10?out of 10
Lausch’s adaptation of R. A. Salvatore’s?Forgotten Realms?novel carves a bold new?niche for dark fantasy into Germany’s burgeoning?audio drama market.??A tight script, outstanding performances, and rich atmosphere?make?Der Dritte Sohn?what most?h?rspiele?only claim to be:? atemberaubend. (Breathtaking.)
Die Saga von Dunkelelf 1 – Der Dritte Sohn
(Saga of the Dark Elf 1 – the Third Son)
Adapted and directed by G?nter Merlau?from a story by R. A. Salvatore.
Lausch, 2006.? www.merlausch.de
1 CD, approximately 70 minutes.
Availability:? In print.
Try before you buy:? Click the headphones on the Lausch homepage?to hear Drizzt?s mother determine his future.? http://www.merlausch.de/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7&Itemid=21.
Nie zierte ein Stern dieses Land,
noch sendete die Sonne ihre w?rmenden Strahlen hieher.
Niemals wurde der Laut eines Vogels vernommen.
Nichts herrscht als tiefe ahnungsvolle Stille,
und das tosenden rauschen der Schwarzen Ruhe.
Dies ist nicht die Welt des Lichts.?
Dies ist die Unterwelt,
Verborgen unter der Oberfl?che der vergessenen Reiche.
No star ever graced this land,
Nor has the sun sent its warming beams here.?
Birdsong has never been heard.
Nothing holds dominion but deep, ominous quiet,
and the thundering roar of the Black Silence.
This is not the world of Light.
This is the Underworld,
hidden?beneath the surface of the Forgotten Realms.?
– Drizzt Do’Urden,?opening monologue?(my translation)
Way back when Dungeons and Dragons?was first being cobbled together from bits of H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and J.R.R. Tolkien,?the Dark Elves called Drow stood out as a strikingly original creation.? A decadent, psychopathic branch of “good” forest-dwelling Elves, the cthonic Drow were defined by their?sadistic matriarchal society.? There’s a disturbingly?chauvinist?subtext?to this fictional culture, as the Drow’s underworld setting, evil outlook, and?female-dominated?governance all smack of inverting the “natural order”, i.e. the “righteous” world of male?rule.? I have to wonder if D&D’s creators had overbearing mothers.?
In spite?(or perhaps because?) of their?suspiciously misandrist society, tales of the Drow have produced many colorful characters with viciously seductive bite.? The late Gary Gygax gave the Drow?D&D’s most memorable villain in woman-headed spider goddess Lolth, a giant?Arachne returned from Hades to?ensnare and devour?men’s souls.? There’s genius in the name Gygax chose (a corruption of the apocryphal Lillith?), as its sound vividly evokes the goddesses’ virulent?corpulence.? Try saying it out loud.? The nauseating way the word forces you to roll your tongue?actually feels unclean.
Author R. A. Salvatore gave the Drow?the anti-hero Drizzt do’Urden, a?young male striken with?conscience in a society devoid of it.? Drizzt’s name, which sounds like pissing against a wall, wasn’t quite?as brilliant as Lolth’s.? Nor was Salvatore’s?creation as original as Gygax’s dark goddess:? the solipsistic and decadent?city of Menzoberranzan bore more than passing?resemblance to Michael Moorcock’s?solipsistic?and decadent Dragon Isle of Melnibon?, and silver-haired, purple-eyed iconoclast?Drizzt owed a significant debt to white-haired, red-eyed?iconoclast?Elric.? But Salvatore parted company with Moorcock when he took the most powerful and disturbing elements of Drow matriarchal?culture and wove them into a socio-political tapestry nearly as rich and complex as that of Frank Herbert’s Dune.? Moorcock’s Melnibon? was never much more than an?orientalist?scaffolding to offset?Elric’s noble character; the politics and feuds of Salvatore’s Menzoberranzan made Drow society as?compelling as Drizzt himself.
Der Dritte Sohn opens with?the battle of the sexes front and center, as Drizzt is being born to Malice Do’Urden (Elga Sch?tz), ruler of House Do’Urden.? Drizzt will be?her third living son, and like any respectable Drow mother Malice intends to sacrifice?him to Lolth to ensure the spider-goddesses’?favor for a?genocidal sortie against a house of higher rank.? But Drizzt is spared when?the timely fratricide of his eldest brother by jealous sibling Dinin Do’Urden (Tim Grobe)?makes Drizzt?Malice’s second living son,?rendering the sacrificial ritual moot.? Nice people, those Drow.
Time passes and Drizzt survives the daily punishment of being male in House Do’Urden to develop a deep disgust for his fellow Drow.? Fortunately the ambidextrous Drizzt is exceedingly skilled with blades, so Malice places him under the tutelage of House weaponsmaster Zaknafein Do’Urden (Michael Prelle).? Zaknafein, Malice reveals with?calculated indifference, is Drizzt’s father.? It soon becomes apparent that the two share an unconventionally noble morality, and their relationship quietly blooms during sparring lessons.? Despite being powerless in his home, Zaknafein fights passionately where and when he can?to save the soul of his son from the?dark society?of the Drow.? The warmth of their father-son?lessons is interupted when that society brutally?intrudes, such as when Malice proudly?compels Drizzt to commit his first murder before her eyes.? The horror of such moments and Zaknafein’s helplessness to intervene?underscores the tenuous fragility of his bond with Drizzt.? It’s impossible to listen to this production and not feel for both of them, which is remarkable.? Not many fantasy novels can elicit that?kind of empathic response.
From this point on I was no longer a Drow . . . ?I was only Drizzt.
(The CD’s conclusion is spoiled in the paragraph below.? Skip it if you wish.)
Ultimately this first chapter is a plunge into darkness, as Drizzt?discovers?he owes his existence to the murder of his older brother.? Drizzt is compelled to renounce his world, his culture, and everyone he has known in order to be true to his own moral compass.? Even his beloved Zaknafein, he discovers, has taken part in?House Do’Urden’s?merciless?exterminations of rival Drow families.? Is his father just another?honorless?murderer like all the rest?? Feeling betrayed by the man he trusts most, Drizzt vents his despair in bloody?combat with?the monsters of the underworld.
Hey, they don’t call it dark fantasy for nothing.
As masterfully as the plot is laid out (and I’m not even getting into the significant sub-plot), a resolution like this would be damnably unsatisfying if the story ended there.? But this CD is only the?beginning of a saga that stretches over innumerable novels, and Lausch continues to release new adaptations of them at a rate of three a year (at the time of this writing 9 CD episodes have been released).??Der Dritte Sohn does stand on its own, however, as?a powerful and surprisingly moving?opening act.
I put this success?down to the drama’s consistent high quality.? Merlau takes a byzantine novel and makes it into?lucid drama,?introducing a complex culture and multiple plot-threads with?poetic economy.? As philosopher Martin Heidegger might have put it, Merlau’s script “worlds”, making the shadowy netherrealm of the Drow all too real.? Casting, that fine and rarely perfected art, is spot-on here.? This is particularly true for leading man Tobias Meister.? Many lesser actors would have just played Drizzt as an aloof bad-ass, and in doing so they would have killed?this story.? Tobias Meister’s Drizzt conceals his?emotions beneath a cooly dispassionate mask like an abused child, but?an innate sense of justice seeps through his every word and action.? It’s?a performance?made all the more?effective by Meister’s restraint.? Michael Prelle’s Zaknafein barely keeps?the desire to save his son hidden beneath?his gruff, business-like exterior.? From the moment she gives birth to Drizzt, the icy?strength Elga Sch?tz invests?in Malice leaves no doubt of her willingness to sacrifice anyone and everyone to?get what she wants.??I’m focusing on the story’s?three principle players here, but?the true strength of Der Dritte Sohn is that there isn’t a weak performance from the entire 15+ strong cast.? Even minor characters who only appear for a few minutes,?like?the sadistic Faceless?Master (Kurt Glockzin), leave a strong impression.?
A sweeping score?and minutely detailed sound effects complete the spell.? In fact, Die Dritte Sohn’s sound design reaches new heights of artistic excellence over?Lausch’s strong?fledgling efforts?Caine and Die Schwarze Sonne.? War drums throb in the background like the heartbeat of the underground empire, rising and falling with hypnotic intensity to support the action.? There are many outstanding aural moments, such as the scene where Zaknafein is covered with magical frost, the better to hide from the infravision of enemy Drow.? The creeping crackle of the ice over his body is so well realized you won’t just see it in your mind’s eye:? you’ll feel it bristling across?your own skin.? And once the frost spell is complete the acoustics?shift the listener from independent observer to Zaknafein’s perspective,?so that you hear his?associates through a distorting?layer of ice.??Roger Gregg’s amazing work notwithstanding, most?audio plays?situate the?listener in a?passively omniscient space somewhere outside the action.? Die Dritte Sohn’s magical frost scene subtly?locates you?within the story and?forces you to?viscerally identify with the reluctant weaponsmaster.?
Even following the popular success of Caine and Die Schwarze Sonne, mainstream h?rspiele websites like www.hoernews.de?were slow to recognize Lausch’s superior product.? After Drizzt no one is ignoring?Lausch anymore.? It’s nothing short of stunning that a company as young as this can produce?such?high?quality work, and it should serve as a lesson to all newcomers to the field.? If you want to make a splash, do daring, original work and do it as well or better than anyone else.? While it sounds impossible, Lausch’s?spellbinding chronicles of Drizzt prove that a scrappy little company with vision and talent?can compete with the biggest players?in the market.?
Next week:? Would you believe an old time radio style adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s beat fantasy, Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake?? (English)
Mwee Hee Hee Ha Ha Ha!