Another look at Raistlin- a letter

One of my page readers wrote me an e-mail disagreeing with what I have said on the page about Raistlin. I e-mailed him in response to clarify what I said and in the end he agreed to take another look at Raistlin. He agreed for me to summarize the letter, in case others have the same questions.

Here is the summery of what he said:

1. Raistlin’s thirst for power is not a defence mechanism, but an obsession.

2. Raistlin lusted for power.

3. After taking the test Raistlin was extremely cold to Caramon and is now (now was unspecified) even more so.

4. Caramon loved Raistlin more than anyone else in the world.

5. It is Raistlin’s fault for being cold and mean that others dislike him and they might like him if he were more warm and cheerful, and others are distant because Raistlin hides himself and his knowledge.

My response:

1. (see two and five)

2. I have two reasons for not saying Raistlin was power hungry: A. it is a stereotyped character image, and I think Margaret Weis developed Raistlin far beyond stereotypes, and B. No one on earth, even the worst “bad guys”, is just power hungry; there are always motivations. Raistlin is tired of having everyone make fun of him and he would like them to look up to him- to feel like they were idiots for making fun of him in the first place. I think Raistlin could be characterised as obsessed with magic- the one love he allows himself. If you are referring to magical power, then I would agree that he hungers for it- but so do Palin and Dalamar for example.

3. “Now” as in when? What book have you finished? In Dragons of Summer Flame, Raistlin does indeed show kindness to Caramon when he goes home with him.

4. Tas made a valuable point in the first book of Legends when he said that “Caramon cares only for Caramon“- Caramon was attached to Raistlin because he needed him to feel special, to feel useful, wanted, and needed. Raistlin knew that, and that was part of the reason he acted coldly towards him. Caramon did love Raistlin, and I think that they both felt a bond as twins, but Caramon also reminded Raistlin of everything he’s not.

5. Have you ever read Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”- you might say of Katherina- “If she was more warm and cheerful with her companions they would have better relations”. If you read the play carefully, however, you realize that she doesn’t have a chance to be nice: as soon as she walks in a room people start insulting her. She is reacting to what they say to her in a mean way, because she knows acting nice will get her no where. I wouldn’t call Raistlin completely guiltless- he could have chosen to react differently, but I would say that his reactions are not surprising. And if Raistlin is not completely guiltless, then surely Sturm isn’t either for constantly disliking him based solely on his choice of magic over weaponry. In truth, the only one of the companions who showed Raistling nothing but friendship was Tas, who showed him the same friendship as everyone else. We might question why Tas and Raistlin did not become friends- probably because of the fact that Tas showed everyone friendship and interest and Raistlin didn’t take it as a friendship directed at him. Raistlin had largely given up on the idea of friendship by that point, and so he saw Tas only as a distraction to the thing he’d used to replace friendship: his magic.

I added that I thought that the reader was taking surface situations without looking at the underlying causes. The Soulforge and Brothers in Arms both give a deeper character study, and are useful to see beyond Raistlin’s caustic remarks. I think everyone might also benefit from applying this to their every day lives: chances are that everyone knows someone who is like Raistlin, or indeed like Katherina, and if we are saying to ourselves “if that person were nicer everyone would like them”, we’re probably missing what’s really behind their actions. Look deep.

This letter helped me articulate a message that I really want to get out to everyone. There are a lot of people who just want to see Raistlin as the one-sided bad guy, and you can’t do that with Raistlin or with anyone else. The question “Why?” is always an important one when examining a character- why did they say that? Why did they do that? When you ask for reasons and look for answers, you learn things about characters. Indeed, it is a reminder to myself that characters that I do not like, like Kitiara, have motivations too.

Last modified on October 25, 2009