My Correspondence with George
by Dennis Greene
In 2004, during the long wait for the publication of A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his A Song of Ice and Fire saga, I sent George R. R. Martin the following email:
“I don’t mean to press you, but I am now over 60 years old, and if you take as long as Tolkien did, I am afraid I will not be here to read the end of your epic. Then I will die unfulfilled. I intend to be more disciplined in my efforts to write my first novel this year. Please make an old guy happy and try to do the same. If you can wrap things up by September 15, you won’t have to experience any guilt while watching the 2004-2005 NFL season.”
Much to my surprise, George responded promptly as follows:
“Ah, sixty isn’t that old anymore. Why don’t you just live to be a hundred? Then you can not only finish Ice and Fire but read all the books I’m planning to write afterward. Me, I’m a Giants and Jets fan, and I refuse to die until I’ve seen a subway Super Bowl. Many thanks for the email, and your kind and encouraging words.”
I read A Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, when it was published in 1996. Martin intended for the saga to consist of six books which would tell a sweeping tale of the political and military contest for the control of Westros followed by the final confrontation between the human armies of Westros and the inhuman hordes from the north. The story is told in the third person, alternating among the limited points of view of numerous major characters. The scene and point of view change with each chapter. The first book has eight major characters and 674 pages. The second book, A Clash of Kings, published in 1999, has two more major characters and 728 pages. The third book, A Storm of Swords, followed quickly in 2000; this one has another two characters and 924 pages. At this point, though, progress seemed to stall. By 2004, when I sent my email, it was rumored that the draft of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, contained eighteen major characters and an additional twenty chapters involving minor characters or single events. The draft exceeded twelve hundred pages, was still growing, and was nowhere near completion.
Succumbing to the pressure of my email, as well as pressure from other fans as well as his publisher, Martin decided to release his planned fourth book in two parts, each containing a separate set of story lines taking place simultaneously. This enabled Martin to publish A Feast for Crows in 2005. It contains sixteen major story lines, seven minor character chapters, and 684 pages.
I waited patiently for another two years for the second half of the fourth book, A Dance for Dragons, and in August 2007, I sent another email:
“The last time I dropped you a note, I was 60 years old and worried that I wouldn’t live to read the end of the saga. Now I am almost 64. So, nu?”
This time George’s response was less chatty:
“You really need to stop all this aging. Hey, I’m not that far behind you—58, going on 59.”
Shortly after this response, George made it clear on his website that further inquiries from fans about his writing progress would go straight to trash. He would notify the world when the book was actually released for sale. So, I quit asking.
His fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons, finally appeared in 2011. The book has more than twenty major characters, another twenty minor character chapters, and 959 pages.
George originally contemplated six books. But as the number of characters and stories expanded, each book did also. With the publication of A Dance with Dragons in 2011, he has completed four of the originally contemplated six books. That would mean at least two more books will be necessary. But at the rate each sequential volume expands, it is not unreasonable to expect that it may take three or four more volumes to finish the tale. We have been waiting eight years to read Winds of Winter, with no publication date yet announced.
Meanwhile, the HBO adaption of the saga has moved way past that of the completed books and is about to begin its final season. The HBO story differs significantly from that contained in the completed books, and unless George is planning to conform his remaining books to the TV series, which is unlikely, we can expect the divergence to increase. With the tremendous TV audience and publicity, the HBO version of Game of Thrones has effectively replaced George Martin’s original vision with the great majority of his fans. The HBO series is an epic undertaking in its own right, visually impressive and powerful, but it is, nevertheless, an abridged, altered, and diluted version of the story he provides in the books. At the current rate of progress, I will be nearing the century mark before the literary saga is complete.
And now, George has betrayed my trust. Instead of making progress on the long overdue A Song of Ice and Fire saga, he has recently been devoting his time to writing a 600-page first volume of Fire and Blood, a two part “prequel” describing the history of the Targaryan kings of Westeros. His unfinished 23-year-old epic seems to have been cast aside. If Tolkien had abandoned Lord of the Rings after The Two Towers, two thirds of the way through his story, he would have been vilified instead of revered.
Is this how George R. R. Martin wants to be remembered by his oldest and most ardent fans?
P.S. Incidentally, I feel obligated to disclose that I have not yet written the memoir that I mentioned to George in my 2004 email. I’m still working on it. If George is correct, I still have plenty of time.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.