The Potter-Taran Treatise:
by Mike Duncan
A Highly Biased Comparison of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series to Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain
(last updated 9/30/04)
This document compares the five novels so far in the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, to the five novels that comprise the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
Written in the late sixties and cumulating with The High King in 1969, I believe the latter volumes represent the highest quality in children’s fiction.
I wrote this as I can’t help but wonder why Alexander's work languishes in relative obscurity, while the Potter series continues to enjoy apparently endless popularity, the production of A-list live-action film versions of every book, and enough commercial tie-ins to make George Lucas burn with jealousy.
I believe readers have undergone a particularly intense episode of mass psychosis in recent years. Rowling's work does not stand up to muster, I believe, when compared against a nearly flawless classic of the young adult genre.
I prepared for this by reading all of the Potter books and then rereading the Chronicles. I also watched the three Potter movies currently in existence and Disney's atrocious, blaspheming version of The Black Cauldron from 1985. Given this is well over 2,500 pages of material, I am clearly borderline insane.
If you do not want many major plot points of both series spoiled for you, do not continue reading.
Still here? Good. I have nine major points of attack.
1. An adult theme is lacking.
Rowling uses a traditional children's fiction formula. Adults are portrayed as incompetent, and only clever youngsters can save the day, no matter how irresponsible or immature their behavior is. The hero/heroine proceeds on an adventure with assorted companions, learns a moral lesson or two, mines some plot points for a possible sequel, and then lives happily ever after (at least, that is, until that sequel). Our young protagonist is often the only one that knows what to do, with various adults either hindering their quest, being utterly clueless, or offering sage yet diluted advice. In other words, typical Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew boilerplate.
The Potter series does not vary significantly from this formula. In every book there is a dark and dangerous mystery against which the teachers of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and the rest of the adult wizarding community are powerless to solve. Only Harry and his band of friends can save Rowling’s universe, by virtue of their clever ingenuity, pure hearts, and various handy magical items that appear as needed.
It’s not hard to see why this storytelling approach is popular to young children – it makes it easy to identify with and envy Harry. He doesn’t do very well in school, but just give him a chance to save everyone’s lives and he’ll make up for that D in Potions. He doesn’t have to take Math and English – instead he takes Defense Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, both of which sound so much cooler.
Alexander has almost the opposite storytelling strategy. The kids are incompetent and foolhardy, and the adults are, by and large, wiser. Looking over the first book in the series, The Book of Three, Taran accomplishes virtually nothing, despite his best efforts. All the important stuff is done by Gwydion, a mature adult warrior – he escapes Spiral Castle, finds Hen Wen, and destroys the Horned King all by himself. He didn’t even need Dyrnwyn, which Taran discovered entirely by accident..
Taran merely collects his ragtag band of companions and blunders from one perilous encounter to the next without any proper adult supervision. He has no innate skill at dangerous questing, and it shows. Eilowny’s running commentary on his questionable leadership is hilarious.
Now, when he acquires maturity later on in the series, he becomes competent and able to affect things beyond himself in positive ways - but not before. Indeed, the overall theme of the Chronicles is Taran’s ascension to manhood and his acceptance of the inherent responsibilities of being an adult.
Rowling's theme is more along the lines of having as much fun as possible while saving the universe. Now, surely, Harry does mature somewhat (slowly, as each book only represents a chronological school year) but by the fifth book, he’s saved the world three or four times and he still hasn't shaved. He broke into secret vaults in Hogwarts and defeated Voldemort when he was ten. In the second book, he does it again, and in the third… yep, you guessed it. He has scores of powerful friends waiting in the wings to help him, all attracted to him via his parentage... which is problem two.
2. Class issues are handled inconsistently.
In the Potter books, elitism is alternatively praised and scorned.
Harry Potter is special. Rowling drills that into our heads on every page of all her books. His uniqueness verges on the painful. Every event in the wizarding community appears to revolve around him. Not only that, he is defined as special in a community that already quite elite. The bulk of the world appears to be Muggles (represented almost solely by Harry's stereotypically evil foster parents), while the wizards and witches are a distinct and secretive minority.
His class status stems from two qualities – his parentage and Voldemort’s defeat when he was a baby. He is not responsible for either of these, but every adult that he meets views him on these terms. Even Dumbledore, who is constantly harping on how people are who they chose to be, rather than who they were born as, falls into this trap and admits as much by the end of book five. Harry is the Chosen One in more ways than one. He might as well be the Prince of Wales.
On the other hand, the Malfoys and Voldemort, the villains of the series, discriminate against those without wizard blood. Various nonhumans are also treated poorly - werewolves, half-giants, house elves, etc. Rowling clearly portrays these situations as morally bankrupt, but she does not seem to have any problem with Harry's princely status.
Of all Harry's friends, I'd say Ron and Herimone are his only true ones, because they did not help him in the beginning because of who his parents were – they simply liked him. I’ll admit Harry does not entirely like all this strange attention, but he doesn’t renounce it either.
The young protagonist of the Chronicles, Taran, on the other hand, does not have anyone that views him as royalty. Nor does he impress by being innately strong or clever. Instead it’s his painfully accumulated wisdom that endears him, to, say, King Smoit or Gwydion. Alexander portrays class as an innate weakness of human society and consistently scorns any character that uses it to judge others. Both kings and farmers are portrayed as alternatively wise and foolish.
Taran has no idea who his parents are, and despite spending most of the fourth book searching for them, he never finds out if he is of noble birth (as he desperately wants) or common. Instead, he finds himself along the way, and makes a strong case for individuality on its own terms, existing outside of any class system. His chief characteristic, which he does not possess initially, is not mysterious magical powers, but the ability to learn from hard-won experience.
Taran does not have access to a vault in Grimgotts – he is quite poor. Penniless, even. He does not have any formal schooling, save for Coll teaching him the finer points of apple-tree care and pig-keeping, and Dallben reading to him from the Book of Three. It is safe to say he is quite low on the social power scale. Granted, he does live with the most powerful (if hermitic) sorcerer in Prydain, Dallben, and he knows Gwydion, the powerful Prince of Don – both of which act as surrogate parents – but neither impress on him how special he is, or that he has a great destiny to fulfill. If anything, they discourage him from adventuring entirely and only grudgingly allow him to help with anything.
Taran’s thirst to be a heroic adult is entirely his own and his questionable attempts to become such an entity are also entirely his. By the end of the second book, The Black Cauldron, he already regrets his swift ascent to adult situations, and wonders why he wanted to be a warrior at all.
In conclusion, Harry is in a much higher social class than Taran and Rowling touts the benefits of such while poo-pahing birth elitism at the same time. It’s not a consistent moral system to place on a pedestal for kids, whereas Alexander keeps matters straight and true.
And don’t even get me started on the house elves.
Ok, I’ll discuss the house elves. There’s no disputing that Herimone’s attempt at social justice is played for laughs. The peculiarities of Rowling’s magic system would seem, at first, to allow for benevolent enslavement – but Rpwling doesn’t brush over it. Instead she spends a great deal of time on how the house elves function in the Hogwarts universe, makes several important characters out of them, and explores the pros and cons of granting – or at least encouraging – them more freedom. This is played against the Muggle/Mudblood/half-giant/Wizard-born birth discriminations that the Malfoys favor.
So she’s created an artificial flaw in the gem of Hogwarts. Fine. It gives Dumbledore the opportunity to look even more gracious and benevolent, by paying Dobby a salary and hiring Hagrid, Firenze, and Lupin (a half-giant, a centaur, and a werewolf, respectively) as professors.
But there’s a flaw inside the flaw. When Rowling wants to explore class, she uses house elves instead of developing, say, Hermoine’s parents, who are Muggles and have no place in wizard society. Their social problem is keen, but five books later they’re totally unexplored while Harry's foster parents get milked for laughs in every book.
When Alexander approaches the same problem, he uses characters like Craddoc, the lonely, dirt-poor farmer who, out of desperate selfishness, fools Taran into thinking the old man is his father. There’s nothing in the Potter novels as tragic, compelling, or uncomfortable to read as Craddoc’s story, and he didn’t have to be a funny-looking house elf to do it. Nor can I think of anything as horrifying as Islimach calmly galloping off the top of a cliff in The Black Cauldron after seeing Ellidyr’s dead body... which brings us to the matter of poignancy.
3. There is little poignancy in Rowling’s books.
There is definitely plenty of humor in Rowling's books, and I find them amusing. I laughed my head off at some point while reading all five books. I think Snape in particular is a riot, and if Rowling does not have a keyboard macro for 'Five points from Gryffindor,' I'd be very surprised.
However, I cannot think of anything in the Potter books as tragic as the farmer Craddoc and his desolate farm. Or, for that matter, Fflewddur destroying his precious harp to save his friends, or the death of the High King, Math, and Coll at the hands of the Cauldron-Born. The trade of the brooch for the Cauldron and Gwydion’s speech about Morgant also come to mind. Taran’s desperation in the face of Morda is unforgettable. The injured gwythaint on Mount Doom and the rediscovery of Drynwyn is way more epic and moving than any of Harry's trials. The horse Islimach’s suicide still makes me shudder, along with Pryderi's battle of wills with Dallben (perhaps the best chapter of any fantasy work I've ever read). Everything about Taran in the Free Commots, in particular his last encounter with Annlaw Clay-Shaper, is as good a presentation of positive individualism as I've ever seen.
Rowling, I feel, has a problem of presentation as well as theme. She does not seem willing to abandon the light tone of the Potter books, which consist chiefly of an endless series of classroom shenanigans, and move into more serious material that young adults are capable and deserving of handling. I think the deaths of Cedric and Sirius were attempts at this, to head off critics, but they had a 'one token death per book' feel.
I can't think of a single death from Alexander's books - and there are quite a few to choose from - that feels inserted just to meet a tragedy quota. Poignancy is not a matter of numbers, though I believe Alexander has her beat on quantity as well.
4. The mythology is flawed, muddled, and weak in its attempt to embrace every half-legend in existence.
The main advantage to creating your own mythology, as Rowling has done, is that you don’t have to worry about invoking religion. It's all make-believe. Then again, she has been attacked for portraying witchcraft as positive (which I think is total bunk). That's not my compliant. My beef is that with such an approach a writer lacks the ability to call upon such symbols unless you create figures with very broad, universal strokes, and she has not done this. Instead, everything from vampires to crystal-ball reading appears, without any unified field theory to tie it all together in a convincing manner. Rowling always chooses wackiness over consistency. It's her style.
Alexander, by comparison, leans heavily on an established, internally balanced backdrop - Welsh mythology - to create Prydain. Characters like Medwyn, Gwydion, the trio of Orwen, Orddu, and Orgoch, Arawn, Talesin, Dallben, the Fair Folk, and whatnot are either outright stolen or modified from this template. He jumbles them up until they are almost unrecognizable from their origins - Arawn and Gwydion are the best examples of this - but there is a shadowy grid behind it all, holding things together. Prydain is a well-oiled machine, where the reader never has to worry about suspending disbelief.
5. Slytherin makes no bloody sense.
Why does Hogwarts devote a full fourth of its student body to Slytherin, which from all appearances is a one-way ticket for producing greedy, evil little boys and girls that will embrace the Dark Lord when they grow up?
I understand that Rowling needs a way for villains to have a presence in Hogwarts, but I think the total lack of logic in her solution is glaring. There’s always the ‘keep your enemies close’ argument, but why arm them with spells and encourage their ambition? I didn’t see Dallben raising an evil Taran on the side just to be fair and balanced.
There are other wizarding schools in the Rowling-universe that cater to such dark arts - why hasn't Hogwarts cut its losses?
6. Harry suffers few consequences for his mistakes.
Potter is right in that he gets by with a little help from his friends. When he screws up, there are rarely any consequences, and it's usually not even his fault, due to a chronic case of overprotection from Dumbledore.
When Taran screws up, he pays for it in spades. Alexander places him in many 'lose-lose' scenarios that cannot help but build character. The death of Craddoc, the sacrifice of Adaon's brooch for the Cochran, his stupid attempt to draw Drynwyn, the tactical decisions he has to make while pursuing the Cauldron-Born, one of which costs him Coll's life - there's no cushy Hogwarts living for Taran. Harry gets a bad grade or two, misses classes, and gets points taken from Gryffindor. Taran watches his friends hacked to bits because of a decision he alone is responsible for.
7. Save for a simple good vs. evil arrangement, magic has no real drawbacks.
Magic is inherent with Rowling – a permanent childhood. Magic is always cool in Rowling’s universe, despite all the strife it causes. There is never any debate about whether it is necessarily a good thing to practice to begin with.
Alexander equates the final destruction of enchantments in Prydain and Taran’s ascension to adulthood as one and the same. This is no accident. In Prydain, magic is always something to be feared and mistrusted, as opposed to strength of character, which is always championed.
Magic is alien and separate from humanity, brought into Prydain by outside forces - some good, some evil - the sons of Don, the Fair Folk, Arawn and Achren. Indeed, magic provides sloth - work without effort in the form of the magical tools that Arawn provides to Prydain as a lure so he can steal the real secrets of true craft.- metalworking, farming, woodworking and music. Magic is something to be stolen and fought over, such as Archen lusting after Eilowny’s power, Morda using his stolen powers to avoid death, and the contested possession of Drynwyn.
It is most certainly not the nifty toy that Rowling hands to Harry.
8. Evil in Rowling's books has few gray areas.
Draco Malfoy, from all appearances, is a clone of his evil father. He has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever and apparently lives solely for mischief and evildoing. The implication is that he was just born bad – the Malfoys are incapable of even ‘gray’ behavior. He is 100% miscreant. Every molecule of his DNA has little bat-wings and glowing red eyes.
In comparison, consider Ellidyr, the Prince of Pen-Laurau, from The Black Cauldron, who serves a similar bullying function for Taran. He appears the same as Draco at first – born bad.
But the book has barely begun before Dallben informs Taran that Illidyr has a burden that is at least partially responsible for his foul manner – he is noble-born, but extremely poor, so poor in fact that Taran is probably better off than he is. "Ellidyr has only his name and his sword," Dallben says, and this helps to define him as a troubled, rather than stereotypically evil, individual. He has motivations, whereas Draco, like Don Juan in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, is merely a plain-dealing villain (he doesn’t get a hilarious monologue about his lack of subtle motives, though).
Lucius Malfoy and the Death-Eaters are uniformly cruel and evil with no remorse and no decency anywhere in them. Compare them with similar Alexander characters - Pryderi and Morgant, once valiant warriors who fell under the spell of quick power and became unwitting pawns for Arawn. Gwydion's speech about Morgant once being a great man is telling. Rowling's villains do not have such depth.
Any reader of comic books knows that the best villains have a little good somewhere in them, which allow the audience to sympathize a bit with them, to believe they're actually human and not a cardboard cutout. A classic example would be Magneto from the X-men, a Holocaust survivor who is so determined to rid the world of evil that he becomes what he most despises.
It is permissible to have a completely evil villain in a story where the villain is not essential to the point of barely needing description, but this is not true in Rowling's series. The Malfoys are explored in too much detail to be left so opaque.
9. Rowling is unnecessarily verbose.
The entire Chronicles of Prydain, five books in all, runs 702 pages in my combined edition.
The last Potter novel, Order of the Phoenix, clocks in at over 870 by itself.
Counting in the last four books, Rowling’s incomplete series (she reportedly has two more novels to go) is already three times the size of Alexander’s tidy five volumes, and will reach a multiple of at least four and likely five before it is completed.
Brevity is usually regarded as a virtue in writing, and its absence implies the presence of pulp. I feel safe in saying that Rowling has the same questionable motivations as Robert Jordan, whose still-unended Wheel of Time series has become a running joke via his unwillingness to finish it off while profit is still possible.
Gwydion usually serves a wrapping-up function in the Chronicles, summarizing everything that Taran has learned in the book, and noting something along the lines that life is really mean and tough. Dumbledore does the summarizing in the Potter books, but any new-age wisdom he might spout is completely spoiled by the fact that he should have fixed all the shit Harry had to deal with earlier by himself.
This entire rant is half serious and half tongue-in-cheek, as you may have figured out. But I hope it communicates the level of displeasure I possess. I am highly disturbed at how one series of books that is good, but not great, is very popular, while another, which is truly a masterpiece, is relatively unknown.
Then again, maybe I just like rambling about this stuff. And with that in mind, there is an appendix.
Appendix I: The Matchups
This section is self-explanatory, but I'll explain it anyway. What happens when you pit all the major characters and villains from the Potter series versus their opposite numbers in Prydain? Yes, the results are biased.
Ron vs. Gurgi
Ron and Gurgi are a fair match. Both are loyal, brave, and as bright as towels. They beat each other senseless, which is not saying much.
Hermione vs. Eilowny
Hermione is obviously better at magic (especially offensive) despite Eilowny's parentage, and probably has the edge in intelligence as well.
However, I don't think there is any character, in any book, that could withstand Eilowny's sharp tongue. Hermione would run off crying before she’d get off the first STUPIFY! Not that STUPIFY! would dent Eilowny in the slightest.
I could have used Cho Chang here, as she is/was Harry's girlfriend, but Hermione is more formidable, and Cho is prone to crying fits anyway. Eilowny would have just glared at her for a few seconds. Ginny is even less likely to withstand the Princess of Llyr’s similes. Why, that’d be like throwing babies at a blender to turn it off, or teaching a brick how to dance!
Advantage - Eilowny.
Hagrid vs. Fflam
They’re both more trouble than they’re worth, so let’s have them go at it.
Hagrid is almost twice as tall as a normal man and 3-5 times as wide. The lanky Fflam is about six feet and probably 110 at best. But let's remember Gwydion's remark to the effect that Fflam is a great swordsman. And when the big F makes the claim himself, the strings of his infamous truth-detecting harp don’t even quiver.
Still, Hagrid can casually bend rifles in half, and Fflam's hopeless against any magic, even the kind in pink umbrellas.
But - and a BIG but - Fflam has a trump card, and her name is Lylan. For the unfamiliar, Lylan is a giant orange cat that likes no one, and I mean NO ONE, not even the dragon-loving Hagrid. Except Fflam, of course, who she will protect to the death.
Hagrid has his dog, though, which should be able to distract Lylan long enough to stomp the harper.
Advantage – Hagrid.
Dumbledore vs. Dallben
Obviously, they're both goody-two-shoes and'll refuse to attack each other. If provoked somehow, though, mmm...
Well, I think there's a damn good reason Arawn never got around to razing Dallben's farm to the ground. Y'know, that innocent little farmer's cottage Dallben refers to 'a sword ever pointed at Arawn's heart'.
Do not mess with Dallben! He owns your ass already because he read about it in the Book of Three! Beware large mystical tomes with built-in AC current!
Dumbledore, on the other hand, while supposedly the only wizard Voldemort is afraid of and quite adept at tossing minor wizards around, has been flummoxed on several occasions and had to rely on Harry to save the universe repeatedly. At the end of book five, he even admits he’s fucked up the whole Potter/Voldemort prophecy completely and gotten Harry’s godfather killed for nothing.
I can’t imagine Dallben blundering in such a fashion. Yes, he does keep things from Taran, but never so much that he endangers anyone needlessly.
In both the wisdom and the power department, there’s no contest.
Advantage - Dallben.
Sirius vs. Gwydion
There really isn't any Gwydion in the Potter tales – that is, until the appearance of Sirius Black in the third book. They're both surrogate father figures, competent combatants, and have some strange parallels - time spent in prison and escaping by novel methods, animalistic stuff (Sirius can change into a dog, Gwydion is always described as 'wolfish', and both wander in the woods constantly). They also like to hover about their respective adoptees protectively whilst in disguise.
That said, big deal Sirius can turn into a shaggy dog. It didn’t help him stop getting killed by one of Voldy’s half-mad minions. Thus, Gwydion beats him like a red-headed stepchild.
He is the Prince of Don, y'know, and the only one of two people that can pull Dyrnwyn out of its scabbard without being turned into a crispy critter. He also has a tendency toward living – he survived an attack by Huntsmen after Dyrnwyn was stripped from him, lengthy torture by Achren, and he took the Horned King out by himself without using the sword at all.
Gwydion is a bad-ass mofo, honorable and brave to boot, and if Taran had not fulfilled the prophecy, I’m sure with Dyrnwyn that Gwydion could have made Arawn cry for his mommy. Sirius was cool while he lasted, but he’s not in the same class.
Advantage - Gwydion.
Professor Snape vs. Doli
Well, there isn't anyone like Professor Snape in the Chronicles, and there's no moody Fair Folk in the Potter books, so I'm going to pair these two sourpusses off. At least they have being disagreeable in common.
Snape is a cunning, cruel, and altogether mean fellow. Not evil - he toes the line - but he still manages to make his sole purpose in life hating Harry Potter. No wonder I like him.
He’s quite good at making potions, particularly Truth potions, and he can handle a wand. Unfortunately for Snape, he has a very well-documented problem detecting invisible people - Potter and his handy Invisibility cloak, front and center.
Doli can turn himself invisible at will. He also possesses a sharp axe.
Advantage - Doli.
Prince Rhun vs. Neville Longbottom
Well, Rhun starts at a disadvantage, as he is dead. However, before he croaked in heroic fashion, he did finally figure out how to ride his horse and carry his sword without falling off into the nearest river. I’ll resurrect him for this fight.
Neville did surprisingly well in Harry’s secret DA courses, so he’s not too bad at offensive spells – he just tends to hit friendly wizards as often as dark ones and he never ends a struggle without being hit by someone’s spell, often his own.
I figure Rhun charges on his horse, Neville misses him with a stunning bolt and hits the horse instead, and Rhun falls on top of him and they knock each other out.
Draco Malfoy vs. Dorath
Every kid has his own assigned bully, or as Carlos Castaneda called them, ‘petty tyrants’. They must be defeated in some manner in order to progress to adulthood. Harry has Draco, and Taran has Dorath.
That said, Dorath slits Malfoy’s throat, searches his body for loot, curses when he finds nothing but a worthless stick of wood, and runs off into the night.
Advantage – Dorath.
Dobby vs. Gwystyl
Both appear weak and pitiful at first.
However, Dobby the house elf, when not trying to bash his own head in, is rather competent at magic and very protective of Harry.
Similarly, Gwystyl, the clinically depressed Fair Folk spy, has the personality and outward bravery of Niles Crane, but ends up saving the day more than once through guile and craftiness. His consistent ability to produce hidden resources and hide his real intelligence puts him on top.
Advantage – Gwystyl.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley vs. The King and Queen of Mona
Finally, a real smackdown for the Potter team.
Mr. Weasley is fairly competent with a wand, but too good-natured to deliver a killing blow, and easily distracted by Muggle electrical appliances. His overprotective wife, however, is probably capable of bitch-slapping Voldemort given the opportunity, especially if she thinks one of her kids is in danger. The comparatively sheltered royalty of Mona don't stand a chance.
Advantage - The Weasleys.
Kaw vs. Hedwig
It’s the battle of the familiars - Taran's erratically loyal crow meets Potter's owl.
Given that Kaw has fought gwythaints twice and survived, while the owl has witnessed no major combat operations besides getting the snot beaten out of him by Umbridge, this one is easy. Ok, ok, so perhaps I should have used the phoenix, but that’s Dumbledore’s familiar – not Harry’s.
Advantage – Kaw.
Wormtail vs. Magg
I’m not sure whom I want to lose more here. These despicable little fellows are barely worth text.
I’d like to give this to Magg, though, because I doubt Wormtail would have the balls to slap the Iron Crown of Annuvin on his head and call himself ‘Wormtail The Wonderful’. Magg also has the ability to attract large bands of followers and corrupt good folk with his charm.
However, Wormtail killed a dozen innocents to cover up a murder, and succeeded in reviving Voldemort where all the other Death-Eaters failed. He’s cowardly – he spent over a decade transformed as a rat - but he’s also deadly when pressed. Magg has no physical prowess whatsoever.
Advantage – Wormtail.
Cauldron-Born vs. Dementors
Arawn's best creepies versus Voldemort's best.
The Cauldron-Born, the deathless warriors born of that handy Black Cauldron, can't be beaten at all. They don’t know any happiness to suck out, and wouldn't even notice a Dementor kissing them. They'd just beat the shit out of the little cloaked punks, then stamp them into the ground with their iron boots, like everyone poor fool that gets in their way.
Advantage - Cauldron-Born.
Arawn vs. Voldemort.
Arawn kills off a great many strong characters (Coll, Math, Llonio, Achren, Pryderi), destroys Caer Dathyl, snatches Dyrnwyn, beats the shit out of Gwydion, and has the Cauldron Born, the Huntsmen, the Horned King, and Magg to play with, as well as the nifty ability to corrupt good guys like Pryderi. He also has his own bloody mountain – hell, his own goddamn realm, Annuvin, Land of the Dead, and operates completely through his lackeys, not even making an appearance himself until the very end of the series.
Voldemort, the so-called Dark Lord, on the other hand, was smoked by Harry when the kid was still in short pants. Voldy does not even have a reasonable physical body until book four, and Harry STILL owns his ass after that. His only kills during the series are not stout warriors and leaders, but helpless kids, women, and Muggles (Cedric, etc). He has no giant mountain lair, no undead armies, and has to do a great deal of evil personally at great risk because his followers, the Death-Eaters, are totally incompetent.
Arawn would eat Voldy for breakfast and have all the Death-Eaters for a light lunch. Then he would look around for dinner. He IS the Lord of Death, after all, not just some wannabe with red contact lenses.
Advantage - Arawn.
The Huntsmen of Annuvin vs. The Death-Eaters
Another no-brainer. Voldemort’s followers are a pitiful lot. I mean, the Malfoys' only weapon seems to be ineffective taunting. They're classical rather than realistic bullies. A handful of kids give ten Death-Eaters a run for their money by book five.
The Huntsmen are far more formidable. They’re tough with bow and sword, and even if you manage to kill one of them, the rest grow magically stronger via some cool death-spell Arawn has cast over all of them. Flee, and they track you through wood and swamp with ease. There are no good options unless you have a tactical nuke.
Advantage – Huntsmen.
Dyrnwyn vs. Harry’s Wand
Ok, I’ll admit that Harry has some cool spells, and his wand apparently cancels out Voldemort’s, but it’s not particularly more powerful than any other wand in the books.
Dyrnwyn, on the other hand, is probably the best magical weapon in fiction. Only someone of noble worth can yank the thing out of its scabbard without being electrocuted, and it burns with white fire and bad guys take for the hills when it’s drawn. Arawn feared it so much that he stole it and hid it so the good guys could not use it.
Regardless, once Taran found it again, it slew all the Cauldron-Born with one stroke and not much later, lopped off Arawn’s head. When you have to kill the Lord of Death, there’s no substitute: Dyrnwyn, for those tough-to-get-out evil stains.
It goes without saying that Voldemort would wet his pants if this sword showed up.
Advantage – Dyrnwyn.
Harry vs. Taran.
To be fair I'll put them both at the height of their martial powers.
Taran is as he is at the end of The High King, world-weary, fresh from fighting against the invincible Cauldron-Born and near-invincible Huntsmen of Annuvin. I'll also give him Dyrnwyn when it's in its 'time to kill the Lord of Death' mood and farting white fire. At this point in things, he has also successfully become a mature young adult.
Harry is as he is at the end of the fifth book. He’s only fifteen or so and has a temper the size of Vesuvius. Good enough to give lessons in Defense Against the Dark Arts, pretty good at Charms, but only average at everything else Hogwarts offers and barely passing in Potions. Still, he's a very good Quidditch Seeker. He gets his phoenix-feather wand, his Firebolt broom, his father’s invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map.
Playing to their strengths, I would expect Harry to mount his broom and fly around, using various minor spells as necessary to try and trip Taran up. Accio Firebolt, Excelsior, blah, blah.
Taran, doing the same, would cut Harry's head off his shoulders before he could fly away. Then he would reflect tragically on having to do so, with Eilowny tartly replying along the lines of, "Taran of Caer Dallben! You killed that poor boy! Why, that’s like proving your bravery by throwing yourself off a cliff! I’m not speaking to you ever again!" Then she'd stamp her foot and storm off.
Advantage - Taran.