I have a terrible confession: I didn’t read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit until I was in college. Terrible, I know.
For many, Tolkien was the genesis of an interest fantasy and all things geek. But not me. I didn’t have any geeky siblings or parents to expose me to fantasy. Instead, my dad read to me A Sand County Almanac when I was young. (It’s not actually as dry as it sounds; in fact, it’s often attributed for giving rise to the environmentalist movement.) It was no Tolkien, though.
My earliest exposures to fantasy literature were The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dragonlance Chronicles. I liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but after the first book, I hardly understood anything of the story. Only later did I realize that the oddly meandering narrative was the result of a fictional tale shackled by the chains of allegory.
So it was Dragonlance that formed the backbone of my fantasy literature education. I remember well my first exposure to the series—perhaps because it did so much to set me on the path for working on Dungeons & Dragons today. One of my friends had just finished the Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and insisted that I had to read it. I was in 5th grade.
So I started reading it, made it to chapter 11, and then promptly put the book down. “All they do is wander around from place to place,” I complained to my friend, Tracy. He insisted it got better. It was almost a year before I resumed reading.
I’m not sure what changed during that year—maybe my attention span, or maybe having a summer break in which to consume books like a fire. Whatever the case, I finished the Chronicles and Legends within a couple months, and it set me down the road of reading a new Dragonlance novel every week, until I had nearly finished everything available. My parents weren’t too certain about the covers of some of these books. After all, I think any of us males who grew up with Dragonlance could appreciate Larry Elmores depictions of Tika, Goldmoon, Laurana, and Kitiara. That being said, my parents were soon to learn that reading novels with objectionable covers was the least of their concerns, for a more insidious threat to my homework productivity soon emerged in the form of the Internet.
I thought the Internet in 1994 was pretty cool, with chat rooms and the ability to search for stuff to help me with homework. But that wasn’t all the World Wide Web afforded. In fact, it offered something far more precious: Gaming.
I had played Champions of Krynn, the only Dragonlance game I could get my hands on. And I played the hell out of that horrible, horrible game. But searches on Lycos had yielded a Dragonlance game, far stranger and far more compelling than anything on the Nintendo or PC: a multi-user dungeon. It was called Arctic MUD, and it locked in my trajectory as a life-long fan of Dungeons & Dragons, and Dragonlance.
But the story didn’t end there. More on that next week…