Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Good Dragonlance Sentences: Introduction

A few days ago, I took a bet that I couldn't find any good sentences in the Dragonlance books. I don't welch on bets, so it's time to see what I can find.

My proposal is this: once a week I will read a chapter from a Dragonlance book and put up some examples of what might be "good" sentences in it. I will begin with the "Legends" trilogy, primarily because it's the only one I have to hand at the moment (I picked it up at a secondhand book shop a few months ago), but also because it's better than the "Chronicles" - let's face it. I will continue to do this until Zak agrees that there are good sentences.

We also need to define what a "good sentence" is, because undoubtedly Weis & Hickman are better writers than you or I. (If you disagree, then where's your novel?) The context in which the bet was made was in comparison to Michael Moorcock and HP Lovecraft, so we'll say that a good Dragonlance sentence is one which would also be deemed "good" if written by either of those two writers.

Here goes. From the Introduction to Time of the Twins:

[Describing Astinus, the historian who sees, knows, and records everything] "The historian's face might have been reckoned handsome in a timeless, ageless fashion. But none who saw his face ever remembered it. They simply remembered the eyes - dark, intent, aware, constantly moving, seeing everything. Those eyes could communicate vast worlds of impatience, reminding Bertrem that time was passing. Even as the two spoke, whole minutes of history were ticking by, unrecorded." 
[Describing the first time we see Raistlin] "All she could see before her were two golden eyes shining from the depths of darkness. The eyes were like a gilt mirror, flat, reflective, revealing nothing of the soul within. The pupils - Crysania stared at the dark pupils in rapt horror. The pupils within the golden eyes were the shape of hourglasses! And the face - drawn with suffering, marked with the pain of the tortured existence the young man had led for seven years, ever since the cruel Tests in the Tower of High Sorcery left his body shattered and his skin tinged gold. The mage's face was a metallic mask, impenetrable, unfeeling as the golden dragon's claw upon his staff."

Not great literature, no. But we're not judging them against Proust, remember. This will do for the Introduction.

13 comments:

  1. So, what is the definition of a "good" sentence for this little exercise?

    The challenger (Zak) might be inferring knowledge of a "good" author. How about finding "bad" sentences from that author as well? Kind of outside the specific scope here, but it would still be fun. You could then list several good and bad sentences and ask people to match them with the correct author.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. The definition is what we agree is good. It's too much hassle to get into anything more complicated than that.

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  2. Is this limited to Dragonlance novels by Weis & Hickman or do works by other authors qualify?

    Because if you want to get through this in any human timeframe, try Jeff Grubb. At least Lord Toede managed to be funny on purpose.

    I've been doing something similar in the Finnish-language blog LOKI, where I've been digging into the phenomenon of the tie-in novel and recommending particular novels as good reads. There's not a lot of Dragonlance and no Weis & Hickman on that list. The sheer size of the corpus tips the odds in your favour, though. Odds are that at least someone in there managed to pen something interesting.

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    1. Limiting it to Weis & Hickman for now...at a chapter a week the Legends will take long enough! I never read much of the Dragonlance books by other authors, except for Kaz the Minotaur and some of the short story collections...oh, and the "Meetings Sextet".

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  3. i wouldn't compare it to lovecraft (since i subscribe to houellebecq's opinion that hp is actually good writer) but would argue that hickman/weis could go toe to toe any day with martin or jordan.

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  4. The first one's last sentence is close, but the elaboration and re-elaboration of the same ideas almost kills it.

    And the names are so bad they kinda poison it.

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    1. Almost good, then? The names are bad, I'll give you that. That's almost inescapable with DL, unfortunately.

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    2. Almost there. You're definitely exceeding expectations.

      However, if you keep saying crazy things along the way to proving this one narrow point, then we'll have to make more bets

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  5. (And saying any of that's better than Scrap Princess or Tom Middenmurk is the craziest of crazy talk)

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  6. Hah! Good sentences; not sure how to compare them to HPL or MM; I'll need to look at Zak's examples. I can't say I ever considered them great writers in a technical sense but both are very inventive (if we gloss over the fact that Moorcock seems to have found a story he likes and keeps telling it over and over).

    I was one of the people who said the DL novels are no good (admittedly having read only the first one, and getting summaries from secondary sources like RPG materials!). But I'd want to distinguish between bad writers and bad writing, and bad stories/bad fantasy. What I have "against" DL is that the plot and characters are so derivative without adding much to the genre (I mean: you can be derivative, and also be inventive, like most good fantasy, or be derivative, and either create stupid things or add very little, like what I consider bad fantasy). I think what I have against DL (apart from being a contrarian) is that the stuff Hickman & Weis made up seems so lame. Gully dwarves, kender, dragonmen, all that. The idea that the gods (or at least divine magic) no longer work in that world was a good addition. But so much was bad invention. The actual construction of good descriptions, analogy & metaphor, turns of phrase -- the mechanical stuff of good writing -- they seem to have, based on those passages. So good form, bad content, IMO.

    BTW "Blog of holding" was doing some rehabilitation of DL by mining the plot for good RPG ideas and I found that eye-opening too.

    Maybe my middle-aged self, with such lower expectations than my younger self who hoped for novels set in something I recognized as a D&D world, would like DL more.

    Anyway thanks for taking this stuff so seriously and raising the level of discourse. This post should lead to some interesting discussion.

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    1. Reading through the first chapter of Time of the Twins, I thought it was reasonably well-written in comparison to what I'd been expecting. I read quite a bit of Wilbur Smith, James Clavell, writers like that. Weis & Hickman are certainly no worse.

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  7. A far more interesting project would be to mash up a story from HPL sentences and Weis & Hickman sentences.

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