Welcome back to our reread of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Last week we plodded about in the prelude; this week we get into the action! Well, mostly.
After much discussion, we’re going to keep our reread posts spoiler-free, but the comments won’t be. This way if you’re reading the series for the first time—or revisiting it after a long hiatus—you won’t have the adventure ruined. But also, these books are full of connections and tie-ins and spin-offs and foreshadowing and shadowforing, and we don’t want to stop people from chatting about those connections. This solution, like the world of Krynn itself, seems totally True Neutral.
“Old Friends Meet. A Rude Interruption” and “Return to the Inn. A Shock. The Oath is Broken”
We find ourselves with a crotchety ‘ancient’ dwarf, Flint Fireforge, who thinks that even a boulder warmed by the sun more comfortable than walking any more. We get it—he’s travelled far but he’s come back home, and he’s glad for it. The sky is a flawless azure, the trees are perfect, the lake is crystal and Flint is met by Tanis Half-Elven, an old friend and comrade. They both admit that neither found what they went off in search off five years ago—for Flint, it was the dwarf clerics, all of whom seem to have vanished in the Cataclysm (much like the Elves) and, for Tanis, it was peace of mind and the ancient true gods. While baring their souls to each other they are surprised by Tasslehoff, their trickster Kender friend who doesn’t have time to admit that he had no deep quests, as they are set upon by a bunch of hobgoblins who insist that they are ’patrolling’ the woods. Old friends have met and here comes the rude interruption.
The three good guys take care of the bad guys pretty quickly and continue down to Solace, concerned that their home appears to harbour something as vile as Goblins.
As they approach the Inn, it becomes clearer that things have changed in Solace. The town that was always welcoming before is now full of suspicious looks and whispers. As the friends make their way inside the Inn, they do not receive the sort of homecoming they had expected, and we learn that five years ago (just when our lot left on their various individual quests—coincidence?!), a group of ‘misguided’ but ‘honest and sincere’ clerics began practising and preaching a new religion in the towns of Haven, Solace and Gateway. As the religion ‘flourished’ the clerics gained more power and with the ‘blessing of the people’ took over the governing of the towns but now there is news of religious persecution. The good guys are fairly certain that this is not a Good Thing.
Some Flintsplaining happens and we learn that this particular group of friends took a sacred oath five years ago to meet at the Inn, tonight, and report what they had found out about the evil spreading in the world. Flint is especially horrified to learn that it has, in fact, spread to their very doorstep. The Inn at first seems much as they left, though they quickly find that they are regarded as suspicious outsiders by the locals. This doesn’t feel like home anymore.
But there are some welcoming faces to be found. Flint, Tanis and Tas meet the twins Raistlin and Caramon—brain and brawn very much divided into two bodies, into two personalities. Caramon is a warrior—big, strong, loud, emotional, forthcoming. Raistlin is a mage—secretive, powerful, physically ruined. Tanis and Flint are shocked by the change in Raistlin. His skin has turned golden, almost metallic, the flesh seems melted from his gaunt face and his eyes (the subject of much teen longing, right, right?) are no longer blue but they glitter gold, with hourglass shaped pupils.
As everyone catches up with the Twins, secrets from the past emerge and we learn a number of things, fast:
- Raistlin has never had any ‘dear friends’ though he sarcastically calls our good guys that
- Raistlin took something called ‘the Test’, which seems to have been about his magical powers, but which he was probably too young to take at twenty
- He took it anyway because he was thrilled to have been asked (Raistlin’s pride is evident—oh will that lead to a fall?!)
- He passed the Test but nearly died
- He was found and rescued by his brother
- That he survived but his body is irreparably ruined and his eyes now see the passing of time, forcing him to witness the death and decay of everyone and everything around him.
This understandably makes Raistlin bitter but he reconciles himself (and the others) with the fact that he now has power enough to shape the world and a magical staff to help him do it.
The only other information we receive is that Tika, the ‘barmaid’, is pretty and that the other female character who may have had something more going on that just prettiness—well she’s not coming. Doom and gloom, the oath is broken! Bad Things Will Happen.
‘People want to believe in something—even if, deep inside, they know it is false.’
This is Tanis’ deep insight into the situation with the clerics who appear to have taken over governance. Their gods might be ‘false’ but hey, everyone needs some faith right? I don’t know—the conversation around religion in the Chronicles is strange. More on this below.
‘Was it worth it?’
Tanis will soon prove to be the one who speaks the truisms and asks the Big Questions. He asks Raistlin this, when the mage tells him of the price he has paid to have the power he now does. This of course tells us more about Raistlin, in turn. He’s not going to be easy, this broken-bodied mage with power beyond our understanding. He’s already given so much up—what boundaries will he have now? What will hold him back from achieving what he wants? And what does he want? This reshaping the world business is sure to lead to trouble.
Monster of the Week
It is only with a hint of seriousness that I am suggesting Hobgoblins are monsters. I suppose they are—they’re described as pretty disgusting, they’re mean, they smell and they work for the Bad guys. But they’re so easily scared off and so easily beaten—I can’t take them seriously if they’re described as stinky with mottled gray skin and huge bellies, with ’fat, flabby’ bits that leak out between their plates of crude armour. They’re frightened just by Tanis’ verbal threat—what sort of rubbish adversary is this?! This is not a pub brawl in a little rural town, this is Dragonlance! Actually… it is pretty much a pub brawl in a little rural town, isn’t it?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and list Raistlin as a monster. Here, right now, at our ‘first’ meeting with him, he is very much something completely monstrous, something mysterious and unpredictable. Here is a man who has almost died in his desire for power and it seems that the potential havoc he can wreak is limitless. Raistlin, at this point, is a wild card and far more frightening than a bunch of Goblins.
Why did I never notice how perfectly succinct the chapter titles were? I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a foreshadowing technique (bit obvious for that), but really—it’s quite comforting. Dragonlance really did a lot of the work for you—not only were characters very aptly named so you’d never forget what their best defining characteristic was, but so were places and objects (more on this from a guest author, Sam Sykes, soon). The lake Flint rests by is crystal clear, so it’s called Crystalmir Lake. Raistlin’s staff is magical so it’s called the Staff of the Magius, the town of Haven, Solace and Gateway were…well, you get the point. I find it strange and possibly a little condescending, because this was fantasy—aren’t readers of fantasy equipped with fantastic imaginations? Aren’t we smart enough to figure out less obvious or more obtuse titles and references? I’d be okay with my mind being taxed a little more than this, though I admit again—it is comfortable and easy.
What is not comfortable or easy is Dragonlance’s take on religion—this concept of ancient gods that are true and new gods that are false, these clerics who start of preaching but end up controlling, this idea that religion is being used for power and acquisition. It’s complicated and I’m not certain that it’s entirely well thought out. But having said that, it’s easy enough to read a great deal of what you see of your world into it, no matter where you’re coming from. And you can’t completely disagree with the concept of absolute power corrupting absolutely either.
So when we learn that the clerics have forgotten about scoring points for a good place in the afterlife and are just scoring points for this life (I paraphrase), we learn a lot about the political power structures of this world. Is it really one rotten apple, as Flint says? Or has the rot spread far and deep enough to never be cleaned out? I dare you to not read into that! In fact, I see myself soon trying to draw parallels between the ‘bad’ theocrats and Raistlin Majere’s ambition for power—and it’s always about power, never about faith.
What we know for sure is that the Cataclysm was bad, that goblins and their theocratic masters are not good (though the real evil lies elsewhere), that dwarves, kender and elves are good, that the brawny twin often patronises the brainy one (who resents him for his brute strength and easy friendships), that, so far, we know the one woman we’ve met is pretty. We also know that, when you’re distracted elsewhere, evil will spread right into your precious solace. I mean home. Because that is what evil does. Characterisation may not be Dragonlance’s strong suit, but we’ve been set up with enough of a backstory for each character to go on for now.
As Mahvesh said, the names in Dragonlance are hilariously reductive. And, to some degree, puzzling. What about the other half-elves? Are they all known as Tanis Half-Elven as well? Or is that just his own personal wild warrior nomenclature—like a gunfighter or something?
I’m pretty sure that Dragonlance fans are divided, more or less absolutely, into Team Tanis and Team Raistlin. Being a right-thinking individual, I’m clearly Team Raistlin. He’s got mystery, he’s a big nerd, he mocks all his jock friends and, hey, he’s a wizard.
In a book otherwise defined by tropes, Raistlin is shockingly anti-Tolkien. Certainly we’ll have a Gandalf analogue later (whom we may have met already! semi-spoiler!), but Raistlin is more Saruman than Gandalf. Hell, he’s probably more Gollum than Gandalf. He doesn’t want to ride a horse, he doesn’t wear shiny white robes, he doesn’t pull pranks on dwarves or do the dishes. He probably doesn’t even want to play at politics and save the world. Raistlin wants to do magic. And that’s a motive I can get behind.
Meanwhile, what’s Team Tanis got going for it? So far, a beard and some angst. Sure, he’s good against hobgoblins, but, really—dude’s been adventuring for years. He probably didn’t even get experience out of that encounter.
Next week! Join us as we stop the reminiscing and get this show on the road! Or… off of it?
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.