Resolved: LOTR More Realistic Than GOT

 

This post contains some spoiler from the finale of Game of Thrones and assumes some knowledge on the part of the reader of Games of Thrones and Lord of the Rings

Dany and Drogon

When talking about fantasy series it is a hard thing to talk about which was more realistic. There are a lot of ways to take the “realism” of a fantasy series, having admitted that let us look at the ways that Games of Thrones (GOT) is often said to be more realistic than Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and see which is actually more realistic.

In what follows I will be, mostly, avoiding the Mythic elements in both GOT and LOTR. Since this is a discussion of “realism” the fact that LOTR’s mythic elements are far more consistent and thematic than GOT mishmash of magic, religion, and prophecy doesn’t really come into this discussion. It seems obvious that the authors took radically different approaches to the Mythic in their stories with Tolkien developing a detailed idea of the origins and uses of magic and then applying those rules to the world while Martin seems to take the view that he could just put in what was cool or he thought he needed for his story. At the same time, I won’t get into some of the nits that one can pick about Tolkien’s incredibly fanciful mountain ranges or what it would mean for a world to have 15 “years” of Summer or Winter and what a mess that would be for human life. On most issues like this, I will give both GOT and LOTR a pass. So what criteria are we using to judge?

The arguments I hear the most about GOT being more realistic then LOTR is that GOT draws out a more nuanced portrait of human motivations, actions, and sins while LOTR’s characters are more idealized and in the world of politics LOTR is a fully idealized fantasy and GOT is very nuanced because it is based on the War of the Roses. These are the criteria we will use.

Love, Women, and Sex

Eowyn of Rohan

One of the strongest cases for GOT being realistic is the story’s portrayal of sex as both a human motivation and a major plot motivator for the main characters. Events in the story are killed off by the murder of Jon Arryn and Bran being pushed from the tower to cover up brother-sister incest. Relationships with women drive much of Tyrion’s motivations throughout the story and Cersi’s abusive marriage and forbidden love of her brother emotionally and mentally handicaps her making her into the incompetent villain in the books and brilliant, murderous villain of the show. There is plenty of sex in the show and the books meant only to titillate and entertain but Martin acknowledges in ways that Tolkien does not how sex, love and lust drives the decisions of the characters in the way that shape the lives of millions. This seems of a point in GOT’s favor that there is fuller portrait of human motivations but then again not so fast.

The nature of Tolkien’s tale is not to look into the dynamics of dynastic politics and forbidden loves. Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn. It is true that Tolkien had a thing for bachelors. Bilbo never marries and adopts an orphan nephew, we know quite a bit about the Gaffer but nothing about Sam’s mother. Frodo’s friends are all bachelors, Gandalf has no known relationships with women, Aragorn and Arwen relationship is very much in the background, Elrond’s wife is dead. It is hard to name any character’s mother that we know is alive in Tolkien’s tale. It is not going too far to point out that Tolkien seems to try and avoid writing about too many women in his story and he streamlined his tale in a way that left some important women on the sidelines of the story.

Tolkien does, however, explore complicated love relationships and how love and duty can be in tension and lead to tragedy as it does with Eowyn and he also explores complicated family relationships with the Stewards of Gondor and how Aragorn has to deal with the tension of his desire and duty in reclaiming his Throne. More importantly though Tolkien’s tale takes place over the course of almost two years, no children are growing up and training to be assassins in Tolkien, and he is telling a tale of a quest undertaken by men and war fought by men there is a not a lot of room in that tale for the role of women behind the scenes. It might have been interesting to see the Prince of Dol Amroth saying farewell to his wife and mother to fight in Gondor and then seeing these two heroic women plot and scheme to protect the city from the Corsairs of Umbar. But did we need to see that? Would that have added to the tale being told by Tolkien? Martin in GOT indulged a ton of background information and needless personal background information that did nothing to move the plot along. Tolkien’s tale is more streamlined but I don’t think it less realistic because of it. Martin at one point devotes many pages to establishing characters around Cersei just to give us an encounter where Cersi wants to “take” another Noblewoman “like a man” to know what “Robert must have felt…”. Is that actually more realistic or just a lot of wasted time?

Realpolitik

Varys master of whispers

Let’s move on into the GOT strength politics. Now GOT has a much more complicated set of politics than LOTR because Martin is exploring gigantic realms and cultures across many years of time and he is not streamlining his tale at all while Tolkien obviously did. For instance, would have it been interesting to see the debates at Dale and the Lonely Mountain about fighting the Dark Lord or making peace with him? Would I have been glad for a rousing speech from Dain about doing the right thing and keeping faith with their friends? Sure! Did we need that in the story though? The politics of Rohan, and Saruman’s subtle undermining of that Kingdom and the way that Aragorn cared about his legitimacy in taking his throne was very realistic. Look at how methodical Aragon was in establishing a legitimate rule: freed Rohan to come to Gondor’s aid by fighting for them at Helm’s Deep and then smashed a centuries-old enemy, the Corsairs, in battle and then brought all the armies of Gondor to help the besieged capital. After the battle, he healed the wounded in ways unknown to the healers of Gondor. He did not simply claim the throne by legal right but built a legitimate claim to the throne, methodically. Some of the would-be kings in GOT should have taken notes.

In GOT we have a veneer of sophisticated politics but it breaks down under the lightest scrutiny. Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark are all supposed to be highly accomplished soldiers who have won at least two major wars. Yet none of them thought to secure the military in and around Kings Landing? The Gold Cloaks were left up for grabs, the Lannisters were allowed to build a military presence but where were the men of the Vale loyal to Arryn? Where were guards loyal to Robert? Why wasn’t Ned told to bring more loyal soldiers with him? There were no veterans of Robert’s wars that all three men trusted to lead the Gold Cloaks? That alone is practically unbelievable and why were people afraid of Robert finding out that his sons and daughter were not his own? He had no power in his own city. He could call power to him from far away but by the time it got there, he would already be dead. Robert could have survived the boar, found out about his wife’s incest and ordered her arrest and it would have gone down no differently than Ned ordering the arrest.

That part of the story was not very well plotted at all. Martin led us to believe Robert, Ned and Jon are competent and won wars but they turn out to be fools that don’t know the very basics of security. Either winning those wars was blind luck or all three men had become senile. Also, what is the source of Tywin’s power? Tywin is a ruthless tyrant, who is effective and feared but he also moved tens of thousands of men to die for him and we are never given a reason why. Men like Tywin can build loyal followings based on success and money. Tywin having a very effective army makes sense but why are the people of Casterly Rock behind him? He doesn’t care about them and they know that. Once Robb has killed about 50,000 Lannisters and Tywin is losing where is he finding more men? People don’t like dying for a ruthless tyrant that only cares about the glory of his own family. The men he sends to recruit just won’t find men willing to join the Lannister army after so many disasters. Why does it matter to the small farmer, poor knight or common peasant who sits in Casterly Rock? This lock the Lannisters have on their home and the enormous manpower it gives them is never explained or explored because it is unrealistic. Realism would have been to contrast how the entire North mobilizes to follow the Starks, who obviously care about their realm and how the Lannisters have to buy their armies. The contrast would have been the strange loyalty of Stark’s men and the mercenary nature of the Lannister forces. Instead, people betray the Starks and all the Lannister men stay loyal. That is is not realistic.

Now Robb dying because he chose love over political expediency during the war is realistic but at the same time having that decision go so deeply wrong was not all that realistic. The Frey’s could have negotiated for nearly any deal at that point from a proven winner in Robb and most families would have done that. Frey, instead of taking that deal from Robb and retaining his honor and gaining more good will, plots with Tywin and makes his family the most hated and reviled family in the Seven Kingdoms. From a valued ally he moved his family to an object of hate to thousands of people wishing nothing more than to kill them. Tywin is smart in this scenario because he takes an obvious opportunity to help himself but the Frey’s were pretty stupid, how could any of them think they would end up ok after such a terrible, public and infamous betrayal?

As for Tywin and the Frey’s Tolkien has plenty of men out for themselves, blinded by their own ambition and tricked by promises for the power they never should have believed. I don’t see how GOT is more realistic then LOTR, longer and more detailed perhaps, but not more realistic.

EVIL

eye of Sauron

Both LOTR and GOT have outright evil in their stories that are very black and purely evil. GOT has the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead which so far as we know is an out of control doomsday weapon meant to wipe out all mankind. Their desire for genocide, in so far as it is a desire, makes them evil but we can’t even be sure the White Walkers have any more agency than a Nuclear bomb has. They are just an army of rolling death and I am not sure if they even want anything. So the White Walkers might not even be evil in any true sense of the word and might only be a threat to our survival like a weapon or giant tidal wave. Evil instead is found only in the hearts of men there is no reason given for that, no fall, no sin or temptation. It is just the way we are. We are not sure what any of the religions offer to cure that evil just that at least some of them ask men and women to be better and act in kindness but we don’t know why. There is a resurrection in GOT but there is no transformation, resurrection makes you less than you in most cases and in the best case keeps you exactly the same. The Lord of Light seems to have compelled Beric Dondarrion to sacrifice his life to resurrect Caitlyn Stark but she turned into a monstrous force of Vengeance and that makes me wonder if he is “good” himself. It does not take a lot of talent to say that many people are stupid and evil and just leave it at that.

In LOTR we have a much more subtle form of evil Sauron, tricks, betrays and beguiles. He makes men, Elves and Dwarves of goodwill distrust each other can make even the Wise fall like Saruman who is a Maia like Sauron himself. Even in places like Lothlorien, only the Lady Galadriel understands fully that the company is good and all the members of the company come against Sauron. Even her husband and many of the Elves of Lothlorien don’t want to accept Gimli or fear the coming of Frodo. Betrayal is at the heart of the tale of men in the Third Age and Aragorn does not know if he can even overcome that in himself and even his efforts to save Gondor are nearly undone by the betrayal of Denethor one of the greatest men of his generation and yet susceptible to the whispering, temptation of Sauron. In LOTR Sauron uses terror but only when his more subtle methods fail. Evil when it uses terror is at its weakest since it rallies people to oppose that terror. When it attacks us at our core and makes us betray those whom we should respect or protect that is when evil is at its strongest. LOTR has a more realistic and subtle portrayal of evil then does GOT.

One Ring or Dragon to Rule Them All

All Shall Love me and Despair

Which brings us to the end of the show. Here Daenerys essentially fully succumbs to the power of the Ring in the form of her dragons. From the beginning, Daenerys calls the Dragons her children and she takes care of them and protects them. Then she turns them into instruments of her will, to gain material power in the world. After she turns them to instruments of her will she pays any price to keep them even if it costs the lives of innocent children and when people try to take them from her she becomes consumed with rage. After losing one dragon to Cersei Daenerys attempts to kill a million people in payment for that crime and succeeds in killing many of them. She does this for good reasons of course and when she first uses her power this way she certainly is killing evil men. Which sounds a lot like this:

Fellowship of the Ring: Frodo has offered the Ring to Galadriel:

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lighting! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! She was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test,” she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

It is hard to say that GOT is more realistic than LOTR when it borrows so strongly from LOTR. But my final point for why LOTR is more realistic then GOT is that Daenerys never knew there was a test and Jon did not know why it was right to stop Daenerys before more people died. Martin managed to depict evil but he never really got around to showing us well; something that Tolkien did very well. When you can only show evil and you can’t really explain the good you lose any right to be called more realistic than a story that shows both in full.

What do you all think?

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There are 76 comments.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member

    Brian Wolf:

    Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn.

    Male-female monogamous marriage with babies has a big effect on the world.

    That’s realistic enough.

    • #1
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Saint Augustine Member

    Brian Wolf:

    Look at how methodical Aragon was in establishing legitimate rule: freed Rohan to come to Gondor’s aid by fighting for them at Helm’s Deep and then smashed a centuries old enemy, the Corsairs, in battle and then brought all the armies of Gondor to help the besieged capital. After the battle he healed the wounded in ways unknown to the healers of Gondor. He did not simply claim the throne by legal right but built a legitimate claim to the throne, methodically.

    Magnificent observation. There should be a scholarly article about this. But, as I always say, a Ricochet Main Feed promotion is even better.

    • #2
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf:

    Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn.

    Male-female monogamous marriage with babies has a big effect on the world.

    That’s realistic enough.

    Right on! Again saying that lust drives some decisions is not insight full it is something well known. Saying Tolkien was unrealistic because of not mentioning that would be like saying because a story does not have an at of petty theft in it does not deal with human greed. Tolkien does not have to address every issue under the sun to be realistic.

    • #3
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:08 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf:

    Look at how methodical Aragon was in establishing legitimate rule: freed Rohan to come to Gondor’s aid by fighting for them at Helm’s Deep and then smashed a centuries old enemy, the Corsairs, in battle and then brought all the armies of Gondor to help the besieged capital. After the battle he healed the wounded in ways unknown to the healers of Gondor. He did not simply claim the throne by legal right but built a legitimate claim to the throne, methodically.

    Magnificent observation. There should be a scholarly article about this. But, as I always say, a Ricochet Main Feed promotion is even better.

    I often wondered why those deliberate acts of Aragon are ignored or just passed over. There was very good reason why no one resisted his claim and it was not because Tolkien’s moral universe was simplistic. Also I think Aragon had this in mind at the very beginning of the Quest, for as they prepared to leave Rivendell he was in prayer. Knee bent head bowed preparing himself for his great task.

    • #4
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Saint Augustine Member

    Brian Wolf:

    What do you all think?

    I think the first time I ever encountered a preference for the alleged realism in GOT was at NationalReview.com, and the general idea was that Oscar Wilde’s Miss Prism was largely correct:

    The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

    In other words, Socrates’ approach in Republic of favoring fiction that shows how virtue contributes to happiness is, however edifying, a recipe for unrealistic fiction: In real life, the good suffer plenty and the evil often do well.

    It’s not just about virtue making a better world (on which Socrates is right, and I get the impression GOT is realistic enough). I think the objection to LOTR and preference for GOT is rather that the good can have terrible things happen to them because of circumstances outside of their control.

    But Tolkien agrees; Turin Turumbar is a better example than anything in GOT.

    The whole Republic is an argument that virtue and vice inhere in the soul, so the consequences of both are inescapable. Tolkien concurs, e.g. with Gollum and Saruman who are anything but happy. Does GOT really disagree? Are the worst characters, even when winning, happy?

    • #5
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    It’s not just about virtue making a better world (on which Socrates is right, and I get the impression GOT is realistic enough). I think the objection to LOTR and preference for GOT is rather that the good can have terrible things happen to them because of circumstances outside of their control.

    Even Aragon fits the view. His mother dies, he is hunted for all his life, those that he respects distrust him or even hate him, he travels far and wide without a home, when he first finds glory he must turn away from it and he can only marry the woman he loves but accomplishing a task he thinks may be impossible. Only after a life time of suffering did something good and just happen. That too is realistic. 

    I agree with your comment but I just wanted to add that in there.

    • #6
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    Brian Wolf: spoiler from the finale of Game of Thrones

    You couldn’t have spoiled it any worse than the writers did this season.

    • #7
    • May 20, 2019, at 4:44 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. She Thatcher
    She

    Full disclosure: I “liked” this post.

    I’ve never watched a single second of “Game of Thrones.”

    But I’m convinced that the “Resolution” proposed in the OP is correct.

    On general principles.

    Of which I have many.

    • #8
    • May 20, 2019, at 5:00 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Stina Member

    Excellent argument that has just rendered the last 8 years of reading and watching this show an absolute waste of time.

    The use of religion and prophecy by GRRM was really annoying to me. In his attempt to be “realistic”, he absolutely ruined a great part of myth-making and fantasy writing, that being prophecy. Instead, he threw a hodge podge of religions that he makes false with different actors and servants having enough power to confuse and lure the onlookers, but where none of them have any true claim of legitimacy.

    JT acknowledges the place of true prophecy in his writing and it adds to the story rather than detracts.

    I guess I just didn’t understand what he was getting at with his books, but I was disappointed.

    • #9
    • May 20, 2019, at 5:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Brian Wolf: Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn. It is true that Tolkien had a thing for bachelors. Bilbo never marries and adopts an orphan nephew, we know quite a bit about the Gaffer but nothing about Sam’s mother. Frodo’s friends are all bachelors, Gandalf has no known relationships with women, Aragorn and Arwen relationship is very much in the background, Elrond’s wife is dead. It is hard to name any character’s mother that we know is alive in Tolkien’s tale.

    What’s that? A nit to pick! I’m on the job.

    As long as you’re counting the Silmarillion you’ve got a couple, starting with Luthien and including Elwing, who happens to be Elrond’s mother.

    Counting strictly people alive (and not in the West) in the third age you have… closest I can think of is Rosie Cotton’s mother was still alive in the time of the Scouring of the Shire. I think.

    Man. How did he get through so many books while denying himself the chance to make a ‘Yo Momma so Fat’ joke?

    • #10
    • May 20, 2019, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Stina (View Comment):

    Excellent argument that has just rendered the last 8 years of reading and watching this show an absolute waste of time.

    The use of religion and prophecy by GRRM was really annoying to me. In his attempt to be “realistic”, he absolutely ruined a great part of myth-making and fantasy writing, that being prophecy. Instead, he threw a hodge podge of religions that he makes false with different actors and servants having enough power to confuse and lure the onlookers, but where none of them have any true claim of legitimacy.

    JT acknowledges the place of true prophecy in his writing and it adds to the story rather than detracts.

    I guess I just didn’t understand what he was getting at with his books, but I was disappointed.

    I am sorry it ruined it but I you are write about GRRM use of the mythic of fantastical elements they are misleading and confusing in general with no mythology to make sense of them.

    • #11
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:01 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Amy Schley Moderator

    I suppose the first question is what do we mean by realistic? I define “realistic” as

    • characters behaving with normal human behaviors
    • caused by normal motivations
    • in a world that is as complex as the real world
    • where politics, economics, and religion all intersect.

    And yes, I find Westeros and Essos a more “realistic” world than that of Middle Earth. Let’s start with religion. Yes, Lord of the Rings is a deeply Catholic book, but even as the characters themselves exhibit moral virtues, they don’t appear to have any religion. There are no churches, no shrines, no priests, no holy books — a state you will find nowhere in any human civilization. I appreciate that Westeros has multiple conflicting religions practiced by different peoples with different levels of piety:

    • Cersei’s description of Tywin as “he believes in the gods; he just doesn’t like them”
    • the High Sparrow’s ostentatious humility and militancy in the Faith of the Seven
    • a High Septon of the Seven corrupt as any Renaissance pope
    • multiple orders of nuns, including the Silent Sisters who care for the dead
    • the almost literal whiskey priest of Thoros of Myr for Rhyllor
    • the literally burning passion of Melisandre for Rhyllor
    • the certainty of Rhyllor’s power and terror that certainty brings for Varis
    • the Stark faith in the old gods of the first men in the carved faces of the weirwood trees
    • the Greyjoys and their Kraken drowned god
    • the Dothraki belief in the power of rituals and prophecies
    • and of course, the Faceless Men who worship the god of Death

    How about economics? Lord Petyr Baelish and the Iron Bank of Bravos understood something I’ve never seen in any other fantasy universe: how to create wealth. Unlike Tolkien’s dwarves or Lannisters or Dothraki, they make money not by digging it out of the ground or stealing it from others but through banking, commerce, and infrastructure. Yes, Aragorn and Faramir will be great and noble king and steward, but will they build roads and ports and grain mills and sewers? Those just aren’t heroic deeds in the great legendary tradition Tolkien wanted to join, so he makes no mention of such pedestrian things.

    Politics? It’s hard to compare them fairly, as Westeros and Essos have only sentient humans while Tolkien uses multiple kingdoms of elves, dwarves, Hobbits, Ents, goblins, orcs, and Uruk-hai to populate his world, but we certainly see a more layered feudal world in Westeros and more complex city-states in Essos. In Middle-Earth, there are kings and smallfolk; in Westeros, there are kings, great lords who rule over great regions, minor lords who are their bannermen, sworn knights, and then the commoners. Essos has city-states that are slavers; city-states that are great merchants; city-states that are great bankers and mercenaries. Again, the complexity reflects the complexity of real life.

    Then there’s the concept of social mobility. Even before the decision to move to elected monarchy a la Poland or the Hapsburg Empire in the finale, Westeros offered far more hope for advancement than Middle-Earth. Yes, Aragorn rose from being a vagabond Ranger to king, but only because he was of the line of Isildur; no other man, no matter how brave or worthy he might be, was ever going to climb the throne. Westeros on the other hand had a more open system, where a man of talent, ambition, and yes powerful friends could rise, such as Ser Bronn and Lord Varys. The aristocracies of Medieval Europe functioned much the same way, where nobility could come to a man not just through his father but through his conquests or wealth. E.g. “William the Bastard” of Normandy became William I, King of England.

    As for the specific example above showing how stupid Ned, Robert, and Jon Arryn were in letting the Lannisters consolidate power in the capital, I would suggest studying the history that Martin cribbed, because such things clearly happened. Robert Baratheon is heavily based on Edward IV, who yes indeed spent much of his reign drinking, feasting, and whoring while his wife Elizabeth Woodville packed the court with courtiers who were more loyal to her family than to the throne. The power struggles between them and the king’s younger brothers resulted in many a corpse, culminating in civil war when after Edward’s death and the takeover by Richard III the Woodvilles threw in their lot with Henry Tudor. People missing the forest for the trees, being too bogged down in daily worries to recognize ominous trends, and doing really stupid things is realistic. Not pleasant to read about, but realistic.

    I don’t think GoT’s realism should be taken as a mark of quality, though. It’s very realistic that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, that honorable men loyal to foolish men die for their mistake, that those seeking to free the world from tyrants become tyrants themselves, that often the selfish and the lucky win while the charitable and decent lose. Lots of people don’t fantasize about living in that world; we already do.

    LOTR is so wonderful because it isn’t completely realistic; it gives us models to strive for instead of mirrors of our own failings.

    • #12
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:02 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf: Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn. It is true that Tolkien had a thing for bachelors. Bilbo never marries and adopts an orphan nephew, we know quite a bit about the Gaffer but nothing about Sam’s mother. Frodo’s friends are all bachelors, Gandalf has no known relationships with women, Aragorn and Arwen relationship is very much in the background, Elrond’s wife is dead. It is hard to name any character’s mother that we know is alive in Tolkien’s tale.

    What’s that? A nit to pick! I’m on the job.

    As long as you’re counting the Silmarillion you’ve got a couple, starting with Luthien and including Elwing, who happens to be Elrond’s mother.

    Counting strictly people alive (and not in the West) in the third age you have… closest I can think of is Rosie Cotton’s mother was still alive in the time of the Scouring of the Shire. I think.

    Man. How did he get through so many books while denying himself the chance to make a ‘Yo Momma so Fat’ joke?

    I will just say that if you are in the West and the child is in Middle Earth then you are functionally “dead” for my purposes. The lack of living mothers was a weird thing in Tolkien because it is practically a theme.

    • #13
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:03 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    I suppose the first question is what do we mean by realistic? I define “realistic” as

    • characters behaving with normal human behaviors
    • caused by normal motivations
    • in a world that is as complex as the real world
    • where politics, economics, and religion all intersect.

    Such a rich and full reply! Thank you! Please forgive that it will not be until tomorrow that I can give you a reply worthy of your response.

    • #14
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:08 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Lord of the Rings is more True. 

    20 years from now, it will still be read. A Song of Ice and Fire will only still be read, because that is when book 7 will finally be done. 

    • #15
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:08 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Amy Schley Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    I suppose the first question is what do we mean by realistic? I define “realistic” as

    • characters behaving with normal human behaviors
    • caused by normal motivations
    • in a world that is as complex as the real world
    • where politics, economics, and religion all intersect.

    Such a rich and full reply! Thank you! Please forgive that it will not be until tomorrow that I can give you a reply worthy of your response.

    Understand. I think it’s easy for defenders of GoT to conflate realistic and complex with better, because, yes, Westeros is more complex and more realistic. That doesn’t mean that GoT is the better story.

    • #16
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:13 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    when book 7 will finally be done. 

    Optimist.

    • #17
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:13 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Amy Schley Moderator

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    when book 7 will finally be done.

    Optimist.

    Eh, Martin will be dead by then, and I’m sure someone in his estate will save every scrap possible to give to another writer to finish the story.

    • #18
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    The purpose of stories is not be realistic. Who needs that? That is what history and the news are for. 

    Stories are more than that. We have just forgotten, as a culture, what stories are for. 

    I find GOT to be a horrible example of post modern nonsense. I do not think conservatives should have celebrated it. I think it is garbage pretending to be high class. Really, it was one big skinamax movie. Soft core porn, praised by people who would otherwise condemn porn. Often, by people who have the gall to complain about the sex lives of others. 

    Bleh. 

    • #19
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:19 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    I suppose the first question is what do we mean by realistic? I define “realistic” as

    • characters behaving with normal human behaviors
    • caused by normal motivations

    I think this is where I get off the train.

    People with normal motivations, reactions, and human behaviors are boring. Perhaps farcical. I read stories about heroes because I want to read about heroes. (Also gyros, but that’s a different topic). Aragorn acceding to the demands of his lineage and taking up the sword that was broken. Frodo volunteering to march out of safety to certain doom because, well, because someone had to. And yeah, Ned Stark who’s commitment to truth and honor prevents him from making a deal with Cersei.

    The fact that George R.R. Martin despises that sort of heroism might mean his stories act closer to how the real world operates, but not how it ought to operate. Heroism is and always has been an aspirational ideal.

    • #20
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  21. Amy Schley Moderator

    And to return to the issue of the Ned’s downfall, let’s look at the events of season 1 through the eyes of the gold cloaks. So Jon Arryn, an old man (remember Walder Frey making comments about Arryn marrying Lysa Tully didn’t raise the eyebrows that Walder’s young brides do) dies, possibly poisoned. Poison, as we know is a weapon used by women, cravens, and eunuchs. Ned gets made Hand and his daughter is engaged to the crown prince. Ned seems to spend most of his time with Littlefinger (a craven who actually worked to do the deed) and Varys (quite well-known for being a eunuch). So someone might be wondering if Ned and one of these shifty figures were in cahoots to make him Hand. Shortly after he arrives at the capital, his wife arrests the queen’s brother for no good reason. After Robert dies, Ned then claims that the crown prince and his siblings are actually bastards who cannot inherit the throne, which to anyone who didn’t know that Cersei in fact confessed sounds as honorable and disinterested as Richard III making the same claim about his nephews.

    In looking at events, historical or fictional, we should judge the participants by what they knew or could possibly have known, and frankly, the Gold Cloaks had every reason to believe that Ned had attempted to stage a coup to put Stannis on the throne.

    • #21
    • May 20, 2019, at 6:46 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Stina Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    Let’s start with religion. Yes, Lord of the Rings is a deeply Catholic book, but even as the characters themselves exhibit moral virtues, they don’t appear to have any religion. There are no churches, no shrines, no priests, no holy books — a state you will find nowhere in any human civilization. I appreciate that Westeros has multiple conflicting religions practiced by different peoples with different levels of piety:

    LOTR has an implicit single religion that doesn’t require description because nothing competes with it. Something is the Good that baptized Saruman and Gandalf as White wizards. It has prophecy that comes true and inspires it’s people to some consistency of good.

    GOT’s religions have nothing that inspires to truth. Like I said, multiple religions with a patina of truth, but the ultimate teller of truth is whether prophecy is true (biblical concept right there) – and I’m mildly impressed if GRRM knew that, though less impressed by his obvious point in wanting all religion to be false things that are used to manipulate people.

    However, without a supernatural realm, how do you deal with the supernatural elements and what appeared to be true (while their prophecies remained false) like the three eyed raven, children of the forest, weirwood trees, and the Night King?

    What inspires people to follow religions is not mere exercise of miracles. Jesus says something to that effect. If that were so, we would follow any street magician that performs unexplainable acts. Its observable that we actually do not. There has to be some demonstration of truth… prophecy plays a big role in that. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that three of the top religions in the real world are built on a narrative of observed and documented prophetic fulfillment (Abrahamic, every one).

    That’s realistic. GRRM’s idea of religion is shallow and simplistic atheism, rendering centuries of religious history moot in light of his narrow minded assumption that religion is nothing but propagandized theater to pacify the commons.

    • #22
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:13 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Amy Schley Moderator

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    That is what history and the news are for. 

    Stories are more than that. We have just forgotten, as a culture, what stories are for. 

    I find GOT to be a horrible example of post modern nonsense.

    One of the ways in which is it very post-modern is that most every plot point is just real history with the serial numbers filed off. There is an historical precedent or analogue for almost every non-magical plot point.

    • Red Wedding? Glencoe Massacre.
    • Slave armies taking over countries? Mamluks of Egypt
    • Decadent religious leaders? Renaissance popes
    • Militant religious orders? Iconoclasts
    • High Sparrow? Girolamo Savonarola
    • Robert Baratheon? Edward IV
    • Cersei Lannister? Elizabeth Woodville, with shades of Margaret of Anjou
    • The Wall? Hadrian’s Wall

    Martin isn’t even shy about admitting the parallels. Game of Thrones is as much cribbed from Henry VI 1, 2, 3, and Richard III as it is LOTR.

    • #23
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:19 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  24. Amy Schley Moderator

    Stina (View Comment):
    his obvious point in wanting all religion to be false things that are used to manipulate people.

    The religions of GoT are false? I’ll grant that the Faith of the Seven seems to be nothing more than an empty shell of a priesthood that exists to prop up the state, even though true faith in those new gods does seem to exist among peasants and the zealots.

    The old gods of the weirwoods don’t seem to have much power, though it’s possible that it’s more deeply tied into the Three-Eyed Raven and Greenseer aspects that haven’t been explored much in the books and were not explained at all in the show. The Children of the Forest do seem to have had real power, having broken the Dornish land bridge to separate Westeros from Essos and flooded the Neck to separate the North from the rest of Westeros, while the Three Eyed Raven in show seems to be able to manipulate the past and create force-fields.

    I don’t see how you can claim Rhyllor isn’t real in-universe though. He brings Ser Beric Dondarrion and Jon Snow back from the dead; he speaks to a sorcerer burning Varys’ privates. He lets Melisandre create murderous shadow monsters. The blood of one of King Robert’s bastards does indeed seem to have the power to speed death to Stannis’ enemies. And as for prophecy, he gives visions of the future in the flames that do come true (I’ll grant that this last season seems to have completely abandoned this element, but Melisandre and Sandor Clegane both had visions that came true in earlier seasons). And he does this in Westeros, where he isn’t widely worshiped even when his disciples do things like set swords on fire, so it’s hardly being done for ratings.

    I think the issue isn’t that Martin is being atheistic but that he’s writing from a very pagan perspective. The Faith of the Seven is a not very flattering analog to the medieval Catholic Church, but Rhyllor and the Drowned God and the Old Gods and the rest — they’re more akin to Greek, Roman, Germanic, or Norse gods. Worship isn’t about holy books, doctrine, and ancient prophecies having been fulfilled, but the more mundane and transaction interactions: I offer a prayer or gift and you give me a blessing, whether life or answer to a question. It’s the kind of perspective that can prompt a person to believe in the gods, worship them with sacrifices even, and still think that they’re a bunch of [redacted]s, an attitude that is quite alien to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

    • #24
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:47 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  25. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):
    his obvious point in wanting all religion to be false things that are used to manipulate people.

    The religions of GoT are false? I’ll grant that the Faith of the Seven seems to be nothing more than an empty shell of a priesthood that exists to prop up the state, even though true faith in those new gods does seem to exist among peasants and the zealots.

    The old gods of the weirwoods don’t seem to have much power, though it’s possible that it’s more deeply tied into the Three-Eyed Raven and Greenseer aspects that haven’t been explored much in the books and were not explained at all in the show. The Children of the Forest do seem to have had real power, having broken the Dornish land bridge to separate Westeros from Essos and flooded the Neck to separate the North from the rest of Westeros, while the Three Eyed Raven in show seems to be able to manipulate the past and create force-fields.

    I don’t see how you can claim Rhyllor isn’t real in-universe though. He brings Ser Beric Dondarrion and Jon Snow back from the dead; he speaks to a sorcerer burning Varys’ privates. He lets Melisandre create murderous shadow monsters. The blood of one of King Robert’s bastards does indeed seem to have the power to speed death to Stannis’ enemies. And as for prophecy, he gives visions of the future in the flames that do come true (I’ll grant that this last season seems to have completely abandoned this element, but Melisandre and Sandor Clegane both had visions that came true in earlier seasons). And he does this in Westeros, where he isn’t widely worshiped even when his disciples do things like set swords on fire, so it’s hardly being done for ratings.

    I think the issue isn’t that Martin is being atheistic but that he’s writing from a very pagan perspective. The Faith of the Seven is a not very flattering analog to the medieval Catholic Church, but Rhyllor and the Drowned God and the Old Gods and the rest — they’re more akin to Greek, Roman, Germanic, or Norse gods. Worship isn’t about holy books, doctrine, and ancient prophecies having been fulfilled, but the more mundane and transaction interactions: I offer a prayer or gift and you give me a blessing, whether life or answer to a question. It’s the kind of perspective that can prompt a person to believe in the gods, worship them with sacrifices even, and still think that they’re a bunch of [redacted]s, an attitude that is quite alien to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

     

    In a way like the attitude that Conan had to Crom. Which was vaguely appealing to me

    • #25
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf: Tolkien bathes his story and history in Romance from Beren and Luthien, to Earendal and Elwing, and then Aragorn and Arwen and Faramir and Eowyn. It is true that Tolkien had a thing for bachelors. Bilbo never marries and adopts an orphan nephew, we know quite a bit about the Gaffer but nothing about Sam’s mother. Frodo’s friends are all bachelors, Gandalf has no known relationships with women, Aragorn and Arwen relationship is very much in the background, Elrond’s wife is dead. It is hard to name any character’s mother that we know is alive in Tolkien’s tale.

    What’s that? A nit to pick! I’m on the job.

    As long as you’re counting the Silmarillion you’ve got a couple, starting with Luthien and including Elwing, who happens to be Elrond’s mother.

    Counting strictly people alive (and not in the West) in the third age you have… closest I can think of is Rosie Cotton’s mother was still alive in the time of the Scouring of the Shire. I think.

    Man. How did he get through so many books while denying himself the chance to make a ‘Yo Momma so Fat’ joke?

    I will just say that if you are in the West and the child is in Middle Earth then you are functionally “dead” for my purposes. The lack of living mothers was a weird thing in Tolkien because it is practically a theme.

    I cried when Frodo’s mom was shot by a hunter at the beginning of the animated movie. 

    • #26
    • May 21, 2019, at 12:56 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    when book 7 will finally be done.

    Optimist.

    Eh, Martin will be dead by then, and I’m sure someone in his estate will save every scrap possible to give to another writer to finish the story.

    Tommy Wiseau is already under contract, so there. 

    • #27
    • May 21, 2019, at 12:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Saint Augustine Member

    Rose G. and Galadriel are living moms, right?

    • #28
    • May 21, 2019, at 12:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Stina (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):
    Let’s start with religion. Yes, Lord of the Rings is a deeply Catholic book, but even as the characters themselves exhibit moral virtues, they don’t appear to have any religion. There are no churches, no shrines, no priests, no holy books — a state you will find nowhere in any human civilization. I appreciate that Westeros has multiple conflicting religions practiced by different peoples with different levels of piety:

    LOTR has an implicit single religion that doesn’t require description because nothing competes with it. Something is the Good that baptized Saruman and Gandalf as White wizards. It has prophecy that comes true and inspires it’s people to some consistency of good.

    GOT’s religions have nothing that inspires to truth. Like I said, multiple religions with a patina of truth, but the ultimate teller of truth is whether prophecy is true (biblical concept right there) – and I’m mildly impressed if GRRM knew that, though less impressed by his obvious point in wanting all religion to be false things that are used to manipulate people.

    However, without a supernatural realm, how do you deal with the supernatural elements and what appeared to be true (while their prophecies remained false) like the three eyed raven, children of the forest, weirwood trees, and the Night King?

    What inspires people to follow religions is not mere exercise of miracles. Jesus says something to that effect. If that were so, we would follow any street magician that performs unexplainable acts. Its observable that we actually do not. There has to be some demonstration of truth… prophecy plays a big role in that. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that three of the top religions in the real world are built on a narrative of observed and documented prophetic fulfillment (Abrahamic, every one).

    That’s realistic. GRRM’s idea of religion is shallow and simplistic atheism, rendering centuries of religious history moot in light of his narrow minded assumption that religion is nothing but propagandized theater to pacify the commons.

    In support of the above I would add that some of the men in Middle Earth worshiped Sauron under different guises, while the Elves sang the praises of Elbereth, and had specifically met Oromë, both of them either gods, demigods, or at the very least angels in their own right. Elves and men were known collectively, but differently, as the Children of Ilúvatar, who was the God. 

    • #29
    • May 21, 2019, at 1:15 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Vectorman Thatcher

    She (View Comment):

    Full disclosure: I “liked” this post.

    I’ve never watched a single second of “Game of Thrones.”

    But I’m convinced that the “Resolution” proposed in the OP is correct.

    On general principles.

    Of which I have many.

    Ditto.

    • #30
    • May 21, 2019, at 2:20 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
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