by Randall S. Frederick
Dragonlance is one of the oldest and most established settings in Dungeons & Dragons, dating back to the early 1980s when it was created by module writers Laura and Tracy Hickman. The world was further developed in a trilogy of novels written by the couple and fantasy author Margaret Weis. While there have been many D&D novels over the years, beginning with a series of choose-your-own-adventure young adult novels, there are now over 190 novels featuring the Dragonlance setting alone, something of an underground powerhouse in the fantasy genre. Contemporary fantasy writers like Leigh Bardugo credit the novels as inspiration on par with J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and George R. R. Martin. Depicting a world filled with a rich history, cultures, and religions, Dragonlance is perhaps the most fleshed-out world in D&D’s history. And it appears, like the works of these authors before it, Dragonlance is finally about to be translated to film in a form that suits it best, serialized storytelling. Paramount and Wizards of the Coast confirmed last week that they are in development with a Dragonlance series and that longtime fan Joe Manganiello is going to be the showrunner.
Like many other works of fantasy, Dragonlance is set within a magical world populated by humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and a hobbit-like race, the kender. This world is familiar ground with evil wizards, dragons in the sky, and so on. Except that Krynn is also home to Draconians, winged human-sized creatures that are born through evil wizardry and the corruption of dragon eggs. Magic is not housed in rings and swords, as in Tolkien. Time travel is possible, unlike many fantasy worlds which leave the space-time continuum to works of science fiction. Unlike Tolkien’s world, where magic is fading, or Jordan’s where magic is limited to certain classes, Dragonlance begins with the belief that almost everyone is pulled toward magic. It is a very Mormon-esque assumption, familiar to the readers of Brandon Sanderson’s works. Tracy and Laura Hickman are members of the Latter-Day Saints, like Sanderson. The magic of Krynn functions as a kind of spiritual alignment with the three primary gods. The more devoted one becomes to the gods of evil, neutrality, or good, the more magic begins to occur around them or through them. Without religion and clearly defined good and evil, without moral choice and consequences, Krynn is unremarkable. Perhaps, here in the real world, that is why it has gone unnoticed. We prefer antiheroes to heroes, a sustained moral ambiguity and situational ethic that allows us to sympathize with, even sexualize evil. Whenever someone wants to valorize the truly noble, we’re likely to roll our eyes and call it a cliche without recognizing a pastiche. Dragonlance is a series that rewards readers for being familiar with the canonical works of fantasy, rewards them for knowing the development of the genre from romantic epics to the individualistic fantasy of Conan the Barbarian, Barsoom, or Gor. It rewards readers for its ability to take the themes and tropes and slightly subvert them before this became de rigueur. Unexpectedly, Dragonlance even opened the door for discussions about diversity and female empowerment within fantasy. It is finally getting it’s due.
The title of the setting gets its name from dragonlances, the only weapon able to actually kill a dragon by their ability to pierce the scaled hide of the creature and reach deep enough to stab vital organs. These rare weapons are a key element of the setting and are notably the only means a mortal who lacks the ability to cast magic is said to be able to slay a dragon within Krynn. However, as many fans of the series note, the lances are not crucial to the series. They’re not even the most magical part of the series. Either the authors simply did not care enough to sustain what should have been their core plot thread or they subconsciously refused it, emphasizing instead the strength to be found in friendship and loyalty over weapons. Moral questions are what drive the series, not special items granted to special warriors by special people who retire to special places with their special partners. The mundane is the point; heroism is not an exclusive activity for heroes. Even silly, child-like kender, washed-up failures, and women who have been told to stay in the kitchen and smile more are capable of great deeds that can change the world.
The original trilogy, Chronicles, began in November of 1984 with the publication of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, followed in July of 1985 with Dragons of Winter Night and September’s Dragons of Spring Dawning. Another trilogy, Dragonlance: Legends, would follow a few years later and continue the story by focusing on two main characters in the Chronicles, brothers Raistlin and Caramon Majere. Later, spinoffs — most written by other authors — would continue to flesh out the world before the authors returned with another trilogy, The Lost Chronicles, to fill in gaps of the original trilogy and fulfill the narrative they detailed in gaming modules fifteen years earlier. Fans enthusiastically dove in, proving they had never stopped loving the works.
Margaret Weis discovered heroic fantasy fiction while studying at the University of Missouri in the 1960s, picking up Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1966. In 1983, she applied for a job as a game editor at TSR, Inc., the gaming studio that originated Dungeons & Dragons before it was acquired by Wizards of the Coast and rolled into Hasbro. TSR turned her down for that position, but hired her as a book editor, taking part in the new venture. One of her first assignments at TSR was to help coordinate Project Overlord with TSR colleague Tracy Hickman. The project was risky, a multimedia effort to include a novel and three AD&D modules. Weis and Hickman plotted the novel and hired an author to flesh out story ideas, but both felt the writer lacked a grasp of the characters or plots. Having already lived with the characters for months and threatened by a looming deadline, the two saved the project and began to write it themselves.
Project Overlord soon became known as Dragonlance but it was clear the team had a more expansive vision than what was originally conceived. The plot of the Dragonlance Chronicles is centered around the conflict known as the War of the Lance, in which the Heroes of the Lance march to fight against Verminaard, the lord of the draconian army, and the dark goddess Takhisis. The concept and vision were there from early on, but even then, TSR had doubts about the finished novel’s potential. They originally ordered a rather small thirty thousand copies. Managing editor of TSR’s book department, Jean Black recalls it differently. “To my mind, what made the project so successful was that everyone was involved in it, excited about it, and believed in it.” She greenlit an order of fifty thousand copies of the novel along with the gaming modules. Weis and Hickman found this constraining, that it made the novel too episodic. The hasty work shows; the novel was originally conceived as a single work, not a series, and it has an awkward ending. But with 4 million sales of the first book in the US and UK, the proof was there. TSR’s risk had paid off and they needed to trust their creators. As Weis and Hickman saw it, the sequel would need to expand into a trilogy they called the Dragonlance Chronicles. They explained to TSR and eventually won them over that, going forward, the writing partners would need to reverse the process for the next books, completing the novels before the related modules were written. Reaching a new level of success, TSR authorized fifteen linked modules for Weis and Hickman to continue the work, but reasonably began to feel a little overwhelmed. The two struck out as independent authors in 1986 while other authors would pick up where they left off and the TSR stable of artists and creators would expand the line with game supplements, short stories, art books, and calendars.
Confirming actor and producer Joe Manganiello as showrunner continues the recent trend of taking nostalgia properties and handing them over to a generation who grew up with them. Manganiello has been effusive with his love for the novels, calling it the Star Wars of the fantasy genre — swords, love affairs, defined good and evil, with interesting races and monsters. But Dragonlance runs a very real risk as it moves forward in development.
In May of 2019, writer Michael Schulman of The New Yorker noted that
Most people are fans of something, whether it’s the Red Sox, “Hamilton,” or Agatha Christie. But the nature of fandom seems to have morphed in the past decade. In the old days of sci-fi conventions and Bobby Sherman fan clubs, fandom was a subculture reserved for the very young or the very obsessed — or, in the case of the Grateful Dead, the very stoned. As fantasy and comic-book franchises have taken over the entertainment industry, nerd culture has become mainstream. Now that couch potatoes have social media, they have risen up and become active, opinionated participants. As a result, movie studios and TV showrunners have to cater to subsets of diehard devotees, who expect to have a say in how their favorite properties are handled…
A glance around the pop-culture landscape gives the impression that fans have gone mad. In May, viewers of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” revolted against the show’s final two episodes, in which the dragon queen, Daenerys Targaryen, took a turn toward the genocidal. Some critics accused the showrunners, both of whom were men, of propagating the idea that women in power are inevitably crazy. Others complained that the personality change was too implausible, or that the whole season was rushed, or that it simply sucked. More than 1.7 million people signed a petition on Change.org to “remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers.” At a press conference, HBO’s programming president, Casey Bloys, turned down the request, though he acknowledged the fans’ “enthusiasm and passion.”
The outcry bore similarities to the fan uprising against “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” released in 2017. Much of the backlash had to do with Luke Skywalker not acting quite like Luke Skywalker, now that he had rematerialized as a sour middle-aged hermit. Like Daenerys, he wasn’t the hero that fans had long held him to be. Some fans were also mad that Rey, the orphaned heroine, was revealed not to be secretly of noble lineage, undercutting two years of carefully worked-out fan theories. Detractors swarmed Rotten Tomatoes, posting bad reviews, and petitioned Disney to strike the film from the “official canon.” (Again, no dice.)
Fans are notoriously difficult, either loving or hating how a work is translated for new audiences. Dungeons & Dragons players, especially so. Players are likely to remain loyal to the edition or ruleset they were introduced to when they began playing, denigrating newer rule systems as “derivative” or “not how the game was intended.” Like many nerds, geeks, and dweebs, I am guilty of being difficult and opinionated when it comes to my respective fandoms. When the rights to Anne Rice’s The Mayfair Witches reverted back to her in 2020, I was elated. Finally, I thought, Rice’s masterpiece will be brought into the 21st Century. But then Rice died in 2021, leaving her son Christopher — also a writer — to run the show alone. When the pilot premiered earlier this year and I saw what AMC had brought forward, I was less than enthused. The powerful Rowan Mayfair, a thirteenth-generation witch, had been reduced to an anxiety-riddled character that no longer reflected the character I had fallen in love with over a decade ago. Similarly, other characters became strange caricatures. One Mayfair family member had become a closeted homosexual with a Southern drawl more akin to a plantation owner from Georgia, leering at his neighbors. The rapid speech of Irish dock workers was lost. Streets and houses were wrong, in the wrong neighborhoods. To the casual New Orleanian, it felt off. To the New Orleanian who had grown up reading her works, it was abominable. And Rowan’s love interests — one an Irish contractor, the other a Scottish ghost — were decidedly, remarkably, and terribly different. This was no longer a loose “translation” of the work, not even a bad one. It was awful, even when viewed apart from the source material. I gritted my teeth, wanting to believe the best, but by the middle of the third episode, I could not endure it anymore. I turned it off. Maybe, I wondered, there is something to be said for capturing a work while it is still fresh. Rowan’s non-canonical defeatist attitude might have been acceptable to audiences in the Nineties or even played for laughs in the Aughts, but in 2023, repeated panic attacks and a diminished female lead with forced diversity — making a happily married heterosexual character flamboyantly gay, making an Irishman into a Black person, making a Scottish ghost vaguely Italian— the dichotomy can undermine good intentions on the part of the showrunners.
However, this is not a new disappointment. When I was a young boy, I loved He-Man and She-Ra cartoons. I don’t mean I liked them. I mean I loved them. I would walk around my neighborhood after school with a bowl cut like He-Man’s and a battery-powered glowing sword shouting “I have the powwwwweerrrrrrrr!!!!” I would wear my mother’s headbands, believing I was Princess Adora. At holidays, cousins were unwillingly recruited to my fantasy imagination. So I was decidedly confused when the Masters of the Universe movie came out in 1987 and it bore absolutely no resemblance to the show I loved so much. The same thing happened in 1993 with Super Mario Bros. Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns was out of sync with a post-9/11 America; then again, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) felt like it had swung the opposite direction — as dark cinematically as it was in terms of narrative. To his credit, Snyder ignored critics, audiences, fans, and the studio when he doubled down the darkness in Batman v. Superman (2016) and got progressively darker with the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League (2021). Say what you will, but the guy had a vision and kept it. Gone was the optimism of the comic books, actively refusing the full spectrum of color and heroism in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is entirely possible though that fans misplaced their boredom under the pretext of anger. As writer-director and now co-CEO of DC Studios James Gunn puts it, “I think there is such a thing as superhero fatigue. I think it doesn’t have anything to do with superheroes. It has to do with the kind of stories that get to be told, and if you lose your eye on the ball, which is character. We love Superman. We love Batman. We love Iron Man. Because they’re these incredible characters that we have in our hearts. And if it becomes just a bunch of nonsense onscreen, it gets really boring.” Warner Bros., Sony, even Disney have put out some underwhelming nonsense over the last two decades.
Fans have a legitimate complaint that nostalgia properties, in an effort to bring them to new audiences, have been downgraded for teenagers and toy aisles. An updated property may lack narrative complexity, coherence, or originality, trading a long-term investment of a developed narrative for short-term returns of spectacle. One of the reasons I have not seen any of the Fast & the Furious movies is because, simply put, I am not a teenage boy. Muscle cars never appealed to me. It doesn’t matter how loud the engine is or how low-cut the tops are on the eye-candy women — do they even have names? — because I want something more than what these films offer. As Gunn puts it, “I get fatigued by most spectacle films, by the grind of not having an emotionally grounded story. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether they’re superhero movies or not. If you don’t have a story at the base of it, just watching things bash each other, no matter how clever those bashing moments are, no matter how clever the designs and the VFX are, it just gets fatiguing, and I think that’s very, very real.”
Highbrow magazine The Atlantic offered a review that highlights the role of narrative in the recently released Dungeons & Dragons film, Honor Among Thieves. Staff writer David Sims puts forward that
It’s a modern blockbuster, laden with elaborate CGI creatures and extravagant set pieces. But its sincerity recalls a pre-Marvel age: Honor Among Thieves is free of winky jokes to the camera and desperate attempts to set the story up for a legion of hypothetical sequels. Daley and Goldstein, who are obviously seasoned D&D players with a passion for the game’s intricate world, have created a Princess Bride–esque saga of personal enrichment and revenge that even the most casual fan can get into. At the same time, the film echoes the game’s spontaneity, hopping from encounter to encounter with a jaggedness — characters will be in a tavern one moment and in a hellish underworld minutes later — that feels naturally suited to the story.
Having watched it, Honor Among Thieves certainly tries very hard to earn its reliance on CGI. The story is earnest and simple, episodic as it unpeels itself with character development and backstory. Blockbuster? Yes. Good? Enh. It tries, and I appreciated that.
There have always been spectacle films, movies that have tried to push the boundaries of human imagination, but somewhere along the way fantasy dropped off and became unfilmable. The original Superman movie in 1978 outright said they wanted audiences to believe a man could fly. Star Wars and Star Trek both explored the reaches of space, populating strange worlds with unique forms of life, laser swords, and hand-held communicators. These were science fiction movies though, well situated within the rules of their genre. But despite the concerted effort of studios to bring fantasy films to the forefront in the 1980s, they continually fell flat because the budgets never materialized. Think of the original Clash of the Titans (1981) — stop-motion photography was the best fantasy could manage in an era of big-budget special effects? Grainy, long-range wideshot aerials of flying falcons in The Beastmaster (1982) and Ladyhawke (1985)? Studios were either averse to the fantasy genre because they didn’t understand it or because it required too much effort. Conan the Barbarian (1982) was probably the closest fantasy ever came to the mainstream; the film is indebted to Robert Howard as much as Fritz Leiber and Gary Gygax, however, film historians are more likely to categorize Conan as an import, a product of the Italian “swords and sandals” films that have become popular in the late Seventies. Regardless of whether one sees Conan as a legitimate fantasy or as a foreign film, its success eclipsed the modestly successful Dragonslayer (1981), which was classic fantasy by every measure. Still, studios stumbled and kept stumbling for almost two decades. The animated Fire & Ice (1983) attempted to bring fantasy to children but was clearly meant for adults, depicting blood and sex (consensual and attempted rape) along with dark magic. Two years later, Disney’s The Black Cauldron (1985) was sanitized and given a lighthearted tone compared to the source material but was still too grim for young audiences. Willow (1988) yet again showed that fantasy was a genre for adults, not children — even with a cute, swaddled baby and fairy-like brownies at the center of the film. The aforementioned Masters of the Universe (1987) was such a sloppy, confused, and confusing mess that its failure almost doomed the genre entirely. It became a textbook example for future fantasy movies in what they needed to avoid. With its failure, other fantasy projects were canned or shuttered. Science fiction became the almost-exclusive domain of spectacle.
With limited budgets to depict magical worlds, limited time to build their worlds, neglect of or changes to the source material, and confused studios constantly nudging dark content toward underage audiences or trying to save the film from becoming a medieval warrior piece by time-warping characters into the past Connecticut Yankee-style, the genre was neither accurately reflected nor was it ever going to reach the right audiences. Cutesy appeal guaranteed the wrong tone as much as insisting on making the content relevant to hip, jean-jacket pompadoured mallrats. Still, audiences were interested, or at least curious. They even seemed to “get it”, discriminating between bad efforts with good stories and simply bad stories. The medium, ironically, did fantasy no favors. This is why it made sense that fantasy got a second life and sustained fanbase when it reappeared in the late Nineties with shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, The Adventures of Sinbad, and television miniseries like Merlin, Mists of Avalon, and The Odyssey. The ratings were there, even for cobbled-together works like The 10th Kingdom. “Instant cult classics” developed, which was a very late-Nineties way of saying fandoms were supportive. They wanted fantasy, even if it was done poorly. When the “unfilmable” epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings entered theaters in 2001 and was met with enthusiastic success, it showed only underscored the missing elements. Peter Jackson’s faithfulness to the material and allowing for a long run time were essential. When the Extended Editions of already-long movies were packaged with hours and hours of interviews and behind-the-scenes discussions with scholars and fans, the fandom expanded rather than contracted or met these releases with apathy. Lord of the Rings proved, definitively, that keeping studio executives out of the creative process and allowing someone with a love for the source material to share that love with audiences would prove profitable, win awards, and redefine the fantasy genre as well as cinema. With the success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, or at least his vision of it, fantasy had gone mainstream. It wasn’t alone, though. Concurrently, Harry Potter had made the leap to film, as had Twilight and Percy Jackson, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Vampire Academy. On television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer begat The Vampire Diaries. Each of these translations to film were once again targeted at younger audiences and for good reason. Young Adult had emerged as a profitable genre for publishing houses. When The Hobbit had originally been published, it was sold as a children’s novel. Tolkien protested this, but reluctantly agreed. He was once again disappointed when his magnum opus, Lord of the Rings, had been edited and broken up into a trilogy. Though his works found success with adults, Tolkien is often juxtaposed with friend and drinking partner, C.S. Lewis, who happily leaned into where publishing was at coming out of World War II. With such mega-successes as Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, fantasy had fallen into the domain of children’s literature. Readers continued to resist this trend and, for a host of reasons, fantasy was never given it’s due until the late 1980s when Dragonlance and other fantasy novels began to break the mold of the genre.
From the 1960s until the late 1980s, fantasy fell into a liminal space between children’s literature and… well… something else. In the 1990s, the migration of literary works away from the dramatic personal (re: lonely) journey of an often white, often male, often heterosexual, often middle-aged, often American who proved his moral character through rejecting progress and modernity were grouped together under the label Popular Literature, a telling label if ever there was one. Pop Lit, it should be obvious, crossed genres. It could have just as easily been called “Other” for the way the works, their readers, and their genres were treated by publishers. The Ivory White Tower of canonical works had begun to crack and academic, publishing, and East Coast elitism worked together to denigrate and dismiss Popular Literature as lesser, inferior efforts. Pop Lit included romance novels, historical novels that followed nonconventional protagonists, as well as fantasy, horror, even mystery novels — a different genre from the pulpy Detective Novel, still considered canonical and worthy of reading as “real” literature because the Detective Novel still followed a white, middle-aged, heterosexual who proved himself by — you guessed it — going it alone and grumbling about progress and modernity.
The attitude remains, or at least appears, in the fandoms of fantasy. Many purists feel that the genre began with aged, vested, educated white men like Tolkien and Lewis and should remain that way. They complain that there are too many characters, that teamwork diminishes the role of “real” fantasy which followed a single adventurer, embracing King Arthur even as they forget the Round Table. It’s the same complaint in superheroism when fans claim Tony Stark was better when he flew solo and that things went downhill when he joined the Avengers. The absence of women in Tolkien’s works appeals to them; fantasy novels are about the camaraderie among men, among warriors who refuse the seductive distractions of women. Lewis, while elevating women somewhat, reminds his readers that a woman’s place is not on the battlefield because they are simply not equipped internally for heroism. Bluntly, the fantasy genre has historically been a great place for incels to encourage one another, masturbating to their own loneliness. But under the umbrella of Popular Literature, fantasy and romance were always going to begin borrowing from one another and change one another identifying markers.
Carina Rumberger-Yanda, writing for In Pursuit of Truth: A Journal of Christian Scholarship, asks several questions of Lewis — and by extension, all of the cisgender, heterosexual, middle-aged white males who created the canon of fantasy — regarding gender. She writes,
From a young age, Lewis was a voracious and engaged reader who immersed himself in Classic and Romantic literature and ancient mythologies. The characters and ideas he encountered in his readings left deep and lasting impressions on how he viewed himself and the reality around him. What depictions and symbols of females in literature affected Lewis’ understanding of females? How do his literary ideas of the feminine determine the female characters he creates? Are Lewis’ experiences of females in literature consistent with the life experiences of real women? How do these multiple influences manifest themselves in female representations in the Chronicles of Narnia?
These questions are significant, considering that an estimated sixty-five million people have read C. S. Lewis’ multi-volume Chronicles of Narnia. It is safe to assume, simply on the basis of demographics, that roughly one half of these readers are female. What do these stories, written by a man who “no sound delights…more than male laughter” (W. H. Lewis 14), say to female readers about what femininity is and about what is valuable about females? With what sorts of characters can female readers identify in Lewis’ stories, and how are female characters represented?
These questions are significant because the reader of any narrative will often accept the societal norms within the text as the author intends these norms to be seen, regardless of their correlation to actual life experiences.
A work succeeds, becomes an event, by a massive repetition that takes up norms and, possibly, changes things. If a novel happens, it does so because, in its singularity, it inspires a passion that gives life to these forms, in acts of reading and recollection, repeating its inflection in the conventions of the novel and, perhaps, effecting an alteration in the norms or the forms through which readers go on to confront the world (Culler 106).
As the Chronicles are read and re-read by millions around the world, Lewis’ representations of female gender norms have the potential to affect existing personal and societal concepts and values of gender and femininity. An informed critical reading of these stories is crucial to understanding the presuppositions and influences at work in the text.
Lewis’ private and published writings reveal his ambivalent fascination with female physical beauty. Lewis is intrigued by female beauty, but he is so distrustful of it that he can only explore abstractions of physically beautiful women. These females are synonymous with a feminine ideal, yet are, paradoxically, dangerous. In his writing, Lewis only addresses the individual details of a woman’s personality when he has rendered her sexually unattractive, sometimes by age — either the too old or the too young — or by some sort of paranormal quality, but most often by appearance. Lewis’ readers see the personality of a sexually viable woman only if she is too ugly to be considered conventionally attractive. Lewis’ most complex female character, the narrator of Till We Have Faces, is described as so hideously ugly that people can barely stand to gaze on her face.
In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ distrust of female beauty evidences itself in his absorption with mythic female figures, indicated by the strong presence of the villainous women, themselves the primary embodiments of individual evils. Rather than representing authentic female experiences, these characters function primarily as symbols of the seductive nature of evil. Lewis’ villainous women are powerful sorceresses and provocative temptresses who create a strong association in the Chronicles between great beauty and clever cunning. Physically, these women are the most overtly stunning in all the Narnia stories, but the more beautiful they are, the greater the evil which they embody.
The Narnia tales chronicle a shift in Lewis’ depiction of sexually mature females, specifically the villain-temptress characters. Throughout the seven books, Lewis’ portrayals of these women metamorphose from flat reproductions, collages comprised of various literary femme fatales, to a final nuanced individual that is both a coalescence of various influences and — what is infinitely more personal — her distinctive self.
Niklas Anderson, writing for TheFantasy.News directs attention to the two leading female characters of the Narnia series and offers a defense of Lewis’s now-outdated views of gender.
The Pevensie children (and by extension, you and I) would not know the joys of Narnia without the indomitable faith of Lucy Pevensie. It was Lucy who innocently explored an empty room of the Professor’s massive manor and, during a game of hide-and-seek, pushed aside fur coats and tree limbs to discover a snowy landscape at Lantern Waste. It was her cheerful disposition which prompted Mr. Tumnus’s remorse after he reported her presence to the White Witch. Throughout the stories, her faith in Aslan is a constant source of inspiration and a testament to the power of perseverance. In Prince Caspian, Lucy is the only monarch to detect Aslan’s presence in the forest and later lead the group by Aslan’s shadow (this is after the group discusses holding a democratic vote among them to determine which route to take — Peter later wrongly vetoes this decision and leads them astray). Even as she ages and trips over the obstacles of late childhood/early adolescence, Lucy illustrates her undying devotion to Aslan. I refer specifically to a passage in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. While perusing the Book of Incantations, Lucy stumbles upon spells which exploit her nagging inadequacies — “An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals” and another “which would let you know what your friends thought about you”. When Lucy contemplates reciting the first spell, Aslan appears and growls at her. Lucy declines the first spell, but recites the second and is terribly disappointed when her supposed friend admits that she was “getting pretty tired of [Lucy]“. Some critics state that Lewis is being stereotypical, but as a female, I can attest that young girls often concern themselves with beauty and popularity. And if we all would admit it, young men do as well. As a high school teacher, I observe this on a daily basis. Lewis submits an honest portrayal of the complexities of childlike faith tangled with the human desire for attention and acceptance.
Ah, here we arrive at the crux of the argument. Most of Lewis’s critics cite his expulsion of Susan as the ultimate insult — a woman who is too interested in nylons and lipstick to return to Aslan’s Country. Most of the dissenters focus solely on Susan’s absence, however, she plays a vastly important role throughout the Chronicles. She matures into a beautiful woman, one who is described in HHB by Corin as “more like an ordinary grown-up lady. She doesn’t ride to the wars, though she is an excellent archer” (290).
Several passages note Susan’s desire to be “grown up”. Susan often attempts to mother her siblings in the absence of their parents, feeling that she and Peter should exercise that responsibility as older siblings. However, Susan is still a girl in many ways, and struggles with the transition to adulthood. Ford mentions, “As a girl moving into young womanhood, never an easy time, Susan is caught between the conflicting desires to be always a child and to be completely grown-up. She is neither here nor there, and the ecstatic side of life would be too much for her to deal with, were it not for Aslan” (417). Her beauty is mentioned many times; Lucy aspires to be as beautiful as Susan in VDT. Her mothering instinct is evident when she attempts to decide what is best for them, saying “I told you so” when bad judgment is exercised, yet she wrestles internally with fear and a severe lack of confidence. However, Susan still possesses a deep compassion and concern for her brothers and sisters, and by extension, all of the creatures they meet in Narnia. She eschews killing anything, even a bear that nearly attacks her. Like Mary Magdalene(s), Susan and Lucy are present when Aslan is slain on the Stone Table and also are the first to see him after the Deep Magic resurrects him.
In LB, a somewhat awkward, uncomfortable conversation takes place about Susan’s absence. Some characters express distaste at Susan’s decision (ironic when one considers her refrain “I told you so”). It is imperative that people understand that Susan DID NOT DIE in the railway accident that claimed the rest of her family. Therefore, she still has an opportunity to enter Aslan’s Country at a later time, when she is ready and has perhaps matured past the frivolous distractions which absorb her time and attention. She is not “lost”, she is not “condemned to hell”. She continues to exist in England. Hopefully, in the shadow of tragedy, Susan will again return to Aslan and wish to enter His country, but her moment has not yet arrived. Although the decision to keep Susan out has prompted much scrutiny for Lewis, perhaps it shows us the innate power (and consequently the isolation) of our decisions, of forking paths carved carefully by our choices.
After the deaths of Lewis and Tolkien, the genre was deluged by overly sexualized and misogynistic — “natural” — depictions of women. Robert Howard, not as old or as educated as Oxford dons Lewis and Tolkien, held purist views of traditional gender roles — woman as object, woman as domestic — which come through in their his. Howard relegates women to a dichotomy: objects of sexual conquest when young and attractive, easily dismissed as homely and matronly, if not simply evil, when past their prime. Howard writes with a sort of seething anger, not only toward women but towards the world entire. The stage of his stories, the fictional land of Hyboria, is clearly Earth, but one not recorded by any historian. The stories of Conan occur during the Hyborian Age, between the time of the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of known ancient civilizations. According to Howard himself in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, Conan’s adventures take place “between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas.” Howard’s depiction of this ancient Earth is notable for what it rejects as well as what it emphasizes. Hyboria, for example, is a contraction of the Greek concept of the land of Hyperborea, literally “Super-North-Land”. This was a mythical place far to the north that wasn’t cold and where people never age. It is quite possible that Howard was influenced by the White Identitarian views of his time, his works an unconscious way of reclaiming the past for Northern (re: white) people. Conan’s name is of Irish origin, as are those of his parents. So far, these are loose readings into Howard’s creative process. Hyperborea is not expressly Nordic or Aryan with the baggage of Nazi propaganda about a “pure” Aryan past. Rather, Hyborea is a northern evil empire, ruled by wicked wizards, perhaps akin to the perception of the 1930s Soviet Union. Howard’s treatment of non-whites offers the most telling juxtaposition, however. In Conan’s travels, he comes across other races whose dusky, dark, or yellowish skin become indicators of evil. Even the threat of proto-Soviet Russia, while evil, was not comparable to the threat of lesser nations and races who were never to be trusted and always sought to destroy the purity of young women. The implicit message is clear; whites are susceptible to evil, but non-whites are almost universally so. Women, when they appear, are objects of lust and disposable. Conan’s conquests are in back alleys and battlefields, but also in bedrooms. Even when purity is questionable, white-skinned women must be rescued from the lesser, darker races. This is certainly not where Lewis or Tolkien intended to take the genre, but there is a well-entrenched focus on white heroes and purity. The progressive message, perfectly suited to the genre, has certainly made strides since these “fathers” built the genre, but a conservative element remains in the fandom because of the harbor of safety it allowed them. Fantasy, as a genre, allows readers to explore the possibility of dissent and divergence, but diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to remain unwelcome. It is not only race, gender, or sexuality though. The conservative, traditionalist element insists — often, quite loudly — that when a fantasy story is translated to film, it must “stay faithful” by remaining true to the earliest efforts, even when antiquated. As Damon Packer, a member of the Facebook group Sword and Sorcery Movies of the 1980s, puts it,
We’ll never see another decent fantasy film again. Never. Nobody is capable of doing it on ANY scale, NOBODY. Let alone through the lens of modern aesthetics, which are HORRIBLE and don’t match with the genre. And I mean horrible starting in the 90s getting worse by the year. Now it’s atrocious beyond belief. Nobody gets it, nobody. Nobody knows how to do it right, and even if they did we’d never see it realized as a properly funded feature film. Certainly not these days. It’s a miracle we have some stellar examples of fantasy done RIGHT to begin with (Dragonslayer, Excalibur, Conan, Legend, Sword & the Sorcerer, etc) pretty much all from the early 80s, all with superb scores by composers no longer around. Nothing from any decade that followed came close. (Not a fan of the LOTR films or certainly anything that came after, sorry I’m just not.) Eggers’ THE NORTHMAN was a pretty good attempt but didn’t quite pull it off. Same with Refn’s VALHALLA RISING, neither of which were really “fantasy” necessarily but pre medieval adventure, at least treated with a decent artistic aesthetic. I can’t really speak much for any of these recent TV shows but the genre certainly has been thriving lately (Game of Thrones, which was ok, but I found hard to get into) Most of the others I haven’t seen. The new shows just bore me, some of them are just embarrassments. (That new Willow and LOTR) I can’t stand modern aesthetics, modern casting, modern anything. I hate CGI, the crispness of digital, the repetitive computerized camera movements (techno cranes, drone shots, programmed jibs, etc) I hate it all. You look at the amount of low budget unwatchable cheap garbage that’s been produced for the genre over the last 20 years it’s astounding (see the Sword & Sorcery section on Tubi for examples) for a thriving genre we’ve seen more crap and mediocrity produced than any other. It’s a tough genre though. Tough to tell stories in, to make engaging, to cast, to write, to make believable, to ground in reality and especially have the proper funding to realize it. I would say it’s nearly impossible at this point
What scares many fans of nostalgia is not that Manganiello will get Dragonlance “wrong” but that the studios and producers — “corporate” — will get involved and insist on diversity, equity, and inclusion in terms of fair representation in terms of gender, sexuality, and race. This has historically proven the primary reason for failure. The administrative side insists on diversity — a good thing to pursue, mind you, but jarring when a character described one way is suddenly different not because the narrative demands it or even that the narrative allows for a different interpretation, but because the studio needs to meet a quota. At the risk of sounding racist, I do not agree with any effort to change James Bond into a person of color or a woman when the last forty years have depicted him as a white man on screen. If studios want to create new material, that’s great — and audiences may or may not choose to watch. I love spy movies as much as the next moviegoer, but tokenism is not what audiences want. The nature of fandoms, intellectual properties, and nostalgia is that we want something familiar. There is no conceivable way that Top Gun: Maverick would have been successful if they had recast Pete “Maverick” Mitchell with anyone other than Tom Cruise. Audiences wanted the familiar. They wanted Tom Cruise. People know what they are going to see when they watch a Madea movie. Even during this time of cultural examination, when it is offensive for cisgender heterosexual men to play women, we still want to see Tyler Perry play Madea. We want the familiar. So when I saw the advance photography for The Wheel of Time before it premiered on Amazon, I was genuinely confused. Characters who had been depicted in the novels as White were now Asian or Black. The problem is not diversity, the problem is forced diversity to meet a quota. That is tokenism, not true diversity. If Amazon Studios did not want to take on a project with an all-white character list, depicting a fantasy story with Nordic origins that was written for white readers who would have been familiar with the white values put forward by a white author, then they should have chosen another project. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the last three novels of The Wheel of Time series, were white men writing from a white culture for white readers. Both men were Mormon and The Wheel of Time both speaks from as well as speaks to a Mormon worldview. It makes no attempts at reconciling the history of race by, in, or for their faith. In fairness, it also does not subliminally try to convert readers to Mormonism or any other faith, for that matter. So when Amazon got a hold of the project and made cosmetic tweaks to update the series, it seemed a strange decision. As strange, perhaps, as outspoken libertarian Zack Snyder’s depiction of Superman. Gone was the optimism of Superman, even Wonder Woman. When a bomb goes off, Superman appears resigned, as though he had expected humans to disappoint him all along. In a previous movie, he killed someone. Technically, many someones. Yet it doesn’t seem to affect him. This is unthinkable, a disavowal of who the character has been across multiple previous iterations. Wonder Woman feels sneaky and lynx-like, not self-assured, again a disavowal. Both are foreign to their respective fandoms. The same was true of Batman, whose use of firearms in both Batman v. Superman and Justice League feels anathema. Batman, on principle, unequivocally refuses to use guns because that was the weapon used to murder his parents. This is a core, central, and defining part of his character. Paying attention, a signature quality of the World’s Greatest Detective, has been set aside. Batman acts on impulse and intuition, not critical analysis or logic. In the Snyder films, the presentation of all three characters — the holy trinity of comics — insults the investment of fans so that their action figures can come packaged with a frown, a short skirt, and a gun respectively. Is it any wonder that fans remain divided? When “fandoms” become “toxic”, does this mean their original complaints were any less legitimate? Look, I love Marvel movies. That doesn’t make Fantastic Four or Iron Man 3 any better. My love for Marvel does not make X-men a good franchise. I watch because of brand loyalty, not because the movies are good. Saying this should not be controversial. Pointing out poorly constructed film structure, bad acting, bad graphics or effects, or mentioning that — yes — Bryan Singer abused children are not “toxic” statements, not even when strung together like they are here. Fandoms reward faithfulness to the material, to the characters, and to nostalgia. Fandoms do not mean movies, shows, writers, or actors get a free pass for tokenism, for using names instead of identities or locations instead of locals. One of the reasons I stopped watching True Blood after the original pilot was because they got the accents and geographics wrong — you’re crossing from Shreveport to New Orleans in two hours?! Did you do it in a rocket ship?! As someone who grew up in and still lives in Louisiana, I can tell you, that’s simply not possible. So when diversity is insisted upon by people who don’t even know the significance of a character’s eye color, it feels like cultural colonization. The color of Harry Potter’s eyes when compared to the color of actor Daniel Radcliffe, or the skin color or ableness or gender or any other quality of a character does not inherently improve the character. It does, however, provide proof that inattention or “tweaks” will create issues further down the line once the story begins to move forward. If fans feel ignored and trampled upon when they are the ones who built the fandom, their frustration is legitimate.
Perhaps this is why I loved Amazon’s other fantasy effort, The Rings of Power. Finally, I thought, they are making space for diversity and following the guides of the text. Tolkien mentions in the appendices and footnotes, as well as his personal notes, that Hobbits have brown eyes, typically brown hair, that their hair is curly, that they are short — physical indicators that the Hobbits are not Anglo-Saxon Europeans. They are not Nordic. They are looked down upon by the other races. Their culture is the antithesis of industrialization, racial purity, bids for power, manners, and Victorian domesticity. It is not only conceivable, it seems likely that Tolkien was depicting a race parallel to Africans, giving them meaning and substance apart from racist caricatures. This does not make him secretly progressive. Tolkien as both an author and scholar was decidedly not “woke.” Hobbits are somewhat childish and treated with paternalism at times by other races, as though they are somewhat developmentally challenged. There are still embedded hints of racism, especially in Tolkien’s depiction of the Orcs as a parallel to Asians, yet his contributions to fantasy are doing something remarkable here, situating his epic around non-Aryan characters.
When Amazon took this approach to the source material, however, fans were outraged. Raised on White-centric readings of the texts, raised on cartoons with all-white characters, movies with an all-white cast, raised listening to White male authors reflecting on the “canon” of Tolkien’s Eurocentric myth derived from European myths and sagas, this was a challenge. It didn’t matter what Tolkien’s notes implied or indicated, or that the Tolkien Estate agreed that Tolkien wrote non-white characters, or that Tolkien scholars and the Academy affirmed Amazon’s diverse casting. What mattered was that fantasy has, historically, been written for white readers. Fantasy films and shows have centered their stories on white heroes — Hercules, Xena, Merlin, Conan, even John Carter. Conan’s creator, Robert Howard, was notoriously racist apart from his works. He befriended fellow author H.P. Lovecraft through letters on this basis — their shared vision of white identity, white heroes, white expression, and rejection of non-white values.
This is decidedly no longer where the genre resides. In part, because Dragonlance truly changed the direction of fantasy. It would be a bit of a leap to say that it changed the game. Many fantasy novels revisit familiar tropes for children, young adults, and mature audiences. Many who enjoy fantasy never got on board with Dragonlance, and for good reason. But Dragonlance calmly pressed the genre forward for over a decade. The main storyline of the original Dragonlance series has been written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, with multiple books written by other authors, covering years between and sometimes during the main events.
According to The 1990s by Marc Oxoby, what is most notable about the series is that “what may at one time been considered disposable, escapist literature” found “unprecedented popularity” in the Nineties. All of the Dragonlance novels remained in print during the decade and the next, and again the next up to the writing of this piece in 2023, turning Weis and Hickman into literary stars and boosting sales of their non-Dragonlance novels. Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance novels have been translated into German, Japanese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Spanish, French, Italian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Greek, and Turkish and have sold well in the United States, Britain, and Australia. Although the series was initially published in paperback, its success — in excess of 22 million copies of the original novels have been sold — led to hardcover reprintings. Every Dragonlance novel by Weis and Hickman since 1995 has been released in hardcover, and some previous novels have been re-released in hardcover collector’s editions. By 2008, there were more than 190 novels in the Dragonlance franchise alone, separate and distinct from those of the even more popular Forgotten Realms setting. With so many works expanding and filling the shared world of Krynn, the novels, for clarity, can be broken into several eras.
- The original trilogy, Chronicles, relates the events since the meeting of the Companions until the end of the War of the Lance and the defeat of the Dragon armies of Ansalon.
- The Lost Chronicles trilogy is a companion to the original Chronicles. Each book of the trilogy fills in sections of the story previously left untold. It tells the story surrounding the recovery of the Hammer of Kharas, how the Companions retrieve the dragon orb from Ice Wall, how Kitiara Uth Matar and Lord Soth became allies, and how Raistlin Majere took the Black Robes in Neraka.
- The Legends trilogy covers the Blue Lady’s War, as well as the past adventures of Raistlin and Caramon Majere, culminating in Raistlin’s attempt to achieve godhood. The books feature time travel, and focus on events in Istar before the Cataclysm, as well as the ensuing Dwarfgate Wars.
- The Second Generation is a single compilation book that picks the most important tales from the Tales series and details the children of the Companions, all of whom become players in the later story. This book is considered to be part of the main storyline, as it must be read to understand the events that happened between the War of the Lance and the Chaos War. This novel develops characters that would later be seen in the War of Souls trilogy.
- Dragons of Summer Flame, a one-off, covers the Chaos War, also known as the Second Cataclysm. The gods and mortals join forces to defeat Chaos in his attempt to destroy Krynn. The war ends with the withdrawal of Chaos and the gods of Krynn in a divine agreement to keep the world safe.
- Dragons in the Archives: The Best of Weis and Hickman Anthology is another compilation of short stories which were previously published in other anthologies. These stories take place at different points of time in the world of Krynn. This book provides backstory to some of the characters and situations presented in the War of Souls trilogy.
- The War of Souls trilogy begins as a strange storm courses through Krynn, heralding the War of Souls. The end of the war brings the return of the gods, Takhisis’s death, and the departure of Paladine as head of the good gods in order to maintain the balance between Good and Evil.
- The Dark Disciple trilogy follows the death of Takhisis and the departure of Paladine, when the lesser gods strive to maintain dominance.
Across almost two hundred novels, with over one hundred authors, to say nothing of the ways the characters and world are expanded at an individual level through homebrew games of Dungeons & Dragons, narrative consistency has been difficult to manage. One of the attributes of the Forgotten Realms that have contributed to its success, parallel to Dragonlance, has been the inconsistency and incoherence that comes with creative possibility. Apart from Dragonlance, since these are two distinct “realms” of the Dungeons & Dragons metaverse, the Forgotten Realms has been the familiar world of D&D’s current iteration, 5th Edition.
In brief, the Forgotten Realms has at least six regions: Chult, Icewind Dale, the Feywild, Avernus, and various cities (Candlekeep, Baldur’s Gate, etc.) and the Underdark. For those unfamiliar with what this means, the recent Dungeons & Dragons movie, Honor Among Thieves, briefly shows three of these areas — Icewind Dale is where the film begins (the prison), the Underdark is where the heroes explore “the orifice”, and Avernus is where they encounter a dragon. Those familiar with the Forgotten Realm will debate how these areas were depicted and shown (the Underdark is far, far more expansive than what was shown), but then again that’s what makes the Forgotten Realm work so well for players of the game, Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not consistent. Rather, it is whatever you want it to be. Avernus is a hellscape, so if your players visit only one corner of it, that’s good enough. You’ll never be able to explore all of Avernus and that’s the point. The Feywild, the domain of magic and fairies and magical creatures, is constant;y changing. Time does not move in a linear way in the Feywild. Again, that’s the point. The Feywild, its inhabitants, its ecosystem, politics, and important figures are constantly changing to meet the needs (or wants) of players.
When Dragonlance was first imagined by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, they intentionally went in another direction with their world. They did not want another continent of the Forgotten Realm, they wanted an entirely unique world. No hellscape Avernus, no frozen north Icewind Dale with its politics, no constantly-changing Feywild. While different authors emphasize particular eras, figures, and events to make their own mark, the world of Krynn is relatively consistent in the following ways.
- Through internal politics, the Elven race has become fractured and culturally different from one another. Think about the divisions in our own world at family gatherings when it comes to religion or politics, not race. We have a way of holding on to past hurts and attributing failure to reciprocity for an insult at a family gathering a decade prior, but we’re still loyal to one another. The same, it turns out, is true for Dwarves and Humans. While we are generally suspicious of those unlike us, we are better at hurting those most like us. At times, it feels like Dragonlance is a reflection of real-world geopolitics.
- Unlike in Tolkien’s works, Dwarves and Elves have not been at war with one another for centuries. Rather, they have come to rely on one another’s unique attributes. The Elves rely on Dwarves for metalwork and crafting; the Dwarves in turn rely on Elves for beauty and learning. Allowing space for mutual growth and specialization, Dragonlance simplifies things. Elves are culturally advanced, Dwarves the craftspeople, Gnomes the inventors and industrialists, Kender the child-like race of mistakes and small crimes, humans prone to the corruption of morals and action.
- There are a limited number of violent creatures. In the Forgotten Realms, there is a constant need for bigger and badder enemies — spectacle. In Dragonlance, it feels like this is reversed. The embedded message is that the world and ecosystem are not your enemy and that most threats to the world come not from “out there” but from “in here”, our own existence and experience.
- Families are not always kind. The character Tanis Half-Elven, as readers meet him in the first novel, is a child of rape. Though begrudgingly accepted by the Elven side of his family after the death of his mother, he lives with the stigma of his birth as much as his neither/nor identity between humans and elves. More, brothers Caramon and Raislin Majere as well as their half-sister Kitiara are continually at a loss on how to talk to one another. Raistlin’s bookishness and Caramon’s issues with weight and body image predispose them to misunderstandings. Kitiara, having left her little brothers at the first chance, feels as much longing as regret towards them, creating another confusing family dynamic.
- Reconciling ourselves to the past. In addition to the circumstances of Tanis’ birth, the series plays with the idea of time-travel. Not the complicated kind, where you can erase yourself or change the fabric of the space-time continuum, but in a way that — again and again — shows the way things were recorded in textbooks is not actually how they happened. Real life is messy. Heroism is a matter of perspective. And, funnily enough, the best of intentions is what will cause the most chaos.
- Women are strong and do not need permission to do great things. Besides the quest for meaning inherent in Dragonlance, the subversion of gender norms is a constant theme. While this may seem de rigueur now, Weis and Hickman were infusing a male-dominated cultural product, roleplaying games, with much-needed messaging. In the novels, women are heroic. Not only that, they are capable of abominable evil. They are even goddesses, capable of healing the world every bit as much as destroying it. In fact, one of the female characters of the original trilogy, Chronicles, reappears in the sequel trilogy, Legends, to remind the protagonists that women are the moral center and chief motivator of heroes only because they choose to be. Women are not and never have been shrinking violets in the world of Krynn. A goddess who has grown bored of her “heroic” and indecisive male counterparts? A princess who becomes the voice of a god? A warrior who has clearly suffered violence and trauma and now uses her sexuality to degrade others? A woman who follows a man and demands that he become who she knows he can be because mediocrity and cowardice are not who she deserves? There is so much here to unpack here that challenges the conventions of traditional fantasy with always-good, always-male heroes and the left-behind hanky-waving woman in the window.
- There are gods and they walk among us. An early choice by Weis and Hickman in the creation of Krynn was that magic would be restricted and religious cults would be in service not just to local deities but also to high gods who created the world of Krynn. In the Forgotten Realms, spells and magical activity are as chaotic as they are meaningful. Some magic is derived from your racial identity or class, your job. Some spells are known intuitively, others learned, to say nothing of the spiritual creatures that populate the regions of Forgotten Realms — ghosts, dragons, angels, demons — with no leader or architect. Intentionally, Weis and Hickman claim this is not possible. Magic is many things, but it is not a constant rotating disparate grouping of both/and, either/or, yes/maybe. Instead, magic is dependent on what you learn and how you learn it. Spiritual creatures are part of a created order. Sentient lifeforms are connected to the cosmos and in service to gods who make meaning of the chaos. Or not. This is a choice they can make; it is possible to reject gods and never see them. But, Weis and Hickman suggest, if your world has the potential for gods but they are never needed, then what purpose do they serve at all to the narrative? The Forgotten Realms feels like a rotating pantheon of petty gods at war with one another yet not remarkably different from one another. Dragonlance feels like a more coherent, stable and therefore knowable, recognizable world.
- Magic is limited, learned, and has consequences. Like religion, devotion to magic and the ability to access it — miracles, healings, curses, whatall — take on significance, meaning, and substance only when it is consistent and predictable. An immature, unlearned magical creature cannot suddenly save the day because lo and behold they can literally move a mountain and drop it on the villain at the most critical moment. Again, this is an intentional rejection of where Dungeons & Dragons had begun to drift when Weis and Hickman began to write the novels.
Allegedly, George R.R. Martin based his masterpiece series, A Song of Fire and Ice or Game of Thrones, off a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons. While Martin may have never read the novels, he certainly would have been aware of the game modules and influence of Weis and Hickman on the genre. There are echoes of Dragonlance throughout Game of Thrones and what seem to be conscious reversals of the themes. Magic, for instance, plays a very limited role in Martin’s works and when it does appear, it is in service to the New Gods. Dragons, once part of life, have disappeared from the world. Both sagas follow women as well as men and bring up questions about meaning, purpose, destiny, and revenge. However, where Dragonlance presents moral choices and consequences, the dichotomy of good and evil, Martin offers moral ambiguity. Good people don’t last very long in the world of Westeros. Bandits prematurely maim a hero to prevent escape, not to punish them after a failed escape attempt. Supernatural lances are also absent. Dragons became extinct because they can die, just like everything else. Zombies and the undead exist, but they are not mindless. To the contrary, the undead have a plan and intend to carry it out.
As for the sex that Game of Thrones is known for, I would suggest that Dragonlance is the more progressive and affirming work when the two sagas are compared to one another. When the artists of Dungeons & Dragons were originally laying out the art for the game, they depicted one of the characters, Goldmoon, in an overly sexual way. Author Margaret Weis, according to one of the artists, immediately began crying when she saw the art, insisting that the character was overly sexualized. It wasn’t that Weis was prudish, but that the male artists were confusing the distinctions she took pains to make in the novels. Dragonlance does not shy away from sexuality and it is certainly not prudish in the same ways that Tolkien completely ignored human desires where women disappear after the first novel and desire is a constant threat to the success of the wandering adventure. Nor does Dragonlance awkwardly hint at sexuality, implying things off the page in the way that how Brandon Sanderson cuts away from intimacy in his novels, leaving sex to the imagination, suggesting it without explicitly narrating it. Rather, in the Dragonlance novels, women use their sexuality and bodies to charm men when they want to — and as also quick to hit anyone who touches them with the nearest object when there is not consent to be touched. A Kitiara, the evil leader of the Draconis army, uses her sexuality to coerce the men around her, rewarding them with sex when she wants it; there are hints in the novel that she is sadistic and, as the Dragonlance story evolves, it becomes clear that her armor could be interpreted through the lens of kink and BDSM. Kitiara is overtly sexual, both comfortable in her sexuality and comfortable using the desires of others for her benefit, pleasure, and sadistic amusement. But, while the original novels were targeted toward teenagers, that does not mean Dragonlance is gratuitous. Weis cried when the artists tried to sexualize Goldmoon because sexuality is not always about clothing or the absence of it. It’s not even about the act of sex. Sturm Brightblade, an aging knight, has taken a vow of chastity as part of his service. But upon meeting the beautiful elven warrior Alhana Starbreeze, he longs for her and desires her in ways that transcend the physical. For Sturm, the desire is to know someone, truly know them, and in this way, the source material suggests that not all desires and curiosities are overtly physical in nature. Additionally, a gully dwarf (the ugliest and simplest of the dwarven races) longs to serve wizard Raistlin. While there is no evidence of physical or sexual attraction, the love of the gully dwarf compels even a corrupted heart like Raistlin’s to do good toward others. In this way, desire can be redeeming even when it is misdirected and reciprocated. Finally, while there are hints at the sexuality of the pluckish Tasslehoff, gayness is something that resides at the periphery of the novels. I’m inclined to attribute this to the time in which the novels were written, during the AIDs Crisis of the 1980s. This makes the positive and affirming hints toward inclusion all the more radical — gayness is not something typically seen in romantic fantasy with chivalrous knights longing to return to the arms of chaste virgins or rogue knights who rape and destroy. Weis and Hickman’s hints, though minor in hindsight, were exceptionally progressive and have the potential to change how we understand the canon of fantasy going forward.
In this way, Dragonlance may offer an alternative to the intellectual properties put forward by streaming services in the last decade. It is a family-friendly epic, or as Manganeillo puts it, the Star Wars of the fantasy genre. “When people ask me what Dragonlance is about, it’s Star Wars. It’s tonally closest to Empire Strikes Back. It’s big, it’s epic fantasy. It’s constructed in a way that’s closest to Star Wars” as it follows a group of allies who find themselves drawn into an epic war with the fate of the world in balance. “The grand arc of the first six books is would you will be willing to sacrifice the thing that matters the most, whether that’s your loved one or your twin, to save the world,” Manganiello said. “Who wouldn’t be moved by that?” While Dragonlance is an epic fantasy series, the books are also driven by the complex relationships between the various characters, especially the twin brothers Caramon and Raistlin and the love triangle between series protagonist Tanis, the elven princess Laurana and the warrior Kitiara. “There are some really great relationships in Dragonlance,” Manganiello noted. “You know you don’t get the level of romance in something like the Avengers that you do in Dragonlance. That’s very captivating — they offer a soap opera quality in a good way.”
Wholesomeness like the kind that Dragonlance embodies does not mean loss of action, or even language and sexuality. Star Wars, suffering from increasingly hostile criticism from its own fandom, particularly around “wokeness” and diversity, was able to successfully change directions with the success of The Mandalorian, Andor, and the upcoming series Asokha. Each of these series focuses on a collected cast who want to do the right thing and are willing to make sacrifices when necessary, without steering towards safe creative choices. “Whatever you think Dragonlance is about, it’s a story about family and the bonds that tie us to blood. And also to friends and what that means, and love and loss,” Manganiello noted of the core themes of the series. “There’s so many great ideas and relationships in those books.”