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3
Feb 03
Mon

The Dark Elf Trilogy & Fantasy Novels

I thought this trilogy (Salvatore – Homeland, Exile and Sojourn) was great. Quite a big improvement on his Icewind Dale trilogy. The challenge in fantasy writing is, because the moulds are more or less set (hero has to accomplish some task against overwhelming odds, often involving killing big things) what distinguishes fantasy novels is characterisation and, less commonly, consciously working themes into the plot.

We’ll take Lord of the Rings for example. Let’s face it, the novel is boring. It rambles. Its descriptions of the landscapes are mechanical. Tolkien doesn’t do detailed fight scenes. It has whole chunks of redundant material. The characters are archetypical. So why is it a classic? My opinion is it is because of the richness of the universe that Tolkien has created by himself. I mean, the guy invented a whole new grammatically correct language for Middle-earth! (That, and the fact that he got in decades before a mass of pulp fantasy writers did.) The scale and depth of the world and events is huge. However, when the movie was made, the richness of the creation of Middle-earth didn’t translate as much (naturally due to time constraints) and so you see the movie writers emphasising some themes that are less visible in the book (comparing Frodo’s personal conflict between good and evil with the larger conflict of good and evil, for instance) and inserting others (most visible in Sam’s closing statements, such as his none-too-subtle speech on clinging on to hope in TTT) to compensate.

However, when all is said and done, it takes something new and creative to make a good fantasy novel, and the Dark Elf is pretty good. Drizzt, of course, is a pretty intriguing character, which prompted Salvatore into writing this trilogy detailing the drow’s origins. In the trilogy, the plot is not to achieve a unique heroic task against overwhelming odds, just to achieve a task against overwhelming odds – to live life according to one’s own values and beliefs. The trilogy covers issues of heritage, racism and a critical evaluation of values as Drizzt grapples with his place in the world. A lot of it is about identity. The trilogy just doesn’t pit good versus evil, but asks what makes good, good; and why is it preferable to evil? Drizzt’s soliloquys add a pinch of sophistication and bit of introspection and insight into emotions and the human condition. While the ground this trilogy covers is standard fare for other genres, it is uncommon in fantasy novels (granted though, that my fantasy reading repetoire is quite limited!). And of course, detailing the workings of the Underdark makes for fascinating reading, too.