George R. R. Martin was born on September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. From a young age he had an active imagination, and as a child he sold monster stories to other children for pennies. He wrote fantasy stories in which his pet turtles were knights and ladies killing one another in sinister plots. Later, he wrote fiction for amateur comic book magazines. Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University in 1970. In the 1970s he directed chess tournaments and worked as a journalism instructor at Clarke College while continuing to write. His earliest professionally published writings were science-fiction short stories. He published his first story in 1971, and in 1973 published the Hugo-Award-nominated story “With Morning Comes Mistfall,” about a planet with mysterious wraiths and strange weather patterns.
Martin’s first novel, a work of science fiction called Dying of the Light, was released in 1977. In the late 1980s, he worked on the CBS television series The Twilight Zone and the CBS series Beauty and the Beast. Then, in 1991, Martin began work on the novel A Game of Thrones, the first of the seven planned books for the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
A Storm of Swords is the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Like the other books in the series, A Storm of Swords is highly complex, heavily detailed, and explicitly violent. Martin has been praised not only for his sprawling geography and plots, but also for his morally ambiguous characters. Unlike many fantasy novels, A Storm of Swords does not feature a specific quest, and no characters are purely good or evil. Martin uses magic sparingly, and much of this sorcery is vague or dubious.
As with much of modern fantasy, Martin acknowledges a great debt to the Lord of the Rings series. Martin believes that, in a way, J.R.R. Tolkien set the standard for future writers of fantasy. Unlike Tolkien’s worlds of well-defined boundaries between good and evil, however, with shining valiant heroes and dark and sinister villains, Martin’s work is more likely to have characters that fall into moral grey areas. Indeed, he notes that flawed characters make for more interesting heroes. Martin has also said that, like Tolkien’s work, his tale has grown in the telling. The series was originally conceived as a trilogy and has since steadily continued to grow in length. It even helped spawn other stories, and other works set in the Westeros universe of the series include Tales of Dunk and Egg, a series of stories published from 1998 to 2010. The action in the novellas’ setting predates the start of the story in A Game of Thrones by eighty-nine years.
Martin believes there is a great deal of similarity between epic fantasy and historical fiction, and the setting of A Game of Thrones is rich with historically accurate details from medieval Europe. The Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) and the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) both serve as source material for the family feuding in A Game of Thrones. The Wars of the Roses were a sporadic series of civil wars that were fought over succession to the throne in England. The Hundred Years’ War was also a dynastic conflict, though it was fought for control of the French throne. Martin believes that because A Game of Thrones is set in a fictional universe rather than an actual nation at a specific time in history, the story lends itself to more multicultural appeal and universal themes. Furthermore, unlike with historical fiction, the writer of fantasy is free to determine the outcome of a battle or a political struggle. Martin is known for his willingness to kill off a primary character even if the reader has grown attached, which helps to keep the stakes high and makes the consequences of characters’ actions more realistic.
One of the most shocking details for modern readers can be the ages of many principal characters. Daenerys becomes pregnant on her fourteenth birthday, Joff becomes king at age twelve, and Robb leads an army at age fifteen. However, in medieval times children were expected to grow up very quickly. Girls were allowed to marry at age twelve in medieval England. From ages twelve to fourteen children could leave home for employment. Furthermore, dynastic histories from around the world are filled with examples of child rulers inheriting kingdoms.
By the time Martin finished the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire in 2005, his titles were already approaching bestseller lists. In 2007, HBO acquired the rights to turn A Song of Ice and Fire into a dramatic television series. When the first episode of HBO’s A Game of Thrones aired, the novels vaulted to even greater popularity. Martin is a co-executive producer for the series, and he writes one episode per season himself. Like the books upon which it is based, the television series has been well received by viewers and critics alike, and both the series and the books have found significant commercial success.