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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An Incoherent Dragonlance Fantasy Rant

This isn't actually comic book related...well, maybe it is, it depends on if there has ever been a Dragonlance comic, but my knowledge base is pretty much solely based on books. But I feel that I have to get something off my chest. (Be warned, this, as most of my rants is incredibly incoherent.)

I hate Raistlin Majere.

And it's not a "love to hate" thing either, like my thing with Professor Xavier, Hawkman, or Nightwing, I just generally and genuinely dislike and am utterly disinterested in my character.

He's not awesome. He's not compelling. He's not sympathetic. He's a half-assed villain at best. He's just really fucking irritating.

This apparently is a rare opinion in Dragonlance fan circles but I can't help it. He just sets my teeth on edge.

I think my biggest problem is that he's not grand enough to be an awesome villain. He's petty. He snipes at characters, is passive aggressive, and sighs irritatingly over the fact that his oh-so-nifty-hourglass-eyes see everyone aging and dying in front of him.

You know what? That's not actually an excuse to be a dick. And moreover, while my adolescent self might have been sympathetic toward the whole "Constantly overshadowed and disliked in favor of my stronger, nicer, more attractive twin" thing, my adult self would counter that with "Well, maybe they like him more because he's actually a better person than you! Make a fucking effort rather than stewing in your own bitterness!"

I suppose that part of it is simply that, while bitterness, jealousy and inadequacy are certainly realistic flaws and certainly lead to negativity in the real world, they don't compel me to think of a character as particularly awesome.

I think part of my problem is that Weis never really seems to allow him to embrace being evil. I think a measure of being a good villain is grandioseness. What does Raistlin do in the main/original trilogy? vaguely nice to a gully dwarf and a disguised god, and gets a book. And...that's really it, that I recall.

I'm sorry, but to be an awesome villain type character, you actually have to DO something! Kitiara? Awesome. Soth? Awesome. Raistlin? Half-assed at best.

Okay, granted, he does eventually go off to fight Takhisis. But you know what? STUPIDITY DOESN'T EQUAL AWESOME. The rest of the time he either seems to fluxuate back and forth: "Oh noes! He's mean to Caramon and Dalamar. But wait! He tolerated Tasslehoff! Oh and he gives his staff thing to his nephew!" The whole evil being with a bit of fondness for a good character could be interesting, but you kind of need to be a decent villain FIRST. (c.f. Kitiara's thing with Tanis and her brothers. THAT is interesting.)

Maybe it would have been better if he were black robed at the start. Or if his change to black robes were a bit more dramatic than him showing up one day with a new set of duds. There might have been something to build up the awesome villainness.

I guess what annoys me the most is that I really do think that the Caramon and Raistlin relationship has the potential to be genuinely compelling. I like stuff that involves relationships that aren't cut and dry. There's a way to do that complex love-hate relationship right. But the Dragonlance books really don't DO that.

There's a fantasy series by Sarah Monette that features at its heart an incredibly fucked up set of sibling dynamics. The characters are so incredibly damaged by their lives that there's no real hope of anything resembling a normal and healthy sibling relationship. One sibling is both thoughtlessly and deliberately cruel to the other, who usually just sucks it up and takes it because, heck, it's better than nothing. But for all that logic insists, "hey, someone should get these two as far away from each other as possible" I'm invested in the relationship and the incredibly unrealistic hope that some day the beleaguered sibling will stand up for himself and assert boundaries and the older sibling will finally realize what his downward spiral is doing to everyone including himself.

I'm invested in the relationship, because I believe the emotions involved. I believe the characters really do, deep down, love one another. I think that they have no real idea how ELSE to interact, the patterns are so ingrained. I appreciate however, that the characters actually manage to make an effort, not always successful, but enough of a visible attempt to give a little bit of hope. There's one book left to come. I don't know if there'll be a resolution. Or if the relationship will finally crumble. Or if it will stagnate as it has been. I do know I'm going to plop down 30+ dollars for the hardcover as soon as I possibly can to find out.

Raistlin and Caramon could be like that for me, but...I don't buy it. It's too one-sided. I like Caramon. I believe Caramon loves his brother and feels a filial duty toward him, while simultaneously disliking the man his brother is becoming and trying not to think about that and focus on the good points that only he seems to see. But Raistlin? The narrative TRIES to tell me that his emotions for his brother are complex and that he possibly does love and admire him even in the midst of all the jealous resentment and irritation. But I don't buy it. I don't buy that there's anything at the core of that resentment, inferiority and jealousy but more resentment, inferiority and jealousy of being faced with someone generally better than you are.

Which could be cool. But the story needs to embrace it! Stop trying to convince me the character is even remotely conflicted about his actions unless you mean it. Show him making an effort! Show a trace of guilt or conflict! Yeesh.

I suppose I could look at it another way though, and admire Margaret Weis for creating a character that is just a petty, ungrateful, dislikeable and irredeemable human being without giving him really any redeeming or sympathetic qualities and without making him an awesome grandiose villain. Which really is interesting.

Except I don't think the writing reflects this. Not being a mind reader or close friend of Ms. Weis, I can't claim with any certainty as to her intentions, but the impression I get from the story is that she thinks he's as awesome as most of his fans seem to!

The writing would have me think he's the smartest of their little crew. But what does he do? He gets and uses a book by a dead evil wizard against all wise advice, and then decides to go and take on the fucking goddess of darkness. The rest of the time, he spends bitterly snarking and insulting the very people he's relying on for pretty much anything. That's not smart to me.

The writing would have me think he's got some sympathetic qualities. But being less of a bastard to one gully dwarf doesn't change the fact that we have, as far as I recollect, never seen the twerp expend even the slightest effort to be less of a bastard to the people who are putting up with his ungrateful ass for most of the journey. You want me to find him sympathetic, how about having him turn to his brother and team and say, and mean the words "Thank you."

The writing would have me think that he's tragically marred from the Test, and that looking at people and seeing them constantly age and die is a hardship. Fuck it. As misfortune goes, that's pretty easy compared to some of the crap that's happened to his colleagues without the increased power to go with it. And if the Test's revelation was so fucking traumatizing to him, why not actually SHOW it?

There's a clear disconnect between me and the story here. Certainly other people see it differently. But I really hate the worthless waste of space of a character, and felt the need to express it. Now I feel better. :-)


  • At September 24, 2008 7:06 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    I'm not here to try and defend Raistlin's bad-assedness to you (though they DID show that if not for time travel he would have kicked all the gods' divine asses and then kind of wrecked everything). No I'm not going to try and change your strangely delusional mind. :P

    I'm just going to say that DC did put out a Dragonlance comic at the same time they did the AD&D and Forgotten Realms comics. I used to have a single issue of it. There was a gnome side-kick to the lead and he had a pogo stick/umbrella thing. I think it was actually supposed to be set during the War of the Lance just off scene from the adventures of the Heroes. From what I recall it didn't last as long as the FR book or even the AD&D comic (which was also set in the Realms. The two had a crossover in the one FR annual)...

  • At September 24, 2008 7:10 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Yeah, but would he have been able to if he weren't half merged with Fistandantilus anyway? All the badassery comes from the dead guy. :-P

    Besides, a good villain takes Time Travel into account.

    ...and HE's the one who brought Crysania into the future first anyway. So it's his own damn fault. :-P

    (Disclaimer: I only half remember the story, so I might well be wrong. :-))

  • At September 24, 2008 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A question:

    How old were you when you read the Dragonlance books? Had you read other fantasy literature before you read them?

    Remember that Dragonlance was really just a campaign setting for D&D first, and that a LOT of the fans read this as their first fantasy novels -- so while I agree with you about Raistlin (although Tanis was up there, too, especially in that terrible DVD release a while back), remember that for a lot of the book's fans, this was probably their first exposure outside of D&D modules to a character like this.

    Sure, the same ideas and characterizations are used over and over (and sometimes to better effect) in other series, but if you (the collective you, not you literally) haven't read them, or you read them AFTER Dragonlance, you might not see it the same way.

    To give you another geek example, I can't tell you how annoyed I get when I hear someone mentioning that Robotech (actually Macross) ripped off the BattleTech mech designs when it was the other way around :)

    It all comes down to what you were exposed to first, I guess :) You never love another the way you love your first.

    *Whew!* Sorry for being so long winded!

    Take it and run,

  • At September 24, 2008 7:47 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    That's a good point.

    I like Tanis, though. He was probably my favorite. Though the whole Laurana/Kitiara thing got damn old after a bit. :-)

    As a kid I never liked Caramon. As an adult, I appreciate him more. Poor guy. :-)

  • At September 24, 2008 8:10 AM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    My point has been anticipated: that whatever flaws Raistlin has as a character in a book are dwarfed by how irritating Tanis, the supposed hero, is. Man, fantasy heroes are always so whiny; I don't know how I read this genre.

    There are good characters in Dragonlance. Tasslehoff, if you like that kind of thing. Fizban, up to a point. Sturm, definitely. There's no real problem with Flint or Tika or Laurana or Caramon. (And I always wanted to see more of Gilthanas.) (Not Riverwind or Goldmoon. After the first half of the first book, they're just hanging around.)

  • At September 24, 2008 9:42 AM, Blogger jhota said…

    not only did DC publish a comic from 88-90, Devil's Due adapted the trilogy from 05-07.

    the first fantasy novel i ever read was The Hobbit, sometime in the late 1970s. i went from that right into LotR (at the ripe old age of seven or so), so it's probably obvious that i'm not too impressed with the DragonLance books in general.

    that said, Raistlin always struck me as one of the more realistic characters. i didn't/don't like him, but i can believe in him. i know a lot more whiny people than heroes. that said, Sturm was the only character i really liked. he was the only one who wasn't a whiner or an idiot. well, Flint was o.k., too.

    petty evil and good is much more common than anything else.

    oh yeah, i always felt Caramon was a wuss who needed to stand up for himself more, too.

  • At September 24, 2008 11:26 AM, Blogger ticknart said…

    To me, Raistlin was never a villain. He was just a petty asshole.

    If read him as a villain, he'd be annoying because he doesn't revel in villainy or evil; he has no grandiose motives. Read as just a guy in the story working toward his own goals which are against the goals of his colleagues, he's different, his motives don't have to be grandiose and he doesn't have to revel in villainy.

    As to his bad-assedness, because he did so little, as you say, I like to think of it more as something he encouraged his friends to believe. He'd be all weak and frail then do something useful and semi-powerful and everyone would think, "Damn, he must be some sort of bad-ass. Glad he's on my side."

    Hell, I bet Raistlin even shot a guy in Reno just to watch him die, or at least he'd encourage that kind of a story. That's the kind of person he is.

  • At September 24, 2008 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, Raistlin wasn't actually a villain in the first novels, he was just another character. He wasn't "Guy who is secretly evil" as much as "guy who is kind of a jerk" so his lack of impressively villanous activity makes sense.

    He did get 3 books in the "Twins" trilogy, whose titles I can no longer remember.

    Re. Takhis: What happened was he successfully killed every single god in existance. His brother travelled to the future, saw this and returned to the present. Raistlin saw in his mind that he would win the battle, but that the fallout would destroy everything, leaving him as the last living being in the universe. So he shoved his brother et. al. to saftey and let Takhis win.

    He took Fistandantilus's power by beating him in a fight where Fistandantilus had the advantage and was trying to do the same to him.

    I'm not saying you should like his characterization, but his actual accomplishments aren't as trivial as you remember.

    As for why I like him: He doesn't have power because of destiny, or because the gods favor him, or because of the power of friendship, or love, or "I won't give up! (despite not having any actual skill)." He won because he was the best ever at what he did.

  • At September 24, 2008 2:37 PM, Blogger David Tai said…

    I have no idea if you've read Second Generation or Dragons of Summer Flame, but Raistlin did get around to repenting and apologizing to his brother, as well as making it fairly clear that he was doing it for -himself- and no other reason. That he was a selfish asshat... and then he saw the consequences of his actions, and pulled back. And in doing so, saved, not his own soul, but his brother's.

    I suppose it helps more when you read the two 'prequels', 'the Soulforge' and 'Brothers in Arms' too.

    As an aside, I'm kinda curious to see how you'd react to Margaret Weis' "Star of the Guardians" series, now, just to see your reaction to Derek Sagan.

  • At September 24, 2008 2:39 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Anonymous: Hmm, you're right in that it's been a LONG time since I read them. So I suppose I'll acknowledge that he clearly has done SOME cool things.

    I still think he's overrated though. :-)

    David: I read Soulforge and got annoyed/bored half-way through. Never tried Brothers in Arms though.

  • At September 24, 2008 7:01 PM, Blogger Will Staples said…

    Is it just me, or was Raistlin basically Vaarsuvius from The Order of the Stick played completely straight? I love V because s/he works just fine in a comedy strip, but if you put him/her in a serious fantasy novel, the same traits that make him/her funny would suddenly become really obnoxious. And I think that's why I didn't like Raistlin.

  • At October 21, 2008 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with you, Kalinara. Raistlin was an annoying brat. I thought so as a teenager and I still think so now, as an adult. He may have accomplished stuff, but it always felt hand-wavish to me (sort of like how Elminster has done cool things, but all because he's Ed Greenwood's Mary Sue and so he gets to do whatever cool thing pops into Ed's head). I think the books would have been far better without Raistlin.


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