I have to say, I agree with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin on this one point about J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. That's one thing GRRM has been good about in his A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the basis for HBO's Game of Thrones series: Adding practical details and political context. What would REALLY happen and how would The Powers That Be deal with it?
It's too late for Tolkien to go back and add some updates, but I'm wondering if Amazon's new Lord of the Rings series might keep this kind of thing in mind.
George R.R. Martin recently received the Burke Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Discourse at Trinity College Dublin. In his speech, he answered a question about being influenced by other writers. That led him to talk about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings:
I yield to no one in my admiration for Lord of the Rings. I re-read it every few years. It’s one of the great books of the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean that I think it’s perfect. I keep wanting to argue with Professor Tolkien through the years about certain aspects of it. He did what he wanted to do very brilliantly, but I've said this before, but I always look at the end and it says Aragorn is the king and he says, ‘And Aragorn ruled wisely and well for 100 years' or something. It’s easy to write that sentence…but I want to know what was his tax policy and what did he do when famine struck the land?
Yeah, Tolkien added some brutal ring aftermath in The Scouring of the Shire -- which never made its way into Peter Jackson's movies -- but when it comes to King Aragorn's rule, how did he handle some of the tougher practical day-to-day questions after the War of the Ring? For example, as GRRM continued in his speech (via Thomas Quill on YouTube):
And what did he do with all those Orcs? There were a lot of Orcs left over. They weren’t all killed, they ran away into the mountains. Sauron fell down, but you know you see all the Orcs. Did Aragorn carry out a policy of systematic Orc genocide, send his knights into the hills to kill all the Orcs, even the little baby Orcs? Or was there Orc rehabilitation going on? They were trying to teach the Orcs to be good citizens. And if the Orcs were a result of Elves being twisted, could Orcs and Elves intermarry? They can in Dungeons and Dragons, I guess.
Orc genocide! But seriously, that's the kind of detail George R.R. Martin is good with in his A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and Game of Thrones was pretty good about showing it on screen.
For example, some stories might've just let Daenerys Targaryen conquer Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen -- freeing the slaves, being the hero -- and then letting us imagine those freed people lived happily ever after as she went across to conquer Westeros. Instead, we saw a more realistic look at the political dynamics after she sacked the cities, with Dany ultimately choosing to stay in Meereen to rule. We followed her difficult day-to-day rulings with the people of the city. It was a hard, frustrating slog.
Same thing with Jon Snow as Lord Commander. George R.R. Martin showed how tough his day-to-day rule was, between his own men of the Night's Watch and the wildlings, ultimately leading to our hero being stabbed to death by his own people.
There's a lot more nuance in George R.R. Martin's books, and more emphasis on what it looks like to rule rather than to just wear a crown. The end of the HBO series, while controversial, did show Tyrion Lannister as the new Hand of the King, letting us watch one of King Bran's council sessions to discuss the nitty-gritty of rebuilding King's Landing.
Amazon's Lord of the Rings series won't be able to answer any questions about King Aragorn's rule, since that happened in The Third Age and The Third Age is off-limits for the Amazon series. It has to cover The Second Age, but I'm looking forward to what the new Fellowship team decides to do with the huge amount of time and material they could cover.