As well as shaking the teenage Martin up as a reader, the shocking death planted a seed for him as a writer. “The minute you kill Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is a thousand times greater,” he explained on the PBS series The Great American Read. “Now anybody could die.”

Gandalf’s death, of course, doesn’t last long. He returns in Tolkien’s second novel of the series, The Two Towers, in an even more powerful form: Gandalf the White. (Gandalf, like all the wizards in Tolkien’s universe, is actually one of the “Maiar,” immortal spirits who can take human form.)

And Martin also took this second lesson from Tolkien: Dead characters don’t always have to stay dead. Jon Snow, a fan favorite, is killed and then quickly resurrected. In the books, Catelyn Stark is brutally murdered and then brought back to life before going on a revenge spree against the people who orchestrated her death. (The TV series instead folds that plot line into the story of her daughter, Arya Stark.)

Martin isn’t the only one to use this device. Transient deaths are hugely popular in comics as well, as publishers have learned that deaths and resurrections sell a lot of books.

One big difference between the two fantasy authors is that Tolkien finished his series, while Martin has yet to do so, to the consternation of his rabid fans. Perhaps he’s not as comfortable ending his story as he is the lives of his characters.

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