Is George R. R. Martin The Next Tolkien?
In 2005, Time Magazine’s Lev Grossman dubbed George R. R. Martin “The American Tolkien” in his review of A Feast for Crows. The moniker stuck, leading to a flurry of discussions as to whether or not Martin is worthy of the title.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) – J. R. R. Tolkien for short, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
Despite the obvious similarities – both authors sport the initials “R. R.” in the middle of their names and both are famous for writing bestselling fantasy epics that take place in a pseudo-medieval setting – there are 3 main differences that separate the works of these two authors.
These key distinctions may prove be the determining factors to the question:
Is George R. R. Martin the American Tolkien?
Tolkien’s narrative is nothing short of a masterpiece – lengthy, lyrical, and beautifully written. He provides a detailed description of the world, its history, and its characters. Martin’s writing is not quite up to par in this regard. He provides an earthy, straightforward view of his fantasy world by using a unique storytelling style told through the different points of views of his main characters.
Both epics are equally complex, though Tolkien’s intricacy lies in his heavy wording, while Martin’s is defined by the multifaceted nature of his characters. While Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is highly regarded among all fans of the fantasy genre, few of these fans have actually read the trilogy in its entirety. Most give up due to the complex prose or simply prefer watching Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations. In contrast, the simple, yet engaging chapters of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire easily reaches out to a larger fan base, to the typical fantasy reader and beyond. Its successful adaptation as a HBO television series has only served to increase its already large fan base.
The morality in Tolkien’s work is as firm and sure as Martin’s is ambiguous. Readers of Lord of the Rings know from the start who the good guys are; it is glaringly obvious that fans are meant to root for the Hobbits in their struggle against the evil and powerful Sauron. There is a clear line between good and evil and the heroes are all characters that one can admire. Many fans go as far as saying that the series made them aspire to better persons.
Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire does not have a clear distinction of good versus evil. Any and every character is good and evil in their own way. This is part of the reason Martin’s work has become so popular. His characters are given in to the frailty of human nature and have to survive through their own devices – often thinking of themselves and their own goals before that of others. In other words, they are very much relatable to the jaded readers of the present era.
3. Purpose and Influence
Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings with the intent of creating a mythos for his country; a tale that would somehow embody England and its culture. His epic fantasy would become the staple of heroic fantasies. His concepts of dwarves, orcs, dragons, elves, and knights would serve as the stereotypes of the fantasy genre. Tolkien has since become a legend in his own right among both fantasy writers and readers.
Martin had the less noble goal of wanting to break out from the limitations (in terms of story length and number of characters) set upon him during the years he wrote for television. He wanted to create an epic with a cast of thousands. In the past 15 years since the release of A Game of Thrones, the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire, his epic fantasy has gained worldwide recognition and has been adapted into several forms of media including role-playing games, board games, card games, graphic novels, prequel novellas, art books, and a hit television series.
While Martin’s series is undoubtedly one of the greatest epic fantasies among its contemporary peers, whether or not it will stand the test of time remains to be seen. Will his unique storytelling structure be used by future writers? Will the fantasy genre start blurring then lines between good and evil? Only then can he truly attain the title George R. R. Martin: The American Tolkien. At his current pace, though, he may already be more than halfway there.