Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread! Let’s head back to Krynn for our weekly visit. Last week, Raistlin had a run-in with the Dragon Orb while Fizban chastised Tas over his bout of petty theft.
This time, we’re going to check out the Gnomes home and visit the Council too—important decisions must be made!
“Gnomeflingers” and “The Council of Whitestone. An important person.”
Fizban and Tas are at Mount Nevermind, hanging with the gnomes. The chapter begins with an ominous warning from Fizban—“no gnome living or dead has ever completed a sentence.” (I know he means “in history,” but I’d also like to interpret that as ZOMBIE GNOMES.) And he is… right. Upon entering the gnome’s home, our intrepid(?) heroes are faced with a barrage of sounds, poking, prodding and questions. Whistles blow everywhere, alarms go off, steam plumes, doors slide open, etc.—gnomes scurrying in every direction; someone even snaffles Tas’s hoopak so they can draw a diagram of it.
Their guide is “Gnosh”, which is shorthand for a much, much longer name that—after a few attempts at comedy—everyone ignores. Fizban and Tas follow him, discussing the Orb (well, Fizban says cryptic things), and watching the gnomes rush around and do things. The gnome city is built inside the shaft of a volcano—35 floors high. And much to Tas’s delight, the gnomes use catapults to move from floor to floor. “Every type of catapult… sling catapults, cross-bow catapults, willow-sprung catapults, steam-driven catapults…”—machines everywhere, a mass of “whistles, ropes, and huge shapeless things.”
There’s a little more comedy: Fizban is catapulted through the air, but the nets meant to catch him don’t work. There are more emergency measures: bells, nets, barrels of sponges(!), and it all resolves happily and amusingly.
Hijinks successfully ensued, Fizban, Gnosh and Tas face the Orb. Gnosh explains that his family has studied Orbs for generations—in fulfilment (or lack thereof) of a generational “Life Quest.” Upon facing the Orb, Fizban chucks the others out of the room in an angry fit. A few minutes later, he dramatically rejoins them, glower on his face, Orb in his hand. Fizban explains that they need to take the Orb to the Council of Whitestone, and that he had used the Orb to look into the future—and there are dark roads ahead. The tone of Fizban’s words sinks in, and Tas contemplates that—as fun as this adventure is—terrible things may be happening in the future…
Skipping ahead to the much-alluded-to Council. Held on the 28th day of December. It has been a month since Sturm (et al) sailed to Palanthas, and the reports haven’t been good. The Palanthians, far from feeling ‘saved’, have been negotiating with the Dragon Highlords, and have booted the knights out of the city. Moreover, the Council isn’t in great shape. The last time the Council met—prompted by the refugee crisis of the fleeing Elves (TOPICAL)—things went badly. The mountain dwarves and hill dwarves got into a grump. The Silvanesti and Qualinesti elves got into a grump. The humans and Elves got into a grump. Much grumping. The only representative that was actually volunteering to be helpful? The Kender. Whom everyone ignored.
Gunthar was initially more optimistic about the second meeting, what with the Dragon Orb as sign of progress. But the elves—collectively—aren’t playing ball. Before the meeting even starts, they demand the orb is “returned” to them, else they go to war.
Gunthar and Elistan (who is playing the role of diplomat) share their sob stories, and form a bit of a bromance. Elistan impresses the Knights, who like his Old Testament vibe.
The Whitestone itself is a big white, er, rock. Sitting in the middle of an eternally green field, supposedly blessed by the Kingpriest of Istar itself. Even the Cataclysm hadn’t affected it, and, although the glade is a beautiful place, few approach the Whitestone itself.
The five voting members of the [Security] Council sit on one side of the Whitestone, and the three advisory members, including the elves, on the other. With benches facing them, for Krynn’s many political junkies. The elves are represented by the Speaker of the Sun (Laurana’s pa), Porthios (who Gunthar quite likes), Lord Quinath (the regent of Silvanesti, since Alhana took a powder and her dad died). The voters also join—representatives from Ergoth, the exiles and the Knights.
Gunthar doesn’t even make it through his welcome speech before the elves interrupt and demand the Orb returned. Gunthar refuses. The elves declare war. Everyone gets very, very, very tense. Poor Gnosh has his report on the Orb, but realises that no one wants Gnomish PowerPoint right now. Tas looks around, hoping for someone—anyone—to calm everyone down, but Elistan’s absent and Fizban’s asleep (bless him).
As angry words fly around, Tas hears the Speaker renounce Laurana, and that sets him off. He demands everyone’s attention, and, to his horror, they give it. Inspired, he claims his seat on the Council. And keeps talking as he slides over towards it. Tas explains that the Kender are increasingly overlooked (go figure), but they know one thing… “we should be fighting dragons. Not each other.” And with that, he grabs the Orb and breaks it against the Whitestone. Which is, all things considered, both incredibly badass and shockingly stupid.
But we’re not out of the woods yet. Once everyone is over their shock, Tas is in serious trouble. Porthios menaces him a bit, but Fizban (suddenly awake) magics his sword away. Fizban also gives the Speaker of the Sun a serious dressing down, and gets him to sit down—defusing the situation. Fizban continues to give the crowd a lecture, punctuated by taking a seat against the Whitestone itself (everyone freaks out) again.
Fizban explains that the Orbs were created by master wizards, and can only be used by those with great power and strength. There are few of those, he says. And no one that’s there today. (Ouch.) And furthermore, before they think all is lost just because the Orb is broken, well…
Because we’re still not in the clear yet. Fizban words are interrupted by yet another rock breaking (it is a bad day for inanimate objects). Theros has arrived, and flung a Dragonlance into the Whitestone itself. With another dramatic speech, he says he’s been given the power to forge these (rather impressive) weapons, and now they can join together and kick a little dragon-ass.
Good! The chapter ends with the dragonlance thrust into the ground, standing “straight and shining, amid the broken pieces of the dragon orb”. (Which, broken, no longer merits capitalisation.)
Monster(s) of the Week
Gnomes again. Saucy little critters.
“I saw two roads stretching before us. If we take the easiest, it will appear the best at the beginning, but darkness will fall at the end, never to be lifted. If we take the other road, it will be hard and difficult to travel. It could cost the lives of some we love, dear boy. Worse, it might cost others their very souls. But only through those great sacrifices will we find hope.”
We’ve had a few vague prophecies so far; let’s just earmark this one for later.
“the twenty-eighth day of December”
Last week I went on about Yuletide and the slightly-anachronistic sense it gave me. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but “December”—that’s weird, right? We’re implying the Julian (possibly even Gregorian) calendar is used. And when you take the titles of the months into account, that gets even more confusing. I suppose “December” just implies they use Latin (weird already), but what if they have an August?! Or July?! Was there a Roman Empire on Krynn?! AAAAAH!
“We have always been a people who looked to the gods for our hope, a people of faith, who distrusted magic. Yet now we look to magic for that hope, and when a chance comes to renew our faith, we question it.”
Gunthar hits the nail on the head. A really great line, honestly—encompassing the, for lack of a better word, “decline” of the Knighthood.
“No mortal can touch the Whitestone!”
Bellowed at Fizban when he takes a seat on the thing. Oh, indeedy.
Theros is described as “the black man” twice in a paragraph, which is a) awesome—between him, Gnosh and the chaps from Ergoth, we’ve got some actual POC in a high fantasy book and b) just a little clumsy, in the awkward sense.
I’m a big fan of the Council of Whitestone scene. Just like we had some courtroom drama, now we’ve had political drama. Out of narrative necessity, I think some of the characters wind up acting in slightly unnatural ways—Gunthar’s a lot snarkier than we’ve seen him in the past, for example. And the Speaker of the Suns, who is a strong (if cranky) figure, is very easily cowed. But all things said, everyone here has a role to play. We need snarky, cranky, petty forces of good, so the ‘childlike innocence’ of the Kender can cut through the bollocks of worldly powers and remind them of what’s really at stake.
Like most epic fantasies, Dragonlance seems have a low opinion of government, full stop. No one is ever quite as evil as the older brother that becomes mayor, the prince that wants to become king, or the merchants that want to extend their trade routes… In this very chapter, we have the elves and humans with their individual and collective issues, all hindering what we objectively know is the force of Good. Plus, in the background, the selfish rulers of Palanthas negotiating with the Highlords rather than supporting the war efforts.
I suspect that’s because—without institutional failure, we can’t have individual heroism. Would we even need the Heroes of the Lance if the Elves and Knights just bonded at the beginning to crush the Highlords? This also fits with the series’ ongoing portrayal of decadence and decline—as noted by Gunthar, above. The institutions—the Knights, the Council, the ‘governments’—are turning to worldly solutions, compromises and half-measures—rather than staying true to their faith and their core purpose. They don’t even believe in the Dragon Orb, but at least it exists, so they’d rather fight over that than renew their faith.
It all makes for a good narrative, if one that functions (or resolves) more successfully in story than in the real world—but that’s the beauty of epic fantasy. We get a sandbox in which concepts like this can be explored.
I have to admit, I’d clean forgotten about the gnomes. I can’t even recall if they come up again (so never worry about spoliers from me, I can’t remember last week half the time), but they’re a bit…funny, aren’t they? And no, not in a hahaheeheehoohoo way. The entire treatment of this one race/species as a bunch of over brown skinned, bumbling little nerdy creatures with too-long unpronounceable names who are highly advanced technologically but don’t seem to be able to communicate well is just…awkward. I’m not sure I find it amusing—hell, I don’t really find the Tas and Fizban physical comedy amusing either, but the gnomes really do seem to be some odd stereotype that makes me uncomfortable.
Moving on, the Council of Whitestone scene is, as Jared pointed out, highly entertaining—far more entertaining to me than the earlier courtroom drama. We’ve got all sorts of people here, everyone—even the Kender!—is weighing in on what’s going on, lot’s of drama and…wait, are there women in Krynn? Because suddenly, I feel like there aren’t. In fact, even the mere mention of Laurana get’s her dad’s knickers in a twist. Where are all the women? In the kitchen, cooking? Because they sure as hell aren’t involved in any major decisions their people seem to be taking. I’m getting pretty annoyed at the lack of women when it comes to—literally!—crowd scenes. I’m not entirely satisfied with the few female characters we have as it is, and then to never see any women being a part of large councils etc is a bit rubbish. Maybe they’re too pretty to come out and indulge in politics?
Still, I’ll stop complaining for a second to say oh well thank the goddess we finally have a dragonlance around! One in perfect, mint condition! How cool is that, you guys?!
Next week: We see Laurana…who vanished in these chapters for reasons unknown. Probably just fixing her hair or something, right?
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.