Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread! Last week our party entered the dark woods of Silvanesti and promptly fell into a dream-state. Raistlin got a gothic wardrobe update.
This week, the nightmare continues and things get bleak.
“Waking dreams. Future visions.” and “The dream ends. The nightmare begins.”
We kick off mid-nightmare, in the haunted forests of the Silvanesti elves.
Raistlin, black-robed and hearty, is propping up Caramon, who is bleeding out from a vicious injury. Meanwhile, Tanis and Sturm (who isn’t there?) plow towards a Tower (capital T!). Sturm’s taking hits, but spurs on their efforts, saying they must get there before Raistlin. Tanis stumbles and is saved by… Kitiara!
Riverwind fights undead tribesmen, who blame him for the destruction of the Que-Shu (remember that, back in Autumn Twilight? Before this sequence, that was the most harrowing part of the series). They kill him!
Tika and Flint fight draconians. Distracted by Raistlin (?), Tika loses control and accidentally kills her dwarven friend. We see the same thing from his viewpoint, and learn that it is a combination of Tika’s novice flailing and Flint’s failing vision that leads to the dwarf’s death.
Goldmoon stumbles on Riverwind’s body and finds herself unable to heal him. The gods have abandoned her.
Tas finds Tika at the base of the Tower (of the Stars, Lorac’s castle) and picks a ‘simple’ lock to get them inside, but while he fumbles with it, he sets off a trap—and the kender is poisoned. Meanwhile, Tika dies.
Caramon and Raistlin step over their bodies… or, at least Raistlin does. Caramon, now the weak one (get it?) collapses—Raistlin has taken his strength. The wizard moves on without him…
Tanis, Kit and Sturm also find the dead bodies of, well, everyone. And forge their way further into the Tower. They encounter, in order: Laurana (shocked to meet Kitiara), Cyan Bloodbane (a huge green dragon) and Raistlin (wizard). Sturm starts after Raistlin but decides that his destiny is for bigger and better things, and charges the dragon instead. He’s lured in by the glamorous sound of knightly glory, but really, that’s just the sound of draconians charging in on the flank. The dragon makes short work of him, and the draconians start in on Laurana. Tanis starts to rescue her, but then Kitiara is in trouble, and he panics, unable to figure out who he is going to save.
While Raistlin and Cyan Bloodbane go to battle, Tanis passes out… as he fades from consciousness, he’s aware of the ring in his hand—Laurana’s ring—and that grounds him in reality. Tanis has it all figured out: something’s gone horribly wrong. It’s getting dark, and it’s all too quiet, and he can’t trust anything now.
He wakes up—on the floor of the Tower. Nearby is Raistlin… in red robes.
Yet, as awful as all this was—with the party dying left, right and centre, the reality is somehow even worse.
Raistlin explains that the orb somehow sent the dragon away, and that Tanis had survived because of his ‘love’. Tanis explains that, if that’s the case, the others may have survived as well. But that the dream may have been a vision of the future, and, if so, that’s pretty terrifying.
The two, exhausted and drained, stagger through the Tower, where they find Caramon, who is solicitous as always, and delighted to find Raistlin. The three find the centre of the Tower, a once-beautiful, now corrupted and nightmarish place. Lorac, Alhana’s father and the lord of the Silvanesti elves, sits on a throne in the centre, his hand clutching the dragon orb. Alhana cringes at his feet, until Tanis wakes her. Lorac is still consumed by his dream, but these four have now shaken free.
Raistlin explains that the orb has now swapped sides—that it went from Lorac to the dragon, then joined Raistlin in scaring off the dragon. Before Tanis can probe further, Lorac awakens (screaming). He gibbers about how he’s killed everyone here, but, as he does, the rest of the party trickles in—Tika, Goldmoon and Riverwind. Sturm, Flint, Kitiara and Laurana were, ‘of course’, never there. As Caramon holds the weeping Tika, Tanis wonders how the party will ever sleep again…
Monster(s) of the Week
Fiery eyes, hulking, curling tongue, jowls, shining claws, etc. Apparently a nasty, enormous dragon, he’s really only alluded to—we’re cheated of the dream-Raistlin/dream-Cyan smackdown, which is a huge shame. But at least he impales dream-Sturm first.
Dream-beasties—elves, Que-Shu, draconians. Armed to the teeth, vicious, judgemental and largely metaphorical.
The dragon orb. Given that it seems to have some sort of sentience, this huge orb (two feet across!) counts as a monster. There’s always something particularly disconcerting about vast alien intelligences captured in inanimate objects, so we’ll chalk this one down as a bad guy.
‘The trees, contorted in agony, still wept blood. Who will live here now? Tanis wondered sadly.’ –
Not the finest writing there, but the point still stands. The notion of Silvanesti as this deeply post-apocalyptic anti-Tolkien elvish realm is seriously, well, not appealing, but very interesting. Anyway, to answer his question… goths?
‘He clutched the magic sword of Kith-Kanan and rushed towards the dragon, his one thought to kill or be killed.’
Complicated. This is Tanis’s “dying” moment—he’s stood by ‘hesitating’ while Laurana was killed by draconians. And then while going to her (too late), he wasn’t able to help Kitiara, who also falls. Which means his indecision has meant the death of both women (metaphor, innit). But, in the context of the dream sequence, it also means Tanis isn’t really motivated by love, is he? He doesn’t choose one or the other, and, if anything, his final moment is one of rage, anger and a mindless quest for destruction. I suppose the counterpoint is that as he is “dying”, he is clutching the ring, but the thought of Laurana never really enters his mind. Tanis is saved because he sees through the illusion at the last minute, not because of “love”, as Raistlin would have it.
Hmm. Possibly because it is more explicit, I’m less impressed by this week’s pair of dream sequence chapters. Last week was all tension and vagueness and inexplicable creepy. This week is all bloody death, heavy-handed metaphor and slightly baroque description (everything in this chapter is basically made of animal bones and nightmares). I understand that we’re still essentially in a game world, and that world has rules and codes, but still—this was a little much.
Part of that, I suspect, is intentional. We do get three major themes/hints/pick a word out of this.
The first is some extremely directional character development. Each character faces their metaphorical and defining fear and/or failure:
- Tanis, as noted, is trapped in indecision.
- Laurana and Kitiara, as noted, are defined by Tanis’ indecision (which is slightly less unBechdelly as it seems, since they’re figments of his imagination and not actually there)
- Sturm is defined by his quest for honour and glory (wait, he’s not there either, so, I take back the note about Laurana and Kitiara, above)
- Flint, his fear of aging into obsolescence (again, he’s not there—so really, Laurana and Kit do get screwed over)
- Riverwind, his abandonment of his people, and his guilt for starting this series of events with the blue crystal staff (a legit concern, poor Riverwind)
- Goldmoon, fear of losing her faith, or being responsible for the gods turning away (again)
- Tas, letting his friends down (deeper than it may sound, as he’s so delightfully frivolous, he’s probably self-aware that he… may unintentionally disappoint them someday)
- Tika, nervous that her inexperience may hurt the rest of the party
- Caramon, that Raistlin will no longer need him.
I’m not saying this is particularly sleek, but it is a pattern that helps us learn more about the party and develop their characters. The one exception, of course, is Raistlin—who seems to be embracing his nightmare persona with glee. And why wouldn’t he? He’s physically sound, magically equal to a dragon and, as we all know, black is an extremely elegant colour.
The second ‘theme’ would be the heavy-handed hints, including the chapter title, that this isn’t just a dream sequence, it is also some serious foreshadowing. Given the major character changes—including death (everyone) and/or turning to evil (Raistlin)—that’s pretty exciting. The hard part, I suppose, is picking out which of these twists are legitimate and which are red (or black) herrings. Which, officially, your guess is as good as mine. (Unofficially, spoilers are welcome in the comments, and there’s plenty to talk about.)
And, third, a ‘theme’ is that we finally get Kitiara. And she’s rather cool! Even as an extension of Tanis’s perpetually-sundered libido, she’s a hoot. She’s surprisingly cold-blooded, but she does help Tanis out—a lot—and is the only person that actually appreciates Raistlin becoming a flat-out badass. Figment or not, she’s much more interesting than teary-eyed and tragic Laurana.
Still, despite these chapters’ functional value, they’re just not as harrowing as the previous chapter—or even the previous moments of horror (again, Que-Shu stands out). I think part of this is the fact that we don’t believe these character deaths: a bit like the wicker dragon, they’re simply too quick and cavalier. This is a book that, stylistically, likes to draw out the melodrama. If there’s a party massacre, it’ll be far more heavy-handed than this—and the reader knows it. There’s also Stephen King’s ‘8 foot bug’ rule—which is, to paraphrase—that explicit horror is always less scary than implicit. As soon as you show the reader an eight-foot-tall bug, they may scream, but secretly, they’re thinking ‘oh, thank god—I was worried it was nine feet tall!’. In this case, we’ve got scary paintings and a scary throne and scary skeletons and everything, everywhere, is decorated in bones and blood and… it just doesn’t actually feel that scary. It is too over the top, with too many macabre details. The twisted trees alone: scary. A bony tower of nightmare blood-bone boney-blood-nightmares? Eh.
These last few chapters—this week’s installment and last week’s—have been pretty heavy. So many deaths! So what if it was all just a dream? It was still suffocating enough while it was ‘happening’, even though this week was far less creepy than last—actual deaths aren’t as scary as the potential of one, as Jared points out. Still, so much heavy handed drama! This is partly why we love Dragonlance, after all.
Jared’s listed all the points made in the imaginary massacre above, all valid and all with potential to be played out interestingly, as long as they don’t play out exactly as they’ve been foreshadowed—if this is all foreshadowing. I’m disappointed though that this imaginary Kitiara is all we have for our first meeting with a character we’ve heard so much about so far. At this point, I could really do with a cool female character who isn’t always crying for unrequited love or pleading to the gods or clinging to Caramon. One who appreciates Raistlin—well, that would just be an added bonus and would make me love her all the more.
My suspension of disbelief in all this fails with the whole ‘you lived because of your love/ambition’. Jared is right that Tanis didn’t really have any love as such that saved him (unless you count being torn between two women so much that they both die love), which makes no sense when Caramon, for all his love for his brother does not survive. Raistlin, surviving because of his ambition—yes, that makes sense, and I do enjoy the fact that of everyone who is destroyed in this nightmare vision, Raistlin is the one who comes out on top. He doesn’t die but instead becomes stronger both physically and magically, and is last man standing against a massive dragon. So really, this is hardly a nightmare scenario for Raistlin, who may lose all his companions but seems pretty heroic about it, all things given.
Here’s hoping the Raistlin as hero bit does come true.
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.