I was a Game of Thrones skeptic. When I heard George R.R. Martin described as an “American Tolkien”, I scoffed. This struck me as heresy. Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books of all time. How could some contemporary American author match the artistry of the Oxford-educated Tolkien, a master of linguistics, a scarred veteran of World War I and a brilliant stylist?
And the HBO series didn’t help. While I still haven’t seen it (I don’t have the cable channel), the swords and sorcery epic seemed more about sexposition than anything else.
Seeing all the Game of Thrones books in the book store, so many of them and with tiny print on cheap pages, made me recoil. The books looked too long and too pulpy.
What changed my mind? Reading the first book – A Game of Thrones.
While I don’t think he’s an American Tolkien, he’s a good storyteller, capable of propelling a plot over thousands of pages. So many characters – it really changed my mind about how much readers can absorb and remember. The first fantasy novel I’ve picked up in a couple of decades, A Game of Thrones is good, dirty fun, filled with sex and violence of all kinds.
What makes his authorial vision unique:
Amorality – There’s no divinity guiding the characters, no Valar or Gandalf pushing the world toward good. No selfless men like Aragorn. The characters in Game of Thrones are just like us, with our desires for sex and violence. People who are too noble end up being killed while the most intriguing characters (Tyrion) are a mix of good and bad.
Plotting – Martin should write a book on plot. The action starts immediately, from the first page. Characters are placed in real peril and forced to make life and death decisions. There are consequences to what they do – nothing can be undone. Rarely do white knights arrive to rescue people and, if they do, it usually leads to greater peril. Martin cleverly alternates perspectives, challenging readers to keep pace with his breakneck story.
Game of Thrones is a tale for our times, for the readers of today. I wouldn’t call George R. R. Martin an American Tolkien. I’d call him a modern one.