Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dragonlance Chronicles / Legends - The Retrospective

Dragonlance was another of those series I read when I was an impressionable teenager.  I'm pretty sure I first read it in 9th grade in Newport, Rhode Island, so that would have been 1990-1991.  I distinctly recall carrying around these books like a dork from class to class at Rogers High School, reading whenever I could.

The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy borrows heavily from Lord of the Rings, with the same types of races, and a group of heroes made up of one of each "character class" (i.e. warrior, cleric, wizard, thief, etc).  There's a larger female presence here, similar to The Belgariad, and at its most basic is essentially a high fantasy adventure.  Good fantasy fun, generally not too serious, with plenty of plot holes and nonsense geared more towards young adults.

Dungeons & Dragons

This series has its roots in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game, which has featured a number of campaign settings (i.e. worlds) in which to play your adventures.  Dragonlance was actually the very first such world, released in 1984.

I was definitely into D&D at the time, and played frequently with my friends in Rhode Island: Jed, Josh, and JP.  Jed and Josh weren't actually allowed to play D&D (their parents were quite religious), and mine and JP's parents knew that, so we could only play at our two houses, and if our parents came to check on us, we'd have to quickly scramble to hide all the D&D materials...shove them under the bed or whatever before they opened the door.  Fun times.

Josh and I wrote to each other after we moved away from Rhode Island, but sadly we lost contact after a year or so.  Too busy to write letters, I guess.  If you're out there reading this, Josh Rader, let me know how you're doing.

I had this edition, the box was beat to hell when I
finally got rid of it.

Why didn't parents like D&D back then?  Mainly the role playing aspect, and the bad reputation it had in the 80s.  People thought kids were actually learning how to cast spells, or worshipping the devil...silly stuff like that.  My parents made me go to church growing up, and I remember we had a youth group sleepover once, where we spent a good hour or so trying to explain to the youth pastor how the game worked, that it wasn't evil at all, that role playing in the game isn't much different than trying to be like Jesus or whatever.  We didn't succeed.

If you want to learn more, there are some good articles floating around, like this one from Geek & Sundry.  You've got Google, search for them.


Anyway, since we played D&D, of course we read D&D books.  The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy was released when the campaign was, written by two of the creators, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  The story itself derived from actual gameplay sessions they had, using the campaign modules Weis and Hickman had written.  Some events and character traits in the books were taken directly from those sessions.

They followed up with the Legends trilogy, which focused on some of the same characters and delved into the history of Ansalon, the continent where the story action takes place. I remember liking Legends more than Chronicles.

I thought these books were awesome back then.  I read them constantly.  I got into more of the campaign world fiction as the years went on, but none ever stood up to Chronicles and Legends.  Weis and Hickman didn't do any more Dragonlance books for a while, and other writers contributed to the shared world...but like typical multi-author shared worlds, the quality was inconsistent, with some volumes being downright terrible.  (In particular, Weasel's Luck was atrocious, I barely managed to finish it).

My experience with Dragonlance (and a few others, like Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft, or the Star Wars "Expanded Universe"—now called "Legends") are why I'm not a fan of shared worlds.  Sure, you could make the events consistent, but eventually contradictions arise, and quality widely varies.  Too many cooks in the kitchen.  It's really just a legalized version of fan fiction, when you think about it.

The Authors

Weis and Hickman have written many works together.  The only other work I've read from them in its entirety is The Death Gate Cycle, which I remember as awesome.  (You always remember them as being awesome when you're a kid, of course).  In fact, that series could be a possible future retrospective, though I'd have to buy the books again on Kindle, as I donated them long ago.

Anyway, I tried a few of their other series but none of them did it for me like Dragonlance and Death Gate, and I didn't bother to finish any of them.  Most likely because I was older at that point and my tastes in fiction were changing.  I moved on to other authors and series, but occasionally came back to Dragonlance, and I dutifully carted the Chronicles and Legends trilogies around with me all over the country.

Funny aside, for a number of years I thought both authors were female.  Who named their son Tracy?  This was before the internet, mind you, so I didn't even know what they looked like or where to find more information on them.

Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis in 2008, courtesy Wikipedia

The Retrospective

I checked my media database (where I track everything I read etc), and it appears I read the first volume, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, back in 2007, but I didn't continue on with the rest of the trilogy at the time.  The others I'm guess I haven't read in at least 20 years.

Will I think these trilogies are awesome now?  Or will more of my childhood nostalgia be destroyed, as they were with Piers Anthony's The Apprentice Adept trilogy?

Let's find out, shall we?

As with all of my retrospective, there may be spoilers for the entire series in each post, so these are best read in tandem with your own re-read.

Dragonlance Chronicles
Book 1 — Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Book 2 — Dragons of Winter Night
Book 3 — Dragons of Spring Dawning

Dragonlance Legends
Book 1 — Time of the Twins
Book 2 — War of the Twins
Book 3 — Test of the Twins

Dragonlance Lost Chronicles
Book 1 — Dragons of the Dwarven Depths
Book 2 — Dragons of the Highlord Skies
Book 3 — Dragons of the Hourglass Mage