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How childhood pet ownership inspired George R.R. Martin to write Game of Thrones

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Nov 22, 2018, 1:46 PM EST

Game of Thrones may take place in the sprawling fantasy continent of Westeros, but its origins can be traced back to some humble turtle tanks in New Jersey. During a guest spot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, George R.R. Martin regaled the audience with an epic tale of reptilian betrayal and murder that transpired during his childhood. 

"I love turtles. That's how my writing career began, with turtles," he said. "I lived in Bayonne, New Jersey in a federal housing project. We were not allowed to have dogs. We were not allowed to have cats. The only pets I was allowed to have were turtles, little dime store turtles that we bought at Woolworths, and the little round bowls with the palm tree. I could fit two turtle bowls in a toy castle, so I had a number of turtles."

Things took a turn for the unfortunate when young master Martin realized that the lifespan of a cheap turtle is not very long, despite his best efforts.

"The thing is about those dime store turtles is that they die very soon," the writer continued. "I fed them the turtle food, I thought I was doing everything right [but] in a few months they'd be dead. I couldn't figure out why they were going, but it certainly wasn't my fault. So, I decided that they were competing for the turtle throne, they were killing each other to determine who be the turtle king. That was my first fantasy, 'Turtle Castle,' it preceeded Game of Thrones by many years."

When asked about some of his other literary influneces, Martin listed Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Robert E. Howard. Their iconic sci-fi and fantasy works have inspired his writing for years, but he's gotta wrap up A Song of Ice and Fire first before he can move onto anything else. 

"I have to do Winds of Winter next," he joked. "If I put 'Turtle Castle' ahead, they're gonna be very mad at me ... There's a lot of stuff to write, so I should actually get home and get to work, I guess."