Things were getting way too exciting in the Chronicles—what with a unicorn, some magic stools and the fiery fate of the Que-Shu village. This means it is time for our irregularly-scheduled guest post.
Our Guest Highlord this month is Kamila Shamsie. Kamila has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and her latest novel, A God in Every Stone, is currently a finalist for the Baileys Women’s Prize. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 2013 was named as one of Granta’s Best Young Novelists. And, like any properly celebrated literary novelist, she’s a huge fan of Dragonlance.
Caution: unlike our normal reread posts, this contains spoilers for the rest of the Chronicles. But you probably would’ve gathered that from the title.
Several years ago, when I was promoting a recently-published novel, a journalist asked me if I ever dream of my characters. I didn’t, which was a surprise to me but not to the journalist who had asked the question to dozens of writers and always received the same response. Perhaps dreams and the imagination occupy different parts of the brain, she suggested. Later, thinking about this, I remembered that despite all the deeply immersive reading of my life, and all it has compelled me to imagine, there is only one character from fiction who has ever appeared in my dreams: Tasslehoff Burrfoot. I only remember a single image of the dream, nearly two decades old now (Tasslehoff sitting cross-legged on a rock with his elbows on his knees, chin propped up by his hands) but that single image is enough for me to say, Tas, you little thief, trust you to steal into a dream where no fictional character belongs.
If I could have had my pick of a character from Chronicles to have dreamt of it wouldn’t have been Tas. Nor the ever-intriguing Raistlin, who would have turned the dream into a nightmare with one blink of his hourglass eyes. My dream wish is Kitiara. But if dreams and imagination occupy separate spaces it could never be Kitiara, since there is no one in the Dragonlance Chronicles whom I have imagined as intensely as her.
From almost the very start, the Chronicles ask that we imagine her in the way that we aren’t called upon to imagine anyone else. Autumn Twilight begins; the Companions gather; we recognise we are being introduced to a fellowship that will carry us through the series. And then: Kitiara—sister to the twins, lover of Tanis, the one woman among all the men—isn’t coming.
Bad luck descends, and everything that follows, follows from this moment. Kitiara’s failure to arrive is the real drama of the opening—not Goldmoon and her staff. If Kitiara had been merely sister, merely lover, merely lone-woman she might have existed at the periphery of our imaginations—but how could the writer(s) present her as all three of the above and expect readers to imagine her as anything less than the central figure of the story, the absence at the heart of the Companions and the text? How are we supposed to read the beginning of Autumn Twilight and imagine the whole story is propelling itself towards anything other than Kitiara?
And then, it never quite happens. She is there in the story later on, pages crackling with unpredictability when she appears, but Hickman and Weis don’t seem to know quite what to do with her, how to deal with the energy of her presence. So she becomes ‘the wrong choice’ who Tanis has to walk away from, and plays little other role except in the death of Sturm—but there, too, she is peripheral, masked, and only allowed the tiniest walk-on role at the end.
What I would have given for one scene with Kitiara amidst all the Companions. If Raistlin can find a place in the fellowship despite his love for power, his willingness to betray his allies in its pursuit, why not Kitiara? The answer, depressingly, seems to be that there are different rules for women.
Consider, after all, the women who join the Companions. Laura, ‘the right choice’, so pure and untainted that even Raistlin can see no sign of decay in her; Goldmoon, the spiritual figure who tames a Barbarian’s heart; Tika, who seems to exist largely to give Cameron the prospect of a ‘happy family’ after Raistlin. If I’m reducing these women to their relationships to men, it’s only because the books lead us in that direction. Where are the close relationships between women, in the way we have with Sturm and Tanis, Cameron and Raistlin, even Flint and Tasslehoff? Kitiara exists outside the rules of the Chronicles and so the Chronicles remain simultaneously fascinated and repelled by her.
Which leads me to Otik’s Spiced Fried Potatoes. A year or so after I first read Chronicles I found the official recipe for them. Although I was no cook as a teenager I was determined to recreate them. But then I looked at the ingredients. 1-2 dashes of cayanne. That was it for spices. Even then, I knew how wrong this was. 1-2 dashes? Cayanne? At the very least, there should have been fresh green chilis and red chili powder and cumin and turmeric. At the very least! And then it all made sense. Of course there wasn’t a fitting place for Kitiara in the Chronicles. She had altogether too much spice in her.