Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire Podcast, Episode 10: The Book That Never Was

In early 2015, Harper Collins UK in conjunction with Waterstones, a British Book Retailer, released pictures of a letter that George RR Martin wrote to his agent Ralph Vicinanza in 1993 outlining his idea for this brand new book that he was writing entitled A Game of Thrones, the first book in an exciting new trilogy that George RR Martin was calling A Song of Ice and Fire. This early letter provided insights to George’s agent on how he could promote this new series as well as provided a plot diagram for where GRRM thought that  A Game of Thrones  and A Song of Ice and Fire were going.

In Episode 10: The Book That Never Was, we do a detailed analysis of this letter and the book that could have been had GRRM written A Song of Ice and Fire to follow his initial diagram. We cover the topics of:

  • The History of ASOIAF: How it came to be and where we are now
  • GRRM’s original idea of plot, counterplot and murder centered on dynastic struggle
  • Daenerys Targaryen: Dothraki Conqueror
  • The, um, interesting love triangle had in mind
  • Similarities and differences to the material that was published
  • The foreshadowings that never were: leftover lines intended to foreshadow plot points that never came to be.
  • Our take on the blacked out text and what it could mean for the future of A Song of Ice and Fire

Listen to us here or at:

Special thanks to Adam Whitehead for his excellent series on the history of ASOIAF called A Song of Facts and Figures for his work in writing about the history of ASOIAF!

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Filed under ASOIAF Meta, ASOIAF Podcast

9 responses to “Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire Podcast, Episode 10: The Book That Never Was

  1. Eddy

    Great podcast guys! Maybe cut it into smaller sections, so it’s not that much of a behemoth to listen to? Also, the love triangle discussion was pretty funny.

  2. Ioseff

    Even though he may have foreshadowed things that never happened, the themes of those things have been placed instead on other (the incest idea was displaced, the Tyrion vs Eldest sibling hatred displaced, the Eldest Lannister sibling powerlust, the Daenerys revenge has been displaced idea) or are you thinking on other things?

  3. Another good one, I try to read and or listen to as much of your material as time allows. So thank you all for recording this, the “1993 Draft” is such a hot button topic among the fandom making it a great choice for your central theme.

    I wanted to comment on the nixed “forbidden romance” in an attempt to say that it’s gone, but not wholly forgotten. I’m glad that it was ultimately left out or at least extremely obscured, but I believe it can also be a great look into George’s writing style and into both Jon and Arya’s characters as they stand today.

    I think what George may have been going for is that for Arya, Jon represents freedom from conformity to her role as a highborn lady. By giving Arya needle and supporting her general Tomboy like personality, Jon was the only character to really see Arya as she truly was or wished to be. Outside of Ned eventually hiring Syrio, almost every single character in the books wants to change Arya into their idea of her. What would have driven their romance, which rightfully became their strong familial love and identification as both being “outcasts” survives the draft.

    To Jon, Arya represents finally being a Stark in truth. Something that he struggles with in much healthier ways throughout asoiaf. I think George sort of handed that notion off to Theon who says that for a time he even held out hope of marrying into the Stark clan. Again, I much prefer how the story ended up but Jon’s second to last words were still “Stick them with the pointy end.” The idea of Arya in distress was also a possible tipping point in his ADWD decision to make war on Ramsay. Indicating a possibly stronger love for Arya than any of his other siblings, involving her is always crossing some sort of line for Jon.

    My point is that shades of the romance still exist in Arya and Jon. George almost seems to have surgically removed that plotline without changing their base relationship or core character values. The motives that would have formed that relationship still drive their characters as Jon struggles with finding his place in the world and Arya tries to escape it. You could infer that Jon began as “no one” truly and Arya “someone.” Their union would have given each other precisely what they both desired, to trade places in a sense.

    The rightfully abandoned incest overdoing romance is kind of fascinating in that you can still see how it framed the characters we know and love. It can be a bizarre yet interesting look into George’s “gardening” writers style. He perhaps felt what we felt when writing or framing the romance and made the changes that we now prefer.

    Food for thought.

  4. Casejord

    Great episode. A couple of thoughts:

    I get the feeling that Tyrion from the original outline was split into the Tyrion we know and like and Theon. Because Theon of course burns Winterfell in the “actual books” and in ADWD he mentions having a crush on Sansa and interacts with (fake) Arya. And sort of connected with that, Theon and Jon are definitely foils in the published books the way that Jon and Original!Tyrion seem to be.

    Also, in terms of leftover elements, I think the original outline has a lot to do with why Sansa in AGOT is comparably two-dimensional and unsympathetic- like she’s definitely more nuanced than the outline, but she’s still frequently contrasted with Arya and shown in a negative light in comparison.

    I’ve seen people using the outline to support the idea that Martin sees Sansa as a traitor/not a real Stark, but I think it’s the opposite. Martin had originally planned this but moved away from it which is why we get the Sansa we have by the end of AGOT, although AGOT is filled with vestiges of the original, “evil” Sansa.

  5. Merry Meg

    Hi all! I really enjoy your podcast, and have listened to all your episodes thus far. Keep up the great work! However, I’m delurking because, as much as I enjoyed this episode, I felt that some of your discussion was not colored very much by what exactly you were reading — this letter isn’t from Martin’s private notes. He has an audience and a purpose here.

    Namely, a literary agent is not an editor (though agents do very often do something like macro editing) — their job is to sell your book to a publisher. When you go to your agent and say, “I’d like to write a trilogy,” your agent is going to want to know that 1) yes, this needs to be a trilogy (unlike movies, book series are more often than not a money-losing enterprise, so it really needs to be worth the investment over a standalone novel), and 2) your trilogy is actually something that publishers will pay for and readers will subsequently buy. Basically, GRRM’s purpose here is not just to outline the bare bones of his plot, but to show that it is marketable.

    I’ve been on this side of the literary marketplace back when I was trying to sell several projects. For example, at the time that I was deeply immersed in this world (I’ve kind of put fiction writing to the side), a lot of people I knew pivoted from selling their projects as “dystopias” to describing them as “science fiction” novels, because publishers had stopped buying dystopias because the market had dried up, but were thinking there was a potential market for sci fi.

    So, if some elements seem odd (it seems like a much more black/white morality, there’s a whole lot more magic), it seems to me very likely that this is not necessarily just because Martin changed his mind, but because, in selling his project to his agent, who is then going to go sell it to publishers, he does have to try to spin his trilogy (LOL!) in a way that sounds like it will sell. (This is also why some of the jacket covers don’t really accurately reflect the books’ contents.) Personally, though I’m not super familiar with the kinds of things fantasy imprints of publishers were buying in 1993, the description very probably sounds less ASOIAF-like because this is tailored to a pre-ASOIAF audience.

    (I would be extremely unsurprised if, after the series’s success, there was a huge uptick in numbers of people describing their books as “gritty, realistic fantasy,” regardless of whether or not that was really true.)

    This is also why you don’t see much of anyone as a complex character we’ve come to expect from Martin. Sansa seems particularly unappealing, but I don’t think anyone actually sounds all that complex here. All writers would say “my characters are complex”; saying so in a pitch is meaningless. It’s the kind of thing that has to be shown in the actual text.

    None of this is to say that I don’t agree with most of your assessments, or that I’m not also glad that we got the books we got (dnw Jon/Arya/Tyrion love triangle), and I didn’t really want to barge in like a big old know it all talking inside baseball. But I haven’t heard a lot of discussion of this letter that really takes its audience and purpose into account, and that felt kind of missing, so I felt compelled to say something.

    I love your content and discussions, and am looking forward to the next podcast! You’re one of the places I go to feed my ASOIAF bug while waiting for TWOW.

    • As a note on this, what George is doing with this pitch letter is unusual. Most fantasy/SF authors would need to complete a novel before even trying to sell it. This “pitching an incompleted book” thing is only possible because George was a successful and well-known writer at this point and and a publisher could pick up the book on the basis of his previous form. So yes, George needs to sell the book, but he’s also relying on his reputation. For his initial plans, yes, George absolutely 100% planned for the series to be just a trilogy (no matter how silly that sounds to us now, but the story George is envisaging at this point is clearly much less intricate than the one we ended up with, even before AGoT was over) and you can see a lot of foreshadowing for these early plot ideas in the opening chapters of AGoT, before he moves away from them.

      As for what publishers were buying, they were certainly looking for “the next Robert Jordan” at this point. That was the dominant series in fantasy and publishers were jumping on everything even vaguely similar that crossed their desks. Terry Goodkind got his deal a few months before this, for example, although that was with his completed first novel.

  6. Pingback: Episode 12: Year in Review | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  7. Folks, the podcasts are very good, but please try to equalize your audio better. In particular, Militant_Penguin needs to get a new microphone. His audio quality is so sub par that it aggravates me every time he speaks and I cannot give his contributions their due as I cannot even understand them, and this has nothing to do with his accent, which is fine. Just get a new microphone or else there is a bandwidth problem. But really, this is your 10th podcast, I have not read the comments on the others as I have jumped around, but I am shocked this problem has lasted this long. Maybe by the time I write this it has been redressed in 2016. Also, Nina’s voice is often significantly louder than the others, or at least appears to be.

    Other than these audio complaints, the podcasts are very enjoyable.

  8. Eddy

    I disagree with your statement that “the most important thing Jon Arryn does is dies.” In my opinion, the undoubtedly most crucial action he performs is raising his banners against Aerys II. Sure, his death sets off the chain of reactions that we know to be A Song of Ice and Fire, but none of the beatiful political world we know would have been possible had he decided to that the execution block was the best place to put little Ned and Bobby B. You could say he would never have done that to his beloved wards, but a weaker man might have.

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