Thwarting the Powers of Darkness:
a thematic study of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings,
Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence, Robin Gordon's
New Zephyria and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

By Malcolm Potter Brown

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2007  -

Copyright Malcolm Potter Brown, 2007

Introduction. -- The World. --  The Powers of Darkness. -- The Mythology.

The unlikely, unheroic hero.  --  The Companions and advisers.

The Quest.  --  The role of Pity.  --  The labyrinth.  --  The monster in the labyrinth.

Onomastics: the creation and significance of names. -- Language.

Conclusion. -- Notes. -- Bibliography. -- Links.

        The stories studied in this essay are The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, New Zephyria, by Robin Gordon, and the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling.  In all of these the world is threatened by the rise of a dark and destructive power, the eventual defeat of which depends not so much on the heroic deeds of great men as on the determination of unlikely heroes.

The World
        All four of our authors create worlds which are threatened by the rise of the powers of darkness and find their defenders in unlikely heroes.  The two male authors, Tolkien and Gordon, both set their stories in alternative worlds, while the female writers, Cooper and Rowling, prefer parallel worlds that run alongside the real world, unsuspected by its inhabitants.
        Tolkien's Middle Earth takes its name from the Middle Earth of Germanic mythology.  The Germanic peoples, including the Vikings, believed in a threatened world, Middle Earth, poised between the realm of the gods above and the infernal regions below, and between the lifeless eternal frosts of the north and the all-consuming fires of Muspell to the far south.  It was a world they knew would come to a violent end, in which the mighty wolf, Fenrir, would devour the sun; in which the Midgard serpent, coiled around the seas surrounding Middle Earth would rise up and destroy the world; in which the Frost Giants would slay the Gods, even Odin, the all-wise father of all, and the mighty Thor; and in which the fires of Muspell would consume the heavens.  Eventually, out of the chaos of destruction, there would arise a new world, but, in the Middle Earth they knew, a man must struggle, do his duty, keep his honour and hope to die a hero's death.
        Tolkien's Middle Earth, like the old Germanic world, is poised between preservation and destruction, between the evil realm of Mordor and the distant, perfect world to which the Elves will one day depart.  It is dependent on the vigilance and heroism of the free peoples to save it from the powers of evil.  It feels like a primeval memory from the distant past of our own world, and is inhabited not only by the human race, but also by the peoples of the old Germanic legends, the Elves and  Dwarves, and the Trolls and Goblins.
        Gordon's world is an alternative creation of a different kind.  It too refers back to the Germanic fairytales and posits a different dimension which is feebly and inaccurately reflected here in the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, while our own world finds its equally imprecise reflection there in the stories of the Brothers Jolly.  While Middle Earth seems to be centred on a long forgotten dark-age Europe, Gordon's concept geographically inverts the world, placing the Kingdom of New Zephyria more or less where New Zealand is in our earth, but giving it a fairy-tale monarchy with a thousand-year history. Both Tolkien's Shire  and Gordon's New Zephyria are happy, innocent communities, ignorant of the catastrophe about to fall upon them.
        Susan Cooper's setting for the Dark is Rising sequence is Britain.  The first story, Over sea, under stone, which deals with the discovery of the Grail, is set in Cornwall, as is the third, Greenwitch, in which the Grail is stolen by the Dark, but the light obtains the code by which its inscriptions can be understood.  The Dark is Rising, which introduces the hero, Will Stanton, is set in the Thames Valley, particularly around Huntercombe, while The Grey King is set in Wales around Cader Idris.  
        It is Will who explains the realities of the world, where,
when the Dark comes rising, ordinary people are caught up in the storm and cannot understand what is happening  "This, where we live, is a world of men, ordinary men, and although in it there is the Old Magic of the Earth, and the Wild Magic of living things, it is men who control what the world shall be like [ ... ] But beyond the world is the universe, bound by the law of the High Magic, as every universe must be.  And beneath the High Magic are two ... poles ... that we call the Dark and the Light.  No other power orders them.  They merely exist.  The Dark seeks by its dark nature to influence men so that in the end, through them, it may control the earth.  The Light has the task of stopping that from happening.  From time to time the Dark has come rising and has been driven back, but now very soon it will rise for the last and most terrible time."
J.K. Rowling's world is also parallel to our own and its existence unsuspected by ordinary, non-magical folk, whom the wizards call Muggles, though a few seem to be let into the secret by reason of their high office: for example, Cornelius Fudge visits the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to warn him of the dangers to come, and the P.M. is surprised to learn that his faithful and utterly dependable private secretary, Kingsley Shacklebolt, is a Wizard put there to look after him.  
           The world of Wizardry is almost another dimension that can be entered through numerous portals, the most famous being the station pillar that leads to platform 9¾ from which the Hogwarts express departs every term.  The Leaky Cauldron is another, a wizarding inn that passes unnoticed by Muggles and contains the secret entrance to Diagon Alley, where Wizards and Witches openly go about their business in the centre of London.  In London too is the Ministry of Magic, a colossal building that the rest of us simply don't notice, while the wizarding school, Hogwarts, appears to be somewhere in Scotland.
        At the same time Wizards and Witches walk among us, looking, more or less, like Muggles.  They intermarry with Muggles.  Some, the Squibs, though born to wizarding families, lack magical powers, while some Muggle families, rather to their own bewilderment, give birth to Wizards or Witches.  It is this intermingling of the Muggle and Magical worlds that means that the return of Voldemort would spell doom not only for Wizards but for us as well.

The Powers of Darkness
        In The Hobbit there is a brief mention of the Necromancer, in whose dungeons Gandalf had found Thorin Oakenshield's father.  By the time The Lord of the Rings was written this evil power has both a name and a history, and he has become much greater and more dangerous than a mere necromancer.  He is now the Lord Sauron, successor of that Morgoth who had challenged the Creator himself.  Sauron had been defeated by a great alliance of Elves, Dwarves and Men at the end of the second age of Middle Earth, and his Ring of Power cut from his finger by Isildur, son of the fallen King of Gondor.  The Ring, however, was not the great trophy Isildur had imagined.  True, without it Sauron's power was diminished, but no-one else could make use of it without his intentions being turned to its own evil purpose.  Isildur himself fell, and the Ring, now known as Isildur's Bane, was lost until a certain Smeagol, a Hobbit-like creature, took it by force from his brother Deagol, who had found it in the Great River.  Smeagol began his ownership of the Ring with fratricide, then took it and hid beneath the mountains, using its power of making its wearer invisible to prey on Goblins (Orcs), until the Ring was taken from him by Bilbo Baggins.  Bilbo began his ownership by pitying Gollum, as Smeagol was now known, and, perhaps because of this, he took less harm from it than other ring-bearers.
        It was only later that Gandalf, the wisest of the Wizards, came to suspect that the ring Bilbo had found was not just any old magic ring of invisibility, but the Great Ring that Sauron had forged to enable him to control Elves, Dwarves and Men through the Rings of Power worn by their rulers.  Gandalf's suspicion was confirmed when he threw the Ring into Bilbo's fire and found that on its previously plain surface there appeared words in an Elvish script but in the language of Mordor: One Ring to rule them all, one Ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
        Sauron was aware that the one Ring was still in existence, for if it had been destroyed, he too would have perished.  Moving at last from Mirkwood, where he had long lurked as the Necromancer, he regained his old kingdom of Mordor, sought out allies, and sent out to search for the Ring nine of the greatest of his servants, the Ringwraiths or Nazgul, who came to the Shire as Black Riders to seek out Baggins.  Some have accused Tolkien of racism in making these servants of evil Black Riders, but anyone who believes in that calumny has no feeling for medievalism and has obviously not troubled to read the book.  The Black Riders are so called because, like many a medieval Black Knight, they are dressed in black.  In addition Frodo makes it clear when he at last sees he face of their leader, that it is white, for he refers to him as the Pale King.
        Other servants too Sauron had: the wicked Orcs or Goblins, originally made by Morgoth in the First Age of Middle Earth by perverting free people, probably elves, to his own purposes, and by the time of the Third Age, spread throughout the world.  Many evil men also served him, and others were, like Denethor, Steward of Gondor, sapped of their will to resist and convinced that defeat was inevitable.  His greatest coup, however was the suborning of Saruman, the Chief of the Wizards, with promises that he should share power when Middle Earth was conquered.  Saruman set to work to breed a superior form of Orc, the Uruk Hai, and, through the agency of Grima Wormtongue, sapped the will of Theoden, King of Rohan until Gandalf awoke him to his duty and knowledge of his power.  Saruman was a consummate hypocrite, able to enchant his hearers by the sound of his voice and to convince them that black was white.
        We find a similar hypocrite in a position of power in Robin Gordon's New Zephyria, where Nigel Crimper, Prime Minister of New Zephyria, plots to overthrow the monarchy and make Nanny Scungebucket president, believing that she is so old that he will soon be able to succeed her and take supreme power for himself.  Unfortunately for him Nanny Scungebucket is not just the elderly chief executive of Scungebucket enterprises, which by then owns virtually everything worth owning in New Zephyria, but an avatar of Ruahine-nui Makutu, goddess of death and destruction: Crimper finds that, far from his being able to make use of her for his own ends, he himself has been manipulated by a vastly stronger being and ultimately meets a nasty but very appropriate fate.
        While Tolkien creates a whole new mythology, Gordon anchors his personification of the powers of darkness in a variety of existing mythologies, referring (sometimes in the same sentence) to ancient Greek, Germanic and Maori myths. The innocent world of New Zephyria is happily celebrating the christening of a new baby princess, when the Powers of Darkness strike, with the appearance of Auld Hinny McIldhu. She informs the King, who alone can see and hear her, that she will give him a present with neither a past nor a future, which she does by stealing first the baby (New Zephyria's future) then the memory of the King's omniscient secretary and eventually that of the whole people.  Auld Hinny McIldhu is another manifestation of Ruahine-nui Makutu, and her gift leaves the people drifting and at the mercy of the blandishments of Nanny Scungebucket.  These blandishments consist largely of junk food (delicious at first until Scungebucket Enterprises have driven their competitors into bankruptcy and gained a monopoly), junk music and junk media.  Nanny's goal is the abolition of the monarchy and her own elevation to the presidency, after which her real identity will be revealed.
        Like Sauron, Ruahine-nui Makutu has returned after a long exile.  A thousand years previously she had had a free hand to terrorise the innocent inhabitants of the islands, until Theowulf, a Zephyrian prince, arrived, drove off an attacking Taniwha, then descended to the underworld to kill the chief of the Taniwah, a monstrous subterranean bull.  After this exploit, which ended the reign of terror, Theowulf married the Sea King's daughter and founded the new Kingdom of New Zephyria.
        Voldemort is also making a comeback after being defeated  and almost destroyed by the rebounding of his own spell from baby Harry Potter, who was protected by the love of his mother.  That was eleven years before the opening of the Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Here there is no supernatural being with immense powers of destruction, but an ordinary wizard, formerly known as Tom Riddle, who had developed his magical abilities for his own evil purposes. Voldemort too has allies, among them the Malfoy family, and he has the ability to turn others to his own ends.  Is there a hypocrite?  There is certainly Snape, who has always wanted, and, in the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood prince, eventually achieves, the position of Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts.  In that same book it seems that his hypocrisy is eventually revealed as he kills Dumbledore, Voldemort's principal opponent, but until the final volume comes out no-one can actually be sure what side Snape is on.  A more obvious hypocrite is Peter Pettigrew, credited for many years with helping to save Harry, and living in disguise as Ron's rat, Scabbers -- until Sirius Black reveals the truth: that it was Pettigrew who betrayed James and Lily Potter to Voldemort.
        In the Dark is Rising sequence, there is no one figure in whom evil is concentrated.  Both the Dark and the Light are forces represented by human beings often indistinguishable from ordinary people.  The Lords of the Dark may be sinister, over-friendly, apparently innocent and unimportant (e.g. the farm girl Maggie Barnes) or gentle and kindly, (like Blodwen, the wife of John Rowlands, a man who, though not of the Light, was aware of, and helpful to, its cause).  Ordinary men, too, could be bent to its will, for example the ill-tempered Caradog Pritchard, whom the Dark used to oppress Bran, the concealed son of Arthur and therefore the new Pendragon.
        Through the ages the Dark has come rising, hoping to conquer and control the world of men.  This, says Susan Cooper, is its final attempt, and its overthrow will free the world forever.  Given the present situation this seems facile optimism.

The Mythology
Tolkien's great interest lay in the creation of a new mythology to replace the lost myths of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe.  The Lord of the Rings is embedded in that mythology, which was worked out in great detail in Tolkien's unpublished writings, many of them issued by his son after his death.  The Silmarillion, for example contains a whole set of creation myths and explains the background to the forging of the Rings of Power and of the One Ring to rule them all.  This gives to The Lord of the Rings a rich mythological background, which is drawn on at various times, either, for example, to give a back history to the Elves, or to heighten the sense of impending doom (as with the tale of Gil-Galad, sung by Sam as the Black Riders approach) or to give an added dimension (as with the tale of Beren and Luthien, which is analagous to that of Aragorn and Arwen).
        Susan Cooper draws on the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythology of the British Isles.  The first story is of the discovery of the Grail, long enshrined as a quest in Arthurian mythology, and Arthur himself later appears as a Lord of the Light, while his son Bran is given the task of recovering the mystic sword from the kingdom swallowed by the sea.  It is perhaps strange that the myths of the Saxon invaders should appear too, for example Wayland Smith, but Cooper explains this as each fresh wave of invaders, sent by the Dark to overthrow the civilisation of Britain, is conquered by the land they have settled and thereby become part of the peaceful forces of the Light.
        Robin Gordon's mythology draws on Greek, Germanic and Polynesian sources.  The exploits of the First prince of New Zephyria, for example, reflect those of both Beowulf and Theseus as he kills an invading monster, then descends to the Underworld to conquer the King of the Taniwha, assisted by a ball of twine given to him by Moana, his future bride, with the help of which he finds his way back.  Ruahine-nui Makutu inhabits an underworld where Hades and other Greek deities hold sway, as well as Whiro, the Maori god of death and destruction, and where the spirits of the dead either make their way confidently to the Rainbow Bridge the Vikings believed led to Valhalla, or are driven to destruction by evil spirits.
        For J.K. Rowling
the background is not so much mythological as folkloristic, drawing on the European legends of witches flying on broomsticks and the whole hocus-pocus of magic, with, in the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life, a reference to medieval alchemy.

The unlikely, unheroic hero

Once again there is a difference between the male and female authors: both Cooper and Rowling choose boys as their heroes, while Tolkien and Gordon prefer a more indirect link with childhood, the first creating a half-sized human-like people who are so insignificant that they are left out of all the old lists of the races inhabiting Middle Earth, and the second a prince stuck in retarded adolescence.
        Frodo Baggins, nephew of Bilbo, is 33 years old and has just come of age.  Hobbits are not adventurous fellows, preferring a life of comfort, good food, good ale and good pipeweed.  Frodo's uncle, Bilbo, whose mother had been the famous Belladonna Took, a member of one of the comparatively bolder clans, had, it is true, taken part in a great adventure, assisted the Dwarves to regain their kingdom under the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug, and returned, so it was rumoured, fabulously rich, but Frodo himself had no wish to go travelling, and would have been horrified if he had suspected the dangers he would encounter.  Nonetheless he it was who became the Ring-Bearer, with the task of taking the Great Ring to Mount Doom where it could be destroyed.  It was hoped that by entrusting this greatest of all treasures to so insignificant a bearer it might pass under the eye of Sauron unnoticed.
        If Frodo is an unlikely hero because he comes from an unadventurous race, perhaps Prince Egbert of New Zephyria, descendant of the famous prince Theowulf, might have been expected to have something heroic about him.  Unfortunately he proves to be an immature prankster who passes his time playing tricks and messing around.  Even on the night of the Royal Ball, devised by his father to help him find a wife and settle down to the serious business of life, he ignores the possible brides and spends the evening making fun of the ugly sisters, then going off with his cronies to hunt down, harry and harass the town boys, and to debag them and hang their trousers on the pinnacles of Parliament.  The popular press enjoyed it all, but not the King.
        Still, Bertie does eventually find himself a wife and begets a beautiful baby daughter, whose kidnapping by Auld Hinny McIldhu sets him off on the path that will lead to adventure, heroism and eventual triumph.
        The boys chosen by Cooper and Rowling are both eleven when their adventures begin, and they both discover that they are not, as they had thought, ordinary British boys, but people marked out for special roles.
        Will Stanton is a much loved member of a large and cheerful family living in the country in the Thames Valley. He is the seventh child of a seventh child, which, it seems to be suggested, is why he was chosen to be an Old One (or representative of the Light).  On the eve of his eleventh birthday things seem strange: previously friendly animals retreat from him as if afraid.  It is the dawning of his power as an Old One, as is explained to him by Merriman.  He is, in fact, the last of the Old Ones, the youngest who completes the circle and whose special task it is to collect the symbols of power so that the Light can at last banish the Dark from the world.
        Harry Potter, on the other hand, is a lonely orphan, living with, and detested by, his uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, and forced to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs, until wizardry forces his horrible relatives to give him his pampered cousin Dudley's second bedroom.  Aunt Petunia, née Evans, is Harry's mother's sister, and appears to have been jealous of Lily from childhood.  She has picked up some knowledge of the world of wizards, and she and her husband are determined to squash any magic out of Harry.  Nonetheless, when he is eleven there comes for him a summons to attend Hogwarts, and, when Uncle Vernon destroys all the letters, he is eventually fetched by Hagrid and told of his significance: he is the baby Wizard who reflected back onto the evil Lord Voldemort the spell that was intended to kill him, and the scar on his forehead, far from being the result of a car accident that killed his parents (as his aunt and uncle have led him to believe), was caused by Voldemort's attack and marks him out as Voldemort's nemesis.
        Rowling at one point raises the intriguing possibility that Voldemort might in the end be thwarted not by Harry but by Neville Longbottom, a bumbling, incompetent pupil, whose parents had their minds destroyed by Voldemort's Death Eaters and now live in an enclosed asylum.  Neville was born one day before Harry "as the seventh month dies", and to parents, who, like the Potters, had thrice defied Voldemort.  Dumbledore, however, dismisses this possibility, and Rowling has indicated that Voldemort virtually chose his own nemesis by attempting to kill Harry, unaware that in doing so he would confer on Harry enough of his own powers to enable the boy to thwart him.  Neville is merely a might-have-been, which does not, she says prevent him having a significant part to play in the final confrontation.Note 1
        There are, nevertheless a couple of oddities about Harry.  In the first story, at the end of which he saves the philosopher's stone from falling into the hands of Voldemort, it is clear that there would have been no danger of that happening if Harry had not interfered.  The stone was protected by a spell that prevented anyone who wanted to use it for his own ends from gaining access.  It was Harry's purity of intention that cut through that spell.  Secondly, although several times he reproaches himself when things go wrong that are not his fault, after Sirius has gone through the portal from which no-one has ever returned, largely because he had tried to rescue Harry who had travelled via the floo network rather than using the communicator that Sirius had given him, Harry, far from feeling guilty on finding the forgotten device, merely shrugs and throws it away.

The Companions and Advisers
        None of our heroes is left entirely alone to face the powers of darkness.
        Frodo, the Ring-Bearer, is a member the Fellowship of the Ring, the nine companions chosen by Elrond to stand against the nine Black Riders: four Hobbits, two Men, an Elf, a Dwarf and the Wizard, Gandalf.  It was Gandalf who had identified the ring that Bilbo had found as being no mere invisibility charm but the Great Ring forged by Sauron to control the Kings of Elves, Men and Dwarves.  It was Gandalf who advised Frodo to take the Ring to Rivendell, and Gandalf who counselled its destruction in the Cracks of Doom.  Gandalf led the company, till he was forced back from the Redhorn Gate on Caradhras and compelled to take the route of ill-omen throught the Mines of Moria, once the great Dwarwish citadel of Khazad-dûm, now home to ancient and terrible evil.  There he fell, plunging into a chasm in his desperate struggle with the Balrog, an evil spirit, summoned from Hell by Morgoth in the First Age, and lurking since then at the roots of the Misty Mountains.
        After the fall of Gandalf, leadership was assumed by Aragorn, known as Strider, one of the rangers of the north, and, (unknown to the company), rightful King of Gondor.  The company was broken by the action of the other man, Boromir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, who, heedless of Gandalf's warning, sought to take the Ring from Frodo and bear it to Gondor, where, he thought, it could be used against Sauron.  Boromir came to his senses too late.  He rushed to defend the other Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, from attacking Orcs and was killed.  Frodo then decided to cross the river alone to find his way to Mordor, but the faithful Sam followed, travelled with him, rescued him from the fearsome giant spider, Shelob, and was with him right to the end, to the edge of the Cracks of Doom.  Aragorn meanwhile, guessing Frodo's intention, decided to follow the Orcs and rescue Merry and Pippin, which led him into many adventures and battles of his own.
        One other companion Frodo had, not one of his own choosing, but one who was unwittingly to ensure the success of the mission: Gollum, who had followed the companions and now tracked Frodo and Sam, till he was captured and persuaded to join them.  He it was who led Frodo to Shelob's lair, hoping that the spider would eat the Hobbit and leave the Ring for Gollum to pick up and take again into his ownership.  At the end, however, when Frodo faltered at last and was mastered by the Ring, refusing to throw it into the Cracks of Doom but putting it instead on his own finger, thus revealing himself to Sauron and dooming his mission to failure, it was Gollum's overweening desire for the Precious that led him to hurl himself at Frodo and bite the Ring from his hand, only to plunge to his doom in the fires of the volcano and destroy the Ring.
        Will Stanton, puzzled at first by what has happened to him, soon meets Merriman Lyon, the first of the Old Ones, who explains his new status and guides him through the learning process and some of the ordeals his adventures bring.  Merriman, whom Barney Drew recognises as Merlin, is the Gandalf-figure: the wise counsellor, the most powerful opponent of the Dark, and perhaps the only one who fully understands the situation.  In Greenwitch, set in Cornwall, Will meets Simon, Jane and Barney Drew, the children who found the Grail in Over sea, under stone, the first story of the sequence.  They are at first rather jealous and suspicious of him, feeling that he has a closer relationship with the man they know as Uncle Merry than they do.  Once this initial phase is past they become loyal friends; as too does the mysterious Welsh boy, Bran Davies, who is eventually revealed as the son of Arthur and the new Pendragon.  However these are not the only friends and allies Will has.  The circle of the Old Ones, of which he is the youngest and one of the most important members, is made up of thousands of men and women from all over the world, and there is also the Lady, in whom much of the power of the Light resides, possibly an equivalent of the Lady Galadriel.
        Harry Potter too has loyal friends: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and also the half giant Hagrid.  Through Ron he becomes friends with the whole of the Weasley family (except Percy), and he is surrounded by friends and admirers at Hogwarts.  Here the Gandalf-figure is Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster and the only Wizard powerful enough to be feared by Voldemort.
        In New Zephyria Queen Elizabeth instructs King Arthur to have a round table made for Prince Egbert's companions on his quest: young men of the noblest families who will share the adventure and its dangers with him.  Unfortunately no-one answers the summons.  Bertie's own friends are idle wasters, and everyone else has been turned against the Royal Family by Scungebucket propaganda.  He sets off on his quest alone, apart from his cousin Prince Bruce.  When, however, he goes beyond the Black Stump and takes the road of the dead to the underworld, he goes alone, and Bruce who returns with the news of his disappearance is accused of his murder.  Although he is accompanied for part of his journey by one of the Unicorn, whom the Sea People believe accompany the Great and the Good on their journey, and although he meets his late father, Prince Egbert is alone for the worst of his ordeals, and alone when he returns to the world of men to try to trace the book in which the answer will be found.  Only right at the end does he find friends again: his wife, his mother, and the landlord of the Three Goats.

The Quest
      In European literature the theme of the Quest is long established.  A quest story involves the hero or heroes in a long, difficult and dangerous journey to achieve an object, usually the winning of a valuable or sacred article.  Examples are the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to win the Golden Fleece in classical Greek literature, and the quests of Arthur's knights in medieval literature, of which the quest par excellence is the Quest for the Holy Grail.  The Grail probably originated in pre-Christian Celtic mythology and may have been a magical cauldron of some sort.  By the later middle ages it was regarded as the cup blessed by Christ at the Last Supper, which was said by some to have been used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Our Lord's blood when His side was pierced by the Roman soldier's spear.  It is therefore the most sacred object possible, and the phrase "the holy grail" is now used metaphorically for something of immeasurable value which must be sought through immense difficulties, e.g. the "theory of everything", which will unite Relativity and Quantum Theory, is the holy grail of physics.
      In The Hobbit Bilbo and the Dwarves set off on a quest to find the treasure of the Dwarves and take it back from Smaug. In The Lord of the Rings the quest is inverted: the Fellowship of the Ring are already in possession of the One Ring and their quest is to smuggle it into Sauron's territory without his knowledge so that it can be destroyed.  Even before Frodo and his Hobbit friends leave the Shire the Black Riders are on their track.  The Hobbits fail to find Gandalf, their one hope of safety on their quest, and take up with Strider, who decides to make for Weathertop, hoping that Gandalf, finding them gone from Bree, will meet them there.  Instead they are besieged by the Nazgul and Frodo receives a mortal wound from a Morgul blade.  Pursued by the Nazgul, he rides into Rivendell, the Riders are swept away, and he is cured, for the time being at least, by Elrond.  This however is only the beginning of the Quest.  Gandalf explains to the Council of Elrond that the only hope of preventing Sauron from obtaining the One Ring and re-establishing his power over Middle Earth is to destroy the Ring, and that that can only be done by casting it into the fires of Mount Doom, where it was forged.  The Fellowship of four Hobbits, a Wizard, two Men, an Elf and a Dwarf is set up to smuggle the Ring past Sauron's spies.  Unable to cross the Misty Mountains by the Redhorn Gate they are driven to take the perilous path through the mines of Moria. After an interlude at Lothlorien, one of the surviving realms of the Elves, they continue down the Great River, Anduin, till the fellowship is broken by Boromir's ill-judged attempt to take the Ring from Frodo and deliver it to his father, the Steward of Gondor. Frodo and Sam continue the Quest, while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursue the Orcs who have captured Merry and Pippin. The Fellowship is divided, but its members follow their individual quests until the powers of darkness are at last overthrown, not in the great battle of the men of Gondor and their allies against the forces of Mordor but through the success of the insignificant Frodo and Sam as they struggle at last to the top of Mount Doom, and the intervention at the last moment of Gollum.  As Gandalf had predicted, the pity of Bilbo, who once spared the life of the miserable Smeagol, governed the fate of the world.  Rightly has The Lord of the Rings been acclaimed as the greatest example of quest-literature of the modern age.
       Susan Cooper begins The Dark is Rising sequence with a quest for the Grail.  Having discovered an ancient map, the Drew children, pursued by the Dark, find the Grail in a cave that can only be entered at certain very low tides in Over sea, under stone.  They succeed in passing the Grail to Great Uncle Merry, but the cylinder containing the key to its inscriptions falls into the sea and is lost.  Great Uncle Merry has the Grail placed in the British Museum, where it is safe, until, in Greenwitch, the Dark steals it.

    The theft is timed to coincide with the festival of the Greenwitch, an idol made by the village women and thrown into the sea by the men to ensure good fishing.  Jane is allowed to be present at the making of the idol, and, while the women make light-hearted wishes, she, struck by the creatures power and misery, wishes it could be happy.  Later both the Light and the Dark try to make the Greenwitch give up the treasure they know she possesses, the lead cylinder containing the spells that are the key to the power of the Grail.  She refuses: she belongs to Tethys and the Wild magic and cannot be commanded, but the pity of Jane Drew has touched her, and she freely gives Jane the cylinder.  The light easily recover the Grail from its thief, who has tried to cheat his masters and been abandoned by them, and so the quest begun in Over Sea, Under Stone is completed.

    Meanwhile, in The Dark is rising, Will Stanton, the main hero, has been told he is the last of the Old Ones and given his Quest: to collect the symbols of power that will allow the Light to overthrow the rising Dark.  When he succeeds in this quest, Wayland Smith joins the signs on a chain.  The Lady, the most holy and mysterious of the Old Ones, hangs it round Will's neck and tells him there are four great things of power: the Grail, the Signs, the Sword and the Harp.  Two are found and two are still to seek.  So the Quest continues as Will is joined, in The Grey King, by Bran the albino Welsh boy who turns out to be the Pendragon, the son of Arthur.  Together they find the Harp, and, in the final part, Silver on the Tree, the sword.
      Harry Potter's first adventure is a quest for the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life, not for his own use but to prevent their falling into the hands of him who must not be named, Voldemort. In his favourite sport, quidditch, his role is that of Seeker, for in this wonderful game, which succeeds in being both the most exciting sport in literature and at the same time a devastating satire of the attitude of sports teachers, whoever catches the golden snitch automatically wins the match for his team no matter how long and in what foul weather his team-mates have striven to beat the bludgers and score goals.  Every game of quidditch is therefore for Harry a quest.  
    Each subsequent adventure is in some respects a quest: to find and destroy the mysterious monster that is paralysing victims all over the school, to track down Sirius Black, to find and destroy Voldemort's horcruxes, etc., but all are preparations for the final confrontation with Voldemort in Harry's over-archinq quest, to banish forever the wizard who killed his parents and aims to return to power and dominate the world.
       Robin Gordon introduces what seems to be a standard knightly quest for Prince Egbert, then throws it away.  No companions come forward to assist Bertie except his cousin, Bruce.  Nevertheless they set out in due form, as instructed by the Queen, on a Quest that is to last for a year and a day.  In the next paragraph they are back, reporting, in a couple of sentences that, though they travelled from one end of the kingdom to the other, they failed to find any sign of the kidnapped princess, the missing memory, or the true name of the sorceress which alone would allow them to overcome her spells.  At this point they are called on by King Arthur to sally forth and save the last heard of unicorn on earth from being rounded up for slaughter by Scungebucket Enterprises, and, in the subsequent confusion, Prince Egbert disappears and Prince Bruce is accused of his murder.  Bertie isn't dead, however, he has descended to the Underworld while still alive, and found himself, rather to his surprise, engaged in the real quest, which will carry him to the castle of Ruahine-nui Makutu and then back to the capital city of New Zephyria and to the final confrontation with the goddess of death.

The role of Pity
    The pity of Bilbo ruled the fate of many, as we have seen, for Gollum, whose life he spared when he made his escape taking with him the One Ring, became the unwitting instrument of its destruction and of the overthrow of Sauron.
    The pity of Jane Drew for the unhappy being incarnated in the Greenwitch made by the women and cast into the sea by the men gained for her the Greenwitch’s treasure, the cylinder containing the key to the symbols engraved on the Grail and thus allowed the Light to complete its first great quest.
    It was pity that brought Prince Egbert’s quest to its conclusion in New Zephyria.  Searching desperately for the Chronicle of New Zephyria in one of the volumes of which he knows he will find the identity of the sorceress who holds his country in thrall, he has disguised himself in the uniform of a Scungebucket Stormtrooper, only to be conscripted into a troop rounding up young mothers and taking their babies from them.  Taking pity on a young woman from among the People of the Sea, the earliest inhabitants of the islands that had become New Zephyria, he helps her to escape, but is then beaten up by the stormtroopers, stripped of his uniform, and dumped in a country road. He realises he is close to the former home of his wife, makes his way there, and is allowed to pass because the stormtroopers guarding it think it would be a good joke to admit a trouserless tramp to the house where the Queen and princess are held under arrest.  The pity that brought Prince Egbert to his lowest ebb is now revealed as the first step on the road that will lead to his overthrowing the powers of darkness.
    Harry Potter’s act of mercy is to spare the life of Peter Pettigrew alias Scabbers the rat, when Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, having proved that Pettigrew was the traitor who led Voldemort to Harry’s parents and brought about their deaths, are about to kill him.  It is not exactly an act of pity, for Harry has no desire to free Pettigrew: he just does not want his father’s best friends to have blood-guilt on their hands.  Instead of death he will send Pettigrew to life imprisonment in Azkaban.  This commutation of the sentence, however, gives Pettigrew his chance to escape, and there is little doubt that, for good or for ill, his presence will have some bearing on the final confrontation between good and evil.

The Labyrinth
       Each of the four quests takes its hero into a labyrinth, usually underground.
       The original labyrinth was the subterranean maze beneath the palace of King Minos of Crete, who demanded of the Greek cities under his influence, an annual tribute of youths and maidens to be thrown into the labyrinth as sacrifices to the monster who dwelt there, the Minotaur, said to be a man with the head of a bull and an insatiable appetite for young human flesh.
       The subterranean labyrinth plays a significant role in Tolkien.  In The Hobbit Bilbo is lost in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the mountains when he picks up and pockets a ring.  He is then discovered by Gollum, who, being at that moment more curious than hungry, agrees to show him the way out if he can win a game of riddles. Bilbo wins, not entirely fairly, but Gollum has no intention of keeping his promise: he returns to his den to fetch "something", which Bilbo soon realises is the ring he has found, which has the power of making its wearer invisible.  Wearing it he is able to follow Gollum to the exit and leap out past both Gollum and the Goblin guards.  This ring, found by chance in the labyrinthine passages below the misty mountains, is later discovered by Gandalf to be the One Ring through which Sauron exercised control over the Kings of Elves, Dwarves and Men, the one Ring that would restore Sauron's power, the one Ring the need for whose destruction was the mainspring of the quest in The Lord of the Rings.
       The subterranean labyrinth in The Lord of the Rings is Moria, a place of ill-omen which Gandalf wished to avoid if at all possible.  The great city of the Dwarrowdelf, called in Dwarvish Khazad-dûm, had once been filled with light and splendour, but was long abandoned and called now by the Elvish name Moria, the Black Chasm.  There the companions found the diary of the last of the Dwarves in Moria, a party led by Balin, one of the companions of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield on their expedition to overthrow Smaug and retake the Lonely Mountain.  All of Balin's people had been slaughtered by Orcs, and, as they read this, the Fellowship of the Ring hear the drums in the depth as the orcs mass to attack.  In the darkness of the labyrinth, fitfully lit by Gandalf's staff, they fight and flee, desperate to find the way to the far side of the mountains, and, as they cross the Bridge over the great chasm, Gandalf is lost in a struggle with the Balrog, and the little group must continue without his aid.  A labyrinth brought the Ring into the possession of the forces of light, and, in a labyrinth, the forces of darkness rob them of their most powerful champion and their greatest hope.
       Beside this Susan Cooper's labyrinth pales almost into mere allegory.  Will and Bran have moved easily ino the lost land beneath the sea and Gwion has taken them to an empty palace abandoned by King Gwyddion.  They find themselves in a mirror-lined corridor.  On coming to a crossroads Will tosses a coin to choose a way, but the way they choose leads them back to the crossroads where Will finds his coin.  Bran guesses that they are in a spiral maze and must always turn right to ascend to the next level. This brings them eventually to a dead end, but, when Will recites the appropriate words, the mirrors shatter and the maze disappears.  They have proved themselves and can go on to the Castle and continue their quest for the Sword.  Silver on the tree, the penultimate volume of the Dark is Rising sequence, was published in 1977, when the concept of a spiral maze, in which the aim is to ascend from one level to the next, would have been, if not original at least uncommon.  Subsequent generation have become familiar with it through computer games.
              Harry Potter faces an underground labyrinth in his first adventure, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, unfortunately and inappropriately renamed ... the sorcerer's stone by its American publishers, who presumably thought that a sorcerer sounded more dangerous than a philosopher and that American readers would be unfamiliar with the concept of the philosopher's stone, the holy grail of medieval alchemy, the catalyst that would turn base metals into gold.  To save the Stone from being snaffled by Voldemort, Harry, Ron and Hermione enter the forbidden room, ensure that Fluffy, Hagrid's three-headed dog stays asleep by playing a flute to him, drop through a trapdoor, get caught by a plant called Devil's Snare, capture a flying key (rather like catching the golden snitch), and play a deadly game of human chess in which captured pieces are smashed to smithereens, and cross fiery flames.  It was perhaps less of a labyrinthine maze than a series of puzzles and tests, but to some extent the whole of Hogwarts School is one vast labyrinth, with staircases that move and lead to unexpected parts of the castle.
       Another labyrinth opened for Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Something has been paralysing pupils and staff (and also Mrs Norris), something that, they realise, travels around Hogwarts via water pipes.  The entrance is therefore in a bathroom, and, since the only bathroom never used by anyone is that haunted by the ghost of Moaning Myrtle, that must be the one.  Harry and Ron enter the labyrinth via the wastepipe of a sink, taking with them Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, and find themselves in an underground passage leading to a huge chamber.  And it is there that Harry faces the creature that has claimed so many victims: a Basilisk, one glance from whose eyes brings death.  Luckily the victims it had claimed had only seen its reflection, in mirrors, windows or puddles, but that in itself was enough to bring paralysis.
       In Robin Gordon's New Zephyria Prince Egbert disappears in the confusion as the panicking unicorn stampede and is believed dead.  The next person to see him is his father, King Arthur, who has died and descended to the Underworld. The King is greatly distressed to see so many of his subjects going astray after their death, failing to follow the path to the Rainbow Bridge and being driven towards the abyss by Nightmares and Hellcats.  His efforts to help are unavailing, for those who cannot see the way cannot recognise him and know only the terror of their infernal persecutors.  Then Arthur sees Bertie going in the wrong direction.  Bertie does recognise him but claims to be still alive, which the King thinks is nonsense till the prince tells his story.  In the confusion of the round-up he had been invited to mount by a unicorn, taken to the Black Stump, a volcano that marks the New Zephyrian entrance to the Underworld. Wandering there he had seen the lost souls being driven demented by the Nightmares, pretended to be afraid and allowed them to drive him towards the castle of goddess of death.  There they had hustled him into the labyrinth protecting it, just like schoolboys hustling new bugs into the  labyrinth of cellars under the hall at the school the Prince had attended.  Here we see one major difference between Gordon and the other authors, all of whom would have made a long, suspenseful chapter out of the ordeal in the labyrinth.  Gordon allows Prince Egbert to tell it in his own slightly rueful, self-deprecatingly understated manner: at one and the same time Bertie downplays his adventure while the author leaves us in no doubt as to its unpleasantness, for the labyrinth had the peculiar quality that it lurched and yawed whenever anyone in it moved, so that its prisoner suffered extreme dizziness and nausea.  Berite was only able to advance very slowly and cautiously, but advance he did and eventually came to the centre, where he found a partial answer to his quest, or at least a clue that he could take back to New Zephyria for the second half of it.

The Monster in the Labyrinth
       At the heart of the Labyrinth in Knossos there lurked the Minotaur, waiting to hunt down and devour the sacrifices sent to him by King Minos.  Three of the narratives we are examining also have monsters associated with their labyrinths, but, as we have already noted, Susan Cooper's labyrinth simply disappears.
       The ominous portal of Moria lies on the edge of a black lake, and it is there that the first of the monsters lurks, for, while Gandalf is wrestling with the riddle that will allow him to open the gates, one of the young Hobbits idly throws a stone into the water and awakes a many-tentacled beast that rises up and seizes Frodo.  When the company has rescued him and retreated into the mine, the creature slams the gate shut on them so that there is no escape.  Moria is, of course, swarming with orcs, but it is the Balrog that is the monster at its heart.  
       This ancient fire-demon, one of the servants of Morgoth, which had taken refuge under the Misty Mountains after the great battles of the First Age, had been awakened by the delving of the Dwarves.  It is perhaps the one foe that Gandalf cannot match, especially in his exhausted state after the battles with the Orcs, and he and the Balrog fall together into the chasm -- but Gandalf is not gone forever, as the company will find much later.
       In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone the entrance to the labyrinth is guarded by a fierce three-headed dog, based on the Cerberus of Greek mythology, and, like Cerberus, it can be lulled to sleep with music.  Hagrid, with his liking for all sorts of fearsome magical creatures, called this canine pet "Fluffy".  In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the monster lurks at the heart of the labyrinth and is a basilisk.  This is again taken from Greek mythology, where the Basilisk was reputed to be the king of all serpents and to have the power of killing with a single glance.
       At the centre of Robin Gordon's labyrinth Prince Egbert finds not a monster but an Oliphaunt.  At first he is afraid, but the elephant proves to be the hiding place of Oliver Simpkin's memory and so recognises the Prince and gives him the clue he needs.  Only after Bertie has come out of the inner labyrinth and encountered his father in the featureless underworld, does the real monster come on the scene: a Taniwha.  The concept is taken from Maori mythology in which the taniwha (pronounced approximately as tanifa, with even stress on all syllables or a slight stress on the first) are underwater monsters, often bringers of luck, but also responsible for earthquakes and other seismic phenomena. In New Zephyriathey are the greatest of the servants of Ruahine-nui Makutu. Bertie successfully slays the monster using both the sword of his ancestor, Prince Theowulf and a greenstone club, and, at this reversal of their fortunes, the other denizens of the underworld flee.  The gateway to the Underworld is guarded, not by a monster, but by the Unicorn. On of their functions is to guide the souls of those who have earned their help through the dreary featureless plains to the Rainbow Bridge. The other is to guard the world of men from the Nightmares and Hellcats that infest the infernal regions, and this is the main reason for Nanny Scungebucket's desire to turn them into dog-food.

Omomastics: the creation and significance of names
      Tolkien's names have resonance originating in his creation not only of a background mythology but of languages for his various races, from the elegant beauty of Elvish names (Luthien Tinuviel, Galadriel) through the earthy Dwarvish names (Thorin, Balin, Dwalin), the Germanic-sounding names of the Rohirrim (Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn), to the harsh Orcish of the Uruk-Hai.  Hobbit names, however, hesitate between the original cosiness of The Hobbit (Bilbo Baggins, Merry, Pippin, Sam), and forms expressive of their nobler destiny (Meriadoc, Pergrine, Samwise).
       In New Zephyria the names can be tokens of a sort of idealised Britishness (King Arthur and Queen Elizabeth), while Prince Egbert's pet name of Bertie is a reminder of his Wodehousian, Woosterish character: he would be a very suitable member of the Drones Club. His ancestor, Theowulf, (presumably the Wolf of God) combines elements from the names of the Greek hero Theseus and the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. The evil sorceress at the heart of the darkness has three names: Nanny Scungebucket, Auld Hinnie McIldhu and Ruahine-nui Makutu.  Each of the three is expressive of the personality of that particular face of the evil goddess.  As Nanny Scungebucket she takes care of New Zephyria (Nanny), bringing the people a cornucopia (bucket-load) of goodies of dubious and eventually obviously negative value (scunge). As Auld Hinnie McIldhu she is the ancient (auld), sterile (hinny = offspring of horse and donkey, infertile like a mule) child (Mc) of the hosts of darkness (Ildhu, approximately "the many black ones"). The name Ruahine-nui Makutu is derived from Maori: ruahine = old woman, hine = maiden, hine-nui = goddess, makutu = black magic).
       The undisputed queen of name-creation is, however, J.K. Rowling, whose neo-Dickensian creativity is unsurpassed by any of the other writers here discussed.  First there is the simplicity of her hero's name: Harry Potter, an ordinary-sounding boy.  Then comes the clunking, self-satisfied fatness of his uncle and cousin: Vernon Dursley, Dudley Dursley, heavy blobs both in name and appearance.  Aunt Petunia Dursley, oh, the pretension of that Petunia alongside the Dursley.  The greatest fun is to be found in the names of the wizards, from Albus Dumbledore (White, therefore good, Bumblebee), through Minerva McGonagall (whose name unites that of the Roman goddess of wisdom with that of a Scottish poet of such massive incompetence that his work is admired for its awfulness), Severus Snape, (whose first name expresses his intolerant severity and may hint at the cruel emperor Septimius Severus, and contrasts with Snape, the name of a Suffolk village), and Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, (whose first name expresses Roman majesty and hints at Gaius Cornelius, a Quaestor of Pompey, who attempted various reforms but achieved little, while his last name indicates why this minister will never amount to much: he fudges), to Argus Filch, the school caretaker, again combining classical grandeur with down-to-earth Anglo-Saxon bathos: Argus was the hundred-eyed giant who was watchman to the goddess Hera, and filch means to steal in a sneaky manner, so the caretaker is constantly sneaking round watching and may not be honest.

       We are here dealing not with the language and style of the four narratives but with language as subject matter in each of them.
       We have noted J.K. Rowling's penchant for creating names with grand classical beginnings followed by bathetic endings.  She studied French and Classics and makes use of a magical language based on Latin for spells, e.g. lumos (from lumen = "light", nox (nox, noctis = "night") used to make a wand give light and switch off; expelliarmus (from expellere = "thrust away" + arma = "weapons", not, presumably armus = "shoulder-blade") used to disarm an enemy; ridiculus (ridiculus = "ridiculous") used to reduce a frightening attacker to absurdity; and many more.
       One other language is mentioned, Parseltongue, the language of snakes, spoken by, among others Salazar Slytherin and Lord Voldemort.  It is therefore generally regarded as an accomplishment of evil wizards, though Dumbledore may be able to understand it and Harry Potter himself has the gift, believed to have been conferred on him by Voldemort's attempt to kill him as a baby.
       Susan Cooper mentions that the Old Ones have their own language and that it automatically comes to them when they come into their power, and that this is the language with which they communicate with each other and with the Dark, but apart from that language plays no great role in her work.
       Tolkien, in contrast, as a philologist finds language fascinating and has even created the languages used by the various races in his book.  Of these the most developed is Elvish, both the High Elvish tongue, Quenya, and the Elvish of Middle Earth, Sindarin. There are also examples of Dwarvish and even the tongue of Mordor, in which is written, though in Elvish script, the inscription of the One Ring:
    Ash nazg darbatalûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
    Ash nazg thrabatalûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

         There is, of course, a Common Speech, Westron, in which the various races can communicate, but even that is known to have different dialects.  Westron was originally the language of Men, but it had also been adopted by Hobbits, probably a thousand years before the time at which the tale is set. Tolkien himself goes into some detail about these languages, and about the names he used, in Appendix F to The Lord of the Rings.
      Language plays a particular role in Robin Gordon's New Zephyria where the disintegration of language parallels the destruction of society.  First come minor faults: while the Royal Family still speak of "herds of unicorn" the new Prime Minister talks of "unicorns".  His speech is media-talk with strong accents on unimportant words to lend an air of importance to platitudes, and his grammar is shaky (e.g. It gives my wife and I ... instead of It gives my wife and me ...).  The new President, Nanny Scungebucket, mangles the Zephyrian language and introduces unnecessary expletives: How d'yer gobbin' well fink it feels, dearie?  Gobbin' marvellous, at's wot! and her people imitate her.  Prince Egbert encounters the formerly dignified Royal Butler, now trying deperately to keep his manner of speech down to the common level: I could have ... could a' been killed by those ... them gobbin' louts ...  Finally, at the inauguaration of President Scungebucket language breaks down altogether among the people: The crowd screamed and groaned and shouted, though the only words the Queen could actually hear were "Gob!", "Gobber!" and "Gob off you gobbin' gobber!"

       The common subject matter of the four narratives here studied is the threat posed to the world by dark powers and the thwarting of those powers by unlikely heroes who, at first sight, would appear to have nothing heroic about them.  Within this  major area we have attempted to identify a number of  themes and sketch briefly how they are treated. We noted that Tolkien and Gordon create alternative worlds while Cooper and Rowling prefer parallel worlds existing alongside everyday reality but unsuspected by ordinary people.  Tolkien's creation is unmatched in scale and epic scope.  
      In the creation of the powers of darkness Tolkien again exceeds the others with the unseen but all-pervasive presence of the Lord Sauron, but in Ruahine-nui Makutu and her two other persons Gordon provides a fascinating villainess.
      Tolkien's mythological creation far outweighs anything any other author has attempted.
       Of the heroes, Frodo achieves epic status, but readers are probably most able to sympathise and identify with the downtrodden orphan boy, Harry Potter, while both Gandalf and Dumbledore fill the roles of wise counsellor and principal supporter, a part played also by Cooper's Merriman Lyon.  No quest could equal that of Frodo and his companions, and no labyrinth compete with Moria, though Gordon introduces an unusual apect in that his labyrinth subjects its invader to disorientating dizziness -- is this perhaps some punning reference to labyrinthitis, whose vicims suffer similar, extremely unpleasant symptoms?
       When it comes to language, Professor Tolkien is unequalled in his knowledge and creativity.  Gordon again provides a slightly unusual take in his portrayal of the disintegration of language as a parallel to the disintegration of society, while Rowling reveals a Dickensian genius in the creation of names.
       The four narratives have considerable differences in tone.  Tolkien moves from the cosiness of the shire into an epic breadth with heroic grandeur.  Cooper anchors her story in the Thames valley but tends towards symbolism and allegory. Gordon's work is much shorter and often has a gently humorous tone, but it grows in force as the full power and wickedness of the goddess of death and destruction is revealed. Rowling combines magic and the world of school to create her own particular blend.  Despite these differences the four narratives share both a common theme and a common outlook: the fragility of the world, the threat posed by the powers of darkness, and salvation coming from an unexpected and in many ways despised quarter.

Note 1

An example of the central character proving not to be the hero who thwarts the powers of darkness can be found in Robin Gordon’s Brian’s Saga.  The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old schoolboy afflicted with both masturbation-guilt and priggish religiosity, who comes to believe (correctly) that evil lurks in Baldersdale and, quite erroneously, that he has a mission to overcome it.  His efforts merely sabotage those of the thwarters of the powers of darkness and almost bring about the triumph of the forces of destruction, which is only averted at great cost. Back to text

    The Lord of the Rings was first published by  George Allen & Unwin in three voumes: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954) and The Return of the King (1955).  It is now available in three-volume and single-volume editions, both hard and paperback.  The American edition is by Houghton Mifflin.  
    In 1981 the BBC broadcast a radio version directed by Brian Sibley in 26 episodes, which is available on CD.
    The film version, directed by Peter Jaclson was issued in three parts, 2001-2003, and is available on DVD.

    The Dark is Rising Sequence was first published as five  separate volumes: Over sea, under stone (Jonathan Cape, 1965), The Dark is rising The Bodley Head, 1973), Greenwitch (Chatto & Windus, 1974), The Grey King (Chatto and Windus, 1975), and Silver on the tree Chatto and Windus, 1977).  Subsequent hardback editions were published by the Bodley Head, and paperback editions by Penguin Books in their Puffin Books series.  A one-volume paperback edition is also available in Puffin Books.
    A version for the cinema is in preparation: filming is due to start in 2007 and the expected release date is 2008.

    Robin Gordon's works are available on the Internet.  See  Index to Robin Gordon's Works; and New Zephyria 

    The Harry Potter sequence will be completed in July 2007 with the publication of the seventh volume.  Each volume chronicles one year in Harry's life as he goes through his wizarding education at Hogwarts. The series consists of: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007).
    So far the first four books have been filmed.
    J.K. Rowlings own website, which contains information and answers to readers' questions, can be found at


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