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They're calling George R.R. Martin "better than Tolkien." Really?

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(Read caption) Would George R.R. Martin have become a literary mega-star without the HBO series of "Game of Thrones"?

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Sometimes it’s hard for the classics to compete in popularity games decades after their publishing dates. When I see the fighting words dubbing George R.R. Martin “The American Tolkien” or even better than Tolkien, I wonder how Martin would hold up going head-to-head – particularly if HBO's “Game of Thrones” series wasn’t drawing extra attention to his books.

But movie director Peter Jackson may help to boost Tolkien’s side in that battle. Jackson made a surprise visit to the San Diego Comic Convention last week, partly to talk about an upcoming "Tintin" adaptation, but also to offer a short update on his upcoming two-film adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” the precursor to “The Lord of the Rings,” thrilling the convention's 6,000 attendees to the core.

(It was a particular thrill for hardcore fans, as Jackson had announced on Facebook that he wouldn’t be at the big-time con. But then, hardcore fans have already been tracking the film on the Facebook page and on the film’s blog, which recently revealed a picture of Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves.)

Jackson told the crowd that he’s on a break after finishing the first 60 days of shooting for "The Hobbit," and that he has about 200 days left, according to the Associated Press. He also said he’s enjoying the shoot more than he expected after a similar long shoot for “The Lord of The Rings."

The first Hobbit film is expected in 2012. We’ll see whether it tips the popularity scales back in Tolkien's direction. But it's interesting to remember that “The Lord of the Rings” wasn’t an instant success when it was first published. We may need to wait a few decades more to see how Martin and Tolkien fare in a matchup for posterity.

Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com

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