[Note: This is an abridged report of a Q&A with GRRM at TusCon 43, courtesy of the History of Westeros podcast team. Questions not particularly relevant to GRRM's writing have been redacted. Some questions are paraphrased.]
[Question about the original inspiration for the Faceless Men.]
You know, it’s a common trope of fantasy, that you have the guild of assassins. I was hardly the first one to invent the guild of assassins; you know, that’s largely a fantasy trope. There’s not much evidence for that in history. Well….the one evidence is you did actually have a group called the Assassins (Hashshashins) who were in the Middle East and there was a guy called the Old Man of the Mountain who would send forth his assassins to kill people in the Middle East, where they’d been killing people for many many centuries. But they were not like fantasy guilds of assassins, so I decided to put my own spin on it. I actually came up with several different guilds of assassins, not only the Faceless Men, but the Sorrowful Men and all that.
There’s a little bit in there in the philosophy of the Faceless Men; they’re- in some senses they’re a death cult, and it’s a religious basis, which I kind of thought about and extrapolated from that. I’m surprised we don’t have more death cults in the real world, because it just seems to me, if you’re gonna worship something, death is a pretty good thing because you know, like, we have all these religions that promise you life-everlasting. None of them ever deliver on it. Everybody in all the other religions dies anyway, so the death cult is the one that wins. The death cult can really deliver death. ‘Come and worship with us, and you will die.’ Well, yeah, you probably will! So….what the hell. I took with that and ran with it.
I just wanted to ask - I know you have quite a lot of Dunk & Egg books planned - are we ever going to see Tanselle Too-Tall again? Are we going to find out what happened to her?
Well, that would be telling. *laughs* But I think there’s a good chance, yes.
Are there going to be any more Tuf books?
I would like - I have ideas for another twenty Tuf stories. But I’m kind of busy with the Ice and Fire thing right now, so I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing them. At some point, sure. I even at one point had a contract for a second Tuf book. You know, the first was called Tuf Voyaging, and the next one was gonna be called Twice as Tuf. I never wrote the stories, and I got involved in this other stuff and I eventually bought out the contract by paying the publisher back. Someday I’d love to do that. He was a fun character to write, and those stories were kind of fun. They’re a little lighter than most of my stuff. Although not really a romp; there are like entire worlds that are destroyed and stuff like that.
It’s interesting what’s considered light entertainment and what’s not considered light entertainment. I’ve thought about that sometimes. You kill one character that people know and love, and you get this reputation for being bloody. But you wipe out millions of people and no one blinks. It’s like, we look at Schindler’s List as this incredibly dark and gripping film about the Holocaust and you know, we see people die who are killed who are shot and all that. And we consider Star Wars a light romp, but in Star Wars, they blow up the entire planet of Alderaan. ‘Oh I just felt a great disturbance in the force. 50 billion people have just been snuffed out. And what’s the next Act?’ So it’s odd the way, you know, one death is a tragedy and 50 billion deaths are a statistic, I think someone once said. So...there are horrible things that happen in Tuf stories, but they’re in the realm of statistics.
Who are some of your favorite characters in fantasy in particular?
Of course, I’m a huge Tolkien fan, so you know, the characters from there, Frodo, and Sam and Gandalf, and Aragorn, and Boromir. I always like grey characters, so I have a thing for Boromir. Poor, grey Boromir….got arrows in him. I read mysteries, detective fiction as well - big fan of the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald. One of my favorite characters is Travis with his wounded birds. Of course, I read mainstream literature. The Great Gatsby is one of my all-time great books ever written and I reread that one every few years.
In science-fiction/fantasy, I mentioned Poul Anderson earlier, you know he had a character called Nicholas van Rijn, that I loved, there were a whole series of books about him. The first one was called The Man Who Counts, although when it was published, it was serialized in Analog - astounding back then, as The Man Who Counts was a novel - and they changed it to War of the Wing-Men, but it’s still a terrific book, and the first one to feature the character who came back many times.
Who else do I like? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m getting away from science-fiction/fantasy. Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books, historical adventures. That’s interesting, because Flashman was originally introduced in Tom Brown’s School Days about a Victorian kid who went to boarding school where he was bullied unmercifully by this cad called Flashman, and that became a classic of Victorian literature, and the basis of several miniseries on PBS and all that, but George MacDonald Fraser said, ‘oooh, what happened to this Flashman guy after he was expelled for drunkenness from the school?’ And he wrote this whole series of marvelous adventures about how Flashman enters the army and he remains a bully, a cad, a letch, a liar, a scoundrel….but a very charming one. He’s involved in every war of the 18th to the 19th centuries, usually ends up running away with his tail between his legs, and yet gets acclaimed a hero and gets another medal and a promotion at the end of it. And the books are just a delight, and also a rich, rich source of historical truth. You learn things about history you never learned before. So….I know we’re out of time. I could go on for another hour, but….I love to read, I love characters.