Over the course of 10 hours, Rolling Stone writer Mikal Gillmore sat with A Song of Fire and Ice author George R.R. Martin — the man responsible for the books that provide the source material for HBO's insanely popular fantasy series Game of Thrones — and discussed a wide range of topics. While most of the material made it into the Rolling Stone Interview, there were a few of Martin's answers that were left on the cutting-room floor. Here are some choice outtakes from the Q&A.
On growing up in the projects of Bayonne, New Jersey:
"As I say, we were projects kids; we lived in public housing, so I knew at a very early age that we were poor. I don't want to play the victim card. It wasn't too bad. These were perfectly respectable families, but they just happened to be poor. Sometimes at school I would hear, 'Project kids aren't as good as regular kids.' But I never really felt like an outcast, and most of my friends, at least at an early age, were other project kids."
"I look back on it now and say, gad, what an interesting childhood I had, what an interesting environment I lived in — so much more interesting than kids who grew up in the suburbs. We had our project, and right next to it there were warehouses and industrial plants, and a working dock across the street from us. We had an amusement park. We would go wandering into the warehouses in the industrial part of town, guards would chase us away. There were tall iron ladders that went up to the roofs of some of these warehouses that we'd just climb to see the view from the roof, going up like four stories on some of these huge warehouses, or up the sides of water towers, things like that. It was a varied world. But I didn't think of it as a varied world. To me it was boring, and familiar."
On his parents:
"I would describe my relationship with my mother as being close and warm. I was no good at playing any of these sports, but I did get interested in watching it, and then [my father and I] could talk about Johnny Unitas — we had that bonding over sports. My father was also a gambler. I think I cost him a fortune when I went to college, because I went to Northwestern, in Evanston, which was a member of the Big Ten, but not really good at most sports. My father felt an obligation, and I think he lost a lot of money betting on Northwestern all through my college years. [Laughs]"
On his early influences:
"I first got into comics as a young kid, I read all kinds of comics—Superman and Batman were around then. But I also read Archie comics, and also Harvey Comics, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sugar and Spice and Baby Huey, all of that stuff. Then when Marvel hit with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, I started writing letters — all those books had letters columns — and a few of them got printed. In those days when they printed your letter they put your whole address in it. People started seeing my address and I got letters from other comic fans around the country, and I started getting fanzines. Then I thought, 'Hey, I could write something for these fanzines. They're pretty bad; I could write something just as good as that.' I did, then my stuff started getting published."
A formative writing experience for me was in a high school English course. The teacher assigned us to write a new ending for Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. Poe's ending is actually crap: The guy is trapped, the pendulum is going lower and lower, it's about to slice him in half, then suddenly there's a trumpet blast and the Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies; the good guys have arrived and they save him. I wrote the horror ending; nobody comes to save the character, the pendulum cuts him in half. I described the blood and the excruciating pain; rats come out and are eating him and nibbling at his eyes, and wriggling into his chest. Another teacher might have been horrified and sent me to school psychologist, but fortunately, this particular teacher liked what I'd written, and had me read it in front of a class. It was like I was the class hero for a day. It was an all-boys school, and the boys loved the rats and the eating of the entrails, the blood and the guts. For a day I felt like the quarterback who had just won the big game here. Everybody loved my horrible-ending story. [Laughs] It was in high school when I started deciding that I would try to be a writer."
"In some ways, in my early days as a writer, when I was writing for comic fanzines and stuff, I got my greatest inspiration from bad stuff. Some of these fanzines that I read, the stories were semiliterate — they were terrible. I said, even as a 10-year-old, I could do better than this, and that encouraged me. Indeed, I did do better than that, and when my stories came out in these little magazines, I got praised. I had not been a real confident kid. I was very shy. I was great in school—I always got honor roll and good marks—but there were a lot of things I was not good at, like sports, as I mentioned before. I couldn't hit or catch a baseball. I couldn't run fast, or jump high, or any of these things. It eats at you, you know, and your self-confidence."
On Robert Heinlein and Star Trek:
"I'd read Robert Heinlein. The early Heinlein — he later became nationalistic — was convinced that sooner or later we were going to destroy ourselves with atomic bombs unless we formed a world government and we all came together. You look back on the science fiction that I grew up with, and of that period, and that unspoken assumption is everywhere. When we spread out among the stars, and we would face other alien races, and some of them might be nice and some of them might be evil, monstrous creatures wanting to conquer us, we would face them and fight them or defeat them, or work with them, but we would do so as earthmen, or as Terrans. You grow up reading that stuff and you start to think of yourself as an earthman, as a Terran, not as an American, or a Californian."
"Star Trek comes along and that really codified it. Star Trek had a Russian on the bridge; it had an Asian guy on the bridge; it had a black woman with an African name. All of these were revolutionary at the time. But Gene Rodenberry didn't invent that stuff. In people like Heinlein, with the one-worlders, there was just this unspoken assumption that there's two ways that we're going to go as the human race: completely going to destroy ourselves with atomic bombs, or we're going to somehow overcome our difficulties. That's something that at least the old science fiction really sold, on a very subconscious level. It's an almost idealistic way of looking what our future was like."
"Unfortunately I don't really see us heading that way. I see these divisions becoming more and more distinct, and people hunkering down on them, and god, it's scary stuff here. We're not on the path to becoming all earthmen. The idealistic kid who graduated high school, a big believer in truth, justice and the American way, all these great values of superheroes of his youth, was certainly less idealistic by the time I got out of college."
On discovering J.R.R. Tolkien:
"Quartana, one of the fanzines I hoped to write for, was covering mostly sword and sorcery and fantasy. They had a story about this English guy, Tolkien, and his story about hobbits and rings. It sounded cool to me, so when the first pirated Ace edition of Tolkien came out in paperback I snapped it up. I had a very mixed reaction when I started it. I was a high school sophomore by then. I thought this was like Conan? What the hell is all this stuff, Hey nonny nonny, and little guys with hairy feet smoking pipe weed. Conan would always begin with a half naked woman and a giant snake [Laughs], and I was looking for the giant snake. But by the time I got to the Black Riders and Bree, I was hooked, and by the time I finished Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien had become like my favorite writer, finally knocking Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton off their pinnacle."
As I read Return of the King, I didn't want it to be over. That last book blew my mind, particularly the scouring of the Shire. I didn't like that when I was in high school. The story's over, and they destroyed the ring — but he didn't write "and now they lived happily ever after." Instead, they went home and home was all fucked up. The evil guys had burned down some of the woods; a fascist-like tyranny had taken over. That seemed anticlimactic to me. Frodo didn't live happily ever after or marry a nice girl hobbit. He was permanently wounded; he was damaged. As a 13 year old, I couldn't grasp that. Now, every time I re-read The Lord of the Rings — which I do, every few years — I appreciate the brilliance of the scouring of the Shire. That's part of what lifts the book from all its imitators. There was a real cost to Tolkien's world. There's a tremendous sadness at the end of Lord of the Rings, and it has a power. I think that's partly why people are still reading and re-reading these books."
"By the time I finished Lord of the Rings it actually somewhat depressed me, because I didn't think I could ever do anything of that stature. Fortunately, I got over that."
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