Why Does George R.R. Martin Kill So Many Characters? Blame Marvel Comics
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Real life Bunsen Honeydew impersonator John Hodgman sat down with George R.R. Martin in an interview for The Sound of Young America, and the very first thing he asked him about was a bit of internet minutiae. Namely, the fan letter that Martin wrote to Marvel Comics when he was sixteen which was published for posterity in the letters page of Avengers #12. The letter has come to us all the way from 1964 via the time machine known as the internet, and in asking about it John Hodgman unexpectedly delved straight to the source of Martin’s willingness to kill any character.
HODGMAN: In this particular letter, you had suggested that Avengers number nine was slightly better than Fantastic Four number 32. My question is: do you remember why?
You can comment on the particular story, because I believe Avengers #9 was the introduction of Wonder Man.
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Oh, yes, I liked Wonder Man! You know why? Now it’s coming back to me vividly. Wonder Man dies in that story. He’s a brand new character, he’s introduced, and he dies. It was very heart wrenching. I liked the character; he was a tragic, doomed character. I guess I’ve responded to tragic doomed characters ever since I was a high school kid…
HODGMAN: One of the areas where I think this is interesting, but also kind of troubling as I read on, is with regard to death. We talk about how Wonder Man can be brought back. Without giving much away, I can say that there are characters in the book who you do not expect to die, and who do. Your characters are extremely fragile. It is one of the things that was most exciting to me as a reader, to realize that these characters who you’re following very closely could be maimed, and that those scars would stay. They could be psychologically maimed and transformed by those scars, and that would stick to the book. And they could die. However, as magic seeps into this world, which is of course part of this unfolding story, not even death is really permanent anymore. What do you think about that?
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: I do think that if you’re bringing a character back, that a character has gone through death, that’s a transformative experience. Even back in those days of Wonder Man and all that, I loved the fact that he died, and although I liked the character in later years, I wasn’t so thrilled when he came back because that sort of undid the power of it. Much as I admire Tolkien, I once again always felt like Gandalf should have stayed dead. That was such an incredible sequence in Fellowship of the Ring when he faces the Balrog on the Khazad-dûm and he falls into the gulf, and his last words are, “Fly, you fools.”
What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he’s sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.
I confess that I also liked Gandalf the Grey much better than Gandalf the White (apparently the process bleached out most of his sense of humor as well) but I mean somebody had to tell the race of man to pull its head out of its ass and beat up Sauron already. You can read the whole interview here. And if you don’t know who Wonder Man is, go here.
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