Arthur’s blessing by the elves, Harry is unintentionally, granted unnatural powers (even for a wizard), such as the ability to speak to snakes, by Lord Voldemort. The Dark Lord murdered Harry’s parents and attempted to kill the infant Harry before his corporeal body was destroyed by a protecting charm placed on Harry by his mother.
Arthur’s apparent death is comparable to Harry’s years spent sleeping under the stairs. Arthur is said to return to England when their need is most dire. Harry can be seen to have been sleeping until Voldemort’s second rise to power, whereupon he returned to the world of his birth to again save his people.
The heroes face predestined futures. Having travelled backwards through time, Merlin knows Arthur will become king. As a result, Arthur spends his time preparing himself for his reign. Harry too had his future predicted before his birth. He must either kill Voldemort, or be killed himself. Thus the fate of the wizarding world is in his hands, as the fate of England rests with Arthur.
Merlin guides the young king toward fulfilling his destiny, becoming king and uniting England. Merlin’s role in Harry Potter is filled first by Hagrid, who introduces Harry to the wizarding world and teaches him about their basic customs. Upon Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts, the role is passed on to Dumbledore, the headmaster, who resembles Merlin in appearance.
This connection is emphasised when we learn Dumbledore was presented with an honour by the Ministry of Magic called the Order of Merlin. Merlin himself is mentioned in the books as he is displayed on a Chocolate Frog collectable card.
Many wizards also call upon his name when surprised or alarmed (“Merlin’s beard!”). Dumbledore teaches Harry about Voldemort and how to destroy him through his Horcruxes, magical objects that contain part of a soul. Voldemort has seven of these and until they are destroyed he will remain immortal.
In Arthurian legend, it is Merlin who first establishes the Knights of the Round Table to aid Arthur in his quests. Dumbledore acts in much the same way by founding the Order of the Phoenix, a movement aimed towards ridding the world of the evil Lord Voldemort. The Order also serves to protect Harry, who is in danger from Voldemort, and aid him in his many adventures against him.
Both heroes face many quests. The quest for the Holy Grail can be compared to Harry’s desire to find the Philosopher’s Stone. These objects both offer the possessor the Elixir of Life, a mystical substance that heals all wounds and grants the bearer eternal life. Coincidentally, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry’s quest is to find the eponymous Goblet, which is a Grail-like object. However it does not have any powers akin to those of the true Grail, although it is, in itself, an extremely magical object. Harry’s greatest quest is the search for and destruction of the horcruxes.
Although Harry shares many of his features with Arthur, it is in one of his adventures that he adopts the characteristics of another Knight as it is not Arthur, but Galahad, who obtains the Grail. Harry and Galahad are paralleled when Harry discovers the Philosopher’s Stone. Both heroes are free of sin, a prerequisite to find the Grail. It is Harry’s innocent intent that allows him to see the Stone, as it was hidden so someone who only wanted to find the stone and not use it would be able to do so.
A notable resemblance between Harry and Arthur is their swords. While Arthur pulled his sword Excalibur from a stone, Harry pulled his, the sword of Godric Griffindor, from a magical hat in his moment of need in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Arthur could only draw the sword because he was a rightful king. Harry was able to produce the sword because he displayed the qualities of a true Griffindor. Also, it is revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that one other Griffindor, Neville Longbottom, was able to draw the sword from the Hat. This is interesting as it was revealed that Neville might have been the child Harry’s prophesy referred to as they were born around the same time. This indicates that Harry may not be special, just born at the right time and if circumstances were different we would be reading about the adventures of Neville Longbottom instead.
It is clear that J.R.R Tolkien and J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from the legends of King Arthur. In his lifetime, Tolkien denied this, calling such claims “irrelevant”. Whether intentional or not, the characteristics of Arthur’s story are strewn throughout the text. Indeed the title of the third novel, The Return of the King, seems to be related to the belief that Arthur will one day return to England. Rowling, however, admitted to being greatly influenced by Disney’s take on the classic tales; The Sword in the Stone. She once described the Arthur character in the film as “Harry’s spiritual ancestor”.
  1. I’ve been really interested in articles comparing Harry Potter to other books. I haven’t read Lord of the Rings or King Arthur. I suppose I’ll have to read them some time soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s