The Balance. Aside from the never-ending questions about Raistlin Majere, there seems to be no other more confusing and controversial concept in DRAGONLANCE. It’s engendered a lot of discussion, disagreement, and disgust among DL fans, and it’s one of the issues I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with in my consideration of Krynnish matters. After all these years, though, I think I finally have an inkling of what it’s about, at least for my own version of Krynn. What follows is my examination of the questions of Good, Evil, and Neutrality regarding the Powers of Krynn, and the issue of what the Balance really means. It should be noted that I’m writing this from my own viewpoint regarding DRAGONLANCE, so some of my idiosyncrasies are going to slip in here, and it won’t necessarily match up with ‘canon’ completely. Despite that, I hope this provides insight and a new perspective on this issue for those of you who read it.
Good, Evil, and Neutrality
One popular approach to the Balance is the idea that Good and Evil are morally equal, that both are equally valid and necessary for Krynn. This, which I will refer to as the Dualistic view, strikes me as fatally flawed. In addressing this issue, I’m going to turn to real-world theology and apologetics–specifically, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, which addresses the question of Dualism, in the sense of two independent and co-eternal powers, one of Good and one of Evil, forever struggling over the world, which seems to fit well with the Dualistic view of the Balance. Lewis identifies several flaws with this view, but only one of them is really important to our discussion. If these two powers are equal and independent, then there are two options regarding them. One is the aforementioned concept that Good and Evil are essentially equivalent, and that each has its place in the world. I’ve seen a lot of people take this view, but if it’s chosen, it means that ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ become pointless labels at best. In fact, this turns ‘Neutrality’ into Good, and ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ into two different forms of Evil, which again doesn’t really seem to mesh with DRAGONLANCE, which has for the most part assumed that Good is preferable and by nature superior to Evil.
This leads us to the second option, which is that one of these sides is right and the other is wrong. The idea that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can co-exist as equal is, honestly, rather nonsensical. So, the Dualistic view doesn’t work. So where does that leave us with regard to the Balance?
A clue can be gained by taking a look at the relations of the three sets of Powers to the mortals. Those of Good wished to guide them, those of Evil to enslave them, those of Neutrality to set them free. But what does this all mean?
First of all, let me posit an axiom: The fundamental nature of Good is Love–caring for another for the sake of the other is a good ‘simple’ definition of it. Once we start from this, things begin to fall into place, at least for me. The Powers of Good wished to guide the mortals in Goodness. In other words, using our axiom, they wished to love the mortals and to teach them love. Now, here’s another axiom, borrowed from Lewis and numerous other theologians over the years: Love requires free will. For love to be love, it must be given freely. That’s what the Powers of Good wanted for the mortals, accepting the consequences of free will to choose for or against Good so that the mortals could give and receive love in its fullness.
The Powers of Evil, by contrast, wanted to enslave the mortals. Now, the best, fullest enslavement is to destroy someone’s free will, to make them an automaton in obedience to your whims. So, the very thing that the Powers of Good cherished, the Powers of Evil despised.
Now, where does Neutrality fit into this? Good desires free will as necessary, but not sufficient–a means to an end, not an end in itself. The Neutrals, though, appear to have considered freedom just that–a sufficient end. They don’t really care what the mortals choose, just so long as they’re free to choose. Gilean does this out of curiosity and a desire to observe, while the other Powers of Neutrality pay lip service to it but mostly desire to protect their own interests. Reorx doesn’t care whether the forge is used to craft farm implements for the people of Abanasinia or swords for the dragonarmies, so long as it’s used and used well. Likewise, both hearth fires and wildfires delight Sirrion.
All right, we’ve identified the relationships of the three sets of Powers to mortals, but how does this explain the Balance? Both Good and Neutrality desire free will for the mortals, albeit for different reasons, while Evil, though willing to exploit that freedom, despises it and wishes to crush it. Taking that idea, and drawing inspiration from Lewis and Tolkien, I think I’ve come up with an explanation of what the Balance ‘means’.
The Balance of power between Good and Evil is a self-limitation on the part of the Powers of Good and Neutrality, and forced on the Powers of Evil. It basically means that force can only be used to counter force – no side can be permitted to overwhelm the mortals to such a degree as to negate their free will. They can aid and protect, forbid and punish, advise, encourage and ‘tempt’, but they cannot force and enslave mortals.
Now, Good and Neutrality both respect this limitation, but Evil, as we’ve seen throughout Ansalonian history, does not, and often attempts to overturn the Balance. At such times, the Powers of Good take a more active hand in things, through agents and gifts such as the metallic dragons and the dragonlance. Even then, though, such power was used simply to give the mortals a chance and permit them to act for themselves to turn the world towards Good or towards Evil. To overwhelm the world with open power in the name of Good would be to enslave the people of Krynn, negating their free will and Good would become Evil, with the added wrong and injustice of making true Goodness seem Evil. This is what happened in the days of the Kingpriest.
“We may indeed in counsel point to the higher road, but we cannot compel any free creature to walk upon it. That leadeth to tyranny, which disfigureth good and maketh it seem hateful”–Namo Mandos, The History of Middle-Earth, Volume X: Morgoth’s Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien.
- C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, as mentioned above, provided arguments against Dualism and insight into the importance of free will. His third novel, That Hideous Strength, also includes a couple passages on the nature of power as used by the forces of Good.
- The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien likewise include passages on the use of power as it related to the mission of Gandalf and the other Wizards.
- Finally, I recommend James Wyatt’s Reflections on the DRAGONLANCE Saga for any interested in the topic; he’s got some good and useful insights that contributed heavily to my own thoughts on the Balance.