Potter slays Dark Lord in Readers’ Top 100 Books poll

The search to find the Top 100 books threw up some surprises when our readers responded, but the magic of ‘Harry Potter’ won out in the battle with ‘The Lord of the Rings’, writes Mark Evans.

Potter slays Dark Lord in Readers’ Top 100 Books poll

HOW’s this for fantastic fiction mash-ups — Frodo Baggins tries desperately to defeat the Dark Lord, Voldemort, as he searches for the One Ring to rule the Muggle and wizarding worlds; and, Harry Potter tries desperately to defeat the Dark Lord, Sauron, as he exerts his evil to rule the inhabitants of Middle-earth.

Such fantasies may have only occurred to fans of both The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. And yet, the quest to find Ireland’s Top 100 books of all time featured a battle between those two epic tales in a bid to come out on top.

One could not help but imagine the month-long online voting process to be some kind of battle royale playing out amid the ruins of Hogwarts or on the slopes of Mount Doom.

To make things simpler, a vote for any of the seven novels in the Potterverse or the three Rings books was recorded as a single vote for the franchise. The same method applied elsewhere, for instance, the proposed seven-book Game of Thrones universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the three-book Millennium series more commonly known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

We asked book lovers to name their top three favourite tales and graded them according to the selections; first choices received twice as many points as second choices, and second choices getting twice as many points as third choices. Hundreds of books were voted for but only the top 100 counted.

In the end, it was the boy wizard who trumped the hobbit, but only just. The Lord of the Rings scored far more second-choice votes than Harry Potter, meaning perhaps that LotR used to be people’s favourite since childhood but has been usurped by something more contemporary. However, Harry’s consistent scoring across the three choices allowed it to win the competition by a whisker. Interestingly, only 12% of ballots featured both books. It is unknown if this means people like just one or the other, or whether they consciously or subconsciously shied away from selecting a second epic fantasy.

What we do know is why people think Potter or LotR is the best book they have ever read. Teenager Adrian Duffy credits JK Rowling’s magical books with instilling a love of reading among an entire generation.

“This book inspired millions to start picking up books and putting down Gameboys and other consoles. It may have been set in a fictional backdrop with young protagonists but Harry Potter dealt with themes of classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, and finally general ignorance.”

Firmly in the Middle-earth camp, Roisin Jones, who’s in her 20s, describes her love of the epic tale of good versus evil.

“The scope of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has to be read to be believed: incredible world building, fantastic characters and a story of the triumph of hope and innocence over a vast evil that uplifts me every time I read it.”

In case you think our survey was hijacked by lovers of fantasy novels, the bronze medal goes to a Pulitzer-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which received more second-choice votes than any other book. Trisha Healy, in her 20s, calls it a masterpiece about innocence: “This book takes me to another world and I see things again through the innocent eyes of a child. It is joyful and terribly sad, complex and beautifully simple all at once. It touched my heart for the first time as a teenager trying to discover the world and still this masterpiece manages to teach me new things every time I read it.”

Surely the fact that so many readers were introduced to Mockingbird in school goes some way to explaining its high ranking. This theory would also account for so many ‘classics’ crowding the top 10. So too must we allow for the impact of film and television on our literary list. Each of the top 10 has been portrayed on the big or small screen.

Irish authors are well represented, with 15 of them making the top 100. Two writers have a brace of books, with James Joyce’s Ulysses (#26) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (#86), and John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun (#44) and Amongst Women (#78). Contemporary Irish writers too are well-represented, with Emma Donoghue, Sebastian Barry and Cecelia Ahern all polling well.

Male writers outnumber female writers by two to one, although gender balance is attained in the top 10. Meanwhile the majority of authors are American, closely followed by English writers, with the Irish contingent third.

The writer who appears most times in the Top 100 list is Charles Dickens, with Great Expectations (#31), A Christmas Carol (#79) and David Copperfield (#83). Despite not making much impact on the Top 100, the writers with most nominated titles are Stephen King (11), Roald Dahl (10), Maeve Binchy (7), Enid Blyton (7) and Bill Bryson (7).

Polls such as these are only as good as the controversy they incite. If this is true then we’re happy to point out the shady entry at #41. Then of course there are the countless puzzling head-to-heads – PS, I Love You beating The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and The Da Vinci Code besting The Catcher in the Rye.

And what about the ‘classics’ failing to make the cut? Among the top 5 best-selling books of all time — which includes Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings — The Little Prince ranks 122nd, Don Quixote ranks 220th, and A Tale of Two Cities ranks 382nd. Other notable absentees include Crime and Punishment (#130), War and Peace (#187) and A Clockwork Orange (#190).

So, after an epic battle of the books it is the boy wizard who reigns supreme; the top 10 is populated by dragons and heroines; and the top 100 is a wonderful mix of stories that are ready to inspire us and make us fall in love with books — no matter how you like to read them.

* “From the moment I first read it until the last time I read it, it will always be my favourite book” — readers give their reasons for their favourite books of all time, plus more analysis of the Top 100

Go to here.

Top 3 books by age – under 20

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Room by Emma Donoghue

Top 3 books by age – 20-29

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

Top 3 books by age – 30-39

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Top 3 books by age – 40-49

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Top 3 books by age – 50-59

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Top 3 books by age – 60-69

Strumpet City by James Plunkett

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

Top 3 books by age – 70+

The Magus by John Fowles

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Irish authors in the Top 100

Sebastian Barry ( The Secret Scripture ) #17

Emma Donoghue ( Room ) #18

James Plunkett ( Strumpet City ) #22

James Joyce ( Ulysses ) #26 & ( A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ) #86

John McGahern ( That They May Face the Rising Sun ) #44 & ( Amongst Women ) #78

Frank McCourt ( Angela’s Ashes ) #50

Brendan O’Carroll ( The Mammy ) #56

Conal Creedon ( Passion Play ) #63

Cecelia Ahern ( PS I Love You ) #66

John Boyne ( The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas ) #67

Maeve Binchy ( Light a Penny Candle ) #72

Oscar Wilde ( The Picture of Dorian Gray ) #82

Colum McCann ( Let the Great World Spin ) #94

Flann O’Brien ( The Third Policeman ) #96

Michael Smith ( An Unsung Hero ) #99

Is your favourite author represented; which classics are we missing; and crucially, which titles are least deserving of a place in the Top 100? Leave a comment below, tweet us using #Top100Books or message us on The Irish Examiner Facebook account, and let the debate commence!

READ ON: Readers have the final word on the best books ever section.

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