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Tolkien vs. GRRM: A Battle of Complex Characters


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Sure.  I can find no fault with that review.




It still doesn't address the fact that the current generation needs everything to be spelled out for them as opposed to leaving some things open to the reader's imagination.

And as a counterpoint I would offer that I find Martin to easily match and even upstage Tolkien when it comes to subtlety. And I'll add that, subjectively, I usually find Tolkien more enjoyable than Martin, so this is not me in full fanboy mode coming to GRRM's defense. Let me put it like this:

  • Plot: Martin wins. His stories are much more intricate and organic.
  • Setting: Tolkien wins, hands down.
  • Characters: Martin wins. His characters are more varied, more complex and relatable.
  • Theme: Tie. Both their works are thematically resonant in equal parts.
  • Narration: I think there are better storytellers than either of them out there, but Martin takes the cake because of the use of PoV and more naturalistic representation.

Tolkien suffers as a writer because of a somewhat subjective issue: he wrote his stories trying to imitate an ancient epic. He did this masterfully, but as a result his writing feels archaic and outdated. Hence the mostly simple plots, one-dimensional characters, and clunky narration.

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Great post Mithras. I think the characters produced by each author are equally complex (that is, the most complex are equally complex) but there are significant differences in the amount of detail that we are provided and in the narrative style, both of which seem to be influencing views on this thread as to complexity. I would suggest that there is much more to Tolkein's characters than we are given in terms of words on the page. I think it would be very interesting (and yet potentially horrifying) to see what each author would have produced using the other's word count and structure but the same events and characters.
I think that what people in-world expect of certain characters and the pressure and expectation of those people is something characters created by both authors struggle with and that is where a lot of complexity comes from. Samwise is a complex character, whose relationship with the other hobbits and his father could yield a Samwell or Davos type story; Faramir - if given the word count of Jamie, Brienne or Tyrion - should be seen as equally complex, again looking at what is expected of all those characters. Eowyn and Arya's characters are also quite similar and similarly complicated - and I could go on but appreciate that long posts can be tedious.
There are external forces in Tolkein's work that aren't as present in George's (focusing here on the big sagas) but I think it is clear in Tolkein that those external forces (the Ring, Saruman/Wormtongue over Theoden, manipulation of palantir) play on the fears and personality traits of the characters themselves. George would spend thousands of words setting up what they are, while Tolkein merely hints at them.
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