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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 4:11 pm 

Joined: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:31 pm
Posts: 3154
As Smaug's Voice has recently pointed out, the "Game of Thrones" TV show has surfaced a rather unfortunate "Tolkien vs. Martin (GRRM)" debate which, as most public debates in this day and age do, misses the point, IMO. A recent interview with GRRM [] addresses this debate to a certain degree, and sets the framework for some comments I decided to make on a Game of Thrones message-board, where criticisms of Tolkien (and assertion's of GRRM's superiority) are often made. My comments elicited a strongly positive response from GRRM fans. My comments centered on a comparison of GRRM's "A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF)" series (not yet complete) and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings (LOTR)." I will post them below as a conversation starter about the merits of Tolkien and Martin, the different stories they tell, and the potentially complementary roles they play in fantasy literature.

In general, my main thesis is that Tolkien wrote of an age of myth and heroes and monsters (which is incidentally appropriate for post WWI and WWII world), while Martin writes of an age of man, anti-heroes and grey, human villains (which is incidentally appropriate for, say, a post-Vietnam world). Secondarily, the two stories are in effect mirror images. LOTR depicts the fading of faery and magic and the start of the mundane world of men, while ASOIAF depicts the return of faery and magic to the mundane world of men.

Amongst us Tolkien fans, there can be a tendency to think of GRRM's ASOIAF as nothing but nihilist trash. And among GRRM fans, there is a tendency to think of Tolkien as simplistic, black and white fairy tale trash. I hope that this discussion will help clear some fog between these two unnecessarily-formed "camps," and create conversation about the complementary of these two authors, rather than the conflict between them (which, IMO, has been fabricated of out of whole cloth).

My comments, in response to questions from Martin fans at the site, are below. There are some minor ASOIAF books spoilers:


Q: “So what did King Aragorn do about those pesky orcs? Surely, he didn’t choose the genocide/xenocide option, or did he?”

A: Good question! The interesting thing about this question (which GRRM has brought up before) is that Tolkien started writing a novel set in the 4th age, when the magic of the elves (and most magic) had gone out of the world (including the evil kind), and the story focused on the petty conflicts and evils of everyday existence, that are characteristic of the real world. He abandoned the project, as he found it depressing.

As GRRM says, Tolkien was “doing something different” with LOTR than GRRM is with ASOIAF. Tolkien was writing a myth – one that some Dark Age peoples in northern Europe might have written, but was lost (with the addition of hobbits as our tour guides). And this myth is essentially of a world that is similar to GRRM’s “Age of Heroes.” It was a time of magic and supernatural evil, but that contained the seeds of the more modern world in characters like the hobbits and the men of Gondor and Rohan. But in LOTR, starting from FOTR, Tolkien telegraphs that the magic was slowly seeping out of Middle Earth. First with the slow departure of the elves (sailing west) and then with the destruction of the Rings of power (the elven ones were responsible for maintaining the realms of elvendom on Earth).

ASOIAF, in that context, is essentially LOTR in reverse. GRRM starts with the 4th Age – the age of the mundane and petty – and the magical elements slowly seep into the world, until we’re back to another Age of Heroes (which is shaping up to be similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth in LOTR).

In this way, I actually find the two authors, though different, to be highly complementary, and less at odds than some people think.

Q: “Yes, I greatly enjoy the juxtaposition of seeing the elves (Elrond & Galadriel), Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf (with Narya) sailing into the sunset toward the Undying Lands vs the dragons being born unto their mother, Dany. What a cool difference. Thanks for the reminder.

A: Although I do believe that the “issues” that King Aragorn and his administration had to deal with after the last great war were seriously under-reported….”
Perhaps, but the orcs (like the elves) were part of that “age of myth or faery” that was passing. At the close of LOTR, the implication is that the destruction of Sauron also meant the passing of the orcs, who would “fade” just as the elves did. The “age of men” had arrived, and it would be a lot less heroic, and the monsters would be exclusively human.

In that context, Tolkien actually DOES describe how King Aragorn dealt with the human enemies of Gondor, who had fought for Sauron in the War of the Ring. He essentially pardons most of them, and allows them to return to their lands (though there are a few follow-on skirmishes, IIRC). But the remaining details of governance, administration and conflict-resolution in Gondor are beyond the scope of the story. This was a story of the final days of the heroic 3rd age, and the 4th age, full of pettiness and nihilism, is for other authors, like GRRM.

However, Tolkien does deal with the mundane fallout of the war in the Shire, at least. The “Scouring of the Shire,” which comes after the Ring’s destruction, depicts a local conflict that is very true to life. Yes, the Big Bads were destroyed. But that doesn’t mean that everything turns into a Disney theme park. The hobbits find this out the hard way, are forced to fight a battle at their doorsteps, and some (like Frodo) never find peace, and cannot live happily ever after.
Sometimes, I actually wish that Tolkien had written his story of the “mundane” 4th age, as it would have blunted criticisms of Tolkien that focus on his thin depiction of power and governance. But ultimately, Tolkien was far more interested in language and legend than he was is governance and politics.

And that’s why, IMO, GRRM is an important author in this genre. He doesn’t imitate Tolkien, which is essentially impossible. Instead, he takes the baton from Tolkien, and writes the subsequent chapters of the “Age of Man.” The ones that Tolkien didn’t want to write.

IMO, if GRRM’s prose style was better, his stories could have become timeless classics. Alas, it’s very hard to beat Tolkien on that front!


PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 9:09 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2011 4:00 pm
Posts: 560
I might post more later when I have more time, but one quick thought: as I said in the Children of Húrin topic, there does seem to be some overlap between that story (maybe include Húrin's misadventures afterward too) and Martin, doesn't there? Whether there was actually direct influence or not I don't know.

One somewhat related thing: while Tolkien was certainly a conservative, the critics who paint LotR as a radically reactionary work are way overstating things. Much of the book, especially the second half of book VI, is about accepting the inevitability of change even as he mourns the loss of things from the past.

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 9:46 pm 

Joined: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:31 pm
Posts: 3154
Yes. In that sense, Tolkien was almost an Augustinian.

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