George R.R. Martin Steers a Six-Book Cavalcade

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George R.R. Martin began publishing SF with the sale of "The Hero" to Galaxy magazine in 1971. Three years later he earned the first of his four Hugo Awards for "A Song for Lyra," and in 1979 he picked up both a Hugo and a Nebula Award for the now famous story "Sandkings." In the 1980s Martin made a name for himself as a television writer, working on shows such as the new Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. During that time he also created the popular shared-world series Wild Cards, which currently stands at 15 volumes. Then in 1996 Martin published the book that launched his Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones. It was immediately hailed as "the major fantasy of the decade."'s Craig E. Engler spoke with Martin about his latest novel, A Clash of Kings, the second volume in the Song of Ice and Fire. How many novels will there be in the Song of Ice and Fire series?

George R.R. Martin: The original plan was for three. When I hit about 1,200 pages of the first book, I was still a long way from where the first book was going to end, according to my original outline. So the first book became two books, and I said... hmm... I've got four. Then as I wrote the second book I noticed that the same thing was happening. So I actually called a halt for a while and I did some reorganization and I figured out how I could tell the story I wanted to tell and do justice to it, but at the same time not spend the rest of my life doing it. And six books seemed to be the most viable way to go. Do you consider this series your magnum opus?

Martin: Yes, actually, I do. It's certainly the most ambitious thing I've ever done. Part of the slowness in writing it is that I want to make it as good as I possibly can. I don't want to just dash it out to get it out there and then regret that later. In some ways I wish I was independently wealthy so I could write the entire story and then have the luxury of going back and rewriting it before anyone had read any of the books. But I am putting every effort into making it my masterpiece, so to speak. Do you have plans to publish any short stories from the world of Song of Ice and Fire?

Martin: I definitely do, but the question is, when will I have time to write them? I wrote a story for Legends, "The Hedge Knight," and that takes place about a hundred years before the events in A Game of Thrones. I introduced two characters there, Dunk and Egg, who I'm very fond of, and I have several more stories in mind about those two characters and the story of their lives. But when will I get to those stories? I don't know. It's all kind of up in the air. A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings read more like historical fiction than traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy. Is that intentional?

Martin: Definitely. I love historical fiction as much as I do fantasy, particularly of the medieval period. The only problem I have with historical fiction is that I also read a lot of history, so I always know what's going to happen. You can write a terrific novel about the War of the Roses, but it's hard to build up a little suspense about "Will those two little princes escape the tower?" because you know that they don't. Part of the impulse behind A Game of Thrones was the desire to do historical fiction about imaginary history. But the fantasy aspect is also there, so it's a combination of both kinds of writing. Is there one major influence that you can cite for the whole series?

Martin: There are a dozen influences. The War of the Roses is certainly one of them. It's a fascinating period of history and it's full of terrific characters. Everybody knows the most famous characters, but even some of the minor characters are fascinating. Part of it also came out of the whole fantasy tradition. Actually, one of the things that really set me to write this was Tad Williams's series of a few years ago; when I picked up Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn I remember reading that and saying, you know, Tad has really proved here that this sort of thing doesn't have to be the province of badly written, derivative books. He sort of woke me up to the fact that this field could be done well. Do you find it difficult to keep all of the many characters and subplots in the series straight in your own head, and also to keep the momentum of all of them going?

Martin: It can sometimes get tricky, but I can keep them pretty straight in my head. Each of these characters is very distinct to me and they have a very distinct voice, but there's no doubt that the complexity of interweaving all of the plots and interweaving the timelines and the chapter sequence -- all of that stuff drives me crazy. I reshuffle the chapters 90 times to try and get the optimum sequence. But, hopefully I make sense of it all at the end. Do you have a favorite character?

Martin: I've got to admit I kind of like Tyrion Lannister. He's the villain of course, but hey, there's nothing like a good villain. Magic plays a more prominent role in A Clash of Kings than it did in A Game of Thrones. Will we be seeing more of that as the series progresses?

Martin: It's a fantasy novel, so I did think I should put some magic into it. But I wanted to handle the magic very carefully. This is one of the aspects where Tolkien had a good influence. We have this sense of Lord of the Rings being a very magical kind of novel, and it is. It's imbued with a sense of magic and mystery and wonder. But there's very little onstage magic. Gandalf is a wizard, but what does he actually do that's magical? He makes fireworks that may or may not be magical, his staff glows, but you don't see him, as in some of the bad fantasies, with magic treated almost as a superpower from a comic book, where the characters are going around throwing fireballs and they have a lot of spells.

Tolkien was much more mysterious. Sauron never comes on stage, you never know what his actual powers are except that they're vast and malignant. The whole handling of magic is very subtle. When I realized what Tolkien had done there, it seemed to me that he had made a great choice. The whole point about magic is that it has to be magical. If it's commonplace, if you go to the magic shop like you go to the butcher shop and the wizard lives on the corner of the street and anybody can go see them when they have a toothache, it loses a lot of its wonder.

I deliberately designed the series where magic would be very subtle at first and then would come up book through book. But I'm always going to keep it unusual and wondrous. So far the series has been very compelling, but it's also been very dark, and it seems things are only going to get worse and worse for the major characters. Do you every worry that it's too dark?

Martin: I am a little concerned about that, mostly when I hear readers say it. But on the other hand, if they want just light fantasy, there are plenty of other people out there who can give it to them. I wasn't interested in writing that kind of thing.

I also think it heightens the suspense, which is something I wanted to do. I wanted to give the reader the feeling that any character could die at any time. Which means if they get in danger, then hopefully the reader experiences some danger there too. How long until we see the next book?

Martin: I'm hoping to deliver that one at the end of 1999 for publication sometime in the summer or fall of the year 2000. Can you give us any hints about what we can expect from the next novel?

Martin: I'm going to introduce two new viewpoint characters. One of them I won't tell you who he is, the other one I'll say: it's Samwell Tarly. We get some chapters from his viewpoint. He's with Jon and the Night's Watch. He's been in the series, but he hasn't been a viewpoint character, we haven't been inside his head. Also in the third book, some of the people who have been in the background are going to come a little more into the foreground, like the Tyrell's of Highgarden and prince of Dorne and his family. Hopefully there will be more surprises and more battles and more plot twists and good stuff and bad stuff.

Featured Titles
A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire, No. 2 by George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire, Vol 1) by George R. R. Martin
Legends: Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy by Robert Silverberg(Editor), Stephen King
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, Alan Lee (Illustrator)

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