In 2009, a fan of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series sent a note to English writer Neil Gaimain (God knows why) asking if he was wrong to feel frustrated that Martin had not yet delivered A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in the series. Gaiman printed the note in a blog entry titled “Entitlement Issues,” and his response contained a line that has become semi-famous in the annals of author-reader relationships:
George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.
The tone of that line doesn’t necessarily represent the rest of the post, in which Gaiman made the cogent point that artists are not slaves, they are not machines, and they don’t owe anything to the reader. They also have normal lives that interfere with progress, he wrote, and the creative process varies from person to person, and even from book to book.
At that point, it had been four years since Martin’s last Ice and Fire novel, and fans would have to wait two more before he delivered A Dance With Dragons. The six-year lapse was longer than the five-year wait between books three and four, and certainly longer than the two years that spanned the publication of the first three books.
Just before the release of A Dance With Dragons, of course, there was a new and very big wrinkle—HBO obtained the rights to the books and released the first season of the insanely popular TV show Game of Thrones. Martin’s popularity, and his book sales, skyrocketed, and he went from a well-known and well-respected fantasy author to a national celebrity. New responsibilities and a super-sized profile added to the things keeping him busy, so it should probably come as no surprise that we haven’t yet sniffed The Winds of Winter, the planned sixth novel in the series, even though we’re almost six years removed from the last installment.
And now, I think, it’s appropriate to revisit Gaiman’s blog post. Because despite the fact that the essential truth remains unchanged—George R.R. Martin is still not our bitch—the nature of his interaction with fans isn’t quite so simple.
Let’s go back one year, to Jan. 2, 2016. After claiming that he wrote a long blog post that was accidentally deleted, Martin published a depressing update that contained the following facts:
1. Despite having “hundreds of pages” and “dozens of chapters,” The Winds of Winter was not finished, and probably wouldn’t be for some time.
2. In May of 2015, he thought it was “very doable” to have a finished manuscript sent in by Halloween, which would ensure that the book was published before the new season of Thrones. Again, we’re talking about Halloween of 2015.
3. Travel, age, and “bad writing days” saw him blow that deadline, but he still felt good about finishing by the end of the year. His publishers told him that if he had it done by then, they could rush it out and still beat the show.
4. He would not give himself another deadline, because deadlines stress him out.
All of which was fair enough. Martin is not our bitch, and the update was appreciated by his hundreds of thousands (millions?) of fans. It also seemed to put to rest some very compelling pessimistic theories, such as the one that he had no pages. It did not, however, do anything to ease the agony of those who, like me, were starting to suspect that he was enduring a crisis of faith, and that we would never see a conclusion to the series.
That said, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that he’d be finished with Winds soon, if not imminently. He didn’t give a concrete statistical progress update, but if there was a point three months earlier when he thought he could be done within three months, surely a finished manuscript couldn’t be far off, right?
But that’s the last we’ve heard from Martin on his Winds of Winter progress—even that update broke his normal rule of total silence.
Now here we are, one year later, and every Internet hub of ASOIAF fandom was buzzing with speculation about his post for the new year. On my chosen forum, the main Reddit page, I saw dozens of threads within the past few months analyzing what he might say. Many were despondent, resigned to the idea that even if Winds did come out, eventually, we’d never get a A Dream of Spring. But the odd optimist popped up, too, and it was evident that even the hardened cynics were eagerly anticipating the update.
Instead? It’s Jan. 3, and we have nothing. Not even the usual post-NFL Sunday ramblings. It’s radio silence from Martin, and it feels especially cruel this year.
Let me reiterate: George R.R. Martin is not our bitch. If he never writes Winds, we can’t complain, even though it hurts, because it was always his series to finish or not. But as Paste editor Jim Vorel pointed out to me yesterday, it’s also not true that he owes us nothing. We buy his books, we appreciate his talent, we line his pockets. There is a relationship here, and as such, there should be a middle way when it comes to communication between author and fan. There’s a sort of extremism inherent in Gaiman’s philosophy that collapses under scrutiny—this was never a one-way relationship.
I’m not asking for Winds to be in my hands by any set date. I’m not even asking for a promise that it will ever be finished. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a once-yearly update from Martin, even if that update is not satisfying. In fact, I think it’s the absolute least he could do. If he churlishly refuses, for pride or any other reason, the entitlement in this relationship is his, not ours.
We know you’re struggling, George, but we’re out in the cold too. Throw us a damn bone.