Saturday, April 24, 2021

Dragonlance: Legends [3] Test of the Twins (1986)


Like Chronicles, things finally get exciting here in the last book of Legends.  The story comes together and we pull in all the elements and characters from Chronicles that made that trilogy good, but had been lacking so far.

It's like the authors finally realized all the cool, unique things about Dragonlance (that doesn't include kender) were missing, so they found a way to bring them all back in the last half of the book. We get the draconians again.  Tanis and Kitiara.  Flying citadels.  Dragons.  And Lord Soth!

Before you continue:

  • This is Part 6 of my Dragonlance Retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the Retrospective
  • These blogs are not plot recaps—they are most effective in conjunction with your own re-read of the series
  • Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH SERIES


Let's Start It Again

I didn't really talk about how the previous book ended in my previous post.  It's a very similar scenario as the end of the first book.

Raistlin and Crysania were opening the portal at Zhaman just when Caramon and Tasslehoff were using the time traveling device to go back home—and Caramon and Tasslehoff end up too far in the future.  A future where Raistlin succeeded in destroying Takhisis and becoming a god.  A future where Krynn is dead and the last days are upon them.

Part 1 of this book was probably pretty effective back when this came out, but these days it's somewhat ho-hum.  Travel into the future, see how the world has been ruined by a few minor choices, go back and make sure it doesn't happen.  The best part about this section is the last part, where Astinus, Dalamar, and Elistan have gathered together at the end of the world.  Caramon and Tas meet up with them and get the last volume of the Chronicles of Astinus, which tells them what happens in the alternate timeline, so they can fix it.  Then Caramon and Tas go back in time to Part 3.

Let's Bring Them Back

Part 2 focuses on all our non-Majere favorites in the "present"... that is, if Tanis, Dalamar, Elistan, Kitiara, or Lord Soth are a favorite of yours.  It's an okay section and provides a nice change of pace from Caramon and Tas, who I don't feel are strong enough characters to carry an entire novel.  Raistlin is the star of the series but he's offscreen for most of this one, much like he was in Dragons of Spring Dawning.

We get a nice prelude that reveals all the details of Lord Soth's downfall, told by the death knight himself.  Really enjoyed that since he's one of the cooler characters.

In general, though, this part of the book simply sets the stage for Part 3, featuring the same battlegrounds from Chronicles, namely the High Clerist's Tower and Palanthus.  We get some dragon riding action, with Tanis on Fireflash, the bronze dragon Flint and Tas rode in Chronicles.  The conflicts this time around are collectively called the Blue Lady's War.  (I didn't know that until I did some research just now.)

Also, I'm not sure how the timing works on having Raistlin battle Takhisis just weeks after they all began this journey back in the first book, but I guess it works when you want to have Tanis and Kitiara back in the narrative.

Let's Check the Cover

Courtesy of Wikimedia
The cover for Test of the Twins finally shows both Raistlin and Caramon, although it probably should just show Tasslehoff (see next section).  Same reliable Larry Elmore, but this time it's almost an action shot.  In terms of the original covers, I like this one the best out of the trilogy.

You can see the higher quality version on Larry Elmore's site.

In terms of the newer covers, the current one for this novel is way better.  It shows the final scene in the Abyss, in front of the portal, where Caramon is cradling a blind Crysania and Raistlin is about to be overwhelmed by Takhisis.  Of course, it appears that they are inside the Tower of High Sorcery where the portal is, rather than in the Abyss itself...but I'll let that slide since it's pretty cool.

Let's Do It Again

Part 3 features the final battle of the Blue Lady's War.

Finally, the draconians are back!  After basically two books of nothing—because they didn't exist in the past—we get to see them again.  Well, mainly we see them fighting again, dropping from dragons and flying citadels into the streets of Palanthus.  Which leads to the best part of the book...

...real action with a flying citadel!  After a tease at the end of Chronicles, this is very welcome.  If you remember in that trilogy, they just floated ominously above Palanthus.  Not so this time!

We not only learn how they are created (they rip castles out of the ground), we get to go up to one and fly it!  Well, Tasslehoff does, at least.  With a gully dwarf.  Sigh.  It's okay if you're not excited any more.  Come to think of it, we did this already, right?  In Chronicles, when we got to observe a dragon battle and had to do it from the point of view of Tasslehoff and Flint?  Another kender and dwarf.

And once again, Raistlin is the hero...he saves the world from certain destruction, though this time it's of his own making.  So is he really the hero?

He's not, in my opinion.  It's actually Tasslehoff, Krynn's Forrest Gump.  He controls the narrative, remember?  In the last section of the book, he bumbles his way through the battle of Palanthus, saves Tanis and Fireflash, saves Tanis and Caramon in the flying citadel, saves Dalamar, Crysania, and the world by flying the citadel to the Tower of Sorcery so Caramon could get in there and go into the Abyss to stop Raistlin from re-entering Krynn.  All hail Tasslehoff.

It gives me Lord of the Rings vibes the more I think of it.  What is it that Gandalf said?

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Let's See

In the previous volumes of Legends, I ditched the interior illustration section I had done for Chronicles, because the illustrations seemed a bit lazy to me.  Well, this time they are mostly the same, except for the third part of the book, when Raistlin and Crysania are in the Abyss.  For those chapters, they used different sets of eyes to indicate who was narrating.

There's Raistlin's angry hourglass eyes, easily recognizable.  Then Takhisis's sultry eyes that don't look evil, only beautiful.  Then Crysania's teary, blind eyes.  And finally Raistlin's closed eyes when he realizes what he must do to save Krynn.

I didn't remember these images at all and appreciated how they were used to supplement the text.  By far the best use of chapter images in this series.

   

Let's Feel Bad?

Something I've always liked about the Dragonlance titles by Weis & Hickman was how they were a bit more "realistic" than other high fantasy at the time, in terms of consequences.  People die, people are drunks and have problems, people make bad decisions and pay for them dearly.

As such, Kitiara by far has the worst fate in the entire series.

Kitiara hitched herself to Raistlin's wagon and in the event of his victory, would have made out just fine.  Instead, Dalamar kills her and Lord Soth takes her soul, his to torment forever.  She is clearly fearful of this fate and even Tanis is disturbed by it, as he struggles to let go of the claim she had on his heart so that Soth could take her.  It is that action that seals Kit's fate and despite all the evil things she had done, I felt bad for her.

Raistlin, of course, sacrifices himself and remains in the Abyss to save the world.  However, it's not exactly clear what that means for his soul or what he'll have to endure, and I'm sure there's other material after this that expands on it (which I probably won't read).

Let's Reminisce

Here's a last bit of nostalgia for this retrospective.  When I was cleaning out my garage this past summer (like everyone else during the pandemic), in addition to the unpainted Villains miniatures and other forgotten treasures from my childhood, I rediscovered the D&D character sheets my friends (Josh, Jed, and JP) and I used during that year in Rhode Island, when I first read Dragonlance.

Sinder was my character.  My older brother actually came up with the name.  (Sinder and Vyrastas, which I use for gaming, were character names he used in the Might & Magic game on Commodore 64.  He just made them up but I always remembered them.)  Sinder was a neutral evil halfling thief.  I was usually a thief, I thought they were cool, I guess.

Modred was Josh's character, and was a chaotic evil human cleric-mage.  I checked and apparently a human can't be dual-classed, but I mentioned in some other post that we didn't actually play by all the rules.

Kheldar was Jed's character, and was a lawful good human paladin.  Jed was always good, his family was very religious, remember?  If the name seems familiar, it's from The Belgariad (Silk's real name is Kheldar).  I don't think Jed ever read that series so I must have given him the name.

Shasarak was J.P.'s character, and was a lawful neutral human fighter-cleric.  Breaking the rules again!  I don't remember much about his character or how he was played.

   

You can tell we used these sheets a lot, as some sections like Hit Points and Armor are nearly worn through the page after so much erasing and rewriting.  These weren't our only versions of these characters, but were the only ones I had left.  We'd reset things every once in a while for fun.

It was always tricky playing D&D together.  We'd have to do it at mine or J.P.'s houses, because Josh and Jed weren't allowed to play it.  All our parents knew that, of course, so we'd play it in my room with the door shut and the Nintendo paused in the middle of a game.  Whenever my parents would come near we'd quickly shove all the guides and papers under the bed and start playing the Nintendo again.  Because at that time my parents never gave us privacy, they'd knock but come right in after.

Ah memories.  I miss those days.  No cell phone to constantly draw your attention.  No social media to catalog your life and embarrass you.  Despite hating to run today, I even miss being on the track team in 9th grade, strangely enough.

Let's Do Something New

But the nostalgia doesn't end there!  Despite my complaints about some boring sections and how everything revolves around Tasslehoff, I genuinely felt sad when I got to the end of the book, and I finally found a soft spot in my heart for Caramon.  He's been fairly dopey for most of these six books, but to see him finally free of his brother and on his own path—that made for a good ending.

I didn't want it to stop, so I immediately went and bought the ebook of Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, the first volume of the Lost Chronicles that I mentioned back in the post for Dragons of Winter Night.  The Lost Chronicles fill in the gaps during the Chronicles trilogy that had originally been relegated to the gaming modules that were part of the original Dragonlance campaign launch.  Will they measure up to Chronicles and Legends?  I don't know, but the retrospective is not over yet.



Next:


Lost Chronicles
Book 1 — Dragons of the Dwarven Depths


Previous:


Legends
Book 2 — War of the Twins

Book 1 — Time of the Twins

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dragonlance: Legends [2] War of the Twins (1986)



I don't remember anything that happens in this book, it's been so long since I read it.  So it almost feels like a new book entirely.  I'm sure I'll recall things as I go along—oh yeah, I remember that!—but it's almost strange knowing that I read the book a number of times in my youth, yet remember nothing about it.  Like it didn't happen at all.

Memory is weird like that.  Sometimes I'll look at pictures of my younger adult self and have no recollection of ever being in the place the picture was taken.  I sometimes struggle to also remember that I once looked different.  It's like a different life entirely that's slowly fading away.

But that's the magic of books and things of that nature.  They're constant.  While I can't relive the times in which I first discovered them, I can re-read them and recapture a bit of that lost memory as nostalgia.

Before you continue:
  • This is Part 5 of my Dragonlance Retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the Retrospective
  • These blogs are not plot recaps—they are most effective in conjunction with your own re-read of the series
  • Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH SERIES

Fast Out of the Gate

The first part of the book was very good and I flew through it, even though they're basically in the Tower of Sorcery at Palanthus the entire time.  Lots of good character-driven storytelling.  Even the Tas chapter wasn't too annoying (more on that later).

It wasn't clear from the end of the previous entry, Time of the Twins, but Raistlin's hasty spell caught up both Crysania and Caramon, whisking them to yet another time—100 years after the Cataclysm.  So I guess that's the way someone eventually gets back to their original time.  Some magic user can magic them there.

Raistlin explains why the Cataclysm happened in an offhand way.  It was necessary to prepare the world to fight back against Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness, when she tried to come back in the Chronicles trilogy.  Without the Cataclysm, she would have been able to take it over much easier.

The flashback showing how Raistlin became Fistandantilus was great and did a nice job explaining a battle between Black-robed magic users.  By far my favorite scene of all the Dragonlance books so far in this retrospective.

Slow Down the Stretch

The second part of the book bored me a little and it took me a while to get through it as most of it is traveling.  We get some insight into the dwarves at Thorbardin and a glimpse of what the continent is like 100 years after the Cataclysm—which is not all that much different than how things were at the beginning of Chronicles.

After reading this section, I'm debating whether to continue this retrospective past this Legends trilogy.  Most of the other Dragonlance material is not that good.  The only reason I'm still considering it is because Weis & Hickman wrote it.

The third part of the book is hit and miss.  Probably the best scene is when Raistlin abruptly kills Tas's gnome friend Gnimsh.  It's brutal and surprising for such high fantasy fare, exposes the side of Raistlin we all want to see but rarely get to, and makes Tasslehoff bearable for a moment because he's being serious for once and not silly.

The Cover

Courtesy of Wikimedia
This time we get Crysania and Caramon on the cover, courtesy of Larry Elmore.  They try to add a little drama to the story with Caramon showing some feelings for Crysania, but she's having none of it.  You know Caramon will get back together with Tika at the end (fantasy in those days was predictable), so you know it won't go anywhere and it's somewhat of an unnecessary diversion.

You can see the higher quality version on Larry Elmore's website.

I wouldn't mention the newer versions of this cover, except that the current one shows Caramon and Tasslehoff for some reason.  I like this depiction of Tasslehoff, actually.  It's different than many of the others I've seen (even by Elmore).  Tas's proportions are a bit off and make him look like a different race, rather than a small elf.

The Problem with Tasslehoff

Speaking of Tas, I'm not a fan of his storyline in this series because it pulls me out of the seriousness of the main storyline.  Tas ends up in the Abyss after the first book and meets a gnome called Gnimsh who invents things that actually work.  He fixes the time traveling device and hilarity ensues—Tas and Gnimsh appear just when the dwarves of Thorbardin attempt to assassinate Raistlin.  And they would have succeeded, except for Crysania.

This raises the issue I have with Tas... the story in Legends ultimately revolves around him.  You thought it was about the brothers Majere, didn't you?  Nope.  Tas's blundering presence drives the entire story and actually makes it possible.

Because as we find out in the next book, Tas is the one that enables Raistlin to change the past in the first place.  Kender are not an original race and his presence in the past allows it to be changed.  And now that he got Gnimsh to fix the time traveling device, he bungles his way out of the Abyss and into this book's timeline too.

Tas was bearable in the first book, but at this point he becomes annoying to me, like Fizban from Chronicles

The Problem with Time Travel

This also begs the issue of time travel in fiction.  I'm generally not a fan of the time travel stories where the timeline we know of is altered.  That's not "time travel" to me, that's creating an alternate universe or jumping into another "time stream."

The time travel I like is where there's a single timeline and even if you go back to do something specific, whatever you do then is what causes things to be the way they are in the future in the first place.  A closed loop.  A good example is an episode of The Twilight Zone called No Time Like the Past.  The time travel book with a closed loop that stands out for me most is The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein.  It's a bit dated, but it's short and one of his better works, in my opinion.

As entertaining as they are, the alternate universe version of "time travel" allows the author too much leeway, essentially letting them do whatever they want.  For example, I was extremely disappointed in Avengers: Endgame and how they used time travel (especially after how awesome the non-time travel Avengers: Infinity War was).  The Star Trek reboot by J.J. Abrams is similar... we're lazy so let's just use "time travel" to go into an alternate version of the universe so we can ignore everything that's come before in the franchise and do whatever we want, rather than actually work within the already established universe that people fell in love with in the first place.

An author who has a really great take on this is Stephen King with 11-22-63.  In that novel, the timeline resets every time a person travels back in time (there's only one place and time to which you can time travel), and time itself resists being changed.  I won't spoil the novel if you're planning on reading it because it's quite good, but King's take does the alternate universe version right to me—there are rules that serve to keep the primary timeline (our reality and history) intact.

Random Observations

Just a few things to comment on this time.
  • I'm missing the draconians in this series.  They are a unique element of the world but they're basically MIA in this series because it's set in the past and they haven't been created yet.
  • Crysania doesn't have a lot of depth as a character and I don't care that much for her, at least compared to the brothers.  Part of being a specific plot device, I suppose.  There was no female cleric in the previous series that would do what Raistlin wanted, so they had to make a new one that will.
  • I remember the series being awesome.  So far not feeling the awesome.  Not sure I like it better than Chronicles based on this re-reading, but there's still one book to go.

Memories of Fort Adams

Since this book continues to take place in the past, let's go back in time again to when I first read it... and where I lived: Fort Adams, RI.

The actual Fort Adams at the time was in poor condition and fenced off, not open to the public.  I believe the only time they opened it up was for the Newport Jazz Festival each year.  It was an old Civil War fort and had a lot of tunnels and stuff running underneath it.  How do I know, you ask?  Because my friends (Josh, Jed, and J.P.) and I used to sneak into it and explore them!

It was so awesome... our own real fort and dungeon!  There was a back way into it, where the fence had been cut through in a wooded area.  It led straight into the back part of the Fort where we could walk around its perimeter or go underground—with flashlights, of course.  How many 9th graders get to have something like that available to them?  We even tried to map it out on graph paper so we could use it for a D&D session (I don't think we ever completed the map).

We had to be very careful though, as some tunnels would be flooded, many sections were ruined, and there were big fines if we were caught—occasionally security would patrol the area.  We always avoided the open area in the center of the Fort, for fear of getting caught.

If you want to see what it was like for us, here's a video from before it was completely restored:


Anyway, Fort Adams is now open to the public year round.  It's been restored and they even have youth overnights in the barracks.  I haven't been back there since I moved in 1991... next time I go to New England (and who knows when that might be, due to this pandemic), I'll have to go there.  It'll be cool to see it restored.  The pictures of it now look weird... it was completely run down back then.


Next:


Legends
Book 3 — Test of the Twins


Previous:


Legends
Book 1 — Time of the Twins

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Wheel of Time Companion (2015)


Over 7 years ago I completed my The Wheel of Time Retrospective, celebrating the completion of the series after 20+ years.  At the time, I mentioned Team Jordan was working on an official "encyclopedia" for the series, but wasn't sure when it would be published.  Well, it was published in late 2015 and the fan that I am, I did purchase it, but never got around to writing a blog entry like I thought I would.

Fast forward to now, early 2021.  A lot has changed since I completed that WoT Retrospective:

  • I changed jobs twice, bought a new house, and my family is now firmly established in Silicon Valley.
  • I finally visited Charleston, South Carolina and got to see Robert Jordan's home.
  • My first child was born 2 years ago.
  • The Wheel of Time TV series began production.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much put my fiction writing on hold, as between working at home full time and caring for my child I have little time (or the ability to get into the mindset) for it.  I've basically decided that until I sell my newest book, Hop Limit, I'm not going to spend much time on further fiction writing.
That said, it's the perfect time to do a post on the official encyclopedia, titled The Wheel of Time Companion.

The Content

I'll be honest.  I haven't read the Companion.  You can't actually read it, just like you wouldn't read a dictionary.  Because that's basically what it is.  Every single WoT-specific term, character, place, or event in alphabetical order, with however much detail the editors thought to include from Robert Jordan's notes or the book themselves.

I've paged through it a number of times and have gotten a bit lost that way, looking at cross-references and searching for new information that I wasn't aware of before.  There's probably plenty that I saw that I don't realize is new, because I don't remember every little detail from the books.

The book does contain illustrations beyond the maps we're already familiar with, but many of them aren't anything new...I've already seen them before on fan sites.  There are some newer ones I wasn't familiar with, but since all the illustrations (presumably done in color originally) are printed here in black and white, quite a bit of the impact is lost.

The name of the book is apt, though.  Companion—because that's what it is.  A supplement that you might look at while reading the books, or if you're totally bored.

I guess I was expecting a better version of the Big White Book and was a little disappointed at first, because after thumbing through it a bit after receiving it in the mail, it went on the shelf and has been hardly touched in the years since.  Perhaps I'm not a true fan!

Other References

I mentioned a few different online resources in my Retrospective Conclusion post, way back in 2013.  Since then, a few things have changed while some have not.

  • Wheel of Time Wiki = This is the top online WoT reference in my opinion.  It has a lot more content now than it did in 2013 and is much more complete, especially if you're looking for chapter summaries with cross-references and such.
  • Dragonmount = Still the biggest and most popular community.  If you're looking for WoT news and forums, this is the place to go.
  • The Thirteenth Depository = An extremely insightful and detailed blog that analyzes every nook and cranny of the series.  Still going strong today.  I personally don't get this deep into the material.
  • Composite Glossary = All the entries from every book glossary combined in one place.  Somewhat obsolete at this point given the existence of the Companion.
  • Encyclopaedia WOT = This used to be my #1 go-to reference site for WoT, but sadly it seems to have been abandoned, and I don't recommend it anymore.  It doesn't look any different than back in 2013, despite one of the owners of the site commenting on my blog about a new version in development.  The complete chapter summaries for A Memory of Light are still not up, 7 years after the book was published!

Visiting Charleston

In 2016, we finally took a vacation out to Charleston, South Carolina.  Most people probably know that's where Robert Jordan lived.  It wasn't hard to find his home online and one day we stopped by it to see the famous Dragon gate I've seen in pictures before.

I'm pretty respectful of people's space and generally hate doing things like asking a famous person for a selfie or whatever when I do bump into one.  I always think of Neil Peart (the late, great drummer for Rush) and how uncomfortable he felt when someone who was a Rush fan would come up to him and act like they were friends.  The person would know everything about him but he would know nothing about the person.  That would feel weird, wouldn't it?

So with that in mind, I didn't want to linger, despite the gate being invitingly open and the serpent and wheel flag prominently displayed over the front porch of the house.  I took a quick glance at where so much of the series was conceived and written, got my wife to take a few pics of me, then moved on.

By the way, the house was really cool looking.  I like old Southern houses like that (particularly in New Orleans), with the high ceilings and windows...maybe one day I can live in something like that.



The TV Series

So...is this the real-real end of my WoT blogs?  Perhaps not.  A TV series is coming!  Unfortunately Red Eagle Entertainment still has their claws in the property, but I don't think they have any creative control in it, so I can live with that.

Anyway, it's been filming since 2019, but was halted for a bit because of the pandemic.  But I expect it will air some time in 2021.

I've been reading about details of the show and news as it comes out, and I really hope they don't take the path that The Shannara Chronicles took (which I did actually enjoy as a guilty pleasure, to be honest, despite how it handled the source material).  I'll reserve full judgment until I see the show, but I'm not enthusiastic about some of the casting and sadly I expect them to cut a lot of quality book material.  So we'll see.

Will I blog about the show?  Most likely.

The best place to find info about the show is on Dragonmount.  As mentioned before, I recommend that place for any worthwhile WoT news.

Previous:

Retrospective Conclusion
Short Story – River of Souls
Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 2
Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 1
The Wheel of Time is Complete
Reference  The Big White Book
Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight
Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview