Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Dragonlance Chronicles: Tarnished Nostalgia

A few months back, inspired by Aaron Starmer, I began compiling a list of my "99 Inspirations" in a file on my desktop. My initial list was pretty large, hitting the mid-60s before I ran out. I've added to the list in the last few years with plans of blogging about them leading up to the release of my book. Obviously I don't have a book deal, so there is nothing to blog about yet. As I started the list the first three things that I wrote were: Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire and Dragonlance. (Followed by pro wrestling, but that is a separate blog post!)

I've often said that DRAGONLANCE is probably more influential to people of my generation than even Tolkien. I have vivid memories of it from middle school (junior high to some of you) and remember the giant, chubby thirteen year old obsessing over them, staring at them on the book shelf at the independent books store in Seneca Mall in Liverpool, NY. Salivating over the modules at Economy Books and pouring through the ones I was lucky enough to save up and purchase, even though I didn't have friends that wanted to play D&D. Larry Elmore was amazing. The character cards were an obsession. (There's a blog post in me about this too because of my obsession with the GI Joe character cards.) Without DRAGONLANCE, there isn't much of me as a writer.

About three years ago, I started a reread on my blog....BEFORE decided to do their part of my "Reading the Fantasy Canon" idea that I drummed up. At best, the series got a lukewarm reaction and I decided to shelf it in favor of other books. When started their reread, I participated then sort of ran out of steam on it, mostly because I found my interest floundering. In and of itself, that was kind of depressing.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It colors our memory. I've dealt with some of this in the first of my "Oral History" blog posts and will continue to do so as I write those (I've begun another a while ago and will post it when it is done!), but I've discovered that the glasses that we look back on the things we love are indeed rose colored. A part of me wishes that I hadn't done this reread, because then I could still love these books for what they were: a treasured and formative part of my education as a fantasy writer. But that is what made me undertake this journey in the first place. So, what happened is that now my memories of them are tarnished.  Why? Well, first off...they aren't very good. And in and of itself, that is sort of soul crushing.

I did most of a full reread of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT on the blog earlier, but I found myself underwhelmed by the ending. It became a motif of my reading. The two things that are obvious walking away from the series was that Weis and Hickman were definitely first time writers AND that they were under tremendous pressure to finish this ambitious project. It's that pressure shows in the pace of the book.

Don't get me wrong, I like a fast paced book but not at the sacrifice of the narrative, which is what happens here. They miss sweeping details and chunks of details for the sake of "getting it done." The ending was okay but, as I said, underwhelming. I read it on a flight from Syracuse to Tampa back in the summer of 2015 and remember thinking, "That was it?" It made me a little sad.

So, I'll move on to DRAGONS OF WINTER NIGHT. To me (and I'm sure other readers) this was the "Empire" of the series. It was the one that defied what we knew about heroic fantasy and made us question what we were reading in the first place. It's the best of the three books, sort of, and has parts that are really good, but again, underwhelming. The book introduces and wraps up whole plot lines in 1 or 2 chapters, plot lines that deserved richer stories. (I'm presently reading the "Lost Chronicles" based on what happened in WINTER NIGHT and it's filling in some of the blanks, but still the flaws are glaring.) It abandons the game mechanics and that's the biggest improvement of the book by far and increases the drama. But again, Weis and Hickman's inexperience shows with underdeveloped characters and glossed over plot points. (I mean you could fill an entire book with the political drama of the Knights of Solamnia for crying out loud.)

What they do right, they do right. Sturm's death was still as heartbreaking now as it was when I was a kid. "Sturm's sun shattered" was such a great line and expressed so much in one simple line. The battle was a mess but it was done well enough that I still enjoyed it. Tanis's whole storyline with Kitiara was just as incredible as it was when I was a kid, though less salacious.

WINTER NIGHT was a missed opportunity. It wasn't as great as I remembered and that made me sad.

I remember not liking DRAGONS OF SPRING DAWNING as much as the other two books and I really didn't like it this time through. It was a mess. It felt like Weis and Hickman knew they could get another trilogy out of TSR and left giant chunks of things out of the book to cover later. Again, countless missed opportunity: I mean dragon fighting! By Paladine....knights on dragons fighting dark knights on dragons and we get one measly chapter of slapstick of a dwarf and a hobbit with ADD capturing the second in command of the Blue Dragonarmy. The "war" wraps up in one chapter that reads like a Wikipedia entry on the subject. The mission to discover the metallic dragon eggs left to be told as second hand story but we get slapstick and Lord Soth (I know people love him, but he was boring) instead. I want to understand the thinking, but I don't. It feels cheap. That being said, the ending was better than I though it was going to be despite my issue with the pace of the war. It kept me turning the page to find out what happened next. And it turned into a mess, cramming in half a dozen new elements that weren't there before, poorly using tired tropes and leaving countless loose ends instead of wrapping it up. It felt like they got to the ending. had to come up with something and this was the best they could come up with. It was all baffling.

This reread doesn't make me love the series less, but it certainly tarnishes my view of it as a whole. It's disappointing that something I loved so much, doesn't hold up. There's still a lot to love and admire in the book. It was ambitious for it's time and wanted to be so much more but ultimately it fails. That being said, I still love them for what they mean to me and it's still one of the most important pieces of literature for me as a writer.

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