I had a doctor’s appointment last week. Back in the good old days (pre-covid) it was a rare opportunity to catch up on last year’s women’s magazines, although I tended to restrict myself to the cooking and gardening sections. These days there are no magazines, just a big screen telly with sub-titles. So, I take along my tablet and play games while I wait for my doctor to appear.
On this day, though, the tablet’s battery was very low, so I plugged it in and went looking at my library. I’ve still got quite a few paperbacks, mainly the well-loved editions. I settled on Dragonsong, one of the late Anne McCaffrey’s spin-off books from her dragonriders of Pern series. It’s aimed at a Young Adult (YA) audience so it’s not very long, and (more to the point) the print was big and black – great for elderly eyes.
Dragonsong became the first of the Harper series, running in parallel and weaving in with the dragonrider series. They’re all set on the planet Pern during threadfall, that terrible alien scourge that destroys all life forms. A bit of necessary background. Pern was settled by humans who deliberately eschewed the trappings of modern society. Its society is reminiscent of medieval times, with Lord Holders and craft holds. Skills are passed from one generation to the next. The dragons comprise a sort of sustainable air force. They chew a type of rock which flames when they breathe it out, charring thread, a mindless burrowing life form, before it hits the ground. The Harper Hall is the craft hold for Harpers. They are musicians, but they are also teachers and storytellers, making sure the Pernese learn their teaching ballads and know their duty to keep Pern thread-free. But, being a patriarchal society (expect for the dragons) women could not be harpers.
Dragonsong is about a teenage girl who has the gift of music. But her hide-bound parents will not allow her to use that gift. Girls can’t be harpers. She would bring disgrace on her family. Eventually, Menolly runs away and starts a new adventure when she meets and befriends fire lizards. They are tiny versions of the mighty dragons, with much the same behaviour. Her fair of nine fire lizards help her through the alone times and they appreciate her music (ie they love it when she sings to them, and harmonize with her.)
It’s a typical YA coming-of-age story of a teenager finding her destiny and it’s a truly lovely read, even though the days of acne and angst are long ago. I adored all the Pern books when they appeared in the eighties and nineties and I think I enjoyed Dragonsong even more this time around. I understood some of the nuances that I skipped over before, such as why do the Weyrs want fire lizards? Find Dragonsong here.
Anne McCaffrey died several years ago and when she did, songwriter Janis Ian wrote a eulogy – about the singer and the writer. I remember Janis Ian well. She wrote and performed the song of my life. I could soooo relate to this.
In her homage to Anne McCaffrey Janis Ian wrote, “…I finish All the Weyrs of Pern for the umpteenth time, and scold myself for the tears that fall – first, because she is gone, and second, because I never really succeeded in telling her just how much she meant to me.”
“Once, after she showed me the rock cliffs of the Guinness Estate and explained that Benden Hold looked just like that, she asked if I would write a theme for it. For the movie? I said. “Yes”, she said, “A theme. Because if Menolly came to life, it would be with your voice.” I say this not to brag, but to indicate the trust between us – such trust that when I got home, with no film in sight, I began sketching out some notes for “Lessa’s Song”. I wanted it to be haunting, the way her words haunted me. I wanted it to be sweeping, like the thrust of dragon wings. I wanted it to be everything I could bring to her, a gift for someone whose words took me out of my world and into hers.“
If you’ve come this far, click on this link and read about the very special relationship between asinger/songwriter and an author 25 years her senior. You might find a tissue will come in handy.
I’m not a great watcher of movies but I would LOVE to see a dragonriders of Pern movie, or better still, a series. The film-makers now have the CGI capability to make it happen – they did in Game of Thrones. There has been talk, but so often the studios would rather do a remake of something that had success in the past, more’s the pity.
Dragons have been very popular in literature, especially nice dragons that relate to people. Since McCaffrey wrote her series other writers have picked up the theme. You’ll see it often in paranormal romance and in science fiction romance, where the dragons are aliens, not paranormal. One very popular science fiction romance series is S.E. Smith’s highly rated Dragon Lords of Valdier. Here’s a link to the first book of that series, Abducting Abby. You’ll find there’s more than a bit of sex in this one and it has the ‘fated mates’ trope, much loved by romance readers and writers.
Meanwhile, work on The Search for the Crimson Lady is puttering along. I haven’t written much lately, due to whale-watching, Pets in Space 6, and … um… reading and general procrastination. But I’ll get there.
A gentle reminder…
Two of my books are available for free. Give them a go. You might even enjoy them.