The history of the “Game of Thrones” novel
In the 1980s, George Martin was engaged in writing scripts in Hollywood, but he did not like his work due to the inability to write works of a large volume. “From the very first scripts I was told: ‘It’s great, but too long, too many letters…’ I had to cut them down, so when I went back to the books, I said to myself: ‘I won’t care about anything in this spirit anymore…'” I wanted thousands of characters, large-scale battles, beautiful castles and enfilades – all things that I could not afford on television.” Having decided to return to great literature, the writer sent his editor three applications for future works – science fiction, horror and fantasy. The last of them was approved as a better seller. The author began work on the novel in the summer of 1991 in the city of Santa Fe. During this period, Martin spent a lot of time on unrealized projects, and if it weren’t for the fiasco of the “Portals” series, he would never have started the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. At first, George assumed that the series would contain only three books, but over time he realized that he would have to write six novels, and then the number of planned books increased to seven.
The initial glimmer of the story was a spontaneous vision in which a boy named Bran witnesses a beheading and then finds wolf cubs in the snow, and the first chapter the author typed was about the Starks finding the direwolf pups. At that moment, the author was working on the novel “Avalon”. When starting Game of Thrones, the writer did not know whether it was a story or something more. Later, he made the important decision to tell the story from several characters. After finishing the second chapter and writing about a hundred pages, the author was forced to postpone the work due to being busy with scripts. At a certain point, after a long description of the plot, the writer realized that it was necessary to stop and study the world and its history – draw maps, genealogical trees, mark the kings with the years of their reigns and their nicknames. First, Martin determined the order of the chapters, later he wrote the story of each character, then broke it into parts, and then shuffled them to get the optimal arrangement within the novel and achieve maximum tension. Sometimes, in order not to get confused in the details, the author wrote down the details of the story in lists and diagrams, although mostly he tried to remember everything. The use of “disposable” heroes for the prologue and epilogue became a peculiar tradition of Martin. He also considered another possible structure of the novel, in which months, instead of days, passed between chapters, which, in his opinion, would radically change the book and allow solving a number of problems. The first version of the manuscript was 1,088 pages without appendices, although the author originally wanted to fit all the events into 800 pages. Subsequently, the writer moved 300 pages into the second novel – “Battle of Kings”.
The novel is presented on behalf of nine heroes. Martin’s favorite character is Tyrion. His wit and ambiguity make him attractive. Bran was the most difficult for the author, since he was the youngest of the main characters and, in fact, the only one with magical abilities. Daenerys’ story from the very beginning should have developed on another continent. The writer drew a map of Westeros and decided to develop the action with this character outside of this map, comparing the resulting effect to the imaginary introduction of the chapter about Faramir right after Bilbo’s birthday in The Lord of the Rings, which would immediately give the reader a different idea of the scale of the story. The deaths of the main characters were partially inspired by the deaths of Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring and Frodo in The Two Towers, with the difference that Martin’s characters are not usually resurrected. The author found it difficult to kill his characters because he treated them like children, although some of them, such as Eddard Stark, “were marked by death from the beginning.” Eddard’s death scene was written in 1994. The author said: “Valar Morgulis. All mortals must die. Death is the inevitable truth of life… and of all stories too.” With his work, the author wanted to argue with Tolkien’s statement that a good man like Aragorn should become a good king. Ned, as the moral compass of the story, the protector who unites others, is “swept off the board”, which makes the story more disturbing. The writer did not want to kill him too quickly – he gave the readers time to get attached to him, so that this loss would be a blow.
Martin’s experience as a journalist inspired him to tell the story on behalf of various characters. As a young student, George, overcoming his shyness, communicated with eyewitnesses of various adventures, many of whom did not want to answer the questions. This experience contributed to looking at one event from different points of view. For some time, Martin doubted whether to include dragons in the story. He wondered if they should be alive or just symbols of pyrokinesis abilities. The writer’s friend Phyllis Eisenstein convinced him that the appearance of dragons was the right decision. The author considered Bran’s fall to be the first scene of the novel that “sticks”. Both Jamie and Cersei look disgusting at this point in the book. However, in fact, Jamie makes a difficult choice – because of the attempt to kill someone else’s child, he wanted to save his own children. The author compared Cersei to Lady Macbeth. She truly loves her children, but she has a sociopathic view of the world and civilization. Despite the fact that at first the Lannisters look “blacker than black”, gradually the reader begins to understand the motives that drive them. This, in turn, gives rise to hope that over time they will change for the better. The author believed that his characters were viable enough so that readers could identify with some of them and feel negative emotions towards others.
Stylistic features and author’s plans
According to the writer, the idea of ”Game of Thrones” “came out of nowhere.” Based on childhood memories of Tolkien’s work, the author wanted to write a large-scale epic fantasy. A special place in the novel is given to heraldry. Much of the text is devoted to the description of food. According to the author, the episodes are enlivened by landscapes, sounds, and smells. During the battle, the bed scene and at the invited banquet, the same techniques are used. Martin spent a lot of time describing the dishes his characters eat. As Martin himself notes, “This background adds texture to the scenes, makes them vivid and psychologically authentic… Impressions received through feelings that penetrate deep into the very foundations of our consciousness, where it is unlikely to be reached by presenting the plot purely intellectually.” Childhood memories of the harsh winters of Dubuque were reflected in the novel.
Martin tried to be honest with the reader, therefore, when showing the war, he described the death of positive heroes in particular, because “even good people who are loved die.” The Middle Ages, a time of contrasts, contributed to the reflection of the concept of chivalry, which gave rise to brutal wars. The same applies to sexuality. The chivalric cult of the beautiful lady with poems dedicated to her and victories in tournaments coexisted with mass rapes after battles. An example of this was the Hundred Years’ War. Sexuality is a great motivator, which is completely absent in Tolkien’s work. The writer believed that fantasy as a genre, even if it is based on imagination, should reflect the realities of the world in which we live. In response to criticism of the bed scenes, Martin replied that if he is guilty of inappropriate sex, he is also guilty of “inappropriate cruelty, inappropriate feasts, inappropriate description of clothing and inappropriate heraldry”, because all these details do not contribute to the development of the plot. In terms of volume, the novel turned out to be the shortest compared to the subsequent parts of the cycle. The technique of frequently repeating some favorite phrases was borrowed from Stephen King.
In 2015, HarperCollins published a letter from George Martin to his literary agent, Ralph Vicinance, dated October 1993, at their new office in London. In this letter, Martin reveals in detail the concept and events of A Song of Ice and Fire. Photos of the letter were posted on the Internet, and despite attempts to remove them, the fan community managed to make copies of them. The authenticity of what was written was confirmed by the publisher. Only the last paragraph was crossed out with a black felt-tip pen. The writer added the first thirteen chapters to the letter:
As the second and third threats, the author planned the invasion of the Dothraki led by Daenerys and the arrival of the Others, ice demons from the far North, whose storylines were to be revealed in “Dance of Dragons” and “Winds of Winter”, respectively. To increase the tension, the writer wanted to make the readers feel that no one is safe from death, even the main character. Martin attributed Tyrion, Daenerys, Arya, Bran and Jon Snow to the five main characters. Initially, it was assumed that Ned and Catelyn would die, Sansa would marry Joffrey and at a crucial moment refuse to help the family, Tyrion would fall in love with Arya, Bran would be able to use magic, and Daenerys would kill Drogo, wanting to avenge her late brother.
During the writing of Game of Thrones, Martin often referred to history books using the “total immersion” method. When the writer described this or that event, he tried to learn as much as possible about it, but he did not try to cram all the information into the novel. Among the historical books, George singled out the following works: “The Medieval Soldier” by Gerry Embleton and John Howe, “The Distant Mirror” by Barbara Tuckman, “Medieval Swordsmanship” by John Clements, the collection “Medieval Wars” by David Nicol, “Great Cities of the Ancient World” by L. Sprague de Kemp, Chronicles of Froissart and many others. He drew inspiration from English, French and Scottish history as it is widely documented in English. The idea of the Targaryens in exile arose as an allusion to the Stuarts, a dynasty that had been trying to reclaim the English throne for several generations.
The historical prototype of the Wall is Hadrian’s Wall, a defensive structure of the Romans, built to repel the attacks of the Picts and brigands. In 1981, the author went to Great Britain, to the writer Lisa Tuttle. In Scotland, climbing to the top of the rampart, he tried to imagine what it was like for a Roman legionnaire in the first or second century after the birth of Christ. For the Romans, the rampart was the border of civilization, a kind of edge of the world. “I went through a lot there, looking north, and I just turned to those experiences when I started writing Game of Thrones… But fantasy requires a certain play of the imagination – I couldn’t just take Hadrian’s Wall and describe it. It’s impressive in its own way, but it’s only ten feet high, and it’s built of earth and stone.” Martin realized that a fantasy story needed more substantial structures, so he described the Wall more grandiosely. The writer imagined how an unknown enemy or monster could appear from the thickets. The shaft was a kind of barrier against dark forces. In reality, only Scots could come out of the forest, and Martin decided that it was worth coming up with something more interesting, and to make the wall itself higher. The Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch in its functions resembles the order of the Templars — knights who protect the peace of citizens and honor vows of celibacy and selflessness.
Hadrian’s Wall inspired the writer to describe the Wall, a huge structure stretching from the eastern to the western border of Westeros.
Khalasar Drogo is based on the descriptions of many ancient nomads. The collective image of the Dothraki goes back to the Huns and Mongols, Avars and Hungarians. They also have features of plain tribes of American Indians and some fantasy elements. They honor valor, despise death and pain, as well as neighboring nations. Light portable dwellings, simple food, the cult of the horse refer to the customs of the Turks and Mongols. The internally sharpened arakh sword is essentially a copy of the Egyptian khopesh sword with a more rounded blade. The braided hair of the warriors is a tribute to the Xianbi, Donghu and Manchu nomads. According to one of the assumptions, the prototype of Khal Drogo was probably Yesugei, the father of Genghis Khan. The full-fledged Dothraki language did not sound in the novel – only certain words and names were mentioned.
Tyrion Lannister, an eloquent dwarf, is largely written off Martin himself, as well as Richard III. The Lannister family, according to some researchers, was inspired by the insidious and power-loving Borgia family, with which there were rumors of consanguineous relations; other critics point to parallels in Cersei and Joffrey’s story with the real-life story of Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward of Westminster. In general, the similarity of the plot of “A Song of Ice and Fire” with the story of the War of the Red and White Rose is noted by many sources. The death of Robert Baratheon, which caused the conflict of many heirs, directly refers to the events of the War of the Roses. Researchers drew a parallel between the execution of Eddard Stark and the disappearance of his brother Benjen and the execution of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, as well as the death of his uncle in battle. A paper crown was put on Richard’s head and put on display; Stark was also beheaded in the novel. Martin confirmed the influence of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine on the image of Catelyn Stark. Researchers of the writer’s work also believe that John Snow resembles the Frankish major-domo Carl Martel. Possible prototypes in the novel are not only in humans, but also in animals. Thus, there is an opinion that the prototype of the ferocious wolves mentioned in the work may have been the dire wolf (lat. Canis dirus), a species of animal that lived in the Pleistocene era in North America. Describing the throne room of the Red Castle, in which stood the Iron Throne, chained with a thousand swords, the writer imagined huge premises, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
Game of Thrones is the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which also includes A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance of Dragons, The Winds of Winter, and A Dream of Spring ”. First, a stand-alone story about Daenerys appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine called “Blood of the Dragon”, which later became part of the novel. Prior to the appearance of the main book, HarperCollins also released a pamphlet with the first chapters of the novel and eulogies by Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist, and Ann McCaffrey. The bearer was promised the purchase of “Game of Thrones” at a discount. The full version of the work was published by the Bantam publishing house in May 1996, although the book itself indicated September, with a circulation of several thousand copies; some sources indicate an alternative date of the book’s release — August 6. The book was distinguished by silver embossing and an image of the Iron Throne on the cover of foil in a typographic finish. Copies of this publication have become quite valuable. At the beginning of zero, it was sold at a price of 200 to 600 dollars, depending on the preservation. The publication date of the HarperCollins/Voyager edition in the UK formally predates the publication date of Bantam, but the American edition was printed before the British edition so that copies could reach bookstores, so Martin considered the Bantam version to be the “true first” novel. Since the British edition was published in a small print run of only 1,500 copies, its price ranges from $800 to $1,500 per copy. A large part of this publication has been distributed among libraries. Signed copies are an order of magnitude more expensive.
Bantam Press originally planned to use a traditional fantasy cover, featuring a horseman with a spear and a banner, and a woman waiting for him, against a castle background. With this illustration, the novel appeared in the previous American, and later in the Swiss editions. A smaller version of the SF Book Club later appeared, which used Bantam’s cover art with a gray background. On EBay, they asked for $50 for it, although the nominal price was four times lower. A limited edition of the novel was published by Meisha Merlin in 2001. The cover for it was created by illustrators Geoffrey Jones and Charles Keegan. The circulation included 51 copies with an embossed title and 448 numbered copies from a to zz. The writer signed all copies. Martin called this version the most beautiful edition that can bring real pleasure to collectors. Meisha Merlin/Subterranean Press also published a set of the first four books in the series. In June 2002, Bantam released a second edition of Game of Thrones in hardback. In the paperback, Steve Yuo depicted Jon Snow and the Wraith against the background of a burning castle. The reference to the first edition was not removed from the copyright pages, which could mislead readers, since this variation is not the first.
Martin visited Kentucky during the book’s promotional tour. About 400 people were waiting for him at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers store. Later he went to St. Louis. At the time, a convention featuring Ray Bradbury and Harry Harrison was being held in a nearby town, and when Martin arrived at the bookstore attached to the cafe, he found four patrons and the manager there. After he was introduced, all the guests left the store. “That’s how I got to sign autographs for minus four people,” George smiled. According to the author, the first editions of the book were sold well, but sales still did not meet expectations. Martin believed that the cover art was to blame for this – its change to a more fantasy-like one had dramatically increased demand for the novel. The hardcover gift edition “was a disappointment” financially. The number of readers increased dramatically with the appearance of the series of the same name. As of 2011, the book has gone through 34 reprints and sold over 1 million copies.
The author was often asked when the novel would appear in audiobook format. It was released for the first time in a similar version around 2000 — it was a shortened nine-hour version of “Game of Thrones”, which Martin was extremely dissatisfied with. On December 9, 2003, the publisher Random House Audio released a piece lasting 33 hours and 50 minutes. The text was read by Roy Dotrice, with whom Martin worked for three years on the television series “Beauty and the Beast”. “I couldn’t even think that I would prefer someone else for this role,” the writer admitted. The novel is also available on Scribd and the iTunes Store. The anniversary edition of the book went on sale on October 18, 2016 and was published by Bantam Spectra. It contained 73 black-and-white illustrations and eight full-color ones. Many artists worked on the anniversary edition — Mark Simonetti, Gary Gianni, Victor Moreno, Michael Komark, Ted Nesmith and others. For the twentieth anniversary of the novel, iBooks released an interactive e-book A Game of Thrones: Enhanced Edition, which contains additional content in the form of interactive maps, character annotations, family trees, audio clips, as well as an excerpt from The Winds of Winter.
As of April 2015, the book has been translated into forty-five languages.