Who's bigger, JRR Tolkien or Harry Potter?

Not which one is better or which one you like. Which one has been more successful overall?

My brother and sister-in-law say Harry Potter is more popular than Tolkien ever was. It’s published in all these countries, in all these languages, they said.

In another thread, someone said Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has sold fifty million copies worldwide. Has Harry Potter sold more?

It seems to me a forty-year headstart should be good for something.

Lord of the Rings is the most popular book of all time. (it even outstrips the Bible) It is one book, divided up into three usually, but in fact each part has two further divisions.

So there are six separate parts of the whole. One singular book.

Harry Potter is the most popular series currently. So far four separate books. It is on the best seller’s list almost constantly.

The difference is, ‘for all time’ and ‘currently’.

(Disclaimer: I have no cites for this post)

I’m so glad you posted this in this forum, since I don’t have any cites either, but I definitely have opinions ;-).

Though the Harry Potter books may have surpassed the Lord of the Rings best single year sales, it’s going to take a lot of years for that sales to surpass Lord of the Rings sales to date. And of course Lord of the Rings will continue to sell, and sell well, (likely to some readers who started on Harry Potter at a younger age) so there’s certainly a part of me that doubts that Harry Potter will ever surpass Lord of the Rings.

In terms of popularity, right now, I’d give it to Potter hands down. It’s current, it’s very recognizable, and Hogwarts’ world is much more accesible than Middle Earth.

In terms of literary merit and complexity, Tolkien. Both win the merit awared, but Tolkien’s work is much more complex.

In terms of influence, Tolkien again – but then, it has had a couple generations to do that.

In terms of imagination, Tolkien. J.K. Rowling can’t even BEGIN to approach the detail Tolkien has.

But now here’s a thought.

Both series have upcoming movies this year, with Tolkien’s having the edge because it’s being filmed as a three-part epic and Rowling’s only filming one. But I’m pretty sure that Harry Potter is planned for a summer/fall release, while Lord of the Rings is coming out Christmas.

Now, after all is said and done, which film series do you will attract more attention? I suspect Tolkien’s… with a subsequent interest in the original novels that will put Potterites in their quidditch-farting places.

Since everything in pop culture has about a 20-year cycle, its interesting to note how these fantasy films echoes the glut of sci-fi fantasy that came out in the early 80s: DARK CRYSTAL, EXCALIBUR, DRAGONSLAYER, etc.

Even bigger than both is Jacqueline Susann’s {b}Valley of the Dolls** which has sold so many copies that it is second only to the Bible.


This link shows that since a rerelease of the book in 1987, it has sold an additional 30 million copies.

I believe there are over 150 million copies in print.

It has been rereleased again.

It may not be art or great literature, but you have to be impressed by the numbers.

I agree with GuanoLad about the key terms being “for all time” and “right now.” I think Tolkien has a larger and more dedicated - and more soft-spoken - audience. It’s an odd series, but spectacular in that Tolkien was able to create this whole other world from scratch. Not a magic world that has human characters and that exists as a sublevel of the “real” world, but a completely different type of existence, new beings, etc.

Rowling, however, has developed a world of believable characters that somehow tug at our curiosity and that get us rooting for them - after reading H.P. and the Sorcerer’s Stone it reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, where you can’t help but root for the hero/ine. It’s just fantastic enough that it gets the youngest TV generation hooked, but it’s not too “out there” either (as someone described the Hobbit series to me once).

Conclusion: Potter will be popular for a while, I think. But Tolkien’s going to end up with the larger and more dedicated fanbase.

Does nobody have the sales figures for Harry Potter?? 'S what I wanted.

Think of it this way… what audience does LOTR appeal to? More mature readers, given its complex language and dark feel. What audience does Harry Potter appeal to? Kids, mostly, and those who are young at heart.

LOTR, hopefully, will be a big-time movie deal. Harry Potter, I anticipate, will be like a cross between Rugrats in Paris and Dungeons and Dragons.

Tclouie - I heard on Paul Harvey today that the 4 Potter books combined have sold arund 60 million copies so far.

Tolkein, by a mile. After all, when these kids grow up, little Harry won’t keep their attention anymore. LOTR will be something wild and fresh to them…

From cnn.com:

The original story is here: http://www.cnn.com/2001/books/news/01/08/bc.people.potter.reut/index.html

And Tolkien Enterprises says the Tolkien books have sold more than 50 million copies. Harry Potter wins. Any more questions? Good.

Harry Potter is a skinny fourteen-year-old kid.

From my careful analysis of photographs, Tolkien was a burly old guy, about 5’9" or so.

Tolkien. Definitely.

If you think that in 20 years, Harry Potter will be rembered by…well, anyone…as well as the “Hobbit”, and “Lord of the Rings”, you are sadly deluding yourself. Tolkien is one of the fathers of the entire Jeanre. Harry Potter is just a fad book (like Goosebumps) that little kids like, and sell really great for a few years, and then die down, cause the author runs out of good material and starts writing crap, and is soon forgotten. The only ones who will remeber Harry Potter is the one or two years’ worth of kids who were read Potter to put them to sleep, or for an Elementary School book report.
And Like Mr.Invisible said, Tolkien is a whole lot BIGGER then a little 14 yr old

Are you suggesting that the sheer sales are a direct reflection of merit?

I point you to the example of Britney Spears. 'Nuff said.

Hrm. Now I’m actually going to have to read the books, since I’m definitely going to want to see the movie, and I have a general policy of not seeing a movie before reading the book on which it is based.

In response to the merit of Potter: I’ve read in a couple of different places about how much planning Rowling put into writing the books - something like 5 yrs.’ worth? And she does obviously have some well-thought-out stuff in there… rules and regulations of Quidditch, the terminology… more than some other authors will try and do in one book, let alone an entire series.

But… Potter might be the steppingstone to bigger and better things. i.e. - introducing young readers to the idea that fantasy’s not just for geeky people who spend time playing D&D, and getting them interested in other series and authors, like Tolkien. Harry Potter’s accessible, and that’s why he’s so popular right now.

Davidbw1: Have you actually read any of the Harry Potter books? Based upon your pat dismissal, I doubt it. Comparing Harry Potter to Goosebumps is like comparing Jackson Pollock to Thomas Kinkade. Give them a chance.

Sounds like you’re a strong Tolkein fan. I appreciate that. So I am. I re-read the trilogy every couple of years, got the Silmarillion down, working on all the rest of the posthumous works. Tolkein is among the titans of my literary world. You’ll not hear a word of criticism of JRR from me.

But why should that mean that Rowling can’t be good (great?) too?

First of all, they’re apples and oranges. LOTR is directed at adults, while Potter is an older children’s series. LOTR is set in a world created from whole cloth. Potter’s set in England.

Why can’t they both be great? I’m thrilled to have both works to enjoy. Comparing authors like baseball players seems ludicrous to me. Who’s better? Well, who did you enjoy more?

My guess is that Harry Potter will sell more, for the same reasons that N’Sync will sell more albums than Elvis. They’re are more buyers today, who have more money to spend and marketing methods are far superior. Does that prove anything at all about the quality of the work? Absolutely not! How much do you think Hamlet grossed for Shakespeare?

Tolkein’s greatness isn’t threatened by Rowling’s. Her books are compelling and well written. In the future, other fantasy books will be as well. Get over it.

Amendment to previous post - I’m not saying that fantasy is strictly the realm of the weird and geeky, nor am I downing D&D-ers. Just commenting on what seems to be a stereotype of kids in the late elementary/middle-school age group.

I think the Harry Potter film is shaping up to be the start of a long, long series. Warners are pulling out all the stops and the cast is well, magical…………John Cleese, Alan Rickman, Dame Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw (a truly brilliant comic actress !!), Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane……it’s really some list.

I understood it was to be a Christmas release, also.

Which is bigger ? Neither – horses for courses. But Potter must win at the box office if only because of current popularity.