‘A Game of Thrones’ vs. ‘The Lord of the Rings’

It took me a long time to get to it, but I finally read A Game of Thrones after commenters here recommended it.

The first volume of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” epic fantasy series clocks in at nearly 700 large-size, small-print pages. I almost abandoned the novel after a few chapters, because the author kept jumping to so many different characters that it was hard to get absorbed. But I finally did, and found the book really compelling from then on.

Rather than write a straightforward review of A Game of Thrones — which, along with its sequels, inspired the hit TV series — I thought I’d compare it to the other epic fantasy tour de force read by many people (like me) who usually don’t read fantasy. I’m of course referring to J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings, and its prequel The Hobbit.

Overall, Tolkien’s wonderful classic is more of a page-turner — the storytelling is mostly linear, and the quest to destroy that titular ring is riveting. Martin’s most noticeable plot line — various families striving for power — is also exciting but a bit more diffuse. Yet A Game of Thrones (I haven’t read the sequels) surpasses The Lord of the Rings in certain ways.

Both epics have great writing, memorable characters, and excellent humor (though Tolkien is somewhat funnier — at least in The Hobbit). Each also features all kinds of death and war, but Martin’s depiction of violence is much more graphic and realistic. Perhaps partly a product of our current time.

Martin expertly juggles a somewhat larger cast of principal players, and, to his credit, has far more female protagonists in major roles. That might also be partly a product of a later era, but, heck, plenty of novels in Tolkien’s heyday had prominent female characters.

Perhaps most importantly, Martin’s characters are more three-dimensional than the vast majority of those in Tolkien’s cast. Few of the Game of Thrones denizens are all good or all bad — and that kind of moral ambiguity makes things very interesting.

Another interesting difference between the Martin and Tolkien works is that A Game of Thrones is mostly populated by humans, while The Lord of the Rings features a variety of bipeds: humans, hobbits, wizards, elves, orcs, etc.

Also, both series are set in long-ago, pre-modern-technology times. Martin does a better job of depicting the squalor and difficulties of living in such an era; things are more sanitized in The Lord of the Rings.

Will I read more of “A Song of Ice and Fire”? Not sure. A Game of Thrones was a large investment of time (about two weeks), and I’m not a fantasy buff. But I might. The novel ended on a very intriguing note, and I’m curious about what will happen to such characters as Daenerys Targaryen, the timid teen girl who turns into a ruthless dynamo; Arya Stark, the resourceful “tomboy”; Jon Snow, the outcast “bastard” son who makes something of his life; Joffrey Baratheon, the appalling young prince-turned-king; and Tyrion Lannister, the witty/crafty dwarf with perhaps the biggest personality in the book. (Tyrion, as played by Peter Dinklage in the HBO series, is pictured above.)

If you’ve read them, any thoughts on George R.R. Martin’s and J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous creations? (For those counting, that’s four “R” initials you just saw. 🙂 ) What other fantasy works have you enjoyed?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about climate change, a Board of Education resignation, and a school stairway collapse — is here.

Different Approaches to Reading Sequels

When we finish a great novel that’s part of a series or has sequels, it’s a wonderful feeling to know there’s more to come. But how to go about it? Do we focus on those books for weeks or months on end, ignoring the work of other authors? Or do we read the next installments sporadically over a longer period of time while mixing in different writers?

There’s no right answer, of course — it’s whatever the individual reader prefers. And if the next installment hasn’t been written/published yet, obviously fiction fans will read other authors as they eagerly await a serial saga’s continuation.

The pros and cons of each approach? If one reads a series or sequels while ignoring novels by different writers, one can achieve wonderful immersion and momentum, really get to know the characters, more easily remember foreshadowing from previous books, and pick up other kinds of nuances. On the negative side, a bit of sameness can set in. And think of all the literary variety temporarily being missed!

My most memorable experience with both approaches involved J.K. Rowling’s stellar Harry Potter series. Starting in the late 1990s, I waited each year or so for the next installment. A painful wait, but there were plenty of months to read other authors. Then, several years after the seventh and last of the Potter novels was published, I went back and reread them one after another — with no non-Potter book in between. It was a terrific experience, partly for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I also consecutively read James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels (The Last of the Mohicans, etc.). I don’t care that Mark Twain hated those books; I liked them a lot.

And of course when you have a compelling trilogy, you might as well read all three books in a row — as I did with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and its two sequels, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (For me, there was a gap between reading Tolkien’s trilogy and an earlier reading of The Hobbit prequel.)

Recently, it was Martin Cruz Smith’s work that had me wrestling with how to go about reading sequels. I liked his Gorky Park so much last month that I quickly borrowed the first two sequels from the library. Polar Star (claustrophobically set on a fishing ship) was almost as good, as was Red Square. But I did manage to squeeze another author’s book — Philippa Gregory’s very good historical novel Earthly Joys — between Gorky Park and Polar Star. Which made me want to read the Earthly Joys sequel Virgin Earth. 🙂 But when I visited my local library this past Friday, Virgin Earth wasn’t there, so I borrowed the five other Gorky Park sequels! (Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, and Tatiana.)

Other times, months or even years go by before I get to the next installment. That was the case with John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday.

Or it can be a little of both approaches. For instance, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and its first three sequels consecutively, and then later got back to the other sequels.

There’s also the case of reading some sequels but not all of them. I enjoyed Walter Mosley’s first two Easy Rawlins mysteries and Sue Grafton’s first four Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries, but not quite enough to immediately continue with more. But I might get back to them!

And how about reading a series mostly out of order? I’ve done that with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, partly because some of the books were at my local library only some of the time.

How do you read series and sequels?

Because of some travel, I will not be posting columns March 25 and April 1. I look forward to returning with a new piece on April 8! I’ll still respond when I can to any comments under already-published columns.

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about topics such as a mayor’s interference in the search for a schools superintendent — is here.