Dragonlance Reread

The Dragonlance Chronicles Reread: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

and

Thank you for sticking with us for eighteen months, three books, sixty posts (75,000 words!), and seven guest posts! We’ve fought dragons, marvelled at Goldmoon’s hair, escaped death knights and (endlessly) argued over Laurana’s agency. WE’RE ALL THE REAL HEROES.

To wrap things up in a fun—and hopefully interactive—way, we’ve decided to interview ourselves. A simple 10 (+1) question discussion, easily numbered, so you can take part in the comments! Please chime in, and answer the questions you want, or make any other comment you’d like. We’re easy!

 

1. Let’s start with an easy one—which was your favourite monster?

Jared: First question, and I’m already cheating. I’ve got a serious geek-crush on Cyan Bloodbane—who is the big, badass, rebel without a cause of dragons. Plus, one of the behind-the-scenes big bads of Winter Night. That said, he never actually does anything, and all of the Cyan-related awesomeness is off camera. So, yeah. So my real answer: the very first draconians. The claws, grasping from their ridiculous clerical costumes. The “holy $^@&!” moment when they turn to stone. They’re new and different and very, very scary.

Mahvesh: Are you even asking me this? How can you even ask me this! Yeah, okay, we’re asking ourselves this, but still, you’ve been reading along, right? You all know who my favourite monster is. My favourite everything. He’s the biggest, baddest, most complicated and intriguing character by miles. Here’s the thing—Raistlin isn’t straight up evil, not to me, anyway. Kitiara is, to me, a more evil person than Raistlin, but he’s still more interesting because of the fantastic personal journey he has. So yes, he’s not evil, but he is a monster. And we love him for it, right?

 

2. Counterpoint! Which was the worst (or least enjoyable) monster?

Mahvesh: Toede. Ugh. That guy was the worst. Apparently he murdered his own mother (after murdering a few hobgoblin children and blaming it on her) to take over his tribe, then pledged allegiance to the Dragonarmies and eventually ended up Fewmaster! I get that he’s all cunning and stuff (stuff = matricide), but he really was just incredibly annoying. I was glad he was dead. He brought nothing to the table. No charm, no charisma, no great sexy evil. Nothing!

Jared: Where did you get all that? Are you a secret Toede fan, reading the Fewmasterwiki?! Here’s my HOT TAKE: I think Lord Soth is a weenie. When I first read the series, at the tender age of… young… he was the bee’s knees, and I’m damn sure I wanted to be him when I grew up. Now, I can’t see him anything other than mega-gothy fan service. His ‘tragic’ storyline makes him sound like an ass, he’s so overpowered as to be more of a plot device than a person, and he’s kind of a creeper! There are a lot of villains in Chronicles that are more nuanced and more interesting. And for sheer mojo, I prefer many of the other baddies (Ariakas, Cyan, Kit, and, of course, Raistlin!)

 

3. Unsurprisingly, given Dragonlance’s unusual origin as simultaneously a game and a book, it has some fairly epic fight scenes. Which was your favourite?

Jared: SO MANY. I think, as a book, Autumn Twilight has a huge advantage: from the initial draconian encounter through to the beat-down on Verminaard, it is packed with action scenes, and they’re almost all fresh and interesting. The other books are more (and this is no bad thing) character-driven, and with the exception of a bit of aerial combat, most of the fights are glossed-over. My favourite has to be from the middle of Autumn Twilight, and that’s the “elevator fight” in Xak Tsaroth. The party are all at their most effective and their goofiest, and it is a blast to read. (Side note: I once DM’d a very similar fight in an RPG once, and had to basically build a giant styrofoam set in order to capture the crazy 3-D-ness of it all. I’d love to know how people fared with this scenario when it first came out!)

Mahvesh: I love the very first dragon on dragon action sequence at the end of Autumn Twilight, even with the cheesy dragon-eyed view we get. Because—dragon! Plus, dragonfear and fire and …dragon! And if we’re going to gloss over action sequences, as Jared correctly points out above, let us at least get a massive dragon in the picture.

 

4. We’ve now spent 18 months and over 1,000 pages in the company of these Heroes. Let’s talk about how we really feel (not that we’ve been shy). First up—who was the biggest pain in the ass?

Mahvesh: Tanis. Without a doubt. He has way too many feelings. So. Many. Feelings.

Jared: Silvara. Tanis is like a long-term, continuous aching pain, where Silvara was a half-book-length bat to the knee.

 

5. On a more positive spin—which character did you wind up liking the most?

Jared: Raistlin. Obv. No surprise there. Between the gothy scowling, the problem solving, and the raw power, what’s not to love? Also, he even had a bit of character evolution and everything. And, again, referencing the game—how cool is it that a low-level mage basically did the Xak Tsaroth dungeon crawl? He cast, what, two spells in the entire ‘session’, and did the rest with proficiencies and cunning?! Not bad.

Mahvesh: As above! Do I need to talk more about Raistlin? I’ve barely managed to not talk about Raistlin each week. Truth be told, I liked him to start off with, and more so at the end when he grew into someone to really rekon with. Jared’s right—Raistlin didn’t have much going on in his magical repertoire, but he still pretty much always managed to save the day & the crew—whom he didn’t particularly even like, mind you. Sure, he was always weak and mean but just look at him now!

 

6. Which character surprised you the most? Or grew on you?

Mahvesh: Tika & Laurana, both. I didn’t have very many feelings for her at all at the start, other than the ‘oh poor Tika, she’s so pretty, what a burden, sigh’ variety of thoughts but honestly, the poor girl really tried. She tried to stand up for herself, she tried to be useful to the crew, she taught herself to fight (kinda), she dealt with Caramon’s bro-baggage and just really did try to be more than just a pretty buxom bar wench stereotype. She didn’t get too far, I know, but A for effort here.

Laurana, of course, tried and managed to grow a lot, didn’t she? From Tanis’ mournful lover left behind, to someone who ended up being a better leader than he did—that’s quite a journey. Plus, she doesn’t need Tanis anymore to complete her sense of self, which is fantastic. That Tanis—more baggage than Lord Soth.

Jared: Yeah, I’m also going with Laurana. I feel sheepish, given how much she annoyed me in Autumn Twilight, but… She went from spoilt dingbat to Golden General to—without overselling it too much—herself. I like that she “grew up”, but I more like that she went from quasi-teen (despite being like 80) runaway brat to undisputed party leader. She had good sense (mostly), chutzpah, charm and courage. Also, obviously, BEAUTY. (In case you missed it, she was beautiful. Did you know she was beautiful? She’s beautiful.)

 

7. And Chronicles was littered with hook-ups. Which couple did you enjoy (or cheer for) the most?

Jared: That’s really, really tough. Does Caramon/Raistlin count? Probably not. I will say that I’m kind of happy about where Tanis/Laurana ended up. I’ve definitely gone round the houses on both of them, and, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t deserve her, I’m glad that they’re in a place where she’s got some agency, and they’re (finally?) taking things in a… relatively… mature way.

Mahvesh: I’m not going to lie—I love how Kitiara treats Tanis like crap. Uses him, tosses him away when she’s done, pulls him back for her personal purpose, whatever those two are. It’s toxic and we can guess at Kit’s kinks but I’m always highly entertained by them. Or maybe I just find Tanis so annoying that I like him being used and abused. What can I say?

Oh and Fizban and Tas were always cute.

 

8. And the reverse—which couple did you really dislike?

Mahvesh: Goldmoon & Riverwind. Other than the initial power struggle where he can’t handle the fact that she’s his chieftain and has some serious insecurities because he feels inferior to her, they’re quite boring.

Jared: Is it weird that I forgot about them? I know they weren’t on the final dungeon crawl, but, I can’t remember them at all outside Autumn Twilight. They get married… Goldmoon says something or another when they’re in Istar… and… does Riverwind even have a line in the last two books? Still, I am far too weirded out by the Gilthanas dating technique. I’m no fan of Silvara, but I’m not sure the Gilthanas stalk-and-talk (about himself) tactic impressed me. I know there’s some sort of deep Shakespearean tragedy here (as there is with most human/lizard relationships), but I don’t care enough about either character to make it work.

 

9. The sprawling setting was also a big part of the story. From treetop towns to underwater cities; dragon-shaped tombs and abyssal temples. Which was your favourite?

Jared: Hmm. I love the library of Palanthas, although that’s just the book geek in me. But I’m going with the blasted ruins of Silvanesti. The setting—with its apocalyptic anti-Tolkienism—is gorgeously nightmarish. And the way the setting and the characters merge, with the dreams and the foreshadowing and the horror, is really excellently done. I think that’s where some of the series’ best writing takes place, as well as some of its most innovative fantasy.

Mahvesh: The ruins of Silvanesti for me too. For all the reasons above. The nightmare state of the ruins is just fantastic in every way.

 

10. Is there a place—or, for that matter, plotline—that you feel we missed out on? What would you like to revisit in more detail?

Jared: Two bits leap out. The fight for the dragon orb was dumped on us in freakin’ rhyme. Which is a serious cop-out. But there were—apparently—walrus men! The dark elf Highlord at the South Pole! White dragons! Frozen dragons! Walrus men! Did I mention the walrus men?! The other bit I’d like to revisit would be the underwater city of Istar. I’m quite taken with the campaign idea where the adventurers are salvage specialists, using magic to dive deep underwater and recover artifacts from the lost city… with rivals, pirates, sea dragons, etc.

Mahvesh: Just the fight for the dragon orb cop-out, that Jared mentions above. Everything else was… a lot. Thanks, I’m full.

 

11. Big thoughts time! Overall… what do you think? Did you enjoy Chronicles? Did you like Chronicles? If so, why? If not, why not?

Mahvesh: Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out why I liked them so much the first time around.

Jared: It’s official. We’ve broken Mahvesh. At least we made it to the very last post…

I’ve got more mixed feelings, and since I’m holding the mic, I’m going to steal this last moment for a Sweeping Conclusion.

Let me break this down into a few points:

Point the first. The writing was worse than I remembered. Honestly, a lot worse. And, by writing, I mean the actual technical craft of making words into a story. It was clunky and repetitive. As a kid, no problem—maybe I was a more imaginative reader, or maybe it was just because this was my first ‘adult’ fiction. Also, the plot is often nonsensical. It is, like the game materials it is co-dependent with, a series of scenarios linked, often haphazardly, by railroading. Basically, a lot of problems—in my theory—that stem from a combination of debut authors and a truly unique set of publishing constraints.

Point the second. On a slightly higher level, I think Chronicles actually kicks a bit of ass, writing-wise. It has a mob of a cast, but we still care about all of them, and they’re all fully-fleshed. It balances multiple plotlines well. It infodumps surprisingly rarely, and lets the reader explore the world with a sense of awe. The action scenes are really exciting, and the book experiments with different ways of showing them, including using different POVs to, more or less, good effect. Despite magic being an actual, tabulated system, it still feels wondrous. It isn’t surprising that Weis & Hickman went on to write some damn good books: they’re already nailing all the “hard stuff” in Chronicles, and that’s impressive.

Point the third. I’ve argued in the past (ON THE INTERNET) that Dragonlance is immensely important—a combination of doing something different, and doing so in a visible, replicable way. And this (very) close and (very) long meander through the book has only reinforced my opinion.

I think there’s something amazing about this series in the way that it:

… refutes the Chosen One trope (and predestination in general) and subverts Tolkien archetypes;

… has flawed characters that are just as likely to set the quest back as push it forward;

… introduces complex villains and ambiguous anti-heroes (bonus: character arcs that aren’t just redemption stories!);

… presents the ‘ideal’ status quo as a balance, and not the eradication of evil;

… plays with the idea of objective alignment.

In contrast to the point above, I think a lot of this good stuff stems from Dragonlance’s unique game-related origin. It needed a world that couldn’t be fully explored; problems that couldn’t be thoroughly, definably solved. And, perhaps most importantly, it needed to show that heroism could take many forms, including anti-heroism and failure. These are such important ideas—it is no surprise that the children reading Dragonlance grew up to explore and evolve these themes further, writing the fantasy novels we see on our shelves today.

So… are they good? Kinda. Maybe not. But are they great? Maybe. The significance of the books only seems to grow over time, and rereading them has only increased my appreciation of what they accomplish.

Thanks to Tor.com and our wonderful guest authors and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman and Dungeons & Dragons and Taylor Swift for making this such an amazing experience. And, most importantly, thank you, you wonderful commenters and debaters and arguers and fans—you’ve been awesome, and thanks for sticking with this (and us)!

Dulak.

(Oh, and this is an awkward thing to confess, but we also snuck song lyrics into almost every post. Generally Taylor Swift, although Katy Perry, Prince, Bowie and Rihanna also got special lyrical shout-outs. You probably noticed. But, um, thanks for putting up with that, too.)

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.

Jared Shurin is an editor for Pornokitsch and the non-profit publisher Jurassic London.

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