In December, Wizards of the Coast released Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen. Like many fans, I was eagerly looking forward to a return to the world of Krynn. While the book itself was very hit-or-miss for me, especially as a source book, just looking at the map of Ansalon again took me back to the time when I fell in love with Dragonlance.
The story, the characters, the setting — all of it really resonates with me. In the pantheon of fantasy epics, the Chronicles and Legends trilogies rate right up there with Lord of the Rings in my estimation. So, for this blog, I thought I would share the particulars of how Dragonlance first came into my life.
It was, as it turns out, quite a happy accident.
The First Taste
When I was about 13, a relative of mine came down from Michigan. I had never met him before that summer. He was older than me by a few years and interested in many of the same things I was, including tabletop role-playing games. At that time, I had played some Palladium RPGs, but never actually played D&D itself. He was also a big fantasy reader.
Between trips to the local pool, he told me about this cool new fantasy series he was reading. (No, it wasn’t Dragonlance. That would come a bit later). The series he described was actually the Deathgate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. He had the paperbacks of the first two novels with him, Dragon Wing and Elven Star. Since he was big into collecting the hardcovers, he gave me those two well-loved (but dog-eared) copies of the books.
I devoured those two novels over the next couple of weeks, and loved every page, character, footnote, and appendix. That was my first taste of what Weis and Hickman could do when they collaborated together. It definitely wouldn’t be the last.
A Fateful Trip
Many moons ago, there was a B. Dalton Bookseller in the Broadway Square Mall in Tyler, Texas. I loved that store, and I was sad to eventually see it close down. I had an uncle who lived just outside of Tyler. Any time I would go to visit him, he would find an excuse for the two of us to head off to the mall to look at books. Like me, he was a voracious reader. While he was not a rich man by any means, he made sure that any novel that really caught my attention came home with me.
Normally, we would each get a book, read it, then give each other a verbal book report about it the next time we saw each other. We had similar tastes, so when one of us liked a book, we would let the other one have a turn at reading it. I didn’t realize until much later that he never asked for any of the books back that he let me borrow. This was just another way that he helped me fill up my bookshelves.
So, on one of these trips, he found an anthology of fantasy short stories called Tales 1: The Magic of Krynn. The cool cover had been what first piqued his interest. This is a photo of the actual book he got on that day. As you can see, it’s been read over many times.
He really liked the book and recommended that I read it as well. Looking through the table of contents, I found some familiar names. The very last story in the book was called “The Legacy,” and it was written by (you guessed it), Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
Raistlin Did Something Really Bad.
[Some DL spoilers ahead, so take heed.]
In “The Legacy,” we find an aging yet powerful warrior named Caramon who is worried for his son, Palin. Palin is going to take his test at the Tower of High Sorcery to see if he can become a wizard of the White Robes. There is an uneasiness hanging over everyone in the story. Caramon, Palin, and the other wizards of the Tower all seem on edge.
Turns out, it’s all because Caramon’s brother, Palin’s uncle, did something truly unconscionable. Everyone is really upset about it. But here’s the thing: No one says explicitly what Raistlin did. Whatever it was, it was so heinous and world-shattering that everyone in the story speaks Raistlin’s name in hushed tones. That’s one of the reasons that no one is exactly thrilled that Raistlin’s nephew wants to become a wizard as well.
Of course, now I know the whole story, but back then I had no idea who any of these characters were, what they had done previously, or what their interrelationships looked like. This was my very first introduction to them. “The Legacy” wound up being about 100 pages worth of pure foreshadowing for me. I was intrigued to know more.
Larry Elmore for the Win
Sometime later, my uncle and I were once again in the B.Dalton looking for new books. The fantasy novels had inhabited one back corner of the store for a long time, but the eponymous booksellers had rearranged the books since the last time we visited.
As I passed by one shelf on the way to my usual corner, I caught a glimpse of Caramon’s distinctive dragonhelm. I recognized it from the cover of The Magic of Krynn. In this painting, he was in his fighting prime. Raistlin was present beside him wearing the red robes of neutral mages instead of black. I was, of course, holding a copy of Dragons of Spring Dawning with cover art by Larry Elmore. Elmore had also done the cover for The Magic of Krynn, so his artwork was instrumental in introducing me to Dragonlance at two separate points.
I had thought that Palin and his brothers, Tanin and Sturm, were the main characters of the setting. Here, I was seeing compelling evidence that they were, in fact, the second generation of heroes in Dragonlance.
Without hesitation, my uncle bought me all three volumes of the Chronicles series. I couldn’t wait to dive in. I read the first lines of Dragons of Autumn Twilight in the car on the way back to his house.
A Lasting Impression
In no time flat, I had read all three books. Hungry for more, I picked up the Legends series, which finally revealed to me the epic bad deed that Raistlin had tried, and failed, to do. Finally, the circle I had started with “The Legacy” was complete. I moved on to many of the other books by other authors in the Dragonlance setting, but the six books by Weis and Hickman really stuck with me.
I began reading their other series as well. The Rose of the Prophet. The Darksword. Margaret’s solo series, The Star of the Guardians. Let’s not forget the rest of the Deathgate Cycle, which I didn’t finish until I was in college.
To say that Weis and Hickman were an inspiration to me is a massive understatement. Dragonlance had captured my imagination. It became the spark for me to start writing my own fan fiction. Admittedly, it was really bad fan fiction, but still a necessary step to becoming a writer myself. Krynn gave me a familiar place to set my stories, and I went all in.
Becoming a Hero of the Lance
When I first read Dragons of Autumn Twilight as a young teenager, I had yet to play D&D. So, I’m actually someone who fell in love with the world of Dragonlance before I ever played the game it was set in. Years passed, however, and I finally got my chance to play in Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and a few homebrewed settings. Never Krynn, though.
The source of the aforementioned fan fiction? That came when a good friend of mine announced that he wanted to run a Dragonlance campaign using the original modules. Here was my chance to step into the world I had been such a fan of for so long. I have to hand it to this friend of mine, he loved Dragonlance as much (if not more) than I did, and it definitely showed.
I took on the role of a gentlemanly Knight of Solamnia, who had seen a vision he couldn’t explain and had gone on a quest to find the story of the True Gods. He was joined by a tinker gnome from Mount Nevermind, a brother Knight of the Crown who harbored a potentially ruinous secret, an enigmatic mage of the red robes, and a dwarven drill instructor from Thorbardin. Together, they became the new Heroes of the Lance.
Everyone who made up characters for this game role-played them to perfection. I’ve played in a lot of memorable campaigns over my gaming career, but as Paladine as my witness, this one had a kind of life to it that I have never seen before or since.
The Journey Continues
There have been occasional forays back to Dragonlance over the years, whether in the pages of a novel, or in game. Dragonlance is still very much a part of me to this day. This series was precisely at the right time/right place for me as a young man. It continues to be a source of inspiration. I have my annotated Chronicles and Legends hardbacks on display in my office.
I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to meet Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and Larry Elmore at various conventions over the years, though I’m not sure they would remember me. I’ve been off the convention circuit for many years now, even before the pandemic, but I’m hoping to catch up to one or more of them at some point in the future.
To the three of them, if any of you should read this, you have my most heartfelt thank you. Your work helped give a kid who was really struggling with, well, pretty much everything a place to go when the world grew too heavy to bear. Beyond that, I can trace much of my interest in becoming a fantasy author back to Dragonlance.
Lastly, I would like to thank my uncle, whom I sadly lost in 2015. I miss him still, especially when I set foot in a bookstore. It was through his understanding and generosity that I found the magical world of Krynn and was forever changed. So, to him, I’d like to simply say:
Est Sularis oth Mithas.