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G.R.R.M the American Tolkien?

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

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    As I pointed out earlier in the thread, it's really just a marketing gimmick. Most writers of epic fantasy over the decades have been compared to Tolkien. Because Tolkien was always the biggest seller ever in epic fantasy. It's just saying, "you know Tolkien, how awesome he is? Yeah, this guy is totally just like him. You should buy this book." If I had a nickel for every time I've seen a fantasy book that had some variation of "this writer is the next Tolkien!" written somewhere on the cover I could probably buy my whole family a nice dinner out.

    Martin just happens to be THE big thing in epic fantasy right now, so of course he's being compared to Tolkien. Comparing one author to another is fine. It's just a frame of reference for introducing an author to a reader who is familiar with a different author. Though, yes, the whole idea of any one author being "the next" whatever is silly. Like I said, it's just a marketing gimmick.
     
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  2. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I agree. It's like in horror saying "the next Stephen King" or in SF saying "the next Frank Herbert" or something. Calling him the American Tolkien just kind of means to me that he's the biggest fantasy writer to ever come out of the US. I can't really disagree in that regard. The two are obviously very different stylistically.
     
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    It's all good, bro
     
  4. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Tolkien stood the test of time and is not really the first fantasy author, in the sense that old epic poems like Beowulf, Greek and Norse myths, etc. are fantasy. But Tolkien started the fantasy where elves hate dwarves, orcs hate everybody, wizards aren't nerds, etc.

    GRRM is not the first grimdark author, nor is ASoIaF his first work of that style. But it's the work that's mainstreaming fantasy's dark side. He's a trendsetter who, like JRRT, introduced an incredibly large number of readers to a fantasy sub-genre and style of writing: multiple POVs with no apparent MC.

    Whether or not his work stands the test of time would determine whether he deserves such a title. (If so, you'll know in a few decades when the next creator of new-&-different-&-popular fantasy is crowned "The New GRRM.")



    STEALTH EDIT - One major difference between the two: JRRT did all that without HBO.
     
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  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    No, Tolkien had 3 blockbuster movies plus 40 years of D&D to help cement his reputation.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2015
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think it was well established before both of those. Certainly before the movies, and I'd read Tolkien before I knew what D&D was (which I started playing when 1e AD&D was released). D&D helped solidify certain tropes.
     
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  7. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    When I read The Hobbit, I was 13. All there was back then was a cartoon, which didn't bust any blocks. I didn't play D&D, but Gauntlet was out that year. I played that.

    On rollerskates.
     
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  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    And?
    I read ASoIaF before the HBO show started airing.
    And even if you didn't play D&D, that doesn't mean it hasn't had a big role in popularizing Tolkien's cliches. Likewise, just because you read The Hobbit first, that doesn't mean the movies arent a big contributor to Tolkien's current popularity.

    What I was trying to get at is that it's ridiculous to treat Tolkien as "the standard by which all fantasy writers are measured against and fail" and then start measuring writers against him. I mean, it's not like Tolkien (or anyone else) is objectively the best or most important fantasy writer.

    Full disclosure: I'm biased against Tolkien so I'm kind of trying to do a devil's advocate thing.
     
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  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think that what LS and Steerpike are trying to say is that Tolkien would still be the gold standard of fantasy even without the movies and D&D. I'm inclined to agree.

    Yes. It is, but that doesn't mean it won't happen anyway. It's one of those things where "it's just the way it is" is the simplest explanation. People like to compare things. It gives them a better understanding of something without having to actually get to know said something.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    In fact he was already the gold standard. The Lord of the Rings was published in the 50s, and by the 60s had become very popular in the U.S. Clubs formed around the work. Not sure how it did in the UK initially. You can find other fantasy novels published in the 1960s and 1970s, before D&D came on the scene, excerpting reviews on the cover or inside the jacket comparing the author to Tolkien. The status of LOTR in the fantasy genre isn't new by any stretch of the imagination. The books have pretty much stayed popular for the last 50+ years in the U.S.
     
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  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    It may or may not be ridiculous. That's immaterial. It is what publishers do to market new fantasy writers. That is indisputable. They've been doing it since at least 1977, when The Silmarillion was published and publishers scrambled to find other "similar" types of fantasy books to publish and market to Tolkien's huge fanbase. That's why The Sword of Shannara, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and others were published that year. That's why the big epic fantasy boom happened, because publishers were trying to cater to Tolkien fans who desperately wanted more of the same general flavor of epic fantasy.

    Tolkien has decidedly been thee gold standard of epic fantasy since the 60s. No one else had even come close. The movies succeeded not on their own merits, but because of the huge and ravenous Tolkien fanbase who hyped them to infinity and beyond and dragged all their non-Tolkien loving friends along. I suspect HBO's GoT is successful because of its own merits, not because of Martin's fanbase. Those who have read the books seem to be a minority of its viewers. I also suspect that it will be the more well loved and well remembered version in a couple of decades. Since Martin's series isn't even finished, it's foolish to compare its success and longevity to a trilogy that has long since been completed and passed from one generation to the next and the next. LOTR has already proven its staying power. ASoIaF hasn't even been tested yet, because it isn't over. It's the ending that determines whether the book will get the kind of word of mouth treatment to last generations.
     
  12. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    @Mytho,

    Totally agree (even though I know we have opposing opinions on GRRM's creation). It's always silly to compare a time-tested classic to what's currently popular, and it's even sillier when publishers market an author using such a comparison.

    There's a possibility that only the HBO version of Game of Thrones will actually have an ending. (Naive Hope Slash Conspiracy Theory: ...unless GRRM is already finished ASoIaF, and the release of books 6 & 7 will be timed with the 6th & 7th seasons of the show as a villainous marketing ploy that's being kept under wraps by a mustache-twirling publisher.)

    My copies of the ASoIaF book have the HBO logo on them. I don't think there will be a book 6 or book 7 that lacks this logo. It's a reminder that GRRM's work was big enough for HBO to make a show of it, but thanks to HBO, his work grew from a tree-stomping giant to one who has to duck when walking under the moon.



    LotR films grew JRRT's giant so its head is marginally closer to the sun, doubtfully enough to feel the difference. What got a lot bigger as a result of the films was Peter Jackson's name. Since the Hobbit films sucked (from what I'm told), my guess is that the book will remain a classic but the films will be forgotten when my girls are in their 20s. They can sit through 3 hours of The Sound of Music (in two sittings). But I don't ever see them reaching a point in life where they'll watch 3 hours of Super Mario Legolas, or two trilogies that make up more hours than there are in a day.

    Even the LotR trilogy, which I liked, will seem dated due to current films relying so much on CGI effects. I can't get my wife to watch it because of the length.

    (On a semi-relaed note, last June I showed my high school students Aliens on the last day of school after watching Prometheus the day before. They agreed Aliens is awesome, and thought they liked both films the 80s film was the far better one. My only regret is that I have the director's cut. It's better off without the extra 15 minutes.)
     
  13. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

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    You cant compare until Martins completes his story.

    I can't compare an unfinished tale to Lord of the Rings. Gotta see how it ends. Endings are important.
     
  14. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

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    If we are going to be technical here, Lord of the Rings was intended as a part of a much, much larger work which included the unfinished Silmarillion. In fact, LotR almost wasn't published because, after twelve years of writing, Tolkien insisted that it should be released in tandem with the Silmarillion once it was finished. So, really, Tolkien didn't finish his story either.

    But I digress.

    Another technicality: The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison, was an adult fantasy novel that was written and published before LotR, and had an influence on Tolkien's writing. Tolkien did not invent the genre; he popularized it.

    But again, I digress.

    Overall, I agree with the general consensus of this thread. They can't be compared, and when they are, it's usually for marketing purposes or because Tolkien set the standard by which all adult fantasy authors are compared.

    I have not yet read all of Martin's books, but what I have read, I genuinely enjoyed. He is a talented writer, and his books are masterfully crafted, in my opinion.

    Tolkien is quite possibly my favorite author. His world, characters, stories, and backstories are all stirring on an elemental level. Many of my friends disagree with me, but I also really enjoy his writing style. I could say much more about both Tolkien and Martin, but I won't bore all of you who have your own opinions.

    These two authors are each worthy of their own merits.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    LOTR is a finished story. No question about it. Tolkien had a lot of ideas an intentions over the years. In the end what matters is that LOTR is a published complete story and has been for decades.

    Not sure what this has to do with the subject at hand. I don't think anyone has said that Tolkien invented the genre. Though I would argue that the influence of The Worm Ouroboros on Tolkien was minimal. Tolkien's writing and Eddison's are vastly different and their approaches to storytelling are vastly different. Any similarity between the two is merely superficial. And yes, I've read The Worm Ouroboros and I find its style to really be in stark contrast to Tolkien's.

    Few people read The Worm Ouroboros these days. Fewer people love it. I confess I did not love it. I also think it is much too archaic to survive the test of time. It is really not the classic that LOTR is.
     
  16. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

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    I read a few posts throughout this thread that did claim Tolkien was the inventor. All I was saying was that he wasn't the first.
     
  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Really? Goodness. I'd strongly recommend that any aspiring fantasy writer who thinks Tolkien invented the genre should learn more about it, quick.
     
  18. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    Guess I might be strange then because I've also read both The Worm Ouroboros as well as Tolkien, and I love them both for their different styles.
     
  19. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I definitely don't think it's strange to like both Eddison and Tolkien. The Worm Ouroboros certainly deserves a lot of appreciation. It really is the very first instance of real epic fantasy worldbuilding, such as it is. It has a lot of amazing imagery and brilliant passages. However, taken overall as a story, and not as a piece of fantasy history, I just found it profoundly unsatisfying in the end. Mostly because of the ending and the whole ouroboros thing which is the point but left me feeling cold toward the story. That's just my personal opinion. I'm certainly not trying to suggest that people shouldn't like both The Worm Ouroboros and Tolkien's works. I just don't think Tolkien's writing was influenced by it much at all.
     
  20. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

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    Goodness, "the next Tolkien!"
    What does this mean, if it is not just blurb/clickbait on an ad/webpage...? ( "Is the Avengers the new Star Wars?")

    Do you mean, "He has popularized fantasy fiction to a whole bunch of people who do not read (any other) fantasy novel / fantasy on a regular basis"... well, then, maybe. Still, a lot of people have only seen the TV series... are there many people who only know LOTR as a movie? I cannot say?

    Do you mean, he has sold more books than any of his contemporaries in the genre? The ASOIAF books have apparently sold 90 million copies. Tolkien's Hobbit and TLOTR have sold 100 + 150 million... and Tolkien is long dead, so GRRM is doing better than I thought on this score. LOTR is usually sold as one book now, but GRRM's books are not...? So, they are ahead of everyone else, assuming JK R doesn't count...! And GRRM isn't even dead yet... so... so a lot of room for GRRM to catch up....

    IF...... people are still reading him in 50 years..... no-way I can possibly predict this....


    The great writers forgotten by history
    OR....
    Anyone remember Sven Hassel? His (purely fictional?) fictional-memoirs of colourful, cynical German soldiers fighting the Russians in WW2 (maybe 12 books or so?) sold 53+ million copies in the 1950s - 80s, according to Google. I enjoyed them immensely as a kid, even seeing then they were pulpy trash... and later I realised the SH had A - never been a German soldier at all? and B - arguably, the books were crap, they had no real plot - BUT they had distinctive characters that could tell amusing stories etc... and a soldier's experience of war doesn't have a "plot"? But he sold 53 million copies.
    Sven Hassel - Wikipedia

    Think about that. People called him "the new Hemingway" in his native Denmark. But he has disappeared now? Wiki says Although he is arguably one of the bestselling Danish authors, possibly second only to Hans Christian Andersen, Danish public libraries, as of 2012, do not stock his books.[7][8]
    first, he fought for the Germans... and second, he DIDN'T even fight for the Germans, but was some sort of collaborator at home! Even outside Denmark, where people don't care about that, his books have died away...? Now, back on topic! All I am saying is that selling many millions of books is not what we are talking about....?


    Do you mean, he has a rep (even after his death) among the readers of the genre as being the best / one of the very best / being a titan ARTISTICALLY, as being the one that everyone else wants to copy...? (again, remember that many people who "know the story" would not be readers of the genre at all, as I said above!) Hmm.... I like both books, and though the last book in ASOIAF did indeed wander, still, I gave it props for not following any rules.....
    I prefer to think of this as being GRRM deliberately giving a finger to everyone quoting rules to him "You must fit within a certain length. You must have a hero / heroine. You must not have multiple characters with similar names. The story must actually go somewhere. You must have a three act structure. You must not keep introducing new characters late in the story and expect us to care..." By gad, sir, he has broken these rules, for better or worse. I am waiting for him to start using red herrings and to tell not show and dump in exclamation marks and parentheses too...and switch to present simple too.... can he do THAT too, and still sell missions of copies? Part of me would love to see him try!

    BUT I do not regard GRRM as a "great writer". I regard him as a good story teller who finally got a big break, and milked it well. He showed what can be done with 3rd person limited POV, with a story that isn't about any hero but the game of thrones itself, and no need for chapters with names or numbers, just a character's name. He can be criticized for many things. Cynical/ruthless people seem to usually beat idealistic ones, but many of his cynical/ruthless characters are just idiots .... I often wonder how they lasted even as long as they did....
    His world-building isn't actually up to much. (Where do the tiny Iron Islands get the timber for all those ships? What did King Robert say while they rebuilt their fleet? The Targaryens had total military supremacy for at least 150 years - why the hell didn't they disarm the local warlords? How on earth is it still possible for the Tyrells etc to expect men to fight for them and NOT for the king / country? Compare to actual Wars of the Roses England - Henry VII needed the Stanleys to switch sides to beat Richard III - but two generations later, such a private army would be unthinkable. Westeros has gone on unchanged (fundamentally) for many centuries, with just a few irrelevant Targaryens added at the top somewhere - is this really plausible? It's like a fly trapped in amber. Not very convincing. But who cares?)

    Tolkien is (though professional critics may sniff), a college professor who became a great writer without meaning to...? His original aim was the creation of the Elvish languages, and the Silmarillion was a context for those languages to be used, and to give England the (non-Frenchified) mythology it SHOULD have had instead of King Arthur etc..... His lack of deliberate "I will fill a novel with sex and violence and package and sell it" gives him a flavour that makes him, deep down, uncopiable by writers today, who are either hacks or good writers, but all trying to write a best-seller.

    His world-creation can't be beat. Period. Above mere attention to detail, most of his societies actually EVOLVE!!!! Human kingdoms grow and then decline and are finally wiped out, often after fighting each other. Arnor and Numenor and (nearly) Gondor. What do the Numenoreans do with their long lifespans? They postpone getting married! VERY modern!

    Can I argue that some things in Tolkien could have been better handled? I'm not talking about the absence of sex scenes, or the lack of PTSD in his veterans, or the lack of foul language. (eg, Eowyn seems to think she is in love with Aragorn, or the freedom she thinks he represents, for a little while. Maybe GRRM would have had Aragorn seduce her, accidentally get her pregnant, then foist his bastard off on Faramir.... dramatic. But not "better". That isn't a flaw, just Tolkien's taste. When we go to Minas Tirith, no-one asks "so where is the brothel? Were Aragorn and Arwen virgins on their wedding night?" Don't even go there.) Never mind the endless descriptions of food and drink, but nothing about going to the toilet! No-one had to pee during the whole Moria dungeon-crawl?

    I COULD criticise Tolkien for some POV errors (eg,Frodo explaining to Sam that orcs must eat real food, and some narrator out of nowhere explaining that Sauron grows food around Lake Nurnen)... and he loves exclamation marks, which noob writers are now told to avoid. Maybe Tolkien is simply better and braver than the idiots teaching newbie writers today. I could criticize his 25 page INTRODUCTION to LOTR about hobbits ... although this isn't fair, because LOTR was at first seen as a sequel to the Hobbit, and he KNEW he had an audience.
    I could criticise him for not anticipating some objections a reader might have - eg, why are the Nazgul so crap in the Shire, and yet seem so deadly at the end? Why not get the eagles to just fly Frodo to Mordor / the edge of Mordor? Why don't the gods in the west just ride in and save the day? Although there may be answers.... eg, the eagles are the servants of Manwe, and the west does not want to interfere UNTIL the mortals save themselves... and the west DOES inerfere, in subtle ways.. eg Gandalf is from the west, and the gods / Illuvatar bring him back to life.... and the wind from the west changes the course of the battle by bringing Aragorn's ships to M Tirith just in time...
    BUT Tolkien DOES anticipate at least two of the big objections... so why not do more?

    EG - "why not send the ring over the sea to the west?" --> we are still stuck with Sauron anyway, and the west will not accept it, it belongs to Middle earth, we must fix this ourselves....
    How did Sauron ever lose the ring? Because elves and men of N were stronger long ago......

    Tolkien is not above the occasional plot hole - EG, in Akallabeth, Sauron corrupts the last king of Numenor into attacking the gods in the west, because the king is desperate for immortality...but why didn't Ar-Pharazon say "But Sauron, YOU are immortal! If you serve me, give me your ring..." the one thing that WOULD have made the king "live forever!" just ask Bilbo and the Nazgul and Gollum....

    I could criticize him for what is not in the book - so, where are the female Uruk hai, and the baby orcs? Did the ents kill all of them too when they attakced and only let the men of Dunland go? Or maybe some of the Uruk hai warriors WERE female???? Tolkien never said they weren't? Isn't the "orcs are always evil" similar to "the only good indian/jew/etc is a dead one...", and a fostering of racism? But it's fantasy.
    Tolkien himself said what was wrong with LOTR - "It is far too short." This, I agree with!!! Could you imagine an alternate universe copy with 1000 pages EXTRA - BUT not the bits set in the Shire....?

    My final analysis: they are both successful, and highly influential (though it is a bit soon for GRRM to be sure). They both have their strong and weak points. But T is a great writer, and GRRM is not. Just one person's opinion.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2020
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