George R. R. Martin sat down with Authors@Google recently to discuss his literary works and partnership with HBO. Martin’s popular fantasy novel and New York Times best-seller, A Game of Thrones, is the first book of the ongoing seven part “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. On April 17, 2011 HBO premiered a television adaptation of the novel and struck gold as millions of people flocked to each episode ending the series with extremely high ratings and a promising future viewership for the second season.
When asked what he thought of the show Martin noted that overall he found the HBO adaptation to be a faithful re-telling of his story with a few trivial differences such as an occasional missing scene and added dialogue required to develop characters for television. “People keep mentioning their lack of purple eyes” Martin remarked in jest as he discussed his fans devoted attention to even the most minute details. When asked about changes required to adapt his story to television Martin told the audience he changed little to the characters except for their age. Daenerys Targaryen, an important character in the novels, was portrayed in the literary story as a 13 year old girl. Due to UK filming laws and regulations Martin was required to advance this characters age to 17 and in-turn increase the age of all related and relevant characters.
Martin, a ten-plus year Hollywood veteran explained his understanding of the television industry and gave realistic advice to other authors wishing to sell their stories to the entertainment industry. He described brief accounts of witnessing excited and nieve authors attend a screening of their work only to be disappointed with the outcome. “HBO was our first choice, I knew we didn’t want ABC, NBC, or CBS” Martin told the audience. “Fantasy there would have been an 8 o’clock show, we wanted a 9 or 10 o’clock show”. Martin, who previously worked on such classics as The Twilight Zone described his immediate understanding when his book became a New York Times best-seller and he began turning down movie and television offers. “‘No’ is one of the sexiest words in Hollywood, the more you say it the more the more they want you” Martin remarked to a laughing audience.
Martin detailed his desire to work with HBO in order to bypass strict content standards enforced through traditional networks. “The violence and sex would not have been good” Martin commented after discussing the delicate material in his novel which frequently includes scenes of incest and detailed gory battles. Movies could overlook issues with censorship and provide a “big bag of money” but he could hardly see how the story would fit in a two hour format and he was not fond of the offer to focus on a single character or storyline. Martin expressed his deep admiration for Tolkien but explained his different style of writing which delves deeper into the chaos of character psyches. “In The Return of the King when Aragorn becomes the rightful king … everything is just hunky dory” Martin said as he went on to describe his fondness for relationship complexities and how a good leader does not necessarily mean you are a good person. “Take Jimmy Carter as an example, a great person but not a very effective president. Then there are some of the most horrible people in history, yet they were good leaders for their country”.
Near the end of his interview Martin was asked what he would write after the completion of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Martin reflected on his admiration for past work such as his “Wildcard” series and his desire to write science-fiction. When asked if he had a choice to live in his fantasy world Martin told the audience there is something to be said about being a Stark yet you would be cold all the time and he would ultimately prefer to live as a Lannister where he could thrive in luxury and always pay his debts.