Either “A Song of Ice and Fire” or its television version “Game of Thrones” is widely praised for being an example of adult fantasy that constructs realistic characters, in contrast to high fantasy such as “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R Tolkien. Fans of George R.R. Martin (is there any commercial opportunism in this name?) consider that other characters from fantasy literature are stereotyped and shallow.
The HBO television series has been endorsed by Mr Martin. For now, and until I am convinced to read the books thoroughly, this is my reference to the universe of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. The character development, when I watch this show, is the opposite of complex characters. They are ruthless, vicious, with basic instincts and plainly idiotic. The assumed deepness is based on a degenerate society. Instead of an ideal societal order, we are shown the opposite: a debased culture from top to bottom. Both things, perfect and totally degraded cultures, are not realistic. Here we confirm a trend in the United States of America culture, in which popular characters are morally questionable or antiheroes. Even characters that are not harsh are criticised as shallow. It seems that unattended metal problems or wrong attitudes towards other human beings are signals of toughness and superiority.
Across history, we have examples of horrors. But even within these dark periods, society was not completely broken. Thanks to the non-broken individuals and collectives, the world survived the fall of great civilisations or the massive and useless destruction of lives (as in WWII). Mr Martin remarks that the Westeros political turmoil is based on the War of the Roses of the Great Britain Middle Ages. However, he enhances by much the vileness of the conflict. Thus, although Mr Martin is allegedly inspired by Tolkien, he does not understand the purpose of the fantasy à la Tolkien, which is co-creation.
Tolkien never wanted to make allegories or dull imitations of the real world. Tolkien works are meant as the folklore of the Middle-Earth, an alternate version of the real Earth. In fact, Tolkien simply “translated” the books that Bilbo and Frodo wrote (“The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”). Even the Silmarillion is a compilation of ancient elvish lore translated by Bilbo in Imladris. Then the stories are not entirely objective and show the values and complexities of Bilbo, Frodo, the Elves and, outside the universe, the views of Tolkien himself. This is more realistic than “A Song of Ice and Fire”. If we saw the creation of Mr Martin et al. in the same light as Tolkien’s, we would conclude that Mr Martin and the producers of the show are the worst persons in the world. This is not the case but they respond to the urges of part of the society which enjoys a morbid fascination for the cruelty.
The truth is that nobody has achieved what Tolkien did. Tolkien set the foundation of the modern high fantasy. After him, fantasy writers had tried without success to go beyond the level set by Tolkien. They have only imitated him. Even great ones like Ursula K. Le Guin or C.S. Lewis cannot go over the Tolkienian level. Mr Martin et al. are inferior to these great writers.
Moreover, I feel that Mr Martin is condemned to be like the character Martin Silenus of the science fiction novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Martin Silenus is a very troubled poet that had a very successful first work, the poem “Dying Earth”, but he ends writing meaningless fiction. I see in this way Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” or J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, for example.