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How Tolkien and Lord of the Rings Inspired Game of Thrones


George R.R. Martin learned many lessons from J.R.R. Tolkien and the similarities between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones reflect that.

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington)
Photo: New Line Cinema | Warner Bros. Discovery

This article contains spoilers for both The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

It is pretty well known among fans that George R. R. Martin, the author of A Song of Ice and Fire books upon which Game of Thrones is based, has a double-edged relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. On the one hand, like every other fantasy author of the 20th and 21st centuries, Martin has been heavily influenced by Tolkien and is more than happy to say so. He has spoken many times about his love of The Lord of the Rings and how he thinks Tolkien did what he wanted to do brilliantly, and the debt he and other fantasy authors owe Tolkien.

On the other hand, Martin has also talked about the ways he writes differently from Tolkien, and the questions he likes to ask about the story presented in The Lord of the Rings. In 2014, for example, he told Rolling Stone that when Tolkien gives his story a happily ever after in which Aragorn rules wisely for a hundred years, Martin wants to know, but how? What is his tax policy? And what did he do with all the Orcs still living in the mountains? “Real history,” Martin observed, is “not that simple.” (Tolkien, incidentally, did start a sequel set shortly after Aragorn’s death but gave it up as it was too dark and miserable for his tastes – so he was not unaware of these issues himself).

Martin’s world of Westeros, Essos, and the various lands surrounding them is a place that is both heavily influenced by Tolkien and his Middle-earth, and at the same time it is a place and a story that reacts against some of Tolkien’s themes and story types. So how exactly does that come through in Martin’s stories?

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