Skip to main content

Game of Thrones author reveals his favourite art

What about the Song of Ice and Fire series do you think has inspired artists so much?

I'm aware of the Ice and Fire art to a certain extent, but especially over the last few years it's become too much. Remember, I've been doing this for a long time. Stuff that I'm actually a licensee on, such as the games, I have some role in the picking the artists, approving the artwork. But I've pulled back on that too since the beginning. I've become more liberal.

In the beginning when there's not a lot of art, and you've got a very strong idea of what these characters look like, I'd say, 'no, no, it shouldn’t be that way', 'he should have a bigger beard,' or 'he should be fatter' or whatever, but a certain point you get to, 'oh well, this is the artist's interpretation, I've already seen 50 different interpretations, here's number 51' – I'm not going to obsess over how fat he is or how tall he is. I'm just going to step back and let different artists do their different things. And I enjoy that.

George R R Martin talks about his favourite art

Here’s a WIP of the dragon-forged Iron Throne, for the forthcoming A World of Ice and Fire book

Marc Simonetti was pretty close to getting the throne of a 1,000 swords the way you saw it in your mind… Oh yes! The minute I saw his work on the French editions – he did some marvellous work, and I thought this guy is great, lets hire him for some more.

You know, the Iron Throne has been a particular problem since the beginning of the series. A number of artists – dozens of artists – have done versions of it, and some are better than others… but none of them were what I pictured in my head. And I kept saying, 'it's OK, but it should be bigger.'

As a prose writer I’m describing it in my book, not as a technical writer would, but I'm describing it in more metaphoric terms. That it's huge and it's hunching and it gives this impression of dominance, that it dominates the room. Those are abstracts and the artist needs to translate. How big is huge, and how do I make it look like a giant-like beast and all that stuff.

George R R Martin talks about his favourite art

Mother and son: Marc Simonetti has painted several of the characters, as well as his iconic take on King’s Landing’s Iron Throne

So Marc did a version of the Iron Throne for one of his covers that was the best I'd ever seen. It really is the Iron Throne the way I see it.

That's the one I posted up on my website and it got coverage all around the world because of its contrast to the HBO version. I mean the HBO version has now become iconic and I accept the fact that for the vast majority of millions of people around the world that will always be what the Iron Throne looks like.

But it is not what's described in the books. It's significantly smaller, it has far fewer swords in it. They had to build it! You know, they didn't want to build a 15-foot tall throne involving a thousand swords even if it was resin swords as they used… But still… the imagination can always be bigger than what you do in reality.

You seem quite generous in allowing artists to interpret your world...

I think at this point, yes. I think I was a lot more protective at the beginning… you know I went through an experience years ago – decades ago – on my novel Fever Dream.

It's a historical horror novel set on the Mississippi River in the 1850s. And it all centres around a steam boat called the Fever Dream.

Now, in that period of American history there were two types of steamboat. There were the Sternwheelers and there were the Side Wheelers. And the Fever Dream is a Side Wheeler.

In the boat it has two big paddle boxes on the side of the boat. It doesn't have a paddle behind it. But the Side Wheeler's are all gone. There are none that exist today.

George R R Martin talks about his favourite art

Woe betide anyone who gets their 1850s steam boats confused in the vicinity of George R R Martin

The surviving steam boats, and even the diesel boats, are all Sternwheelers – people think of Sternwheelers. And when the covers of Fever Dream started coming out, you know, everybody was painting Sternwheelers. And it drove me crazy!

There were a few that got it right, but it used to drive me crazy back in the 80s that I was getting all these Sternwheelers and – 'No no! It's a Sternwheelers! When will you get this thing right?' And, at a certain point, I noticed something, that some of these covers that had these Sternwheelers on them, covers that were wrong, were beautiful – were wonderful covers.

And some of the covers that had got it right, were some of the most hideous covers I'd ever seen! So I took a step back and said, 'you know, I'd rather have a good cover with a beautiful piece of art than one that's ugly even though it's technically correct to the details described in the book'. So that gave me a lot of perspective that I tried to take that forward with Ice and Fire.

George R R Martin talks about his favourite art

The fallen Among the many beloved characters George R R Martin has “killed horribly”, the stalwart Eddard Stark, painted here by Michael Komarck, was the first to go

Has the motivation changed since the first publication of Game of Thrones in 1991?

No, I'm still just trying to tell a story. It was always my only motivation. When I'm writing it's a schizoid thing. Writing, I’m just lost in the story and the world and trying to tell the story the best I can.

I love all the characters, even the bad guys. Even the ones that I kill horribly.

Now, when I step out, when I finish for the day and start answering emails and talking to my agent, then I put on a different hat and now it's business and how do I promote this best, and what's the cover going to look like, and all that stuff.

But none of that enters into it when I'm writing. I turn that part of my off. I'm just lost in the world.

And that world is still an enjoyable place to inhabit after all these years?

Oh, it's enjoyable when the work's going well. Like everybody else, I have good days when I love what I do, and I have bad days when I smash my head against the typewriter: 'God this is hard!', you know? So that's the writer's lot I think.

There are characters that artists love to depict. What are the characters that you love to revisit?

I love all the characters, even the bad guys. It's like asking who's your favourite child to a parent… But I've got to admit that I have a lot of affection for Tyrion. I have a lot of affection for Arya, and Danny. But all of them are important to me. Even the ones that I kill horribly.

It's a skill to know when to walk away from a piece of art – does this apply to writing?

Yeah definitely. I mean, I rewrite a lot. Sometimes I think I should rewrite more. But at a certain point I have to say, 'no. I'd better go on to the next chapter, or the next book.' But at some point you've got to let it go.

Part of this article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 108.

Like this? Read these...