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G.R.R.M the American Tolkien?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by hots_towel, Jan 8, 2014.

  1. hots_towel

    hots_towel Minstrel

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    Recently I was out to dinner with some friends and the topic of George R.R. Martin's A song of Ice and Fire series came up in the discussion. One of my friends said that there are people out there saying that GRRM is the American Tollkien, Or the Tolkien of our time. A few of the others at the table agreed, but I wasn't so quick to say yes. Please allow me to explain myself.

    I didn't open my mouth and object because I haven't read GRRM's books, and I've read some of Tolkiens works (I havent looked into the histories of middle earth or the silmarillion just yet, but its definitely on my list). The only Knowledge I have of Westeros is the TV show. As we all know, TV/movie adaptions of written work always ends up being the director's interpretation of the source material, and does not always make you credible when you say " I know what happens in the book cause I saw the movie". So I wasn't about to open my mouth about something I didn't know about first hand. But if the show keeps the basic plot structure in check, then I suppose I stand by my decision.

    Keep in mind, this is not a debate about which author is better. This is about if they're even comparable or not.

    Some people say GRRM is the Modern/American Tolkien. Why? Because he wrote a story set in a Medieval fantasy? ASoIaF is more comparable to historical fiction if you ask me (being sarcastic of course). The reason I say that though is because I don't feel like there are enough "fantasy" elements in the story (thats not to say that there are none. I'm fully aware GRRM suspends reality with classic fantasy elements). It's a little generous in my opinion to call it an "epic high fantasy". Now an epic low fantasy? Possibly. Nothing wrong with that, and I think it's more suited to the story. High/low fantasy isn't a scale of prestige to score the books, it's just a setting that tells the story best or the way the author wants.

    However, one could also argue that ASoIaF could take place in a sci-fi setting without changing the plot around too much, or even set in a supernatural modern society whilst retaining it's general plot structure. At it's core, ASoIaF is a drama. Not a fantasy adventure.

    I realize the same could be said for other works of fiction, but think about it. Some people see star wars as a borderline straight fantasy, but many of its essentials and hallmarks are bound to that sci-fi setting. Lightsabers, giant space stations that double as WMD's, intergalactic travel/warfare, robots/driods, etc.

    I realize my logic is probably full of holes (or i just flat out wrote this illegibly), but for those that get the point of what i'm saying, what are your opinions?
     
  2. JRFLynn

    JRFLynn Sage

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    Well, Martin definitely set the bar for multiple POVs. I haven't finished reading his books, but I agree that his story shouldn't be called a high-fantasy. Even though there are dragons and hints at elves, a crow of knowledge, and things of that nature...very few folk in his stories actually use magic, and the story has a strong supernatural element. His magic is mysterious. Meh, that's my opinion. Epic? Definately. Of course, with the little I've read there's a good chance that the story could burgeon into a "high-fantasy". It's a saga so anything is possible.

    Despite Martin's talent, I don't know if anyone can truly light a candle to Tolkien's genius. The man is the grand-daddy founder of the fantasy genre, he's the reason we read stories with bearded drunken dwarfs and flowery, beautiful elves. Martin has built on that, and I think he definitely is one of great american authors in the fantasy/drama genre.

    There was a blog post I read about the fantasy genre. It described the genre as a castle that writers either renovate or "tear down". So, I guess my point is that Martin is a renovator that has knocked down a tower or two, where Tolkien set the foundation. I don't believe you can compare Martin and Tolkien, that's just me.
     
    Noma Galway likes this.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I wouldn't say he's an American Tolkien. I think the fact that he has a successful TV show is the impetus behind a claim like this. You can find plenty of better fantasy series, including those with better or more in-depth world-building. Take away the buzz surrounding the TV show and look only at the series itself, and then tell me what it has to raise it head and shoulders above what many other fantasy writers are doing. Don't get me wrong, I like the books. But I wouldn't elevate it onto some higher plane.
     
    Manalodia likes this.
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I love GRRM's ASOFAI books.

    That being said, I think you'd have to really break some new ground to be considered the "American Tolkein."

    We're talking about a writer credited with creating a modern genre after all. It's hard to compare anyone to that standard, regardless of how much you may like their work.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah, good point. Though not fantasy, you might look at someone like William Gibson as closer to what Tolkien was, in terms of establishing a modern subgenre.
     
  6. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    Comparing Tolkien and GRRM is like comparing Chris Columbus and Neil Armstrong, both are explorers and set foot on new lands.
    but they are worlds apart.

    GRRM is drawing more people to the genre that probably would never have thought about Sword and sorcery books, but Tolkien opened up fantasy to something more the bedtime stories.

    Personally, I think Game of thrones will evolve its magic that was lost to be found again. Dragons made the mage stronger, as they grow I must wonder if the worlds magic won't grow also.
     
    Noma Galway likes this.
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You have to remember that just about every up and coming or successful fantasy writer has been compared to Tolkien if at all possible for marketing reasons. It's probably the most common blurb or slogan that can be found on a fantasy book: "This guy is totally the next Tolkien! Buy this book!" One really has to feel sorry for Tolkien, having his name thrown around like that so loosely.
     
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Agreed, things are too different for that comparison to really mean much. Especially since the most important thing about Tolkien was that he did so much first, "trope codifying" so much for the rest of us-- you can't really match that because now it has been done. (The Gibson comparison of complete difference, or the Columbus/Armstrong of whole different stages of a process, have a bit more meaning.)

    Thing is, the phrase actually comes from a much-repeated rave review in the New York Times. Too true, every fantasy author gets someone comparing him to Tolkien, but Lev Grossman made a point of saying how Martin's work was as big (in fact some of our Scribes have shown each book has as many words as the whole LOTR trilogy, and of course many other authors do too) and as important and yet "so much more mature."

    I guess it isn't much more than a way of saying he has a Top Two list-- or maybe crowing that a modern and American author matched the old don, but all that's only in a general sense. It matters that Tolkien did it first.

    A comparison I'd like to see is the GoT cable series to Star Trek, for giving a non-reading world its first taste of how much coolness was already out there, mostly in book form.
     
  9. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

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    After reading "A Feast for Crows", a book most fans hate and rank as worst in the series, I understand why it sucks.

    The forth book in the series has no 3-Act-Structure. It has no structure at all. There is no beginning, no middle, no end. It is just 1500 pages of events form several POVs in no particular order. The scene do not connect to each other, nor do they build up to a big climax.

    There is no beginning, middle, or end to that book. That is why people hate it. It goes nowhere. Any value those events might have later is not expressed in the book itself. Each book in a series should stand on its own legs while being part of the larger work.

    My review of "A Feast for Crows" - just ready a Wiki summary and save yourself the time and trouble.

    So... GRRM has created a very detailed world. His success in Fantasy will help other Fantasy authors sell books and movie options. But his fourth book was just not good.
     
    Noma Galway likes this.
  10. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    GRRM is a great writer but nowhere near the same caliber as Tolkien. On a different note, I will say that I believe that Frank Herbert is the Tolkien of Sci-Fi.
     
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I also don't think the two works can, or should be, compared. I have read GOT but not the rest of the books in that series, so my experience is limited. Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I see it this way: Tolkien's books are filled with high fantasy and abundant magic, whereas GOT is political intrigue at its finest. Tolkien provided us with a story rich in the fantastical...things you only experience in dreams. In GOT, its real life in a fantasy setting. Each author aimed to do something different and I think comparing the two is rather unfair and not valuing them for their own merits.

    PS: I wonder if at the end of it all, when Martin is done writing the series, what if the magic doesn't come back? What if it isn't a bad ass fantasy finish like so many of my friends keep telling me I should stick with the series for? At least I got that from the beginning with Tolkien. Just saying.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 13, 2014
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    That's exactly what is happening...magic, along with the dragons is returning to the world. I think the vision is Low Fantasy becomes High Fantasy... we'll see.

    I'm going to have to disagree with my good friend Reaver though. This may be heresy in fantasy circles, but I prefer Martin to Tolkein. Yes, I said it. I do. Don't get me wrong, I love them both but Martin's books speak to me more than Tolkein's. It's all subjective of course, which makes comparing two authors of that caliber even more difficult.

    Still, Tolkein is the father of the genre. As I stated before, it is unfair to compare anyone to that standard.
     
    Reaver likes this.
  13. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Well said, TAS. I can't think of a better statement to sum up how I really feel about the two authors. I retract my opine about Martin not being of the same caliber as Tolkien.

    Like JRRT, GRRM created a rich history, highly developed languages and engaging characters.
     
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I disagree with the idea that Martin is not one of the best going today. Is he comparable to Tolkien? I can't really say since I've only read The Hobbit. I read Martin's books before the GoT TV series began and it's still one of my favorite fantasy series I've ever read and it's not even close. I do find that there are tons of fantasy authors I like, but I'm hard-pressed to find a series where I enjoy and connect with so many characters. Sure, there are other series I like as a total package, but as far as individual characters, Martin is currently at the top of the genre in my opinion.

    That said, what does American Tolkien mean anyway? Like he's the top dog in fantasy? Who else could be considered THE writer in fantasy right now other than Martin? Some may argue Sanderson, but I can't think of anyone else that has the same level of both critical acclaim and mainstream popularity as Martin. I feel like Martin has converted more people to read fantasy than any other author besides Tolkien.

    In any case, comparing the two is inevitable I guess because people like comparing popular figures. It's kind of like comparing Beethoven and Mozart though. It really is a matter of taste and preference.
     
  15. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

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    I think the comparison is great to communicate the idea to the average non-fantasy reader. For us, we might see them as too different to compare, which is fair.
     
  16. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I overheard a friend at work once talking to a customer about GOT, which she loves. She called it Sci-Fi. I was like no...its fantasy. ;) But she doesn't like fantasy and the tv show has brought her around to it. She's also not a reader though. But my other work friends love GOT and I'm the odd lady out. Interestingly enough, none of them have read Tolkien, Sanderson, , etc. But GOT has brought them around to at least being interested in the genre. And although GOT traumatized and bored me to tears, I can still admit that Martin is the high shizzle in the genre right now. He deserves his own credit and being compared to Tolkien is lame and unfair.

    Some day, one of us will hit the jackpot and we'll be compared to both. I see it this way: as an individual, my work is personalized and it shouldn't be compared to any other author's. So why should we do that to them? There is good fantasy work out there that deserves praise for being good in its own right. It seems we all agree to that here. :)

    As a final thought, Tolkien wrote for his modern audience. Martin is doing the same. Comparing the work of the two authors is like comparing the mindset of fantasy readers in 1937 to our 21st century minds which are more exposed to violence, sex, political intensity, etc. The reason why GOT is so popular is because fans can relate to the characters. There's someone for everyone. Tolkien's cast is much smaller by comparison which a more childlike concept.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 13, 2014
    Reaver likes this.
  17. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Let's not forget that science fiction is a type of fantasy, not a separate genre. :D
     
  18. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    …and they both have a double R as their middle initial.

    (Pause for cricket chirping.)

    Well, I really do agree that HBO's Game of Thrones attracted new readers to the genre. I started reading the ASoIaF books because season 3 ended mid-book. I can't wait for season 4, just so I can see what it's like to be one of the viewers who's already read the book. I likely read "season 5" by now as well, at least if Feast of Crows is two seasons. I was warned that book 4 is the hardest to read through, but the Brienne scenes keep me going. And Cersei. I hate her, but she's fun to read.
     
    Reaver likes this.
  19. hots_towel

    hots_towel Minstrel

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    i know exactly how that is. i have been exposed to fantasy movies, games, and books for a good long while now, but i didnt decide to sit down and read the hobbit till last summer. and it was like reading fantasy for the first time somehow. its like the words themsevles were under some spell or something. the feeling was still somewhat there when i started the fellowship, but the main series is such heavy reading i was more just trying to concentrate on what was happening. finishing a LoTR book is like winning a medal though.
     
  20. kayd_mon

    kayd_mon Sage

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    I don't know. LOTR is a breezy read compared to many. I plowed through most of it on my first time reading it. With A Game of Thrones, I didn't really get into it until I was pretty far in. I was reading sluggishly before the marathon reading sessions started.

    But the two books/series don't share much besides a medieval-style fantasy setting, and long length. They are completely different kinds of books. (I think many have said that already).
     
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