Dragonlance Reread

The Dragonlance Reread: Guest Highlord Ben Peek on The God Who Broke the Fourth Wall

Seeing as we’re between books right now, we thought we’d ask another Guest Highlord to bring us their stories of Dragonlance, since 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. This week, author Ben Peek discusses the crazed wizard Zifnab Zanfib Fizban.

Caution: unlike our normal reread posts, this contains spoilers for the rest of the Chronicles.

 

When the God Paladine first appears in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, he does so in the guise of an old man, yet to be named. He wears old grey robes (you might say that they were, once, white) and he carries a staff. When he appears again, half a book later, our heroes have been captured and are being transported. Paladine appears on the side of a road, arguing with a tree. A short time later, he tells them that his name is Fizban and he is shocked to hear that Fizban might not be a real name. Eventually, after a number of books, jokes, occasional fireballs, and a hat that is awfully mistreated, Fizban who is Paladine becomes the mortal elf named Valthonis. It is a more permanent change: at the end of Dragons of a Vanished Moon, after various trials and tribulations, Paladine gives up his divinity to ensure that a balance among the gods is maintained.

Which, of course, is all very well and fine, assuming you do not ask Zifnab, the wizard who has a guardian dragon in the Death Gate Cycle. Or Zanfib, the wizard appears in the Starshield series. If you asked them—

Well, I am sure they would say they didn’t know each other.

They would be right, of course. Certainly I would hate for it to be implied that I implied that it is implied that the three are the same.

It’s even explained clearly in The Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles. “Fizban is a crazed wizard owned by TSR under copyright,” co-author Tracy Hickman wrote. “While Zifnab is a completely different crazed wizard owned by Margaret and I. Incidentally, neither Fizban or Zifnab have any relationship to Zanfib – a crazed wizard from our Starshield series.”

See?

It is clear that neither Fizban, Zifnab, or Zanfib are the same wizard whose names is an anagram of the other. Indeed, it would be wrong of me to further suggest that such a character taken in its whole no longer functions as a character for one text (say, Fizban of the Dragonlance Chronicles) but as a link between the multiple texts of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In doing so, he becomes a signature a way in which the authors can tip their metaphoric hat to the audience, breaking not just the fourth wall, but invoking a metafiction criticism on the dimensions of madness. For, though the characters are one in the same of each, the Fizban/Zifnab/Zanfib triad is defined differently within each book. In the Dragonlance saga, Fizban is characterised by his benevolent madness, while in the Death Gate Cycle, a terrible loneliness fills Zifnab, and in the third, Zanfib is a much more violent character than the others.

Because of this, Fizban is a rare creation in Weis and Hickman’s body of work. When a reader first encounters him, it is clear that he is modelled upon Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey. Fizban’s robes may be a white underneath the grey, a tip to the alignment based school of magic he is aligned to in the Dragonlance world, the robes are also a reference to the character arc of Gandalf through Lord of the Rings, who goes from Grey to White. Fizban occupies the role of the mentor/guide, just as Gandalf does in Lord of the Rings. But it is there that the comparisons end. Fizban is much more aware in his role than Gandalf because he is a god, and it is that godhood of the later that finds itself able to tap into the authorial godhood, one that allows the character to move from the page of one book and into another.

In terms of Fizban’s single representation on the page, he does not break the fourth wall of the book as much as Zifnab, the crazed wizard of the Death Gate Cycle, does. For Fizban, his intrusions are through his modern dialogue, his references to things such a twenty-one gun salute. But Zifnab is much more gleeful. He does not address the reader, not in the way that, most recently, Deadpool has addressed the audience on screen, but in Elven Star, Zifnab discusses Tolkien openly. After shouting the immortal line, ‘Fly, you fools!’ before he is seemingly devoured by a dragon, Zifnab appears a short while later, indignant demanding to know why the dragon thought Gandalf ‘said it ‘better’?’. Of the three creations, only Zanfib is lackluster in his desire to break the fourth wall, but in truth, he has but brief appearances in Weis and Hickman’s Starshield series. It is almost as if he knows he is in a pair of books that, unfortunately, aren’t very good.

Still, it is with a surprisingly deft, comedic hand that Weis and Hickman manage their fourth wall breaking wizard. Part of it is, I suspect, because they have always had a good touch with humour in their work, from Tas’ beloved innocence, to Simkin’s malevolent trickery and the irony of the Djinns and the Gods in the Rose and the Prophet Trilogy. The fourth wall of Fizban to Zifnab and Zanfib is just another part of the comedy that they have played over their thirty-six year old career. It is not something that the two are often credited with—after all, their books are not comedic in a larger sense – but in all but the darker of their works, it has been there.

Assuming, of course, that you thought that Fizban is Zifnab who is Zanfib who is Fizban. For legal reasons, it is clear that I never did.

leviathans-bloodBen Peek lives in Sydney, Australia with books, two cats, and a photographer named Nik. He has written several books and contributed to many, many anthologies. His second novel in the Children trilogy, Leviathan’s Blood, publishes on April 7th by Pan Macmillan in the UK and on May 31st by Thomas Dunne in the US.

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