Time to talk about a series that I started reading when I was around twelve, and am still reading today. Jeez, Bob…
The next step from the Dragonlance Chronicles was obviously to look into the other D&D worlds’ tie-in novels. At that time, the Forgotten Realms setting was just coalescing, I think; I remember reading the Darkwalker on Moonshae books and maybe one or two from Ed Greenwood first. Never did stumble upon a Greyhawk book, though I -think- they existed, and the Dark Sun novels came later and didn’t stick around long (though it was a pretty cool world).
Anyway, so there I was, a junior D&D geek, and I picked up The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore. And there was this really kind of standard ensemble-cast quest thing going on, with a rather unusual dark-horse character there in a kind of mentor/badass role.
I’m not going to say I fell in love with Drizzt. Yes, he was my favorite for a while, but alas, most of the time he was a combination of wishy-washy and self-righteous that made me a bit embarrassed to like him, even though I still did. But at the time, the fight scenes were the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen, because Salvatore seemed to be writing them blow-by-blow. I’d spend a long time on each page trying to visualize everything written there, the sheer swashbucklery of it — which only got more pronounced when Artemis Entreri showed up.
Entreri was the one I fell in love with. Not entirely sure why. Though I’ve always loved assassin types, I recently went back and reread (or, well, skimmed) the first trilogy and except for a vague code of behavior and an obsession with besting Drizzt, he’s a typical cunning opponent. Maybe it was that obsession, though, because Drizzt vs. Entreri (and Drizzt and Entreri vs. other enemies) became a huge part of the early series.
And it was awesome.
They had fantastic antagonist chemistry, for all that Drizzt was always trying to get out of fighting. And I liked that you could see how Entreri came a little unhinged and started making really bad decisions because he’d become so obsessed with beating Drizzt — and doing so relatively fairly. Their dynamic let me keep reading even as I got older and was less interested in the blow-by-blow combat (and really not interested in Catti-Brie or a hundred different minor characters written in for a section and then killed off to show us how bad the villain-of-the-current-book was). I wanted that dynamic to keep happening forever! I wanted to figure out how to do that myself!
That’s why Salvatore is an influence, even though so many things about his writing frustrate me. To harp on something minor that nevertheless makes me want to pull my hair out, he uses ‘crumbles’ sometimes when he should be using ‘crumples’ — ‘crumbles’ is disintegrating into multiple small pieces, while ‘crumples’ is sort of folding/falling down or being squished up all crinkly-like. Yes, very specific, I know. People don’t ‘crumble’ to the ground unless they’ve been turned to stone and hit with a mallet! Dammit!
The combat, I now skim. The side characters, I usually roll my eyes at — until recently. There were entire books I skimmed because I don’t care about Wulfgar and I don’t care about Drizzt running around in the woods hunting orcs and thinking all his friends are dead. I feel bad that Salvatore had to deal with a couple huge timeskips and Realms upheavals; from the kind of raggedy nature of some of his later books, I get the feeling that he had plans for things that could never come to pass now because he’s being forced to keep up with the game-world’s changes. So many stories that could have been. Maybe that’s why he (mumble mumble spoilers mumble).
But so, yes. I attached to the Legend of Drizzt series when I was a kid because of the neat combat and the loner-outsider main character, stayed for the sour assassin and his obsessive need to be BEST, dropped the series entirely for almost…ten years because of the lack of said assassin and a silly sense of self-consciousness over reading D&D novels (ah, my 20s, when I thought I was so LITERARY), then picked it back up and found Jarlaxle! Athrogate! Ambergris! Tos’un! Holy crow, all the boring characters are gone! Holy crow, look who’s back!
I guess it’s like my version of a soap opera.
While I was digging through the same box where I found the Dragonlance book report, I also found six responses to fan-letters I wrote to Salvatore when I was 12 or so. I won’t post them here — they’re a bit repetitive, since apparently at that age I was obsessed with the thought that Drizzt should join the Harpers. But Bob responded to each one personally; I can glean what I wrote to him by what he sent back, and now as I’m self-publishing my first book I wonder what I’ll say if some 12-year-old kid starts sending me messages about how much they love my stuff. I can only hope I’m as gracious as he was then.
I met him once, around that same age, at GenCon. I don’t remember it really, only that he had a t-shirt one of the TSR folks had given him, with Drizzt on the front in the pose from the original cover of The Crystal Shard (tracking, fingers in a blood trail) and saying something ominous, and on the back Elminster about to get stepped on by Ao’s huge foot. I know we saw him briefly at a booth, me and my dad, and I’m sure I talked to him, but that’s all I can recall.
Although I don’t plan to take my main characters through as many books as he’s written with the same base cast, I do hope that I manage to wrangle them through the ones I do have in mind with as much grace as he has, pitfalls and all. So I guess the influence isn’t the series as much as it is the man — even with my quibbles, I have to respect him and his work. Thanks, Bob.