We’re doing something slightly different this week. Part of the joy of rereading Dragonlance is realising how influential and far-reaching they are. Everyone’s read Dragonlance—and, if not, isn’t now the perfect time to start? It is no wonder this series is so influential; it had its sticky claws in all of our childhoods.
To demonstrate this, and to give us the occasional week off, we’ve asked some authors and artists and general figures of the fantastic to chime in with guest posts. They’ll take the reins for a post, and talk through what Dragonlance means to them.
To kick it off, we’re declaring Sam Sykes our honorary Dragon Highlord. The author of The Aeons’ Gate trilogy and the just-released The City Stained Red, Sam’s a man who enjoys his fantasy. Who enjoys writing monsters and adventurers and terrible things happening to all of them.
Caution: unlike our proper reread posts, this one contains spoilers.
It’s 1:58 AM. I just had a stiff drink—not so stiff that I drank it to give the illusion of distinguish, mind—and I’m frustrated that I can’t romance this one character in a video game RPG.
Seems like the perfect time to talk about Dragonlance.
See, Dragonlance is a little like pornography in that it seemed extremely important when you were fourteen and when you get older you’re kind of embarrassed that you were that obsessed with it. I excuse myself for liking Drizzt when I was that old, because really, how could a young male nerd not identify with a walking wish-fulfillment? But Dragonlance remains a bone of contention for me.
I think, to my father’s chagrin and my mother’s delight, my fate was sealed when I opted out of going to a baseball game with my dad so I could stay home and watch The Hobbit (the Bass-Rankin version, baby; I’m all about headlights Smaug). I subsequently enjoyed the book, as well, but I didn’t really think much of fantasy after that for another few years until my mom came home with a book one day.
Kaz the Minotaur. The book that would make sure my middle school years would be long and awkward.
Kaziganthi de Orilg was originally a friend of Huma Dragonbane, the Dragonknight who brought back the Silver Dragons to help the good knights of Solamnia fight the evil knights of Takhisis. I would read The Legend of Huma later and realize Kaz’s origins. But before I knew any of that, I knew Kaz was a badass.
Seriously. He’s stacked and has a giant axe and takes no crap. You got a problem with Kaz? He wrecks you with a giant axe. Then he mutters something about honor and he’s automatically absolved of wrongdoing, because they drew first blood. I can only barely remember what that book was about—some kind of conspiracy in the minotaur court, maybe—but I remember when Kaz’s axe turned into a lance, SHOOM, and it turned out it was a Dragonlance! That sounds badass! And there were elves and ogres and comic relief kender and knights and maidens, hell yeah.
And DRAGONS. So many dragons! Some of them spit chlorine gas! Some of them spit acid! Some of them spit fire! Some were good and some were jerks! And they came in a convenient color-coded system so you could tell which was which! And damn did that guy just ride that dragon holy wow and he’s going to bang that girl and she’s also a dragon you can sex a dragon holy hell how cool is this.
This enthusiasm would stay with me as I read probably thirty more Dragonlance novels. I read about gully dwarves and evil knights and I think there might have been a sex scene in one of them because there was a scantily-clad chick on the cover. I honestly couldn’t tell you the plots to a lot of them and the ones I could were usually along the lines of “Takhisis here, she want to kill your ass, don’t let her!” But I ate those books like popcorn.
I used to give myself a harder time for this, just as I gave myself a harder time for liking Drizzt. But thinking back, I can see why I was lured in.
First of all, it was simple. Everyone’s name said exactly what they did. Tanis Half-Elven, the Half Elf. Sturm Brightblade, the Paladin. Raistlin Majere, the Mage. Caramon Majere, the Douchebag. Tika, the… the Girl. Tasslehoff Burrfoot, the Annoying Bastard. Kaziganthi de Orilg, the Orilg. You didn’t need to understand a whole lot before going in.
Secondly, it validated my worldview as a young, awkward weirdo who had no experience with social interactions. The world was full of evil and it was all out to get you. Things were very easy to categorize into who was good and who was evil. Girls were scary and mysterious. People would frequently misunderstand and demean you for no reason. Things were unfair, but heroes are special and get the girl and everyone loves them and you could be one of them.
Eventually, that wore off on me. Eventually, I started to wonder why, exactly, a culture such as the minotaurs’ could spontaneously develop a good guy like Kaz. Eventually, I started to wonder why it was always women with ambition that were evil or brought about the end of the universe. Eventually, I started to wonder why it was that things were just regular good or regular evil.
Then Dragons of the Summer Flame came out and at the end they got rid of all the dragons and who the hell wants to read a book without dragons.
The love affair was over. I moved on to bigger, dourer fantasies where they say cusses and people died.
I do remember there was this one scene where Riverwind got his entire body melted off by acid down to the skeleton. Then Goldmoon’s magic brought him back. That scene would shape my reaction to Game of Thrones in the future where I was reading ahead desperately for the magic spell that would bring Ned back to life. Good times.
I was happy to leave a lot of it behind.
But some of it, I kept with me.
I still like the theme of the adventuring party. To me, it seemed like a great way to have conflicts built in as people with dissenting views were fit in to each other. I still like the idea of big bad evils that genuinely want to stomp the shit out of you and all that you hold dear.
But I still like the enthusiasm. I like a world that’s not completely charted on the map in the front of the book. I like a world that still has stuff to discover. I like seeing a crazy creature and being impressed with its description. I like swordfights and goofy armor and heroes that take the hard way instead of being assholes because they’re heroes.
I like saying “hell yeah.”
And though I’m never going to get that from Dragonlance again, I still think there’s room for that in fantasy today.