Tuned In

GRRM Interview Part 4: Personal History

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I interviewed George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which HBO’s Game of Thrones is based, in Santa Fe last month. Parts 1, 2 and 3 posted here earlier. This last excerpt didn’t really fit anywhere in my piece on Game of Thrones, because it digresses into GRRM’s personal biography and how it influenced his creation of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. But I find it fascinating (and eye-opening to me, though it’s possible that he’s talked about this more often in interviews that I just haven’t read).

So, in this last installment, GRRM talks about his family history, the decline of the House of Martin (or, actually, Brady), and how there’s a little bit of Bayonne, N.J. in Westeros. Plus, the Tolkien fan fiction that he never had the chance to write:

I love how the books are almost like you’re in a post-magic world. You have this history that there were once dragons and now people don’t think they exist anymore. A lot of people don’t believe in the Others. There’s Valyria, which almost seems like Rome before the Dark Ages, this high civilization that used to exist but now it’s history. It gives this sadness, this kind of poignancy to the world, like it’s a half fallen civilization.

You know, I’ve always been attracted to that. I gave a speech about that in 2003 where I was guest of honor at the World Science Fiction Connection in Toronto. I worked on that speech for a year and looked back over my work and my wife and I came to the realization that I’ve always had this affection for [decay]. My first novel [was published as] Dying of the Light, but my title for it was After the Festival. And it was a science fiction novel, it was set on a festival world, a world that when they built for like an interplanetary world’s fair, but now the festival was over and the world was still there, everybody had left except a few people. All of the big exhibit cities were falling into decay and that was the backdrop for it.

And I look at that and I think some of it comes from my early family history when I was growing up [in Bayonne, N.J.]. We had no money and we lived in the projects, but my mother came from a family that had had money. An Irish family, Irish American family, the Bradys. They’d been very prosperous in the construction business. Building materials and all of that in the teens and ‘20’s, when she was young. They had a house, a big house, and they built their own dock because they were bringing in so much construction material. So they built this dock, Brady’s Dock it was called, where their ships would come and unload material to their truck. And they lost all that money in the Depression. The business went out of business with financial shenanigans, some of the men died and the wives were cheated by other people. There’s a lot of family mythology about that. But the point of it was, we had no money at all by the time I came along in 1948.

Well, my mother would tell me these stories and the project that I lived in was built right across from Brady’s Dock. Of course, there was no more Brady’s Dock, it was the Municipal Dock, it had been taken over by the city. And I would look out the window of my housing project and say, my family used to own that dock. That used to be our dock.

And then I would walk to school; we lived in First Street, my school was on Fifth Street, I would walk to school and I would pass the house that the Bradys had owned. I would pass it twice a day going and coming from school. This big house my mother had been born in and her family had grown up in, but had lost. And other people lived in what had been our house. And I think it always gave me this, this sense of a lost golden age of, you know, now we were poor and we lived in the projects and we lived in an apartment. We didn’t even have a car, but God we were… once we were royalty! It gave me a certain attraction to those kinds of stories of I don’t know, fallen civilizations and lost empires and all of that.

And that may be one reason why Tolkien’s world appealed to me so much. Middle Earth is in decline as well. I mean, the elves are going away, magic was leaving the world. Many of the great places we visited in Middle Earth, like the Mines of Moria—I mean, Moria was once this great city and now it’s this hideous ruin and crumbling, this dark place under the earth inhabited by these monstrous creatures.

Yeah, I mean, what’s the happy ending of the Lord of the Rings, right? Now magic is now leaving the world and we humans take over and now it’s the Fourth Age and it will just be mundane shit.

I have occasionally thought of writing a story, I could never write it for copyright reasons. Tolkien’s Estate would never give me permission, and for good reason, but I thought of writing a story set in Middle Earth 2,000 years later where some hobbit is on a tour bus visiting all the great locations: “And now we’re going to take you to the Mines of Moria today, make sure you stay on the paths!” And they’re going through and he’s staying at crummy little inns and having bad food.