Thoughts on "Lord of the Rings"...If Written By George R.R. Martin
On my message-board, someone asked what The Lord of the Rings would be like if it were written by George R.R. Martin, he of the complicated characterizations and moral grayness, rather than by J.R.R. Tolkien. The user whose handle is Jello Biafra said in Martin's Middle-Earth, one of the protagonists who try to use the One Ring. Granted, that happened at the end anyway, but I imagine much earlier and with more impact.
That's a nice intellectual exercise, so I think I'll give it a spin. Here there be spoilers, so be ye warned...
*In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark reveals to Queen Cersei Lannister that he knows she's been passing off the children of an incestuous affair with her brother as the heirs to King Robert Baratheon and tells her flee while she can. She has her cousin assassinate the king and Ned ends up being executed. In Martin's more cynical Middle Earth, I'm imagining the result of Aragorn's refusal to take the One Ring at Amon Hen (at least that happens in the movie) would be that Boromir successfully claims it or, more realistically, it is captured by the Uruk-Hai and taken to Saruman.
*As a result of possessing the One Ring, Saruman becomes MUCH more dangerous. In addition to his whole "evil persuasive ability" being cranked up to eleven, I'm imagining him becoming an even more powerful physical combatant and being able to supernaturally accelerate the breeding and growth of the Uruk-Hai. Rohan is forced into submission, with Eowyn made the puppet of her "advisor and consort" Grima Wormtongue. The Rohirrim are then forced to fight alongside the Dunlendings, the Uruk-Hai, and other minions of Saruman against their former allies in Gondor, much like how the Lannisters forced the Riverlords to lay siege to their own allies in Riverrun after the Red Wedding. Maybe Eomer survives Saruman's victory and wages a guerrilla war, hoping to rescue his sister and assassinate Wormtongue. This would be like the Brotherhood Without Banners and (maybe) what the Blackfish is up to after the fall of Riverrun.
*If you want to get really dark, have Eowyn become pregnant as a result of Wormtongue's...attentions. If Eomer is able to successfully rescue her and kill her "consort" (or, knowing her, she does it herself and escapes with her brother), she could try abortion and, given how crude the methods were back then, end up dead, infertile, or crippled. If the child is born, there'd be the choice of killing someone who, though personally innocent, represents a dynastic threat to any of Eomer's children or Eowyn's children with a better husband, or keeping it alive on the chance Eomer is killed in battle before fathering an heir of his own and that said child could be used to command the support of the Dunlendings.
(Given how Wormtongue is shorter than the other Rohirrim and darker while they're blonde, I'm guessing he has Dunlending blood. A half-Dunlending King of Rohan could be used to win them over if, say, Saruman suffers a major reverse or, if the Dunlenders get really hammered, he could be imposed on them as a vassal of Rohan.)
This would be analogous to how Tyrion Lannister marries Sansa Stark as a means of getting a claim on Winterfell, or how the vile Ramsay Bolton marries the (fake) Arya Stark for the same purpose. I can imagine Wormtongue being far more like Ramsay than Tyrion, although given the fiction that Eowyn is queen and he's her prime minister (or something close enough), he couldn't be as openly nasty and abusive.
Poor Eodred Grimasson or whatever his name would be. An tyrannical dad, a very unhappy mom, and an uncle who wants to kill him, use him for political shenanigans, or perhaps even both.
*Meanwhile, Gondor faces the possibility of being crushed between Saruman and Sauron. To avoid this fate, they resort to breeding their own armies of Orcs (possibly using the wild men who helped the Rohirrim get to Gondor in the canonical books as breeding stock, since they'd escaped from the orc breeding-pits in the past) and scorched-earth campaigns to deny the enemy resources. Since Gondor's armies are too small to challenge Sauron's in open battle, I'm imagining a brutal chevauchée across the Anduin into territory under Sauron's control to kill as many of his subjects as possible and bug out before Sauron can bring his armies to bear. This would be analogous to Tywin Lannister using Gregor Clegane, Amory Lorch, etc. to ravage enemy territory and strip it of supplies. And meanwhile, Denethor and Aragorn would plot against each other. Hopefully Aragorn will have learned from not taking the Ring to be more ruthless and sneaky--if he's still alive at this point.
After all, in Tolkien's letters, he wrote that Sauron was so evil that all kinds of "extreme" methods were justified in fighting him, including the West "(breeding) or hiring its own legions of orcs" or deliberately ravaging the land to deny it to the enemy.
In order to compete with the more industrialized regimes of Mordor and Isengard, maybe Gondor could impose Stalinist industrialization policies that involve squeezing the surplus of the agrarian population to feed industrial cities (and thus causing mass starvation) and slave labor.
*The Ents would be as genocidally destructive of the orcs per canon, with this being graphically depicted. Bonus points if the Ents have a druid-like cult of human followers that practice human sacrifice, much like how in A Dance With Dragons (I think) features flashbacks to human sacrifices being offered to the Old Gods in the weirwood groves.
*We'd have POVs in the areas where the armies are marching to show just how destructive the war is to the common folk. In A Clash of Kings, even though it's been a long time since I've read it, I recall Arya and her friends traveling through the Riverlands and seeing all sorts of horrible things. The Riverlands were being ravaged by war, with the soldiers of both sides preying on everyone. Maybe Mordor's armies use Gondorian peasants as human shields when laying siege a la the Mongols, or whole regions are stripped of men (conscripted or killed) and food (to feed the armies), leaving the women and children with the choice of starvation or attaching themselves to the armies as camp followers (i.e. providing labor or sex for the soldiers, who might not even be human).
*However, we'd have villain POVs that humanize the villains far more than Tolkien's world did. After all, I actually empathized with Tywin Lannister, who is a thoroughly despicable human being, after reading the following excerpt from A Feast for the Crows.
Tywin dreamed that his son would be a great knight, that his daughter would be a queen. He dreamed they would be so strong and brave and beautiful that no one would ever laugh at them (AFfC Harper ed. p. 835)
We might have the POV of the Orcs who hate Sauron and his Nazgul for brutalizing them but fight for the forces of darkness because they fear extermination at the hands of the humans (when Sam rescues Frodo in Mordor, I think he overhears a conversation between Orcs about this).
Or Wormtongue. Someone wrote a fan back-story for Wormtongue depicting him as the sickly son of one of Rohan's generals and his Dunlending wife who was rejected for military service and became a bureaucrat instead. He becomes infatuated with Eowyn and seeks out Saruman for advice. Saruman, who has at this point become evil, uses this to manipulate Wormtongue until he's too emeshed in scheming and treason to back out. He's still the selfish, treacherous pervert he was in canon, but he has a more sympathetic back-story and a reason for being evil. That would be a really interesting basis for a Wormtongue POV, especially if we add the ethnic issues into the mix--he could justify his abuse of Eowyn by citing the abuses of Dunlending women by Rohan's soldiers in the past.
Heck, given how the Silmarillon describes how Sauron may have legitimately repented after Morgoth fell but feared punishment by the Valar, hid in Middle-Earth, and fell back into evil as a result of his desire to repair it, you could have a Sauron POV. There are Sauron-defenders out there who claim he's a defender of a multiracial industrial state against a bunch of racist reactionary feudalists--if from Sauron's POV he's doing this for the good of the peoples of Middle-Earth, it's a lot more morally gray than "I WANT TO BE GOD AND WILL KILL ANYONE WHO RESISTS." The same with Saruman, who also has multiracial armies (Uruk-Hai and Dunlendings) and a nascent industrial complex.
And there'd definitely be a Gollum POV, especially since some people have compared Theon Greyjoy in ADWD to Gollum.
*Crank up the racial emnity between the Elves and Dwarves, as well as the jerkass behavior on both sides.
*Martin said there'd be a "bittersweet" ending to the whole series, at least according to the gossip I've seen on the A Song of Ice and Fire forums. I imagine Martin's LOTR would end with the defeat of Saruman and Sauron as the canonical books did, but it would be much darker and more costly for the forces of good.
So, what do you all think? I'm starting to think a "Martinized" LOTR would be really interesting, even if it'd be much less pleasant to read at times. Anybody want to take a crack at it? Martin doesn't like fan-fiction, but this would technically be LOTR fan-fic, which is tolerated.
EDIT: Added some more pondering about female warriors in Tolkien vs. Martin here.