Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hack & Slash

I always find it much easier to read for pleasure while on vacation than during my day-to-day life. Even during otherwise unscheduled times, like before bed or on weekends, letting myself relax enough to slip into a story often proves too challenging to sustain for more than 30 minutes or maybe an hour. On vacation, however, my outside distractions and stressors melt away and I can get. reading. done.

This past weekend, while staying at our friends’ vacation house, I finally managed to finish re-reading R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy. Finishing the series proved to be more of a chore than I expected, mainly because this reading made me realize, Salvatore is a complete hack! His main characters have the depth of a kiddie-pool, being painted in broad strokes of arch-stereo-types. He attempts to add internal conflict, but it always comes across as superficial and one-sided.

Take Drizzt -Arguably the most famous literary character ever derived from a D&D universe. He
is a dark elf with a heart of gold. He fled his subterranean homeland when he realized his race’s moustache-twirling evil ways did not sit well with him. Drizzt’s inner-monologue constantly touches upon character dilemmas derived from his pariah status. He is an outcase on the surface where people can’t see past the color of his skin, as well as in his homeland because of the content of his heart. The trouble is, every time such a dilemma arises, Drizzt’s ultimate decision is immediately apparent to the reader. He will do the “right” thing. Period. Without fail. This is not helped by the fact that everyone around him proves infinitely reasonable, or very easily swayed. While traveling on a ship, the magic mask he is wearing is cut off, revealing his dark elf heritage. The sailors initial reactions of outrage and racist indignation quickly evaporate when one of them mentions that he helped defend the ship against pirates. No lingering resentment or mistrust. Just a complete change of heart among the ENTIRE CREW quicker than you can say, “A very special episode of Blossom.” Similar obvious fluctuations happen throughout the series with folks that Drizzt meets.

Salvatore’s dialogue and behavioral descriptions are similarly hackneyed. During a chase scene through a bath-house in a desert city, a grumbly-pumbly dwarven fighter slips into one of the baths. When his hulking barbarian companion lifts him dripping from the bath with his arms-crossed over his chest and a grumpy scowl on his face, the reader can’t help but add the laugh-track and sad trombone “wah-WAH” Nevermind that the guy they are chasing is getting away!

Finally, there are the naming conventions... oh, the names! “Dendybar, the evil wizard is one consonant and one vowel shift from “Candybar” Similarly, the super-intelligent ultimate-evil artifact from the first book is a crystalline entity known as Crenshinibon... I’d hate to meet the rest of the evil food court. There is even a dwarven General introduced in the epilogue to the series... his name? “Dagnabbit”... fer realz. Now, I’ve had my share of struggles with naming conventions, but seriously... stop thinking about food, or at least open a baby book or something!

That being said, after all tha raging, his books definitely have redeeming value. As a GM, I found myself inspired to jot down plot devices, character ideas and other game-related notes that were sparked by my readings. The man comes up with some great scenes! From a dragon’s lair where the beast is ultimately defeated by spearing it with a giant icicle knocked from the ceiling, to his description of the dwarf, Bruenor forging a magic warhammer, to the chaotic plane of Tartarus (Tartar Sauce?) which is nothing more than bridges of smoke, with no sky or ground. If you fall, you will eventually end up at your original spot. In a lot of ways, his books feel like the latest Hollywood hunk or starlet. There so pretty, just so long as they don’t open their mouths or try to act. Unfortunately, Salvatore’s usefulness as a source of inspiration only adds to my conflicted feelings about his books. I have the next series on my shelf. Should I attempt to read it? Does the inspiration offset the eye-rolling?


  1. This is hilarious...I've thought the same thing! Nice post!

  2. hey, about Tartarus. Are you familiar with much Greek mythology? I'm not familiar with much of Salvatore's books, or Forgotten Realms for that matter, but him using Tartarus is even less imaginative than you might be thinking (tartar sauce! love it!).


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