For Immediate Release
Contact:Alisa Giardinelli 610.690.5717 December 7, 2001[email protected]www.swarthmore.edu/news/
'Lord of the Rings' and 'Harry Potter' Offer Audiences Reassurance and Comfort, Says Swarthmore College English Professor Adds Sept. 11 Events Make the Films Especially Resonant
By promising classic battles between good and evil, the new movies "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" appeal to audiences' desire for reassurance, says a Swarthmore College English professor.
"These stories are comforting because the division between right and wrong is so often clear-cut," says Raima Evan, who examines how such stories comment on real social problems in her popular class Fairy Tales and Magic Fictions. "Unfortunately, reality presents us with far more complicated situations."
Evan says moral complications are presented more in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien than in the Harry Potter novels, which she teaches in her classes. "In the trilogy, good and evil are often intermingled within one character," Evan says. "The protagonist, Frodo Baggins, comes under the influence of the evil Ring of Power. In the end, the treacherous Golum ends up saving Frodo's life and the future of Middle-Earth. By centering the last novel on Golum and Frodo, Tolkien shows his readers that even good people can become corrupted, and even evil people can save others. His novel argues that one cannot assume that a seemingly evil person is no longer of any value."
Tolkien, greatly influenced by his experiences as a soldier in the trenches during World War I, invented a fictional world to keep himself sane, Evan says. "When he was surrounded by chaos, he created a world, also in crisis, that required ordinary people -- hobbits -- to save it," she says. "This resonates especially well today, given all that has happened since Sept. 11."
While the moral universe is more complex in the Tolkien novels than it is in the first Harry Potter novel, both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the Tolkien trilogy center on a powerful, magical object. Evan says this device works because of the idea that there could be "just one thing" which could save or curse the future of the universe.
"In Harry Potter, the Sorcerer's Stone is a neutral object," she says. "It isn't inherently evil, but it can be used for evil purposes. In contrast, the Ring of Power will eventually corrupt the user, which makes it all the more scary. Even very good people can get corrupted by it -- which again highlights that no one is impervious to evil influences."
Evan adds that it is easy to overlook that these objects are made by people, not handed down from a divine power. "So I think both novels send the message that hobbits, wizards -- and people -- have the capacity to save or to destroy themselves. We have the capacity to do great good or great evil, and the choice is ours to make."
Although trained in modern drama and contemporary women playwrights, Evan became interested in fairy tales and their history when she began reading them to her children. She first began teaching at Swarthmore in 1993.
Located near Philadelphia, Swarthmore is a highly selective liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,450. Swarthmore is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.