It was almost 20 years ago on 5th August 1996 that Harper Collins UK published A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin under their Voyager science fiction and fantasy imprint. Whether this was the world first edition is a matter of contention. Copies of the US Bantam first edition which had been printed well in advance of the official publication date (also in August 1996) were given away at the annual American Booksellers Association convention held in Chicago in June 1996 and on this basis GRRM claims the US edition to be the world first. However, given that this was not the official publication date, I for one would argue that the UK edition is the true first. If give-away copies are to be classed as true firsts then proofs or advanced reading copies which are also given away should be classed as true firsts and that would be a major change across the whole world of book collecting (which I wouldn’t mind, given my tendency to purchase them).
Incidently, the July 1996 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine included a novella entitled Blood of the Dragon which was based upon the Daenerys chapters from AGoT and went on to win the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella. But back to the UK first edition…
Prior to publication, Harper Collins produced a Collectors’ Preview Edition (ISBN 0006482759) – a small 124 page perfect bound booklet which contained the first nine chapters of AGoT. It cost 99 pence to buy and offered the purchaser a special price on the full hardcover edition once it became available at the originating bookstore.
A Game of Thrones UK Preview Edition
Needless to say, an example of this small piece of ephemera in fine condition now costs considerably more than 99p! But what interested me about it was the rather imposing bright yellow section to the bottom right of the front panel. Clearly something must be covered up by this frankly inappropriate modification to the excellent jacket artwork created by the Jim Burns, but what and why?
As can be seen below, the jacket for the UK first edition shows a vignette of a male character dressed for cold weather and therefore from the North of Westeros and presumably one of the Stark family, probably Ned, but could equally be Rob or even Jon Snow.
A Game of Thrones UK First Edition Jacket
Clearly it is necessary to see an image of the original artwork in order for this mystery to be solved, but where is it now? For a time, the original was in the posession of Jim Burns’ agent Alison Eldred, but it was sold to a collector (in Canada, I believe) along with the three other pieces that Jim created for the Voyager editions, i.e. one for A Clash of Kings and two for A Storm of Swords, the mass market paperback of the latter having been split into two volumes due to it’s size.
As it happens, there are two options available for us to view. The first can be found at the website of Jim’s agent (AGoT Fine Art Print @ Alison Eldred) where one can find details of how to purchase a signed, limited edition fine art print of this and the other three artworks from the series. As you can see, it is the wraparound artwork in the raw state, free from all text:
Jim Burns’ original artwork for the jacket of the UK first edition of A Game of Thrones
It is immediately evident that the character at the bottom right is quite different from the final version – definitely more oriental in appearance, almost Ghengis Khan-like and presumably intended to represent Khal Drogo. Like myself, Jim usually attends the annual one day convention held in Bristol (the cunningly named BristolCon) and I asked him last year why the change had been made, but he said he could not remember the reason. My guess is that someone at the publisher (presumably the editor) considered it a bit too oriental and suggested it be changed.
What I love about this and the other pieces in the group is that the wood you see is not digitised, it is marquetry – real wood veneer inlaid with the painted artwork.
I said earlier that there was a second option available and this jacket from the Dutch first edition is it:
A Game of Thrones Dutch First Edition Jacket
Somehow this got out into the wild without the edit and is, as far as I am aware, unique amongst all editions published worldwide. The only other edition to feature Jim’s artwork is the Hebrew language edition and that has the edited version, albeit with a reversed image. Just for comparison, here is the wrapper from the Dutch edition (and I know which one I prefer):
A Game of Thrones Dutch First Edition Wrapper
During my time hunting around the bookshops in the Netherlands I only ever found one copy of the jacketed Dutch first edition and this makes me wonder whether it was a proof version of the jacket which was never used. Any other owners of such a copy out there?
25th October 2016 update: Recently received this link from Jonty Clark regarding a Canadian guy named Pat Robinson who has a huge collection of GoT artwork, including the Jim Burns originals: http://www.avenuecalgary.com/City-Life/A-Calgary-Couple-Has-One-of-the-Largest-Collections-of-Game-of-Thrones-Art/
Last year at BristolCon, Jim mentioned that Pat wanted to commission him to do artwork in the same style for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. As Jim will be attending this year’s BristolCon on Saturday 29th October, I shall ask if has accepted the commission.
Post-BristolCon 2016 update: A spoke with Jim and he confirmed to me that he had indeed accepted the commission.