“Literally every quote in the entire series.” – GRRM
It’s astonishing when you really start thinking about it. The fact that this universe sprang out of the mind of one man with one gigantic vision. A world that has captivated millions and affected today’s culture itself. We have seen the rise of baby names such as Khaleesi and Arya. You can’t go to the fantasy section of a bookstore without finding something that has been spurred by the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. The show has brought an economic boom to Northern Ireland. And without naming names, other shows and media have sprung up in the recent years as a direct result of the series’ popularity. And maybe the best part of it all? It has helped make being a nerd cool. George himself might be one of the biggest nerds of them all.
This is George R.R Martin
Martin was born in New Jersey in 1948. To give some context, that was the same year that Gandhi was assassinated. Orville Wright also died in 1948, the same day as Ghandi actually, January 30th. He was actually born just George R. Martin, the second R came later. While he was growing up, he had a view of the Kill Van Kull, a strait that ships sailed in and out of. He had a flag book that told him where each ship had sailed from and he liked to imagine these far away places.
Martin was an avid reader and would gobble up stories. He even wrote his own at a very young age, monster stories that he would sell to other children for pennies. Perhaps one of the biggest influences on Martin were, believe it or not, comic books. He was a die hard fan of them and was an active member of the community, even getting his letters to Stan Lee published in the back portion occasionally.
It’s hard to imagine how Martin went from reading comics and writing fan fiction for them to writing a beast like A Game of Thrones. Not only a far cry in terms of length and depth, but a very far cry in terms of subject matter. Quite a few years are sandwiched between those two things though.
Chess became a large part of Martin’s life as well. He would go on to conduct tournaments and it would be a lifetime hobby for him.
Martin became an increasing voice in the comics community and in ’64, he even attended a Comic Con in New York. The very first New York Comic Con actually. He even claims he was the first to buy a ticket for the event, not hard to believe since there were only around 100 attendees. In ’65, Martin won his first award for writing a fan fiction titled “Powerman vs. The Blue Barrier”, a full five years before he graduated in the top 5% of his class from NU for journalism. But this was 1971 and the Vietnam War was in full swing, and so too was the draft for which Martin was eligible him being a young male and all.
Martin, opposed to the war, managed to gain “conscientious objector” status and performed “alternative service” for two years. All the while Martin wrote, not unsuccessfully either. He sold his first professional story, a science fiction piece, to a magazine when he was 21. After he was done with his alternate service, Martin began teaching English and journalism at Clarke College in Iowa. His first marriage happened around this time, but it didn’t last long.
Martin stayed like this for awhile. One of those dangerous positions people get into where they aren’t making enough money from their passion, so they take a job they don’t care much for to support themselves. Martin looked ahead and didn’t see the stopping point where he would break free and be able to be a full time writer. It was the death of Martin’s close friend and fellow writer, Tom Reamy, that prompted Martin to reevaluate his own life.
He quit his job and moved to cozy Sante Fe, New Mexico.
It’s at this time that Martin’s writing credits spin out of control and there are just too many to count. Needless to say, Martin became a professional writer. He usually wrote Science Fiction at a younger age, but eventually grew into Fantasy and beyond. In 1983, Martin wrote a vampire novel titled Fevre Dream which was nominated for two awards and saw critical success. He followed it up with a horror novel entitled The Armageddon Rag, which for unknown reasons, was a complete flop. It recieved positive reviews from those who did read it, but the book was a total commercial failure and it stopped Martin’s writing career in its tracks.
Straying from the novel route, Martin pursued a career in television writing. He ended up jumping from project to project for awhile as each show he worked on struggled to get off the ground. He worked briefly on the revival of the The Twilight Zone, moved on to a show titled Max Headroom, and finally landed at Beauty and the Beast in 1987. Not the Disney movie, but a fantasy series that aired on CBS for three seasons. Martin rose up the ladder on the show, eventually becoming a supervising producer.
At the shows end however, Martin was frustrated with the Hollywood game. It was all about limits and restrictions. His characters and ideas were being cut because of budget constraints. His original screenplays weren’t being made and his original show pilots weren’t going anywhere. Martin, influenced by Tolkien, wanted to venture into the world of epic fantasy where nothing would ever be cut, though he didn’t really know how.
In 1991, Martin began a science fiction novel, but a different idea was tugging at his mind. Martin had a recurring idea that he vividly saw in his head. He saw a boy witnessing an execution and finding direwolves in the snow. This idea quickly snowballed and after writing a few chapters, Martin knew he had an epic fantasy novel on his hands. He put it on pause after ABC wanted to produce one of his original shows, but it ended up going nowhere after years of work. Martin committed himself to the new book.
In 1994, Martin sent his agent the plan. He had the first two hundred pages of his new novel, A Game of Thrones, and a projection plan that was to be an epic trilogy. A Game of Thrones, followed by A Dance with Dragons, and finishing with the Winds of Winter. But as Martin was writing he reached 1000 pages, then 1200, and then 1400. It was just simply too long, he finally realized the series would need to be longer. Martin based the series on The War of the Roses, and eventually settled on A Song of Ice and Fire to be the series name.
In 1996, A Game of Thrones was published and became a success in the fantasy community. A pre-release sample novella of Dany’s chapters even won the Hugo award. Martin already had 300 pages of A Clash of Kings written when AGOT was published (pages that were initially apart of AGOT), so it’s no surprise that the second novel released shortly after in 1999 and made the best seller list. A Storm of Swords was released in 2000, a behemoth of a book that caused printers some problems with its sheer size. ASOS reached even higher on the best seller list and delivered even more on the premise fans were promised that anything can happen in A Song of Ice and Fire. Perhaps the most shocking book in terms of events that many people have read and it continued to prove that you shouldn’t feel attached to anyone in this world.
A Feast for Crows came out in 2005 and reached number 1 on the best seller list. Ever since the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie series, Martin had been approached by people wanting the rights to A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin declined all offers, not really seeing how the series could be translated to film, especially going off his experience in Hollywood.
The Meereenese Knot was an infamous problem for Martin while writing. It was obstacle after obstacle with his story plans. In 2006, David Benioff read the first few hundred pages of A Game of Thrones and couldn’t contain his excitement. He called Dan Weiss and urged that they should work at turning the book into a T.V show. Both of them ate up the series and everything surrounding it. David and Dan sat down with George at a restaurant for a meeting that would last five hours. George was skeptical, but he saw the potential in a large budget television series rather than a movie. David and Dan finally won George over when they successfully answered the question “who is Jon Snow’s mother?”. A question to test how well the two really knew the series, their answer obviously impressed him and in 2007, HBO got the rights to A Song of Ice and Fire, David and Dan at the helm of it all.
Martin eventually released A Dance with Dragons in 2011, and that same year the television series Game of Thrones premiered. The rest is history.
It seems nothing in our world today can exist without controversy. Probably the most notable is controversy surrounding the series’ violence and grim outlook on the world. It’s been criticized for being extremely pessimistic with a grey and dingy worldview where nothing positive happens and violence is glorified.
“If you’re going to write about war, which my books are about, wars are nasty things. I think it’s sort of a cheap, easy way out to write a war story in which no one ultimately dies.” – GRRM
Rape, pillage, and murder have always been apart of Martin’s world and he doesn’t shy away from it. His books depict a grim world that is a reflection of our own dark and brutal past, and sometimes present. Martin also receives great criticism for the growing time between each book, fans waiting years to see what happens next.
“Ten years from now, no one is going to care how quickly the books came out. The only thing that will matter, the only thing anyone will remember, is how good they were. That’s my main concern, and always will be.” – GRRM
Despite the seemingly unavoidable controversy surrounding the series, it has reached critical and popular fame. The show has set countless records for anything you could imagine ranging from Emmy nominations to being the most pirated show of all time. The books may be the most popular fantasy series ever behind Lord of the Rings. It’s complex characters, interweaving plotlines, and intricate mythology and history have captivated a nation. And to think… it all sprouted from the mind of a boy who used to watch ships come and go, fantasizing about distant places.
“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” – Bran
“That is the only time a man can be brave.” – Ned
“A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” – Ned
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion
“What good is this, I ask you? He who hurries through life hurries to his grave.” – Salladhor
“I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.” – Rodrik
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – Jojen
“My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind…And a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” – Tyrion
“History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging.” – Rodrik
As always, thanks for reading!