The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes, edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: Here we are in the second book of the Tales trilogy, first published in August 1987, with more short stories! There’s not much to say here that I didn’t say last time – I remember this being of mixed quality, with some good ‘uns and some right stinkers. The Magic of Krynn didn’t hold up too favourably when I revisited it – will this one be better? One thing’s for sure – the covers aren’t better. Here’s what Claire had to say:

Original Cover: What the @#$%? Can we not get a fully dressed woman around here? I love that dwarf though. I’m not sure why, but the colours are reminding me of 80s movie posters.

Reprint Cover: The other cover was bad; this one is boring. Too much going on in this symbol compared to the cover of the last one with its sick dragon icon.

Once again, because this is a short story anthology, I’ll discuss each story one by one!

Snowsong by Nancy Varian Berberick: Tanis, Flint, Sturm and Tasslehoff are caught in a snowstorm. Tanis and Sturm go out to get firewood, are attacked by wolves, and then get lost in the blizzard and almost freeze to death. Tasslehoff, meanwhile, has been playing with a flute that he insists is magic, although all he can do with it is make a din. Suddenly, he’s able to use it to summon everyone caught in the snowstorm to safety – Tanis, Sturm, and all the animals that were caught out in the storm. In the morning, no one believes what happened except Tasslehoff, who leaves the flute behind for the next person who might need it. This was a simple and sweet story, but I am a sucker for animal stories. Berberick has a very good grasp on the characters, and they all rang very true, which can be difficult for shared-author characters. I liked the younger and more inexperienced Sturm, and Tasslehoff was balanced wonderfully between irritating and caring. The storm itself was also well-written: I could really feel the bitter cold and the isolation of being lost in the storm. I don’t remember Berberick being one of my favourite authors back in the day, but now I’m going to be looking forward to reading her novels!

The Wizard’s Spectacles by Morris Simon: In the days before he becomes Raistlin’s apprentice, Dalamar is on the run, and takes shelter with Nugold, a dwarf hermit. Dalamar gives Nugold some magic glasses in thanks (the ones that Tasslehoff later winds up with), and Nugold uses them and some of Dalamar’s scrolls to build a reputation for himself as a powerful wizard, but he meddles with the wrong sorts of magic and dies. I didn’t like this one that much. Even when Nugold is just getting tormented by the townspeople, I still didn’t find him very likeable. He doesn’t really learn anything, and there isn’t any twist or point to the story – he’s just an idiot who dies. It’s a rather mean-spirited story, now that I think about it.

The Storyteller by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel: Spinner Kenro is a storyteller who’s inspiring the dwarves, gnomes and kender of Flotsam too much, so the Dragon Highlord (clearly Kitiara, complete with a reference to the Heroes of the Lance escaping Flotsam at the same time) has him arrested and sentenced to death. In his absence, the dwarves, gnomes and kender unite to rescue him, and successfully spring him from jail… or do they? I found the characterisation of the demihumans very race-essentialist (one of Dragonlance’s ongoing problems); all the dwarves are just Flint, and all the kenders are less nuanced Tasslehoffs. The continuity tying it in to Dragons of Spring Dawning is also rather gratuitous. However, I did like the theme of the power of stories, so we’ll call this one a wash.

A Shaggy Dog’s Tail by Danny Peary: In this story which is being told by Tasslehoff, Gorath the dragonarmy officer chases after an escaped slave into the Wayreth Forest and falls under the spell of Zorna the black-robed witch. This story feels like a morality piece: Gorath is brought low when he breaks his promise to live with Zorna. However, Gorath is such a horrible character even at the beginning, and Zorna extracts the promise from him under duress… it all feels very squicky, even if it’s no more than Gorath deserves.

Lord Toede’s Disastrous Hunt by Harold Bakst: In Chronicles, the minor recurring villain Toede’s off-stage death was reported at the end of the trilogy. This is the story of how he died, trying to re-enact ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by hunting two kender who are constantly outwitting him. I quite liked this one. It’s got a simple but effective structure with one of the two kender supplying the framing narrative, a series of clever kender ploys ultimately leading to Toede’s demise, and then a very minor twist at the end of the story. It’s amusing, and it fleshes out a part of the world further. This story leads into the events of Lord Toede (1994).

Definitions of Honour by Richard A. Knaak: Sir Torbin, a knight of Solamnia, goes to fight a minotaur that’s menacing a small village. He discovers that the minotaur is doing nothing of the kind; he’s an exile who’s preparing for his imminent death-by-combat, and invites Sir Torbin to be his second. This is a well-written, thoughtful story in which we see the differences between Torbin’s naïve ideas about honour, the exiled minotaur’s more realistic viewpoint, and the other minotaurs’ very exacting and bloodthirsty code. A good, simple standalone story. Knaak returns to these themes in his later stories, in particular The Legend of Huma (1988) which has a friendship between a Knight of Solamnia and a minotaur. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Hearth Cat and Winter Wren by Nancy Varian Berberick: Rieve the wizard has captured two lovers and turned them into a cat and a bird when the woman, Wren, spurned him. Wren escaped and got Tasslehoff’s help, but now he’s a squirrel, and the cat is getting hungry. Wren escapes and tells the other companions, and Raistlin figures out a plan to defeat Rieve by turning everyone into an animal for… reasons? This is my least favourite of Berberick’s short stories so far; it just seems like an excuse to say what animals everyone would be. (For reference: Tanis is a fox, Flint’s a sheepdog, Sturm’s a falcon, Caramon is a panther, Tasslehoff is a squirrel, and Raistlin gets to stay a human). The supporting cast don’t have much to do and have very little characterisation. I expected more from Rieve after how excellent Gadar was in The Magic of Krynn. Still, I guess it’s cute to know everyone’s fursonas? 

“Wanna Bet?” by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This is the big marquee story in this anthology. It serves as a direct sequel to The Legacy from the previous collection, with Palin’s first adventure with his brothers Tanin and Sturm. The three boys are shanghaied by Dougan Redhammer, a flamboyant dwarf gambler, into joining the crew of his gnomish ship to find the legendary Greygem of Gargath, the magical stone responsible for the creation of the demihuman races. (Which ones? The canon’s a bit tangled here, folks! It definitely made all the weird hybrid monsters like chimera and manticores, and it may have been responsible for dwarves, gnomes and/or kender, depending on who you ask.) After some misadventures, they find the fabled stone, but Dougan, now revealed as the dwarf god and creator of the Greygem Reorx, gambles it away again. This story has dated really, really badly. It’s meant to be a comedy piece, but we have more gnome race-essentialism, we have (subverted, thankfully) jungle savages who are emasculated by being stay-at-home dads, we have the sexy amazons who guard the Greygem and want to take our heroes for sex slaves who eventually get persuaded to go back to their families and look after their children… none of this stuff has aged well!  This story was later included in the 1994 anthology The Second Generation. The Greygem will be back in The Gates of Thorbardin (1990) and Kindred Spirit (1991), before making a very importance appearance in Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

Into the Heart of the Story by Michael Williams: This is a strange one! Written in the form of an academic article, this is the story of Armavir (stealth Virgil joke? Love it!), the ‘missing’ gnomish Hero of the Lance, and the elvish conspiracy which led to his role in the war being deliberately erased. He gives a commentary on the ‘Song of the Nine Heroes’ poem, which he claims to have written, and gives his impressions of the other Heroes of the Lance. I found this a pretty funny alternate history, and I liked the alternate takes on the main characters – Tanis as a Hamlet-esque figure, and Tasslehoff as a devious mastermind were particularly funny. I didn’t enjoy how the female characters were handled. Goldmoon and Laurana are portrayed as whining valley girls, while Armavir voyeuristically spies on Tika and Kitiara while they take baths.  A sign of how times have changed, I guess. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Dagger-Flight by Nick O’Donohoe: The last story was strange, but this one I think is even stranger! In Chronicles, Tasslehoff steals Flint’s dagger and then uses it to kill a hobgoblin in the very first fight scene. This story is from the point of view of that dagger! Except it’s not a dagger; it’s actually a dagger-shaped monster called a Feeder, which flies around after the heroes trying to kill them, before it’s inadvertently shattered when Riverwind uses it to stab a draconian. I found the premise of this story preposterous, frankly. It reminded me of an old Star Wars short story, where the second Death Star turns out to have been possessed by the spirit of the robot bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back. Doing these sorts of alternate-perspective stories ought to increase or change our understanding of the story, but I feel like this one detracts from the original narrative, rather than adding, by being so far-fetched. This story was later included in the reprint anthology, The Best of Tales, Volume One (2000).

Final Rating: I notice that there were no gully dwarf stories in this one! This is an omission for which I’m grateful, since I’m not a big fan of them. Lots of kender, and a fair few gnomes. Overall, this anthology is much like the last one: some wonderful stories by Nancy Berberick, some promising but disappointing stories by Weis and Hickman, and a mixed bag of others, some amazing (Knaak!) and some terrible (most everyone else). I’m going to stick with 2 Disks of Mishakal out of 5 again. 

Next time, I’m reading Love and War, the final volume of the Tales trilogy! See you then!

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