I'd say so, if you omit the influence that Tolkien has had upon other fantasists.
Tolkien's strengths were many. Not just the linguistic masterpiece, but his grasp of mythology.
Martin's strengths are just as many.
His world construction far surpasses Tolkien's rather shallow placement of people. Tolkien was great at adapting medieval legends, but to be honest his world rarely makes much economic and historical sense. The legends line up, but the eggs and bacon production isn't ever seen. It stirs you, the fighters of legend show up on time, but the little people of the tale seem largely cobbled together out of 20th century English villagers. Oh and Tolkien's "realistic" characters rarely get laid. They're schoolboys who have never met women. Oxford Dons discussing the great war, rather than a view from the trenches.
Martin, instead of borrowing from literature and legends borrows from modern history's medieval studies. His works eventually start to show his maps and peoples aren't just slapped together. You begin to see he's aware of what happens when wars occur. He shifts view points so you see the impact of war on the great and the small. Tolkien writes only of the great men, and their small companions. His battles tell of generals, never of the trenches. Martin is just a deft at his reuse of Le Morte D'arthur as Tolkien is when re-purposing the Volsung Saga.
Tolkien has heroic battles, Martin's focus is on the aftermaths more than the fight scenes. His characters die, they get crippled, they fail their oaths and redeem themselves. They shed the blood of men and children, with nary an inhuman monster dying to be found. The heroes are killers of man, rather than paragons of virtue who slay hundreds of evil non-humans. His villains are much more foul, for they are real men. The betrayers, the rapists, the killers of children, the flayers of man, and the cannibals, all make an appearance and are far more disturbing than Tolkien's idealized evil. Tolkien never has much death or woe. Every man who dies, dies heroically and for a point of plot.
Tolkien has ethereal, near immortal women in two thirds of the female rolls. Martin's women struggle against their medieval roles. They're whores or maidens, used to cement alliances. They're mothers, sisters, and daughters. Some rebel against their lives, some take advantage of them, but they're real women. They hunger for something else, they strive to give their children a better life, and they're raped when the war turns against them.
Martin gives a dozen things to think about. He has a master's hand when it comes to concealing information, revealing the events of the past in bits and pieces, just as he has slowly revealed the world. Besides the mentioned women's issues and the intricacies of his plots, you have the nature of war and it's aftermath. You have the fine line of human behavior, as it is tested in the wilderness and by danger. The time of winter, when the rules of behavior fray and fall apart. Or take the subject of power and corruption. Tolkien's brave lords act like stage players, with never a human failing, until they are disheartened by the devil of his series.
Tolkien's myth is written in black and white. Good is good and evil is evil. His magic is an extension of his theology.
Martin's myths are written of humans. His religions are murky and without labels. His priests are both good and evil, within the same organization. They are less mysteries, then they are realities. Their magics are all un-natural. They all smack of evil, no different than martial hand. A man may do good or evil, but he is not inherent good or evil.
That moral ambiguity alone makes Martin worth reading.
· 7 years ago