R.A. Salvatore on Charon’s Claw, the Future of the Realms, and Letting Someone Else Write Drizzt (“No Way”)

With the future of the Forgotten Realms up in the air and the conclusion to his Neverwinter trilogy imminent, I had a lot of weighty questions for author R.A. Salvatore. He was kind enough to answer them all candidly — I think you’ll find this a very interesting interview, as he discusses his new novel, Charon’s Claw, highlights the merits of sentient weapons, threatens to kill off Drizzt, and shares his favorite fantasy authors.

[Note: If you’d like to read my last interview with R.A. Salvatore, when Neverwinter was released last year, you can find it here.]

Robot Viking: There’s a lot of speculation (of course) about the fate of the Realms in the next edition, including a possible reboot. Would that provide an opportunity for you to look back and tell some “lost” stories in your characters’ past? Or would you rather see the Realms timeline move forward from where it is now?

R.A. Salvatore: I don’t like the idea of hitting a reset button and I don’t think anyone involved in updating the Realms for D&D Next is looking at our task in that manner. Yes, there will be dramatic changes taking place, and some might seem, or might be, that which has come before, so to speak, but the only way to do that is to move forward, not back.

Whether it involves resurgent empires, or some of the newer things going away, changes in a world have to make sense and have to take the reader/player along on a logical journey (and have to be agile enough to accommodate the people who really matter in this process: the reader and player!).

With that said, I’ll continue to learn more about the characters as I write about them; it’s been that way since the beginning, and so, yes, I do think some “lost’ stories will pop up here and there, and told in a way that better explains the current situation and mindset of the character.

RV: One theme I see in a lot of fantasy is a nostalgic elevation of the pastoral and the vilification of the industrial. There’s a certain thread of nostalgia running through the Neverwinter series — how do you think those themes of nostalgia and progress fit into the Forgotten Realms and Drizzt’s life?

RAS: Oh, those are definitely there, but maybe not in exactly the manner you’re thinking. I’ve come to understand that for a sizable percentage of my readers, the Drizzt series is a tie to a different time. Many people read these books because they reflect a different era in gaming, and thus, in their lives. People started reading this series in the 1980’s, after all, before the internet and MMO’s and when paper games dominated. I’m sure that more than one reader cracks open the newest Drizzt book and is immediately transported back to his or her gaming group, sitting around the table with pizza and Cheetos, circa 1988.

Honestly, writing these books does that to me.

And yes, I certainly agree that much of fantasy tries to reflect a simpler time, and maybe one of the great charms of the genre is that it allows the reader to feel like there can be some measure of control, that one persona can be the hero and save the village from the dragon. We live in a world of fiat currency that no one understands, of drone wars and politicians vilifying a country one day and doing business with that same country the next, and oftentimes, everything seems like it’s too big and too complicated and beyond the control of the average person.

The is escapist fiction, and so we escape, to quieter and more controllable circumstance where we can fish on the banks of Maer Dualdon, then go destroy the Crystal Shard, then go back to fishing.

RV: Contractual obligations aside, have you ever considered retiring Drizzt, or handing him off to another author?

RAS: Not really to the first and no way to the second. I’ve always said that I’ll write Drizzt until I’m not having fun or until no one wants to read about him anymore. Well, I’m still having a blast, and people are still reading. Those contract obligations hardly factor into this. I’ve signed to write “X” more books with WotC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be books about Drizzt – or that he’ll even survive the contract. Wizards has been great in letting me follow my gut on the story. If Drizzt goes, he goes, and they won’t argue. They won’t be happy, but they won’t argue (or won’t win the argument, in any case).

As for handing him off…I’ve let my son share him a bit for the Stone of Tymora books and the IDW comics, and perhaps when I’m too old to write, should that happen, or gone, if one of my children wanted to take up the mantle and continue my Forgotten Realms storyline, I’d be fine with that.

RV: Could you talk about the development of the sword Charon’s Claw as a character, and where the name comes from?

RAS: I’ve always loved sentient weapons and have used several previous to Charon’s Claw. With this one, I wanted a formidable ally and, more importantly, a formidable enemy for Artemis Entreri. While I don’t like the concept that a sword or some other magical item can make you behave in a completely foreign manner, having these insidious influences moving a character one way or the other based on that character’s predisposition can be delicious. Whether it’s the Crystal Shard playing on Jarlaxle’s ego, or Charon’s Claw reinforcing Entreri’s hopeless pessimism,  the item, rather than being a character, becomes a nice impetus to affect a character’s outlook and actions.

The name of course comes from the Boatman of Hades, that good old symbol of Death.

RV: How does Drizzt’s relationship with Dahlia differ from his past relationships?

RAS: Dahlia intrigues him and he is undeniably attracted to her, but it’s the mystery of the woman and the danger of the woman that has a hold on him. Catti-brie was a safe relationship for Drizzt, like the girl growing up next door who becomes your high-school sweetheart. She wasn’t much of a mystery to him because they were of like heart and soul.

I can’t say that about Dahlia, and so Drizzt is intrigued. However, while Dahlia might rank a bit higher on the excitement scale, how will she measure up on those things that really matter? That’s what I (and Drizzt) am trying to figure out as we go along the journey.

That’s true of all of Drizzt’s new friends. Until the Neverwinter series, Drizzt had been surrounded by people of like weal and similar mores. It wasn’t hard for him to trust Bruenor and the gang because he understood that which was in their hearts. Not so any longer.

RV: Last time we talked, I asked you which non-fantasy authors people should read if they want to write fantasy themselves. Let’s stay within the genre — which fantasy authors are your favorites? Which do you recommend as touchstones for budding authors?

RAS: Tolkien, of course. His is the model and the tropes he presented – elves singing and dancing under the stars, dwarves digging in deep and dark caves and such – have become the standard fare of fantasy, whether in novels, movies or video games. You can play with these archetypes, of course, and twist them all about and add new ones (like dark elves!), but you really should understand this source material.

Terry Brooks has long been another favorite of mine because he constructs such a clean and logical plotline. His books make sense; his characters seem very, very real.

There are so many to add: Fritz Lieber’s “buddy” fantasy; Martin’s amazing POV writing and unmatched dialogue; Stephen Donaldson’s dark musing of the evil that lurk within the hearts of heroes, even; the use of dialect by Brian Jacques. Too many to list. Too, too many.

RV: Who would you cast as Drizzt in a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster?

RAS: I do have some ideas about that, but I’d never share them publicly. Imagine if I was quoted saying that so-and-so should play Drizzt and then Hasbro decides to make a movie and someone else is cast. I can hear the protests now that the actor “wasn’t my first choice” or some other such nonsense. If they ever make a movie, I hope that they cast someone as Drizzt who gets the character and loves the books.

RV: Staying with the movie theme, your novels have a very cinematic quality to them. You’ve incorporated a lot of different styles and elements over the years: suspense thriller, war movie, vengeance trip, romance, coming of age. Which of those elements will a reader find in Charon’s Claw?

RAS: Charon’s Claw is a very visual book, with lots of action and intricate battle scenes, featuring many different fighting styles. So visually, it would just punch you in the face, in a good way.

It’s also very much a romantic novel, and by that, I mean it’s one where intimacy between characters takes center stage, and all of them are trying to figure out where they stand. Drizzt in particular spends a lot of the book, well, growing up.