A Fantasy Review: From The Lord Of The Rings To A Game Of Thrones

I am currently 2/3 of the way through an epic re-watch of the Lord Of The Rings. My band of brothers and I have escaped from out of the very bowels of the Mines of Moria. We have stood, bloodied and yet unbowed, before the Uruk Hai at Helms Deep. We have risked the black fury of Barad Dur itself. And we have taken the hobbits to Isengard.

In case of my death, let it be remembered that with each and every waking breath, I worshipped the Lord Of The Rings, both the books and the films. Let it also be recorded that I loved Tolkien as if he were my own son.

That’s right – Tolkien’s world is so immersive, his characters so complete, and quite frankly his dialogue stirs my loins. The great man is surely the yardstick against which all writing, especially fantasy, must be measured. As one critic puts it, all fantasy writers subsequent to Tolkien must content themselves with shaping the world that he revealed. On a side note, Peter Jackson and co. deserve credit for recreating so spectacularly the monstrous saga on the big screen. Each film is a stunning spectacle, which is nothing less than Tolkien’s genius merits.

Yet in spite of my rather more than casual adoration for Tolkien, there is a crucial element to his work that I believe is sadly lacking. This element is tension. My only problem with The Lord Of The Rings is that the (main) characters are so cool that at no point do you worry about their safety. The one exception to this rule is Gandalf. Fair enough, when he dies you are all like ‘oh no!’ but his dramatic return, unexpected as it might be, only serves to reinforce the growing suspicion that Tolkien has constructed his characters so well that he will not be able to handle killing them off. Indeed, the only characters that do end up biting the dust are characters who have displayed some sort of boorish flaw – e.g. Boromir, the louty yet loveable Gondorian scamp, or Theodin, the feckless leader of a rabble of random horseman.

I have some sympathy for Tolkien here. In my first book I was an absolute mess when confronted with the fact that my favourite character simply had to die. It was only a whole day’s worth of writing under the influence of a firm hangover that allowed me to push through to the end of my story without him.

The unhappy consequence of Tolkien’s (and my own, apparently) unrivalled ability to construct a character is that his books take on the attitude of a carefree jaunt, when really they should be nothing of the sort. It simply isn’t that ‘life or death’ that Aragorn has been surrounded by his enemies, because you know he will be able to fight his way out of it; that’s just how much of a man he is.

Fortunately for those adrenaline junkies out there, modern fantasy definitely has a ruthless edge to it. I defy anybody to watch an episode of Game Of Thrones (for example) comfortably – i.e. without sobbing softly whilst snot drips down their face, having been thoroughly overcome by the whole excitement of it all.

I should confess right now that I have not read George R. R. Martin’s series ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ (on which the TV series of Game Of Thrones is based). I acknowledge that this is a gross omission for a man who professes to be a fantasy writer, but there we have it. What can men do, eh? To be honest it is probably a good thing I haven’t read it, because I would be a state.

Anyway, my point is this – Tolkien is a hero, of that there can be no doubt. Modern fantasy writers would do well to learn from him. Heck any writer would, (what is this whole disrespecting of the fantasy writer about anyway? Leave us simple folk alone, bra.) But if there is one thing that modern authors do have over their old mentor, it is the savage unpredictability of their plot lines. Some stuff is going down. There will be consequences.

If you haven’t been watching Game Of Thrones, by the way, then where have you been? Sort it out. Honestly.

On a final note, Theodin’s much pondered over question (see the top right of this fantastic post) was finally answered by my dear friend Roberto (like Mancini but more man and less cini) the other day. His response? ‘Little to nothing.’

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10 Comments

Filed under Rants, Raves & Reviews, Reviews

10 responses to “A Fantasy Review: From The Lord Of The Rings To A Game Of Thrones

  1. I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and read all of them. The movies were great as well. I have not checked out Game of Thrones, but will google it!
    So nice to see you have gone from posts about dead poets to warring creatures! Hahaha!

  2. Interesting. I never looked at LOTR that way. I must admit Tolkien got me with the fantastic world he created, and I never stopped at thinking about what I FELT for his characters. However, I do not quite agree with you. Tolkien did put Tension into his work, except it’s not tangible as fearing death or heartbreaking. The tension is more spiritual. The question is not if Aragorn will risk his life, but rather if he riskes his soul, his faith. At least that’s the way I see it. Indeed Peter Jackson made an awesome job, building action without killing the spirit behind the story.
    I am not sure how difficult it really is to build Fantasy characters. I don’t see them as so different as the guy in front of me in the train. The way I see it, our characters want the same as we do. They want to feel, to argue, to love; they seek physical and spiritual satisfaction, without having to work for it (much). Maybe in another world they eat and dress out of something inspired by some crazy dreams/nightmares and call each other funny names, but the essence of humanity is still the same. As long as you are dealing with humans. If not, well… It is up to you to invent his/she/it.
    By the way, I never saw the HBO series, though I’m planning to, one day. However, I bought “the Song of Ice and Fire”. The first 5 pages put me off, the next 5 hooked me for good. Funnily enough, the first are building up a world, the next five are building characters.

    • I think the difference between writing fantasy and non-fantasy characters is that when writing the latter one has more license to go mad. You never read a fantasy story about a punk who can’t hold a sword, for example, because that would be boring. They have to be insane. The problem then is that you want the baddies to be epic too. In fact you probably want them to be more epic, but in the end the good guys have to win. My issue is finding a way to let this happen without some sort of lame Harry Potter esque loop hole coming into play.

      On your point re. the LOTRs having spiritual tension – I have never thought of it like that, but I would maintain that, whilst the spiritual element is always at play, my point can be easily reapplied in so far as we do not need to worry whether or not Aragorn will succumb to the dark side and go on a ring fuelled rampage because we know he won’t. He is too much of a man.

  3. I never read the Lord of the Rings, but I loved the movies. I read G.RR Martins books (all and a half – I couldn’t finish the very last one; see my thoughts here http://reflectionsinapuddle.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/why-i-didnt-care-to-dance-with-dragons/) but I am not watching the Game of Thrones TV series. I love fantasy and hope I will find time to write my own books. What kind of fantasy do you write? Are your books available/published and where can I find them?

    • I have written one fantasy book about a family’s struggle against Religious tyranny and oppression. It is set in a world where the Church rules supreme. Basically about boys with swords. Love it.

      I’ve also written a short introduction to a longer piece, which is your standard modern fantasy romp.

      Neither of these have been published, yet. I will be sure to let you know when they are!

  4. Pingback: Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin : Review « The Arched Doorway

  5. nofosu

    Very nice read. I have been watching game of Thrones myself love it. And you are right, there is a lot of tension in there and you literally care about the safety of all your favorite characters.

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