George R.R. Martin's First Epic Fantasy Involved a Lot More Dead Turtles Than You'd Ever Want to Know

Please enjoy the Kit Harington photobomb in the background of this shot of Martin at the IMDB After the Emmys party this past September.
Photo: Rich Polk / Stringer (Getty Images)

George R.R. Martin doesn’t just ruthlessly murder your favorite A Song of Ice and Fire characters with reckless abandon. He also...accidentally killed a lot of pet turtles as a kid?

The bizarre story is one told by Martin himself at a recent speech he gave while being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Martin recounted the experience on his no-longer-a-livejournal Not a Blog, discussing the early days of his writing career and his inspirations. In a truly bizarre aside however, he briefly mentioned one of the early inspirations behind the bloodlust that drives Game of Thrones’ tale of murder and courtly intrigues: the fact that he kept a lot of pet turtles as a kid, and was really bad at keeping them alive.

“I had a toy castle,” Martin told the audience. “that was big enough for [two turtle bowls] in the courtyard, so I put two turtle bowls side by side in my castle...the thing was, dime store turtles don’t live very long. I don’t think the food they give you—the little shakers of turtle food—were really very nutritious. So my turtles were always dying, which broke my heart, and I had to come up with some explanation as to why they were dying.”

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Martin’s answer? Not malnutrition, but a grand tale of turtle turf war, nobles and heroes vying for control of his toy castle’s parapets. “So I decided they were murdering each other,” the writer joked. “They lived in a castle, and obviously they were knights and kings, and princes, and they were competing for the turtle throne so they were murdering each other. Long before Game of Thrones, Turtle Castle was one of my first Fantasy epics.”

Martin usually sticks to simply talking about how the War of the Roses provided the actual historic inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire (or sometimes Gandalf), so this sidestep into turtle murder is...a lot? It’s a lot. But hey: It kinda makes sense that a man who relishes in taking a knife to his characters has long had a fascination for explaining untimely deaths, be they turtle or otherwise.


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James Whitbrook

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!