PARIS – George R.R. Martin, the 70-year-old writer behind HBO’s blood-spattered epic “Game of Thrones,” has created a multitude of fantasy worlds spanning medieval pasts to distant sci-fi futures.
Portly, with a white beard, glasses and usually wearing a cap, Martin has been described as “America’s Tolkien” and says he was inspired by the British fantasy master’s “The Lord of the Rings” as a teenager.
He grew up poor but his rich imagination and prolific output — including the five novels in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series that became television’s “Game of Thrones” — saw him listed by Forbes magazine as the 12th-highest-paid author in 2016.
Heavy on violence and sex, the books about noble families vying for the Iron Throne were released between 1996 and 2011 and already bestsellers before they were adapted for television.
“His skill as a crafter of narrative exceeds that of almost any literary novelist writing today,” Time magazine wrote in 2011.
Martin started on the first in the series in 1991 aiming to “write something just as big as my imagination,” he told Time in 2017.
From the mid-1980s he had worked as a Hollywood television screenwriter, including on “The Twilight Zone” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
The reaction to his first drafts would be, “‘George, we love it, but it’s five times our budget … the big battle you have where there’s 10,000 people on a side, make that a duel between the hero and the villain,’ ” he told Time.
He could abandon such limitations when he dedicated himself to prose from the mid-1990s.
“I’m going to have all the characters I want, and gigantic castles, and dragons, and dire wolves, and hundreds of years of history, and a really complex plot, and it’s fine because it’s a book,” he recalled thinking.
The first in the famous series, “A Game of Thrones,” was published in 1996.
He thought it was “essentially unfilmable” until he was approached by directors and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in 2006. “Game of Thrones” launched on HBO five years later.
“The show could not be without the mad genius of George,” Benioff said in 2018, when accepting one of its 47 Emmys.
Translated into 47 languages, the books have sold more than 85 million copies and fans have been impatient for the sixth and seventh novels promised since 2011.
Their huge popularity means that “I’m very conscious I have to do something great, and trying to do something great is a considerable weight to bear,” he told The Guardian newspaper in 2018.
George Raymond Richard Martin was born on Sept. 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey, his father working as a docker.
“We were poor,” he told PBS television in 2018. “We never went anywhere in the summer, we just stayed in the same old place. But books took me everywhere.”
At 13 he became hooked on by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” learning from the killing of the wizard Gandalf that the sudden death of key characters is a twist that can work.
“The minute you kill Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is a thousand times greater because now anybody could die,” he told PBS.
As a child he wrote monster stories, selling them to friends for a nickel, then superhero tales for school fanzines.
Martin graduated in journalism from Northwestern University in Illinois in 1971, becoming a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
Passionate about medieval history and mythology, he started publishing in the 1970s, winning prizes for his science fiction short stories.
Other top titles have included the science fiction novella “A Song for Lya” (1976), fantasy mystery “Armageddon Rag” (1983), horror “Nightflyers” (1985) and an extensive superhero series “Wild Cards” from 1987.
He has lived in Santa Fe in New Mexico for four decades. He married Parris McBride, his second wife, in 2011.