Dragontales was an apparently one off anthology of short stories published under the auspices of Dragon Magazine back in 1980. The stories therein, at the time were original and had not appeared in previous editions of Dragon Magazine.
I picked this magazine up for USD1.00 some years back, along with a job lot of Dragon Magazine back issues. One of various reasons I bought Dragon Magazine was to read the short stories therein.
Little did I realise that the magazine, in excellent condition I may add, is apparently highly collectible, according to what people are asking for it on eBay anyway. That aside, is it worthwhile reading, or has its genre based fiction aged beyond readability?
First and foremost the magazine has a striking wrap around cover depicting a priestess standing in front of a party of adventurers (one would assume) in an avenue of Mayan / Incan / Aztec / (Insert Alternate Mesoamerican Culture here) snake headed pylons leading up to a stepped pyramid type temple. Already impressive stuff, that set my GM’s mind scheming about plot ideas for our ongoing RuneQuest campaign.
In the sky/background of the picture one can see ghostly images of snakes – vipers by appearance – fighting warriors, distant landscapes and skeleton covered treasure troves. The artists signature is M Carroll.
Contents wise I felt it was a mixed bag. I did not enjoy the first story, The Wizards are Dying by John L Jenkin, at all. In fact it was so old school genre (1st edition D&D) based that I almost put the magazine away never to look at it again. But I persevered and took days to read a story that should have taken me a short train ride to work. It was the typical party gets together and makes their way (along with the obligatory stow away) off to stop a lich whose sealed tomb had been disrupted. Yawn. The story had a number of holes in it and was just not my cup of tea. That said the action did get better towards the end and well, I suppose it was a product of its time. It does explain why many a fantasy magazines writers guidelines vociferously state their disinterest in genre fiction.
Fortunately the rest of the stories vary from a bit, to remarkable better. Dragons Fosterling by Ruby S W Jung was light hearted and clever. Likely more so when it was published as I suspect there have been many takes on the same subject since.
Out of the Eons by Gardner F Fox was one of the stories I enjoyed the most. The story was a clever take on the standard hero with his goddess’ avatar wife. There were one or two small inconsistencies, or rather glossed over facts that had me paging back in case I missed a paragraph. Just a thought, but isn’t spelled Aeons?
Sir George by Carl Parlagreco was a decent attempt at fantasy humour writing. Bearing in mind this was written before the Colour of Magic saw light, or the likes of Craig Shaw Gardner, Tom Holt et al made names for themselves in this field. The story gave me a few chuckles, well worth a look.
Black Lotus Moon by Tom Moldvay was also a favourite. A tale of a protagonist thief, and betrayal at various levels. It was clever and well written. It may have been little risqué for its time, in its art and content, which I am sure helped push whatever boundaries existed at that time.
Some short work such as Honor (sic) Among Thieves by Roger Moore (Dragon Magazine Staff Member, not the actor), Ice Dreams by David F Nalle and Birth of a Wizard by Marie Desjardin were reasonable enjoyable but all too soon forgotten in my opinion. Call Me Albert by Martin Mundt was also an attempt at humour which alas failed as far as I was concerned. It was okay I suppose but also fell into the easily forgotten category. Writing humour is harder than one would think and I would point anyone keen to read fiction to a cowardly, reluctant protagonist to rather look up the excellent tales of Dao Shi by Iain Rowan, which are far superior.
Lastly, and defiantly the best story in the collection is The Darkness Hunting by Janrae Frank. It is a tale of an amazon warrior who has per necessity had to make her life amongst the strictly patriarchal society of planes nomads. Once again there have been plety of stories of woman living secret lives as men over the years, but this one, for its age, is still fresh and memorable. In my opinion that’s the mark of good writing.
In conclusion I would say Dragontales is a not just product of its time and the genre that spawned it. For sure there are aspects of D&D in more than one story, but at least three of the thankfully longer stories stand out on their own merits and satisfactorily span the decades since their writing to still be enjoyable today.
This article was first published XXIV December MMXII