Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2018 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Son of Daermon N'a'shezbaernon

          I have, with that title, sorted my readers into two categories.  Some of you know exactly what that means, who this post is going to be about, and are rubbing your hands in anticipation of another opinion on this very fascinating subject.  The rest of you are scratching your heads and thinking, "What the..."
          Allow me to enlighten you with a tale of another man's tale.  In 1988, a visionary gentleman by the name of Robert Salvatore published a book based on the Forgotten Realms world of the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  A character he intended to be a sidekick for the hero quickly took over the tale, and the rest of Mr. Salvatore's life to date.  That character, of course, was Drizzt Do'Urden.
          Drizzt is a Drow, a Dark Elf.  In the D&D universe, the Dark Elves are an offshoot race of the elves we all know from Lord of the Rings.  Their look is a bit different, being ebony-skinned and white haired, and they live in the unforgiving underdark, a realm of caverns and tunnels honeycombing the earth far below any recorded cave system known here in the real world.  The legend is that the Drow used to live under the sun and stars alongside their cousins, the Moon Elves.  Following some long-forgotten falling out, they took to the underdark, where they brood, and plot, and nurture their carefully tended paranoia.  They are only seen on the surface during raids they make to murder, pillage, and plunder in the name of revenge, and their chosen deity, the chaos-loving spider queen, Lolth.  Not surprisingly, any surface dweller who sees one, man, elf, dwarf, or orc, has the same response: Raise the alarm, and kill it!
          Into House Do'Urden is born a son, Drizzt by name.  A quick look at the circumstances of his birth will be instructive.  His mother, matron of House Do'Urden, is using the pain of childbirth to focus a spell of destruction that she is launching against a rival house.  As the third son of the house, Drizzt is to be sacrificed, at the moment of his birth, to Lolth, who it is hoped will, in gratitude, strengthen the spell even further.  Simultaneously with the spell, her personal army is making a physical attack.  The other two sons, both adults, are officers of the assault force, and the younger, deciding that he's overdue for promotion, puts his blade in the back of the elder, rendering Drizzt the second son with the stroke of a blade, as it were.  Their sisters, high priestesses all, are mentally linked to the brothers for the attack, instantly know what has happened, and stop the sacrifice.
          Drizzt then grows up a noble in the great Drow city of Menzoberranzan, a city and culture based on deceit, intimidation, and vengeance for perceived or imagined slights.  As a male, he is trained to combat.  As an elf, he can expect to realize a lifespan of several hundred years.  After a decades-long boot camp, he gets pretty proficient.  As his training progresses, he is taken on patrols into the underdark.  This initially involves killing monsters with no redeeming qualities, and that's fine.  Then they encounter a party of Deep Gnomes trying to mine some ore, and wipe them out for no particular reason other than they can.  This is troubling to Drizzt, who seems, unlike other Drow, to have a soul, but the case can be made that the Gnomes knew where Menzoberranzan was, and chose to wander too close; their tough luck.  But when he is included on a raiding party that goes to the surface and slaughters a clan of Moon Elves whose only crime is dancing on a warm summer evening, he has had enough.  He leaves Menzoberranzan, after leaving them some deeds to remember him by, and moves out into the underdark.  After living there virtually alone for ten years, honing his skills on a collection of adventures that would power most epic fantasy series from start to finish, he moves up to the surface to take his chances.
          As you might imagine, his chances aren't good.  Every city, town, village, or farmhouse he approaches has the same response: Drow!  KILL HIM!  But as he travels, he hears things, and he begins to hear of a place called Ten Towns, a collection of hamlets far to the north on the frozen tundra, where anyone, thief, murderer, swindler, anyone, can go to make a fresh start, and prove himself by his deeds.  He goes there, but even there, he is a Drow.  He is offered a sheltered cave on the side of the only hill in the area, and given the chance to prove himself by protecting the towns from the many considerable dangers of the unforgiving realm.  This he does, and he gradually earns the respect and affection of a small group of close friends who have powered his epic tale through twenty-one novels and eight spin offs that continue to this day; the first book of the latest trilogy was released late last year.
          I stumbled across the first set, The Icewind Dale Trilogy, about six years ago if memory serves.  Since then, I have painstakingly tracked down and obtained copies of every book, and devoured them twice over.  I have fervently recommended them to friends and family alike, and no one will read them.  Their loss, believe me!  Their lives are the poorer for their choice.  I come to this post to offer everyone who stops here that same chance for enrichment.
          Now, Robert Salvatore is neither the style of author, nor does he write in a field, that is going to put him in future literature textbooks alongside Dickens, Tolstoy, or even Tolkien.  I suggest that if you want to study the mechanics of writing, or the nuances of timeless literature, take a class.  The appeal of the Drizzt stories is that of an outsider, shunned and reviled for no worthwhile reason, who perseveres and grows in the face of all of it.  It's a story of loyalty, and the meaning of true friendship (a concept that seems almost forgotten in the modern world), and the lengths and risks that friends will go to for one another; it is about the strength one gains by being and having such friends.  It is filled with philosophy, mainly in the form of the outlook and occasional ruminations of a being raised from birth to be pure evil, but who finds the path of good to be so much more attractive.  There are even current events tucked into the story of a world whose machinations often closely mirror our own.
          I guess the summary to all this is that, while Drizzt will probably never be regarded as anything but fluff by the I'm smarter than you are bullies we call mainstream critics, there is a lot more here than the sometimes lurid cover art would suggest.  As someone once said, "I always feel sorry for those who refuse to read; they only get to live one life."
          If you think you might like to spend years immersed in a series that will stir your spirit with selfless acts of courage and sacrifice, that will wound your heart with stories of love, fulfilled and not, that will make you laugh out loud or burst into tears in public places without shame, then these books are what you have been looking for.
          The first three novels have been bound together in an impressive tome called The Icewind Dale Trilogy.  I think it's in print, but whether it is or not, carries it, and it's probably available from whatever retailer you favor as well.  The older sets are bound the same way, and then, as they become more recent, you'll be buying individual books.  Consider the (very reasonable) cost of these works your ticket to an alternate world that you'll ache to escape to every chance you get.  Now, quit wasting time on this measly little blog, and begin your quest to find them!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read. I can relate to Drizzt a little on a personal level as not a very well-liked person in my past. All that chaged when I met you and we created our family. These friends remind me of how cloely knit we all are and how we stand together win or lose. I have gotten back to reading the book you loaned me. I have just started a new chapter and I am enjoying it and savoring it...I don't read as quickly as you do but I will finish the book. I find this post to be very informative and enviting....I encourage others to delve into it as well. At first I thought it was too much like Lord of the Rings and I love those books, but the more I read it the more I see it has worth on it's own. Thanks for being patient and thanks for getting me interested in it. Good post by the way...very entertaning!
    Love you,