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George R.R. Martin asks: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?”

Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin, in a long interview with Rolling Stone magazine has spoken about his views of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings.

Martin, who is a fan of Tolkien’s works, has often criticised The Lord of the Rings for the over-simplification of the themes that it deals with. In his latest interview, he has challenged Tolkien’s portrayal of power:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

Martin also spoke about Tolkien’s treatment of war:

The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that.

You can read the full interview on the Rolling Stone website.

About the Author: Shaun Gunner

Shaun is the current Chair of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2013, Shaun regularly speaks about adaptations of Tolkien’s works whilst passionately believing the Society needs to reach out to new audiences. In his spare time can be found in the cinema, playing video games and Lego, or on Twitter.

  • I have the feeling that GRRM is still in competition with JRRT. It’s not the first line I red about his advice on Tolkien universe. He forgets few things: tolkien write first for himself, and is really impacted by his love of medieval histories and more by christianism. He was a real believer so i think it was not in his mind to write about incest, prostitutes, and all things GRRM love so much. Tolkien was a philologist, he constructs all his world for create an history which have real roots. The story of GRRM hadn’t a so strong basis, cultural basis. Another thing, Tolkien wrote during the middle of last century, the way of living and thinking lit was really different than today. More puritan. All artwork need to be understanding in their social and historic context. You can’t give a clear judgement without doing this exercise. Actually GRRM didn’t do it.

    • Joshua K. Farrar

      GRRM did it; his goal is to create more realistic art than JRRT, however. While they’re different, to be sure, I don’t think one is “better” than the other. I love the simplicity of Tolkien’s work for what it is, and I love Martin’s craziness because you can draw better relationships between the work and reality.

      • docmerlin

        But GRRM’s work isn’t more realistic. He just kills characters after he realizes he’s forgotten about them and doesn’t have anything more for them to do. Its no less or more realistic than Tolkien, its just darker and grittier.

        • Jamie Parsons

          I would not even say it’s darker, just more graphic. For example Tolkien would write about the widespread slaughter by Morgoth’s forces, including rape, torture and slavery, while Martin would write about widespread slaughter but detail every single act, every beheading, every rape, every cutting-off-a-limb-and-feeding-it-to-them. Tolkien would take 2 lines (all that’s needed) but Martin would fill 2 pages with pointless gratuitous violence that does not add to the story other than to titillate the reader through gore porn.

      • Jon Blow

        Realistic? Are you serious? Martin’s characters have mono dimensional and random behavioral patterns, their actions and not prepared in the script, they delve into erratic petty politics and schemes to provoke and impress the reader in a world that dragons existed and exist and in a world that shadows kill people from afar and magical frost themed outsiders threaten the lands. How can that make sense? Why would you care about taxes and who your psychopath son will marry in his reign when there are priests who raise the dead and assassins who take whatever form they want in order to kill whomever they want, etc? This is an “art” that poses as pseudo realistic, but in truth is an undecided mix of high fantasy, medieval pseudo realism, porn, epic parody and Martin’s personal complex about how cruel the world is. The problem with his art is, that it does not make sense and it does not have cohesion and a robust core like Tolkiens art did. He fails because he has not decided on what the core of his work is. Hell, he doesn’t even have a main story. Oh, and by the way, he needs to lose the RR’s from his middle name. It’s embarrassing.

        • S. Scott Stephens

          I hate that I missed this by years. I’m still going to attempt to explain this.

          First, Martin knows he is praising him with this stuff. He always phrases the things as, “his answer to Tolkien”. That’s a massive compliment. If someone is compelled to answer you, that’s as good as it gets as a writer. That’s immortality with how popular both of these series are. One is clearly an answer to the other. People read stuff like that to very famous literature all the time.

          Secondly, Martin’s world is more realistic because he’s telling you who the monarch’s psychopath son will marry. It’s from the point of view of that character. That’s what a royal would actually be worried about. Magic is a normal thing in that world so the characters he’s writing from the perspective of don’t make a big deal out of it. It absolutely makes sense and is EXTREMELY deep, just like Lord of the Rings.

          And lastly, the RR’s are his actual name. It’s certainly styled like Tolkien’s name but that was another homage to Tolkien. Probably his favorite author of all time.

          I don’t know why people do this with these things. They aren’t even written in the same narrative style. They’re both really top notch literature. Anyone who enjoys fantasy should read them both, multiple times. There is way too much going on in both to appreciate the first time through… or even the second.

          I could read both of these series endlessly. It’s as good as fantasy gets.

          • Lanfear Eshonai

            ” the RR’s are his actual name”

            Not his actual birth names. The 2nd R comes from Richard, his confirmation name that he himself chose at age 14.

      • Benjamin Decker

        Hmm, I thought for a while now that Martin was a bit to much on the soap opera side. with face and heelturns. Jeah he is gritty, but is he realistic? And is that the goal of fantasy anyway? is realism necesarry to be relevant? Martins style is very simplistic and monotonous, very much popcorn and plotcentric while Tolkien is multilayered and varied with epic poems, song and a very diverse narrative structure.

        • Mike Heywood

          First of all, ASOIAF isn’t exactly lacking in the song department, as The Rains of Castamere, The Bear and the Maiden Fair, The Dornishman’s Wife, and The Last of the Giants will attest. Secondly, GRRM’s writing style is not as bare-bones as you make it out to be (unless you’re talking Archmaester Gyldayn), and in fact includes so much descriptive text that it often annoys the fanbase. I don’t know what you mean by a “popcorn” writing style, but I can say that if his setting included popcorn, GRRM would spend two pages describing its precise qualities. As for simplistic, that’s the last word I would use to describe the setting or the characters. Actually, it’s a bit hard to focus on anything with so many fully realized characters to follow.

      • Uxi

        The flimsy one dimensional religions in the show speak to just how unrealistic GRRM is in comparison. The faith of Aragorn and the Dunedain in the Eru and the Valar (which reflects that of their Numenorean forebears) and ultimately sets their determination to stand against Mordor. It’s antithesis in Melkor’s rebellion against Iluvatar down to that of Sauron and his minions’ and their lives of fear stand in stark contrast.

        Stannis’ betrayal of the the Seven to the Lord of Light is nowhere close to being in the same ballpark, nor are his countrymen even remotely alarmed beyond or two lines of vapid dialogue. Very 20th century secularist indeed and so far out of the norm outside of USSR or modern Europe.

        I will say he has a relatively deeper backstory that many of his contemporaries but the hinted backstory to the Targaryen and their dragons are just there and the “live generation” are roughly comparable in complexity but it’s only surface deep and to the level of Gondor through the Ruling Stewards and maybe a hint of royal Gondor (through to the first Targaryen who could perhaps be an Anarion type figure) but Isildur & Elendil? Numenor The tragedy of the Edain and the Noldor against Morgoth? Hurin and Turin and Huor and Tuor, Beren & Luthen? Morgoth, Sauron, Tulkas and Manwe? Nowhere close.

        Completely ignoring the Dwarves, the other elves, other houses of Men, etc

    • luke piestalker

      right on!
      i don’t believe Martin holds a candle to the light of the Eldar. the world Tolkien presents is more vast in my opinion, or at least more imaginative. JRRT got into the characters and their quirks more, neglecting their sexual activity as if everyone were so lusty. the theologies of Tolkien’s world crush those of GRRM’s imo. Tolkien was straight up just higher quality and exhaustive with creativity.

    • Miguel Santos

      He can try to compete but he just sounds desperate to reaffirm how “realistic” and morally ambiguous his story and characters are. Kinda pathetic.

  • “Historians want more details about the social and political structure of Gondor”. That’s what Tolkien said in a letter. And as a historian I can add that we succeed in finding much. Or, at least, in speculating much out of small bits of information scattered throughout the book. Which is a great value of LotR. The interesting thing is that philologists can’t find much about language in Westeros…

    Here’s the fuller quotation given in the Introduction of the ‘Unfinished Tales’:
    “… while many like you demand maps, others wish for geological indications rather than places; many want Elvish grammars, phonologies, and specimens; some want metrics and prosodies…. Musicians want tunes, and musical notation; archaeologists want ceramics and metallurgy; botanists want a more accurate description of the mallorn, of elanor, niphredil, alfirin, mallos, and symbelmynë; historians want more details about the social and political structure of Gondor; general enquirers want information about the Wainriders, the Harad, Dwarvish origins, the Dead Men, the Beornings, and the missing two wizards (out of five).”

    I think such readers’ interest in details is a hobby in its own right and speaks very well about Tolkien’s imagination. I think he said somewhere that he tried to achieve a ‘Beowulfian impression of depth’ when he included fragments of an older mythology in LotR. He certainly succeeded and that’s why the question about Aragorn’s tax policy sounds more like a well-deserved praise than like criticism. If we ask about a king’s policy, then we very probably believe such a king exists or existed

    On the other hand, as Tolkien said about the ‘Beowulf’ poem: the work is firstly a piece of literature and only after that it is a historical source. I’d add that if Mr. Martin delights in tax policy information, he should start reading the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. Real fun for sure… and still a better love story than ‘Twilight’

    • Txabier Etxeberri

      You kill you’re opening argument with the quote “the work is firstly a piece of literature and only after that it is a historical source”. Most of what has been used to “fill in the gaps” is notes, not very complete of developed, mind. Most of it is speculation by enthusiasts and collation by Christopher.

      But that’s only my 0.02 tharni.

      • The fact you have the ability to contribute with tharni is a good answer to Mr Martin by itself 🙂 As for the rest, I don’t find that two different arguments kill each other. There are more than one valid approaches to a work of fiction. Yes, we have the tharni and such other details (even ot scraps of paper). And, yes again, it is literature we’re talking about. In fact, we both say the same thing. There could even be a third argument. What if Martin and Tolkien happen to resolve different litterary tasks? I don’t want of Dostoyevski to write like Dumas and vice versa. I just enjoy both of them.

      • James M

        Howe much is that in quatloos ?

        • fantasywind

          Tharni coin is a fourth part of castar 🙂 (currency of Gondor). But what is the exchange rate for your quatloos I should check in fantasy world’s exchange office :).

          • James M

            I had no idea anything was “known” about the currency of Gondor 🙂

    • Exiled

      To the broader point, most Tolkien fans would be happier brushing up on our Medieval Latin to read the Domesday Book than worrying about Aragorn’s taxation scheme or plan for Orcs. Language in Westeros? Just add some extra “y”s to everything, naturally.

    • André Alcântara

      But George is right in some ways. I, as a reader and a writer, want all the information exposed to me. I want to know all the little details in the world that author created. When I was reading LOTR I caugh myself imagining way too many times “hm that was too easy” “hey there’s something wrong here, how come did that orcs appeared there?” “wait why there’s only one battle happening if Sauron’s power is so huge” and you can just imagine my disappointment when I read the appendix and found out that there were at leats 3 to 4 battles that happened and we weren’t able to read then in the narrative.

      I started reading trought JK Rowling and even Harry Potter, who is a children’s book, has more details about the world she created and why the things happen the way they do

  • Evie_L

    It may seem like a simplistic answer, but I think what it comes down to is “LoTR is not a book about the difficulties of ruling”.

    It isn’t about Aragorn at all, and the actual main character has his own struggles and failings.

  • sanch

    No fantasy work can level up to tolkien simply because of the sheer wealth of the world building with details.. TOLKIEN does not over simplify themes. He deals with themes that we can hold on to even we are the lowest of all points.. I have been in countless situations ..but the themes of tolkien are so beautiful it gives a lot of courage… I love the world .. i just simply cannot love martin’s world no matter how hard i try.. FANTASY is not escapism .. IDEALISM is not going away from reality .. it is building a reality where we can thrive on.. WHY do i need to build the same world which is there? Plus tolkien is a linguist .. his involvement in anglo saxon and other heroic legends is quite obvious.. He is a man who fought the first world war.. I think he knows more than Martin what really is the horror of it.. He just din’t want to create another world like that.. Also Tolkien wrote about the ages which depicted the romantic era.. when things were much simple.. Cultures are way more rich with a great sense of history , you don’t need to know the tax policy or his way of ruling.. This is not a world to say that.. This is a heroic romance .. The world is true. The story is about those themes that will stay on for ever and that is why it touches the heart. instead of describing each and every thing… this increases the epic scope and angle of the story .. It shows how we do in context of the world.. This is not a story about one king or anything.. The story is more about themes and what anyone can do ..That we all belong to the world.. This is why millions and millions of people would continue to love Tolkien forever.. A song of fire and ice will be like one of those stories that will be contemporary because it does not deal with the timeless themes. The reason Lord of the rings still is what it is or for that matter even a children’s book like hobbit is that it deals with the timeless themes.. Somethings are simple yet these things are what drives us forward.. This is what art is .. It equips you with a power to face the harshness of today’s world.. The fact that the works are not allegorical is why it stands timeless.. and ageless !!

  • sanch

    And another great thing is The third age was the last age where evil was a single embodiment.. Then it changes from there. on .. SO its a myth.. Now will martin say all the myths are not good.. IS BEOWULF not good ??? Martin is completely missing the point of the whole thing

  • Medieval Serbia

    Well you gotta read the Tolkien’s work like a medieval saga and draw the conclusion from Aragorn’s own actions as the reining king, for starters, it is mentioned that Aragorn waged numerous wars against the followers of Sauron in Khand, Rhun and Harad for generations and the banners of Rohan were often summoned, which means Aragorn kept a standing army that can keep up with the task of keeping the Gondor in line and battling on the other side of Middle Earth. Also Aragorn rebuilt most of the infrastructure of the Northern Kingdom of Arnor, as he is reining King there as well, which means he must have either a strong tax policy or he managed the bring vast wealth from his conquests (like Charlemagne did with the Avar state after he conquered it) and considering the fact that Mordor was destroyed at the start of his reign, he probably got his hands on the enormous treasures left from Sauron’s industry which he invested into both the army and rebuilding of the land. The Orcs on the other hand got exterminated by people whom received the lands around Nurn, as former slaves of Sauron, because once without a greater dark power to unite them, they became a nuisance to themselves and everyone around them, and they got wiped out through long process of clan wars between them and against everyone else.

    • Gregory PC Arblaster

      I’m not convinced that Aragorn would profit from Sauron’s industry, sounds too much like using the ring for Good, but given what we now of Mordor he likely used the natural resources.

  • Petar Ramljak

    Without Tolkien,there wouldn’t be George R.R. Martin as we know

  • wmyl

    Land value “taxation”.

  • Zhivko Yakimov

    Please, take some time and read the entire interview. The two quotes are so much taken out of context that you would think this site wants to ignite a feud. Martin has never had anything but admiration for Tolkien; he only points out that he presents a more adventureous and idealistic side of fantasy, not so much realism. The reference to Aragorn and The Lord of te Rings came from the commonly accepted notion that if someone is a good person, then he or she would be automatically a good ruler – not necessarily the same thing, and most certainly so in A Song of Ice and Fire.

    If there is any criticsm by Martin, it is headed mostly at the considerable nimber of fantasy authors that try to imitate Tolkien. This doesn’t invalidate the value of Tolkien’s work, it only shows that Martin wanted to take a different, non-mainstream approach with fantasy. You don’t necessarily have to draw comparisons between LOTR and ASOIAF all the time. If you like one and you don’t like the other, that’s perfectly ok. However, I think it’s entirely pointless to dive into argument which one is the greater fantasy work. Both have string and weak sides, and both offer a different take at fantasy, which is not something bad.

    I actually agree with Martin that it would be better for the genre if fewer writers were trying to imitate Tolkien – not because what Tolkien wrote was bad, but because very few people are trying to really develop the genre. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy sci-fi much more than fantasy, you have much more original thought.

    • Jamie Parsons

      I don’t believe Tolkien is like that at all with his rulers. There’s a big example in Lord of the Rings itself – Denethor was a good person but ended up being not that good of a ruler. He couldn’t handle the fight against Mordor.

  • Ortega

    Another aspect missed out here is that Tolkiens books are aimed primarily at children, whereas Martin’s books aren’t.

    • CiCi Galad

      Some elements of the hobbit appealed to children, but the vast majority of Tolkien’s works were absolutely not written specifically for children.

    • Why do you think they are aimed at children? Because there are *elves* in the book? You’re one of those people, aren’t you? Forget the war, the violence, the death, the destruction, the pain and misery and suffering portrayed in the series. The heavy themes of loyalty, comradeship, honor and tenacity in the face of impossible odds. Nah, it’s for kids because it has ELVES in it.

      I feel sorry for you. The whole saga went right over your head.

      I bet you think fairies are tiny with wings, too?

      • docmerlin

        Aimed at children because he said they were. He created the world as a result of the bedtime stories he told his kids.

        • The Hobbit was. Not The Lord of the Rings. You should probably know what you’re talking about before typing things. He wrote The Fall of Gondolin after recuperating from wounds in World War I.


        • Wrong. Go read “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien” and acquire the facts. He did not recommend The Hobbit for anyone under the age of 14 and in fact, he waited and did not read it to his own children until they were that age.

          You can sit there and misbelieve me, however, in the 1940s when his kids were growing up it was a different world and yes, amazing as it sounds today, The Hobbit would have frightened small children. It is not meant for them. It never was and The Lord of the Rings is adult fare.

  • Maria

    Tolkien and Martin are totally different. Martin has every right to compare his work with Tolkien’s. I just think that concluding that his own work is better or worse than Tolkien’s is out of place, as I stated earlier, they’re so different to begin with. It is also possible that Martin himself or the publisher of this article are just trying to draw visitors to this site by starting controversy. Sooo… I leave it at that. 😀

  • fantasywind

    Hah!! People should read more with understanding, the details of Aragorn reign are numerous enough, first of all we know that the beginning of Aragorn’s rule was carefully calculated in political terms, first of all he didn’t claim the throne just like that, he secured the allegiance of his people and army due to many factors: he acted upon the cultural mindset of gondorians who after their royal family died out held romantic nostalgia for the times of kings (some of whom were powerful enough to make Gondor a great empire stretching from the Great Sea Belegaer in the west to the Sea of Rhun in the east and north from Calenardhon to the far south with realm of Umbar conquered and other haradian states tributary to the crown of Gondor bringing enormous wealth to the kingdom, there was a saying during the reign of king Atanatar Alcarin ,,The Glorious” that ,,precious stones are pebbles in Gondor for children to play with”), he also used one of the most powerful symbols the Elendil’s sword, coming in line with old prophecies he was sharing the toils of common soldiers and his skills as commander (and brilliant tactician) gave him full admiration of his future army (Gondor fields full time professional soldiers with local levies being called upon in need), he was able to learn about local policies long before (whole decades, when he served incognito under name Thorongil, the Ruling Steward Ecthelion father of Denethor) and he already showed skills as ,,great leader of men by land and BY SEA” (you see that, Aragorn was even skilled navy commander in a kingdom that prides itself for old maritime traditions as rulers of the seas with most powerful fleet), local nobility (the most important being Lords of fiefdoms and Captains of Forces who form the Council of Gondor) are more administrative governors of the fiefs or provinces of Gondor and are responsible for military defense so they too are skilled warriors and , during the War of the Ring he also used his healing powers and skills in medicine to bring help to thousands of wounded which brought him even more fame and undying loyalty of his men, another even more subtle manipulation was made by….his future wife Arwen, this clever girl sent him through her grandma Galadriel, the magical elfstone Elessar with healing powers set in silver brooch and thanks to it ,,the name prophecied at his birth was given to Aragorn by his own people” from this stone the Men of Gondor started to call him Elessar the Elfstone (which is his throne name he assumed taking power) also she gave him banner with royal sigil (very stylish embroided with gold, mithril and gems as heraldic seven stars) which also added to Aragorn’s splendour and reputation as Isildur’s heir (and allowed him to easier convince the Oathbreakers the army of the dead to join him), then during coronation itself steward Faramir (who was more ready to accept return of royal dynasty than his overly proud father and Faramir already felt strong loyalty to this new king whom he owed his life and admired him for his deeds, thus securing allegiance of the most influential bloodline of Gondor who were practically posessing king’s power as Ruling Stewards though nominally they were caretakers of the throne waiting for the ,,rightful king’s return”) actually ASKED THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY for symbolic acclamation of new rule presenting Aragorn’s feats and titles he held (as Chieftain of Dunedain and descendant of Elendil and Isildur), NOTHING would beat this even the most fierce opposition (if there ever was one, even Denethor ruled with iron fist so there would be few who would dare to oppose him and he too had great admiration of his subjects along with constant threat of Mordor being uniting factor) would shut their mouths dumbstruck at this course of events, where common people hail this new ruler as rightful king sent from heavens and not to forget that Aragorn was really, REALLY benevolent (more so than Denethor), highly educated in lore (which was total surprise that this warriors from the north is not only man of war but also almost a scholar taught by elves and great healer, skilled in medicine, for example he knew elven language of Quenya known also as ,,valinorean” or Ancient Speech which in Middle Earth is tongue of scholars something like our latin).

    Then we have info on actual rule with peace traties signed with former enemies Easterlings and Haradrim where Aragorn released war prisoners and started to mend the centuries old hate those people held for Gondor under influence of Sauron, he granted lands around Sea/Lake of Nurn to liberated slaves working there (and thus securing their friendship and supply of their farming goods from very fertile fields), he initiated the renewal of good relation with elder races dwarves and elves and thanks to that he could use their help in rebuilidng after war, he started new alliance with kingdoms of Dale and Erebor (of Men and dwarves) and msot likely engaging in highly profitable trade (Dale markets were famous in wide world, with toy-market being a real wonder of the North and dwarves of Erebor practically caused the great economic boom after the rebuilding of Kingdom under the Mountain as direct result of Bilbo’s quest from The Hobbit), we know that as a king Aragorn engaged in judgments (criminal and probably civil affairs) passing out sentences with reason and justice (the trial of Beregond shows clearly that he knew how to use law skillfully 🙂 and mercifully), then we know that he started the recolonization of desolate regions of former Arnor and rebuilding ancient magnificent cities like Annuminas), he also rewarde allies like Woses of Druadan Forest giving them their land for their own, he secured allegiance of closest neighbour kingdom of Rohan by renewing the oath of Cirion and Eorl (which was probably magically reinforced as it appears in texts), he took management of frotress of Isengard guarding the most important route through the Gap of Rohan and generally reordering and managing the realm, he started recolonization of Ithilien (the new frontier with Faramir as Prince of Ithilien, until he acquried new territories during the many wars with those of Easterlings and Haradrim who did not seek peace and he subdued the largest threat to the coasts and all the traffic on the sea Corsairs of Umbar), as for tax policies well I think it’s reasonable to assume that colonists were given tax free periods of time to ancourage them to settle in new lands (also repairing and maintaining the old roads, Numenoreans were like romans with the net of well build roads, would give profit from tolls, lke Beornings who set high tolls for traffic through their lands), the rich townlands of Pelennor fields though heavily destroyed in battle would be again profitable, new trade possibilities and early period of peace would be economically beneficial for the kingdom allowing to draw resources so far put into military to other sectors (in the time of several recent Ruling Stewards Gondor became heavily militarized because of constant threat of war, this brief respite would allow investing into other previously neglected fields af activity, like art, science, stengthening economy, allowing also for increase in population which wouldn’t be threatened by losses in another battle).

  • Rokugami

    Though I appreciate the new filter of what contemporary fantasy could be I cannot agree with this kind of statements that Martin tends to say to criticize Tolkien’s world. Even when it is true that we can argue the matter with long explanations and theories to me the answer is rather simple nonetheless. Where Martin writes a physical and tridimensional world, with blood and flesh, pain and joy, building a reliable History in a different reality, Tolkien writes MYTH. Tolkien’s work is legendary, with excalibur like weapons, arthurian realms, and beowulfian heroes. He doesn’t need taxes as Martin’s Kings need, simply because his lengendarium is out of time and out of history. After all it’s only the difference between Fantasy History and Fantasy Legend.

  • Demnation

    A bit unfair to take these quotes out of context, I think. Martin praises Tolkien more often than not, and in fact does so later in this interview. And in another interview with Vanity Fair (published just a few weeks before this one) he calls LOTR his favorite book.

  • monton

    you will kill art if you dive into such technicalities such as this. words and symbols are only coins, they are not real life, very much like art is an appreciation of beauty. To see art as the representation of real life is folly, like asking how a beautiful imaginary character will tax his subjects.

  • Mau

    GRRM mixes reality with fantasy. That is why GoT will never be successful in the long run. It will suffer the same thing as HP. Only affect a certain demographic before the “next big thing” comes out.
    Not because it lacks substance, but because reality changes. It is on a constant flux of change. Presidents change, war changes and EVERYTHING changes. GoT is looking at a fantastic world, but it is driven by Fantasy. LOTR is fantasy driven by fantasy. That is why it doesn’t matter what Aragorn’s tax policy is.
    Tolkien has used historical ideas and has set them in Middle Earth, but GRRM has set too much reality in his world, so much so, that it will not stand…
    At least, that is what I think

  • Pepe Gutierrez

    Tolkien writes of universal values from the dawn of mankind, Martin is writing a soap opera
    with fantasy characters.

  • Guest

    “Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.”

    In my opinion, this statement is incorrect. It is not difficult to come up with a list of bad people who ruled prosperous realms (Caranthir, Tar-Ancalimë, King Fengel of Rohan), or good people who ruled troubled realms (Dior, Tar-Palantir, many or most of the kings of Arthedain). There are also many rulers that are too complex to be called “good” or “bad” (Thingol, Tar-Aldarion, Denethor).

    Also, does Tolkien ever say that the Reunited Kingdom prospered under Aragorn? It increased in size, and it endured, but I don’t recall reading that his reign was notable for an increase in wealth or cultural achievements. Perhaps it did, but mostly I remember that Aragorn and Eomer often led their kingdoms to war beyond the Sea of Rhun.

    Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

    Aragorn dropped out of the story shortly after becoming king. The few remaining chapters in the book were not focused on him or his policies.

  • Aaron Loehrlein

    “Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.”

    In my opinion, this statement is incorrect. It is not difficult to come up with a list of bad people who ruled prosperous realms (Caranthir, Tar-Ancalimë, King Fengel of Rohan), or good people who ruled troubled realms (Dior, Tar-Palantir, many or most of the kings of Arthedain). There are also many rulers that are too complex to be called “good” or “bad” (Thingol, Tar-Aldarion, Denethor).

    Also, does Tolkien ever say that the Reunited Kingdom prospered under Aragorn? It increased in size, and it endured, but I don’t recall reading that his reign was notable for an increase in wealth or cultural achievements. Perhaps it did, but mostly I remember that Aragorn and Eomer often led their kingdoms to war beyond the Sea of Rhun.

    “Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”

    Aragorn dropped out of the story shortly after becoming king. The few remaining chapters in the book were not focused on him or his policies.

    • fantasywind

      Well as for question of orc genocide, there was no need to pursue such policy, those orcs who still troubled Gondor (those who settled in Mountains of Shadow and would attack Ithilien in raids) would be simply driven off and nobody would need to kill them all (there is a letter in which Tolkien writes about Faramir actions in Ithilien when one reader thought that he got ”gardening job”, there is said that remnants of orcs as well as some outlaws would pose a trouble in recolonization of Ithilien so Faramir’s job was to protect that region as it’s administrative governor Prince of Ithilien with seat of power at Emyn Arnen, which surprisingly is also ancestral home of nobles who started the line of Stewards:

      ”to be Prince of Ithilien, the greatest noble after Dol Amroth in the
      revived Númenórean state of Gondor, soon to be of imperial power and
      prestige, was not a ‘market-garden job’ as you term it. Until much had
      been done by the restored King, the P. of Ithilien would be the resident
      march-warden of Gondor, in its main eastward outpost – and also would
      have many duties in rehabilitating the lost territory, and clearing it
      of outlaws and orc-remnants, not to speak of the dreadful vale of Minas
      Ithil (Morgul). I did not, naturally, go into details about the way in
      which Aragorn, as King of Gondor, would govern the realm. But it was
      made clear that there was much fighting, and in the earlier years of
      A.’s reign expeditions against enemies in the East. The chief
      commanders, under the King, would be Faramir and Imrahil; and one of
      these would normally remain a military commander at home in the King’s
      absence. A Númenórean King was monarch, with the power of
      unquestioned decision in debate; but he governed the realm with the
      frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter)
      but not the maker. In all debatable matters of importance domestic, or
      external, however, even Denethor had a Council, and at least listened to
      what the Lords of the Fiefs and the Captains of the Forces had to say.
      Aragorn re-established the Great Council of Gondor, and in that Faramir,
      who remained by inheritance the Steward (or representative of
      the King during his absence abroad, or sickness, or between his death
      and the accession of his heir) would [be] the chief counsellor.”

      Also again I’ll repeat even in this circumstances there would be no need to actually try to eradicate all of the orcs in their homes so to speak, only acting in self-defense, clearing out any orc forces that would be bold enough to pose a threat, the fall of Sauron caused enormous shock to the orcs some of them were mentally dominated and as soon as his will was removed from them they were reduced to almost witless state (mind control guys, don’t play with that one! 🙂 ) or simply were terrified enough to basically cease any activities against the winners (well orcs too flee from enemy or fight to death, rarely ever surrendering, even when they see no other chance, it is actually difficult to think about them in our terms since they are totally differing race in mentality, orcs that would escape would no be bothered if they did not bother other races).

      Sooner the orcs would decimate themselves in the in-fightings between the different tribes and it is said that after the battle of Morannon the majority of orcs present on the scene actually escaped Mordor to hide in more remote mountains. Two times in history of Middle Earth there was a campaign against orcs that decimated their numbers War of the Dwarves and Orcs where dwarven forces in revenge for murder of their king sacked all orc strongholds from Mount Gundabad to Moria (and it is even mentioned that both sides were pitiless and there were cruel deeds commited by both sides, as it often is with quests for revenge sometimes they bring more suffering and cruelty and the revenge itself is not sweet) and then when orcs fleeing from that war tried to establish themselves in White Mountains and soon started raiding and killed in ambush king of Rohan whose son swore revenge and started fightining them and at last destroyed all their strongholds in mountains (it is most likely that there were survivors who simply escaped so the Misty Mountains soon crawled with orcs again, also Grey Mountains are still good place for them to live in) and that’s it the two situations were war was brought on the orc’s own territory destroying their settlements (but then orcs simply move out as a horde and search for a new home so they never are subkected to total genocide, otherwise they would be destroyed long ago when they were more or less on their own forming their petty mountain realms), the ‘good’ guys of course show mercy, give quarter, Gandalf clearly says he feels pity even for Sauron’s slaves, so such morally questionable actions as slaughtering children (even of orcs) isn’t something that I consider them doing.

      Also the only possible mention of an orc child is in The Hobbit, Gollum apparently ate one 🙂 ”young squeaker” the little ”goblin-imp” that wandered into his lair. But Gollum even later on had bad fame (though possibly in rumours) of a child eater (it is said that dreadful tales were said about him a creature that sneaked into windows of Woodmen houses to find cradles, that is scary 🙂 ).

      • Mike Heywood

        Yeah, but there’s going to be a lot of anti-orc bigotry among the peasants and petty lords of Ithilien. Some of them will probably decide to launch their own campaigns of genocide. The orcs will retaliate, and the crown will have to back its bannermen or look weak.

        • fantasywind

          Human race has it’s bigotries and even in Middle Earth as Tolkien wrote “I have not made any of the peoples on the ‘right’ side,
          Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have
          been or are, or can be.” Even the old friendship with elves (of the specific branches of human race since others feared or even hated elves: “the white-fiends: for so they named the Elves, hating them, but fearing them more.” as Elrond himself notes “Men multiply and the Firstborn decrease, and the two kindreds are estranged.”) is waning, turning to mistrust. Still the ‘petty lords or peasant crusades’ are unlikely not to mention it would be waste of resources and manpower that would be needed for recolonization of Ithilien. The only lord here would be Faramir Steward and newly appointed Prince of Ithilien.

          Ithilien is a fertile land and at this point of history a frontier of Gondor. The kingdom by the time of Lotr narrative retained only military presence stationed in secret military strongholds, hidden all over the land fighting with guerilla tactics. The last inhabitants of Ithilien fled many decades earlier after Mount Doom erupted again, signaling increased activity of Sauron (Rangers of Ithilien were descendants of original inhabitants). The area once a productive, well tended ‘garden of Gondor’ is empty and full of ruins when we see it in books. That would require significant effort to rebuild infrastructure not to mention entire settlements, and as we’re told Legolas takes many elves from Woodland Realm to live in Ithilien in Fourth Age, who made it more beautiful than ever.

          We don’t know much about nobility in Gondor, the only lords we know of are presiding in Great Council along with ‘captains of the Outlands’, they more often are governors of divisions of land. All in all it does not seem to represent the feudal mediaval past of our world. The ‘knights’ for example in Middle Earth are rather elite military rank of warriors, while knight in feudal Europe was considered a class of lower nobility, granted land of their own for service, Pippin for example becomes knight of Gondor and yet he receives no land or feudal obligation, he merely remains in disposition of the king (knight is a numenorean ‘roquen’, higher rank above common footsoldier of the rank called ‘ohtar’). The lords that we know of are: Angbor of Lamedon, Forlong the Fat of Lossarnach, Duinhir of Morthond, unnamed lord of Ringlo Vale, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Hirluin of Pinnath Gelin. Those are the ‘lords of the fiefdoms’, which are more like provinces of the realm.
          The kingdom of Gondor has strong centralized power so such actions without approval of higher ups are unlikely.

          The only references to taking war onto orc-territory, destroying their strongholds are War of Dwarves and Orcs when dwarves attacked every stronghold of Orcs, retaliation for death of rohirrim king Walda who was ambushed in White Mountains and maybe Beornings actions after the events of The Hobbit (but even they were unsuccessful to truly eradicate them). Gondorians thousands of years before held a watch over Mordor guarding their lands against creatures of Sauron, but even then there is no mention of them waging great campaigns of genocide.

          • SteelhHedgehogg

            In ‘MY’ Esteemed ‘Opinion’…
            ‘Orcszs’ are like Rrrr`RATtttszs!
            Like ‘They’ Were ‘Characterized’…
            In the ‘Animated’ Movies/TV Showzs.

            ‘They’ WiLL ALWAYzs ‘SURViVE’…
            ‘Some`Where’ Under`Hill or ‘Mountain’.



  • James M

    “Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.”

    ## Very Platonic, and very Biblical. Therefore, mediaeval. The idea is “holistic” – it maintains the connection between the ruler, the ruled, and the region ruled: they are unified in the person of the ruler. The Old Testament Prophets & sages would have understood it. And it is very appropriate to a king in Middle-Earth, wher the evil of both Morgoth & Sauron is reflected in the ruinousness & deadness & sterility of their lands. It is essential to the kingship of Aragorn that he discovers a seedling of Nimloth the White Tree on the slopes of Mindolluin – for that is a counter to the wanton destruction of the White Tree by Ar-Pharazon.

    “Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good.”

    ## 120 years, actually – is GRRM thinking of “The Return of the Shadow” ? Tolkien shows Aragorn’s goodness and wisdom, rather than simply asserting it. Aragorn is splendidly equipped to be King, in every way, by valour in war, by willingness to take the Paths of the Dead, by readiness to serve under others when young, by his many virtues, by his being a healer of the sick, by his challenging Sauron when the Palantir came into his hands, and by his readiness to give up his life when his time had come. And, he is of Maiarin & Elven as well as Mannish descent. It’s very illuminating to compare him with the Numenorean Rulers from whom he is descended. And unlike Thingol Greycloak, he is free of anger & pride.

    “But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy?”

    ## Martin’s questions apply to a world later, and poorer (because Elfless) than that of Aragorn. For Aragorn still belongs to a world of primeval unities, a world in which trees have shepherds who speak, a world of Elves & Wizards, in which exceptional long life for Men is perhaps less common than it was, but not a matter for astonishment. He belongs to a world that has not become the workaday world of familiar human experience – but it is to this latter world that GRRM’s questions apply, not to the primeval world to which Aragorn still, in some measure, belongs. Tolkien was conscious of the difference between Aragorn, and his later successors – & was not writing the same sort of book as GRRM’s “ASOIAF”.

  • DNACowboy

    How can people even try to compare GRRM with the master? There can be only one and his name is Tolkien.

  • Jamie Parsons

    Aragorn ruled for about 5 minutes at the end of the book.

    ‘that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.’ I don’t remember seeing that. Even in Lord of the Rings, Rohan was not exactly prospering and Theoden was a good man and a good king. Denethor was by all accounts a good man, but the pressure of fighting Mordor got to him, while it did not get to Aragorn. So in that way Denethor was a poor ruler while Aragorn was a good one. It’s a bit silly of Martin to focus on one ruler, whose rule was not even a part of the story. If you look at The Silmarillion, well none of the kingdoms really ‘prosper’, except maybe Gondolin.

  • Isaacjm

    Critiquing Tolkien for not describing Aragorn’s tax policy is completely missing the point. Its like critiquing the book of Revelation (Bible) for not describing the sewer system in the New Heavens and New Earth. Its a non-issue.

  • Exiled

    Let’s face it, years of Dungeons and Dragons have intervened (I’m not familiar, personally) between Tolkien and these modern writers. I do see GRRM’s point that endless retreads of Tolkien’s villains would be boring, I also see no point in people writing retreads of these themes in this same vein. That is not what Tolkien was doing, however people want to imagine his characters now (Hair straighteners for everyone!).

    Those of us who discovered Tolkien first through his academic works and see that dedication to philology/historical linguistics, or those who come to love it via his fiction are capable of switching gears and reading GRRM, but his prose is a bit difficult to take seriously. As for complexity, when I see one of his characters paraphrase The Wanderer in ME but lovely meter I’ll change my mind. I enjoy his pulpy stories, but certainly not his prose. Anyone who keeps claiming Tolkien’s language is archaic simply never learned to read. I definitely get it, certainly after reading posts on the web, GRRM is a far easier read for many. That has been true of many writers, but has rarely won them lasting acclaim.

    Or to answer the question, find me a Tolkienist who actually cares about Aragorn’s tax ideas, that may be GRRM’s point here. He can keep it. We’d generally rather read Beowulf again than bother.

  • Ashutosh Sen

    George R. R. Martin didn’t read LOTR carefully. Therefore, his statement is stupid and wrong. LOTR isn’t written from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, it’s written like history, Tolkien is only the translator (from common tongue into modern English). Plus his style of writing makes it clear that it’s a work of antiquity, and not a modern novel. Scribes of real kings wrote eulogies, not unbiased histories. LOTR is an extract taken from the Red Book of Westmarch, written jointly by Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and Samwise Gamgee, with help from written materials from Rivendell.

  • Mike Heywood

    Why should Aragorn be king at all? Because he’s the heir of a line that hasn’t actually ruled anything in centuries? Why should Faramir, who knows Gondor and its people, give up his crown to Aragorn, a stranger to both? Why not let Aragorn rule Arnor, the land he knows? I would expect that within a decade or so of Aragorn’s ascendance, when his conquering hero reputation begins to wear off, someone will try to put Faramir on the throne in his stead.

  • Ray

    Maybe Tolkien could give Martin a few tips on how to finish writing a series….

  • Ben Long

    For a man who avoided the draft, he sure has a lot to say about war.

  • Bardo Gravieli

    “what was aragon tax policy” well it’s a fantasy book you dumb phedo piece of shit? Why you so love sex and torture inside fantasy stories? Why you always make undead the bad guys in your books. Why you sold your book writes to HBO before finish it? What kind a men look like ugly as shit like you?

  • Brandon Brown

    He states that “wars throughout history” and “real history” not being “that simple.” I humbly remind Mr. Martin that the reason fantasy is fantasy is that it’s not reality. As much as I love Martin’s books (and I do because they’re NOT like Tolkien’s), Tolkien wrote the literal Bible of fantasy of which Martin is the Machiavellian heretic. This is a bit like Ibsen criticizing Shakespeare.