Q: With the exception of the fantasy elements, Game of Thrones might well have been a reimagination of the Wars of the Roses.
Later in the interview, he talks a little bit more about his interest in history:I did consider at a very early stage – going all the way back to 1991 – whether to include overt fantasy elements, and at one point thought of writing a Wars of the Roses novel. But the problem with straight historical fiction is you know what's going to happen. If you know anything about the Wars of the Roses, you know that the princes in the tower aren't going to escape. I wanted to make it more unexpected, bring in some more twists and turns. The main question was the dragons: Do I include dragons? I knew I wanted to have the Targaryens have their symbol be the dragons; the Lannisters have the lions, the Starks have the wolves. Should these things be literal here? Should the Targaryens actually have dragons? I was discussing this with a friend, writer Phyllis Eisenstein – I dedicated the third book to her – and she said, "George, it's a fantasy – you've got to put in the dragons." She convinced me, and it was the right decision. Now that I'm deep into it, I can't imagine the book without the dragons.
You can read the complete interview here at rollingstone.com.History was my minor in college. I don't pretend to be a historian. Modern historians are interested in sociopolitical trends. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the stories. History is written in blood, a gold mine – the kings, the princes, the generals and the whores, and all the betrayals and wars and confidences. It's better than 90 percent of what the fantasists do make up.
As a writer of historical fantasy, I agree with everything Martin says. It’s true that with pure historical fiction, an informed reader will always know how the historical story ends. In my own works, which are set it the historical Middle Ages, I try to make the main plot less connected to the outcome of real historical events to preserve some sense of the “unexpected” that Martin talks about. I also love his view on what makes history interesting—because it’s written in blood—and I agree that real history is usually far more interesting than your average fantasy fiction. Martin, of course, strikes the perfect balance in A Song of Ice and Fire, which is one of the reasons, I believe, the books have been so successful.
But I’m curious to know what you think – does pure historical fiction rob the reader of a bit of the unexpected, and do you prefer fantasy for that reason? Or do you find the “written in blood” real history to be more interesting than anything 90% of the fantasists write? Leave a comment and let me know!