Everyone owes a little something to an influencer. I was thinking about some of the books I devoured when I was young. It was hard not to, because I was unpacking hundreds of them from a massive stack of moving boxes sealed in Texas and slipping them into new and much more organized boxes here in Florida. Unpacking old stuff is fun, as long as it’s not in the attic. You pull a book out and go, “Man, I remember this.” Then, off you go, into the next Home Depot folded coffin. Treasures. Then I start doing what I do every time I pack and unpack books – set the special ones aside. These are the timeless classics. The ones no American Novelist Professor every heard of either. None of that business. These are the books you buy, and lose, multiple copies of. Every time you pick one up, the scenes dance in full color before you. Sometimes you just want to have them nearby, in case you get the time to dig into them again and relive the fun of their stories. Here are three of those books, all by by R.A. Salvatore.
The story of Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, and Wulfgar begins with The Crystal Shard, R. A. Salvatore’s first published novel from 1988. It’s a Forgotten Realms book from TSR. The Forgotten Realms was a campaign setting (world) for the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, having launched just a year before. It was, and probably still is, their most successful to date. Even though most of my actual gaming history took place in Greyhawk, its predecessor, TSR really poured it on with novels set in their world.
Now granted, I was lucky enough to play AD&D in 1978 with the hardbacks. First edition middle school bragging rights and whatnot, right? By the time the Salvatore books came along in 1988, I was some 23 years old, still in architectural school and paying my way by working as a young draftsman at an architectural firm. My .7mm plastic lead on Mylar chisel point lines delineated everything from concrete block to 3-5/8” metal studs. I loved hanging out by the pool on the weekend with Tom Clancy books, wrenching on muscle cars, and playing sandlot football with the Bucklake Boys every Sunday. Playing AD&D was not cool in 1989 for my circle of friends, but the nostalgia for the game from the middle school and early high school years remained. These books were the first to capture the vibe of a real campaign. I remember picking up The Crystal Shard and Streams of Silver as used books and buying the third, The Halfling's Gem, the moment it came out in January of 1990. They certainly launched R.A. Salvatore into a household name. The three follow-ups below deserve even more praise.
For me, I loved the animosity between Drizzt Do’Urden and Artemis Entreri, but felt each character was either too philosophical or not ruthless enough. Then again, this was TSR stuff, designed to sell supplements, modules, and source books, they weren't going to actually kill anyone but faceless orcs. There is something about the conflict between real symbols of good and evil that is fun in any story, or in the case of Lazzaro Dominici and Alessandro Dumaine, in Iron Will Rust, blind honor and the disdain for good. Cheers to R. A. Salvatore. One of my many inspirations for the eternal kid inside. You never can have enough double-cross down parries.
Next time let’s chat about these babies.