NOVEL URBAN LEGEND: George R.R. Martin squelched a planned five-year time jump in the Song of Fire and Ice novel series because he feared fan outrage.
(This is also a TV Legend, in a roundabout fashion)
As longtime viewers of Game of Thrones who are familiar with the series of novels by George R.R. Martin that the TV series is based on (A Song of Ice and Fire) know, one of the biggest changes between the books and the TV show has been the ages of the younger characters. In the show, most of them have been in their late teens into their early 20s, while they are much younger in the books.
Martin famously planned on fixing the issues with the ages by having a five year time jump after the third book, A Storm of Swords.
However, the time jump never happened. A friend of mine recently wrote about that decision in a larger point about how difficult it must be to write a popular book series in the age of social media. He noted:
I...think there’s something to be said for how much harder this gets with the entire internet looking over your shoulder and ascribing significance and meaning to absolutely everything. Apparently at some point GRRM was planning for there to be a jump forward of a few years after book 3, which makes some sense given how young a lot of the main players are at that point, and how much Dany’s story in particular proved tricky to immediately untangle. It also would have let him go back to gradually revealing secrets/hidden truths of the recent past as he did so effectively in the first few books. Apparently the reasons he didn’t end up doing it was that he was worried people would feel unsatisfied with him just dropping events at that point – things like the Dornish reactions to Oberyn’s death, which sounds insane (it’s maybe, I don’t know, the 1000th most important plot point in the story and there really isn’t a single other Dornish character than even hardcore fans care about), but I’m sure there really is a section of online/con fandom who would have been outraged about the “plotholes” created.
That makes a lot of sense, but when Martin was asked about his decision to abandon the time jump by Charlie Jane Anders in a great interview at io9, his answer also made so much sense that I tend to think that we should just accept this answer as the "truth"...
I'm obsessed with the five-year gap you originally planned in the middle of the series. How would that have happened?
Originally, there was not supposed to be any gap. There was just supposed to be a passage of time, as the book went forward. My original concept back in 1991 was, I would start with these characters as children, and they would get older. If you pick up Arya at eight, the second chapter would be a couple months later, and she would be eight and a half and [then] she'd be nine. [This would happen] all within the space of a book.
But when I actually got into writing them, the events have a certain momentum. So you write a chapter and then in your next chapter, it can't be six months later, because something's going to happen the next day. So you have to write what happens the next day, and then you have to write what happens the week after that. And the news gets to some other place.
And pretty soon, you've written hundreds of pages and a week has passed, instead of the six months, or the year, that you wanted to pass. So you end a book, and you've had a tremendous amount of events — but they've taken place over a short time frame and the eight-year-old kid is still eight years old.
So that really took hold of me for the first three books. When it became apparent that that had taken hold of me, I came up with the idea of the five-year gap. "Time is not passing here as I want it to pass, so I will jump forward five years in time." And I will come back to these characters when they're a little more grown up. And that is what I tried to do when I started writing Feast for Crows. So [the gap] would have come after A Storm of Swords and before Feast for Crows.
But what I soon discovered — and I struggled with this for a year — [the gap] worked well with some characters like Arya — who at end the of Storm of Swords has taken off for Braavos. You can come back five years later, and she has had five years of training and all that.
Or Bran, who was taken in by the Children of the Forest and the green ceremony, [so you could] come back to him five years later. That’s good. Works for him.
Other characters, it didn’t work at all. I'm writing the Cersei chapters in King's Landing, and saying, "Well yeah, in five years, six different guys have served as Hand and there was this conspiracy four years ago, and this thing happened three years ago." And I'm presenting all of this in flashbacks, and that wasn't working. The other alternative was [that] nothing happened in those five years, which seemed anticlimactic.
The Jon Snow stuff was even worse, because at the end of Storm he gets elected Lord Commander. I'm picking up there, and writing "Well five years ago, I was elected Lord Commander. Nothing much has happened since then, but now things are starting to happen again." I finally, after a year, said "I can't make this work."
That just makes so much sense, so I buy it. Could he be hiding the other stuff? Possibly, but in the absence of any contrary evidence, I think we have to take Martin's word for it.
The legend is...
STATUS: I'm Going With False
Thanks to Charlie Jane Anders and George R.R. Martin for the information!
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV (yes, this is technically not a TV Legend, but come on, it basically is about TV, ya know?).
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.