From Middle to the West:“Moral Complexity” in the Works of G.R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien

Ten long winters have passed since Lev Grossman, in Time, coined the term “American Tolkien” as an honorary title of G.R.R. Martin, to honor his name by conjoining it with that of Father of Fantasy himself. Far from simply falling in Tolkien’s shadow, however, Grossman saw Martin’s epic saga enjoying a clear advantage over Tolkien, especially in question of “moral complexity”. Instead of an unsullied “Manichaean _struggle between Good and Evil”, Westeros is marked by the muck through which its men and women must slug it out, for ideals no grander than money, power, lust and love.

Ten long winters. How has the judgement of Time fared through them? Does it hold still, or has something changed? Moreover, was it a bastard to begin with, or indeed of the noble birth its authoritative origin would suggest?

Perhaps the time has come to challenge Time, to see on which side it itself aligns in relation to the separation it promotes. What does it in concrete clarity mean to differentiate between Martin and Tolkien in question of “moral complexity”? Is Middle_Earth truly so Manichaean as Grossman – and many others along with him – has implied? And, on the other hand, is Westeros truly the merciless pit of Realpolitik with which it is, in so many articles beyond Time, associated?

These questions, along with the conditions of their answerability, we shall shortly attempt to show.

Jaakko Reinikainen