Dragonlance – Nostalgia only goes so far

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I continue to read to my 10-year-old son on a regular basis. I’ve been going back through some old fantasy books and series that I read myself when I was much younger. First was the Belgariad series by David Eddings. This time, it’s Dragonlance.

I read the first Dragonlance trilogy after a friend of mine told me about it in 1989. We both regularly played Dungeons & Dragons, and these stories were D&D brought to life. I was at the tail end of my teen years when I read them, consuming all six (the Chronicles trilogy followed by the Legends trilogy) over a period of a couple of months.

It’s now 2014 and I’ve just finished reading the Chronicles trilogy—Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning—once again. So what’s the verdict?

My son enjoyed all three books. He loved Tasselhoff, the kender, and enjoyed the gruff dwarf Flint Fireforge as well. Just like me when I first read these books, he found Tanis to be far too whiny, and Sturm to be boring. But overall, he thought they told a great story and now he wants me to read the Legends trilogy to him. The fact that Tasselhoff plays a big role in the second trilogy may be a significant factor in this desire.

And me? How do these books hold up after so many years?

Let me preface my answer by saying that I don’t consider myself a fantasy-snob. I never really understood the hate that some people have for Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and I don’t think they were the heralds of the “destruction of D&D” (as some have claimed on various forums and blogs over the years). I have no issues with tie-in novels, nor do I demand great literature from my escapist fantasy.

Having said that, reading the Chronicles trilogy was a noticeable let-down for me. My memories of these books were far better than the reality. I’m happy that my son got such enjoyment out of them, because otherwise I would totally regret reading them again.

So what’s the problem?

First, the writing itself is very…amateurish. Weis and Hickman make so many newbie mistakes, and whoever edited these books did a pretty sloppy job. For example, while each passage is written as if from the viewpoint of a single character, that viewpoint often switches randomly in the middle of a passage, sometimes in the middle of a single sentence.

Out of the entire sizeable cast, only Laurana undergoes anything resembling character growth. I know some people will say that Tasselhoff also grew, but the only evidence of his growth is that Weis and Hickman tell us that Tasselhoff has changed without showing any real behavioural changes in the character himself.

There are other issues with these stories that I’m not going list as I don’t want this to turn into a rant. Now, one has to understand that these are the first novels ever written by both Weis and Hickman, and I’m sure I committed my own list of newbie mistakes in my first novel. But good editors are supposed to catch these mistakes and steer the writer—especially a new writer—in the right direction. That was obviously missing here.

Ultimately, my son was happy to listen to me read these to him, and I was disappointed in my experience of reading them a second time. He wants me to move on to the Legends trilogy, and I have no interest in going any further down the Dragonlance path. There are too many other great books to read to him, and I know that one day he’s probably going to grow out of listening to me reading altogether.

The original Dragonlance trilogies have been enjoyed by millions of people over the years since they were written. They tell the story of an epic battle of good against evil, and there are some enjoyable moments in them. For me, however, there is just something lacking—something I didn’t notice the absence of back when I was in my teens, but which I certainly notice now. As much as I devoured these books the first time I read them, I now know with certainty that I’m never going to revisit these again.

I’ll let the Legends trilogy live on in my memory as a fantastic story about an awesome, evil wizard who was powerful enough to challenge the gods. Why ruin a good thing with an (in this case) unnecessary dose of reality?

What about you? Have you gone back to reread a series you loved as a younger person only to discover it didn’t live up your memories? Tell me about it in the comments.

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