My good friend Erica Dakin has been posting about some of her literary influences recently, so I decided to write a bit about my own, as I’m low on story-based content at the moment.
Whereas she posts about inspirational authors, though, I’m going to have to post about individual works or series, because I find I’m a lot more faithful to characters than I am to writers.
My first identifiable influence is easy, because it’s what got me into standard fantasy in the first place: The Dragonlance Chronicles.
Mind you, I was always a fantasy reader, but before Dragonlance I was reading things like The Ordinary Princess and The Castle in the Attic. Seeing my general interest, my mother–who had always been a fantasy and sci-fi fan–decided to give me the first Dragonlance trilogy. According to her, I was eight or nine at the time, and I took that stuff and ran with it.
As evidence, allow me to present Exhibit A: a book report I wrote during elementary school.
I’m not sure which grade, or what year–let’s pretend I was nine–but my reward was two ‘Good Job!’ stickers, so we obviously were not being graded. All of the pictures (with the possible exception of the Inn of the Last Home pic on the cover) were traced from one of the Dragonlance artbooks, which I apparently already had at the time.
The Dragonlance Chronicles had a huge effect on me, because they introduced me to my first full-on high fantasy world. There was an artbook, a book of maps, a ton of novels, and a roleplaying game–my introduction to D&D. I remember running a game for my little brother and one or two of his friends in our basement, wherein someone was a kender and someone else stuck one of my d20s up his nose. Little brat.
I was addicted to the concept of creating worlds, making characters and running games. I got my cousins to read and play, which some of them still do; I went to my first GenCon at age twelve, where I briefly met R. A. Salvatore who shall be discussed later; and I found the impetus to start writing my own stuff (which I had done before but more in the Ordinary Princess vein, i.e. adolescent-girl-in-a-castle stories).
And as I mentioned at the start, I gave my loyalty to the Dragonlance characters, not to the authors. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman did a great job, in my young opinion, but I was never interested in their non-Dragonlance stuff; I wanted to read about Raistlin and Dalamar!
Mostly just them. Some of the other characters were interesting, but Dragonlance was also when I learned that I am a villain junkie, through and through. Tanis Half-Elven? Whiiiiiiiny. Caramon? Nice I guess, but kind of dumb. Tika and Laurana and such? Meh.
Raistlin? Dalamar? Kitiara? Lord Soth? Yes please.
I guess that’s part of what turned me into a writer, and a Dungeon Master: my interest in the bad guys. Because what’s an adventure story without a villain? I had always liked being the antagonist when I played with my cousins; I was the dragon my brother had to slay in order to rescue my cousin, when we played the-floor-is-lava-so-we’ll-jump-between-the-beds games at my grandparents’ house. Villainy was the impetus for heroism to occur, and at the same time my reading showed me that villains were people too, with their own reasons and rationalizations for their bad deeds–which were sometimes wiser and more realistic than the ideals of the heroes. And the heroes, however strong they were, somehow always seemed so bland in their goodness and their petty personal issues.
My own primary antagonist/troublemaker began to gestate when I was reading these books all that time ago. 20+ years, as scary as it is to say. Raistlin and Dalamar–particularly Dalamar–became major inspirations for him, though he’s really not like them at all. Some of the aesthetic, though, and certain underpinnings–mainly in that though Dalamar is a ‘bad guy’ and a little bit obsessed, he’s diplomatic enough and in control enough that he’s never really an antagonist, and he holds together the ‘bad side’ of Krynn’s mages to work together with the goods and neutrals. He’s not a maniacally-laughing apocalypse monger. He’s a guy with a rough past who manages to keep it together despite his dark inclinations, and makes his former enemies take him seriously.
I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve read the books. Some day I plan to go back and do so, though I’m sure I’ll be sorely disappointed. But nevertheless, Dragonlance was my first and possibly biggest influence, just for setting me on this path.