D&D: How R.A. Salvatore Wants To Fix The Racist Tropes Of Drizzt And The Drow
A new novel, Starlight Enclave, holds big changes for D&D as R.A. Salvatore moves away from the racist tropes underpinning Drizzt Do’Urden and the drow.
Drizzt Do’Urden is at the heart of D&D’s new Summer of Legend, the months-long festival celebrating one of the more iconic heroes in the many worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. It all began with news of a new Drizzt novel coming from author and creator R.A. Salvatore, and since then we’ve gotten to see a glimpse of the wider world of the drow that will be portrayed within it.
We also got to hear Benedict Cumberbatch reading a spooky drow bedtime story that manages to be vaguely threatening and soothing all at once.
Rumors hint that Drizzt might even be at the heart of the upcoming D&D TV series–all of that to say that Drow seem to be a big part of whatever comes next for Dungeons & Dragons. But, the Drow–including the Legend of Drizzt novels–have been criticized for reinforcing racist fantasy tropes, and in a recent interview with Polygon, R.A. Salvatore revealed that he hopes to change that and “broaden the identity of the drow.”
Salvatore’s next novel, Starlight Enclave, will expand the franchise into new territories. At the same time, it will broaden the identity of the drow, the race of dark-skinned elves that have been a part of the original role-playing game since the 1970s. It’s a change to the drow that’s part of a larger reckoning with race in Wizards of the Coast’s D&D and Magic: The Gathering properties. Salvatore isn’t reluctant to be part of that change, which he says is long overdue.
Expanding the drow beyond the tropes they’ve been built on is an update that’s been a long time coming, according to Salvatore. We’ve already seen part of the change in action when WotC launched the Summer of Drizzt, revealing that there are at least three different groups of drow–the Udadrow of Menzoberranzan with whom everyone is familiar, the starlight-bathed Aevendrow, and the jungle-dwelling Lorendrow who love nature above all else. As Salvatore puts it:
“I did it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s an update that was greatly needed — for things that I didn’t even know were a problem when I first wrote the books.
I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve gotten over the years, from people who have said, ‘Thank you for Drizzt.’ I finally have someone who looks like me.’ On the one hand, you have that. But on the other hand, if the drow are being portrayed as evil, that’s a trope that has to go away, be buried under the deepest pit, and never brought out again. I was unaware of that. I admit it. I was oblivious.”
Salvatore explains that the new direction for drow is a representation of who he’s become as an author over the years. To that end, no changes or retcons are planned for any of the Drizzt novels already published. But the drow are growing, a change brought about in a high-level meeting between Salvatore and WotC four or five years ago, but one in which Salvatore maintains, nothing was “forced” or unwilling:
“Nothing’s being dictated to me. I am not retrofitting or retconning the drow. I am expanding the drow.”
“These aren’t game books, they’re novels. Novels are supposed to reflect the time period they were written in. […] There’s no reason to [make any changes], because there’s nothing in my early books philosophically that’s different than who I am today. I’m just more aware of certain things in the books that became problematic. But philosophically, that’s who I am. That’s who I’ve always been. I just try to be better.”
You’ll have a chance to see these new Drow in action in the upcoming Starlight Enclave which releases August 3rd.
What do you think of the changes to the drow?