Obviously the middle part of the brick is Dragons of Winter Night, the second part of the trilogy. And I keep thinking and wondering. I mentioned that I was specifically interested in rereading about Tanis Half-Elven, our supposedly main character. Because, of all the characters, his is the story I remember the fewest details about. I mean, I remember that he’s torn between Kitiara and Laura romantically, I remember that he has a magic sword from a dead elf king, and I remember that he’s the leader of the group. But why can’t I remember anything more about who he is?
There was an annotation in Dragons of Autum Twilight wherein Margaret Weis was having trouble wrapping her mind around Tanis’ character. Tracy Hickman told her that he was equivalent to Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise…but I never really agreed with that sentiment. Tanis is far too serious and conscious of dignity to be Kirk. That doesn’t stop him from doing things like wade through sewers or have buildings fall on him – because these are things that happen to adventurers – but those don’t generally seem like situations for Kirk.
I’ve been thinking that one of the problems with Tanis is that he’s present for what he is. The balanced party needed a half-elf ranger. Sure, this means we have to explain that he’s a child of rape, but his…uncle?…I don’t care enough to figure it out. The Speaker of Suns took him in and raised him alongside Porthios, Gilthanas, and Laurana. So for all his bastard halfbreed blood, Tanis has high level connections to the Qualinesti elves. But this is all stuff about Tanis, and doesn’t really speak to the man himself.
In terms of character, Tanis is one of the least developed as far as the main party goes. He pretty much exists to provide a viewpoint and narration for the reader. He’s old enough and experienced to know a fair bit, is the trusted leader of his friends and therefore is able to go off and speak with any of them in private. He can give orders, but doesn’t generally outside of tense situations. More than anything, he instinctively understands not to give an order that won’t be obeyed. But he’s an archetype. We, as readers, are meant to inhabit Tanis, which means he can’t have much of a personality else not all readers can wear his skin.
Which is pretty awful. I mean, there’s so much potential. But you can’t remember much about Tanis because there is nothing to grasp onto. It’s incredibly frustrating especially given the tears that the second book ends with.
I guess that’s as good a transition as any into the plot. Dragons of Winter Night does not pick up directly after Dragons of Autumn Twilight. There’s another adventure or two that happens in between the books and the authors left those stories out for length and whatnot. But, Dragonlance being Dragonlance, you can read about them elsewhere. (I kid you not, there are so very many annotations saying “for this story, go to this book!”)
Our massive and unwieldly party is finally split into smaller groups by authorial intent, by happenstance, by circumstance. One portion travels through once-beautiful Silvanesti, the other up to Solamnia. And the book becomes kind of like The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien where you can almost divide the thing into halves based on which group you’re following. We find out that elves are far from perfect, that there are good dragons to face the evil dragons, and there are tears. Many tears. More on tears later. We also meet the tinker gnomes who are amazing in every single way. As proof, let me share with you the annotation (pages 794-795) that Tracy Hickman won me over with.
“In an early draft of the story, we explained the gnomish efforts to invent a lighting system for the long tunnel that connected the exterior of the volcano to its large open interior. Concerned that the human knights of Solamnia could not see in the dark as the gnomes could, they built the following:
Action: They placed long steel rods running the length of the corridor, the ends of which were lowered down into the molten magma of the volcano below.
Result: The hall was lit but the heat roasted anything that attempted to pass through Krynn’s first toaster oven.
Action: Plumbing of ice-cold water down from the mountain glacier lake at the top of Mt. Nevermind to cool the space between the rods.
Result: The pipes leaked. This made the corridor both hot and cold at the same time and filled the corridor with an impenetrable fog.
Action: A gigantic mechanical fan was set at one end of the tunnel to blow out the fog.
Result: The tunnel was freezing cold, burning hot, impossible to see in, and filled with a roaring wind that made it impossible to hear–but, by Paladine, that corridor was LIT!”
Just…seriously. Is that not beautiful?
THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
I said there were tears and I’d talk about them. One of the major events of this book, which happens almost at the very end, is the death of Sturm Brightblade, Knight of Solamnia. And this is the biggest reason why The Annotated Chronicles should not be anyone’s first exposure to these books. Because the annotations give away this major plot point early on in the first book. I mean, they also give away that Kitiara is a Dragon Highlord, but that’s so much less important.
Sturm’s death is major. He’s one of the main characters and has been from the very beginning. He’s not a new addition for this trilogy like Goldmoon and Riverwind. He’s not a latecomer like Laurana or Gilathanas. He’s one of the core characters, even if he doesn’t usually do much more than stand straight and live for honor. I mean, that’s basically his whole character but you know that he’s an honorable man who lives his life as strictly as he wishes everyone else would, though he’s experienced enough to know that very few people can be held to those standards.
According to the notes, the authors got lots of letters, probably even some hate mail, over killing Sturm. He was a fan favorite and they accused the pair of not caring about him. But no, the authors admitted they cried when writing his death, and again with his funeral. They cared about him that much. Hell, I feel it too.
But I don’t feel that same sense of care about Tanis and if he’s supposed to be the central character…it just doesn’t work. That’s where they didn’t care. I mean, not even like when Margaret Weis hated Elistan and would have written him out of the book if possible (Hickman made her put the man back in and promised she could kill him in Legends). Tanis is just…there. Like a lump that has basic emotional and narrational capabilities. And it hurts because you know he could have been so much more. Here I am, eyes watering as I remember how a fictional character gave his life for honor, buying time for his friends, allies, and soldiers, and then I think of another character in the same book and there is…nothing. Or rather, there’s the expectation of something, but nothing comes along.
It’s infuriating and while I know these are first books, it’s still annoying to realize.