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Friday, October 30, 2020

Comparing Salvatore's Streams of Silver with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Epic fantasy in our modern age is one of the most popular genres and we can largely credit John Ronald Reuel Tolkien with bringing the appropriate literary pieces together in his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, essentially creating the genre in a form recognizable to us today. Since its release in the 1950s geekdom has never been the same. Couple this with Dungeons & Dragons, with initial versions coming about in the 1970s, both have become cultural phenomena. It won't surprise anyone familiar with both, that the base of D&D is inspired in part from Tolkien's works. This leaks over to similar stories as well. Today I want to specifically compare R.A. Salvatore's Streams of Silver with J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Tolkien's magnum opus
Original cover for Streams of Silver

There are quite a few comparisons that can be made beyond the obvious both involving fantastical elements such as a fantasy world and fairy creatures. All three works involve groups of warriors on an ultimate quest against evil; and in the case of Streams of Silver and The Hobbit, to reclaim a lost homeland. Specifically these homelands are dwarven and were lost about a century in the past to dragons. 

The Companions of the Hall, the party in Streams of Silver, is made up of Bruenor Battlehammer, heir to Clan Battlehammer; Drizzt Do'Urden, outcast dark elf living on the surface; Wulfgar, barbarian of the northern tundra of Icewind Dale and adopted son of Bruenor; Regis, reluctant halfling friend; and Cattie-Brie, warrior and adopted human daughter of Bruenor.

The Companions of the Hall

Thorin and Company of The Hobbit is comprised of twelve dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, leader of Durin's Folk; Bilbo Baggins, a burglar hobbit (same as a halfling) of the Shire; and Gandalf the wizard.

The Fellowship of the Ring, or Nine Walkers of The Lord of the Rings (volume 1 being the only part the fellowship isn't broken and scattered) is comprised of Gandalf the wizard; Aragorn, ranger and heir to Gondor and Arnor; Boromir, general and son of the Steward in Minas Tirith; Legolas, son of Thranduil of Mirkwood; Gimli, son of Gloin from Thorin's Company; Frodo, the hobbit ring-bearer; and Sam, Merry, and Pippin as Frodo's retainers.

The Hobbit is a fairy-tale for children. Streams of Silver, while somewhat juvenile, is not meant for children but would probably be appropriate for adolescences. It is also the second book in the Icewind Dale trilogy, and so the party is already established. The Lord of the Rings is an adult book, but clean enough for any age if they can understand the somewhat archaic prose. The Fellowship is established halfway through the first volume, and it's "breaking" happens at the end of the same volume. The Companions of the Hall is the only party of the three going beyond their respective work; both of Tolkien's don't last.

Thorin and Company

To start with The Hobbit and Streams of Silver, both tales involved homelands lost to a dragon. Erebor and Mithral Hall are ancient dwarven kingdoms. Erebor stands in the bowels of the Lonely Mountain, while Mithral Hall, the home of Clan Battlehammer, is beneath Fourthpeak in the Frost Hills. Erebor is taken by Smaug, a fire drake from the Withered Heath. Mithral Hall is conquered by Haerinvureem, better known as Shimmergloom, whom is a shadow dragon. Shimmergloom sleeps most days and is attended on by many minions, duergar to be specific. Smaug sleeps most of the time but does not have any minions.

You may have already noticed how reminiscent Durin’s Bane in Moria is of Shimmergloom. Shimmergloom was disturbed from his place in the Underdark when the the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer delved too deep, the same thing occurred when Durin’s Folk disturbed Durin's Bane in the deep of Khazad-dûm. Durin's Bane is the only known surviving balrog (a demon of sorts) to have served Morgoth. Likewise Shimmergloom was also the lone survivor of Clan Jaezred. Both are also creatures of shadow and fire and cohabitate their homes with lesser beings. They are the enemies of the party. The balrog spells apparent doom for Gandalf, while Shimmergloom spells apparent doom for Bruenor. Bruenor's supposed death is comparable to both Thorin and Gandalf. Thorin is the leader of a clan of dwarves known as the Longbeards, or Durin's Folk. He leads the quest to reclaim his homeland, just as Bruenor. Thorin dies defending it from an army of goblins and other creatures, and along with his kin Fili and Kili, his nephews, are the only members of the party to perish. Contrast this with Gandalf who does indeed fall with the balrog when his leg is caught by the its whip. He kills the balrog and dies, but as many know he later comes back reborn. Both of these are echoed in Bruenor's fall. He is the heir and falls with the dragon, dealing the death blow to the creature in the process. He is thought lost but survives the flames by magical means, and later rejoins his companions.

In the case of Erebor and Mithral Hall, both have secret entrances and Moria’s door is somewhat secret as well. No one alive has been to Moria but it doesn’t feel mysterious as much as it feels suspenseful and severely dangerous: Moria is not a place to habitat. A couple of Thorin’s company had been to Erebor before Smaug conquered it. Though Bruenor lived his youth in Mithral Hall, he only has vague memories of it and they act as keys to a mystery, something not present in Tolkien’s work; the esoteric ways of Durin’s Door and West Gate of Moria kind of fall into their lap from the deus ex machina Gandalf (and Elrond/Frodo). 

After Erebor is reclaimed, dwarven kin from the Iron Hills come to aid in its rebuilding and protection. Likewise do the dwarves from Citadel Adbar help Bruenor in Mithral Hall.

Other quick notes: I will point out that both Tolkien parties are missing a female, Cattie-Brie plays her part of the story well, and is a strong character. Another thing is in Streams of Silver, Artemis Entreri is hunting the party, or specifically Regis, while nothing pursues Thorin’s Company, but the emissaries of Sauron pursue the Fellowship.

Tolkien's illustration of Smaug

Now let us get to comparing characters; Bruenor is both Thorin and Gimli, and Aragorn. He is the heir like Thorin, but he is Bruenor, in the sense that he is not in charge of the group, everyone is equal. Gimli in the fellowship is not the leader either, but is knowledgeable of Moria like Bruenor is of Mithral Hall. Similarly to Thorin, Aragorn is an uncrowned king and is confident in taking his destined place with a crown on his head.

Drizzt can act as Legolas in reflexes and elven blood. I believe he is more akin to Bilbo in being an outsider. Bilbo is not from the heroic world, he is ignorant and unenlightened and cares only for the comforts of his rather modern home. Drizzt is not from the surface world, that under the sun, and is an outsider from people that would describe themselves as civil and good. He is persecuted by those outside his companions for his skin color which marks him as such. Bilbo is ridiculed by those of the Company for his culture.

Regis is also comparable to Bilbo, but more so to Frodo; a captive of his own destiny and dragged along on weary feet. Frodo does his duty, and is a hero, but he could not stay in the comfort of his home. Likewise Regis is chased by Artemis Entreri, the assassin, for the magical pendant he has, itself a piece of jewelry comparable to Frodo's possession of the One Ring.

Wulfgar is a tougher character to place. If anyone from Rohan had been with either of Tolkien’s parties, then he might be an echo; Rohan being derived from horse riding Anglo-Saxons, and Wulfgar perhaps coming from the homonymous Wulfgar in Beowulf of Germanic legend. In the end Wulfgar may fit with any stubborn comrade of the Tolkien groups, though likely he is based off of the non-Tolkien Conan the Barbarian.

Durin's Bane by Ted Nasmith
One character is the un-analogous Cattie-Brie. It is a known fact that Tolkien has important female characters, but not as main characters. While Cattie-Brie is of sort in a duo with Wulfgar, it is not in a submissive way. At times Cattie-Brie seems the most effective of the companions because of her skill with the magical bow, Taumaril. At that, for utility, she could be compared to Legolas.
The 5e look of a shadow dragon

So we can see that there are many similarities, and a few from other books I didn't mention; such as Cryshal Tirith meaning "Crytal Tower" from the first book of Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy. This is something obviously inspired by Minas Tirith "Tower of Guard", though Tirith in the latter means "guard", and Minas "tower". Some people try to hide from Tolkien influence, he has left a long shadow over the fantasy genre and it can be tough to make your own light. I believe R.A. Salvatore decided to wear that inspiration on his sleeve and it is evident in the exemplum of Streams of Silver which strongly shows Tolkien influence. What we have are three great quests with three great foes, and luckily we get to enjoy them all. 

To see my thoughts on the Icewind Dale trilogy, look here. Are there any similarities you spot that I didn't point out?

Lastly (and best) we can actually compare poems, something most modern fantasy can't, sadly. I will let you locate the differences as you enjoy them. I think I can leave it unsaid whom is the better poet. Here are the first two verses of each:

Mithral Hall Song from Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore

“We've dug our holes and hallowed caves

Put goblin foes in shallow graves

This day our work is just begun

In the mines where silver rivers run

Beneath the stone the metal gleams

Torches shine on silver streams

Beyond the eyes of the spying sun

In the mines where silver rivers run

"Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,

While hammers fell like ringing bells

In places deep, where dark things sleep,

In hollow halls beneath the fells.


You can track my current progress here.

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