For two days, agricultural and mechanical became magical and fantastical. Texas A&M University hosted renowned fantasy author George R.R. Martin for a weekend filled with lectures, manuscripts, feasting and an advanced screening of the Emmy Award-winning series Game of Thrones based on Martin's books.
Cushing Library at Texas A&M has long been the home of Martin's manuscripts, drafts, books and collectibles covering the entirety of his career, locked away within the library's pressurized, climate-controlled trove of valuable artifacts. Those objects are now on display to the public, and, on Thursday, approximately 60 fans attended the grand opening of the library's exhibit devoted to Martin, Deeper than Swords.
Their $350 tickets -- proceeds helped raised $33,000 for the library -- granted them the first look at the collection of books, paintings and props. The group of super-fans were wide-eyed and all smiles as they perused handwritten notes on drafts or viewed Ned Stark's great sword with awe. Similarly impressed was Martin himself.
"The exhibition is terrific," Martin told The Eagle. They have a lot of great stuff on exhibit and they've done a beautiful job of organizing it. So for anyone interested in my work ... I think they'll enjoy seeing some of the old artifacts."
The fans were also treated to a feast with Martin with a dinner straight from the pages of his New York Times-best-selling books. Martin gave an impromptu speech to the group and explained how his works came to be housed in Texas, a place he admittedly has little connection to, during the early 1990s. He said AggieCon first drew him to College Station, but that a tour of Cushing Library showed him an unmatched quality in the way books were stored and cared for.
"During one of those visits, one of the fans, who at the time worked for the library, gave me a tour of your facilities, which were marvelous ..." Martin said. "I weighed the alternatives and decided this is where I wanted them to go."
Martin described himself as a pack rat and joked he was on his way to becoming a candidate for the television series Hoarders.
"When we first made the agreement with A&M ... [a library employee] drove a van to my house in New Mexico and removed 44 boxes from my garage, and that sound you hear is my wife's cheering still," Martin told the crowd.
The event attracted fans from around the nation. Adam Robinson flew down from Philadelphia for the event and others came from as far away as Florida and California. Brian Davis, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at A&M, was surprised by two tickets from his wife, Crystal.
"Not too many truly exciting things happen in this town, but this really pushed it over the top for me," Davis said. "We've been married for 11 years now, and I think this is the best gift she's ever given me. It will be hard for her to top this one."
The VIP guests were also treated first to a book signing by Martin on Friday. A&M sold tickets to the signing, which sold out. Hundreds of fans from around the state filled a priority line and a general admission line, which wrapped around the library off into the distance. Some kept entertained with the books they brought for autographs, and others played games with actors from the Texas Renaissance Festival, who wandered the grounds in corsets and chain mail.
The fans endured the 80-degree heat for hours, and some Aggies possibly even sacrificed attending classes, for an audience with the man nicknamed "The American Tolkien."
Chantal Doucette, of Dallas, was the first fan on the scene. She snagged her spot in line at 8 a.m. for the signing, which started at 4 p.m. for the priority line. The wait was well worth it, she said, to meet her favorite author for the first time.
"I'm so excited," Doucette said. "I might pass out with excitement."
After the signing, the crowd migrated to Rudder Theatre for a lecture by Martin and an advanced screening of the first episode the upcoming Game of Thrones season. Similar to the other events, it was sold out, and fans filled the 2,500-capacity venue.
Cushing director Larry Mitchell helped introduce Martin.
"Howdy Aggies," Mitchell said. "I've never had a room as enthusiastic or big, I wonder why?"
Martin, who received a standing ovation from the crowd, largely spoke about his humble beginnings and love of reading. The 64-year-old Martin described growing up poor but being able to go on fantastic adventures by reading science fiction and fantasy.
"That's where I am today and why I'm here today, because of my love of books," Martin said. "I was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. I grew up in the projects. I never went anywhere. But I have lived a thousand lives. I have loved a thousand loves. I've wandered distant worlds and seen the end of time because I read."