Before we get started – I am not talking about the books. Both J. R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin have the same problem in their writing that keeps me from truly enjoying the literature versions – they have LONG and boring descriptions that can go on for page after page. It is so tiresome to read, after a while. I respect the literary works for the masterpieces that they are, but the writing style is too stuffy for me. Instead, I am going to talk about the stories overall, along with the worlds that they inhabit, and why I think the Martin’s creation is more enriching than Tolkien’s. Keep an open mind, and you might have some thoughts on this as well.
Tolkien made the fantasy genre. I will give credit where it’s due. The style that he made, the myth format that he used. So much of the hero story that we know today came from his books, and so I must admit that Martin followed in his footsteps. But where Tolkien wanted to tell a story about a hero on a mythical journey, Martin wanted to tell a story about a world. It’s a tale where there is no true hero, and no true villain. Well, okay, aside from the White Walkers and their army of the dead. They are pretty damn evil. But that still works in the world that they are telling. It’s a force beyond all others. A force so powerful and so vile that it can bring this entire feuding world together.
The thing I like most about Game of Thrones is that its fantasy elements are played down quite a bit. You don’t have the orcs and the spirits. Sure, there are dragons, but it’s played that the dragons are just animals. The Dire Wolves, while awesome, are just animals. Each part of the world has some amazing animals, but they are still just animals. Part of why I couldn’t get into The Witcher games is because I feel like I’ve seen this all before. A world of magical animals and magic stuff. The trolls and chimeras and all of that. In Martin’s world, the bulk of what is there are just animals. That’s not to say that there is no magical stuff.
Here’s where I give that Tolkien and Martin got the same idea, and both of them do it well. Both of them treat magic like it is some secretive thing. The truth about it is hidden in folklore and superstition. Magic is treated as something to be feared. In the world of Game of Thrones, it has ties to darkness, fire, blood, ice, and death. Those who practice it are shunned by the world at large. They are seen as those connected to something evil. To be fair, that’s because a lot of the magic in the series does tie into bad things. The shadow monster birthed to kill Renly. The magic the White Walkers use to reanimate the dead (for real, that scene where you see all the dead rise again gave me chills!), the images in the fire. These things are something to fear. But magic wasn’t always that way. You see the Children of the Forest, and how they used magic, along with the First Men, to seal away the White Walkers, and end the Long Night.
But the thing that truly separates Game of Thrones from Lord of the Rings is that the world of the former feels connected. All of these families, these nations. The conflicts. The heroes on all sides. When you hear the story about Aegon Targaryan and his conquest of the Seven Kingdoms (well, six. He never did break House Martell), it feels like a story from a world that, aside from the dragons, makes sense. You see the workings of this world. The ties that bind people together. The players and forces in every place, slowly picking away at each other. You see these forces at work, and it feels like a real place. Not some magical kingdom where magic things happen, but somewhere that one can feel and touch.
We need more fantasy like this. Stories where it isn’t always about saving the world. Where sometimes it is just about surviving day to day. Where it is about revenge, glory, or finding a home. So much science fiction has this same problem. The world is in danger in Game of Thrones, but that danger is understood to be something that is building. When it blows up, it’s gonna be epic. I get the feeling that the last season is going to be the War for the Dawn. The end of the Long Night. When the White Walkers are destroyed, once and for all. That will be cool. But I know that that isn’t where the series will truly end. It will end by showing how it is still about these people. The characters we have come to care about. Tyrion, Arya, Jon Snow (who I am certain we are going to see again. His part in this story isn’t over), any others.
Lord of the Rings set a standard. It takes its rightful place as great literature. But it’s world feels grand and bombastic. The world of Westeros feels like somewhere that I can see. This series keeps getting better and better. I read the wiki and learn the lore surrounding these people. It’s engaging stuff. The wait for season 6 is so damn hard. Part of me hopes that the end of season 7 is when the Wall comes down. When you see it get blasted open, and the dead spill out. Talk about a mindfuck!
But that’s just me. Let me know what you think.
Until next time, a quote,
“I had given up on life, until Varys convinced me you might be worth living for. If you chop of my head, well, my final days were interesting.” -Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones