AROUND THE WEB
by Steve Marzolf
Have you ever loved a story so much that you wished you could find a way to become part of it? Elio Garcia - co-founder of Westeros.org, an online discussion forum and information clearinghouse for the A Song of Ice and Fire series - did just that. Since 1999, the site has faithfully catalogued the details of each of George R.R. Martin's books, compiling mythology and backstory details to fill in as many gaps in the history of Westeros as possible. Over the years the online encyclopedia became so detailed, Elio struck a deal with Martin to co-publish an official guide to the series' universe.
Elio recently returned from a trip to the Game of Thrones set in Belfast to get a first-hand look at the production. We caught up with him to talk about his early experiences with Martin, the work that goes into maintaining his site and why he thinks the upcoming HBO series has generated so much interest online.
How did you first get started with Westeros.org?
I was studying at the University of Miami in 1997, and I read the first book and fell in love with it. I had met my fiancée Linda in a game online. We started talking and eventually I visited her in Sweden and moved there in 1999. We contacted George toward the end of 1997 - a time when he answered every email he got - about creating a site. We started with graphical depictions of the heraldry and also started collecting this document I called 'the Concordance.' Every thematic detail about setting got stuck in there. George really loved that stuff, and in December 1999, we registered the domain name for Westeros.org and properly launched the site.
Two books have been released since then - does each new book spur a frenzy of activity for you?
We just devour these books. I've kept the Concordance up to date, and it's just a massive task to go page by page and sort everything out where it belongs. A big part of Westeros now is the fan community, and every time a new book comes out, there's a huge surge of traffic that comes along with it. There's lots to talk about. Day to day, there are a few hours of work, but when something big hits, like the "Inside Game of Thrones" trailer, I was up till 9 AM doing screen-capture commentary.
You mentioned that you met Linda online - how did that happen?
We met online in a Lord of the Rings game based on Tolkien's work. It was a text-based role-playing game called Elendor. When I was younger, I didn't really read fantasy. I read science fiction and adventure novels, and then sometime in high school I decided I'd try this Tolkien guy. Linda had also been a big fan of his. That started a long relationship... with fantasy and with one another. Linda actually introduced me to the George Martin books. At the time when she described it, I thought I might not like it - that it had too much sex, violence and gratuitous language. Then I tried it and realized it was awesome. I've changed my opinions on these things a bit since I was 18.
How did you first get in touch with George R.R. Martin?
After we loved the first book, we wanted to try to make our own game, 'Blood of Dragons,' around it. So, we sent George a message explaining what we wanted to do. After several months, he responded and said it was fine. Then he started providing us information that hadn't been published - lists of heraldry and mottos. After five or six years in Sweden, I was visiting my family in the U.S. and I stopped in Santa Fe to meet him. I was speechless and overawed: He'd brought so many hours of enjoyment into our lives, and I'd personally watched and helped build this community of thousands of fans. It was a great moment and he was very gracious, along with his partner, Parris. It was also the beginning of the book we're working on with him for his publisher Bantam, 'The World of Ice and Fire.' It's a resource book for the setting.
Has he given you any inside knowledge on the mysteries of the story?
Funnily enough, when I was in Belfast visiting the set with him, he mentioned three very distinct things from which I can infer some knowledge nobody else has, besides possibly Parris, David and Dan. And there are bits and pieces I know from my conversations with him, but he's very cagey. Parris doesn't even know where the whole story is going.
What did it feel like to visit the set after being such an involved fan for so long?
It was just overwhelming. I know I had a ridiculous grin plastered to my face as I toured the sets and production office. I was just amazed how much care and craft has gone into it. George, for a long time, had said that HBO was really the only place for the series to be done. I'd always discounted it as a possibility, and then suddenly it was happening. My biggest impression was entering the Paint Hall and going from Belfast to Winterfell in just a few steps. It was a bit of a giddy moment.
Bryan Cogman is the production's "keeper of the mythos"... Have you talked to him about the nitty-gritty of Martin's world?
I know Bryan has been reading quite a lot and knows his stuff so we haven't been asked anything directly by the production. Bryan did say that Westeros.org has been a tremendous resource for them. I'd always hoped when I created the Concordance that it would be useful to artists or set designers searching for details.
There's already so much buzz around the series online - what do you think is drawing all these new people to the story?
I think George's prior experience in Hollywood has a lot to do with it. He came out of there with some techniques and ideas. It's no-holds-barred, and there's a very gritty reality to it. There's high drama and a sense that nobody's safe. And a happy ending isn't guaranteed.