George R.R. Martin discusses Lord of the Rings on PBS


It is a truth universally acknowledged that A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin really, really, really likes J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He’s talked about it a lot, and for good reason: it’s a towering achievement in fantasy literature unequaled in influence by anything else in the genre, with the possible exception of Martin’s own ongoing saga, but it’s a little too early to call that one.

Martin details the many ways Tolkien’s work has influenced his won in a segment of The Great American Read, a PBS series about trying to find America’s most beloved novel. (That’s the novel most beloved by Americans, not the most beloved novel by an American author, FYI.) There are 100 novels in the running, including Martin’s own A Game of Thrones. (You can vote on your favorite now!)

I love how enthusiastic Martin gets when recalling the first time to cracked up The Lord of the Rings as a teenager in New Jersey. “You know, it opens, like, with a dissertation on pipe weed. Then there’s a birthday party. I’m saying, ‘Where are the giant snakes? Where are the scantily clad women? There’s no swordfights here! What’s going on?’” But by the time the Fellowship of the Ring reached the Mines of Moria, Martin had “decided this was the greatest book I’d that ever read.” And it just got more wild from there:

And then Gandalf dies! I can’t explain the impact that had on me at 13. You can’t kill Gandalf…Tolkien just broke that rule, and I’ll love him forever for it. Cause the minute you kill Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is 1000 times greater, cause now, anybody could die. Of course, it’s had a profound effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat.

Between the deaths of Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark, Tywin Lannister, Jon Snow and many others, Martin definitely took this lesson to heart. In fact, he absorbed it so thoroughly that he was upset when Gandalf came back in The Two Towers. C’mon, Tolkien: commit.

The willingness to kill characters (for a while) is far from the only way LotR influenced ASOIAF. “Tolkien approached this thing as if he was writing history,” Martin says. “Entire stories in a footnote. That grounded this in reality so much.” So we have Tolkien to thank for Martin’s incredibly detailed world-building.

But according to Martin, Tolkien’s greatest accomplishment were the characters he created, many of whom struggled with the temptation represented by the power of the One Ring. “They’re all fighting these battles inside their hearts.” That tracks with something Martin told The Atlantic back in 2011 about his writing philosophy:

I’ve always agreed with William Faulkner—he said that the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about. I’ve always taken that as my guiding principle, and the rest is just set dressing.

We see this idea all over A Song of Ice and Fire, whether we’re talking about Jaime’s struggle to reconcile his reputation with his honor, Daenerys’ attempt to balance her desire to do good with the realities of being a conqueror, and many, many other rich, complicated stories. The characters’ internal conflicts are the beating heart of Martin’s story, and that can be traced back to Tolkien’s influence.

Eventually, PBS will have a different author talk about A Game of Thrones, although we’re not sure who yet; nobody is talking about their own work, which is a solid idea. Martin is just happy his book is on the same list as The Lord of the Rings:

I’m thrilled that A Game of Thrones is on the list. What I wanted to do was take certain…traditions of fantasy but meld to it a level of grittiness and realism. Your books, your stories, should reflect what you see in the real world around you. Even a fantasy that has dragons should reflect the truth.

The next episode of The Great American Read airs on September 11. You can vote on your favorite book from the 100-strong list here. The winner will be revealed during the finale on October 23!

Next: HBO celebrates Emmy nominations with marathons of Game of Thrones season 7, other shows

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Dan Selcke , 2018-08-10 18:01:18

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