Reviews

Sojourn: The Legend of Drizzt Book 3

Andrew Welsh

Much of Sojourn is spent impressing upon the reader the goodness of Drizzt and the evilness of his adversaries.

Sojourn: The Legend of Drizzt Book 3

Publisher: Devil's Due Publishing
Contributors: Artist: Tim Seeley
Price: $4.95
Writer: R.A. Salvatore
Length: 48
Formats: Single Issue
US publication date: 2006-03
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R.A. Salvatore has a prolific history of science fiction and fantasy novels that stretches back into the late '80s. A character named Drizzt Do'Urden has become a breadwinner of sorts for him, appearing in his novels for just over 18 years. Drizzt, a dark elf (drow), is an anti-stereotype for his race, preferring friendship and peace to the hatred and violence characteristic of his people. Drizzt's unusual nature creates ample conflict for Salvatore to turn into epic stories of friendship and noble courage (and in turn a voluminous number of novels).

Sojourn is the third installment of The Legend of Drizzt series, which is based in the "Forgotten Realms" setting, part of the world of Dungeons and Dragons. From the outset, Sojourn quickly immerses the reader in Salvatore's world. The book is conscious of the importance of its past, and brings the reader up to date with both a recap page and two pages of Drizzt character history. A sense of epic is conveyed in the first few pages and grows steadily stronger throughout the book. It's apparent that The Legend of Drizzt isn't a simple start-to-finish comic book story. The tale presents itself as immense, with the reader only catching a glimpse of what has happened so far and what is to come.

In book three, Drizzt has escaped the clutches of his family and race. His mother had tried to kill him by sending the reanimated corpse of his father as an assassin. As a testament to his special righteousness, Drizzt does all in his power to escape this particular flavor of parental nurturing. After doing his best to disentangle himself from the evil underground world of the drow, Drizzt decides to live on the surface where he will certainly face discrimination, but hopes to overcome it and make a better life for himself. His first adventure comes when he meets a band of semi-intelligent Gnolls (creatures with human bodies and dogs heads), and decides to kill them rather than help them slaughter and eat villagers.

I haven't read any of Salvatore's other books, but based on Sojourn I think a common theme can probably be found in all of them. Villains are nearly always motivated by hunger (for power or food or both) which leads them to try and consume helpless innocents and/or the protagonist. Eating good people is nearly always an unforgivable sin, so naturally the villains are hacked apart in the end.

With Drizzt, Salvatore attempts to fashion a character that faces internal struggle and is more multifaceted than the typical fantasy or comic book hero. Not only is Drizzt supposed to break the mold for his own fictional people, the drow, but also for his genre of fiction. Salvatore is, however, largely unsuccessful in this. Any blood Drizzt finds on his hands is quickly justified and most "internal" conflict is superficial at best. While being significantly more complicated than ordinary stories of its genre, Sojourn quickly slides into the battle between polar opposites of good and evil. The good guys are motivated by being "good", and the bad guys are motivated by being "evil", and ultimately it is as simple as that.

This is not to say that Salvatore's writing is not interesting, but it is far from compelling. The characters are nearly impossible to sympathize with. The not-so-subtle "discrimination is bad" overtones are employed almost solely as a plot instigator, serving only minimally to create character depth. Sojourn only escapes the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon when violence erupts and results in bloody carnage. Exacerbating the artifice of the book, the third person omniscient narrator stumbles over himself to fill in the gaps between the bubbles of rigid dialogue. The narration often feels juvenile and unnecessary, frequently serving only to describe what is obviously happening in each panel.

Much of Sojourn is spent impressing upon the reader the goodness of Drizzt and the evilness of his adversaries. The tension between the two parties builds and builds until finally culminating in a severely anticlimactic fight scene. A true sense of peril for Drizzt is absent from the action not just here but throughout the book. He snoops around in a world of weak beings, himself not unlike the gods of Greek mythology, trying to find a place among the mortals. Drizzt desperately seeks trust and acceptance, but his good intentions are usually met with fear and rejection. The complex social and relational intricacies available to Salvatore are abandoned in favor of developing his sprawling and elaborate setting. Instead of attaching readers to a few polished characters, he introduces a pack of diverse but undeveloped protagonists and villains. The wide variety of characters is interesting, but they almost feel more like elements of setting, rather than long-lasting or identifiable individuals.

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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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