May 1st, 2014

Sepia, RB Office

Thoughts and Observations on the Dragonlance Stories

Back when I was in college, starting in 1984 or 1985, my regular gaming group started working our way through the Dragonlance modules for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

In conjunction, I read the original three Dragonlance Chronicles novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and enjoyed them enough to read the followup trilogy Dragonlance Legends, and some of the other stories that TSR released.  I also read their first non-Dragonlance trilogy and enjoyed it well enough.  I also felt positively enough to have no objections to inviting Margaret Weis and her husband at the time Don Perrin to be the author guests of honor at Duckon X.

However, I’ve more recently started listening to audio books which make books that I’d find daunting to read in text – between my dyslexia and other issues, I’m a slow reader and find it easy to get bogged down in books and abandon them, although I’ve gotten somewhat better over the years.  This allowed me to finally actually read (or at least consume) The Lord of the Rings, and is also have I’ve consumed the first five parts of The Song of Ice and Fire.

A couple of years ago, had unabridged audio book versions of a new(er) trilogy called The Lost Chronicles.

I think at that time I’d recalled that after the first two modules (playable adventures), the Dragonlance team had taken to having Weis and Hickman write about half of the story, and have the other half told in the novels.  Clearly if you read the second and third novels, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning, you’d find that the second book begins with a brief recap of stuff that happened after the last book, and then shortly splits the party.  From that point on, the stories more-or-less alternate between the two groups, and each group has some adventures skipped only to be, again, replaced by a vague description of what happened.

So, I made the, mostly correct, guess that The Lost Chronicles would finally tell those parts of the story, and purchased the three books.

But, it had been a long time (more than 20 years) since I’d ready anything related to Dragonlance.  So, I located an alternate source of audio versions of the original Chronicles – apparently recorded for the blind.  {I have plans to remedy this and purchase legitimate audio book versions of these three at some point before too long}.  I alternated between the books – which I found out didn’t work perfectly.  But this also confirmed that, even being RPG based fiction, these stories still stand up reasonably well against the giants of fantasy (Tolkien and Martin, et. al.)

Then, a year or so, Audible Frontiers –’s in-house audio book studio – started releasing unabridged audio book versions of the myriad of novels and collections published by TSR and WoTC have put out over the decades.  Since then, I’ve picked up a few – the Legends trilogy, Dragons of Summer Flame which gets listed as part of the Chronicles, but takes place after the Legends trilogy and a number of stories involving the children of the heros of the original books.

Not that long back, I discovered another trilogy by Weis and Hickman called The War of Souls which takes place another generation later.  I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy that one as much, and I think part of it is the tinkering that TSR and WoTC forced into the stories to keep them in sync with the current versions of the games – including an ill fated stand along Saga System Dragonlance game – requiring changes in the basic structure of the world to introduce new elements and remove others.

Most recently, I purchased the audio book version of the two book Raistlin Chronicles: The Soulforge and Brothers in Arms, both coauthored by Weiss and Perrin.  The first book covers the growing up of two of the most important characters in the early Dragonlance works, twins Caramon and Raistlin Majere.

These have been good, clearly better than the newer trilogy.  But they’ve had a few surprises in them, most noticeably they are more adult, that is a bit closer to Martin than Tolkien.

In The Soulforge there is a key scene where the teenage Raistlin is struggling with the fact that a young woman, about his age, whose moved into their village recently is attractive to him, and distracting him from his study of magic, only to find her and his brother in a delicate position in a shed.

Now, in the Chronicles, there were a few times that Caramon went off with his future wife and spent time off page, with a strong implication as to why.  But this was the first time such a scene was on page – at least in the books I’ve read.

Then, near the end of The Soulforge, the character of Caramon utters an expletive.  I’d call it A Precision F-Strike, except it was more of an “S-Strike” if you catch my drift.  This was the first time a modern expletive was used.

Now, I’m about half-way through Brothers in Arms, much of which (so far) has involved the brothers training in a mercenary squad – one as a fighter and the other as a war wizard.  This book has had more use of the synonym for feces.

The other thing I’m finding interesting is to compare its training scenes with the similar scenes from Starship Troopers, and Old Man’s War.  I’m finding a lot of similarities – which both of those stories share with nearly every modern military story that involves basic training.  I cannot say if that is realistic or not; since I have no way of knowing if a medieval European mercenary army would have ever been trained anywhere close to this way (I suspect not, and know that most armies were largely untrained peasants).  I also have to point out that I suspect any realistic army of this sort would be trained first in using spears, and only the elite in swords for economic reasons if nothing else.  I’ll make the observation that the legions described in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera did just that – most of the legionaries were armed with spears and only the officers had swords (Roman broadswords in that case).

Now, I could write (and have thought about writing) a whole other article about reconciling my Christian worldview with this decidedly not-Christian worldview.  The only things I’ll observe there are:

  1. Neutral is the ultimate good in that world

  2. So-called good characters can be as or more evil than many of the so-called evil characters when looked at through a Christian lens.

As Tracy Hickman is Mormon, I suspect that his own beliefs may have partially influenced the way the world was portrayed, but the idea of good and evil needing to be balanced clearly comes from a more eastern worldview.