(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Sometimes, it’s fun to turn back the clock, or the sundial, since we’re talking Westeros. Nearly two decades ago, in March of 1999, George R. R. Martin sat down with Event Horizon’s Flashpoint Weekly Chats to discuss A Clash of Kings, the second novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, which had just been released a month before. Event Horizon has published the 17-year-old chat transcript, and it is, to use their words, “a rich trove of insight into the planning and creation of Martin’s fantasy epic—and into Martin’s other novels and projects.”
It’s interesting to get Martin’s perspective on events long before Game of Thrones became an international phenomenon. Heck, this was before Martin even knew he was writing seven books. At the time, he was planning on “Six books, for a start. Six big books.” (And later: “But IT ENDS THERE! SIX! SIX! SIX!”) But even back then, the novels were famous for their high casualty rates. When asked if anyone will still be alive by the final volume, he responded:
No one will be alive by the last book. In fact, they all die in the fifth. The sixth book will just be a 1,000 page description of snow blowing across the graves …
So much for The Winds of Winter.
Speaking of death, Martin reveals that killing Ned Stark, while shocking to many readers, was a strategy he’d employed before as a signal to the readership that the characters were “playing for keeps.”
I confess, I have always been partial to killing someone important early on, so the readers know you are playing for keeps. We did it on Beauty and the Beast,and we did it in WILD CARDS. And of course I have done it here. I wish Tolkien had done more of it. Gandalf should have stayed dead.
Martin also discussed how Tyrion Lannister’s character POV takes center stage in A Clash of Kings, and identified which characters he had trouble writing at the time:
Well, it helps that he (Tyrion, in A Clash of Kings) has more chapters than anyone else … Ned is the dominant character in the first book; Tyrion in the second. Tyrion is one character I find very easy to write, as well. The hardest characters are Jon and Dany—in part because they are so removed from the main action, and in part because their chapters have the heaviest ‘magic quotient.’ As I have said in other interviews, the magic has to be handled very carefully.
On the origins of the story as a whole, Martin discusses the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien (while he acknowledges there are many exceptions, he says that a lot of fantasy “does read like they boiled all the good stuff out of The Lord of the Rings and kept what was left”) and his obsession with the “tension between romance and reality—between the legend and the fact that underlies the legend.” That tension is particularly pertinent when it comes to the story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, long objects of intense speculation. “I was under the impression that Rhaegar raped Lyanna,” says someone in the chat. “Did he, or were they in love?”
Rhaegar and Lyanna—well, that’s a revelation that will need to wait for later volumes. But if you are uncertain about it, I am glad. That is one thing I wanted to do was suggest the uncertainty of truth. I mean, think about it. In our own world, we don’t even now what happened between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings … The truth of Rhaegar and Lyanna may be similarly elusive … for a time.
And to think, if not for the TV show, we might still have been wondering about that.
The interview is also a great look into Martin’s writing philosophy. For example, here he is talking about how he chooses what POV characters to use for describing certain events.
In some cases, there’s only one choice. Just now, the characters are widely spread. In other cases, yes, I look to see which character gives me the most potential drama. It can be tricky, because there’s so much secrecy going around. Each character really has different information that the others. But emotional impact is certainly in the forefront.
One wonders how he’s going to handle things when and if POV characters start colliding.
And here’s his strategy for describing battles in A Game of Thrones:
I don’t want to seem as if I’m doing rehashes. In A GAME OF THRONES, for instance, there were three important battles fairly close together, and I wrestled with how to do those. I finally chose three different approaches. The first battle (the Green Fork) was fully dramatized. The second (the Whispering Wood) was presented by someone who heard the battle more than saw it . . . summarized rather than dramatized, relying on only one sense. The final battle (the Camps) was presented in dialogue, when a courier reported the result to Lord Tywin. That way, I hoped, the reader would not feel as they were slogging through endless passages of swords slashing, horses screaming, and axes crunching on skulls. (Not that I mind that stuff, of course.)
Readers can decide for themselves if Martin stuck to this philosophy for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.
Plus, because Martin loves to toy with people, he gave a hilarious tease of A Storm of Swords, which was still a year away from publication. Someone asked if “the next book” would include more romance. Martin’s response:
Romance? Hmmmm . . . well, there will be, lessee, one, two, three, maybe four weddings in A STORM OF SWORDS. But how much romance will accompany them is tougher.
Hilariously (or tragically), he also contemplates writing embarking on a post-Song of Ice and Fire project “about 2006 or so.” Ouch.
So is there anything in here that still qualifies as a tease of books later to come? Maybe.
- “The green men and the Isle of Faces will come to the fore in later books.” Still waiting on that one.
- Way back in A Game of Thrones, we met Tyrek Lannister, a young man who went missing during the riot in King’s Landing in A Clash of Kings. According to Martin, we will find out what happened to him. It’s pretty remarkable how far he plans ahead.
The above is just a taste. Head here for the full chat. Much of it is a pleasant stroll down memory lane, back to a time when the world of Westeros was young for all of us. But Martin is still Martin. When asked one probing question, he just responds:
[Y]ou will need to look to future volumes for these answers.
Some things stay the same.