Lord of the Rings vs A Song of Ice and Fire: The Ultimate Literary Showdown

J.R.R. Tolkien and G.R.R. Martin have more than one thing in common other than double initials. They are literary masters in the fantasy genre and have written two of the most epic and impressive book volumes to date. Not only that, they’ve inspired and amassed a ridiculous horde of nerds who geek out over every detail, every canon fodder, and every fleshed-out character. Yep, I’m talking about the ridiculously talented and patient guys who’ve built the entire city of Kings Landing out of Minecraft blocks. #NotKidding

A showdown between these two masterpieces is definitely inevitable. Let’s have a head-to-head battle of their literary elements and see who comes out the victor. You know, for fun. 😀

Note: I’ve read all 5 published books of A Song of Ice and Fire and seen all aired seasons of the tv show Game of Thrones. I’ve also read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion. I’ve yet to finish The Hobbit, though. I’ve seen all LOTR films and The Hobbit movies too. Why am I saying this? To show that I actually know what I’m talking about and not ripping off from the Internet. 😀

Warning: Spoilers everywhere! Also, if you can’t swallow reading someone else’s opinions about the books and shows/films, go graze other pastures! 😀

And drumroll please…

Smaug vs Targaryen Dragons

There’s no denying that Smaug is one of the most formidable creatures to ever walk Middle Earth. Cunning, arrogant, and keenly intelligent, he too was incredibly strong, very powerful, almost invincible, and deadly.

My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” – The Hobbit, Chapter 12

But Targaryen dragons are formidable monsters as well. Balerion the Black Dread had a wingspan that covered an entire city, had breath that could melt the strongest castles (yep, I’m looking at you, Harrenhal 😀 ) and lay waste to a thousand armies. There were also Vhagar and Meraxes, enormous dragons controlled by Aegon’s sister/wives Rhaenys and Visenya. Presently, Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion are already laying waste to slavers, major cities, and simply being badasses. So who’s the winner?

balerion the black dread

Targaryen Dragons 😀 I’d take Balerion against Smaug any day. And if Drogon really is Balerion reborn, all of Westeros should dig the deepest dungeons and cower from Khaleesi’s babies. #GoDragonBabies

Boromir vs Ned Stark 

Yeah yeah, they’re only here because they were both portrayed by Sean Bean onscreen. But heck, if the Internet is playing the joke, “How soon will it take any Sean Bean character to get killed off?”, why can’t we? 😀 Anyhoo, Boromir was one of the more conflicted characters on Fellowship. His struggle with the power of the One Ring and his duty towards his people was an internal tug-of-war that a lot of readers enjoyed. His death was a major catalyst for the trilogy too.

On the other hand, Ned Stark was an honorable man like Boromir. He was a great warrior and a revered ruler of Winterfell. Plus, he sired Robb Stark and Jon Snow (or did he? 😀 ) so his genes are definitely worth vouching for. Most importantly, his death became a catalyst for almost everything that happened onward with the books. So who wins?

boromir lord of the rings

I have to give this one to Boromir because in the end, he redeemed himself by saving the hobbits (his friends 😦 ). Ned, on the other hand, was too honorable he give Cersei and her incest-born children a chance to leave Kings Landing. Look where it got him.

Disney and Fairy Tales vs Masters and Johnson

Let’s face it, the closest thing to sex in LOTR is when Faramir kisses Eowyn’s brow or when Aragorn holds Arwen’s hands and speaks sexy Elvish. Tolkien even gave Aragorn and Arwen the longest engagement in literature ( he met Arwen when he was twenty but marries her sixty seven years later 😀 ). ASoIaF on the other hand, never shies away from a chance to expose and feature different aspects of sexuality: uninhibited lust, incest, prostitution, rape, homosexuality, group orgys, eunuchs, etc. LOTR is something you can read to your kids (but don’t, the detail and complexity is too much for a 5-year old 😀 ) while ASoIaF is something you flip through when it’s hot and…

So who wins? The lowbrow purity of Lord of the Rings or the unbridled carnality of A Song of Ice and Fire?

ros the whore game of thrones

For pure entertainment and titillation, Martin’s realistic portrayal of human sensualism wins this hands down. 😀

Middle Earth vs Westeros

The art of writing fantasy literature is all about the details, how carefully drawn the landscapes are, how detailed the family histories and epic tales, how organised and drawn the characters, origins, and cultures. Let’s start with Middle Earth, a world that’s so detailed down to the last tower brick that we can easily imagine it as an alternate universe. From the greenest meadows of The Shire, the highest towers of Minas Tirith, the darkest hallways of Moria, the deepest dungeons of Dol Guldur, to the fiery chasms of Mordor, it’s a world that we can fully immerse ourselves in. Tolkien was a master story teller, there’s no argument there. 😀


But Martin has created an obra maestra of his own. The rich landscape of Westeros, the extensive histories and detailed family legacies have made millions of nerds giddy. The strange cultures of Essos, the harsh terrains of Westeros, the unforgivable Lands of Always Winter, not to mention the rich historical backgrounds of great empires like the Valyrian Empire, the conquest of Aegon, the great battle of Dance with Dragons, and the Long Night. These details are the very reason ASoIF is great. There’s so much story and potential in every page. 😀

map of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire

So who wins? Tolkien’s masterful prose of Middle Earth or Martin’s impeccably detailed world?

I’d love to say it’s a tie, but I have to give this one to Tolkien. He IS the master of fantasy literature. 😀 After having read The Silmarillion and being immersed in the rich history and landscape of Middle Earth and Valinor, I will literally bow down to Tolkien’s grave if I see it. But to George (yep, we’re on a first name basis), I LOOOOOOVE your work.

Brilliant Prose vs Entertainment

Admittedly, reading LOTR is a struggle. If you can honestly tell me that you’ve read The Silmarillion or Return of the King without retracing some of the pages just to be sure you got your facts straight, I will breed a kraken and condition it to hate you. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy LOTR, you will. But brace yourself for what-was-that-again moments when reading The Silmarillion. 

But A Song of Ice and Fire is a relatively easier read. Sure, there are more pages and you can barely keep up with the number of characters, but the stories are easier to handle because the chapters are divided into POV sections. Who wins?

Martin wins this one, purely for entertainment and readability reasons. 😀

Happy Endings vs Nihilism

It all boils down to your preferences. Do you want to be wrapped up in a story that gives hope and new beginnings or be immersed in a realistic world where good people fail and bad people thrive?

Tolkien’s LOTR is an epic journey of good characters fighting the bad guys. Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Legolas – they’re all good for the sake of being good. Sauron? He’s evil because he simply is. LOTR is pretty much a black and white portrayal of characters, a somewhat Disneyesque feel. Of course, if it’s designed to be a fairy tale, there’s always a happy ending. Frodo destroyed the ring, Aragorn became King, Gandalf the Grey became the White, and so on.

Martin, unlike Tolkien, likes to be cruel to his characters. A lot of people say that he’s the cruelest writer to date; never has there been so many beloved literary characters subjected to brutal agony, emotional torture, and death. In fact, if you try to highlight every death in the books, you’ll have very colorful pages in your bookstand. Pretty soon, even us readers start rooting for the “bad guys” because there are so few “good guys” left. But that’s the thing about ASoIaF, there are no good or bad characters. They’re all conflicted, motivated, and morally ambiguous. In short, NO ONE is safe.

game of thrones dead characters

So who wins? Tolkien’s tragic heroes who go through turmoil and struggle but end up happy and redeemed? Or Martin’s heavily tortured characters who are neither hero nor villain?

I give this one to Martin 😀 It’s much more interesting reading a book when you really can’t predict who stays alive in the end. Who’ll live, who’ll die, who’ll win the Iron Throne, will there be an Iron Throne left… No one can predict because Martin is too unpredictable. *SPOILER ALERT! YOU WERE WARNED* Like when I was reading Tyrion’s chapter when he first meets Oberyn Martell. That Eastern hunk of a warrior was so intimidating I almost switched sides from Team Targaryen. For him to be offed so quickly by Gregor Clegane was a very frustrating 3-hour moment for me (it took me 3 hrs to get over his death 😀 ).

Score Tally

Tolkien (2)

Martin (3)

So I guess George R. R. Martin wins? Huh? What?

I know I know, Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece. There’s no denying that. But in terms of readability, realism, and contemporary merit, I think Martin deserves recognition. 😀

Let me know what you think! Feel free to agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Just no bad words, okay? 😀


12 thoughts on “Lord of the Rings vs A Song of Ice and Fire: The Ultimate Literary Showdown

  1. it’s really hard to judge ASoIaF because it’s an incomplete saga.. but based on the published books, i think Martin still wins because the universe is richer and much more detailed

  2. I really enjoyed this article of a head to head between A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings.

    I’m a bit more charitable towards Ned Stark than you were, I think his compassionate move to spare Cersei and the children was not a huge blunder. At the time, he was in a position of strength, he only needed Robert to return safely to the capital.

    Unfortunately, Robert was on his death bed on the return, and King Robert’s legitimacy of power was so thin, his dying wishes would not be respected.

    (But Boromir was pretty badass, so I’m not going to try and convince you to change you vote.)

    1. hehe I appreciated Ned’s move to spare Cersei and her children actually, but it simply proved that he was NOT a good player in the game for the Iron Throne 😀

      Boromir was definitely badass. It took like 5 orc arrows to bring him down, and still he was able to swordfight like a boss. 😀 Hurray for Sean Bean!

  3. Sigh…I see unfortunately a lot of bias here. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not but you forgot Ancalagon the Black the dragon of Morgoth who easily towered above mountains and could easily crush lots of them by falling. Even Glaurung could give some of the ASoIaF a run for their money. Also its more of an opinion that incest, rape, prostitution is interesting(which is actually rather vile and immoral if you think about it). And as for happy endings, The One Ring would like to disprove that. When Sauron fell in battle at the hands of Isildur, it did not just end there. Isildur became corrupted by the ring and was found and killed by Orcs. Doesn’t sound so happy to me even though the main bad guy had fallen. So not every ending in LOTR is happy. Also, readability does not automatically make a book better. Just because Tolkien uses complex and sophisticated language doesn’t mean his books are better than an easier to read book. Thats like saying a picture book is better since its easier to read and process. Some of this is fact while some of it is my opinion, its obvious which is which.

    1. Hi, random stranger! I sense there is some undying loyalty to Tolkien here, which I understand. I, too, am a big fan. But don’t you think you’re taking things a little too seriously here? Take it easy 😀 This is just for fun, that is, if you read the first few paragraphs of this article. Also, may I divert your attention to my “warning”, if you can’t swallow reading someone else’s opinions about the books and shows/films, go graze other pastures. I really don’t mind if you have something to say about the books/films, feel free to do so. But having an opinion on my opinion (more like an insult because of your rant about facts and which is which and blah blah), that’s where I have an irk.

      First, it’s Smaug vs Targaryen dragons. I skipped Ancalagon the Black and Glaurung (though I think Ancalagon is pretty badass) simply because there’s not a lot of literature about them. Targaryen dragons, on the other hand, are mentioned often in several POVs per book, mostly with Tyrion, Dany, Ned, and even the Greyjoys. Of course, if we’d include the entire horde of LOTR dragons vs the entire lineage of Valyrian dragons, we’d have an endless argument about references and backstories and what-not. So yeah, I’m sticking to just talking about Smaug and the Targaryen dragons.

      Second, the “interest factor” about incest, rape, and prostitution is EXACTLY that, an opinion. I find it interesting reading about those things and, apparently, so do a lot of people. You should try it too. You might enjoy it. 😀

      Third, you can’t deny that Tolkien very easily provides “happy endings”. Gandalf turned out alive and returned as Gandalf the White? Yeah, I can still swallow that. But the “ghost army” that conveniently appears at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields? And Merrry and Pippin escaping unscathed after being abducted by the Orcs? Everybody is alive at Minis Tirith bowing down to the four hobbits? Even after all the battles and abductions and treacheries that happened?

      Fourth, Martin’s ASoIaF is a fairly easier read compared to LOTR and that’s certainly a reason he deserves contemporary merit, emphasis on contemporary. Tolkien’s was published 77 years ago, which required a different kind of sophisticated prose. That’s not to say he’s not readable. Tolkien IS master of fantasy lit, there’s no denying that. I’ll cut off the tongue of every peasant that says otherwise.

      Fifth, you’re making me hate this debate, which was supposed to be fun. Don’t take stuff seriously, bro. Chill. Buy a smoothie. I wrote this blog article because I had an opinion. You wrote your comment because you too had one. But please don’t insult what I’m saying here. I’m a big fantasy reader as much as you are (are you?) so let’s just praise the two and move on with our lives. Write a blog, even. Have fun with it. Put all the LOTR opinions and frustrations you have there. 😀

  4. I wanted to drop by and say that your great and respectful comparison was one of my inspirations to write a LotR/GoT themed blog post this year.

    Thank you for sharing this last year (it’s almost a happy anniversary for the article!)

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