Why isn’t The Lord of the Rings as controversial as Harry Potter?

The Lord of the Rings doesn't seem to be as controversial among the religious right as the Harry Potter books are. Perhaps this is because, while The Lord of the Rings contains magical objects and magical creatures, it has very little in the way of spell-casting or “witchcraft.” Gandalf produces a couple of thunderclaps and the occasional spark—that’s about it, spread over more than a thousand pages. And there’s no suggestion that Frodo, or any of the other “ordinary” characters with whom the reader might identify, has the ability or desire to learn to cast spells and start practicing wizardry.

In the Harry Potter books, on the other hand, as in the Dungeons & Dragons game (remember the outcry over Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1980s?) there are not only magical objects but also a great deal of spell-casting and witchcraft proper: using incantations to summon things, cursing people and turning them into toads, that sort of thing.

More importantly, learning to use magic is a major theme in Harry Potter, as in Dungeons & Dragons. Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons are explicitly about characters who start out small and work their way up to using more and more powerful forms of magic.

So, if you start with the belief that spells are real and available to whoever cares to experiment with them, Harry Potter books and D&D rulebooks are more likely than Lord of the Rings to resemble practical manuals of witchcraft thinly disguised as fiction.

An alternative explanation is that J.R.R. Tolkien just had better Christian bona fides than J.K. Rowling or E. Gary Gygax.