An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Fantasy Author R.A. Salvatore About his Greatest Creation(Bestselling author R.A. Salvatore unleashed a storm in 1988 when he created the character of Drizzt Do’Urden – a dark elf known in fantasy circles as Drow. Drizzt has turned into a cultural icon among the Dungeons & Dragons crowd by starring in dozens of fantasy adventure novels (The Icewind Dale trilogy, The Dark Elf trilogy, the Legacy of the Drow series, the Paths of Darkness series, and The Hunter's Blades trilogy), many of which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. Drizzt is now one of the most popular characters – if not the most popular – in modern fantasy literature. DaRK PaRTY wanted to get the inside scoop on Drizzt – and who better than R.A. Salvatore himself?
Salvatore was born and raised in Leominster, Massachusetts, and got bitten by the fantasy bug after reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He wrote his first book, "Echoes of the Fourth Magic," in 1982 while working as a bouncer at a local bar. Since then, Salvatore has written dozens of fantasy books, many starring Drizzt, but also two Star Wars novels is and one featuring Tarzan (he told me the toughest part of that gig was trying to figure out how to spell Tarzan’s famous cry). You can find out more about Salvatore at his Web site.)
DaRK PaRTY: You have created one of the most popular and influential characters in fantasy fiction with Drizzt Do'Urden. He's the star of dozens of your bestselling books, featured in computer games and has fan sites dedicated to him. When you created him as a supporting character in "The Crystal Shard" in 1988 did you have any idea of his impact on fantasy literature?
R.A. Salvatore: Of course not. Drizzt was an afterthought, as I’ve often said. He was put into the book because another character (from a previous novel by another author I had planned on using as a sidekick to introduce my hero wasn’t available to me. I knew right away that there was something special going on with Drizzt – just the way I felt about him when I first met him in the book. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, and I can’t now. I wish I could.
It’s amazing to me that Drizzt is taking off now, some 19 years later. I saw Drizzt miniatures on eBay for $130. I see Drizzt posters on unrelated sites – as far as I know, unlicensed posters, which makes it all the more flattering to me. I’m just enjoying the ride. What choice do I have? This type of mainstreaming of a fictional character is completely beyond my control.
So I just laugh my ass off at the Drizzt knock-off in the hilarious “Order of the Stick.” Brilliant stuff there.
DP: Despite Drizzt's popularity (or maybe because of it) some hardcore Forgotten Realms fans have attacked him repeatedly. They seem annoyed by the plethora of Drizzt copycats in D&D games and by fact that you changed the setting of the campaign. There were also a handful of fans that reacted negatively to Drizzt's inability to romance his human female companion, Cattie-Brie. How have you responded to these complaints?
R.A.: How do I respond to them? I don’t and why would I? I write my books for people who like them, not for people who don’t. Anybody who takes a chance and puts himself out there creatively, athletically or in any other way, is going to get meat-chopped on the internet. Welcome to the world. I’ve also noticed the paradox that as the complaining on the message boards increases in volume, so too do the sales. Each Drizzt book outsells the previous, and after 19 years and more than 20 books, I have to believe that means I’m doing something right.
The copycats are the highest form of flattery. I love logging into an MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and seeing a “Drizzzzzzt” or a “Drz’zt” run by. Very cool. Sure it annoys some people, particularly people running D&D games, so they should just do what my own group does: no Drow characters. How’s that for irony?
Similarly, the idea that there are hundreds of Drizzt fanfics out there is a great feeling. The whole point of writing is to touch people, and people won’t do fan fiction about characters who don’t achieve that. With that comes the anger, of course. With Drizzt, Catti-brie and Wulfgar, I wrote myself into a situation where, no matter what I did, some people were going to get angry. But understand that it’s not a conscious choice for me to make. I’m following the story where it tells me to go, and so I go.
Oh, and one last point: I did not change the landscape of the Forgotten Realms. That is an unfair and hurtful meme, shouted loudly by some people who have no idea of what they’re talking about. I have done nothing in that world that hasn’t been approved by the people in control of the setting, and have done little without the express blessing of Ed Greenwood (and though Wizards of the Coast owns the setting, I still think of it as Ed’s playground). Are there contradictions between my work and other “canon” coming out? Yes, and they frustrate me (and other authors who experience similar situations) no end. This is one of the inevitabilities of working in a massively shared world. It is also a necessity, at times, in differentiating between the media: games versus books.
DP: The thirst for Drizzt, Drizzt, Drizzt must be a challenge for a writer. You have penned more than 50 novels -- including many other fantasy books, a Tarzan novel and two Star Wars books. As an artist do you ever get tired of Drizzt?
R.A.: Surprisingly, no, I’m not tired of Drizzt. The challenge is to continually surround him with new situations, like what’s going on in the more recent books. I’ve always said that as long as I’m having fun with him, and as long as people want to read about him, I’ll keep writing. So far, so good.
It does get a little frustrating when that call for Drizzt smothers some of my other work, though. I wish more of my Drizzt readers would take a chance on DemonWars and The Highwayman or Crimson Shadow, for example, and it’s surprising to me to find that my characters Entreri and Jarlaxle can’t command anything near Drizzt numbers. A little frustrating, I say, but then again, how lucky am I to have Drizzt?
DP: Will there ever be a Drizzt movie? And if you were in charge of casting who would you choose for the roles of Drizzt, Cattie-brie, Wulfgar, Bruenor Battlehammer, Regis and Artemis Entreri? And who would make a damn fine Orc?
R.A.: Oh boy, the movie question… Will it ever be made? Yes, I think it will, though I don’t know when. Drizzt has been too popular for too long for Hollywood to ignore him. And they aren’t. All of a sudden I’m hearing from actors, directors, CEOs and other celebrities who are Drizzt fans. I had no idea. My audience is growing up, and some are growing into positions to get things like a movie done. It will happen; I just hope I’m alive to see it!
Who would I cast? I have no idea. I watched a Zorro movie a few years ago and thought Antonio Bandaras would have made a great Drizzt. Someone suggested to me that Edward Norton would be an amazing Artemis Entreri, and after seeing “American History X,” how could I disagree with that assessment? Then again, Edward Norton could be great in any role. Vin Diesel gets it, certainly. He understands the audience, the work, and shares my love of adventure fantasy. Also, after the introduction Wil Wheaton wrote for one of the Legend of Drizzt books, I’d love to see him be involved.
But it’s all a moot point, because other than readers and interviewers, I doubt anyone’s going to ask my opinion. And hey, I just want to choreograph the fight scenes – hopefully with someone like Jackie Chan! Now how cool would that be?
DP: You recently announced a partnership with Red Sox pitching ace Curt Schilling and comic book genius Todd McFarlane called Green Monster Games. First, what is Schilling like in person and, second, can you give DaRK PaRTY readers some idea of what the mission of Green Monster Games will be?
R.A.: Yikes! What is he like in person? I’ll only say two things on this, because it’s really not my place to gossip. First, if I didn’t like and respect him, I wouldn’t have agreed to be a part of Green Monster Games. We’re going to have to put up with each other for several years on this project. Second, anybody with the guts to fashion a huge incentive of his contract predicated on winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox (for crying out loud!) is well worth following into battle. The motto of the company is: if you don’t plan on doing it better than it’s ever been done, go work for someone else.
Hey, I’m willing to chase that goal. I’ve seen the competition and they are magnificent. The great work of companies like Blizzard, Sony, Mythic and so many others in the evolution of computer gaming inspires me to climb on their shoulders and try my best to reach a little higher.
Our mission is simple: make a game that people want to play.
On a creative level, my mission is to continue to explore this scary new world that’s opening up before us. I truly believe that computer gaming is the next great medium, a place where novels and movies collide and morph into something more fabulous still. I’m not going to “write” a story for people in a computer game, as I do in my novels. To think that is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the game itself. In a computer game, as in life, every player writes his or her own story.
My job is to give the players a thematic basis for letting their imaginations fly, to work with the designers to fashion a world worth exploring. This is a new and exciting form of communication. It is not a passive medium like television, and in fact is more active than novels. A computer game community is as real and vibrant as the real world; it is the ultimate interactive experience, and the ultimate opportunity for artistic self-expression. Everybody who joins an MMO (a massive multiplayer online game) is a writer.
That’s the joy of it.
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Labels: 5 Questions, books, literature, R.A. Salvatore