How George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones Was Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien

George R.R. Martin, the author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books that served as the basis for the hit TV series Game of Thrones, has openly acknowledged his debt to J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. While Martin draws inspiration from Tolkien’s work, he also explores new directions and asks different questions in his storytelling. This article will examine the influence of Tolkien on Martin’s work and highlight the areas where Game of Thrones diverges from Tolkien’s themes and narrative style.

Martin’s Admiration for Tolkien

George R.R. Martin has expressed his deep admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien and his seminal work, The Lord of the Rings. Like many other fantasy authors, Martin acknowledges the significant influence Tolkien has had on the genre. He often speaks about Tolkien’s brilliance in creating a rich and immersive world and recognizes the debt that he and other fantasy authors owe to him. Martin has openly praised Tolkien’s storytelling and world-building skills, underscoring the impact they have had on his own work.

Divergence from Tolkien’s Approach

Despite his admiration for Tolkien, Martin has also pointed out the differences in their writing styles and the questions he likes to explore. In interviews, he has discussed his curiosity about the aftermath and consequences of the events in Tolkien’s stories. Martin questions the practicalities of ruling and governance in Tolkien’s world. He wonders about issues such as tax policies and the fate of the Orcs after the war. Martin’s approach to storytelling aims to reflect the complexities of real history rather than presenting a simple, happily-ever-after narrative. He seeks to delve into the intricacies and consequences of political power and warfare, challenging traditional fantasy tropes.

Elements of Tolkien in Martin’s Stories

While Martin’s world of Westeros and Essos is distinct from Tolkien’s Middle-earth, there are recurring themes and narrative structures that draw upon Tolkien’s influence. Martin’s initial plot development in A Game of Thrones follows a template similar to Tolkien’s approach in The Lord of the Rings. Both stories start with characters gathered in a central location before being dispersed across a vast, invented world. This structure allows for the exploration of diverse settings and storylines.

Both Tolkien and Martin also tackle the theme of war and its traumatic impact on characters. Tolkien, drawing from his own experiences in World War I, and Martin, from his conscientious objector stance during the Vietnam War, write about the horrors of war and its lasting effects. Frodo’s trauma and the emotional struggles of Martin’s characters, such as Theon and Arya, demonstrate the long-lasting psychological impact of conflict.

Unexpected Themes and Comparisons

Surprisingly, themes of incest, a recurring element in Martin’s books, can also be found in Tolkien’s works. Tolkien’s story of Túrin Turambar includes an accidental marriage between siblings, similar to the accidental incestuous relationships depicted in Martin’s novels. However, both authors draw inspiration from medieval legends and mythological characters rather than directly influencing each other.

The Return of the Kings

Another significant similarity between Tolkien and Martin’s works is the theme of a returning monarch. Martin, despite questioning the idea of a “rightful” king, incorporates a classic fantasy trope of a hidden heir who plays a pivotal role in protecting the land from a greater threat. This narrative echoes Tolkien’s story of Aragorn, the rightful king of Gondor, and his quest to reclaim the throne.

In Martin’s books, characters like Jon Snow embody the traditional hero’s journey, intertwining elements of history, legend, and mythology. Beneath the layers of political intrigue and violence, Martin weaves a story of a returning monarch who strives to safeguard thekingdom from a looming threat, similar to Tolkien’s portrayal of Aragorn. While Martin introduces complexities and challenges the concept of a “rightful” king, the underlying theme of a hidden ruler fighting against a greater evil is reminiscent of Tolkien’s storytelling.

In conclusion, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series undoubtedly bears the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. Martin’s admiration for Tolkien’s world-building and storytelling is evident, and he acknowledges the impact Tolkien has had on the fantasy genre. However, Martin also explores new directions, asking different questions and delving into the consequences and complexities of power and warfare. While drawing inspiration from Tolkien, Martin crafts his own unique narrative, weaving together themes of war, trauma, hidden monarchs, and political intrigue in the sprawling world of Westeros.

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Stevie Flavio
Film Writer


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