Note: Here be spoilers! If you haven't absorbed the first season/book of Game of Thrones, you might want to consider waiting on this. If you don't care, read on.
If you're an unabashed fantasy fan like me, you've probably seen the first season of George RR Martin's celebrated Game of Thrones series, and you might have gone through every juicy adjective of the novels that inspired the hit show. The series, like almost all modern fantasy, was heavily inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels. Other than the two Rs in each author's name, each series shares political scheming, heroes with facial hair, and really cool battle sequences. They differ, however, in the amount of fantasy they throw at the reader.
LotR is a high fantasy series. It has dwarves, elves, and all sorts of namby-pamby stuff that got me beat up in high school. GoT, like LotR's rebellious kid, is low fantasy, which means the Dungeons and Dragons stuff is tempered by a more human-centric plot.
Here are five reasons why it's more fun than Lord of the Rings.
5. Thrones has more things along the way.
Lord of the Rings is an epic. Bearded, powerful heroes go on a quest to do a thing, and the result of their quest is that the thing is done.
Other things happen along the way, but the series culminates in the validation of the aforementioned thing finally happening.
Game of Thrones bases itself more around the context of its characters. They're going out to do a thing, yeah, but there's also a chance that something very awful will happen to them before the thing gets done.
Martin also promises big things, but the beauty is in the minutia. Every character has a point A to point B, but unlike the LotR series, getting there is exciting.
4. You Don't Have to Fall in Love with the Thrones Characters.
Aragorn is the good guy in the LotR series. He is nice, strong, and totally kisses the elf babe. (Spoiler alert: at the end of Tolkien's series he becomes the true king and has a great life.)
The closest thing to Aragorn in Thrones dies in Martin's first book. Four novels later, the characters I once hated are dear to my heart. So dear, in fact, that one of the more recent novels is almost exclusively dedicated to the depraved brother and sister that fans love to hate. Rather than just simply marking a Sauron archetype with the bad guy check-mark, Martin challenges his readers to decide who they root for.
3. Thrones will always have societal context.
Lord of the Rings is a historical novel. Its plot was grounded around the strict lines of good and evil that surrounded the first and second world wars, and it's been explained as a grand homage to classic English fables. Game of Thrones cherrypicks typical fantasy fare and wraps it in a conflict that is exclusively human. The end result is a novel with wide appeal, as entrance into its world needs no historical context.
To really appreciate Lord of the Rings, readers need to understand what longhouses are. No one except viking fetishists, history teachers, and Skyrim fans know what longhouses are.
Game of Thrones has kings and stuff, yeah, but the grand scale of an epic fantasy is tempered by humanistic themes that don't leave readers searching for historical references.
2. Thrones is written like a movie (and a much better one than LoTR)
In terms of commercial fiction, readers can't really do better than Martin's baby. The first book/season of the HBO series sets up its first couple of character arcs by gathering the series' main cast in Winterfell, a place of stoicism and weird druidic religions.
Much like every good HBO show, Martin manages to make hours of character development interesting through not-too-trying-hard descriptions and providing readers just enough narrative peaks to keep them from considering suicide.
The only thing I remember from Fellowship of the Ring
1. Game of Thrones is totally, like, edgy
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I'm sorry, but here it is: Gross stuff makes me keep reading. I ate up Silence of the Lambs, and Anne Rice used to be pretty cool until she went the evangelical Christian route. I'm not sure if it's the stink of pop-culture overload that permeates throughout my generation or simple this-guy's-brain-is-gross curiosity, but weird stuff keeps me reading. Martin keeps it real with ice zombies, incest babies, a horde of angry snow-libertarians, and the occasional dragon miscarriage. Packaging all of that gross stuff that I love in the middle of a compelling, epic narrative? Sign me up. Forever.
The spider was gross in Lord of the Rings. I don't really remember the book-spider, but the movie-spider was pretty gross. That's about it in terms of mainstream hooks. I suppose one could argue that the beauty of Tolkien's series is its complete self-reliance. One could say that my plebeian enjoyment of mass-marketed commercial fiction betrays something that would make a philosopher cry. Or you, like me, just want to know what the heck is going to happen after Eddard gets his head lopped off.