Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Rating 9.5/10
Every generation should understand that they are not the first to tread in dreams of magic

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Every generation can point to a fantasy book or series that defines their teenage years. Currently, that would likely be Harry Potter; for those now edging towards or into their 40s it would be Dragonlance. Weis & Hickman’s core six books took the 70s and early 80s concept of Dungeons & Dragons and pulled it firmly into the big-haired, techno-pop world of the late 80s and early 90s in a manner that enthralled a generation as much then as Potter does now.

The beauty of Dragonlance was in the authors’ understanding that all good fantasy involves a quest with at least one in a set of characters that any reader must identify with. Whether you loved the troubled Tanis Half-Elven, yearned for either the pure Lauralanthalsa or the edgy, chaotic Kitiara; if you read fondly about the dour old dwarf, Flint, or found solace in the overly chivalrous Sturm – possibly the greatest line to end a chapter in all the books is: “Sturm’s sun shattered” – if you saw mysticism in Riverwind and Goldmoon; if you identified with the bitter, powerful mage Raistlin Majere or his athletic, gladiatorial twin, Cameron – and we all love the mischievous Kender, Tasslehoff - what mattered was that here was another Fellowship racing from Draconians smashing up Tika’s Inn in Solace and finding themselves fighting the blue, red, green, black dragons of Queen Takhisis. Like Star Wars, the action of the first trilogy takes us through a first victory in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, to despair when evil gains ground in Dragons of Winter Night, to final victory in Dragons of Spring Dawning.

The series spawned a dozen spin offs – Forgotten Realms being, by far, the largest - by different authors who, as part of the TSR team expanded on the Dragonlance Tales that followed the first six novels – the Tales were a series of short stories covering in more depth bit-part characters or expanded the stories of hinted events from the main plots. As the years have rolled by nearly 200 novels have been produced set in the Dragonlance universe. There are the Chronicles, the Legends, The War of Souls, The Dark Disciple… and much, much more.

Dragonlance was more than six books. The second trilogy, ‘Time of the Twins’, ‘War of the Twins’, ‘Test of the Twins’ neatly melded time travel into a medieval fantasy concept. Time travel that permitted everyone to succeed. Two futures arise, one where Raistlin becomes a God, one where he realises the futility of his wildest successes and his inner struggles eventually let ‘good’ win. There is death and conclusion, there is hope and a beginning. Again, like Star Wars, here we have a family fighting for redemption, of good restoring the balance against evil, of hope finally succeeding. Raistlin claims: “Hope is the denial of reality”, yet, at the end it is a new hope that is made manifest.

The prose style of this dual authorship is comfortable, seamless. It is hard to see where Hickman leaves off and Weis begins. Indeed, in an early interview they said that the first few chapters were written in a single weekend. Weis always favoured Majere, Hickman, with his Mormon roots, seems more comfortable with Brightblade’s rigid adherence to the Oath and the Measure. For all that, the novels move at a rollercoaster pace, action equally mixed with descriptive narrative. One of the finest descriptive moments is reserved solely for the reader as we witness Raistlin’s anger at the deaths of a village and his subsequently omnipotent display of magical power to expunge the tragedy.

The cadre of companions are surrounded by enigmatic, fully fleshed (not quite in Lord Soth’s case) characters. The Silvanesti King Lorac, is as mad as Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lord Soth’s story of required love and madness can be found in Ann Radcliffe’s gothic stories. Beren – an immortal man searching for his sister, bearer of a green emerald, who is The Highlander. There is Bupu, Crysania, Ariakis, Fistandantilus, Gilthanas, Elistan, Par-Salian and many more. Someone for every reader, someone for us all to latch on to, sympathise with.... ultimately, characters to love and to hate. The action rages across the seas, the skies, the land; it is in the hard dwarven mountains, it is in the soft elven forests. There are castles and towns in trees. There are taverns and libraries, great cities and tiny villages. There is a Shrove where the dead reach for you. There are magical tests, there is the Abyss… and, as Anne McCaffrey realised in the early 90s… there are dragons. No matter what… every great fantasy needs a dragon (saving David Eddings).

The great success of Dragonlance is the secret behind all the greatest fantasy series: there is action for everyone, there is someone for everyone to identify with… and there is always magic. If you ask a reader of Dragonlance who their favourite character is… they will tell you. What they won’t admit… but do know… is which one they would be if they could step into the world of Krynn. Today’s generation of teenagers would say you do not understand magic if you have not read Harry Potter. Yet, every generation should understand that they are not the first to tread in dreams of magic and if you love Harry, then you will love Dragonlance.

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