Thursday, January 28, 2010

Glyphscribe, and The Crimson King

I recently finished the two series on which, I gather, RA Salvatore built his career: The Legend of Drizzt, and The Cleric Quintet.  And I can't help but compare them to another multi-volume fantasy epic, Stephen King's The Dark Tower.

In a way it's not a fair comparison, because King's books grew from more mapped-out structures, written over the course of some three decades.  Salvatore's series have neither the tightness nor the breadth of time.  The eighteen books comprising Drizzt and Quintet, written in about half as long as DT, are more like serials. 

But a certain style unifies Salvatore's books, with overlapping characters and settings all flowing to the same tune.  He writes quickly, transforming the "Song of Deneir."  It makes for relentless adventure writing, noticeable mistakes, and a certain forgettability.  His books are fun if you like role-playing games come to life, like you are reading a fantastic Dungeon Master with writing chops. (It would not surprise me if actual games provided story material.)

The Drizzt books are further tied together by Drizzt Do'Urden, drow renegade turned servant of Mielikki.   Entries from his journals appear even the books were Drizzt himself does not, and he sometimes serves as the mouthpiece of his author.  Mostly he is protagonist and legendary hero, the double scimitar-wielding ranger of renown.

Stephen King plays no games, unless, say, something awful is about to transpire.  But DT is far from a horror series, is much more.  Roland, a central character, visits our place and time, and laments the uniformity of "story flavor."  King's actual writing present us with the opposite.  Just some of what you get over the course of seven books:  action, science fiction, Arthurian fantasy, American western, horror, romance, "metafiction" . . .

But it is unmistakably one story, unified as/by the "Song of Gan."  King openly identifies with a version of the creator god, energies emerging from places lower than Salvatore's "Denier."

The hero of Quintet, for example ("Cadderly Bonaduce"), bears telling relationships to King's "Father Callahan."  Both are gifted characters with a troubling past.  Cadderly's muse is one of art, literature, and (eventually) kicking the stuffing out of Evil, and Callahan is more fire-and-brimstone about his work.  Not surprisingly, Callahan is far more troubled.

These series are entertaining and thought-provoking epics, examining existence and relationships, values and action, magic and technology.  Tolkien, of course comes to mind, and both authors pay homage.  Drizzt and Quintet often filter through the Dungeons & Dragons gaming system, adding multiplanar dimensions akin to MoorcockDT extends the universe of his story into our own, turning the Rings Trilogy on it's head (probably bound and hanging from something.) 

DT brought Middle Earth to another level, and I don't think the same can be said of Drizzt and Quintet.  Mr. Salvatore is a great writer, of the imagination, but King goes beyond imagination.  Roland's mission takes seven books to reveal, with surprises that leave you in the disbelief of the utterly stunned.  King's whole universe is like that.

I think Salvatore likes King (see The Spine of the World and The Chaos Curse, strikingly similar to Wizard and Glass and 'Salem's Lot).  So I'm wondering what might happen if RA took some more time with a book.  Maybe he already has, in one of the more recent stories featuring Drizzt.  Initial perusal has suggested more as above, if perhaps riskier and more dense.

But, in the words of Bruenor Battlehammer, "A barnyard goose tastes better 'an a wild one cause it don't use its muscles. The same oughta hold true for a giant's brains!"   For all these books offer, you can almost forgive Salvatore's not-occasional degeneration into fantasy-combat porn.  And King's maddening tendency toward shuddering halts.

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