Battle of the Myths: Game of Thrones vs Lord of the Rings


versus34_zpse3c67725Tolkien vs Martin.

Aragorn vs Joffrey.

Gimli vs Tyrion.

In my mind, not much of a battle. But vox populi (‘the voice of the people’) would probably disagree. Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the biggest book-TV combo ever, and is currently one of the most popular TV shows in the world. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is not really in current pop-culture (besides the Hobbit films, which aren’t on the same level) and the books are nearly 60 years old.

Game of Thrones, in case you’ve been living in a bubble, is a fantasy series ( the books written by George RR Martin, the TV adaptation by HBO) filled with violence, power-hungry leaders, betrayal, sex, manipulation, and a hundred other dark things. It’s hailed as a ‘great modern myth’ which will overthrow the ‘fairytale’ Lord of the Rings. I heartily disagree; but don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from a brilliant article by Rowan Light about the conflict between these two epics:

There are no clear “goodies” in Westeros. Characters are honourable or treacherous depending on the day of the week. Good guys finish last and those who cling to noble principles are manipulated and/or beheaded. We sympathize with immoral characters like the incestuous Lannisters, Varys the Eunuch, and an assortment of murderers, rapists, and sadists. Nothing is taboo.

Tolkien’s G-rated narrative, critics argue, has burdened the fantasy genre with a “Disneyland Middle Ages”. Martin is more meaningful because he is morally ambiguous.

Although he is an admirer of Tolkien, Martin notes that “the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling ugly guys, Good versus Evil … has become a kind of cartoon.” Fantasy doesn’t need any more Dark Lords or hideous enemies, because “in real life, the hardest aspect of the battle between good and evil is determining which is which”.

In this moral fog there is no room for nobility and beauty. “Of all the bright cruel lies they tell you, the crudest is the one called love”, Martin wrote in his 1976 short story “Meathouse”. But the “realist” fantasy is limited to the basest dimensions of human experience. It’s like reading a newspaper which only features articles about Ariel Castro the Cleveland rapist, al-Qaeda suicide bombers and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay. It is hard to imagine anyone wanting to live eternally in the brutal and sadistic Westeros. […]

Is Tolkien really less realistic, though?

Tolkien bridled at the idea that his Free Peoples were unequivocally good and flawless: “sloth and stupidity among hobbits, pride … among Elves, grudge and greed in Dwarf-hearts, and folly and wickedness among the ‘kings of men’, and treachery and power-lust even among the ‘wizards’”, as he pointed out.

Nor is victory ever certain. There is a haunting sadness in The Lord of the Rings, which with the fall of Beleriand in the Silmarillion, was misunderstood by critics as being defeatist. In fact, his work does features torture and the brutality, as well as hints of rape and slaughter, especially in his saga The Children of Húrin. I would argue that his depiction of evil ranks amongst the best in fantasy literature, even though it is understated. Buttering your evil with savagery and depravity does not necessarily make it more terrifying, or even more convincing. […]

All enduring literature is realistic, because it reflects the truth of the human condition for generation after generation. My hunch is that Tolkien, whatever the critics say, will still be sitting on the throne of fantasy in a hundred years’ time while George Martin will be dismissed as the practitioner of an early 21st Century fad for grimy pessimism.

So what do you think? Will Game of Thrones be remembered as brilliant fantasy breakthrough? Or will Tolkien remain as the rightful king?

Check out the full article here.


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