The Drizzt conception story…
Here’s a bit of an FAQ for you…people ask me all the time where Drizzt came from. Was he a character in a D&D campaign I played? Is he someone I know?
Well, the answer is surprising, and, I think, kind of funny. I look back on it now and wonder how it ever got to this point, why my car has DRKELF for a license plate (and why people keep asking me, “Who’s Dr. Kelf?”
Here it is, from the forward (written in 1998, I believe, just before “The Silent Blade” came out) of the Dark Elf Trilogy, for your reading pleasure:
They wanted Drizzt.
The folks at TSR wanted Drizzt, the readers of the Icewind Dale Trilogy wanted Drizzt, and well, let’s be honest about it, I wanted him, too. I wanted to find out where he came from and why he acted in such a manner, half-crazy, mostly lighthearted, but with a very definite dark side to him, during the three Icewind Dale stories. I know that sounds strange; we’re talking about a fictional character here, and one that I created, so wouldn’t his background be of minimal importance, perhaps even completely irrelevant, malleable to whatever I desired?
In a word, no. That’s the thing about fictional characters, they have a way of becoming real. And not just real to the people reading about them, but surprisingly multi-dimensional to the author, as well. I come to love, or hate, admire or despise, the characters I create in my books, and for that to happen, each of them must act consistently within the framework of his or her experiential background — whether that background appears in the books or not.
So when my editors at TSR called me, a short time before the publication of The Halfling’s Gem, the third and final book in the Icewind Dale Trilogy, in late 1989 or early 1990, and proposed to me that I do another trilogy, this one detailing the background of Drizzt Do’Urden, I was hardly surprised. The books had been quite successful, and I knew from the many letters I received and from the many people with whom I spoke at booksignings, that Drizzt had, for some reason, stood above the other characters. I averaged about ten letters from readers a week at that time, and at least eight of those ten readers would remark that Drizzt was his/her favorite, and would ask, repeatedly, how he got to where he was, and to who he was. TSR, of course, had been hearing the same remarks.
So they asked for a prequel trilogy, and because I have three kids to support, and because I was planning on quitting my day job that same year (which I did, in June of 1990), and most of all because I, too, truly wanted to unravel the mystery behind this character, I gladly agreed.
I knew where Drizzt was conceived of course — that happened in my office (at my day job). And I knew when he came into being — that would be in July of 1987, right after my proposal to do The Crystal Shard was accepted and right before I actually started writing the book. Truly it is one of the strangest episodes of my writing career. At the time I began writing the asked-for proposal, you see, the Forgotten Realms was nothing more than a prototype and a single novel, the excellent “Darkwalker on Moonshae” by Doug Niles. When TSR asked me to write a Realms’ book, they sent me all that they had, which amounted to….”Darkwalker on Moonshae”. Thus, I came to believe that the Moonshae Isles were the Forgotten Realms. Well, the Moonshaes aren’t that large a place, and any epic-type story taking place in that region at that time would have to at least mention the story and characters of Doug’s fine book. Thrilled at a chance to be working with Doug Niles, but definitely not wanting to steal his characters, I came up with a compromise that would involve using Daryth from Doug’s book to introduce the hero of my book, Wulfgar, son of Beornegar, of the barbarian tribes.
When I later discovered the actual size and scope of the Realms, and was told that TSR did not want to share characters (as they did with Dragonlance), I was truly relieved, and that was the end of it — for a time.
Because then the proposal got accepted, and in that phone call, when Mary Kirchoff told me I’d be writing the second Forgotten Realms’ novel, she reminded me that, now that we had set the book thousands of miles from Doug’s stomping ground, I needed a new sidekick for Wulfgar. I assured her that I’d get right on it and come up with something the following week.
“No, Bob,” she responded, words I seem to hear too often from editors. “You don’t understand. I’m going into a meeting right now to sell this proposal. I need a sidekick.”
“Now?” I, in my never-before-in-the-world-of-publishing naivete (stupidity) responded.
“Right now,” she answered rather smugly.
And then it happened. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. I merely said. “A drow.”
There came a pause, followed by, in a slightly hesitant tone, “A dark elf?”
“Yeah,” I said, growing more confident as the character began to take more definite shape in my mind. “A drow ranger.”
The pause was longer this time, then, in barely a whisper, the tremors of having to go and tell this one to the mucky-mucks evident in her tone, “What’s his name?”
“Drizzt Do’Urden, of D’aermon N’achezbaernon, Ninth House of Menzoberranzan.”
“Can you spell that?”
“Not a chance.”
“A drow ranger?”
“Drizzit?” she asked.
“Drizzt,” I corrected (for the first of 7.3 million times).
“Okay,” the beleaguered editor agreed, probably thinking she would just change my mind later on.
But she didn’t of course, and in truth, and this is a testament to Mark Kirchoff, she let the creative person she hired do the creative thing and waited to see the result before taking out the hatchet (which never came out).
Thus Drizzt was born. Did I ever run him in a game? Nope. Is there anyone I based him on? Nope. He just happened, unexpectedly and with very little forethought. He was only supposed to be a sidekick character, after all, a curiosity piece with a slightly different twist. You know, like Robin to Batman, or Kato to the Green Hornet.
Of course it didn’t work out that way. The first chapter I wrote of “The Crystal Shard” had Drizzt running across the tundra and getting ambushed by a yeti. By page three, I knew.
Drizzt was the star of it all.
So I was ready to sit down and write the prequel, to tell the story of this drow ranger, of how he came to be the character we met in the Icewind Dale Trilogy. I wanted to do something different, something more intense and more personal, but, as I love describing action, particularly battle scenes, I didn’t want to write the books in the first person perspective. So I came up with the essays that Drizzt writes to preview every section of the books, and I think I’ve received more mail on those essays than on everything else I’ve ever written, combined.
Also, and quite expectedly, a few inconsistencies did appear as Drizzt’s prequel story began to take shape. How he acquired the panther, even his age, as described in Icewind Dale didn’t seem appropriate to the truth of his previous existence. I decided not to make these three books, the Dark Elf Trilogy, be completely hemmed in by that which came before, so if you look closely, you’ll see that some minor details have changed in subsequent printings of “The Crystal Shard.”
I suppose that’s appropriate, since this story, soon to be eleven books, four short stories, and still counting, long, seems to have a life of its own, seems to be a growing (and not always in directions I ever anticipated) and shifting thing. I thought it was dead, and lo and behold, it’s breathing again, as strong as ever.
So I’ll nip and tuck, because in the end, I want the whole of the work to be consistent and believable (within the context of the fantasy genre, of course). Perhaps next, if we do a similar omnibus for the Icewind Dale books, I’ll add new Drizzt essays to give deeper insight during those times in his life.
Whatever the case, the simple truth is that I wrote this story for one reason alone: I wanted to tell it. I wanted people to enjoy it.
I hope you do.
Hahaha, “soon to be eleven books…”
What an amazing journey it’s been. Thanks for coming along on the road beside me.