J.R.R. Tolkien and G.R.R. Martin have the most initials of any two fantasy authors in history. They also have millions of devoted followers who swear that one of them is better than the other. I'm a fan of both of these great storytellers, but I believe that Middle-earth will be held up as an exemplar of fantasy (and literature) long after Westeros has faded away (though don't tell that to the guy who built the entire city of King's Landing out of Minecraft blocks). In honor of Tolkien's 122nd birthday, here's a comparison of the relative merits of the fantasy creations The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones (aka LOTR and GOT) from J.R.R. and G.R.R, IMO.
Game of Dragons: Smaug vs. Daenerys's Egg-babies
While there is no denying that just-hatched baby dragons are cute as heck, Smaug is one of the scariest monsters in the history of literature. This clever and wicked beast could crush the Khaleesi's trio of winged squirts like Cadbury Creme Eggs. And Smaug is a punk compared to the fell beast that preceded him: the magical and vicious Glaurung of Tolkien's The Silmarillion. That creature was the general of an orc army who could breathe fire and weave spells of forgetfulness. Snarks and grumpkins, but that's a badass dragon!
Edge: J.R.R. Tolkien
Short Guy Jokes: Hobbit Humor vs. the Wit of Tyrion Lannister
There's no easy way to say this: the Hobbits in Tolkien's books aren't as funny as we think they are. Sure they're likable, playful and wise, but I defy any Tolkien fan to quote a Shire bon mot that doesn't have to do with gardening or the smoking of pipe weed. Tyrion Lannister, however, is one funny dude. He's witty, ribald and provides enough gallows humor for his creator to have produced a book (albeit a very slim one) titled The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister. I'd still rather go on an inn-crawl across the Shire and Buckland with Merry and Pippin, though. Tyrion would just get you knifed in a bar fight.
Edge: G.R.R. Martin
The Supreme Bean: Boromir vs. Ned Stark
Actor Sean Bean is the most obvious link between the film adaptations of Tolkien and Martin. His portrayal of Boromir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings brought the necessary gravitas to a brave yet conflicted character. And his brave yet conflicted Ned Stark has become an iconic TV role, despite the fact that he looked just like Boromir only in a bigger, furrier cloak. The joke on the Internet is: How long will it take any Sean Bean character in a movie to get killed off? Always too soon, in my opinion. I can't get enough of his brave yet conflicted performances. And I can't decide if Boromir or Ned Stark is better, because they're almost exactly the same!
Edge: It's a tie
Lord of the Maps: Middle-earth vs. Westeros
Tolkien's descriptions of the landscape of Middle-earth are so detailed that the place seems like an alternate reality. If a reader were dropped into the Shire via a magic portal, you'd be able to find your way to Rivendell without a map simply by following the landmarks (and there's also a big-ass road that goes straight there). Martin's world has a detailed topography as well, but many of the features in his fantasy land seem conveniently fabricated merely to be cool or dramatic. I'm thinking of a 300-mile-long, 700-foot-tall wall constructed out of solid ice that's meant to keep ice creatures at bay. Wouldn't the White Walkers look at a wall of snow and say, "Hey! Look! Ice wall! We love ice!" and just climb right over it? And while I'm on the subject, shouldn't the men of the Night's Watch wear white instead of black? One word, Lord Commander: camouflage.
Edge: J.R.R. Tolkien
Fantasy Femmes: Tolkien's Ladies vs. Martin's Women
LOTR and GOT are chock full of ladies: Lady Galadriel, Lady Catelyn, Lady Éowyn, Lady Jeyne, Lady Arwen, etc. But Tolkien's tale is dominated by men with all but one of the women (Éowyn the shieldmaiden) playing their parts on the periphery of the story. In Martin's world, however, women get equal page time. And they're just as heroic, scheming, power-hungry, ruthless, visionary and fascinating as their male counterparts. Even little girls like Arya Stark are fully realized characters. Tolkien's The Hobbit, by the way, might be one of the only classics that does not have a single female character (humanoid or animal). But couldn't Peter Jackson & Co. have come up with a better female character for the film adaptation than Tauriel the Dwarf-pining Elf? (They should have asked Martin for help.)
Edge: G.R.R. Martin