Brace yourselves, fans of fantasy and science fiction: Acclaimed fantasy author George R.R. Martin will return in March to Texas A&M, the home of his drafts, manuscripts and writings, for a two-day festival of readings, speaking and dining.

The author of the No. 1 New York Times-bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series and its Emmy-award winning HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, will give a presentation with a Q&A session and autographs. The trip will coincide with Cushing Library's exhibit of Martin's work -- a collection of objects, editions and manuscripts ranging the full scope of Martin's career.

"This is just a very fortuitous opportunity that we actually have this collection, and while we've had other very large exhibits and opportunities, this is probably one of the largest," said Patrick Zinn, marketing manager for Texas A&M University Libraries. "We're really excited that because of the popularity of the name we're going to be able to celebrate the great work that gets done in this library."

Deep in the heart of Texas is a seemingly unlikely spot for the collected works of Martin, widely acclaimed as the "American J.R.R. Tolkien." The author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has his fantasy works stored in Wisconsin. Similarly, Martin's works are located in a state he does not live in or visit often.

There are no buzzing copy machines nor sleeping undergrads to be found in Cushing library, home to the trove of Martin memorabilia. The modest library at the center of campus houses precious documents and archaeological objects that range from the works of 17th-century poet John Donne to old spurs, howitzer shells and cannon balls.

Oddly, a university known for its military tradition and fondness to paint everything maroon is home to one of the largest science fiction assemblies in the nation -- The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection. There are 285,000 volumes in Cushing, 35,000 of which are a part of the collection, which was founded in 1974.

The works are sealed in pressurized rooms, courtesy of an Aggie's knowledge of Naval technology, and the vaults are kept at a cool 70 degrees. Pressurized air softly blows out of the vaults through cracks in the locked doors, hopefully carrying dust and contaminants with it.

Most of the authors housed in the library get a few feet of shelving space, some get a row. But at the far end in one of the library's four storerooms is what librarians Todd Samuelson and Cait Coker affectionately refer to as "The Wall of Martin."

"Here, particularly with George's collection, you have this snapshot, this kind of near-perfect record of everything that was made and who was making it," Coker said.

More than 900 of the author's books line the wall. The shelves are filled with Martin's collaborative work, books he has edited, articles about him, manuscripts and correspondence.

Intermingled with the paper products are VHS mastertapes, tickets from the Emmy Awards, boxes of trading cards, HBO tchotchkes given to actors, board games and programs for conventions where fans congregate to play board games. Nestled with the loot are life-sized replicas of Ned Stark's greatsword and Robert Baratheon's warhammer. The librarians call Martin a "dream donor."

"He sent me an email and said he had been getting these figures and toys and asked if there was any scholarly interest in that, and I was like 'Uh, yeah!' Coker said. "The history of material culture, it's huge. Now we have boxes of officially-licensed pewter minis."

Boxes of the items have been steadily mailed to A&M by Martin every month since the late 1990s. Coker said the un-boxings are like Christmas each month.

"You might get a box that has eight editions of Dances with Dragons, but one is Spanish, one's Hebrew, one's Polish and one's Russian," Samuelson said. "... I think it's going to be really fascinating for scholars, I mean it's fascinating now, but think about this 30 or 50 years in the future, and think about the cultural phenomenon of these books and the different ways people are engaging with them."

A&M's quest began in the 1980s, when Martin, a then-little-known fantasy author, would visit the student-organized AggieCon, a celebration of all things geek.

"This was before Game of Thrones," Coker said. "This was when he was an up-and-coming author of note, but not the world-phenomenon writer that we think of today."

A former Cushing director recognized Martin's talents, and the importance of preserving his writings. In 1993, A&M officially became the repository for Martin's life's work.

Next month the documents, decorations and dragons will be on display for the world to see.

The library's exhibit, "Deeper than Swords," will run from March 22 through December and is free to the public. An exhibit and author signing will last from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. March 22 at Cushing Library. Tickets for a priority signing line are sold out, but a limited number of first-come, first-serve fans will be granted an audience. Food vendors offering medieval treats will be located outside the library, along with actors from the The Texas Renaissance Festival, who will host games to win tickets to the fall event.

At 6:30 p.m. Martin will give a lecture and answer questions at Rudder Auditorium. More than 1,100 of the 2,400 seats are taken, and reservations can be made for the free event at the MSC Box Office.

A $350-per person VIP event is already sold out. A&M is hosting Martin the day before the public events for a preview of the exhibit. Fans who bought tickets will be treated to a dinner with Martin featuring dishes from his Song of Ice and Fire series, which Martin famously describes at great lengths and in laborious detail.

As scores of fantasy fans from around the nation prepare to descend upon Aggieland, the librarians maintain a guarded enthusiasm.

"On one hand, as curators, we want to retain objectivity so when people ask questions we can answer in a way that's legitimate and not slanted, but as readers and partakers of pop culture, we're very excited," Samuelson said.

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(1) comment

Qantravon

For those who are interested, George R.R. Martin will also be in attendance at AggieCon 44, on March 23 and 24.

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