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R. A. Salvatore acknowledges the racist tropes in his Drizzt novels

Despite being loved by fans of the sci-fi genre, Dungeons & Dragons’ novel The Legend of Drizzt has been heavily criticized for reinforcing racist fantasy stories. RA Salvatore, the creator of Drizzt, tells Polygon it’s time to get things right.

Salvatore’s next novel, Starlight Enclave, will expand the franchise into new territories. At the same time, it will expand the identity of the drow, the race of black elves that have been part of the original role-playing game since the 1970s. It’s a twist to the arrow, part of the counting. larger math on racing in Wizards of the Coast’s D&D and Magic: Gathering nature. Salvatore is not reluctant to be part of that change, which he says is long overdue.

“I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Salvatore told Polygon in an exclusive interview. “It was a much-needed update – for things I didn’t even know were a problem when I first wrote the book.”

Drizzt stands in a blizzard next to his pet.

Drizzt as in the video Sound while sleeping, a poem written by RA Salvatore and performed for YouTube by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Image: Wizards of the Coast / YouTube

The legend of Drizzt began in 1988 with Crystal shards, Salvatore’s first published novel. It tells the story of a drowning man named Drizzt Do’Urden and his adventures among the inhabitants of Icewind Dale, a northern region in D&D’s The Forgotten Realm Setting. While the humans, dwarves, and other imaginary creatures living in Dale present themselves as a vaguely Norse or Viking, Drizzt has dark skin. That trait, which marks him as a member of an inherently violent and unreliable race of elves, sees him as someone else and always puts him at odds with his neighbours.

Savatore says this has always been his goal. What he didn’t fully understand when creating the character, he said, was how Drizzt’s unhappiness would contribute to how his audience viewed the character. Today, black games as other and related are viewed by many as a problematic narrative medium. But they are also a symptom of problems exist with the legend of D&D.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the game has codified racism, in the form of strict inequality between imaginary races, in its set of rules. As a writer and game designer James Mendez Hodes wrote in 2019, “D&D, like Tolkien, makes racing truly real in the game by applying immutable modifiers to character ability points, skills, and other traits. .” Historian Paul B. Sturtevant goes even further, calling race a gambled concept”original sin of the fantasy genre. “

Drizzt stood in the snow, bending down to examine the blood. Behind him stood the warrior Wulfgar and a dwarf.

Original cover photo for Crystal shards, published in 1988.
Image: Larry Elmore / Penguin Books

In his essay, Sturtevant writes that some of D&D’s earliest artworks featured drowned people appearing directly inspired by the edgy portraits of real-life Black actors. One campaign module even features Tina Turner’s appearance in promotional posters for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. However, as public awareness of these problematic, exploitative stereotypes has grown, so has the public-facing images of deadly people changing. Sturtevant wrote:

Later illustrators of D&D products, perhaps better understanding optics, rendered them purplish black or dark gray. But let’s be honest. They have black skin. If you can’t see the problem with this, I can’t help you.

Creating “races” like Orcs and dark elves that are inherently evil does two things. First, it presents a world in which good and evil are so simple that an entire culture, race, or species can be inherently evil. If someone translates that way of thinking to today’s cultures or races, it can lead to the worst prejudice.

Race as a gambling concept was present in the 5th edition of D&D when it came out in 2014. Wizards of the Coast once again threw the drow – as well as the Orcs and the vistani – inherently evil. A calculation came to the publisher after receiving pressure on social media and amid the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Last year, the company issued an official apology and promised to make changes to its mechanics and lore. Alternative rules for the race have been added to the game with publication Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and changes have been made to the description of drows and other races in the game.

Now, Salvatore is making what he says are much-needed changes of his own.

“I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve received over the years, from people who have said, ‘Thank you Drizzt. ‘ said Salvatore. “‘I finally have someone like me.” On the one hand, you have that. But on the other hand, if the drowning person is portrayed as evil, it’s a trope that has to go, get buried. in the deepest pit, and was never taken out again. I didn’t know about it. I admit it. I forgot.”

“This is something that I hope more young people can understand,” continued Salvatore, 62 and white. “You’re seeing all of this and it’s obvious to you. If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, that wouldn’t be so obvious. Some things are obvious, but those are the subtleties that you learn as you continue to grow and learn. And now, finally, we’re seeing it out there in the same way that people say, ‘This is bullshit.’ And I love it, and I feel like I’m growing. “

As a result, the classic image of the drow has evolved. A new one website, launched by Wizards in May, expands the game into three different factions. What fans previously understood was that the only drowned man in the Forgotten Kingdom – the evil elves living in the underground city of Menzoberranzan – still exists. These Udadrows are clarified with additional details revealed over the course of Salvatore’s novel. They are “elves poisoned” by the “devious teachings” of the demon Lolth. Aevendrow, on the other hand, lives in the frozen north. They reject Lolth, thus “remaining true to their innate integrity.” Meanwhile, the forest-dwelling Lorendrow “takes their wisdom from the environment; the generosity of the earth; the mastery of the sky and the complex harmony of the forest. “

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Udadrow’s plot, Salvatore said, remains consistent with his existing novels. When his next novel comes out on August 3, fans will learn more about how Aevendrow and Lorendrow came to be and what they stand for. Salvatore said the concept of this deadly exodus was the result of a high-profile meeting he had with the Wizards of the Coast about four or five years ago, but nothing changed for him.

“Nothing was ordered to me,” Salvatore said. “I do not retrofit or refit the aircraft. I am extending the drill”.

In addition, he said that there are not any planned changes to any of the novels written about Drizzt and his companions. Salvatore supports that decision and sees it as a kind of public record of his transformation as an author and as a person.

“This is not a game book, it is a novel,” Salvatore said. “Fictions must reflect the time period in which they were written. […] There’s no reason to [make any changes], because nothing in my early books was philosophically different from who I am today. I just learned more about some of the things in the book that became problematic. But philosophically, I am that person. That’s who I’ve always been. I’m just trying to be better.”

Fans and critics alike will have a chance to see what impact Salvatore’s changes will have when Drizzt’s next novel comes out on August 3. You can pre-order it now. Starlight Enclave at your local bookstore and Online, or directly from Personal website of RA Salvatore.


https://www.polygon.com/22585687/dungeons-dragons-r-a-salvatore-drizzt-black-controversy-race-interview | R. A. Salvatore acknowledges the racist tropes in his Drizzt novels

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