I had the pleasure of meeting Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis at GenCon in the summer of 1998. While Tracy autographed the copy of The Immortals that I bought, I told him a little about my own background as a former minister and a religious person, and thanked him for writing fiction that reflected a world-view grounded in faith. A bystander inquired what I perceived as distinguishing the DragonLance novels from any other fantasy fiction in this regard.
Hickman himself has discussed what distinguishes epic fantasy from other fantastic genres (including science fiction and cyberpunk), explaining that epic fantasy at its heart revolves around an essentially moral conflict between good and evil, and champions the cause of good in that conflict. In that respect, DragonLance is little different from the Biblical book of Revelation, which portrays the same kind of climactic, earth-shattering conflict between good and evil. That epic clash is the background of the saga, but what makes DragonLance good fiction is the way that conflict plays out within the hearts of the characters, particularly Tanis Half-elven, who is torn by his love for Kitiara, a former companion who has taken evil’s side in the war. This gives DragonLance a moral dimension you don’t always see in other fantasy novels, and installs it, in my mind, into the fantasy fiction hall of fame, right beside Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
There are more explicitly Christian elements tucked into the DragonLance saga as well. The most obvious is the wizard Fizban—an apparently forgetful and bumbling old wizard whose path intersects with that of the heroes. In the end, it is revealed (stop reading now if you have not read the trilogy!) that Fizban is actually Paladine, chief among the good gods of the world. The idea of a powerful and benevolent deity walking on earth in a humble human guise has obvious echoes of Christian belief. Perhaps more importantly, it sets up a powerful contrast between the use and abuse of power on the part of the good god Paladine and the evil goddess Takhisis. Paladine, in the guise of the bumbling wizard Fizban, gently helps the heroes along on their quest to hold on to their freedom. Takhisis works much more directly through her dragon highlords to subjugate the forces of good and establish an evil empire under her control.
As painful as it is sometimes, it remains true that God has steadfastly refused to compromise our freedom, even for our own good. Christ did not come as a king to establish God’s empire on earth, subjugating us in the name of righteousness. And God still does not force us to be good, or step in to set things right. God is present with us and beside us, sometimes in unexpected or downright absurd disguises, gently encouraging and helping us do the right thing ourselves.
I hope to continue my conversations with Margaret and Tracy, and I welcome your thoughts on the DragonLance saga’s theological implications.
A reader in Germany sent me some insightful comments reflecting on the relationship between Tasselhoff Burrfoot and Fizban in the DragonLance Chronicles. It seems that Fizban needed Tas—to find his hat, to help keep his spellcasting “mistakes” in check. At least, Fizban allowed Tas to feel that he was needed.
This train of thought reminded me of an interesting aspect of the Incarnation in Jesus’ infancy, God allows mortals to take care of the Divine. Mary may have had a unique relationship with God, in caring for Jesus as his mother.