The Unsettling, Intriguing Society of Menzoberranzan
My introduction to The Legend of Drizzt series came only this year, perhaps later than most. I grew up reading and re-reading mainly the Shannara series (which is extensive), The Lord of the Rings, stories from Garth Nix (young adult fiction), with a little of Stephen King‘s books dotted throughout that timeline. There was an early attempt on my part to read some of Robert Jordan’s and Tamora Pierce’s works, but I became quickly disinterested despite the prowess of both.
Presently, I have almost completed the entire series. The first books, named specifically The Dark Elf Trilogy, were bar none the best and most riveting. Of all the parts of the storyline, the introduction to Menzoberranzan society was the most disturbing, but also intriguing. It was an abysmal place, underground, dictated by dark deeds and darker wills. There were only two directions in the society: upward through the hierarchy system or six-feet underground. Everyone was merciless, men and women, desiring only the disposal of rivals and stations of power. Interestingly, most societies in many fantasy series depict a heavily male-dominated hierarchy: a patriarchy. As such, I respect R.A. Salvatore for how he wrote and constructed the city of Menzoberranzan, a malignant matriarchy. The matron mothers, as they were so named, were horrendously vile to their male counterparts. They would often have many different lovers, almost all falling to the wretch of death for one reason or another…or no reason at all. The males were the priestess’ and mothers’ playthings and they were considered expendable. Within Menzoberranzan, there was a complete reversal of a patriarch.
It was nothing short of astounding for me to read. I was blown away. It was disturbing, yes, but also, in a rather demented sense, uplifting. R.A. Salvatore was a male author who promoted indomitable, confident, if not malignant, women above men. (I would also mention the many courageous female characters he creates through the rest of the series, least of which is Cattie-brie). As a disclaimer, I am not in support of anyone being subservient. I did, nonetheless, see an important message behind this inverted system, one that is more difficult to portray when the storyline is heavily based in a male-dominated society: females can be powerful, can be warriors, can be formidable opponents and can be rulers. Whether a male or female author (I am guilty of this too!), both tend to struggle to fathom such role reversals, assuming that the brave warrior should always be a hulking barbarian. The irony of such a statement when discussing Salvatore’s works is of course that he did indeed have warrior barbarians, but his emphasis of a hero was about what was within rather than without. He still, in my opinion, did something paramount for fantasy literature. A MALE author made MEN subservient. I would relish to hear how often that happens in fantasy writing. Indeed, if you know of an instance such as Menzoberranzan, or at the very most, an intimidating matriarch, please feel free to share!
There is nothing in this universe that would make me ever agree with the society of Menzoberranzan. I believe firmly in equality for all and believe everyone has a right to fair treatment, ergo why I am so forthright about feminism, or as I often see it, humanism. However, when Salvatore turned the tables around he brought the issue of how women are often depicted and treated in fantasy literature into a different light. The matron mothers and priestesses were formidable, not limited to their seductive powers as they were rather alluring characters and which is commonly the case in the fantasy genre; but they were also formidable fighters and magic users, the most powerful in all of that society; and, as was later discovered in the following books, feared by farmers and seasoned warriors alike on the surface.
The twisted beauty behind this society, the why and how it was formulated, brings to light that no matter the gender, violence and subservience are unfathomable and unnecessary actions. There were men in this society, such as Drizzt and Zaknafein, who were deserving of a better life but forced to comply, as is often the case with women in other stories. Or, in the case of Zaknafein, he did not feel that there was a way to escape his fate. I can imagine, as a man, the outrage one must feel when reading about this society. Perhaps, seeing the other side of the coin, it is easier to understand where women come from when they feel diminished because of a demand for subservience? Or that they should accept a certain construct of a story simply because it’s “historically accurate“? How much stronger would the genre of fantasy be if it truly tested fantastical limits by thinking outside of patriarchal system?
Menzoberranzan offers an eye opening experience in the world of fantasy literature. R.A. Salvatore did something that I have never seen done in the fantasy world and that I would hope more people would strive to accomplish. The Legend of Drizzt series is a story that I would recommend to anyone for so many reasons: for the daring adventures, for the well-constructed relationships, the amazing character development for both men and women, and the frequent variations from stereotypical fantasy genre constructs. Whilst I may never want to find myself in the midst of Menzoberranzan, I can appreciate the construed message behind the twist of societal roles, a light in the dark: everyone deserves respect and a chance, no matter their gender.
All of the books, The Legend of Drizzt book series and comic series can be found on Amazon. I have been reading all of them on my Kindle because I fly through them. If you have read the series, feel free to share your thoughts (remember that I only spoke of Menzoberranzan but there is so much more to the series)! If you haven’t and need something new to read, I would highly recommend it.