Martin versus Tolkien- The Power of Religious Imagery in Story


“Tolkien made the wrong choice when he brought Gandalf back. Screw Gandalf. He had a great death and the characters should have had to go on without him.”    – George R. R. Martin.


In Tolkien’s account of the War of the Ring, Gandalf was sent back to Middle Earth by the Valar, or Gods of Arda, to complete his task,

and was given a bevvy of super-cool new powers and a new outfit to do it with to boot. Certainly the dark events during the war would

have been far more grim had not Gandalf the White been present- and certainly more of our beloved characters would have died.


This counterpoint does more than outline the dichotomy between Martin and Tolkien as authors- it shows us the profound effects the

addition of a pantheon of higher morality can have on a world. Not to say that there are not good and moral characters who worship either the Old Gods or the New in Martin’s world- I would hesitate to get into a geek-fueled discussion on points clearly outlined in the texts. I refer instead to the overarching spirituality that infused Tolkien’s world of Arda from the top down. After all, the mythos begins with the Ainulindalae, which is the account of the making of the gods themselves and is beautifully biblical and homogenous in its symmetry. This mythos of light versus dark echoes down through the interactions of every character, defining their alignment and underwriting their choices. It gives to the Silmarillion (the compilation of Middle Earth’s ancient history and myth) the loftiness of “true myth” as the Financial Times put it. The infusion of higher morality also gives the reader the satisfaction of a truly heroic victory of good over evil as well as the much deserved victory of our beloved characters.

Though spirituality does tint Martin’s world, his work is by all accounts a fable rooted in harsh physical realities. From the seasons that spin so wildly out of control to the undead that have been denied a peaceful return to the earth by gods far less extant than the Valar, Martin’s characters are shackled to their earth by harsh physical realities. How does this affect the reader’s enjoyment of the series? Is it improved for the fraternity of atheistic pragmatism between his world and ours? Is it really more satisfying to the reader to know that “dead is dead”- unless of course the corpse’s hands turn black, in which case our favorite characters from Game of Thrones would really benefit from a lesson or two from Michonne or Daryl from the Walking Dead rather than a rousing speech from Gandalf the White. 

Most of all, when Martin does end his gargantuan tale of the human struggle against the dark from without, will it be as rewardingly heroic and triumphant as Tolkien’s end of the Third Age of Middle Earth? Will it uplift and renew the human spirit to stand tall another day? Will it be a benchmark of anything other than the stoicism of a truly remarkable head count to succeeding generations? And, in the face of recent pop culture phenomena including the incredibly disturbingly bleak zombie programme previously mentioned- will modern audiences prefer the dreadful crescendo of Game of Thrones to the brilliant new day painted by Tolkien?



-Tony Stark

An Incident in El Noor Excerpt Part One

Here it is, folks, the first of three parts of Wodin Whatthehel’s heroic deeds during the El Noor Incident!

This is a segment of An Incident in El Noor, which is the first complete accounting of the exploits of Detach Detachment during the

El Noor conflict.

By Tony Stark copyright 2014 StarkLight Press


The gunfire was coming hot and heavy over the lip of the foxhole. A constant barrage of heavy artillery fire shook the ground into which he was dug. Splatters of mud rained down upon Wodin’s head along with water mixed with blood. Rocks the size of his fist dented his flack helmet. El Noor war cries and screams filtered through the staccato of their machine guns to stun the treble portion of Wodin’s hearing as well as the base. On top of everything, rain smacked into his face, blown by the gusting wind as much as the explosions bursting all around him.


Teeth gritted, face set in a mask of steely-eyed determination, Sgt. Whatthehel shrugged off his knapsack. The rabid enemy caught a glimpse of its hunched top and blew the cover right off. Casting a withering look at the enemy line, Wodin dug around inside his satchel. With some grunting, he pulled out a long gun wrapped in zipfast. He opened his penknife with his teeth and slit the waterproof casing on the gun, driving the blade into the side of the foxhole for safe keeping. Gingerly, he lifted the prototype weapon from its cocoon.


Wodin smiled grimly. The Mag-Lev 3000 was Wrought Industries’ latest weapon in conventional warfare. Gunfights of the nature of old Vietnam conflicts had long since become a thing of the past where conventional GAF batallions were concerned thanks to the Mag-Lev generators that were standard kit in every GAF unit of that size. These massive generators were planted on tank frames and trundled along behind the lines of men like some sort of lumbering cave troll. Much like the cave troll, at key points in the battle when the opponents’ metal-based artillery became too pesky, the batallion would part to allow the Mag-Lev to enter its midst. Much like a phalanx in reverse, the generator protected the perimeter by producing two shock waves of reverse magnetic polarity that flashed outward in a radius that stretched up to four miles. One wave magnetized the artillery and moved at lightning speed on to the weapons from which it had sprung, while the second wave whose radius was smaller by half changed the polarity of the already magnetized bullets to the opposite of the first wave. Caught up in the slipstream of the standing wave of magnetic flux, the artillery would rain down in haphazard yet still deadly fashion on those who had sent it out- in many cases, ripping through the guns and tanks of the enemy faster than they were originally shot towards the GAF regiment.


The Mag-Lev had been in use in the GAF for over 80 years now, and and such most opponents of the Galactic Armed Forces knew better than to use bullets and artillery shells on the purple-clad soldiers. El Noor was different, however, and the terrorist group was filled with poor, intrepid foot soldiers for whom taking a doxen magnetized bullets for their god would be an honour. Add to that the fact that Wodin’s company was much smaller than the batallion of men who usually carried the Mag-Lev generator and El Noor’s plan to perforate Wodin and his compatriots made a lot of sense.


“Well,” Wodin growled. “They didn’t plan on this.”


The Mag-Lev 3000 was the same technology in an easily portable, pointable device. Wodin had seen the gun demonstrated at the last Quadrant Gun Show- the Wrought Industries rep had confidently stood before a firing squad of six heavy machine guns at five hundred meters. With a pull of the trigger and a cocky, spraying aim, the rep had repelled the bullets back at the robotic guns with ease, disabling their 600+ rounds a minute mechanisms in under five seconds. Wodin had promptly requisitioned funds to buy six.


Not trusting the El Noorians, Wodin had packed his newest acquisition just in case. He turned on the power pack. It hummed in increasing frequency until the light turned from green to red on the holster.


The deafening sounds of the battle faded away as the diodes charged. Wodin smiled.

The light began blinking in the universal two on one off rhythm of all Wrought Industries weapons.


Still grim-faced yet graced with the ghost of his smile, Wodin turned in his sodden foxhole and rested the gun on the pile of mud facing the enemy.


“I shall see you in hell, saracens,” Wodin intoned gravely, and pulled the trigger.


look for part two coming Friday!


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Respect for our Worlds

Looking around the internet,  I see there are a plethora of examples of how the light-hearted, glossy, soundbyte

tendencies of our culture have intruded on stories that form the backbone of our cultural heritage.

Image ImageImage

Memes and appropriated quotes have become a kind of hieroglyphic language between us, transferred from our

devices faster than the speed of sound- which used to be the way we all shared our common experience.


Perhaps it is this fleetness of transmission that leads to the glibness of the sentiment in memes.  Perhaps it is the human

mind’s response to the grimness and futility of our global situation that leads us to make light of those elements

of story common to all our inner lexicons. Humor is a defense mechanism, and to mock even with innocent intent

so repeatedly these elements of our communal cultural language suggests that we feel unable to rise to the moral and

spiritual benchmarks these stories lay out for us.


Humor is not an end to itself, but a tool for change, and to consistently look only at the most shallow

and pithy aspects of great story and great characters cuts off the essential aspect of what stories and culture have to

give us. They are meant to inspire, to chide, to act as measuring sticks by which we increase the bound of what we as individuals

and we as a society feel we are able to attain. Stories are our parents and our deities who guide us into the paths of

light and out of the paths of despair and darkness. Tales of great deeds and the characters within them look on us with

the loving, stern countenance of the Father. They encourage us through example to follow in their footsteps to bigger and

better deeds. To mock these endlessly is to shut the door on the pathways these stories can inspire, and it is the same as

turning your back on the father who wishes to guide us to greatness.


It is important therefore to spend some time allowing the stories that shape our collective lexicon to settle into the deeper

parts of our psyche. By allowing ourselves the time to absorb the full impact of the grandeur and complexity of the characters

in our pop culture memes, we do two things- we let them guide us as they were meant to guide us, we who are seekers of truth;

we give the characters and their stories the respect they so rightly deserve. They have taught, inspired and guided us and our forebears, sometimes for hundreds of generations. We owe them more than a soundbyte and a laugh. We owe it to them to

listen with respect.


If the lessons our stories have to teach us make us feel unworthy or unable to rise to the perceived heights we feel they urge us to reach, we must remember that our heroic characters and their heroic stories also lived their lives day by day and mile by mile between the lines of what was written about them.  I leave you with a meme or two that will remind you that you can apply the stoic loyal determination of Faramir or the timely care and ingenuity of Gandalf to even the most basic day to day aspects of life: