On this day in 1996, “A Game of Thrones,” an epic fantasy novel by George R.R. Martin, is released. The book was the first in Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, about feuding medieval noble families on an imaginary continent called Westeros. Although not initially a best-seller, “A Game of Thrones” gained a loyal following, and the “Song of Ice and Fire” series eventually became a huge hit, selling millions of books.
Martin, who was born in 1948 and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, graduated from Northwestern University in 1970 and earned a master’s degree in journalism from the school the following year. He went on to teach journalism, direct chess tournaments and publish fantasy and science-fiction short stories and novels, although none achieved the success of his “Song of Ice and Fire” series. From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, Martin worked as a writer-producer in Hollywood, contributing to such TV series as “The Twilight Zone” and “Beauty and the Beast.” He penned scripts that were often deemed too complicated and expensive to produce, an experience that influenced how he developed the “Song of Ice and Fire” saga. As Martin told The New York Times: “When I returned to prose, which had been my first love, in the 90s, I said I’m going to do something that is just as big as I want to do. I can have all the special effects I want. I can have a cast of characters that numbers in the hundreds. I can have giant battle scenes. Everything you can’t do in television and film, of course you can do in prose because you’re everything there. You’re the director, you’re the special effects coordinator, you’re the costume department, and you don’t have to worry about a budget.”
Martin originally intended “A Game of Thrones” as the first title in a trilogy; however, his plan expanded into a seven-volume series that so far also includes “A Clash of Kings” (1999, in the U.S.),“A Storm of Swords” (2000), “A Feast for Crows” (2005) and “A Dance with Dragons” (2011). The novels are known for their elaborate plots and large casts of morally complex characters. (Martin also has a reputation for killing off main characters.) In 2005, Time magazine dubbed him “the American Tolkien,” a reference to Britain’s J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Today, crowds of fans flock to Martin’s public appearances, and in 2011, a TV adaptation of “Game of Thrones” premiered on HBO.