The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Magic of Krynn, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: After the success of the Chronicles and Legends trilogy, the next trilogy was Tales, the first of many short story anthologies. Back in the day, I considered these books to be the third core trilogy, but that was just because of how widely available these nine books were here in New Zealand, and the fact that all three were published in a three-in-one Collector’s Edition by Penguin Books, who had the distribution rights here. I have the Collector’s Edition of Tales, actually, a huge white paperback, well-worn. I think it’s the oldest Dragonlance book I own. I got the Chronicles trilogy first, but my copies wore out over time and I replaced them with the Annotated Chronicles, which is an excellent book. I remember these stories being of wildly varying quality – some really amazing ones; others shockingly bad ones; some covering very important stories; others barely in continuity. 

The first collection, then, is The Magic of Krynn, which was published in 1987. Each of its ten stories based on the theme of ‘magic’. They also tend to tie into existing characters or locations from the earlier books. For once, Penguin Books decided to use the cover art from the US releases, so there’s only two covers this time around. Here they are!

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Original cover: Claire says, “It’s easy to love and hate those old covers. I’ve grown to love that high contrast block colour style of depicting light and shape in the old covers, even though it is pretty jarring to our modern sensibilities. It’s got a nostalgic quality to it. Another reason why I love/hate it is the composition of the bodies. It makes me feel like it’s an awkward encounter in a bar.”

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Reprint cover: “Besides the overall cringe at how outdated the second cover’s design and layout are, I really like the five headed dragon symbol, it’s damn cool.”

Because this is a short story collection, I’ll be talking about each story individually.

Riverwind and the Crystal Staff by Michael Douglas: Michael Douglas wrote the poetry in the earlier Dragonlance books. Here, he gets to do a much longer semi-narrative poem about the origins of Riverwind. Raised by cheetahs on the plains, Riverwind undergoes a quest for the crystal staff to win the hand of Goldmoon, the chieftain’s daughter. I don’t like Michael William’s poetry. I feel like it was only included because of all the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is a much better poet than Douglas. Douglas’s style is too abstract and metaphorical for my tastes, and lines which are meant to sound profound just sound pretentious or ridiculous to my ears. If you like it, more strength to you. Anyway, this poem gets overwritten by the short story “Heart of Goldmoon,” which is in the third book of this trilogy, and by the 1990 novel Riverwind the Plainsman. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Blood Sea Monster by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Duder the elf (Duder? Really?) stows away on the boat of a Captain Ahab-esque old sailor, Six-Finger Fiske. Old Fiske is on the hunt for the mythical Blood Sea Monster. He catches a talking fish, which tells him where to find the monster. The monster eats (?) Fiske and then Duder too. This was a strange and slightly pointless story. It feels barely connected to Dragonlance, with its talking fish and sea monster which are never referenced again or since. Duder and Fiske see the wreckage of the Perechon, the ship that the Heroes of the Lance sail on in Dragons of Winter Night, but that’s about it for its ties to the wider world. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the story, and it’s strangely ambiguous (although for my money, I’m guessing the Monster is an aboleth; their psychic nature would explain some of the weirdness.) The two main characters never felt very engaging or interesting to me. This story didn’t offend me, it just didn’t justify its existence. In the end, maybe that’s an even worse crime.

A Stone’s Throw Away by Roger E. Moore: Before the release of the Dragonlance novels and RPG adventures, two preview short stories appeared in Dragon Magazine to showcase some of the new characters. This is one of these, introducing Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Tas has acquired a magic ring that teleports him into the castle of a demon-summoning Magus. What is the secret of the ring? It’s a very simple story, featuring an appearance by none other than Demogorgon, Prince of Demons (although he’s uncredited here). It’s a very simple story, and it doesn’t really showcase anything unique about Dragonlance except for kender, but his innocent kleptomania, happy-go-lucky nature, and fearless wanderlust is on display here. It succeeds at its goal of introducing Tas, but it’s a strangely light-hearted way to sell your new epic multimedia franchise. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dreams of Darkness, Dreams of Light by Warren B. Smith: ‘Pig’ William Sweetwater, a barkeep in Port Balifor who once met the companions, has strange dreams which may be the result of a coin that Raistlin gave him. He and his friends break into the Dragon Highlord’s jail to free some prisoners. When he gets home, he passes it off as a dream, but then the Dragonarmies come knocking on his door. I didn’t like this story. William’s opening dream, which was supposed to be like something from a horror movie, came across as either baffling or inadvertently hilarious. Why was Takhisis (implicitly) in it? It didn’t connect to anything later on, or have any payoff. The jailbreak was quite run-of-the-mill, and the final twist didn’t work at all. Everything that happened was actually just a dream, except it actually wasn’t a dream? Unimpressed.

Love and Ale by Nick O’Donohoe: Otik Sandath, the innkeeper of the Inn of the Last Home in Solace, and his foster daughter Tika Waylan have a night to remember when a kender accidentally puts a love potion into the night’s barrel of ale, and shenanigans ensue. I really enjoyed the first half of the story, which is just a slice-of-life with Otik and Tika working around the Inn while it’s closed, and it does a great job at establishing their relationship. Once other characters appear, it falls apart a bit. Moonwick the kender and the other bar patrons don’t have enough time to become more than the most quickly sketched caricatures, and while it’s amusing when the love potion leads to mayhem, it’s all a bit pointless. Otik also faces a very small crisis of conscience at the end, when he decides what to do with the last remnants of the love potion ale, and resolves it in a sweet way. An inconsequential story, but pleasant; I liked it. This poem was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Wayward Children by Richard A. Knaak: The first appearance of Richard A. Knaak, but far from the last! Towards the end of the War of the Lance, a patrol of draconians encounters a village of very old elves. The elves are unusually helpful and caring towards them, but why are there no children present? This is a story that lives and dies on the twist at the end. It’s not particularly well-written apart from that, and the characters aren’t particularly engaging, but the twist engages well with one of the original core mysteries of Dragonlance (the nature of the Draconians), so it was one of the better stories. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis: This is the second of the short stories from Dragon Magazine that acted as previews for the Dragonlance Saga. Raistlin and Caramon go to the Tower of High Sorcery so that Raistlin can take his Test, his potentially lethal magical graduation exam. He succeeds, but at a cost to his relationship with his twin. I was actually slightly disappointed by this one. In Chronicles, we get to see Caramon and Raistlin interacting, and the details of what happened during the Test are slowly teased out. Here, however, the restricted word count means that everything is dropped on us with all the haste and subtlety of a ton of bricks, and Raistlin’s final decision just hasn’t had the build up it needs to really land. It may have been more interesting if it had been read before anything else had been released, but reading it after the fact, it really doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. I can see why Margaret Weis decided to later retell this story at greater length in The Soulforge in 1998. It’s also covered in The Soulforge by Terry Phillips from 1985, the gamebook I missed when I reviewed the other three. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Harvests by Nancy Varian Berberick: A younger Tanis and Flint do a side quest. They meet a woman called Riana wandering in the forest, who’s looking for her brother and boyfriend. They were captured by the wizard Gadar for nefarious purposes. After defeating Gadar, they discover the wizard’s heart-breaking secret. This is the most classic D&D adventure of the group, and it’s not a bad story either. Tanis and Flint don’t really have any personal stakes in what’s going on, but they’re well characterised. Riana and Gadar are much simpler characters, but that’s okay: the ending is affecting, and the theme of how love can drive people to do extreme things is effective. Next time you need a one-session adventure, throw this one at your players. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Finding the Faith by Mary Kirchoff: Raggart Knug, ice barbarian cleric, tells the story of how he met the Heroes of the Lance and helped them recover the Dragon Orb from Icewall Castle. More centrally, it’s the story of how Raggart becomes a cleric of Paladine. I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I liked the plot of Raggart’s gradual conversion. He’s been waiting all his life for the moment when a true cleric would arrive, but when one does he’s afraid and disbelieving. He wants it to be true, and at the same time he doesn’t, because it’d be easier to be disappointed. I also liked the hints at the wider adventure, such as Laurana’s polar bear friend and the battle of Ice Reach. At the same time, I found the characters quite annoying here. Derek was even more of an asshole, Tasslehoff even more of a nuisance, Laurana and Elistan even more perfect… I guess this is the pitfall of having so many characters to write about. I also found Feal-Thas a cardboard villain and his sexual advances towards Laurana were just disgusting. This story elaborates on one of the missing adventures from Dragons of Winter Night, though in time it was overwritten by Dragons of the Highlord Skies in 2007. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

The Legacy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: Twenty-five years have passed since Raistlin’s death at the end of Test of the Twins, and Caramon’s son Palin now wants to be a wizard like his infamous uncle. Caramon and Palin travel to the Tower of High Sorcery, because the wizards are concerned that Raistlin is going to try to possess Palin, the same way that he himself was possessed by Fistandantilus. Palin winds up meeting Raistlin, and having to face his uncle’s legacy. It turns out the whole thing was just an illusion created by the wizards as Palin’s Test, and that Raistlin was never there… or was he? Palin gets given his uncle’s famous magic staff and leaves as a full wizard. I remember liking this story back in the day, but it didn’t hold up well. The prose isn’t great (the description of the sun shining on the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas is particularly purple), but what struck me the most was the amount of unnecessary repetition. Dunbar Mastersmate, the swole sailor wizard, gets a full description twice in short order as different characters meet him. Characters constantly repeat key information, such as how much Caramon has suffered, or how Caramon doesn’t want Palin to be a wizard and doesn’t want him to take the Test. It just felt padded. It’s also very melodramatic. Dalamar is ready to take his top off to show the wounds Raistlin gave him repeatedly. Caramon is constantly crying, and Raistlin gets a big old monologue to an empty room at the end of the story. Even when Weis and Hickman kill their darlings, they can’t let go of them. And there’s a lot more post-death returns to Raistlin (and, latter, Tasslehoff) to go! This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation.

Final Rating: 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5. It’s not that it’s (entirely) a bad collection of stories, just a little pointless. With the most important stories here being overwritten by later stories (Riverwind and the Crystal Staff, The Test of the Twins, Finding the Faith) or being collected in other anthologies (The Legacy) there’s very little of substance left to recommend this one.

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