It was my ex who first suggested I read George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. “I think you’ll like it,” he said, pulling his copy from the wooden bookcase in the corner of his bedroom. The shelves sagged under the weight of the epic fantasies that stood staunchly like a row of guardians. “Feuding families and magic. It’s like the Wars of the Roses but with dragons.”
This last reference was a call out to my most recent reading binge: just a few months before, I had picked up Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl and fallen down the rabbit hole of Tudor history. Real Tudor history, not the creative license version Gregory took (although, despite any and all inaccuracies, I still tend to revisit both Boleyn girls on an annual basis). The palace intrigues and century long feuds captivated my imagination, as did the courtly love and drama of Henry VIII and his six wives.
Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, died…and dragons?
I had read fantasy novels before, although they were certainly more lighter fare: like others, I was desperately waiting for the seventh and final book of the Harry Potter series, due out the following year. I had only recently moved down to Kentucky from my home state of Ohio in order to live with my boyfriend and found a job working the coffee shop counter at a Barnes & Noble, proudly proclaiming my Slytherin status. During the day I would swap Snape theories with co-workers, then during the evenings dive deep into the online discussions scattered across Internet forums.
But then I started reading A Game of Thrones and this was something completely different. This wasn’t just a fantasy series, it was a fantasy series. The books were behemoth; dense volumes of carefully constructed lineages and battlefields ravaged by war. The paper reminded me of onionskin, the font small and precise. A lifetime of emotions swept through me as I devoured the series: I wept when Ned lost his head and fell in love with Tyrion and Brienne in equal measure. To this day, I still cheer when Viserys gets his gold crown and the absence of Lady Stoneheart from the television adaptation broke my own heart.
This was in the fall of 2006, almost two years after the publication of A Feast for Crows. Its follow-up, A Dance with Dragons, was still four years away, although at the time readers had no word on when, if ever, it would appear. In the meantime, as I did with Harry Potter, I flocked to online forums to participate in discussions and text analysis.
One night, when my then-boyfriend came home from work, I greeted him at the door, bursting to tell him about this incredible theory I read about.
“It’s about Jon Snow,” I explained. The words tumbled out quickly, my mouth no longer able to contain them from sheer adrenaline. “His parents are really Rhaegar and Lyanna. Not only that, but he didn’t kidnap her, they ran away together. They were in love.” I stopped there and waited, my eyes wide with excitement.
He looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted a second head. “Jon’s parents are Ned and Wylla.” He gave a little frustrated shake of his head, as if he couldn’t believe I had missed such an obvious plot point. “It says so in the book.”
My smile wilted. “No, I know, but there’s all these clues—”
“The. Book. Says,” he repeated, enunciating each word through clenched teeth.
I nodded, mute. I continued to read the forums and began to read between the lines, clues scattered like blue rose petals throughout the text. While I ached to have someone to discuss theories with, he was the only one I knew in real life who read the books and so I stayed silent.
Within six months I had broken up with him after realizing his refusal to even entertain a theory was merely one single banner in a field of red flags. After moving out of his place and into my own, one of the first things I did was go to the local Half-Price Books and buy my own set of George R. R. Martin’s books.
Then the waiting began.
Twelve years later and I’ve officially stopped waiting, my levels of patience waxing and waning with each rotation around the sun. The only difference is that this time I’m (not) waiting for The Winds of Winter, the anticipated sequel to his 2011 A Dance with Dragons.
As each year passes without a release date and the trickle of information has slowed down to infrequent solitary droplets, I have become more and more convinced that Martin has no intention of ever finishing his grand opus. Back in 1991, when he first put pen to paper, I’m sure he had all the intention in the world. Of course, back in 1991, he also envisioned it as a trilogy. But as new characters were introduced, new plot lines explored, I imagine that the series just grew too unwieldy; an oversized dragon impossible to tame.
So, I decided to stop waiting and I firmly believe it’s okay if George R. R. Martin never, ever finishes his series. After all, he doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t owe any of us anything.
Neil Gaiman said it first:
George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.
Make no mistake, I sympathize with the frustration some readers feel. I’ve lost hours of my life to this series, first in the form of reading the books, then rereading them, then watching the television show. I’ve stalked his social media pages, including his blog, in the hopes of gleaning new information, a gust of hope regarding a release date. I’ve purchased the books, the DVD sets, and licensed merchandise.
But this is not a transactional relationship. There is no quid pro quo here. My giving George R.R. Martin money, my helping him achieve superstar status, does not earn me the right to dictate and demand when and how his next book should appear.
Would I like GRRM to finish his series? Of course. But I am also a writer and I know that writing is hard work. It’s a job, and we all have days and weeks and months where we hate our job. We all wish we had the option to just quit and here is a man who has that luxury. Or maybe he grew bored, grew tired of attempting to train the dragons. Maybe he’s letting the television show do the work for him.
Or maybe, as my fiancé suggested to me the other night, he’s not announcing anything until both books are done: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. Maybe he’s tired of the pressure, tired of readers antagonizing him because he’s not a monkey capable of performing on command. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with this all again and so he’s waiting until both manuscripts, the final volumes of his series, are safely in the hands of his publishers.
Or maybe…maybe it doesn’t really matter. Maybe he’s writing, maybe he’s not. Either way, I’ve stopped waiting. Not that I’ve stopped caring: on the contrary, these books continue to occupy space on my bookshelf. Like old friends, they have witnessed heartache and celebrations and have been shuttled from one apartment to another to another, across state lines as I made my way from Kentucky back to Ohio.
I am content with the series as it stands, the television show filling in gaps when it can. For me, it was never about the end. I started reading because a man I thought I loved recommended it to me. But I kept reading, and continue to read, because the magic of Martin’s world is breathtaking to behold.
And that magic exists regardless of whether or not he ever produces another book.