Friday, 21 February 2014

Tales of the Forgotten Realms - a turning point in fantasy fiction or a dead end

My fantasy upbringing was a probably not unusual mix of books and games.  I read the Hobbit as a nine year old at school.  I struggled to get into Lord of the Rings for years until Avalon Hill published their map and counter based game "War of the Ring" and I sat there looking at these cards and thinking "what's a balrog?" and "why are there two Gandalfs?"  I guess the game had a few spoilers for the book, but it finally got me around at the age of 15 or so, to finishing  off Tolkien's masterpiece.  It helped that AD&D was also emerging around that time and I filled my time DMing for friends and reading White Dwarf.

Then computer games versions of AD&D began to appear as a staging post between table top role playing and MMO, and my gaming and reading passions combined with titles such as
"Curse of the Azure Bonds" and "Pool of Radiance" the "Crystal Shard" and a dozen other works.

I devoured those books at speed and played the games endlessly, particularly the tales of Drizzt Do'Urden by R.A. Salvatore.

I will confess I quickly decided to skip all the italicised bits of what seemed to be Drizzt's internal philosophical confessions, though in all honesty they could have been anything from a covert sex scene to a shopping list for all I knew and know.  What I craved was action and emotion and I got it.  Strings of my psyche plucked expertly by routine themes of love, friendship and honour.  But hey, I'm the guy that cried at the last picture in the closing credits of Disney's "Lilo and Stitch" and pretty much everywhere else in the movie.

The Forgotten Realms stories convinced me a good story could emerge from a set of role playing game rules.  Indeed the early draft of the book that would become Lady of The Helm is remarkable for a slavishly technical adherence to the rules of AD&D almost to the the point that the characters would have been rolling polyhedral dice rather than drawing swords.  From thiefly backstabbings to a bizarrely named character called Sergeant Thaco, it had AD&D running through it like Brighton through a stick of rock.

But I moved on and my reading did too.  Much as Drizzt intrigued me, the endless duelling with Artemis Enteri began to pall.  It seemed to me that Salvatore dare not let either one win because he liked them both too much.  I stopped reading when the dwarf in the body-armour-come-weaponry appeared, a suit so sharply and dangerously pointed that he needed only to walk into an opponent to injure them, while falling on them was bound to be fatal.

And that I guess is my point, the Tales of the Forgotten realm were neither turning point nor dead end, they were a stepping stone a bridge between fantasy games and fantasy fiction, and having crossed that bridge it was important to move on - to recognise that the story is the thing.

There are people who can discern traces of AD&D heritage in Lady of the Helm, but I significantly decoupled that when I returned to the book after a gap of ten years.   What has pleased readers are the twists and turns, the surprises in the plot and the development of the characters.  I have raided mythologies and histories, children's films and war films, for references and inspiration.

The nicest comment I have had so far
I love your books, just finish readin the 2nd, deprived myself of sleep for 48 hours just to finish it. Patiently waiting for the next!!

And in the end it is the story that is the thing.  From those AD&D derived stories, many writers have moved on along divergent paths, like stars that shared the same stellar nursery and then drifted in different directions in the aeons that followed

In the end, the story is the thing, making the human story recognisable in a Drow protaganist, and maybe also a Medusa!

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