Staff Musings

February 17, 2007

R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden Novels

Filed under: Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 3:11 pm

I started reading science fiction and fantasy as a teenager. It was probably by accident rather than design; I imagine I picked up one of my brother’s paperbacks at some point when I had run out of more compelling material. To this day I prefer reading about lands completely foreign to my own – and I identify more readily with the outcasts and heroes of imaginary realms than to any character, real or imagined, that inhabits this world.

I’m not quite sure what the exact first novel was that piqued my interest in the genre – but whatever it was, it had a lasting effect. I ended up devouring my brother’s collection and soon started on my own. One of the first series I read was The Icewind Dale Trilogy, by R.A. Salvatore. This was his first trilogy about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, who rejects the evil ways of his own people and travels out of their underground home to live among humans and surface elves, and to try and adhere to a strict moral code he’d adopted for himself.

One of the things I often deal with at Don’s Books is people who don’t know quite what it is they, their child, their husband or wife or friend, want. This gives me the fantastic opportunity to get paid to recommend books to people – which has always been one of my main hobbies and likely, most annoying habits. Though I often and without reservation recommend many of the fantasy and science fiction novels I read as a young adult, I have wondered if they would resonate with me the same way now as they did then. So, in the spirit of good customer service, I decided to begin rereading many of my old favorites, including all of R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series, a staple within the immensely popular Forgotten Realms universe.

What makes Drizzt such a popular hero is a combination of his outcast status and his honorable actions; not just in the face of evil, but also when faced with common prejudices associated with his race. The dark elves or drow, Drizzt’s people, are known only for their murderous ways and deadly blades. Drizzt, having been trained by his father, both martially and ethically, decides to take the step his father never had the courage to and leave the city of his birth and his family behind. While he was a part of drow society, Drizzt was constantly struggling with how to define himself – was he drow, or was he something else? With few examples of anything beyond chaos and deception around him, Drizzt had to learn to define himself as a solo entity, with little to relate to except for his father. Once outside of the city and living alone in the Underdark, Drizzt has another monster to contend with – isolation. Though he is free of his brethren, he worries he is becoming little more than animal without much sentient contact.

Drizzt’s good deeds in the face of great danger to himself eventually earn him close friends – but only after long struggles against the prejudices of others and the war going on in his head; is he drow, Underdark monster, or something else? The people he meets are complex, interesting characteres in their own rights, all with their own demons to fight that can also give us insight. However Drizzt remains the center of attention in the series, as no matter how much he learns, or how much respect and admiration he gains from the surface world, his insecurities never go away. They aren’t something that he can just get rid of – he has to constantly fight them. He makes mistakes, sometimes putting his friends or others in mortal danger, but he learns from them.

This is what makes Drizzt such a great character – not just for teens, but for adults to. His constant struggle to learn to be his own being apart from those around him draw easy parallels to the lives of teens, but what adults often forget is that despite defining ourselves it’s still easy to slip into the attitudes and ideals of those around us. Drizzt doesn’t stop growing as a character once he finds acceptance and gains a better idea of who he can be in relation to the world – he still struggles and he still has to make hard decisions. The life he lived as part of drow society doesn’t go away; he learns that those experiences made up part of who he is now, despite the struggle he has integrating that part of his life with who he is.

One thing that might deter parents from buying these novels for their kids is that there is quite a bit of violence. Drizzt fights almost as many flesh and blood demons as he does mental ones. However, he learns to only enter into violence in times of great need – thanks to his drow family who hunt him and other creatures who threaten the world, there is ample opportunity. Salvatore’s expertise in writing easily understood but still complex character does not detract from his battle and fighting scenes. Though I’m no expert and honestly have little interest in reading complex descriptions of fighting and bloody things, I have been told that Salvatore’s fighting scenes are meticulously crafted and some of the best in the genre.

Despite the violence, I feel I can heartily recommend all of Salvatore’s Drizzt series, for both teens and adults. I know I’ve rambled on quite a bit about all the moral and ethical dilemmas Drizzt goes through, and how we can learn, and grow and be better people and stuff, but in spite of all that they’re really fun to read too! So pick some up, and while you’re around, I’ll be more than happy to make other recommendations – just ask every single person who’s ever met me.

February 6, 2007

An Unquiet Mind: A Memior of Moods and Madness

Filed under: Social Sciences — hazeltine @ 12:23 am

By Kay Redfield Jamison

I loved this book. I found it difficult to read at times, but extremely rewarding

This is the memoir of a woman who suffers from Bi-polar Disorder. The book is at once about her and about the disorder as she experienced it. She paints incredibly vivid pictures of her experience, which create a strong impression of the illness. It also shares, in a sympathetic fashion, the triumphs and sadness that she has walked through in life.

The author’s focus in this book is clearly to relate the experience of the disorder and it’s effects upon her life. I felt that she accomplished that goal well. A number of times I found myself annoyed at how she dropped relationships that she had been discussing, leaving me with unresolved questions that she had raised.

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