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Tanis Half-Elven is the lead of the Dragonlance Chronicles. He also is a controversial character that has a lot of critics for his backstory, whininess, and constant brooding over his origins. He drops a huge bomb on the reader with no preparation as like the second thing you learn about him. Specifically, Tanis is the product of sexual assault.

It’s very off putting and seems out of place in a PG-13 series (at best) series that so often tends to be treated as goofy, especially compared to its sequel in DRAGONLANCE LEGENDS. However, I keep returning to the character because as an adult I’ve realized he’s a character dealing with a lot more than generic angst. So I brought some of my thoughts to their own thread.

Tanis Half-Elven is an interesting case where the actual subject being discussed, child abuse, is something that gets almost completely ignored because the subject of his existence dominates discourse about him. Ironically, for the same reason that he’s a victim of child abuse and the tool used to injure him emotionally.

Tanis is constantly thinking about the fact he’s a product of sexual assault (the retcon about his origins being consensual is one that was made by executives against the will of the main series’ authors and ignored subsequently) because he was reminded of this fact every day by his adoptive family. It was a way of them exerting power over him and destroying his self-esteem while also engaging in some microaggressive racism that made his family feel more righteous for “ignoring” it.

This is VERY familiar behavior to me because I happen to know someone very intimately who grew up as the product of an adoptive household that treated them with this exact behavior for this exact reason and it was constantly on their mind. She was hardly alone too as the family loved using their bad births to cudgel them daily.

Margaret Weis has been pretty clear the influence that fundamentalist behavior was the origin for a lot of Dragonlance’s choices like the fact it was the height of the Satanic Panic that she created things like the Istar civilization to critique. But almost no one even seems to realize Tanis is a subject of child abuse because they’re dismissive of his experiences, unaware that he’s one of the most realistic portrayals of someone subject to fundamentalist foster family trauma.

The biggest issue is a lot of readers are unable to focus on Tanis’ own trauma because, well, they feel like the books are dismissing the trauma of Tanis’ mother who never shows up as a character. The SA’s effects have echoed out and we see only how it’s affected Tanis because his mother’s family has never let him forget it.

Tanis is a character that is a rare one in that he became one I appreciated a lot more as I got older that I originally dismissed as a lot less nuanced than, say, Raistlin. However, he’s a character that can be read as having escaped a fundamentalist society and attempted to build his own found family away from the expectations of his racist domineering childhood. So much of the man’s character development consists of, “I want to avoid dealing with the people that raised me as much as humanly possible. Because calling them out is pointless and they will never understand how they hurt me and I have so many mixed feelings regarding them.” It’s something that’s incredibly subtle and authentic that reflects the reality of extended family members I know in a series that is, well, not usually very subtle at all.

It even affects the much-maligned love triangle element as he just wants to start fresh and his childhood sweetheart wanting to resume their past together just brings up painful memories. Tanis can’t imagine that Laurana, for example, has her own issues stemming from growing up in elven society.

But yes, Tanis’ inner struggles about being made to be ashamed of his human heritage as well as attempts to build his own life outside of elven condescending “compassion” is all too familiar to many people who have to deal with their real life counterparts. I find this fascinating as an adult and something that tells me the writers knew exactly what they were doing. I feel like the books should be reevaluated as a result.

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