‘Game of Thrones’ creator says Gandalf’s death is why he constantly kills off his characters

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Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin got asked for his vote as part of PBS’ The Great American Read, which features celebrities weighing in with what they think is the most beloved book in the country.

Turns out, he thinks the honor should go not to his own books about Westeros but to another epic fantasy series. About Middle Earth.

Martin’s vote for the most loved book in America is The Lord of the Rings, and in this clip from PBS below he talks about the lasting effect that J. R. R. Tolkien’s work had on his own books, reading them as he did as a child while growing up in the projects in New Jersey. Pay attention, also, to a comment Martin makes about Gandalf:

In that clip, Martin talks about getting quickly hooked on the struggles of Tolkien’s characters as they grapple with the inexorable pull of the ring. On the intricate histories Tolkien sketches out, on things like the Black Riders and so much more.

And then the death of a wizard stuns a young Martin.

“Gandalf dies!” Martin exclaims in the clip. “I can’t explain the impact that had on me at 13.” What’s more, he goes on, the minute you kill a character like Gandalf, the suspense of everything that follows is “1,000 times greater. Because now anybody could die.”

Martin quickly follows that up with a reflection of its influence on his own work, musing that Gandalf’s “death” after confronting the Balrog in Moria “had a profound effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat.”

So there it is. Gandalf’s death turned a young boy into a later wildly successful author with the blackest of hearts and no regard for any of our feelings.

In all seriousness, Tolkien is in plenty good company with other writers on the list of 100 — which, of course, also includes Martin. The Game of Thrones series is on the list, along with many of the usual suspects. From The Catcher in the Rye to The Godfather and To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Even a fantasy that has dragons should reflect the truth,” Martin says by way of summarizing his own series, which will expand this fall with the release of Fire and Blood, a short story collection that will supposedly tell “the definitive history of the Targaryens in Westeros.”

And then maybe, before we’re all old and grey, we’ll finally get The Winds of Winter which Martin has been taking way too long to finish.

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