A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | Study Guide

George R.R. Martin

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George R.R. Martin | Biography


The son of a longshoreman, George R.R. Martin was born on September 20, 1948, and grew up in a federal housing project in Bayonne, New Jersey, near the Bayonne docks. His world, he has said, "was five blocks long," stretching between his school and his home. So he depended on TV shows such as The Twilight Zone (which premiered in 1959) and his own active imagination to journey beyond his working-class neighborhood.

The Making of a Writer

Martin began experimenting with writing while he was still in elementary school, selling monster stories to other kids in his neighborhood and writing about the "sinister plots" hatched by his pet turtles who lived in a toy castle habitat and seemed to be dying off with alarming frequency. In high school Martin became a rabid comic book fan, immersing himself in the Marvel universe of superheroes, becoming an active participant in the relatively new comic book "fandom" community, and writing fiction for a variety of fanzines. After graduating in 1966, he took a somewhat more traditional path, attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and earning both bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism.

After graduation Martin became eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War. He obtained conscientious objector status and did alternative work service for two years as a volunteer with the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. Martin was also an avid chess player—a hobby that may have helped him develop the mental acuity needed to map out the complex plots and genealogies of many of his novels—and managed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association for several years. Later he became a college professor while continuing to write in his spare time. However, the unexpected death of a colleague caused him to reexamine his life, and he decided to become a full-time writer.

Early Writing Career

Martin's early works were, for the most part, science fiction, and he made his first professional sale in 1971 when "The Hero" was published in the magazine Galaxy Science Fiction. Other stories followed—fantasy, horror, and more science fiction—and he received his first nominations for the Nebula Awards in 1973 and for the Hugo Awards in 1974. Martin's debut novel, Dying of the Light, was published in 1977. The book explored an unstable world of endless night and clashing cultures. By then a respected member of the science fiction and fantasy communities, Martin was recruited by Hollywood in the mid-1980s to be a story editor/writer for a remake of The Twilight Zone series. He went on to work as an editor, writer, and producer on other series, but the limitations of television eventually frustrated him—executives were constantly telling him his ideas were too complex and expensive to produce. Martin returned to writing novels, eventually envisioning a fantasy series based on medieval England's Wars of the Roses.

"The American Tolkien"

The fantasy Martin imagined eventually became A Song of Ice and Fire, which the writer began as a trilogy but is now planned to be a seven-book series. Epic in scope, A Song of Ice and Fire was soon compared by reviewers to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, with Lev Grossman of Time magazine calling Martin "the American Tolkien." However, Martin's left behind the dependence on magic and the simple "good versus evil" plotlines of Tolkien's fantasy. Instead he explored a harsher and more realistic world where good did not necessarily triumph, people were multifaceted and complex, and key characters could die at any time.

These unsettling departures from classic fantasy stories have not disheartened readers. In fact Martin has a huge fan base that has grown exponentially since the novels were turned into an immensely popular TV series, Game of Thrones. But the very popularity of the series has pulled the author back into the world of Hollywood, conferences, and publicity, and fans have been waiting for the last two books in A Song of Ice and Fire since 2011. Whether the series will ever be completed remains the biggest unanswered question in readers' minds.
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