In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Crebain are birds that spy for Saruman and reported where the Fellowship are located.

In Game of Thrones, Varys has a network of spies, whom he calls "little birds".

Is there a connection between the Crebain and the little birds?

  • 1
    GRRM is known to be inspired by Tolkien; he's been called the "American Tolkien." This is entirely possible. – CHEESE Jan 7 '17 at 20:56
  • 19
    There is also the phrase “a little birdie told me” that I assume has roots outside of both of these stories. – Paul D. Waite Jan 7 '17 at 21:19
  • 3
  • @Jolenealaska: that’s the stuff, excellent. – Paul D. Waite Jan 9 '17 at 12:03
  • Oh come on. The man changed his legal name at age 13 to add the second "R" (for Richard) supposedly as his "confirmation name". How many modern people still do that? I think he did it at that age because he, like many of us that age, became obsessed with JRR Tolkien and he wanted his name to look similar. So are many of his story arcs and tropes borrowed? You bet they are! – J. Raefield Jan 10 '18 at 23:49

Probably not

However we do not know for sure, as there's no evidence to suggest that George R. R. Martin wasn't inspired by Tolkien in this particular way.

From my extensive knowledge and a search of many of his talks and posts, I can tell you that he hasn't mentioned this. This is probably because no one has asked him this question in the past1.

Let's analyse
Now, there are certain similarities to these characters:

  • Saruman uses literal birds as spies
  • Varys uses little children which he calls his "little birds" as spies
  • Saruman is a sorcerer of sorts
  • Varys is an enigmatic character (but says he's against magic)

I think that's about where the similarities end. In fact, the point of turning the literal birds controlled by magic (in Saruman's case) into figurative ones which are real (in Varys' case) is actually a big deal. To me, this is an anti-pattern.

You see, although GRRM has said that he is very much inspired by Tolkien's writing in general; for example, he has mentioned on numerous occasions2 that his magic is "off screen" similar to in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings works. However, he tends to find faults3 in them and goes about "correcting" them, adding an even more "realistic" approach.

But wait, there's more Bloodraven
A better question would be, is Bloodraven's Raven inspired by Saruman's Crebain?

  • Gnarly old white magic dude
  • Controls birds and uses them as spies
  • You don't know whether he is good or bad, at first
  • Plays an "overwatch" and influencer role
  • Uses Ravens/Crows/Crebain to spy for him

1. If you'd like to, you can ask him directly yourself via his twitter account, @GRRMSpeaking(which he doesn't really respond to) or his Live Journal, Not a Blog (which he does seem to respond to).

2. For example in this article in So Spake Martin

3. GRRM speaks about the difference in his and Tolkien's writings, youtube

  • Does it say in the books (I have only read the first book before starting only the TV series) that Varys' little birds are children? I always took it that he would use the "workers" at his brothels to coax information from its patrons and then they reported to him. – Profetik One Jan 12 '18 at 22:16
  • 1
    @ProfeticOne Yes, it is confirmed in the last book, A Dance With Dragons, that they are in fact children – Möoz Jan 13 '18 at 3:04

Well, Saruman is a wizard who can communicate with birds, but Varys is definitely not (the events that led to his castration left him with a strong distaste for magic), so I assume that by "little birds" he means his very human informers. So I think the connection is through the expression "a little bird told me", which Saruman has the luxury to take literally, while Varys uses it as everyone else would. Or to put it another way, Varys' "little birds" have more in common with Sherlock Holmes' "Baker Street Irregulars" than with Saruman's Crebain...


I don't think GRRM has ever explicitly commented on this though he has said the following so they might be inspired by them.

9- It's not really a question, but I've noticed a great similarity between ASOS and Lord of the Rings - the two Sams, Samwell Tarly and Samwise Gamgee. In particular, in each series, a Sam made a desperate attack on a hopelessly superior force (an Other and the huge spider Shelob) to protect a defenseless companion (Gilly and her baby and the bound Frodo). Would you care to comment?
There are a number of homages to LOTR in my book. I am a huge Tolkien fan.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.