The Legacy of Drizzt

~ essay on the importance of Drizzt Do’Urden and his stories, created by R.A. Salvatore, to me. 

Drizzt and Guenywvar, The Companions (2013)

The Legacy. This was the one that started it all. Book #7 in the chronology of ‘The Legend of Drizzt’, a series of action fantasy novels set in The Forgotten Realms setting of the Dungeons & Dragons fictional mythos. A mouthful of vernacular abstractions to be sure, strange and meaningless to the uninitiated. And yet, so meaningful to me now, my imagination having lived there for large swaths of time. Almost as much of a mouthful as all the names and places marked by the ‘dark elves’ within said fictional world, by their author and father of the grand majority of their deep lore, R.A. Salvatore. Try Menzoberranzan. Zaknafein. Jarlaxle. Bregan D’aerthe. Drizzt Do’Urden {pronounced Drist, or Dritz — I’ve heard both are correct!}. By the way, I’ve just correctly spelled out each of these names from heart. That’s where Drizzt resides, of course, in my heart, an old and unforgettable friend.

The Legacy is where I discovered the character of Drizzt Do’Urden, and Mr. Salvatore’s hack-and-slash high fantasy world of dark elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins, cyclical wars in the mountains and political intrigue within the darkened passageways underneath them. But The Legacy, where Drizzt is dramatically recaptured by his hated brethren, brought back into the corrupting intrigue of their dark city he thought he’d escaped forever, and set upon as a heretic in need of punishment by their vile matriarchs, was not just an introduction to the middle passages of this mystical world and its stories. 

For me, it was also a sincere introduction to the art of reading. 

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Up to then, I garnered little motivation to read for pleasure, fiction or non. It was a required slog for school, to read books like Animal FarmThe Good Earth, A Separate Peace, The Outsiders. Although some of these classics I certainly came to enjoy, it was only through resistance, and out of the damned requirement of it for the sake of my grade. Reading for pleasure, outside of the confines of class curriculum, was not something that came naturally to me and as a result, was as of yet undiscovered. Like many others of my generation, reading was a pastime lost at the stead of more enlivening forms of entertainment such as sports, gaming, and TV. 

There once came a lazy day where I was tasked with searching through my brother’s room for something. I don’t remember what it was, probably a certain video game, lost to time. I cannot be certain whether I was searching for the thing at the behest of my brother, or sleuthing for something interesting from my own surreptitious curiosity. Nevertheless, my older brother had just recently spirited himself away to college in Austin and had left nothing of serious value behind in his room. Or so I thought. 

At the bottom-most level of his tiny bookcase, mostly housing Guild Wars expansions, Blizzard and Mech-Warrior PC games, was a small black box with a set of four books within it. On the cover of the box, wrapping around in artful style, was a depiction of a white-haired elven man wielding twin curved swords, a black panther by his side, and a red-haired warrior woman with bow in hand, blue-glowing arrow nocked and at the ready. My eyes lit up. The covers of the books contained Star Wars-esque dramatic overlays of the same white-haired man of dark complexion, and unknown others, in varying states of concern, intrigue, intended vengeance, in an oddly satisfying mid-90s style of drawing. {Inferior art to the refreshed covers, but mystifying to my young self all the same.} Their titles: The Legacy, Starless Night, Siege of Darkness, Passage to Dawn. I was beyond intrigued. I asked my brother about them, what they were, what they meant, who the dual-wielding swordsman might be. 

I’ll never forget what he told me, because it immediately compelled me to start reading them:  “Oh, those are the Drizzt books. Those are raw. You should read them. They are like Lord of the Rings … but better.” 

Needless to say, those words carried some import to me. The Lord of the Rings were some of my favorite movies, having seen them when I was younger. They’d indelibly impressed the fantasy genre and its essential character and marks of larger-than-life heroism upon me ever since. We owned that trilogy too, and the books were sitting in my own room, holding the intention to one day in the future read them all. I hoped to gain the full experience of the story adapted within those legendary films, when I got up to it. That nameless resistance against reading, and the work of trying to conquer those massive tomes on my own time, had prevented me from embarking upon that adventure as of yet. That day, however, I was destined to read, for I had found something better

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This boxed set of “Legacy of the Drow” quadrilogy was a borrowed item from one of my brother’s high school friends. As was often the case among childhood friends, the borrowed item was forgotten and so became the eternal possession of the borrower. And so it was fate that one day in the future, my mind — and my love of reading — was employed to unlock upon its thresholds… 

The truth is, these books were not better than Lord of the Rings {which I eventually got around to reading}. But they were better for me, at that time, at that moment in my life, as an uninitiated reader and primed to become a wholehearted enjoyer of fantasy. It didn’t take me long to devour all four of them over the course of a few weeks. R.A. Salvatore’s writing is relatively simplistic, taken at face value, and reads easy. Heroic and villainous perspectives taken, sometimes crossing over within the same chapter. The pacing fast and the plots deft and intense, if formulaic and melodramatic, all the stories wrapping in a consistent ~300 pages. And yet the messages were meaningful. Residing in a solid middle ground between young adult and adult fiction, themes of dark and light are touched upon, both violence and sensuality present but never gratuitous. The power and peril of political plotting, the nature of war, the morality of magic and the struggles of multiculturalism in a sufficiently advanced civilization with a rich and conflicted history — all on the menu in the Forgotten Realms and in Salvatore’s tales. And I would be remiss not to mention that Salvatore writes the best battle scenes I’ve seen in any book. Dealing in the duels of many a master swordsman, the verbal fight sequences are consistently excellent, imaginative and visceral, Salv spares no martial moment for the reader to have to fill in the detail of on their own. 

At the seventh entry, in retrospect, I was surprised to find that coming into the middle of Salvatore’s story here hardly mattered. The logistics of the world and its many wondrous creatures and granted circumstances of power and politick were deftly enumerated and expounded within the narrative, for any neophyte to the series to get up to speed. After reading the prologue, speaking of a City of Spiders, its intricate cruelties and intrigues, and its grand plans for the capture of the damned ‘rogue’ Do’Urden, I was hooked. I was already at home in the book and I couldn’t put it down. The outside world, its video games and its responsibilities alike, as forgotten as the realms I now inhabited.  

Soon enough, the lead character, a dark elf named Drizzt Do’Urden, enraptured me. — ‘A noble outsider emancipated of his own indomitable will from a complex and violently pathological culture, crosses the threshold into the surface world, and together with newfound friends, looks to make a difference and break the mold of his hostile heritage.’ — {My own thesis of Drizzt’s adventure.} Even awaiting the details, such a story begs your attention. His arc and his personality being the central lodestar of the story being told, you learn all about Drizzt in The Legacy. Which makes sense, given that this component piece of his series is all about his legacy, and the past he thought he’d escaped catching up with him. In retrospect, perhaps there wasn’t a better book I could have accidentally started the journey upon… 

In the years hence, I have gone on to read every novel within the Drizzt series, all the way up until the most recent entries {yes, Bob Salvatore is still writing them and I am working through them, even if at a slower rate than a decade ago}. Reading these stories began as simple escapism and soon turned into an education into heroism, initiated me into concerns of moral philosophy, and spurred a sincere lifelong cherishing of fantasy fiction. 

Many of these stories, especially Homeland/Exile/Sojourn, I read during a time in my adolescence when I was still developing my perspective on my self and my role at school, at home, amongst friends and potential friends. I harbored a sense of being an outsider, due to long-standing underconfidence, and so built up a characteristic solitude, and an inevitable loneliness followed. These stories helped me understand these feelings within myself. The character of Drizzt ended up providing a light in some of the darker moments at this time, allowing me to escape them for the moment and later clarify them to my own betterment. 

Here with some words on the more salient points concerning Drizzt and his stories, I hope to convey what makes this righteous little dark elf meaningful to me. 

If this road, this series of stepping stones, leads nowhere, then so be it. I walk the road with friends, and so I have my home.”  ~ Drizzt Do’Urden 

An Introspective Hero

“The point of self-reflection is, foremost, to clarify and to find honesty. Self-reflection is the way to throw self-lies out and face the truth—however painful it might be to admit that you were wrong. We seek consistency in ourselves, and so when we are faced with inconsistency, we struggle to deny. Denial has no place in self-reflection, and so it is incumbent upon a person to admit his errors, to embrace them and to move along in a more positive direction. We can fool ourselves for all sorts of reasons. Mostly for the sake of our ego, of course, but sometimes, I now understand, because we are afraid. For sometimes we are afraid to hope, because hope breeds expectation, and expectation can lead to disappointment.” 

page one

One of the more striking aspects present in any given Drizzt novel is his journal writings. Not only the content of the excerpts, which the reader encounters at the start of each section within the novel {sometimes when he’s not even active yet in the book, or absent almost entirely from the story}, but the mere action of this diligent writing process is telling. Having the hero protagonist choose to mark his inner thoughts and introspections into a journal is the first sign into Drizzt’s character, and his heart. We find that our hero is one firmly wielding an empathy-based worldview, a righteous and effective warrior, operating within a chaotic and unforgiving world, with a mind to articulately speak to his chosen way in said world. 

“There is no pain greater than this; not the cut of a jagged-edged dagger nor the fire of a dragon’s breath. Nothing burns in your heart like the emptiness of losing something, someone, before you truly have learned of its value.”

The personal journal writings of Drizzt, seemingly privy to no one but him and the audience reading them, provide an essential look into his personality and his morality. Drizzt Do’Urden is a dark elf and a ranger. A master swordsman, he fights with two magic swords and a bow, and is cloaked in the green of the forest. His style is speed and precision, with mortal woe to any foes who face his whirling scimitars, a pair of curved swords of legend named Twinkle and Icingdeath. His foes are the monstrous enemies common to all goodly folk, and he fights against them with a smile on his handsome face. Drizzt Do’Urden, dark elf ranger, is our hero — not anti-hero, or turned villain, or magically destined warrior of legend — but hero. Of his own will and his own self-developed ethos.

However, Drizzt’s characteristics, of race and profession, are paradoxical in ways that are vital to understanding his character. Dark elves, or drow, live in the Underdark, the deep and pitch dark inner caverns running through the under-parts of the continent of Faerun {where much of The Forgotten Realms is set}. They have charcoal black skin, generally red eyes {Drizzt’s are purple, which makes him unique and in the eyes of dark elf society, an omen}, and are considered by all other races as intensely manipulative, utterly ruthless, and in most cases, evil. For centuries, dark elves have plotted against the other races of the world, rarely if opportunistically striking out against them in brief but deadly surface raids, while mostly fighting amongst their own for the control of their grand city of Menzoberranzan and it matriarchal hierarchy of houses. Essentially, the drow race are powerful but pathological. Most of the ‘goodly’ races of the world would consider them no different than the demons of the abyss or the devils of the nine hells, or the orcs within the mountains — an obstinate and eternal enemy to all the forces of benevolence within the realms. 

Rangers, on the other hand, are trackers, protectors, and warriors who fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Goodly natured and relatively selfless, rangers are yet distant and esoteric to those they watch over {think Aragorn, the clarion inspiration for the rangers of the world of D&D}. They reside within the forests of the surface, guarding the communities of Man and other surface races, such as dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and the surface cousins and light-hearted counterpart to the dark elves, the high elves or wood elves, or simply, elves. These rangers, specially trained and disciplined to earn their roles as protectors, guard these communities against the wilderness, the significant threats therein, and any and all even darker forces which might come to siege innocent lands. 

One can see how these two key attributes come into stark conflict. Thusly, a dark elf + ranger, in the realms of Men, is something of an impossibility by the terms and tenets of history and the natures inherent to the players within this fantasy world. One can be relatively certain Drizzt Do’Urden is the only dark elf ranger there is or ever has been. He is one of a kind. His long-time animal companion he brings with him from the Underdark, a mystical panther named Guenhwyvar from the Astral Plane, provides for Drizzt a constant partner in his rangerly duties, and best friend in all his coming worldly trials. Typical dark elves don’t have pets, or companions for that matter — they have slaves, servants, and temporary partners in plots, soon-to-be adversaries, and targets. Never friends. They worship chaos, and have no need for spirituality beyond devotion to the darker gods, namely Lolth, The Lady of Chaos herself. They can hardly stand the sunlight, given their long history underground. Drizzt, surface ranger, learns to brave it, and in all this — breaks the stereotype, the expectation, the path laid out for him from birth. And this is a through-line in all his coming journeys.  

Drizzt and Guenhwyvar

“You view the gods as entities without. You see them as physical beings trying to control our actions for their own ends, and thus you, in your stubborn independence, reject them. The gods are within, I say, whether one has named his own or not. You have followed Mielikki all your life, Drizzt. You merely never had a name to put on your heart.”  ~ Montolio Debrouchee to Drizzt 

Drizzt and Montolio “Mooshi” Debrouchee, his first friend upon the surface world and ranger mentor.

“Loss of empathy might well be the most enduring and deep-cutting scar of all, the silent blade of an unseen enemy, tearing at our hearts and stealing more than our strength. Stealing our will, for what are we without empathy? What manner of joy might we find in our live if we cannot understand the joys and pains of those around us, if we cannot share in a greater community. … Love, honest love, requires empathy. It is a sharing—of joy, of pain, of laughter, and of tears. Honest love makes one’s soul a reflection of the partner’s moods. And as a room seems larger when it is lined with mirrors, so do the joys become amplified. And as the individual items within the mirrored room seem less acute, so does pain diminish and fade, stretched thin by the sharing. That is the beauty of love, whether in passion or friendship. A sharing that multiplies the joys and thins the pains.”

With these dueling characteristics, one can see how Drizzt is a man borne of two worlds. The story of how and why Drizzt came to be at the stage of the story in The Legacy is quite a tale, and one replete with conscientious crisis, familial tragedy, and crucial heroism {a story worthy of being read in full!}. Through it, Drizzt develops for himself a code. It is one borne out of his courageous hero’s journey. One comes to find out this personal constitution for our hero is forged in concert with lessons imbued upon him by friends, enemies, and the complex machinations of his sympathetic father. All of it amplified by his formative years being spent within a culture constantly threatening to kill any semblance of a conscience in its citizenry. 

“Station is the paradox of the world of my people, the limitation of our power within the hunger for power. It is gained through treachery and invites treachery against those who gain it. Those most powerful in Menzoberranzan spend their days watching over their shoulders, defending against the daggers that would find their backs. Their deaths usually come from the front.”

As a matter of course from these origins, Drizzt becomes a rogue wanderer, exiled from his homeland and in search of his own purpose to craft. He eventually dons the cloak of ranger and becomes a fighter of the good fight upon the surface world and its conflicts that he soon learns of. Through friendships and shared experiences in harsh environs, Drizzt carves out a place for himself in this new and unfamiliar world. Through it all, in turn, he evolves into a kind of warrior-philosopher {think Marcus Aurelius, if he was a master swordsman and not an emperor}. Drizzt’s tendency to write personally affecting and introspectively challenging passages to himself, about himself and his companions and their journey, is the narrative manifestation of his harrowing odyssey. Every one of these journal entries reflects some component of his journey, and the conflicts he has faced internal and external of himself. In sum, they represent the work he has put in to arrive at his current hearth, among friends and toward causes he can sincerely believe in — and far away from his traumatic upbringing in the Underdark, and that first fight for his own soul he long ago resolved. 

“These were the companions who justified my principles, who gave me the strength to continue against any foe, real or imagined. These were the companions who fought the helplessness, the rage, and frustration. These were the friends who gave me my life.”

This admirable writing habit for our hero carries on all throughout his many adventures and provides some of the most powerful moments of these books. These journals run the gamut, ranging from whimsical and wondering upon the cosmic nature of his position within the universe as a mortal, to intensely serious crises of conscience about his actions as a killer of beast and man. They cover the directions that he points his blades, his coming courses of action within the constant wars of the realm, and always turns to his role as a so-called ‘hero’ to swaths of people that can barely stand the sight of him and his heritage. All of his behavior is self-examined and filtered through a questioning, sometimes brooding, often idealistic inner perspective that we as the audience get to wholeheartedly experience. For Drizzt, the stakes are always high, directly due to the nature of the mortal work he is doing as a guardian against the tides of darkness. And so, he battles back against them with all he has. 

In many ways, the nature of his musings and of his inherent need to pour his heart out onto pages as a kind of meditation is definitely something I have picked up myself. Writing as meditation and catharsis has become a mainstay within my day-to-day life. This was not something that I could’ve dreamed of in the time before I read these books. Whether it was inevitable one way or another, I believe I have every reason to thank Drizzt and Salvatore for the evolution of this tendency within me, including crediting the grace of its effectiveness as a tool to direct my own proverbial ‘blades.’

“What good is your gold if your friends will not lift you when you have fallen? How long lived our memory of you when you are gone? Because in the end, that is the only measure. In the end, when life’s last flickers fade, all that remains is memory. Richness, in the final measure, is not weighed in gold coins, but in the number of people you have touched, the tears of those who mourn your passing, and the fond remembrances of those who continue to celebrate your life.”

~ Wulfgar, Drizzt, and Bruenor at the steppes of Icewind Dale, where the journey begins in The Crystal Shard (1988)

Discipline, Power, and Morality

From the very beginning of Drizzt’s characterization, something you can’t help but get a sense of is his intensely disciplined nature. There’s the stoic and steely discipline of the warrior at the top of his game. And there’s the moral discipline he wields, to be a paragon of a kind of duty-based chaotic goodness; no matter what the cost may be to him or his, or to the societal laws as they are written, Drizzt can be trusted to absolutely do the right thing. The complexity of determining what that thing is in a given circumstance makes up some of the best conflicts, among friends and against foes, within the legendary series. 

The Orc King (2007)

From out of his writings and borne through his actions as a warrior, the reader garners a sense of what Drizzt’s inner tao may be. Physically, he shapes his body and his technique, so that he maintains his craft as master swordsman. He wishes to be the best, not out of any prideful motivations or to wrest a higher seat of power {like all the greatest “Weapon Masters” of Menzoberranzan}, but purely as a protector of the realm and to those he names as friends. Ceteris paribus, in a battle, practically none are equal to Drizzt {save for nemesis Artemis Entreri and excellent character, cold assassin-turned-anti-hero}. His considerable skill is honed from the best training in the world, in the Underdark and at the hands of his father Zaknafein, the drow city’s greatest Weapon Master of all time. Additionally, a century’s worth of wider battles and duels against competent if ill-fated foes coming for his metaphorical crown lie under his belt. 
Ethically, we know Drizzt to harbor his heart upon his sleeve, confiding in friends concerning their position within any given conflict. There is a necessity to protect their own collective interests and their own lives, but almost never at the cost of innocent lives or undue damage to the longer term goals of peace. It’s true, Drizzt relishes the fight, and is energized at the opportunity to display his considerable skill. But at the same time — like any conscious being, he ultimately wishes for peacetime, spaces for friendship and for adventures without the necessity of bloodshed. 

Any way you look at it, it is clear that all of Drizzt Do’Urden’s power as a hero, and as individual difference maker in the grand doings of Faerun, come from his discipline. And in a recursive sense, all of his time spent training and learning of the world, the allies and opponents within it, the risks and opportunities to behold therein, all of it is borne out with the intention of making a difference. In my opinion, this is what makes Drizzt’s journey and character so admirable. His moral fibre is at least as strong as the steel of his magic scimitars. And in the end, it must be to defeat the continuous escalation of his foes, of dark elf queens and their stable of eldritch horrors marching upon him and his allies, dragons both ancient reds and undeads, lich kings bent on destroying cities, immortal demons from the infinite layers of the abyss, etc. etc. Drizzt’s martial and ethical discipline allows for his thriving in a dangerous world, even as it changes, his allies shift and he is left with new conflicts and new feelings to wage with in his chaotic life as adventurer, warrior, philosopher. 

In truth, Drizzt’s disciplined tendency to view everything in his life through a moral lense — weighing choice and consequence in tandem from the standpoint of empathy — is something else I have consciously tried to adopt into my own worldview. 

Change and Changelessness

Over the long game course of Drizzt’s life, over the dozens and dozens of books Salvatore has written about him, even as overarching lore shifts and world-shaking events are cast down from on high to spice up the Realms, our hero changes. Drizzt ages and adapts to the world as it undergoes alterations around him, as companions move on and the powers-that-be shift and roil, and new threats emerge as old ones are defeated. Drizzt, as an especially long-lived dark elf {600-1,000 year lifespans} must confront the truth and consequences of his transient befriending of lesser-lived races, the rising and falling of empires he has providenced an overwatch for, and his partial responsibility for the long-term future of the realm. Inevitably, given his power and his heart, he plays a part in its prospects. 

A major, and perhaps well-warranted, criticism of the character of Drizzt is his one-dimensionality — his so-called ‘Mary Sue’-ness — as a perfect hero and man. He always painstakingly does the right thing and thus, this makes him less than interesting. His enduring friendships with his fellow companions do not experience any long-standing separations or irrevocable rifts; like a sitcom entourage, they are always there, continuing to explore the world alongside our hero. Not unlike Captain America, his changeless core, so essential to his whole being, is also boring…

I don’t necessarily agree with this argument — that this is not interesting — even if it were true. In the long run of Drizzt’s journey, it is not. Drizzt does change, as he ages, and adapt to the world as its cooperators and antagonists cycle through, he engages himself in new pursuits and new people, new adventures due their conflicts and choices. And at different times, he does conflict with each of his companions in Cattie-Brie, Bruenor, Wulfgar especially, and even Regis. Even if they do end up surviving their many ordeals and reconciling in the end, their differences are examined in-depth and end up making their relationships stronger. Unlike many fantasy or just dramatic stories, Drizzt’s friendships and his romantic relationship with Cat represent healthy and consistent bonds throughout the series. Which is good to see, even if in a story, and even if a more cynical reader may find it unrealistic. 

In the midst of the wars he fights in alongside these “Companions of the Hall”, he confronts even larger truths of emerging foes and novel circumstances alike with renewed insights. Amongst the grand overarching storyline of his exile from the drow, there are progressions and regressions. He escapes in his relative youth, only to have them many years later start a war in the name of recapturing him and destroying the new family he had made amongst the dwarves. Tentative yet chaotic allies such as Jarlaxle emerge from the ranks of Menzoberranzan, and Drizzt is forced to negotiate the help they may offer. Despite his best efforts, and so true to life, Drizzt can never escape his past or his {apparently} stalwartly nefarious heritage. In a recurrence, they return to the core conflict of his life, always a new threat and a new challenger hoping to bring back his head to the glory of the city of spiders and its evil deity overseer in Lolth. Eventually Drizzt comes to terms and fights with all his heart, not only against their vile warriors and priestesses, but against the very legacy of that malevolence he knows so well. More and more in the later books, Drizzt fights — even if unknowingly — to prove out his singular philosophy, and his escape as a truth and a possibility for the drow people as a whole. 

{ Excerpt from Gauntlgrym (2010) below }

“Damn you to Lolth’s web!“ Jarlaxle said. “Don’t you dare pretend it doesn’t matter to you!”

“Why do you care?” Drizzt growled back at him. “No one has ever made a difference.”

“Do you believe that?”

“What do you want from me, son of Baenre?”

“Just the truth – your truth. “You believe that you have never made a difference?”

“Perhaps there is no difference to be made,” Drizzt replied.

“Do not ever say that,” Jarlaxle said to him.

“Why do you care?” Drizzt asked.

“Because you were the one who escaped,” Jarlaxle replied. “Don’t you understand? Jarlaxle went on. “I watched you – we all watched you. Whenever a matron mother, or almost any female of Menzoberranzan was about, we spoke your name with vitriol, promising to avenge Lolth and kill you.

“But whenever they were not around, the name of Drizzt Do’Urden was spoken with jealousy, often reverence. “You do not understand, do you? You don’t even recognize the difference you’ve made to so many of us in Menzoberranzan.”

“How? Why?”

“Because you were the one who escaped!”

“You are here with me!” Drizzt argued. “Are you bound to the City of Spiders by anything more than your own designs? By Bregan D’Aerthe?”

“I’m not talking about the city, you obstinate fool,” Jarlaxle replied, his voice lowering. 
Again Drizzt looked at him, at a loss. 

“The heritage,” Jarlaxle explained. “The fate.” 

~ 

One of the most interesting long-game conflicts within the series are the repeated showdowns of blade and philosophy against nemeses Drizzt and Artemis Entreri. A human assassin of considerable renown, their paths cross early and often throughout the series, after he is first sent on business to take out of one of D’s companions. Drizzt steps in the way of his assassination and they meet sword on sword in ridiculous, high octane duels. These battles between them — always stalemates or narrow half-victories where they both make it out alive — inevitably become intensely personal. They are perfect matches to one another, the only warrior capable of doing so, to either’s life so far. To each swordsman’s mind, the other represents the perfect foil to their machinations thus far, the shadow of their inner heart that they hate and wish to destroy.

To Drizzt, Entreri is the manifestation of the person he could have become, if he had stayed within dark elf society in the Underdark: cold, calculating, a ruthless and power-hungry killing machine, devoid of life’s truer pleasures. To Entreri, Drizzt is the hope for a life he cannot fathom out of fear and loathing, amongst potential companions and loved ones. He wishes to kill Drizzt to prove that the life he chose, the life that Entreri so hates out of a deep-seated envy, has ultimately made him the weaker warrior. However, over time through their fights with blades and words, each of these men transforms their perspectives. Drizzt changes his mission against Entreri from one of destruction, to one of pity and slight compassion, to one of hopefully turning him over to the side of good. Jarlaxle, more securely Drizzt’s ally over this same period, also aids in this quest, by becoming Entreri’s sellsword companion and adventurer. Entreri as well comes to unburden himself from his mortal rivalry with the dark elf ranger, and looks to create a new life for himself beyond his former profession as a manhunter. All these years of reading, each of these two characters’ growth and development in relation to one another is definitely my favorite aspect of the series. 

“First blood is mine.” “Last blood counts for more.” ~ Nemesis
Homecoming: Hero (2016)

At the end of an arduous and particularly devastating war with the orcs, Drizzt, alongside his best friend Bruenor Battlehammer, the king of Mithral Hall, controversially come to accept orc civilization as equals via a peace treaty with their bizarrely competent and wise leader in King Obould. This earth-shaking decision comes with heavy resistance from human, elf and dwarf civs alike, each the long standing enemies of the orcs, with mountains of bloody past wars to credit with their opposition. And yet, Drizzt and Bruenor and their companions and supporters come to the difficult decision not only out of necessity to end the war, but from a greater understanding and respect from the orcish peoples — who undergo their own development over the course of the series. Rightfully so, they question the natures of the orcs, long believed to be inherently evil, and reconsider their place within the world as beings only in need of being put down. The modern orcish peoples, gifted with greater insights and more adept, more ethically-minded leadership {and no longer utterly manipulated by dark elves and demons} do become personages capable of living amongst the humans, elves and even dwarves, their most hated rivals, in relative peace. This peace is forged from the experiences and philosophy of Drizzt and marks a grand change in his demeanor, who has his own damn good reasons to hate them {and may in fact hold the world record for orc kills under his belt…}

The Thousand Orcs (2002)

Along this same track, there is a particularly striking tale of Drizzt’s encounter with a goblin named Nojheim {in an anthology series titled Realms of Valor}. In it, through a brief but enlightening interaction with the “goodly” goblin, Drizzt is apprised of the possibility of goblins to break through their dark heritage as evil beings. With both goblin and orc, Drizzt perhaps transfers his hopes of the path of his own people onto them, and his considerations deviate from all the previous years of his life. What if orcs and goblins, and even dark elves, can be good? This particular experience with Nojheim ends tragically, but his worldview and his natural prejudice against the beings of goblins shifts. It is this encounter among others with the orcs, that comes to shape his future decisions of micro and macro violence against these beings. He is forever changed by these encounters, and actively refers to them in all future courses of action, among companions and in his journaling. 

Drizzt Do’Urden’s heart, whether in a state of conflicted flux, or as true as the strikes of his scimitars upon his chosen foes, is always on display within these stories. Salvatore’s crafting of the character is exquisite, if at times simple. Like any hero, it is when he falters in his goals to say and do what he believes is right, or fails to see the righteous course, or becomes chaotic and even lawless in his actions for what he truly believes is right, that the tales become most intriguing of all. 

From my adolescence onwards, this character of Drizzt Do’Urden, and his stories, have helped to shape my personal ethos as a person and a writer, as well as my love of fantasy. The Legacy was the first singular step in my inevitable passion for reading. This essay reflects that appreciation and the depth to which I have delved and considered Drizzt and his companions over these years. I firmly believe this righteous little dark elf ranger, through all his ventures of triumph and adversity, unto changing and changelessness, is a character to strive for — heart, body and soul. ~