Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings are two of the most popular high fantasy franchises ever. Both book series had incredibly successful on-screen adaptations, with viral fanbases that constantly debate which is better. The worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are so similar, yet so different, so what’s better: Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings?
It all depends on what you prefer, as both have incredible qualities. If you prefer more gore, sex, and violence, go for Game of Thrones. However, if you want something more poetic, beautifully written, and built, the Lord of the Rings should be your choice.
Also, George R.R. Martin openly admits he drew a lot of inspiration from Tolkien’s work. Therefore, despite the two stories being very different, one might consider Middle-earth the original and Westeros the copy. I love both, so it’s hard to debate, but let’s try to analyze the facts to get to an objective answer.
Which Came First?
You don’t have to be the first at something to be original. However, when it comes to high fantasy, Tolkien is the cream of the crop. Almost every author that came after J.R.R. drew inspiration from his spectacular work. Even George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire took many pointers from The Lord of the Rings, especially when it comes to world-building.
The Lord of the Rings is, in fact, a sequel to The Hobbit, a children’s book that was published in 1937. The publishers, Allen & Unwin, were amazed by The Hobbit’s popularity and wanted Tolkien to do a similar sequel. Eventually, it grew into something much larger and better than they ever saw coming.
The trilogy consists of three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Each volume consists of two separate books and additional background material dedicated to Middle-earth’s history and overall world-building.
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings from 1937 to 1949 and intended it to be a single-volume book, being the first volume of an even larger series, with The Silmarillion being the second volume. However, due to economic reasons, Allen & Unwin decided to publish The Lord of the Rings in three separate volumes, as we know them, over a year’s time from 1954-to 1955.
The first single-volume edition – the way Tolkien wanted The Lord of the Rings to be – was published in 1968. Since it was first published, The Lord of the Rings became one of the most popular books of all time, translated to almost 40 languages and selling over 150 million copies worldwide.
Now, The Silmarilion, which was intended to be the second volume to The Lord of the Rings, was never published while Tolkien was alive. Believe it or not, the first drafts and idea scribbles were written by Tolkien in 1917. However, the world Tolkien had built was so detailed and meticulous that he never got to finish the book.
Instead, his son, Christopher, with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay, finished The Silmarilion and published it in J.R.R.’s name in 1977.
On the other hand, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is still not finished, but the first book named A Game of Thrones came out in 1996. Since then, four more volumes have been published: A Clash of Kings (1998), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feast for Crows (2005), and A Dance with Dragons (2011).
We’re still waiting on volumes six and seven; The Winds of Winter, and A Dream of Spring, respectively. Although the genre is the same, Martin’s work is quite different from Tolkien’s. There’s a lot more violence, gore, and romantic intrigue, and that fight between good and evil isn’t that clear in terms of determining who’s good and who’s evil.
A Song of Ice and Fire also became one of the most popular book series ever, with almost 100 million copies sold worldwide. Despite Martin’s stylistic originality, Tolkien’s work came first and often served as a blueprint for authors after him to develop their work, including GRRM himself.
I’m not saying that being the first means, you’re automatically better. However, in this case, being the first carries a lot of significance.
We’ve already touched upon the books, so to recap – The Lord of the Rings has three volumes, not including the prequels, The Hobbit, and The Silmarilion. On the other hand, the Game of Thrones books (A Song of Ice and Fire) will have seven volumes in the end. Volumes six and seven still haven’t been published.
Also, both series are highly popular, but The Lord of the Rings has more copies sold worldwide. Tolkien’s books sold 150 million copies, whereas Martin’s work has amassed around 100 million so far. Putting that aside, which of these series is better?
As I’ve said, Tolkien’s work is just legendary. He’s the first high fantasy author to develop such a complex fantasy world as is Middle-earth. The history, landscape, creatures, and even completely new languages – Tolkien thought of everything and developed it to perfection.
Seeing that it all started with The Hobbit – at least publication-wise – the book started with a more child-book undertone. And although The Lord of the Rings is darker and more brutal, in a way, the style of writing Tolkien chose is just spectacular. He’s poetic in every word, which only adds to the quality of the books themselves.
I’m not going to peruse the storyline, but the point is that the distinction between good and evil is much clearer. There’s Sauron and his evil forces, and then there’s everybody else. The One Ring can corrupt good people into becoming evil, but it’s clear who the real bad guy is.
Of course, there was Morgoth before Sauron, but that’s going thousands of years back before the events of The Lord of the Rings.
Now, with Game of Thrones – that is, A Song of Ice and Fire, the good vs. evil battle isn’t really that clear. Who’s good and who’s bad depends on who you’re asking. Of course, there is this mystical evil in the Night King and his undead army of White Walkers, but one could argue that the people of Westeros are just as evil as them.
The Seven Kingdoms are almost constantly at some kind of war, battle, betrayal, intrigue, madness, and whatnot. And, unlike Tolkien’s poetic, enchanting writing style, GRRM is much more inclined toward violence, aggression, unfathomable love stories, torture, rape, incest… There’s stuff that makes The Lord of the Rings look like a good-night fairy tale.
Now, if I had to tell you which books are better, I’d undoubtedly go with The Lord of the Rings. However, I really am not a good measuring stick, as I am heavily biased towards Tolkien. I’ve re-read his work a dozen times, and I’ll probably read it a dozen more.
I’m a huge fan, fascinated with the detail with which he created that magical world. I’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire, too, but not before I’ve seen the series. Although there are major differences between the two, some key plot points remained the same, so it was kind of spoiled for me.
Don’t get me wrong – it was a different read, but awesome nevertheless. But, for me, it’s not awesome enough for me to have an urge to read it again, and it’s just not as awesome as The Lord of the Rings.
TV Series Vs. Movies
In 2022, we’re getting two more epic series in both of these amazing universes, so there will be a lot more to compare. The Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, is coming out in August, whereas The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere in September.
But, until the shows arrive, let’s compare what we have so far: The eight seasons of the Game of Thrones TV series and six movies from Tolkien’s Middle-earth – The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy.
Game of Thrones is brutal. When it came out, it was one of the most shocking, unprecedented pieces of cinematography ever created. It was so brutal and shocking that even people who never had an interest in high fantasy watched the show, biting their nails throughout.
The main characters get their heads chopped off, liquid gold poured onto their faces, a girl gets raped and then marries her rapist and becomes his queen. A woman has three children – with her twin brother, and they push a kid off of a tower to keep him quiet about it, crippling him forever. All the while, they fight for the throne, and a supernatural threat lurks from the shadows.
In all that commotion, you have brilliant storytelling full of plot twists, filled with distinctive high fantasy elements such as dragons, giants, wraiths, swords, wars, etc. When you watch Game of Thrones for the first time, the pace is unfathomable – it’s just shock, after shock, after shock.
There’s blood, violence, and gore, but also sex, perversion, betrayal, and much more. Just as you think you figured it out, you learn that you know nothing. The characters you love the most, you’ll grow to hate, and vice-versa.
I don’t want to spoil the fun, but many fans – and the show’s actors – found the last season of the show somewhat disappointing. Still, it’s one of the most popular TV shows of all time, and despite a lackluster ending, one of the best of all time as well.
The Lord of the Rings movies are diametrically different. There aren’t that many stunners – they happen maybe once or twice in each of the three films, which is not that many, considering the movies last for more than three hours each. However, the story is so incredibly well-paced and written that you’ll find yourself immersed in every dialogue, every sentence, every word.
You’ll fall in love with some characters and stay in love with them, while the ones you have, you will have even more when it’s all said and done. The pacing is slower but awesome, and the fight between good and evil is much clearer.
The storytelling, like in the books, is poetic and overall beautiful. It might take some getting-used-to if you’re not too familiar or keen on that kind of narration, but once you get immersed into that amazing world, three hours go by like thirty minutes.
I have to say, I much prefer The Lord of the Rings movies to The Hobbit trilogy, although I find both amazing. Still, The Hobbit was one book, divided into three films, so it feels a bit unnecessarily prolonged at times while still leaving out some major sub-plots from the book.
Overall, both have their magic but are very hard to compare, as they are diametrically opposite in terms of storytelling, plot, and character.
Game Of Thrones Vs. The Lord Of The Rings: What’s Better?
Finally, if you were to start watching or reading one or the other, which is better: Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings?
I found The Lord of the Rings better than Game of Thrones, both the movies and the books. Tolkien is the original, and if it weren’t for his work, A Song of Ice and Fire would probably look a whole lot different. Also, I love the storytelling, the writing style, and overall world-building a lot more in Tolkien’s work than I do in Martin’s.
GRRM can go a bit overboard sometimes. Don’t get me wrong – that’s what made him so popular, but some sub-plots just take things too far, either violence-wise or perversion-wise. However, that’s just my subjective opinion.
Objectively, it’s a tossup between what you prefer – if you want to immerse yourself into something poetic while keeping all those high fantasy elements and unprecedented world-building, I’d go for The Lord of the Rings.
On the other hand, if you want the same elements put under a completely different light, filled with love, intrigue, drama, passion, violence, aggression, gore, blood, plot twists, shocks, and stunners, then there’s nothing better you can choose to read or watch than Game of Thrones.
I’m a huge fan of both, so my honest opinion is that you can’t go wrong with either.