The 15 Most Interesting Tidbits from George R. R. Martin's Rolling Stone Interview
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The 15 Most Interesting Tidbits from George R. R. Martin's 'Rolling Stone' Interview

By Cindy Davis | Trade News | April 24, 2014 | Comments ()


Rolling Stone published a great interview with George R. R. Martin yesterday; I’ve tried to condense with some of the best bits, but do yourself a favor and read in its entirety.

1.He’s mindful that the television series may overrun what he’s written. “I better get these books done.”

2. He has a full size, operational Robby the Robot in his office. “Robby the Robot…it was a great kick to buy him and to show him off. A bunch of money sitting in a pile - what do I get out of that?”

3. He’s from Bayonne, NJ, and wasn’t close to his father, who Martin believes was a functioning alcoholic. Martin’s family didn’t have a car because “My father always said that drinking and driving was very bad, and he was not going to give up drinking.”

4. Facing a draft during the Vietnam War, Martin requested and received conscientious-objector status. “Those were desperately hard decisions, and every kid had to make them for himself. To my surprise, they gave me the status. I was later told - I have no way to prove this - that I was granted the status because our conservative draft board felt that anyone who applied for CO status should be granted it, because that would be punishment enough: Then it would be part of their permanent record, and everybody would know that they were a Commie sympathizer, and it would ruin their lives.”

5. On television screenwriting: (It) “…improved my sense of structure and dialogue.” Martin, who worked on CBS’ Beauty and the Beast, faced “censorship battles” over violence, sexual content and how politically charged the series could be. “We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people. They wanted us to show him picking up someone and throwing them across the room, and then they would get up and run away. Oh, my God, horrible monster! [Laughs] It was ludicrous. The character had to remain likable.”

6. The idea for A Song of Ice and Fire sprang from a vision that sprung into his head while working on a science fiction novel. “It’s from Bran’s viewpoint; they see a man beheaded and they find some direwolf pups in the snow. It just came to me so strongly and vividly that I knew I had to write it. I sat down to write, and in, like, three days it just came right out of me, almost in the form you’ve read.”

7. He was initially unsure whether to include dragons—overt fantasy elements. “I was discussing this with a friend, writer Phyllis Eisenstein - I dedicated the third book to her - and she said, “George, it’s a fantasy - you’ve got to put in the dragons.” She convinced me, and it was the right decision. Now that I’m deep into it, I can’t imagine the book without the dragons.”

8. The Wall was inspired by Martin’s visit to Hadrian’s Wall. “I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling.”

9. Fan “intensity” may be delaying his writing. “But maybe that’s part of what’s slowed me down - the knowledge that so many people are looking at every line, and waiting on every turn and scene. We have the untold-history book coming out later this year, where I’ve written a fake history. I find it amusing, and secretly pleasing, that I have so many fans who are interested in the history.”

10. On Jaime’s (and others’) redemption: “When can we be redeemed? Is redemption even possible? I don’t have an answer. But when do we forgive people? You see it all around in our society, in constant debates. Should we forgive Michael Vick? I have friends who are dog-lovers who will never forgive Michael Vick. Michael Vick has served years in prison; he’s apologized. Has he apologized sufficiently? Woody Allen: Is Woody Allen someone that we should laud, or someone that we should despise? Or Roman Polanski, Paula Deen…I don’t know the answer, but these are questions worth thinking about. I want there to be a possibility of redemption for us, because we all do terrible things. We should be able to be forgiven. Because if there is no possibility of redemption, what’s the answer then?”

11. He has quibbles with Tolkien. ”’Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone - they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles? …Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.”

12. The Red Wedding was hard for him as well—in fact, Martin skipped over the scene and wrote the rest of A Storm of Swords before returning to it. “I loved those characters too much. But I knew it had to be done. The TV Red Wedding is even worse than the book, of course, because [GoT creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] turned it up to 11 by bringing in Talisa, pregnant with Robb’s child, none of which happened in the book. So we get a pregnant woman stabbed repeatedly in the belly.”

13. He loves contemplating power andwho really has it. “One of the central questions in the book is Varys’ riddle: The rich man, the priest and the king give an order to a common sellsword. Each one says kill the other two. So who has the power? Is it the priest, who supposedly speaks for God? The king, who has the power of state? The rich man, who has the gold? Of course, doesn’t the swordsman have the power? He’s the one with the sword - he could kill all three if he wanted. Or he could listen to anyone. But he’s just the average grunt. If he doesn’t do what they say, then they each call other swordsmen who will do what they say. But why does anybody do what they say? This is the fundamental mystery of power and leadership and war through all history.”

14. Fan opinion really affects, and matters to Martin. “One letter I got was from a woman, a waitress. She wrote me: “I work hard all day, I’m divorced, I have a couple of children. My life is very hard, and my one pleasure is I come home and I read fantasy, and I escape to other worlds. Then I read your book, and God, it was fucking horrifying. I don’t read for this. This is a nightmare. Why would you do this to me?” That letter actually reached me. I wrote her back and basically said, “I’m sorry; I do understand where you’re coming from.”

15. He likes to remind people of the truths we all must face. “Winter is coming and Valar morghulis - all men must die. Mortality is the inescapable truth of all life . . . and of all stories, too.”

Cindy Davis, (Twitter)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Sargent

    Valar morghulis is right. Better hurry up and finish the series. You're not getting any younger George.

  • VohaulsRevenge

    #11 is why I love Martin's work; it's a good thing to throw back in people's faces when they idealize life in the historic past. I challenge anyone to read Gibbon's famous description of how great life was under Rome's "Five Good Emperors" without rolling their eyes.

  • Maddy

    Me too, even if it's painful to read. I like that he totally gets why people wouldn't want to read his books though, and doesn't condemn them as being 'overly sensitive' like some fans do when anyone ever criticises these books. I would never judge someone who decides this is too much for them - we read books, watch movies etc for all kinds of reasons and process them on multiple levels. I love this series, and even I question some of his decisions as going too far.

  • lumenatrix

    Agreed. I almost gave up on the series after the first book- it was a little too much for me to handle. My friend who loaned it to me, though, said "Read the second one, if you still feel the same way, drop it in good conscience." I'm glad she did, because that's when, at least for me, everything clicked in and I saw the first book was a set up and a touchstone for the political and martial machinations that would come after. But yeah, I would totally get why someone else would say "nah, I'm good."

  • BlackRabbit

    Valar Literaris-all men must finish their damned book series!

  • JoeK

    "11. He has quibbles with Tolkien."

    That he finished his story in three books, or that he did the "R.R." thing first?

  • mzblackwidow

    I like you :) I am not replying to any part of the article because I am already on a high dose of blood pressure medication ...

  • BWeaves

    I've been to Hadrian's Wall. I was expecting something like the Great Wall of China. What I actually got was a slight lump about 1 to 2 feet off the ground and about 1 to 2 feet wide that went on in both directions as far as I could see. I walked down it a little ways. It wouldn't keep a dog out. Granted, it may have been more impressive a few hundred years ago, but only if there were a bunch of archers standing behind it.

    It was near a little village called Once Brewed that only contained a pub. It was down the street from Twice Brewed.

    I can see where he would get the idea of the Wall from the idea of Hadrian's Wall, although not from the actual Hadrian's Wall.

  • hazbear01

    Could I just point out that the small hump in the ground you found so unimpressive is just a little under 2000 years old. A couple of hundred years ago it wouldn't have been much different from what it is today but when it was new, 20 feet high and painted bright white it would have been pretty impressive to the northern Brittons who hadn't seen anything man-made bigger than a mud hut.

  • BWeaves

    Yes, I agree. But I was very young when I saw it, and I was expecting THE WALL, and what I saw was smaller than the septic tank hump in my parent's front yard. I do realize that the bit I saw was not as impressive as some of the other bits, but I was at the mercy of the tour guide. But I also realize that I would be more impressed now, as I'm older and understand the history better, etc. etc. It's sad, but the "towns" of Once Brewed and Twice Brewed near it are the only reason I remember it at all. Sigh. Youth is wasted on the young.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That's funny, because I've also been to Hadrian's Wall. And it does veer between impressive and little more than a bump. It was 14' high at one point, so even in its early days it was nothing quite like The Wall, BUT I did get a sense of it as a last frontier, a barrier between civilization and wildness. But I know the small parts whereof you speak.

    I'm surprised Martin didn't include phallic graffiti in his depiction of the Wall; you think he'd go in for that. But thanks for getting to me to look at my pix from the trip, because in a month I'll be on a similar hiking vacation in Ireland, and I am soooo looking forward to it.

    On my to-do list is to sign up some year as a volunteer excavator at Vindolanda.

  • BWeaves

    COOOOL! I'm jealous.

  • Pretty Hate Machine

    I want to go to there with you. I'm fascinated!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think the lottery they do for slots is sometime in November. I usually have an opera gig over the summer, but I think I'm going to make this my last year, so if I save enough (and with luck of the draw) maybe next year....

    The whole Hadrian's Wall walk was excellent. I'm doing the Burren near Cliffs of Moher in Ireland in May. :) I can't wait for all that green & the exercise... and the pints.

  • mzblackwidow

    I could not be more jealous. I have lived my entire life in Australia, yet I feel like my spiritual home is Ireland. I have spent 50 years obsessed with everything about it.
    I hope you have a wonderful time :)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Thank you, I sure hope to. I am just the teensiest bit Irish, pretty much a mutt, but I love the ancient stories, the melding of pagan and Catholic, so I'm excited to be on that ground with all that history.

  • Pretty Hate Machine

    That is amazing and I hope you have a wonderful adventure!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Aww, thanks.

  • logan

    He's never finishing this series. Too old, too rich, too much pressure.

  • John W

    Valar Morghulis. It is known.

  • Bert_McGurt

    " I was later told - I have no way to prove this - that I was granted the status because our conservative draft board felt that anyone who applied for CO status should be granted it, because that would be punishment enough: Then it would be part of their permanent record, and everybody would know that they were a Commie sympathizer, and it would ruin their lives.”

    Ah yes, the trusty coin of moral absolutism. Talk about living in a fantasy world.

  • Judge_Snyder

    Man's got a point about the scrutiny making him spend more time writing and rewriting stuff to try and perfect it.

    It's a hard balance to strike. Be too casual and people will complain that it's not as good. Take too long over it or spend too much time over detail and people will complain it's not as good.

    It's almost a shame he didn't write all seven books before trying to get them published.

  • lumenatrix

    Yeah, read another interview in the New Yorker where he was talking about how knowing there's the fan base slows him down. He mentioned that between two of the books he accidentally changed the eye color of one of the characters and he said the outpouring of rage from people that he would make that mistake kind of freaked him out a bit. He said he now basically fact-checks everything he writes through the guy in Sweden who runs the fan site because he just can't keep it all straight at this point. I kinda don't blame him and I can see how that would slow a person down and create all kinds of little hesitations.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ok. Now I've read. Those are interesting - esp the issue of redemption. I have a people-hating, animal-loving friend, and Michael Vick has been a topic of discussion. (My take: I do think he has paid his debt to society and should be allowed to work, but I can't speak as to whether he is genuinely repentant and a chastened human being or just someone who went through the motions society required of him. But he's done more to atone for his actions than a whole lotta other criminals in the NFL.)

    And, of course, his take on Tolkien is apt. But I can still love simpler fantasy, even while I appreciate how much more nuanced and richer fantasy has become since then.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Sorry, didn't read...just had to click to share my excitement that Pedro Pascal is going to play Don Jon in Much Ado in Central Park this summer...I was already excited about the cast!

    I'll go back and read now.

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