When I was a kid I read a George R. R. Martin's story Sand Kings. As I recall beings of an advanced civilization had their own pet civilizations. Similar to the way some humans have pet ant colonies. Only the Sand Kings were more sentient than ants.

It was considered an art form to subject the creatures to adversity as well as blessings. Adversity and challenges could make the pet civilizations grow in dignity and spirit.

But some of these pet civilizations fell into the hands of an out and out sadist who just liked to torture them for fun.

The story was very disturbing to me. I was a cruel boy. At that time I'd torment ants with a magnifying glass or put black ants and red ants in the same jar to fight. I recognized myself in the villain. Not only was this recognition an unpleasant revelation but it also made the story more plausible.

More recently I've been watching the HBO Game of Thrones show as well as reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I am wondering if Martin has a setting similar to Sand Kings in mind. Only this story is told from the ants' point of view.

  • 2
    “some of these pet civilizations fell into the hands of an out and out sadist who just liked to torture them for fun” — a bit like the Game of Thrones world being controlled by Martin eh. Jul 3 '14 at 22:45

If you mean, are the characters in GoT literally Sandkings, the answer is no. The Sandkings were clearly insectoid, with a single "queen" who controlled the whole colony, not individuals.

If your question is whether Martin had in mind that the characters in GoT are like Sandkings, acting out battles and conflicts basically as pets of higher power... that's an interesting idea, but I'd still say no. GoT is about human conflict - higher powers (gods) are an aspect of the conflict, but they aren't directing it.

  • 3
    I upped your answer because it's thoughtful. But I don't completely agree. I had in mind your latter interpretation "the characters … are like Sandkings, acting out battles and conflicts … as pets of higher power". Obviously the characters aren't spawned by immobile insectoid mothers. To me the characters seem like puppet toys to the Gods. There's a lot of intervention from higher powers aiding Daenerys Targaryen ascent. Ned's death in King Barratheon's court seemed to be foretold by the stag killing the mother of the 5 dire wolves. Tyrion likes to describe the Gods as sadistic pricks.
    – HopDavid
    Apr 10 '14 at 18:59
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    @HopDavid Interesting. If there are Gods in ASoIaF, your interpretation has merit! However, so far we haven't seen any indication there are actual gods or higher powers. Magic? Yes. But gods? That's what characters like Melisandre would have us believe, but both the books and the TV series are pretty ambiguous about it :)
    – Andres F.
    Apr 15 '14 at 11:36
  • @HopDavid I hadn't thought of it in quite that way before. In general, the characters in GRRM's writings behave in a very human way to the circumstances they're thrust into, i.e. with a mix of human strengths as well as human weakness. There are no pure heroes, and there are no absolute evils, either. Just people being people. If the characters in GoT are mistreated pets, then so are all of us, everywhere. We are ALL "sandkings".
    – Joe L.
    Jul 19 '14 at 2:43
  • @AndresF. In Paolini's world, the elves were empiricists, they seemed to believe magic were natural laws. Practicing magic was little different than our technology exploiting physical laws. In Tolkien's universe, magic seemed to be the influence of beings in another plane of existence -- Gandalf as well as Sauron seemed to be servants of greater powers behind the scenes. I suppose it's an open question what magic is in Martin's world.
    – HopDavid
    Jul 19 '14 at 5:57
  • @JoeL. It might be turtles all the way down. Or sadistic pet owners all the way up. I've seen kindness as well as cruelty in my pets. I've known cats that could get many hours of enjoyment from some poor insect or rodent. I've also seen cats kind and protective to weaker members of the mixed herd that constitutes our family. Presently our cat has sort of a friendship with our turtles, for example. If we're pets, let's hope our owners' protective instincts are stronger than their predatory instincts.
    – HopDavid
    Jul 19 '14 at 6:19

According to a related question and answer Sandkings is one of the stories by George R. R. Martin that is set in The Thousand Worlds universe. Taking this along with this related Q/A we can see that A Song of Ice and Fire is not set in that universe.

Asimov and Heinlein, late in life, both seemed to feel the urge to merge all of their books and stories into one huge continuity.

So far I do not feel the urge. No, Westeros is not one of the Thousand Worlds.

Not A Blog, Last Year (Writing, Editing, Producing)

As such there is no canon connection between the works. If, however, you mean to ask if there is a conceptual connection between the stories and that in his mind the characters are the ants with some higher power tormenting them then I'd likely say no. I haven't seen an interview with him talking about this subject so we can't know for sure but nothing seems to point that way.

The only connection to a higher power tormenting these characters could be the Gods and the magic in the world but that seems like a bit of a stretch. In fact when George first started writing the series he didn't even have an idea for where the story was going to go or even what it was so it seems unlikely there is any conscious connection.

Tad: I can see the bumper-sticker -- Authors don’t kill characters – Characters kill characters. You’ve been living with some of these characters for quite a long stretch now. How much of the idea of the story did you have when you started?

GRRM: Nothing. I had nothing, I was writing another novel that I’d started in ‘91, but I had a few months off before pitch season started so I began Avalon, an SF novel, and it was going reasonably well, 30 to 40 pages. Suddenly a first chapter came to me so vividly and it could not possibly be part of Avalon. It was so vivid I had to write it. I started and 50, 60 pages were there suddenly, then I drew a map, then I put it aside for 3 years because I sold a pilot and did some screenplays. But the characters were in my head, and when I returned to it in ‘94 it was like, 3 days had passed. Which was unusual for me, it hadn’t been like that, I have trouble switching from 1 character to another and if I’m away from something for too long, it pulled away from me. I have a famous unfinished novel, Black and White and Red All Over, but these characters wouldn’t leave me alone. And they’re insisting I still have a long way to go.

So Spake Martin, Redwood City Signing

He reiterates the same sentiment in another interview and goes into a bit more detail about his process in building the world. From this it seems clear to me that there is no higher power watching over these people to torment them and that this is just a separate universe with it's own cruelties and ideals.

I wanted to ask about your process in creating the series, through a specific example from A Dance with Dragons. To dance around it a bit, lets say that we learn more about the story of the three-eyed crow, a figure first glimpsed in a very early Bran chapter. Were these details something you knew all along? Or was it a situation where you knew you'd need more information to go with this mystical figure, but figured you'd just come across those details organically later on in the series?

I wouldn't say I knew right from the start, but I've certainly known the details for a long, long time. From the very start, I didn't even really know what this story was. As I've said before, when the first chapter came to me, I was in the midst of writing a science fiction novel, Avalon, when I started writing this story about wolf pups being found in the snow. So, you know, some point very early on, before A Game of Thrones was published, I had started filling in these details. We're talking 1994 or 1995.

There was a point early on, relatively early in the writing of the series, where I stopped writing and did a spate of world building. I didn't do it before I started, like Tolkien, but I was writing the book and I was getting in and starting to refer to history. So I stopped and started to formalize it, drawing the maps, working out the genealogies, the list of the Targaryen rulers and the dates of their reigns, and so on. But of course, as you know -- because you're one of the ones that pointed it out back then -- it didn't all necessarily jive with what I wrote in "The Hedge Knight". But in any case, I was starting to think about all of these things as I did it, and I had little hints about their stories through the nicknames I gave the kings. So Maegor the Cruel, Jaehaerys the Conciliator, and the Young Dragon, and so on. So the seeds of a lot of the history were planted when I drew up that list.

So Spake Martin, Westeros.org Interview

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