Dragonlance Legends

Dragonlance Review

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After the original three Dragonlance books, also called Chronicles, comes the Legends trilogy. The Legends books addresses, within a surprisingly narrow scope, life after becoming legendary war heroes. The books focus on Caramon and Raistlin, however, although there's a healthy dose of Tasslehoff. Minor updates on Tanis and Laurana are provided, and Tika plays a minor role.

In my opinion, Legends pales in comparison to Chronicles in terms of the story of our heroes, but mostly makes up for that in lore. Krynn is a world of two times. This is constantly reinforced during several novels, and in a way it defines the setting. There was the Krynn pre-cataclysm (PC) and after the cataclysm (AC). The Legends trilogy takes place pre-cataclysm. And yet it also looks at the lives of the legendary War of the Lance heroes. How does it do this? Time travel.

Yes, Legends is about time travel.

Time travel in fantasy

Some people love time travel in fiction, other people hate it. I believe I'm ambivalent. I can't say I'm not a fan, because I watch Doctor Who and I love the Back to the Future trilogy and I enjoyed the original Terminator movie. I'm entrenched in it.

Regardless of how you feel about the trope, I think it's safe to say that time travel in this book is primarily a vehicle for lore. If you want to know what the world was like before the cataclysm, then you can travel back to Krynn (PC) and experience it yourself, through the eyes of Caramon. It works really well, and in some unexpected ways.

You might argue, for instance, that instead of throwing our heroes (or a subset of them, anyway) through time and space just to deliver some lore, the authors could have just written a book set before the cataclysm. However, I do think the world is much more alive in this trilogy because of our familiarity with Caramon. We know Caramon's struggle, and we know what's normal for him. When something happens that's uniquely pre-cataclysm, it's underscored by Caramon's reaction to it. You don't have to rely on your memory of Krynn from Chronicles because Caramon's there to point out the difference for you. It's an effective storytelling trick that's bolstered by the new struggles Caramon is experiencing in this book.

Time of the Twins

In Time of the Twins, the first novel of the Legends trilogy, Caramon has fallen far from grace. He's effectively an abusive husband, or at the very least he's severely negligent. He eats and drinks away his days, having walked away from the half-finished home he was building for himself and Tika. He's a failure, and worse yet he has failed Tika. In this book, he's the enemy.

Calling Caramon the "enemy" might sound harsh. After all, he's just a loser. He had his time in the spotlight, as a war hero, and now he's failed to live up to his potential. Does that make him The Enemy?

It won't become clear until the final novel, probably, but in fact Caramon is the villain for most of this trilogy, even though he's masquerading as the hero for much of it. It's important, I think, to recognize this early, or else you miss the reason for the ultimate redemption arc.

A question of balance

Ostensibly, the plot of the trilogy is actually about Crysania, a cleric of Paladine, and Raistlin. Now a powerful black robed wizard, Raistlin is determined to literally defeat Takhisis and to become a god himself. In order for him to do that, though, he needs a good cleric to help him across the planes, and he must first defeat the Fistandantilus. It's for that very reason, in fact, that Raistlin devises his plot to travel back in time. He must become Fistandantilus (follow closely, now) so that when Fistandantilus becomes Raistlin, it's actually Raistlin who is Fistandantilus, which means that Raistlin is Raistlin. It's a pretty amazing concept, and the story works. Unfortunately, Raistlin is still determined to become a god, so he's still a problem, but at least he hasn't been abducted by an ancient wizard spirit.

More to the point, it's Crysania and Raistlin who pose the classic question: If the gods of good are so great, then why do bad things happen to good people? This topic keeps popping up, and I think it's meant to demonstrate that the gods were abandoned by Krynn, and not the other way round. However, that's an incomplete answer, because after all bad things were still happening to good people before the cataclysm, and so the question persists. Why would good gods allow bad things to happen to good people?

The answer that the trilogy provides is balance. In the lore of Krynn, the forces of good and evil are meant to be evenly balanced. The god of Neutrality, represented by the red moon Lunitari, is the entity that's meant to hold them both accountable to one another. But in the story of Chronicles and Legends, the once red-robed wizard Raistlin changes his vestments to black, and in both trilogies the Queen of Darkness, Takhisis, is either invited to reign or is threatened to be displaced. It's about imbalance, and for Krynn that's where travesty lies.

Good and bad things happen, naturally. But when one god or the other has a stranglehold on the cosmos, then things get out of control.

Caramon the villain

Throughout Legends, Caramon is recovering from his own failures. He's coming to terms with the idea that Raistlin is self-destructive, that he's jealous of Raistlin, and that he himself went from being a great war hero to the town drunk. His apparent recovery starts relatively early in the first book. He's enslaved and thrown into a gladiator ring, and has no choice but to shape up. By the end of the first book, he's a glistening, bronzed warrior dressed in naught but a leather loin-cloth. He's a star again.

If you're not careful, you might think that Caramon has recovered. He's gotten his physique back, he's popular, he's capable. He even admits that he hasn't been a good husband to Tika, and longs to get back to his own time to set things right. He's recovered!

Or has he?

Sure enough, with his new found fame, Caramon starts to lust after the nearest available woman. This happens to be Crysania, the cleric of Paladine, who also happens to be in love with his brother, Raistlin. He also comes to the realisation that Raistlin really does have an evil goal, and so he decides that he must kill Raistlin.

In other words, things are still pretty messy.

War of the Twins

For much of the second book, War of the Twins, Caramon spends time with an army he's raised that consists of former Knights of Solamnia. This is hugely significant, because it recalls Sturm Brightblade. Sturm himself, of course, isn't literally there (he's only human, and the cataclysm happened hundreds of years before he was born) but Solamnia is there, and we only know the Knights through Sturm. As a reader in the 2020s, you can get to know Sturm better in later novels (like Preludes). But readers in the real-life timeline of Dragonlance only had known Sturm for two books so far. And he had to share those books with a lot of other characters. But it strikes me, upon rereading Legends, that Sturm is nevertheless an important counterpoint to Caramon.

Try as I might, I can't imagine Sturm in the same predicament as Caramon. This story is unique to Caramon, and it emphasizes what Sturm means to the Dragonlance books. Anybody can fall into depression, as Caramon did, but it's the coping mechanism that counts. I can't imagine Sturm Brightblade, the quintessential Oath Paladin, entertaining jealousy and possessiveness. Sturm wouldn't have tried to keep Crysania in a tent, ostensibly to protect her from witch-hunters but also because he wanted her as his own trophy mistress. Sturm would have faced threats to Crysania's safety directly and without compromise. Crysania would not have had to struggle against Sturm's "protection", and would have been free to follow whatever path she chose.

I bring this up not to deify Sturm, but because without this contrast it can be hard to see just how bad the reformed Caramon actually is. He's moved from being a loud unsightly drunk to a quiet and respected misogynist.

Caramon is a war hero of the pre-cataclysm, and he's our protagonist, but he's still not the good guy. At least, not by the measure (and the Measure) of Sturm Brightblade.

Test of the Twins

In the final book of the trilogy, Test of the Twins, Raistlin literally attacks Takhisis in an attempt to supplant her. He wants to become a god, and so he makes a move against the Queen of Darkness herself. Caramon, of course, is determined to stop him.

Because Caramon is the good guy, and that's what good guys do. Right?

Raistlin's attempt doesn't go exactly to plan, but Caramon gains a certain self-awareness that changes him. I think I'd have liked, somehow, to have gotten more of the post-enlightened version of Caramon. Admittedly, I don't know how that would work with the story these books were telling, but after Raistlin makes his attempt, the balance is essentially restored. But it's not restored because Raistlin has been defeated. The balance between evil and good is restored because Caramon is.

Caramon isn't literally defeated. He walks away from the "test" and back into his own timeline, but he does it as a changed man. It's finally clear that for the "good guy" of a story to be the good guy, he has to act good. It's not enough to do a training montage to get your muscles back, raise an army to defeat the obvious baddies, or even to stop your twin from sitting in the throne of an evil goddess. That's not what makes the protagonist of a story the good guy.

It's not easy, but Caramon recognises it, and so does Crysania (who becomes the head of Paladine's church upon her return.) You can wear black robes and not be evil, by not doing evil things. But you can also wear white robes and not be good, by not doing good things. Being a force of good, as it turns out, isn't just a figurehead position. To be good, you have to do good.

The end

That's where the main storyline of Dragonlance leaves off. To me, it's not the most amazing resolution to a saga I've read (that honour goes to The Demon War saga by R.A. Salvatore), in part because it focuses so strongly on the twins. While their story is a good one, it's a little odd that the second half of a six-part saga should all but abandon the cast of characters the first three built up.

There is a plotline that wraps up the story of Kitiara, Lord Soth, Tanis, and others. There's a really fun flying citadel and a few dragons here and there. Largely, though, this trilogy feels more like a Planescape story (in retrospect) than a Dragonlance story. The lore of Krynn, though, is strong. You get to experience pre-cataclysm Krynn, which puts "modern" Krynn into perspective. The significance of Goldmoon, for instance, is stronger for these three books. The significance of Fizban himself is more powerful after you've experienced a godless Krynn.

Next comes the Preludes series, which tells the stories of those five years leading up to Chronicles.

Dragon art by David Revoy. Creative Commons BY.

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