How about those Eagles? What a Superbowl! I’ve been an Eagles fan since the late ‘70s, when my family moved to the Jersey shore and I started following the local teams. I went to a few games in the Vet (Veterans Memorial Stadium), which was maybe the absolute worst of the “cookie-cutter” concrete stadiums built back in the day. I had a chance to see the Eagles in person this year when they came to Seattle, but I just couldn’t justify the ticket price—you’re in for $250 easy if you and a friend want to see a Seahawks game and maybe have a dog and a beer while you’re there. Just as well, I guess. The Seahawks really beat up the Eagles that day.
I’m now entering the two-month period of the year where I follow no sports. I’m pretty much just a baseball-football guy, which means I start tuning in at the beginning of April and I don’t check out until after the Superbowl in early February. Then again, I guess we’ve got the Olympics this year. I’ll probably watch ‘em at least a little bit. Go Team USA!
Anyway, on to the next entry in my look back at my old novels. This is really part 1 of 4: I’m going to take a look at The Last Mythal as a trilogy before I get into any specifics about the individual books.
The Last Mythal
Last week, I related the story of how R.A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen came about. As it turns out, the six-book series was really just Step One of the plan: Each author participating in the series would then follow up on their high-profile Spider Queen appearance with a new series of their own. So, shortly after I finished Condemnation, I sat down with editor Peter Archer to hammer out the details of what I’d do for my next act. And this time I’d be looking at a trilogy.
So far, so good. I definitely had some ideas about what sort of Realms story I’d like to tell if I was free to go anywhere I wanted and had that much elbow room. Then came the “Oh, ands…” of the situation.
First, the timing of my series and the marketing push behind Spider Queen suggested that my new series ought to be the “Realm-Shaking Event” of the year. That was both good and bad: good because it meant I’d be playing for higher stakes and telling a story that could really affect the setting, but bad because it meant that I really needed to work on a big canvas. I couldn’t go back to City of Ravens and launch a spin-off trilogy with Jack Ravenwild, for example—this new series had to be about important people doing important things. Well, that was okay. Forgotten Realms had no shortage of ancient world-threatening evils or dark gods or potentially epic wars to explore.
Second, it had to be about elves.
“Elves, really?” I asked Peter. “Elves?”
You see, the business/marketing teams had settled on the idea of spotlighting those evocative Realms year names as theme of the various RSE’s (sorry, Realms-Shaking Events) in each year’s novel cycle. So Richard Byers, who wrote the first book in War of the Spider Queen, got to write about the Year of Rogue Dragons, because that was year 1373 in the Realms calendar. My series was earmarked for 1375, the Year of Risen Elfkin. Now, here’s the thing about those year names: Most of them were made up back in the early ‘90s as an interesting little bit of world color, so decades of “future” year names were in print in Realmslore even though no writer or game designer at the time knew exactly how or why those names might ever turn out to be prophetic. The price I had to pay for getting the year’s RSE was that I had to figure out what “Year of Risen Elfkin” meant and make it a BIG story for the Forgotten Realms setting.
Now, I’m okay with D&D elves. I’m a big fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and I love the epic saga of the Silmarillion. (I hope someone figures out how to bring that to the screen someday, by the way. That would be awesome.) D&D elves don’t fall far from the Tolkien tree. But a lot of readers who like D&D elves buy into a whole other level of elf lore, replete with scores of “Elvish” words like tel’quessir and world mythology about how noble houses get along and magic swords they use to select their rulers and all kinds of stuff. I liked Realms elves, but I didn’t love them the way some fans did. To be honest, I felt that there wasn’t a lot of water left in that well, so I wasn’t all that excited about diving in on a big elf-focused trilogy. It wouldn’t have been my first choice.
Then again, when you’ve got a chance to sign a contract for a trilogy and you know it’s going to be the big storyline for the setting for a year, you don’t say no. You say yes, and then you figure out how you’re going to give yourself a story to fall in love with. And that’s how The Last Mythal started to take shape.
I dove deep into existing lore about the elves of the Forgotten Realms. I read through Elaine Cunningham’s Evermeet, I studied the 2e game material focused on Myth Drannor, and I brainstormed up ideas for the biggest story I could think of about Faerun’s elves. One of the salient pieces of lore about the elves in the Forgotten Realms was the idea of the Elven Retreat—throughout Faerun, but especially in the old heartland forest of Cormanthor, the elves are pulling up their stakes and sailing off into the West. Well, it occurred to me that a story that ended the Elven Retreat would be a damned big story, and a true RSE. Now the question was simple: What would make the elves, or at least a good number of them, decide to return to Faerun from the safety of their refuge in Evermeet?
I thought about that quite a lot, and a real-world analogy occurred to me. I started work on Forsaken House in the middle of 2003; well, the 9/11 attack was pretty fresh in my mind. (It’s still fresh, by the way; a lot of Americans of my generation haven’t gotten over it, and probably never will.) An enemy who reached out to Evermeet and hurt the elves where they lived, who demonstrated that they weren’t safe in their island refuge, might convince the elves (or a good number of them) that disengaging from Faerun had been a mistake, and they needed to confront the evil that threatened them. That would be especially true if the Evermeet elves felt that they had a specific responsibility or connection to the threat—and that’s where the fey’ri came in.
(The fey’ri are a Forgotten Realms variety of evil elves who have demonic heritage. If that seems weird to you, well, it’s sort down in the weeds of Realmslore. It makes more sense there.)
Using the fey’ri as the primary villains of the story also checked off one of the big promises of the Year of Risen Elfkin—they were elfkin, after all, and because they were supposed to have been a big deal in elven history thousands of years ago, they also needed to “come back from the dead” to pose a threat in the modern-day Realms. Better yet, no other authors had really done anything with the fey’ri on the fiction front; they’d only appeared in game product, and somewhat obscure game product at that. I would have a lot of room to make ‘em into what I needed them to be.
So, I had my RSE: Evermeet’s elves returning to Faerun. I had my Risen Elfkin: The fey’ri. Now I just had to figure out who the characters were, what their story was, and why the readers would care. I’ll dive into that next time!