Brad's Reviews > Dragons of Winter Night

Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis
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Mar 26, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, to-my-kids
read count: Many

I have read Dragons of Winter Night a number of times since it was first published, and it has always been my favourite of the Chronicles.

This time I just finished reading it out loud to my four year olds. A long undertaking, and one that was necessarily sporadic. Some nights we read, others we didn't, and how much we read was dependent on levels of sleepiness, focus and interest. But it was well worth the effort because my kids loved the story, and I can see it helping to expand their imaginations.

This time through I also nailed down the main reason I love the Chronicles, and why it is still one of the best fantasy series ever inspired by Dungeons and Dragons -- the way in which it undercuts fantasy's usual racial hierarchies.

One of the major problems I have long had with fantasy is the inherent racism that fantasy perpetuates. Fantasy generally entrenches the concept of "good" and "evil" races (which even Dragonlance can't entirely escape), and this, in turn, leads to a hierarchy of races with the Elves as the "superior race" and some of the monstrous humanoid races as the "inferior races."

This scares me. It scares me because when I bring this flaw up in discussion of Tolkien or Lewis or other "great" fantasy writers, people fight me passionately and refuse to recognize that a problem even exists. It frightens me that most people who recognize the issue don't see anything wrong with racial hierarchies in fantasy (usually tossing out the old confection "it's only a story" as an argument). It scares me because all of this also entrenches a frighteningly simplistic vision of good and evil. A black and white world view that simply doesn't exist and makes us capable of evil because we are sure of our own goodness.

But Dragonlance makes race an issue, and no race is immune to evil deeds. We have bad knights, bad Qualinesti elves, bad Silvanesti elves, bad and good dragons, heroic but racist dwarves, a bastard half-elf that no one can accept, tribal barbarians fighting through their prejudices towards the civilized world, a lover and friend of the heroes in charge of the Dragonarmies, and a pseudo-evil wizard who saves them all.

There is very little black and white in Dragonlance, although it still appears in the forms of Paladine (Fizban) and Takhisis, and unlike other fantasy series -- even the great ones but particularly others in the D&D ouevre (see the Drizzt Do'Urden series) -- it is filled with far more shades of gray.

It may seem like a pulpy little distraction, but the Dragons of Winter Night, and the entire Chronicles, is more than that. It is series that can help to shape a new vision of ethics in fantasy literature. And I hope that's something my kids take away from the experience. I will do my best to make sure they do.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Zen (new)

Zen Ohhh! I never thought of it this way! That must be why I still have all the Chronicles on my shelf!

Although, I thought the Legends were better.... and Raistlin was always my favorite "grey" character.


Brad Me too. I love the Legends. I think they are a truly excellent bunch of books. I would actually be willing to go way out on a limb and say that Raistlin is one of the best "grey" characters ever written.


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