Before I begin: SPOILER WARNING! I will be discussing The Neverwinter Saga, focusing primarily on The Last Threshold and the ending to that novel. If you are currently reading the Dark Elf Legacy or plan to, then leave this blog post for a different day.
To say that R.A. Salvatore has been a significant figure in my life is to simply say the truth. If I go into my room and look at my bookshelf, I have a full line of books devoted to his work, and another three on the shelf above. There are 23 in total, all of them somewhere between 300 and 450 pages long. Ten years ago, sometime in October of 2003, I was browsing through Barnes and Noble and saw a book with an elf killing an army of orcs. The novel was aptly titled The Thousand Orcs and, judging it by its cover, I purchased it. Ever since 2003, I’ve averaged at least one novel with Drizzt Du’Urden (I pronounce the name Drizzit Du’Urden because that somehow makes more sense to my ears) a year, though those years of 2003 and 2004 were the best because I had a massive backlog to read.
Through good times, through bad times, and through times of apathy, Drizzt Du’Urden and his companions have been there for me, and adventure was promised and swiftly delivered in every novel. Orcs? You bet. Dark elves? Hell yes. Dragons? Of course. Pirates? Arg matey! Trolls, giants, undead, goblins, barbarians, demons, devils, assassins, magic? I think I’m missing a few yet!
But the Neverwinter Saga was winding the life of Drizzt Du’Urden down to an ending. Friends fell, and a hundred years passed leaving Drizzt and Bruenor Battlehammer left in a world gone cold and cynical. Bruenor met his end in the stone halls of Gauntlgrym, defending his long lost dwarven home from devils and worse. He went out perfectly. Bruenor’s death left Drizzt alone, and after more than 20 books, I was finally looking at an ending, at closure.
That meant and still means much, but it gets complicated.
Here is where The Last Threshold comes in.
Over the course of the Neverwinter Saga, Drizzt lost the last of his old companions and found a new set, but these new characters are quite different from his old. Drizzt operates under the philosophy of “The world, like my moralities, is black and white” and his old companions felt the same way. This new group of stranded peoples, however, does not think in such a simple manor. Dahlia and Artemis Entreri are exceptionally cynical, the latter being an assassin with a long history, Effron is half demon and a necromancer besides, and Afafrenfere and Ambergris are outcasts from a different guild of contract killers. They are a far cry from Drizzt’s old friends in a world that has grown far different than what it once was.
Drizzt’s black-and-white morality is starting to seem out of place now, and that is the heart of the Neverwinter Saga.
Drizzt’s philosophy has always been a naïve thing, but one that has always made some level of sense given his character’s long history and turbulent past. When I was younger and just starting my journey with Drizzt Du’Urden, I enjoyed the simplicity Drizzt’s eyes allowed—that the world might have bad people, but there truly are good people to help counter them: that evil can be overcome—As I’ve grown older, and hopefully more wise, I’ve come to see a certain kind of hope to Drizzt’s views on life. His world has gone greyer, but he won’t let that change himself. He is true to his person. To remain optimistic when pessimism is the easiest route is profound to me, for I’ve grown into quite the cynic over the years. Drizzt, at least, has not allowed himself to be beaten down.
Despite all of this, I never once expected Drizzt Du’Urden to have a happy ending. He constantly puts himself into danger for the sake of others, and he only truly lives when he is on some kind of adventure, fighting some evil foe or force for the honest sake of doing what is right. His life is always in jeopardy. Drizzt isn’t the kind of character who can simply settle down and call a place home; the road is his home and the road is dangerous, filled with monsters, thieves, and introspection.
And truly, I knew Drizzt was going to die when Bruenor Battlehammer died three novels ago. The only question was “how?”
That answer is complicated, and one that makes The Last Threshold a complicated book.
Five books ago, Drizzt lost his wife Cattie-Brie to the Spellplague, a kind of magical natural disaster. However, Cattie-Brie’s death was far from natural, even in that context. The last image of her is her physical person riding away on a ghostly unicorn, the symbol of the goddess Mielikki. Drizzt and Bruenor chase after her, but they do not catch her and she vanishes from view and Toril. She is taken to her own special heaven, a beautiful forest where she enters a state of limbo, singing, dancing, and waiting.
Drizzt and Bruenor spend the hundred years that pass between The Ghost King and Gauntlgrym searching for Cattie-Brie, for rumors of a fleeting forest with a dancing witch begin to filter to them from around the world. They are unsuccessful.
Until The Last Threshold where Drizzt Du’Urden finds the forest and hears his wife for the first time in a hundred years.
Here is where I thought his journey would end. Here is where closure would happen.
Drizzt stayed in the forest, asleep, for the better part of 20 years before it evaporated around him, leaving him and his companions alone in the frozen wastelands of Icewind Dale. They awoke confused, and Drizzt awoke with the profound feeling that the forest was truly gone for good and Cattie-Brie was out of his reach forever.
This is significant. The Neverwinter Saga, and more importantly The Last Threshold is many things, but the two most important facets of these four books are Drizzt coming to terms with the changing world around him and how his philosophy fits within it and Drizzt overcoming his previous losses. He does both of these things, and after the forest disappears, he decides to forgo the road and live the remainder of his days in Icewind Dale.
He tells his companions this, though more importantly he tells Dahlia this. Dahlia is a rather tragic character, one who suffered rape at a young age and still bears the mental scars. She is reckless in everything, and she has this habit and ritual of bedding dangerous men. She literally kills her relationships when they threaten to end in an attempt to both kill her sexual past and in an attempt to finally die. She has adopted battle as her form of therapy.
Dahlia’s reaction is to attack Drizzt, but this reaction doesn’t feel natural. While Drizzt is overcoming much of his own mental and emotional scars, The Last Threshold sees Dahlia do the same. She kills the demon that raped her many years ago, she finds actual friends and companions, and she comes to terms with Effron, her half demon son. Like Drizzt, her mental journey seems to be over, so when she attacks him, it doesn’t feel right. It feels forced.
Drizzt refuses to fight back. He has traveled with Dahlia for quite some time now, and they spent much of the Neverwinter Saga as lovers. He has, or thinks he has, and understanding of Dahlia, and his philosophy demands he help her, not kill her. He stands still as she advances, but instead of stopping mid swing, which Drizzt believes will happen, she knocks him upside the head and off of a cliff. Drizzt falls, breaks his ankle, and suffers what is probably a rather nasty concussion.
In a short ironic twist, it is Artemis Entreri who saves Drizzt from Dahlia. The assassin drags the crying elf away, but when he comes back, Drizzt is gone. The book fast forwards to Bruenor’s Climb, a notable spot in Icewind Dale, and there Drizzt looks into the sky, hears Cattie-Brie’s voice, and dies.
This is unsatisfying for a handful of reasons, the first one being that Dahlia in no way could actually kill Drizzt Du’Urden. To see him lose and then end here is distasteful to say the least. But the more important reason for this death being disappointing is that Drizzt’s philosophies are proven to be naïve and wrong. He has this worldview for 23 books, and it is what drove him forward. Yet at his end, this worldview that is based on doing what is right is what ultimately kills him. I would appreciate the irony in any other series, but it feels out of place here.
And so I began a series of mental gymnastics because after 23 books, I didn’t want to end disappointed. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to make an ending work in my own mind, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but the need is never good or fun. I understand that the best ending, that the right ending, might not be a good or happy, but no endings should be unsatisfying.
Cattie-Brie and Regis both died in rather spectacular ways: they were carried off by an agent of Mielikki. Drizzt’s death too is quite spectacular when scrutinized. He fell off of a cliff and broke his ankle, and when he awoke, he was on a different cliff. His new companions could not find his corpse, yet Drizzt was incapable of moving.
Like his wife, Drizzt wasn’t killed but instead was taken by his goddess.
The Neverwinter Saga was all about moving on and accepting the self, and Drizzt did all of those things. The only thing he had left to do was end his relationship with Dahlia, then he would truly be done with this arc of his life. The replacement of his friends wasn’t the start of a new journey, it was the forced need to continue the old journey. But that wasn’t right, and it did an injustice to Drizzt’s old companions. He saw this, he accepted this, and he did what he thought was right.
Had Dahlia attacked him or not, Mielikki would have come to take Drizzt away. That is the real ending, and one that is much better than naïve-induced failure.
That is an ending I can accept.
But there is another problem. R.A. Salvatore isn’t done with these characters. The last three pages of The Last Threshold are a look into the next book, and Drizzt is very much alive there. What appeared to be the end of Drizzt’s life is simply the end of one chapter of that life, and R.A. Salvatore is not only bringing Drizzt back, he’s also bringing his old companions back as well.
They are all chosen by their gods, and their gods are not done with them yet. The first chapter of The Last Threshold brings this into light, and the plot summary of the next book confirms it.
To the defense of R.A. Salvatore, he’s writing within a property: Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards of the Coast want this, I would imagine, and I’ve recently learned that certain oddities and twists within The Dark Elf Legacy did not come from the author of the novel but the owner of the property. That is a sad thing, and the corporate side of this series of books strikes much of the magic away.
It seems that other authors who write in Forgotten Realms are doing the same as Wizards of the Coast make new changes to their Dungeons and Dragons property. The novels that coincide with the game must be kept up to date with the game. This is to keep a single continuity, and that is something Wizard’s of the Coast prioritize over my enjoyment of the Forgotten Realms books.
Here, Ignorance would have been bliss. That ship has sailed though.
As a reader, I am left with a choice. To end at The Last Threshold is to see Drizzt die and join his friends in the afterlife. To end at The Last Threshold is to find closure in a series of books that measures far over 20 when certain side projects are factored in.
To buy the next book is to commit to many more.
I don’t know what to do. I started reading The Dark Elf Legacy when I was in high school, confused, stupid, and a young teenager. I am now a young adult working on my own novel, a video game, and with aspirations to start a business. The end of Drizzt’s chapter marks the end of my own, and I find that to be somewhat profound. A coincidence to be sure, but one that is hard to avoid.
To stop is to move on in more ways than one.
And yet, I’ve had minor dealings with R.A. Salvatore over Facebook. He’s nice, and he’s given me hours upon hours of enjoyment. I’m loathe to stop. The idea that Toril will go through another major change is enticing, and the fact that the gods themselves are coming into play is even better. To combine Dungeons and Dragons fantasy with something akin to the Greek pantheon is a recipe for insanity, and one I surely don’t want to miss out on.
I don’t know what to do. My temporary solution is to wait, since the next book won’t be out in paperback until October 2014, but I think it might be fun to reread the series. I’ve actually only ever read each book once, so to marathon through all 23 would be quite an event. Most of the novels have melted into that rose-colored world of nostalgia, and rereading them would be more than just rereading about Drizzt’Du Urden and his friends. I would, in a way, be rereading about myself, and evidently that self is sentimental.
Surely that is important.
My friends are in limbo right now. To stop would be to kill them; to continue would be to revive them. I do believe the world is better with them alive, but that is a selfish thought. They have earned rest, and I have much work to do.
Surely that is important too.