One of the really cool things about being a reader as well as a writer is to go back and read those who inspired you when you were younger. To be whisked away to faraway and magical lands of adventure. Of dragons and knights, of the entire escapism which, to me, is what epic fantasy is supposed to be about. Where the good guys win and the evil is defeated, and a character’s redemption arc isn’t some hamfisted attempt to have a popular villain become marketable by cynical profiteers.
That… was rather pointed, wasn’t it?
In that vein, I’ve been rereading Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s original Dragonlance trilogy of late (DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT, DRAGONS OF WINTER NIGHT, and DRAGONS OF SPRING DAWNING… I would highly recommend picking them up if you like fantasy but don’t want the grimdark of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series). This series, to be fair, is a rather simplistic approach to the story: a group of adventurers who knew one another from their youth meet up at an pre-appointed place and discover they are in danger. It begins an epic journey across the world of Krynn as they struggle to defeat the forces of Takhesis, the Queen of Darkness.
When I say it’s pretty simplistic, I do not mean this is a negative way. Far from it. It’s a classic good versus evil story, through and through. However, it stops being a paint by the numbers novel as you get to know the characters involved. They are the persons who are struggling to fight this war and their attitudes and reasons vary. You have the half-elf torn between two worlds, the ambiguous wizard who holds no allegiance to any, even his twin brother, the massive fighter. You have an old dwarf on his last legs and his young kender compatriot who serves as a humorous foil against the dour dwarf’s attitude. You’ve got naive elf princess who believes love can triumph over all. Finally, you have the mysterious strangers who are carrying an item of great value to try and save their people.
The entire Dragonlance universe was like this for the first dozen books or so. I ate them up like you wouldn’t believe. Every single time I got my hands on ten dollars I was off to the bookstore to see if there was a new Dragonlance novel out. I felt I knew Krynn as well as the writers themselves. Sometimes, when I spotted a continuity error, I would laugh to myself, because I thought back then that there was a writer or editor making sure everything in the Dragonlance universe made sense and worked with all the other books.
Hey, I was young and innocent back then. Cut me some slack.
However, I grew away from the series as a whole when they introduced the Fifth Age and pretty much did a total franchise reboot. Now, some of the concepts were stupidly cool (dragons the size of mountains? Sign me up!) but it just didn’t feel “magical” any more. It was a gritty, dark reality where magic was pulled from the earth and not the moons, the gods no longer existed, and everyone lived in constant, unending horror. It sounds stupid to me now, but back then all I could think of was “this isn’t right”.
Side note: I didn’t understand how publishing worked back then and blamed Jean Rabe for this, since she wrote the first trilogy set in the Fifth Age. As I’ve gotten deeper into understanding how publishing works, I realize my teenage/young adult anger towards her is entirely misplaced. She did the best she could with what little she was given and unfairly took the brunt of fans anger towards the changed world. I also know now she is one hell of an editor herself and I hope one day to be able to work with her.
As I’ve grown older and read more fantasy, my memories of how much I disliked what happened in the Dragonlance universe faded and were replaced by nostalgia. I started going back and buying the old books again and giving them a read-through. I tried some of the newer fantasy novels everyone clamored about but outside of a select few (Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, and Larry Correia’s Saga of the Forgotten Warrior series), I found most modern day fantasy series dark, grim, and lacking of both fun and hope.
Perhaps this is author’s personal lives seeping into their writing styles? There is a distinct lack of hope in most fantasy novels I read nowadays, which saddens me quite a bit. I miss the tales of heroes and hope. One of the most influential characters on me growing up was Goldmoon, the High Priestess in the Dragonlance series. Her unwavering faith in her companions and that good can triumph over evil propels the story even when some of the scenes seem dark and bleak.
I’m trying to emulate this feel while working on my epic fantasy novel. I know many editors want the grim, blood-soaked chapters akin to George R. R. Martin’s work, but I can’t bring myself to fully commit to that sort of wanton violence. And this is me we’re talking about here, the guy who wrote a 45,000 words chapter that was one single battle (side note: I didn’t even realize I hadn’t put chapter breaks in until I was almost done with it, and figured it was too late to change).
I’m hoping people, while reading this, feel the sense of hope the heroes have. I know there are some twists and turns coming that will upset some. I have a bit of a reputation for killing off characters. But… I think this might actually be an epic fantasy adventure of good versus evil.