George R.R. Martin has become a household name ever since his best-selling books, from the series A Song of Ice and Fire, were adapted into HBO’s most popular television series of all time: Game of Thrones. The program has been shown in over 170 countries and has been illegally downloaded more than any other program on Earth. It boasts some of the most diverse and obsessive fans, yet there are many who still don’t know much about the creator of their favorite show.
For this list, we’re looking at some fascinating fun facts about the beloved novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin. We’ll cover some of his passions, his place of origin, his lifelong convictions, and the struggles that helped shape and mold him into one of the most acclaimed writers in modern literature.
Here are 12 Facts You Might Not Know About George R. R. Martin.
12 He’s a Comic Book Fanatic
Unknown to many, George R.R. Martin is an avid comic book fan. He grew up with a particular fondness for Marvel stories such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. He currently has a large collection of comic books and is still a heavy reader to this day.
Speaking with John Hodgman on a public radio broadcast Bullseye, Martin describes his fascination with comic books and its influences on him as a young writer:
“The Marvel comics that I was writing letters to were really revolutionary for the time. Stan Lee was doing some amazing work...
This Catholic Prep Schooler from Marist High wrote numerous impassioned letters to “Stan’s Soapbox,” as many fans did at that time. He heartily shared his thoughts on his favorite and least favorite characters and stories. Even as a high schooler, his eloquence with the written word is apparent.
One character with an initial arc stood out to him and that was Wonder-Man. It wasn’t the fact that the Wonder-Man character was from Paterson New Jersey, it was that Wonder-Man was the most tragic of super-heroes at the time. Wonder-Man’s first appearance happened to also be his last (at least until they revived him some time later). Martin says of Wonder-Man.
“I liked the character — it was a tragic, doomed character. I guess I’ve responded to tragic, doomed characters ever since I was a high-school kid."
11 His Insular Life in Bayonne Fueled his Creativity
One would think that the author of one of the most richly dense and expansive worlds in modern literature had traveled the globe as a youth, but actually, he had a pretty modest upbringing in the projects of 35 East First Street in Bayonne, New Jersey. As the son of a longshoreman, Martin spent his youth watching big ships sail across the Brady’s Dock and Kill Van Kull waterway dreaming of far off worlds and of someday being an astronaut.
He made the most of his time by selling monster stories to other children in the neighborhood. That all was stopped by the parents of the children because they were having nightmares. He became an insatiable reader, since his world consisted mainly of school and his home. He yearned to travel and reading helped his overactive imagination explore worlds far from his own.
10 He’s a Conscientious Objector
George R. R. Martin has always had deep philosophical problems with war. He avoided the Vietnam War draft as a conscientious objector. Instead, he served in a 2-year alternative service with the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation from 1973 to 1976. He opposes the idea of glorifying war and deliberately depicts the harsh realities of warfare in his novels.
Although he objected to Vietnam and has his general reservations about who profits from war, his perspectives are as a pacifist. He’s quoted as saying, “‘War brings out the best and the worst in people. Literature of the past used to celebrate the glory of war; then the hippie generation in the 1970s wrote about the ugliness of it. I think there’s truth in both.” To Martin, Game of Thrones is a war story and nobody is safe. He had friends who fought in Vietnam and talked about their experiences. It left an indelible effect on him, knowing that anyone could be killed at any time during war.
9 Heartbreak as a Novelist Almost Ended his Career
Long before Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin was an award winning sci-fi and horror novelist. The unexpected and commercial failure of his fourth book, The Armageddon Rag (1983), "...essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time," Martin recalled. The Armageddon Rag is a mystery-fantasy novel that was co-published in 1983 by both Poseidon Press and The Nemo Press and reprinted numerous times.
Even though the book was nominated for the Locus and World Fantasy awards, it was a complete commercial disaster. It was one of those projects that were near and dear to Martin’s heart. He was so distraught at the commercial failure of one of his favorite novels, that he wrote less and ultimately went into writing for television. Even worse, he did so to stay afloat artistically and financially.
8 He Was an Unhappy Writer For Television
After he walked away from writing as a novelist due to the personal and financial disappointment of his novel The Armageddon Rag, Martin began writing for various television and movies. He worked on the television shows Beauty and the Beast, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits as well as numerous others.
Even though he found financial stability in Hollywood, he didn’t feel fulfilled. He was also frustrated that so much of his works never got to see the light of day. He’s quoted as saying, “No amount of money can really take the place of... you want your stuff to be read. You want an audience and four guys in an executive office suite at ABC or Columbia is not adequate.”
7 He Has a Library TOWER
As any fan of Game of Thrones knows, the stories have a historical resonance to them. He’s said that his story is a reimagining of England's War of the Roses infused with other elements of medieval history. It’s shaped as a historical magnum opus that has been wrapped in fantasy. It’s no coincidence that Martin is a history buff. He minored in history and has amassed a collection of books of his own.
In 2009, he bought a home across the street from his own in Santa Fe and had a library tower built on the site. It also serves as his office space. The city wouldn’t allow him to build it any higher than two stories, but it's still an impressive site. The main characteristic of the structure is a set of stained-glass windows with sigils of five houses from the Seven Kingdoms.
6 He Owns a Fabulously Withdrawn Indie Cinema in New Mexico
In Santa Fe, where George R. R. Martin resides, he purchased a struggling little cinema called The Jean Cocteau Cinema. It was established in 1976 as the Collective Fantasy Cinema. In 1983, it was purchased by Brent Kliewer who had it renamed Jean Cocteau in honor of the French filmmaker and artist. The theater changed hands and went through some renovations till Martin purchased it in 2010.
After some more renovations and upgrades, the Martin’s Jean Cocteau Cinema reopened in 2013 where it serves as not just a place for independent films, also as a local venue that supports independent artists and writers. It has special screenings of classic films and holds book signing events. It hosts live music and book readings. It also has a full-licensed bar. A small lounge area where a nearby bookshelf holds many of Martin’s books but mostly up and coming authors which he supports. In said lounge, the walls feature various works by grassroots artists and photographers. The cinema shows its films in 35mm and in digital.
5 He’s a Loyal Convention Enthusiast
For decades, Martin has been a loyal sci-fi and comic book convention enthusiast and has developed a reputation as being very accessible to fans. As a youngster in 1964, he attended the first ever New York City Comic Convention. To his recollection, there were only 30 people in attendance and, because he was first in line, he received a badge designated as “#1 comic-fan”.
He’s a member of what other writers call the “Labor Day Group,” who are writers who regularly meet up and converge at the annual WonderCon event. He’s also known to attend various regional sci-fi conventions. Since ‘86, he’s been a mainstay at Albuquerque’s smaller regional convention Bubonicon.
4 The Magic of the WordStar 4.0 Computer
Martin is a dedicated user of the WordStar word processor software, which was the preeminent word processor back in the 1980s, that ran on Microsoft DOS. Martin is one of a handful of famous writers who use the WordStar 4.0 Computer that utilizes a DOS operating system. The other notable users are William F. Buckley Jr., Ralph Ellison, Robert J Sawyer, Anne Rice, and Andy Breckman (of the tv show Monk). So he’s one of the few people left on planet Earth that uses this word processor.
In an interview with Conan O’Brien, George R. R. Martin explained his reason for choosing such a classic program. “Well, I actually like it. It does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn’t do anything else,” Martin said. “I don’t want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital! If I’d wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work a shift key!”
3 He’s an Obsessed Sports Fan
George R. R. Martin has a knack for surprising us. Unbeknownst to many, Martin is an obsessive sports fan. He’s also known to watch an entire NFL draft. Even some of the most ardent sports fans wouldn’t be able to sit through the whole thing. He’s a diehard New York Jets football fan and New York Mets baseball fan (No wonder the heroes in his stories are always getting murdered). Martin says in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “A lot of that dates to our childhoods when the world divides us into jocks and nerds. But there are always the nerds who, though not jocks, are still into sports. Believe it or not, I worked four summers in college as a sportswriter covering baseball for the parks and recreation department in Bayonne, N.J.”
He wrote two sci-fi football stories, one that was published by Amazing Stories called Run to Starlight, about a game against aliens; and Gallery ran one called The Last Super Bowl. He’s also an obsessive sports blogger. Maybe this is why he can’t finish his novels!
2 HBO Scribes Know How It All Ends
With the show catching up and ultimately passing the Game of Throne novels with season 6 kicking off, the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss took a weeklong trip to New Mexico to meet with George R. R. Martin to get the low down on the end of the epic.
Even though Martin hasn’t yet written the specific ending to the book, he does know where it’s all going to end up. In doing so, he’s given them the ability to strategize in advance for the final three seasons. So right now there are two folks other than Martin who knows where every character’s story will end.
1 Game of Thrones Wouldn’t Exist Without Chess
In his early 20s, George R. R. Martin made a living working chess tournaments to pay the bills. He owed this arrangement to the popularity of Bobby Fischer. In the early 70s, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky at the World Chess Championship. The popularity of chess hit its peak in the United States. Martin capitalized off of the phenomenon and started working as a director of the midwestern chess circuit for a national organization that held chess tournaments.
“For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job worked five days a week and then they had the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday – but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills.” After a few years, enthusiasm for chess and Bobby Fischer died down. By that time, Martin had developed and honed his craft and was able to further pursue his dream of becoming a professional writer. “Chess really did mark a crucial turning point in my career.”
Should fans know anything else about the Game of Thrones creator? Let us know in the comments!