Extended Essay: Harry Potter vs King Arthur

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A Comparative Analysis of the Hero’s Quest: Harry Potter Vs King Arthur

IBO Extended Essay

Santiago Arroba

Word Count: 3,852


From the pages of literature many ideas are born. Often these ideas are borrowed, passed down and transferred from work to work; author to author. This has led many to conclude that a generic mold has been established for certain ways of telling—or in some cases retelling—a story, and that authors often write to fit this mold, whether purposefully or not. The main mold discussed by celebrated novelists such as Joseph Campbell, and used frequently by renown authors like J.K. Rowling and T.H. White, is that of the classic hero. Rowling has made her young protagonist, Harry Potter, very similar to the King of Camelot, as presented by the many Arthurian authors, including T.H. White and Sir Thomas Mallory. There are a great deal of parallels between Potter and Arthur and I have analyzed the  plot and other aspects of both stories—along with the works of critics and researchers like Campbell—to demonstrate the shocking similarities between the two heroes.

        The amazing similarities from both stories spawn from the constant recycling of the hero and his quest. Harry Potter as a person, is a very dynamic character with complete mood changes and varying personalities, yet when it comes to his adventures he is not at all unique. King Arthur, as a hero, is a very dynamic character but as a person he is flat and boring.  To compare both I read the complete Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling ( Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.), I’ve read the authoritative Arthurian legends (The Sword in the Stone, by T.H White, and Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory.)

        The author’s own life stories were also analyzed in hopes that I could perhaps come to a conclusion of why their Heroes are so alike.


The King Arthur novels have been a part of literature for years, influencing authors, movies and even song writers. This generation’s “King Arthur” is known by another name. He was conceived on a napkin by a struggling single mom and goes by the name of Harry Potter. Many parts of Rowling’s Harry Potter Series are infused with elements of the Arthurian legend. From reading and researching both stories I have found many parallels between both tales. Arthur and Harry are both the protagonists of their worlds, both were deprived of their parents at an early age, both were on quests to achieve their destiny, both had old wizard mentors, and neither knew of his own importance till a late age. This extended essay explores the themes and characters linking the two tales and also analyzes the author’s life and language and how they affected the story.

        Joseph Campbell is a world renown author who wrote the book “The  Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Mentally digesting this book has helped me to understand the bonds that tie all heroes together and was what led to the thought that Harry and Arthur are very similar. Both Arthur and Harry fit into the category that Joseph Campbell refers to as the ‘classic hero.’ Both character’s lives follow the pattern of up and downs that rules the life of any literary being. Using excerpts and themes from this and other novels written by Campbell I will bring to light the chilling parallels between both dramas.

        Both Harry Potter and King Arthur lived lives that were chosen by them. This may seem obvious as their lives were written out by their author’s imagination, but in the novels themselves their fates were pre-destined. Harry Potter was the only person ever to survive Lord Voldemort’s Avada Kedavra curse, also known as the killing curse. Any time that someone does something for the first time--something that was thought impossible--they are immediately raised on a pedestal of awe and leadership. Having survived the curse, Harry thwarted Voldemort’s plan of world domination, therefore saving the wizarding world. Besides being the first to survive the curse, Harry was also the wizarding community’s savior, and he was only one year old. So at a very early age Harry already had a reputation to live up to. What put the final seal on the situation was Sybill Trelawney’s  prophecy which stated that “neither can live while the other survives,” meaning that when Voldemort returned to conquer the world Harry would be the only one capable of saving everyone…again. No pressure Harry. His destiny was chosen for him, but then again isn’t every protagonist’s destiny chosen for them in a sense?

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        The magician Merlin, who is living life backwards was already aware of who Arthur was going to be when he urged Uther Pendragon to give him his first born child in exchange for his help to lay with the Duke of Cornwall’s wife, Lady Igraine. Merlin knew Arthur would grow up to be King and save Britain from the Saxons when he saw the Wart stumbling across the forest floor in T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone.” So the fact that he knew Arthur would become King when he asked Uther for his child means that Merlin is the ...

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