The 15-minute book club, #1: The Icewind Dale Trilogy by RA Salvatore

The Icewind Dale Trilogy by RA Salvatore 

  • The Crystal Shard
  • Streams of Silver
  • The Halfling’s Gem 

One of my brothers brought it home from the public library one day, and less than a week later it was in my hands:  a huge paperback omnibus edition containing an entire trilogy of novels.

Its grey cover, bent and creased by previous borrowers as all popular library books are, depicted four characters on a snow-covered outcropping of rocks.  There was a redheaded woman in a green dress standing next to a long-haired and youthful warrior in a horned helmet holding a giant hammer, and on the ledge below them a dark-skinned elf held an onyx figurine of a cat as a black panther materialized on the snow in front of him.  They were but four of the adventuring party with who my brothers and I would soon become obsessed over the next few years of our young lives:  the Companions of the Hall, a motley band of heroes hailing from the land called Icewind Dale in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.

The first book of the trilogy, and thus the omnibus, opened with a poem that I read over several times before I even thought to turn the page:

Come gather ‘round, hardy men of the steppe
And listen to my tale
Of heroes bold and friendships fast
And the tyrant of Icewind Dale

Of a band of friends, by trick or by deed
Bred legends for the bard
The baneful pride of one poor wretch
And the horror of the Crystal Shard

I remember how that simple poem sparked my curiosity and how, by the third time I read it, that spark had become a small but steadily-growing fire that brought a new life to my imagination.  My brothers could not stop talking about these books, and I wanted to know why — and after reading that opening poem, I knew that this would be something I could share with them that would transcend a mere infantile desire to mimic my older siblings in the hopes they might see me more as a peer and less as a pest.

Our shared love of the fantasy genre had been born in Middle-Earth and Narnia, and now our literary adventures led us to stir up the dust of legends in Faerûn.  I sped through The Icewind Dale Trilogy at lightning speed, enamored with this brave new northern world and entangled happily in the enchanted web RA Salvatore wove in the harsh and forbidding setting.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy came into my life soon after one of my first best friends exited – only a few days after a schoolyard incident had shattered that friendship beyond repair.  A picture of the two of us at my birthday party had been found in a puddle by the long-jump pit, and when I told the boy who found it that it I had given it to the “blonde girl in the picture” he told me, “She’s my class, and when I brought it to her she told me that she didn’t want it anymore.”

My birthday is in August, and during my elementary and high school years that meant hardly anyone would ever be in town to celebrate it.  The picture in question had been taken during the year when that blonde girl had been the only friend from school who hadn’t gone off on vacation or to camp the week of my birthday, and in my juvenile mind the fact that she’d been the only friend at my party meant that she was my best friend.  You can imagine, then, how awful I felt when I heard through the schoolyard grapevine that my apparent best friend in another classroom had denounced our friendship in front of most of our grade.

This was emotional background to my first encounter with RA Salvatore’s beloved character Drizzt Do’Urden and his diverse band of adventurer-warrior friends, and it set the scene perfectly for me to develop a deep attachment to their tale.  Their unfailing loyalty and support for one another, as well as their acceptance of each other despite such stark and obvious differences in their backgrounds, were all things I yearned to find in my peers but had yet to discover.

I longed to be able to slip through some rift in the earth and fall into Icewind Dale – and all the lands the Companions of the Hall subsequently travelled –  so that I could meet this band of heroes and earn my place among them.  I daydreamed of doing so by committing some gigantic act of bravery in the heat of battle following the sudden discovery of some special talent or ability that lay stifled by Earth’s magic-less atmosphere, or perhaps by bringing knowledge from Earth into some dire situation whose impossibility had exhausted all of Faerûn’s own possible solutions.  Though having my own share of their legendary fame was appealing, it was the idea of belonging to a group like that – a group of truly best friends – that committed my heart to the entire Legend of Drizzt saga.

In time, I came to realize that I did have hidden qualities and talents that could be used and shown in fine form in my earthly existence.  It’s true that I fell in love with literature while sitting at the feet of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, but it was RA Salvatore who inspired me to make a first real commitment to writing a world of my own. Most important of these cached treasures was my love for writing, which became apparent when I started committing my daydreams to paper.  This secret phase of writing fan-fiction made me realize that if I could insert myself into the existing canon of Forgotten Realms legends, then maybe I could make my own world where all my wildest dreams would find life.

It’s been a long while since I last visited my childhood friends in the Forgotten Realms, but I’ve recently returned.  And I’m glad I came back, for upon reading the opening lines I felt a feeling not unlike the kind I get whenever I am reunited with my brothers and sisters under one roof, or whenever I see a friend whose company I have not shared in a long while:  that wonderfully strange feeling that my heart has somehow arrived home…as if taking it up was like knocking on Drizzt’s door, and reading it was like being admitted to cross his threshold and sit by the fire beside him, Guenhwyvar the astral panther at our feet and the rest of the Companions – Wulfgar, Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis – expected to join us at any minute.

Love over everything else

The United States legalized gay marriage nationwide today, and I’m not afraid to say that I’ve hit “Like” on more than one friend’s status update and on more than one news service’s headline about this social milestone.

I’m also not above sharing the fact that a person I’ve known and called a friend for some time now sent me a text message asking me why on earth would I give this breaking news a thumbs-up, remarking by way of justification that,

“…it’s wrong and goes against what we believe in, and as a woman who someday wants a family you ought to think hard about how this threatens your future position as a mother in a society that accepts this sort of thing.  Your hypocrisy is disappointing, to say the least. ”

Anyone who follows this blog knows I wear my faith and my views on my sleeve, and I do tend to get a lot of mixed feedback about doing so.  That’s only to be expected, though, since the Internet is public — but that’s besides the point.  Of all the negative messages I’ve received about my more worldly views, this is probably the one that angers and hurts me the most.

It’s not just because I have a lot good friends who are homosexual and a few who are bisexual.  It’s not just because  a good friend of mine is a heterosexual whose divorced parents are both now with same-sex partners.  It’s not just because one of my closest friends came out to me before they came out to anyone else, including their own parents.  It’s not just because a dear friend of mine is searching for a way to make their homosexuality coincide with their faith, determined not to give up or abandon either one because they believe both are equally important to who they are as an individual.

It’s also because I have never, ever believed in using my sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or gender to say that I am in any way “better” or “holier” or “more deserving” than anyone else – and it pains me to know that members of my faith community (both immediate and extended) so easily forget what the Lord says about love.

And He has quite a lot to say on the subject, but perhaps the most familiar points to just about anyone  are, “Let those without sin cast the first stone,” as well as, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”  He also asked us to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Oh, and while we’re considering those points, it would serve us all in good stead to remember that “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” and “Catholic” means “universal.”

Thus…

Is it truly Christian or Catholic for any person or group of people to say that those who are “different” aren’t worthy of the same rights, privileges, and advantages which “the norm” may claim unopposed?  Do we truly love others as we have been loved by an infinitely wise and loving Creator when we use that same Creator’s words against people who are in some way, shape, or form not exactly like us?  Can we really say we believe love is the greatest virtue when we allow our faith and beliefs and ideologies to get in the way of everyone being able to share their lives with other people in freedom and security?

If being a follower of Christ means following His example in daily life and if being made in God’s image means reflecting some measure His infinite love, then the hypocrisy lies not in being supportive of friends and/or family members whose lives are remarkably different than our own.  The hypocrisy lies in viewing anyone who isn’t heterosexual – and therefore supposedly “normal” – as being unworthy of acceptance, friendship, support, and yes, love. 

And that’s because the bottom line about humanity in this faith, the very heart of this belief system, is that our God became human so that He could die for all of humanity.  The Incarnation and the Crucifixion did not occur to save a select handful of souls, but rather every soul.  That is the extent of Divine Love, and nothing of human design or conception – not even the most deeply entrenched prejudices or misconceptions concerning the diverse complexity of any aspect of humanity – can change that.

Down from the door where it began…

Today is St-Jean Baptiste, the Quebec national holiday. While my fellow Montrealers, along with the rest of the province, enjoy the warm weather and copious amount of beer that come with this mid-week bank holiday, I’ll be making the final moves into my new apartment.

I decided to get my moving done a week early, because while the rest of Canada celebrates the nation’s birthday on July 1, all of Montreal descends into this spiralling vortex of chaos known as Moving Day.  

Six years ago, I sat on the front steps of my very first apartment with one of my first two flatmates, who was a girl I met in my Greek mythology class the previous September. We bought chips and soda from the Couche-Tard on the corner of our new street and made plans for the upcoming adventure of being two college girls sharing a big apartment with another student.

Today, I am sitting on those same steps — by myself this time, with a cup of coffee on the stoop next to me. It’s still quite early, and the only other living things awake right now seem to be the birds and squirrels. They, and my thoughts, are my only company right now.

Six years is a long time to live in one apartment in this city. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of being only ten to twenty minutes away on foot from wherever I have to be on any given day, and I’ve been quite happy here sharing this space with an international and colourful cast of interesting flatmates and couch-crashing friends. Although I haven’t seen or spoken to my first two since we parted ways at the end of year one, I’m still in touch with a good number of the twelve (yep, twelve) people with whom I have shared rent, drinks, meals, and experiences since then.

So far, 2015 has brought a whole slew of changes to my life in the forms of both gains and losses in my life, and it seems fitting somehow that after a challenging first half of the year I’ll be starting a new chapter of my life in a new place with an amazing friend.

If these walls could talk, they’d tell you so many stories…and you’d realize then just how big of a role this place has played in my life. Six years ago, I moved in as a nineteen-year-old student who had no idea what it was like to live on one’s own and be totally responsible for oneself in all aspects of life. Today, I move out as an almost twenty-five-year-old woman with a little bit more than just a Bachelor of Arts and two years of professional work experience under het belt.

As I prepare to finish packing and cleaning up this space I used to call home, I realize now why so many sitcoms use characters’ apartments as central sets.  So much of the stuff of life happens in apartments. I have lived, loved, laughed, cried, fought, dreamed, and grown in this apartment, alongside others who did the same.

This is the bedroom where I woke up one cold February morning to the news of my father’s death. This is the bathroom where I sat under a hot stream of water after being stood up and realized my self-worth. This is the kitchen I made countless meals, batches of cookies and brownies, and argued with roommates over whose turn it was to do the dishes. This is the office where I wrote term papers and studied for exams. This is the living room where I watched movies and played video games and had pizza and beer with my pals. This is the laundry room that flooded one summer night when the washing machine broke, and where I consequently made my very first claim on tenant’s insurance.  This is the exterior staircase which, because of its rusty and rickety blue metal construction, has been called “deadly” and “crazy” by pretty much everyone who’s had to climb them…and then go back down.  This is the front stoop where I sat and thought and dreamed on many long nights and early mornings.

This is another place I can remember as once being “home,” and this is the door from which the road goes ever on and on.

***

Roll Call:
Angela (2009-2015)
Marie (2009-2010)
Greg (2009-2010)
Samantha (Spring 2010)
Carolina (Summer 2010)
Serafina (Summer 2010)
Mathew (2010-2013)
Jamie (Fall and Winter 2010)
David (2011-2012)
Katharina (2012-2013)
Adam (2012-2013)
Camille (2013-2015)
Felix (Winter 2015)