Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Absolute Master of Fantasy Literature

If you thought I was going to say J.R.R. Tolkien, you are mistaken my friend. That's probably because you have never encountered George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice & Fire" series.

So what makes this product superior to the offerings of the godfather (yeah, Tolkien) of the fantasy genre? And why moreso than any other writer between then and now? This is because GRRM hasn't encountered a genre stereotype or feature element which he hasn't deconstructed and/or obliterated. Now I'm going to try to explain this without giving away plot elements- so cut me some slack. For example, the righteous, selfless heroes are slaughtered left-and-right, without mercy to the reader who has instilled so much hope on the heroes ultimate (but not) forthcoming triumph against the insurmountable odds. The evil characters nearly always suceed in their schemings and mechanations. Magic is rare, and questionable how effective it is. And by the time you finish the third book, you're not even sure who the evil characters are!

And how is that? This is mainly because books' chapters are written from the point of view of varying characters and to great effect. What appears to be a plotting, murderous woman can be re-examined as a mother's desperate attempt to secure her children's welfare - or vice versa. A child with seemingly good intentions is re-examined as a insolent brat. And this goes back and forth, with most of the characters. This great hobnob of "gray areas" is in stark contrast (pun intended) to the plain ole' good-versus-evil, black and white, fantasy epic.

So how is this better than JRRT? When you finish reading those first three books you will realize why. If GRRM wrote the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I'm pretty sure the entire fellowship except for Boromir would have died before the end of book two, Gandalf would die and stay dead, Boromir the token-tragic-hero-who-reforms-his-ways would have lived to take over Gondor, although one which is just a smoking mountaintop. Eowyn would have been beaten mercilessly until she withered into a husk of rotten skin and bones. Wormtongue would be sitting on a chair made of Aragon & Legolas's skin. Saruman would be helping old women cross the road, while Sauron would be a misunderstood and unhappy demigod with the intelligence of a young child. Last but not least, Gollum would be the recipient of a MTV award (oh wait he was!)

If I were to recommend one fantasy series ever, this would be it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe Gandalf, Aragorn, and Legolas would have died miserable deaths if Martin had written it, but so what? Your remarks slyly imply this would make the novels much better without explaining why. If I had to guess, it sounds like you want more "realism", where by realism you mean no blacks and whites, only shades of grey (and presumably lots of murder). Well, newsflash: Tolkien wrote a story about a Satan-archtype who wants to conquer the world with his army of subhuman beasts. The story, in some sense, is *about* those "blacks and whites". Martin and Tolkien are simply writing different types of stories, one more like Beowulf and the other more like a history of the War of the Roses.

Martin is a good (notice I didn't say "great") writer, whereas Tolkien's mastery of elegant language, his skillful portrayal of friendship and loyalty in the face of overwhelming evil, and his imaginative and fantastic characters mark him as the best fantasy author of the 20th century. Martin, at best, comes in a distant second.