Hey, guys! I was lucky enough to get to ask R.A. Salvatore some questions about his career and upcoming book, The Last Threshold (the fourth and final book in the Neverwinter Saga). If you’re not familiar with his name, then you’re probably not a big enough nerd. ;) Salvatore wrote novels like The DemonWars Saga and many, many Forgotten Realms books (like this one), which refer to a campaign setting in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy tabletop-role-playing games. He’s also known for creating a megapopular character, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.
Salvatore is a pretty cool dude! For that reason, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to interview him even though I’m not schooled in the lore. So I decided to ask him questions from a newcomer’s standpoint — that way people who aren’t familiar with the series can understand what makes it so huge.
Misprinted Pages: I’m new to this particular series. Can you talk a little about it’s about and describe the book that’s coming out on March 5?
R.A. Salvatore: That’s a little bit like telling you about my adult life, I fear. I’ve been writing this series since 1987 and have come to see it as my personal journey. If I can slice a bit of that off and narrow it to just the books of the Neverwinter Saga …
My Drizzt books are broken up into trilogies, quartets, quintets, etc., but really, it is one long-running tale about a rogue dark elf and the friends and enemies, and something in-between, [that] he makes along his winding road of adventure. [Editor’s note: See question #4 for more on Drizzt.] For this particular four-book set, starting with Gauntlgrym, I was asked if my next Drizzt adventures were going to be set anywhere near to the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms and the city of Neverwinter. When I said they were, Wizards of the Coast asked me if I would be interested in accomplishing a few things in the books to set up the region for the upcoming computer game by Cryptic Studios (now part of Perfect World). [ED: Salvatore does some video game work, like providing the story for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.]
We had a meeting, and they explained what they needed, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun. I readily agreed because, with the Drizzt books, the meta-events are just the icing on the cake. The Drizzt books are about the characters, running about in a wild world. So to do what Wizards of the Coast and Cryptic wanted wasn’t going to change the “cake” itself; I knew the new emotional and spiritual journey through which I needed to send Drizzt and his companions after the brutal trials of the last set, aptly called Transitions.
This book, The Last Threshold, marks the end of that particular emotional and spiritual journey, a crossroads decided, where the choices are resolved and the consequences play out, sometimes brutally.
MP: You’ve written a lot of other Forgotten Realms books. How was writing this one a different experience for you, if at all?
RAS: It was very different because there was no place for me left to hide. In a series that’s run for 25 years, you pass through one harrowing adventure after another, sometimes with loss, but usually just plowing forward down the road toward the next conflict. In this saga, again, after Transitions, I had reached a place where there was nowhere left to dodge.
RAS: I don’t like to think about things in the manner you described in your question; it is very hard for me to pick a favorite book, so the word “stronger” implies a value judgment I won’t make. The books all do different things, and the Neverwinter Saga is no different in that regard. Each of these books stands alone, tells a complete story, and leads you on to the next story in a logical manner. This book is a bit different because of one word: closure.
MP: You have a signature character in these books — Drizzt Do’Urden. Tell us about him and how he’s evolved as a character since you created him.
RAS: Drizzt came out of nowhere, literally. He wasn’t even supposed to be in The Crystal Shard those many years ago, and [he] showed up off the top of my head when I was put under pressure by an editor. She needed a replacement character — shared world issues — and Drizzt was born, out of nowhere.
I started writing the book and by page two, I knew. I knew that he was no sidekick. I knew that this book, and more, was his story. The character grabbed me like no other and hasn’t let go. He’s become a sounding board for me as I make my own way through life. I hit him with all kinds of tribulations, emotional battering, and challenges to see how he will react. Maybe what I’m really doing is sorting my own life out in my head. I do this with all of my characters, or with most of them anyway, in all of my many series. Writing is how I sort out life.
The particular fun of Drizzt is that different people see him in many different ways, good and bad — in a way, like real life, eh? To some, he has become a friend, a soulmate even, and I can’t begin to tell you the warmth of the emails I receive. To others, he’s a threat — seriously! He’s the “munchkin” in the D&D group that has pissed off a thousand [dungeon masters]. I think it’s hilarious, by the way.
Most interesting to me in the feedback I get are the ways people read the Drizzt essays at the beginning of each section of the various books. Some think them preachy, but the point is, Drizzt isn’t talking to them. He’s talking to himself, trying to sort things out, to make sense of a world that so often makes no sense at all.
The thing about Drizzt is that he’s a horribly flawed character. That gets covered up a bit because of his fighting prowess and his, well, good luck, but the truth is, in many ways, he’s an emotionally scarred high school kid, the misunderstood outcast. He makes mistakes all the time, but — until now, perhaps — they are mistakes of the heart, coming from good intentions. That’s always been the crux of Drizzt, and that’s why he’s a hero to me: He always tries to do the right thing. Doesn’t always succeed, often makes really bad choices, but he’s coming from the right place. That’s all any of us can do, I expect.
RAS: I’ll be hiding on an island, so … The one thing I hope they’ll hold in me, after all these years, is a measure of trust and an acceptance that this is my story, being shared.
MP: What about these books keeps you coming back to them? What do you love about them, and what’s the most rewarding part of writing them?
RAS: I love the Forgotten Realms. It’s a classic fantasy world, real enough for me to find inspiration around every corner, large enough for me to hide away in corners of my own making. It is all at once dark, rollicking, fantastical, magical, consistent, and logical. It’s the sweet spot for my own fantasy tastes.
What has kept me coming back to Drizzt and his friends and enemies, quite simply, is that they’ve become my friends. When they’re on an adventure, I’m on an adventure with them — I believe that I write the books in the same way other people read them. I honestly don’t often know what will happen next and have had to stop typing many, many times out of sheer shock that a certain road ended in a certain way.
If I’m going on an adventure, there’s no one I’d rather walk the road beside than the Companions of the Hall.
RAS: The books, for me at least. I came to the world through Darkwalker on Moonshae, Doug Niles’s excellent adventure. I was hooked almost immediately and knew I wanted to play here for years to come. The beauty is that there is something for everyone here. Books for me, but sourcebooks — game supplements full of maps and descriptions of areas — for those who like to delve into the crunchy mechanics of a world. For gamers, there are hundreds of adventures in the form of Dungeons and Dragons modules and video games as well.
It’s just a fun place to adventure, in any form you choose.
MP: What about Forgotten Realms makes them work well as books, not just D&D role-playing games? And what’s different about working on one versus the other?
RAS: The size, the variations, and the sheer volume of information. Also, the world is old enough now so that we have seen the birth and death of grand eras! You can go back and read about — or play in — the simpler Realms of old, when the world was new and unfinished. As a reader progresses through the years, he or she will be taken through several world-shaking events, with the newest one — and perhaps the most ambitious — coming this summer in The Sundering.
With all of this, for me and for hundreds of thousand — at least — of others, the Forgotten Realms has become “real.” That’s entertainment.
RAS: Both. There’s no “reset button,” but there is a very traumatic event unfolding in the world. Think of the Sundering like World War II in our world, with each book telling a different story from a different part of the world affected by the meta-event. Just to keep the analogy going, maybe I’m writing the Battle of Britain while [Forgotten Realms designer] Ed Greenwood is writing Normandy, with Paul Kemp describing the North Africa Campaign, Erin Evans telling us about the Holocaust, Richard Lee Byers describing the tribulations of the air war over Europe, and Troy Denning taking us to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again, that’s an analogy, and not a hint of any of the stories!
The point is, these books are joined by time and the great meta-event of the Sundering, with each author taking his or her characters and showing the fallout, the struggles, the victories, and the defeats of that huge event.
All of this, however, grew logically out of what has come before. Certainly for my book, The Companions, the set-up has been made clear in the Neverwinter Saga — indeed, much of that book takes place in the same time-frame as the Neverwinter books.
MP: The Forgotten Realms has been around for nearly three decades now. What keeps it relevant and exciting for new and old fans alike?
RAS: The same thing that keeps the Middle Ages exciting for those who prefer their stories set in our world in that particular place and time, I guess. “Escapism” isn’t a bad word as Peter S. Beagle once told me and millions of others in his wonderful forward to Tolkien’s works, and in the Realms, Ed Greenwood — and the many others who have followed him into the playground — has created a most wonderful place indeed, a place worth escaping to.