Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey

 

dragonquestThe sequel to Dragonflight and the second book in the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, Dragonquest substantially expands the range of featured characters.  Where the first book concentrated almost exclusively on F’lar and Lessa, the second novel spreads its point of view far and wide.  Masterharper Robinton, Menolly, F’nor, queen rider Brekke, and the boy who is to inherit Ruatha Hold, Lord Jaxom, all take center stage at one point or another, while the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman continue to expand their leadership roles.

It begins nearly seven years after the initial events of Dragonflight with Master Robinton writing a ballad for the upcoming wedding of Lord Asgenar of Lemos Hold to Lady Famira, a half-sister to Lord Larad of Telgar Hold.  (Larad’s half-sisters are complete contrasts, as Lady Thella in The Renegades of Pern proves to be quite a formidable villain.)  He wants to include as many of the changes to Pern as possible, but he is bothered at the way the Oldtimers have failed to integrate into the new culture.  Coming from 400 turns back and skipping the entire last Interval, they expect privileges that Benden and Southern Weyrs do not and they object to the forestation of the planet that requires them to work harder.  This new world view that has blossomed during the last Interval–and championed by F’lar and Less–has disaffected them greatly.  They are more clearly out of time and Robinton laments that F’lar did not take over leadership at the time they came forward.  The old rule that each weyr be independent and separate is not really appropriate in this new time.  As he write, Robinton hears a drum message notifying Fort Weyr that Thread is falling out of pattern.

F’lar’s half brother F’nor, on a visit to the Smithcraft Hall, interrupts two Fort Hold dragonriders who are attempting to pilfer a knife from Fandarel’s assistant, Terry–a knife that was made on commission as Lord Larad’s wedding gift to Lord Asgenar.  One of the men, T’reb, upset because his green dragon is ready to mate, assaults F’nor, stabbing him with his belt knife.  F’nor is sent to the Southern Weyr to recover and F’lar confronts the Oldtimer weyrleaders with this crime, but T’ron cites the independence of the weyrs and frustrates F’lar.  When they discover that Thread has been falling out of pattern and that the Oldtimers failed to inform them, their frustration grows as the Lord Holders worry about possible damage to their property.

Recovering in the Southern Weyr, F’nor gets to know Brekke, who is the secondary weyrwoman there, rider of queen Wirenth, subordinate to Weyrwoman Kylara, whose queen dragon is Prideth.  However, Kylara is vain and wanton.  She has delegated almost all of her duties to Brekke, who also serves as the chief nurse at Southern and is fostering a teenage girl, Mirrim.  Gradually, F’nor falls in love with Brekke and worries about the prudishness of her Farmcraft upbringing, just as she worries that she will inhibit Wirenth when her queen rises to mate.  F’nor begins to wonder if Canth might possibly fly Wirenth.  Even though he is only a brown dragon, he is as big as many bronzes.  Sleeping on the beach one day, Canth informs him that a newly hatched queen fire lizard is hovering about seeking food.  He speaks softly to her and gives her a meat roll from his pouch, Impressing Grall.  He has Canth call back to Southern Weyr for other riders to come Impress the other hatching fire lizards who are turning cannibal with the lack of food on the beach.  Brekke impresses a bronze, Berd, and Mirrim Impresses two greens, Reppa and Lok, and a brown, Tolly.  Kylara was absent during the Impressions, as she was bedding the evil Lord Maron of Nabol, and she is furious that she doesn’t have one.  She decides to haunt the Southern beaches and find her own clutch.

When F’lar is visiting F’nor, Thread falls and he and Mnementh join the fighting.  Afterward, he discovers that there is no sign of Thread infestation and investigates.  He discovers that Southern has a kind of grub that eats Thread.

Four major events occur in Dragonquest that alter the future of the planet.

The first event occurs when Lord Warder Lytol and young Jaxom come to visit Benden Weyr.  Felessen, the son of F’lar and Lessa, takes Jaxom back into the long abandoned caves of the weyr to a secret place where boys go to view Ramoth’s eggs.  Finding a small one all by itself, Jaxom touches the egg.  Fearing discovery, they head back, but their glows wink out and they are lost in the darkness.  Jaxom accidentally pushes a button that opens a door.  The trapped gas knocks the two boys out, but the adults are all extremely excited by the stuff that the original colonists left behind in the room.  They find a microscope and begin to wonder if there might be a way to alter it so that one could see the Red Star close up.  Later, T’ron discovers a telescope at Fort Weyr.

The second major event happens at the wedding of Asgenar and Famira.  F’lar and Lessa arrive with fire lizard eggs to give to the happy couple as gifts.  They arrive just before Meron and Kylara who now both have their own fire lizards.  Fandarel has developed a “distance writer,” a kind of primitive telegraph and it reports the news that Thread is falling, so F’lar decides to join the other Oldtimers in fighting it.  When T’ron learns this, he grows angry at F’lar for interfering in another weyr’s affairs and they duel.  F’lar severely injures T’ron and gives a passionate speech asking for the weyrleaders, lords, and craftmasters to swear their allegiance to him and they do wholeheartedly.  He banishes the Oldtimers to Southern where they can do little damage and decides to move the current dragon folk from Southern to High Reaches Weyr.  Even though he is injured, he goes to fight Thread anyway.

In High Reaches Weyr, Wirenth rises to mate, but Kylara’s Prideth is at Nabol while she is bedding Meron.  In high heat, Prideth challenges Wirenth’s mating flight and the two dragons fight in mid-air.  Both severely injured, Wirenth takes Prideth into between and they both die.  Brekke goes into a deep depression and Kylara goes mad.

The third major event occurs at the hatching of Ramoth’s new clutch of eggs.  Lessa has put Brekke into the pool of girls hoping that she will Impress the new queen and recover from her severe shock and depression.  This is the point at which Dragonsong, the first novel in the Harper Hall Trilogy interconnects with the main trilogy.  There are two accounts of the hatching, one primarily from Jaxom’s point of view in Dragonquest and one from Menolly’s point of view in Dragonsong.  Although Brekke does not re-Impress, her little fire lizard, Berd, challenges Ramoth by entering the hatching grounds chittering at Brekke.  This breaks her out of her depression and she does not Impress the new queen.  However, once the hatching is over, Jaxom watches the little egg he had touched earlier rocking and shaking as if the dragon was trying to break out.  When no one responds, he jumps into the hatching ground and breaks the shell, cutting the sac with his belt knife.  A little white dragon falls out and Jaxom impresses Ruth.

The fourth major even of the novel happens because the lords are all anxious for the dragonriders to go to the Red Star and eradicate Thread at its source.  Not understanding the breadth of space or how big the Red Star actually is, they continue to press for this venture.  F’lar himself would like to go if he could only see it well enough in the telescope at Fort Weyr to be able to jump between.  Lord Meron is at the viewer night after night trying to give coordinates to his little bronze fire lizard, but the creature is so scared it just jumps between.  Watching, F’nor discovers a could formation on the Red Star that is easy to visualize.  He gives the coordinates to Canth and they jump.  The atmosphere of the Red Star is hot and poisonous.  Canth broadcasts their distress back to Pern and every fire lizard in the world picks it up.  Through Ramoth, the word is broadcast to all of the dragons who come to Benden Weyr to form a living bridge to ease the battered bodies of F’nor and Canth back to earth.  At the Harper Hall, in Dragonsinger, Menolly’s nine fire lizards all go berserk and wake everyone up.

The book ends with F’lar conducting a successful experiment with relocating grubs from the southern continent into the Lord Asgenar’s forests at Lemos.  When the lords express discomfort that dragons may be no longer needed, F’lar intimates that dragonriders may use their time exploring the southern continent or even the other planets in their system.

Obviously, from the above brief plot summary, a great deal happens in the novel.  The simplicity of F’lar and Lessa’s relationship in Dragonflight has been replaced by a much deeper and broader story line.  The introduction of Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel in the first book is expanded out to include many other craftsmen and the push toward innovation dominates the society.  There is an obvious need to have not just the weyrs, but the rest of the planet under one leadership and F’lar and Lessa, with their farsightedness and liberality are clearly the ones to do it.  Although F’lar respects the Oldtimers for their contribution to saving Pern, they are clearly out of step with a society that is moving forward.  The economy is now thriving, especially with the additional forestation, and Fandarel is moving technology ahead with both his own inventions and by using the discovery of material the original colonists had carefully packed away for future use.

Both the discovery and seeding of the Thread-eating grubs and F’nor’s trip to the Red Star move the plot along in the direction of ending the menace of Thread forever.

Most important of all, the book moves the story from borderline fantasy firmly into the realm of science fiction.  A planet was colonized by humans, dragons were genetically engineered from the fire lizards, and, following the collapse of the society into a medieval technological state, the humans are beginning to discover their roots and the level of technology that their ancestors brought to Pern.

The broadening of the characters to include Robinton, Fandarel, Menolly, Jaxom, F’nor, Brekke, Mirrim, as well as the Lord Holders Larad, Asgenar, Groghe, Corman, and the personalities of the dragons and fire lizards gives the book–the whole saga–a depth that sets it apart from most other science fiction franchises.  The third book of the trilogy, The White Dragon, dovetailing with the third book of the Harper Hall Trilogy, Dragondrums, expands the story to such a level that it begins to reach a nearly mythological level.

I find it utterly confounding that no high level film or animation has–to this point, at least–been shot and released.  I think that the story would have great appeal and not just to the Young Adult market.  In addition, there would be a whole market for products based on the Pern dragons, fire lizards, and the deeply appealing characters.

Hopefully, something good in the cinema will eventually come from this terrific saga!

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Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

DragonflightThis first book of The Dragonriders of Pern saga began as two novellas, “Weyr Search,” which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella and “Dragonrider,” which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1969, making author Anne McCaffrey the first woman to ever win either one of the prestigious science fiction writing awards.  Both of the short works were originally published in Analog magazine and they became the basis for the entire Dragonriders saga.

This is the only Dragonrider novel that focuses exclusively on the relationship between F’lar and Lessa and is noteworthy because it defines their feisty characters and the relationship that develops because of they are the two strongest people on Pern and the two whose strength must carry the planet in the 9th Pass of the Red Star.  Please see my Introduction to the World of Pern for background.

  Dragonflight is broken out into four parts with no chapters, although individuals scenes are separated by excerpts from Harper songs.

 I.  Weyr Search

Before the beginning of the 9th Pass of the Red Star to drop deadly threads on Pern, the power of the dragonriders has ebbed, the power of the Lords and their lands increased, and the Crafts have lost most of their knowledge to decaying record skins.  In the long interval, 400 years have passed and the people of Pern have all but forgotten the ravages of thread.

Of the six dragon weyrs on Pern, five stand empty with no explanation as to why, leaving Benden Weyr as the only active home of dragons and their riders.  The Weyrleader, R’gul, has led the weyr into isolation and allowed it to grow weak.  The Weyrwoman, Jora, grew fat and lazy, dying when her queen laid her last clutch of eggs.  There is one queen egg on the hatching grounds and riders have gone in Search of girls as candidates to be the new queen’s rider.

Lord Fax of High Reaches now runs six Holds, where each Lord should be entitled to only one.  He took the second oldest and most powerful Hold, Ruatha, by deception, then slaughtered everyone of pure Ruathan blood and married a woman who only was only distantly related, so that he could lay legitimate claim on it.  But one Ruathan of the true blood line has escaped, an eleven old girl, Lessa, with telepathic powers.

Ten Turns later, she is awakened at dawn by an unusual premonition that something is wrong.  Since Fax killed her family, she has disguised herself as a filthy kitchen drudge and used her telepathic abilities to bring the hold to economic ruin.  If Ruatha has no profit, she thinks, Fax might renounce it.  Her dreadful feeling echoes a similar feeling ten turns earlier on the morning of Fax’s invasion.  She watches the Red Star as it burns in the morning sky. 

Several days later, F’lar, a wing leader of Benden Weyr arrives on his huge bronze dragon Mnementh at High Reaches Hold with his wing-second and half-brother, F’nor, on his brown dragon Canth, on the Search for a new Weyrwoman.  Fax holds the dragonriders in contempt, but F’lar avoids a fight with him.  He and F’nor go to see a former dragonrider, Lytol, who has turned to the Weaver Craft to suffer silently.

Moving on to Ruatha Hold, the dragonmen immediately sense a power at work, but they can’t trace it.  Lessa has created havoc in the hold and Fax is disgusted, proclaiming that when the hold cannot support its Lord, he will renounce it.  F’lar and the dragonriders witness his statement.  He goes even further by proclaiming that if his wife, Lady Gemma, should give birth to a male, he would renounce the hold in favor of the baby.  When she goes into labor, Lessa fetches a midwife, but Gemma dies giving birth.  Thinking this is her opportunity force a duel between Fax and F’lar, she announces that the child is male.  F’lar is finally able to identify the source of power as Lessa, but Fax gives her a severe blow for her announcement.  The duel between Fax and F’lar ensues and F’lar kills the lord.

F’lar convinces Lessa that she must return to Benden Weyr and be presented as a candidate for the new queen, to renounce her claim to Ruatha in favor of the baby boy, so she reluctantly agrees.  The watchwher, seeing that she is leaving makes an attempt to kill F’lar, but when Lessa warns him not to, the watchwher contorts its body to keep from striking, breaks its back and dies.  The dragons all keen, giving the ugly beast a hero’s death.  Lytol is appointed Warder to the new heir, Jaxom.

Back at Benden Weyr, F’lar gives Lessa the bathing room while he takes Mnementh to feast on some of the stringy bucks kept in the pens for dragon food.  She washes all of the filth away and when he sees her again, her hair flows down to her waist.  She has a small body and is beautiful.  With no fear at all, she impresses the new queen, whose name is Ramoth.

II.  Dragonflight

Two Turns later, Lessa hates her lessons with R’gul and wants to fly Ramoth.  She fumes because F’lar does nothing, but when Ramoth finally rises to mate, Mnementh catches her and Lessa ends up bedding F’lar.  As the new Weyrleader, he takes command of the weyr.  When a united army of Lords marches against Benden, he sends riders to abduct their women, then he confronts the army, proclaiming that the Red Star is approaching and thread will fall soon.  He gives them orders to clean their Holds of greenery, to restock their fire heights, and to begin full tithing to the weyr.  To punctuate his demand, he shows them their ladies on dragonback and then Lessa shows up flying her great golden queen.

III.  Dust Fall

When F’lar teaches Lessa to fly Ramoth between, she turns rebellious and decides to go back to Ruatha, but she gives Ramoth the coordinates of the old Ruatha from when she was only 11 years old and she passes between back in time and watches herself hiding during Fax’s invasion.  She tries to go back home, but returns to the day at the beginning of novel when she awoke with her premonition.  Both F’lar and Lessa think that at some time the ability to time travel may come in handy.

In an attempt to figure out when the thread will begin to drop, F’lar and Lessa begin to go back over their old records, which have faded with the passage of time.  Ramoth lays a gigantic clutch of 41 eggs, which take as proof that the threads will be falling soon, but they worry about their ability to fight it, since they are only one weyr and there were six to fight it in the past.  Lessa worries over the Question Song, a weird teaching ballad that says the missing weyrs had “gone ahead.”

When the clutch is hatched, F’lar brings in family members of the candidates and begins to open up the hatchings to the public.  The one new queen, Prideth, is impressed by Kylara, one of the women who had previously been a candidate for Ramoth.  After a patrol, F’nor returns covered in dust and F’lar realizes that it is thread that has been killed by the cold.  The wing fights their first thread and many dragons and riders are wounded because they are all just learning the skill.  Worried about how to handle the situation, F’lar decides to send F’nor, Kylara, and other riders back ten Turns and put them in the south, where they can rear more dragons and riders.  Later that night, F’nor comes to see him to report that his plan is working, before he’d even started it.

IV.  The Cold Between

F’lar puts his plan into action, even though F’nor has hinted that things don’t go all that well in the past.  The next day, he holds a meeting with Lords and Craftmasters to see if anyone has any ideas on how they can get through the crisis.  For the first time, we meet Masterharper Robinton, Weavermaster Zurg, and Smithcraftmaster Fandarel.  Zurg remembers having seen a tapestry that showed not only dragons fighting thread, but men on the ground with machines that threw fire.  Fandarel wants to get his hands on it and when it is finally produced, he studies the machines and plans to use Agenothree to fight thread on the ground.

Studying the tapestry, Lessa sees that the depiction of Ruatha Hold is as it was 400 turns ago.  Using this as a time coordinate, she decides to jump Ramoth between 400 turns to bring the missing weyrs forward in time to help them fight thread.  When she disappears, F’lar is beside himself with worry.  Although she makes it through, the trip destroys her physically and she takes months to recover.  However, the old Fort Weyrleader, T’ton, and his Weyrwoman, Mardra decide to follow her forward in time and they talk the other five weyrs into coming with them.  Lessa instructs the oldtime Masterharper that he must write the Question Song, so that Lessa can later use it to realize that the she must go retrieve the weyrs.

Using the position of the Red Star to guide them, the weyrs jump ahead twenty turns at a time until they are back in present day, the beginning of the 9th Pass.  F’lar is incredibly relieved.  Pern has been saved and Lessa realizes how much he loves her and returns that love.  They are now weyrmates for life.

Thoughts on Dragonflight

As the first book in the series, Dragonflight has a different feel to it than all of the rest.  Writing it, from the two novellas, must have been a terrific learning experience for Anne McCaffrey because she was setting up—and would later change her mind on some things—the basis of the entire series.  There are a lot of little things that she changed as the series developed.  To name just a few:  T’ton is changed to T’ron immediately in the sequel, Dragonquest, and in Dragonflight, bronze dragons blood their kill before the queen does when she mates.  That was dropped entirely in all future books.

We don’t meet Robinton and Fandarel until fairly late in the novel and even then they do not appear to have the significance that they would develop almost immediately in the second novel and which would develop immensely throughout the entire main timeline of the 9th Pass..

The first time I sat down with Dragonflight, I thought I was reading a fantasy and I was ready at any moment to put the book down, but McCaffrey lays all of the groundwork in a scientific or pseudo-scientific manner.  The planet was colonized.  The dragons were genetically engineered.  There is a scientific rationale for the dragons breathing fire.  The medieval society is the result of a more erudite society breaking down in times of crisis.  Everything is set up scrupulously as a science fiction based novel.

Even with all of the groundbreaking, the book remains mostly the love story of F’lar and Lessa and it is told very well.  Both of the characters have extremely strong personalities that uniquely suit them to be the leaders of Pern and bring it back from the brink of feudalism.  Although the sex that occurs when dragons mate is certainly not lovemaking in the purest sense, it leads to lovemaking.  It is a physical act, but that act alone draws the people closer to love.  F’lar states at one point that his lovemaking with Lessa is just one step short of rape, but her mutual concern for Pern, her care for him as Weyrleader, brings her to love him deeply and passionately.

Much of that simple relationship is present in the later books, but they more deeply concerned with the weyr and the planet as a whole.  Different characters take the main stage as the series progresses and F’lar and Lessa, although clearly remaining strong and powerful leaders, are superceded by the stories of F’nor and Brekke, Robinton, Menolly, Piemer, and ultimately Jaxom and F’lesson.  The interplay between crafts, the discovery of the original landing, all play a part in moving F’lar and Lessa to the back shelf.

This book is their love story and that will always make it special.

An Introduction to the World of Pern

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern Saga

Pern 01

At first glance, one might assume that the Dragonriders of Pern story is fantasy, not science fiction, but Anne McCaffrey has moved the fantastic concept of fire-breathing dragons onto a firm scientific basis.  Granted, it is far from hard science fiction, but even such devices as faster than light travel and telepathy have some science fiction traction.  There is no magic in the series, nor mythical creatures come to life.  It must be considered science fiction. 

The planet Pern exists somewhere in the Sagittarius arm of our spiral galaxy.  It was originally colonized by members of the Federation who were looking to establish a society based on agrarian ideals.  Pern, devoid of the rich metals that were much sought after by the Federation was deemed a perfect spot for such a colony.  The survey team noted that the system of the star named Rukbat had one wandering planet (the “Red Star”) that didn’t follow a normal orbit, but it was not deemed a threat.  However, the early colonists discovered that when it passed too close to Pern, some kind of ovoid life form was cast off from the planet and traveled the distance between the two bodies, turning from hard spheres into vibrant, life eating “threads” when they entered Pern’s atmosphere.

To fight thread, the colonists genetically altered a unique indigenous life form, the “fire lizard” (a small, winged, telepathic creature who chews firestone to breath flames) into a much larger creature: a dragon.  When these creatures hatch from eggs, they bond telepathically with a human who is destined to be their rider.  These dragons and their riders fly high and fast to char thread from the sky and keep it from devouring all of the biological life on Pern.  The fire they belch comes from eating firestone, which ignites when the gasses come into contact with the air.  Dragons can also teleport, traveling into a realm called between, a cold, dark, airless, and sensationless place between one location and another.

McCaffrey has written a number of prequels, including Dragonsdawn, which tells the story of Admiral Paul Benden, Governor Emily Boll, and the other valiant colonists who had to fight thread, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, and The Masterharper of Pern, but the Saga officially begins with the first novel of the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, Dragonflight.

The dragonriders and their beasts are normally housed in gigantic structures of caves, called “weyrs.”  There are six weyrs (Fort, High Reaches, Ista, Igen, Telgar, and Benden) placed at various distances around the northern continent of Pern, but for some unknown reason five are vacant when Dragonflight begins and only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains to protect the planet.  Later on, a Southern Weyr is established on the Southern continent.

There are five colors of dragons.  From the largest to the smallest, they are:

Gold (queens, female, always bonded with a human female, a weyrwoman)

Bronze (male, always bonded to male riders, they are the only dragons who can mate with the queens)

Brown (male, always bonded to male riders, they mate with greens)

Green (female, always bonded to a male rider, they mate with all male dragons)

Blue (male, always bonded to male riders, they mate with greens).

When a queen dragon mates with a bronze, she first bloods her kill then flies high as the bronze dragons chase her.  The bronze riders assemble around the queen’s rider and when a bronze dragon finally “flies the queen,” mating with her, the bronze rider also mates with the queen’s rider.  The leaders of a weyr are determined by senior queen, whose rider is the Weyrwoman, and the bronze who flies her, whose rider becomes the Weyr Leader.

Although these heterosexual relationships are the norm, the level of homosexuality or bisexuality among riders is extremely high, due to the fact that female green dragons are bonded with male riders and when they mate with a male dragon, the riders also mate.  This loose sexuality makes the weyr a  social unit distinct from the rest of Pern.

Over 2,500 years have passed since the original colonization and humans have lost their memories and records of the past.  They have descended into a feudal state, residing exclusively on the northern continent, where individual political units are called Holds, each governed by a Lord Holder, and most of the skilled occupations are called the Crafts, each governed by a Master.


Major Holds, governed by a Lord Holder.

Far West:

            Tillek, High Reaches

Mountainous Area West:

            Crom, Nabol, Ruatha, Fort, Southern Boll

Moutainous Area East:

            Telgar, Lemos, Igen

 

the_northern_continent_of_pern__labeled__by_oracle_the-d5jkkk9

Map of Pern

Island:

            Ista

Far East:

            Bitra, Benden, Keroon, Nerat

The Major Crafts, governed by a Craft Master

Harper, Smith, Miner, Weaver, Tanner, Herds, Farmer, Forest, Healer

Other crafts are created as needed, including study of the Stars, Printing, and Wood crafts.

Normally, the planet goes through a 250 year cycle with the Red Star; the threads appear every two hundred years, then the pass lasts fifty years, but at the beginning of Dragonflight, the erratic orbit of the Red Star has missed one pass so four hundred years have passed since the last thread incursion.  This has led the people to believe that there will be no more threads.  Many of them have stopped giving their tithes to the weyrs and dragonriders have fallen into disrepute.

The normal rule is one hold to one holder, but a greedy warrior, Lord Fax of the High Reaches, has taken over a number of holds when the saga begins, including the historically rich Ruatha Hold.  In a surprise attack, he killed every member of the Ruathan bloodline, except for one, a girl named Lessa.  When F’lar, a virile young dragonrider from Benden comes in search of a rider for the new queen about to be hatched, he must confront Fax in order to get to Lessa.

CHRONILOGICAL ORDER OF STORIES

The following chronological order of the story only lists the books in the main series as written by Anne McCaffrey.  A second series of books, written by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey cover the period of time after the first Thread incursion.

MAIN STORIES

“Survey: PERN” a short story included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.  This story details the original Federation survey of the planet.


dragonsdawnDragonsdawn, the story of the original colonization of Pern.


“The Dolphin’s Bell,” a short story about the evacuation of the Southern Continent, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.


“The Ford of Red Hanrahan,” a short story about the creation of Ruatha Hold, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.


“The Second Weyr,” a short story about the founding of Benden Weyr, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.


“Rescue Run,” a short story about a Federation ship that responded to the call for help issued by rebellious colonists, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.


“Ever the Twain,” a short story from A Gift of Dragons.


Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, the story of “Moreta’s Ride,” the ballad that is frequently cited by harpers and plays a major role in Dragonsinger.


Nerilka’s Story, a novella that occurs sometime during the Moreta tale.


The Masterharper of Pern, the story of Petiron and his son Robinton, both Masterharpers of Pern.


“Runner of Pern,” a short story from A Gift of Dragons.


THE DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN TRILOGY

DragonflightDragonflight, the story of how Lessa and F’lar came together to unite Pern and bring the five lost weyrs forward in time to fight Thread after the four hundred year interval before the 9th Pass of the Red Star.


Pern 01Dragonquest, the story of how F’lar and Lessa united the weyrs, how F’nor went between to investigate the Red Star, and how they opened the Southern Continent.


White DragonThe White Dragon, the story of how Jaxom became both a dragonrider and the Lord of Ruatha Hold and how he courted and won Sharra.  It also tells the story of how the Oldtimers were ultimately defeated and the Southern Continent retaken.  Jaxom discovers the site of the original colonial landing.


THE HARPER HALL OF PERN TRILOGY


The first two novels of this trilogy occur during Dragonquest, the second novel of the first trilogy.  The third novel begins before and then overlaps The White Dragon.

McCaffrey DragonsongDragonsong, the story of how Menolly escaped her abusive father and mother at Half Circle Sea Hold, how she impressed her nine fire lizards, and ended up at the Harper Hall.


DragonsingerDragonsinger, the story of how Menolly became a Journeywoman of the Harper Hall.


dragon-drums-det_0Dragondrums, the story of how Piemer got himself a gold fire lizard and permanent became a part of the Southern Continent.


OTHER STORIES IN THE TIMELINE


 

“The Smallest Dragonboy,” a short story included in A Gift of Dragons.


 

“The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” a short story included in A Gift of Dragons.


 

Another novel overlaps the entire time period of the two trilogies:

Renegades of PernRenegades of Pern, the story of Holdless Thella and her attempts to kill the girl who heard dragons.  This novel also dovetails with the end of The White Dragon and contains important information about the relationship of Piemer and Jancis. 


All the Weyrs of PernAll the Weyrs of Pern tells the story of the intelligent computer, AIVAS, who helps the people of Pern finally defeat the Red Star.


The Dolphins of Pern.


Skies of Pern Les EdwardsThe Skies of Pern, the story of F’lessan, son of F’lar and Lessa and his love for Tai, the Green Rider, this book also explains what the dragonriders will do now that there will no longer be Thread for them to fight.

Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey

dragon-drums-det_0This review is written with the express understanding that the reader is familiar with the entire saga of The Dragonriders of Pern. It contains quite a few plot spoilers, so it is not intended for a reader unfamiliar with the story.  The Harper Hall trilogy is an offshoot of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and takes place at the same time as the events in those major three books.  Since the stories dovetail and overlap, Anne McCaffrey assumed that the two trilogies be read either at the same time or back to back.

The first two books of this series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, tell the story of Menolly, a brilliant fourteen year old musician and songwriter escaping the confines of her brutal and ignorant family at Half Circle Sea Hold on the far eastern peninsula of the northern continent of Pern. Dragondrums, the third installment, is a distinct departure from the smooth relationship of the first two books, which occur right around the time that Brekke loses her queen dragon, Prideth, and her lover, F’nor, rider of brown dragon Canth, takes his dreadful trip to the Red Star.  They dovetail perfectly, with Dragonsinger beginning right where Dragonsong ends, but Dragondrums skips ahead three full turns, much in the same way that The White Dragon skips ahead several turns in the main trilogy.  And just as the main trilogy shifted focus from Lessa to Jaxom, this book changes the focus of character from Menolly to Piemur, the young rascal with the soprano voice who befriends her.

In the very beginning, Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival. Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down.  Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice.  Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment.  His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.

Robinton plans to use Piemer as a kind of clandestine agent, so no one, except Menolly and Sebell will actually know that he’s working for the Masterharper. To cover his real role and to enlarge his education, he is reassigned to the Drum Master, Olodkey, to learn drum messages.  Only Olodkey will know that he is really working for the Masterharper.

His apprenticeship in Drum makes him the newest apprentice there, so he gets the worst jobs and is put upon by Dirzan, the senior journeyman under Olodkey. To make matters worse, he makes enemies of the other apprentices by learning too quickly.  Dirzan is quite familiar with Piemer’s reputation as a troublemaker, so he assumes that every little slip of information is Piemer’s fault.  In addition, Menolly frequently calls for Piemer’s assistance as a “messenger” in which he makes his clandestine trips.

The first leave of absence occurs when Menolly has him join her riding down to the seaside to meet Sebell, who has been journeying in the Southern Continent and for the first time he sees that Sebell has fallen in love with Menolly, although she appears to be oblivious. They treat his saddle sores and take care of him, but his absence only makes the other Drum apprentices meaner to him.  His second leave of absence is to make a trip to a Miner hold some distance away in the mountains.  While there, he witnesses T’ron, who had been banished to the Southern Continent, forcing the Miner to give him precious sapphires, reserved generally for new Harper Masters.  Hiding the jewels he was sent to pick up, he plays the ignorant stable boy and returns to the Harper Hall the next day with his treasure.  Every time he goes away, the other boys in the Drum heights become meaner to him and Dirzan keeps giving him more and more difficult measures to learn.

The third leave of absence is huge because he is taken by Menolly and Sebell to a Gather at Igen, on the southern shores of the Northern Continent with the assignment of gathering information by playing ignorant. Although he doesn’t learn much, Menolly and Sebell take him by dragon to Benden Weyr to witness a hatching.  There he meets Menolly’s friend, Mirrim, who appeared in the first of this trilogy.  She is fostered to Brekke and made friends with Menolly when she was picked up in Dragonsong trying to outrun thread.  Piemer is put off by her haughty attitude, but Menolly cautions him that he shouldn’t judge her too harshly because of everything she had been through with Brekke and F’nor.  Trying to keep an open mind, he witnesses the hatching with a great deal of envy.  Three years earlier, Menolly had promised him that when her queen fire lizard, Beauty, clutched, he could have a fire lizard of his own.  Apparently, fire lizards mature slowly because three turns have passed and Beauty still has not risen to mate.  The main feature of the hatching is that Felesson, the only child of Weyrleaders, F’lar and Lessa, impresses a bronze dragon, Golanth.  Things go a bit off plan, though, when a newly hatched green dragon rejects all of the remaining candidates and flounders toward the viewing tiers, seeking Mirrim.  Although the girl protests that she wasn’t supposed to have a dragon, F’lar and Lessa encourage her to go ahead an impress Path.  She is the first female green dragon rider in known history.

When Piemer returns to the Drum heights, he finds that all of his clothes have been soiled by the jealous apprentices, led by a big dummy named Clell. And even though he has kept his mouth shut about drum messages, several are leaked and Piemer is suspected as the cause, being well known as a rascal and scamp.  He doesn’t even tell Menolly about the abuse from the other apprentices, but that all comes to a head when Lord Meron of Nabol gets seriously ill and sends for Masterhealer Oldive.  Piemer is given the message to deliver and Oldive gives him a reply with instructions to have a dragon waiting for him to fly to Nabol.  On the way back to the drum heights, Piemer slips on the stairs and bashes in his head.  As he passes out, he is certain that the steps and railing were greased.  It turns out that they were.  Annoyed, Silvina, the headwoman, nurses him back to life, then he joins Sebell on a trip to a Nabol Gather, pretending to be a stupid herder boy.  As Meron is close to death, Piemer manages to steal a queen fire lizard egg from his hearth and escapes by hiding in a supply room, then he’s secreted to the Southern Continent in a bag of merchandise illegally traded by Meron to the Southern Oldtimers.

Escaping, he lives in the wild, waiting for his queen fire lizard, Farli, to hatch.

There are two considerable plot advances in Dragondrums.  First, there is the maturation and freedom of Piemer with his escape from the Harper Hall and acquisition of Farli, and second, when Menolly and Sebell travel to the Southern Continent in search of him, Sebell’s queen fire lizard, Kimi, rises to mate and Menolly’s bronzes, Rocky and Diver, fly to mate with her.  Diver is the successful male to mate with her, but the mating leads to Menolly and Sebell consummating their own relationship.

As the entire saga of the Dragonriders of Pern develops, these two major plot advances figure prominently.  For one thing, Piemer is permanently relocated to the south, where he will be instrumental in later books in the discovery of the original settlements of the colonization of Pern (as written in the prequel Dragonsdawn) and will find his own mate, Jancis.  For another, Sebell and Menolly will themselves be elevated from Journeyman and Journeywoman into becoming Masters of their craft and eventually running the entire Harper Hall, all the while having and nurturing their own children.

Even though this story is pretty well divorced from the first two books of the trilogy, it is very well placed alongside them because it tells of the major players in the Harper Hall’s future. Piemer was already a very well developed character in the second of the three books, so it is natural, once Menolly has found her place in the saga, that Piemer’s story would take over.  I can never get enough of Menolly, as I think she is probably the best character in the entire saga, and even though she is a secondary character in Dragondrums, she does appear in abundance and it is great to see her relationship with Sebell grow and mature to consummation.

It is a very well written novel, fun and fast to read, and absolutely essential to the overall development of the Dragonriders of Pern.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Worst Hard Time DusterThe Worst Hard Time is terrific look at the dust-bowl days from the perspective of the people who lived through it. The epicenter, Boise City, Oklahoma is covered extensively, as is Dalhart, Texas, in the panhandle of that state.

In 1934, the panhandle was in its second year of drought. Wheat prices had fallen to the point where a farmer getting 25 cents a bushel was actually better off not planting any.  The Great Depression was already nearing five years deep and showing little improvement.  When Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, he immediately implemented plans to feed the starving, give conservation jobs to those where were down and out, stabilize stock prices by buying–and in many cases, killing–cattle that were starving, and eventually buying up land to fallow, replanting the grass that held it together once upon a time.  But by 1934, the unrestricted plowing of the Great Plains had created millions of acres of loose topsoil.  With no moisture to help hold it down, the relentless prairie winds picked it up, circulated it in the sky and then dumped it back down on the sodbusters, sometimes for days on end.  The dust was often finer than sifted flour, just constantly coming down, inhaled by cattle and people until it filled their lungs and stomachs and killed them.  When farmers were actually able to get a little something growing, it would be eaten by rabbits or grasshoppers who grew abundantly in the absence of their natural predators: birds, snakes, and coyotes.  Rabbit drives were organized to kill the rabbits, which provided at least one source of food outside government rations.  Seed sacks were saved and used to make clothing and some ranchers were so desperate that they harvested Russian thistle (tumbleweeds) to feed their cattle.  But the dust and sand storms were the true menace, piling up dunes of sand and soil that made it almost impossible to farm, to drive from town to town, to walk to school.  They filled the air with deadly particles and came relentlessly, sometimes for many days in a row, blackening the sky and creating midnight at noon

Author Timothy Egan does a masterful job of incorporating the stories of John McCarty, editor of the Dalhart Texan, cowboys Bam and Melt White, homesteaders Fred Folkers and Ike Osteen, Hazel Lucas, the undertaker’s wife, who struggled to have children in the land she loved, and a Nebraska farmer named Don Hartwell, who kept a diary of the decline and fall of the Great Plains.

The book also makes evident the government’s culpability in bringing about this catastrophe by encouraging settlers to farm on the arid high plains, an area that had previously been kept stable by Buffalo grass, bison, and Native Americans. By plowing under the grass, farmers invited the wind to pick up the soil, carry it high into the air, turn over in the atmosphere, and then dump it back down on them.  Not only was it the largest, shortest ecological disaster in American history, it was a medical nightmare with thousands dying from dust inhalation and children and elderly suffering from dust pneumonia.

Seeing this through the eyes of the settlers elevates the story far beyond a dry history recitation, into a powerful work of non-fiction.

The last 100 pages are full of a terrible irony, as hope for recovery from the drought is compounded by Black Sunday (a solid black cloud of dirt that rolled over the plains dumping tons of soil on the farmers until breathing was almost impossible) and those who had pledged to stay were driven from the land.

This is very powerful book, which I highly recommend.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust billie jo cover picOut of the Dust, by Karen Hesse (1997, Scholastic Press) is billed as a Young Adult novel. Although it certainly contains the structure of a novel, it sure doesn’t feel like one.  The reason for that is obvious and up-front: it is a collection of short, free verse poems in chronological order that collectively tell a coherent story.  Presented in the current Young Adult standard of first person present, the poems carry an immediacy that most poetry doesn’t and that immediacy is in the story itself.

Set in the Oklahoma panhandle near a small town, Joyce City, it comes at you in the voice of twelve year old Billie Jo Kelby, the only child in a family that struggles to survive the great Dust Bowl in 1934 and 1935.

The voice is clear and each small poem reveals more of her to us as we move forward. Some of the poems are only a few lines and some of them go on for two or three pages, but every single one is focussed in the girl’s heart.

Part of that heart is rooted in the land. In 1934, the Panhandle was in its second year of drought.  Wheat prices had fallen to the point where a farmer getting 25 cents a bushel was actually better off not planting any.  The Great Depression was already nearing five years deep and showing little improvement.  When Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, he immediately implemented plans to feed the starving, give conservation jobs to those where were down and out, stabilize stock prices by buying–and in many cases, killing–cattle that were starving, and eventually buying up land to fallow, replanting the grass that held it together once upon a time.  But by 1934, the unrestricted plowing of the Great Plains had created millions of acres of loose topsoil.  With no moisture to help hold it down, the relentless prairie winds picked it up, circulated it in the sky and then dumped it back down on the sodbusters, sometimes for days on end.  The dust was often finer than sifted flour, just constantly coming down, inhaled by cattle and people until it filled their lungs and stomachs and killed them.  When farmers were actually able to get a little something growing, it would be eaten by rabbits or grasshoppers who grew abundantly in the absence of their natural preditors: birds, snakes, and coyotes.  Rabbit drives were organized to kill the rabbits, which provided at least one source of food outside government rations.  Seed sacks were saved and used to make clothing and some ranchers were so desperate that they harvested Russian thistle (tumbleweeds) to feed their cattle.  But the dust and sand storms were the true menace, piling up dunes of sand and soil that made it almost impossible to farm, to drive from town to town, to walk to school.  They filled the air with deadly particles and came relentlessly, sometimes for many days in a row, blackening the sky and creating midnight at noon.

Hesse does an excellent job of creating her story in the midst of this environmental catastrophe. Billie Jo struggles to understand her father, who doesn’t talk much, but loves her mother desperately.  Her mother seems cold and hard, her few praises grudgingly given, probably because she envisioned more for herself than a dirt farm in the middle of nowhere.  Billie Jo learned to play piano from her mother and she remarks more than once that her mother has a beautiful, lilting voice.  Local musician Arley Wanderdale encourages Billie Jo to sit in with his band, the Black Mesa Boys at the Palace Hotel.  She has a serious crush on their singer, Mad Dog Craddock, who is a few years older, but she always has to approach her mother carefully to get her permission.  She plays with them whenever she can and picks up a few dimes that her mother sets aside for her.

Early in the book, her mother becomes pregnant and they all live in anticipation of a child in their household, but several compounded mistakes change their lives forever. Her father leaves a bucket of kerosene sitting near the stove and her mother, thinking it is water, begins to pour it into a pot to make coffee.  The heat of the stove ignites it and her mother runs outside to call her father.  Thinking it will burn the house down, Billie Jo grabs it and throws it out the door–just as her mother is turning to go back inside.  The effect is devastating.  Her mother suffers burns over most of her body and Billie Jo herself suffers terrible burns on her hands.  Her mother dies giving birth to her baby brother, who dies shortly afterward.

It seems to Billie Jo that she receives most of the blame, for throwing the pain, even though it was her father who should never have the kerosene anywhere near the stove. Blame is almost inconsequential.  Her father retreats into silence and Billie Jo suffers with her burned hands, unable to play the piano anymore.

To see how they cope with these trials, you will need to read the book, because I’m not going to give away any more information.

It is a novel. The way the poems are structured, the way the story unfolds, the arc of the characters, and the internal growth of Billie Jo–all this tells me that this is not only a novel, but a very good novel.

If the purpose of a novel is bring forth emotion in the reader, Out of the Dust is extremely successful.  Karen Hesse pulls us resolutely into Billie Jo’s world, brings us to deeply care about her character, and develops a coherent, beautifully written story.  The world feels real, but that world is only a backdrop for a landscape that exists inside a human being, coping with her own issues, trying to find herself in a moonscape that refuses to bring forth anything green.  That Hesse is able to find that wellspring inside the girl, to tap it, and bring it forth as if it were a gentle, soaking rain, is an admirable feat of writing!

A beautiful book. I highly recommend it, not only for Young Adult readers, but for everyone.

A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

A Booklist Editor’s Choice

Survival in the Storm by Katelan Janke

 

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards

This Dear America novel of a farm family in Dalhart, Texas in 1935, written by fifteen year old Katlan Janke is presented in the form of a child’s diary.

Janke - Survival in the Storm Book CoverGrace Edwards receives her diary on Saturday, February 16, 1935 as a gift from her friend Helen for her twelfth birthday. She makes her first entry the following day sitting alone in the hayloft. We learn that her father is a farmer, that they have their own spread just outside of Dalhart, Texas, and that besides her mother, she also has a little sister, Ruth, who is seven years old.  Her parents gave her the book Anne of Green Gables for her birthday and Ruth gave her a hand-made bookmark.

The wind howls relentlessly because this family lives at the southern edge of No Man’s Land, what later was called The Dust Bowl. Compared to other families, the Edwards are actually doing reasonably well. They aren’t wealthy, like the McCalls, whose daughter Sadie is always lording it over the other kids in the one room schoolhouse, nor dirt poor like the Walkers, whose daughter is Helen, but they scratch along without government aid.  Somehow, they usually manage get enough out of their garden to can vegetables for the winter and her father usually gets just enough wheat out of the dust-blown fields to make do.  They own two cows, so the kids actually get fresh milk most of the time.

But they don’t have money for the picture show and the girls and their Mama have to sew new dresses from seed bags. When Daddy goes to buy seed, typically the family goes along so they can make sure they get matching bags for the new clothing.  They attend Sunday school and church on most Sundays when the wind isn’t blowing too hard and they put on competitive plays when school shuts down before summer.

This is an especially bad year as there are many dust storms that blow through, gigantic black clouds that roll over the land dropping fine, dry topsoil that has been picked up from the drought-stricken prairie farms. Many times these storms go on for hours, turning the land midnight black and accumulating in the lungs of people and their animals. Dust pneumonia is a common illness.  Cattle die from inhalation.

Grace’s world is torn apart when the Walkers reach the end of the line and head out for California. Losing her best friend is a big blow to Grace and she struggles to comprehend and deal with the loss, but there are bigger problems ahead. Black Sunday occurs on April 14, 1935.  A dust storm rising 10,000 feet high and two hundred miles wide descends across No Man’s Land. As the family prepares the house by wetting and hanging up sheets across windows and doors to catch the dust, Ruth is sent out to get the rest of the whites off the line.  Grace looks for her and sees that she is missing, so she sets out looking for her.  Ruth has chased a blowing dish towel.  Separated from their family as the storm approaches, the two girls take shelter in the abandoned Walker house.  Holding cloth over their faces, they hunker down and try to keep breathing as the storm howls around them.

The book is very well written, especially for a fifteen year old writer. Janke grew up in Dalhart and had local oral sources for original stories, as well as the Dalhart museum for research, including all of the local newspapers of the time.  Her re-creation of 1935 is completely believable, not just in the small details of household life, but in her understanding of the weather, the small local society, clothing, farm animals and so forth.  Neither Grace, nor any of her family or friends rings false.

There are indeed, many moments of the book that are quite moving and Janke must be accorded a great deal of success in her efforts. I loved the book from beginning to end.  If I might find any area of complaint, it’s that the great physical pain that these people suffered does not seem quite visceral enough.  It is a small complain indeed in a largely successful novel for young adults.

I highly recommend this book, not just for young adults, but for families and general readership. It well-written, moving, and a terrific depiction of The Dust Bowl.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

nick and norah book cover

This novel comes rumbling out of some torn up Manhattan tunnel like a queercore punk nightmare, full of profanity, revolt, degradation, and the sweetest young love you’ve ever tasted on some strange Jack Kerouac night full of piss and vinegar.

Much the way On the Road roared at the right side of the highway from America’s kick back against conformity in the 1950’s, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist assaults the reader from the first page and doesn’t stop jumping until literally the last word of the book, which is, appropriately: “Jump.”  Young adult authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan trade chapters in this novel, with her writing as Norah and him writing as Nick.  That accounts for the distinctive voice of each character (written in the ever present YA Biblical tense of FIRST PERSON PRESENT).

The book begins with Nick on stage at some Manhattan club playing bass with his queercore punk band, The Fuck Offs. He’s the only straight guy in the group, comprised of high school seniors.  The drummer, Thom (with an H), is less than talented and waits for a solo that never comes in the two minute screaming slashes that they burn, and the lead singer, Dev, is a beautiful slut, ever on the make for his next guy.  Nick nearly loses it when his ex-girlfriend Tris comes smoking into the club with her newest guy because she is truly, eternally hot and he is still desperate for her.  After the set, he goes to the bar and when Tris approaches him, he turns to the girl next to him, who wears of all things, a flannel shirt in this den of trendy commercially run Ramones tee shirts, and says, “I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?” Norah answers his question by giving a deep, eye-opening kiss that begins a six hour trip for these two angst ridden teens that doesn’t stop until, well, like, you know, the end.

Alternately attracted and repulsed, Nick tries to deal with Tris strutting around with her new guy, while Norah, who is Jewish, tries to deal with her ex-boyfriend who has just returned from a kibbutz in Israel.  They are both POSITIVELY unhip and yet at the same time are the two COOLEST people in the novel.  Norah, it turns out, is the daughter of a lifelong A&R man and she grew up traveling the country, going to concerts, and listening to every kind of music there is and digging it all.  Right now, she is deeply, wholly, into punk and so, of course, is Nick, who himself is into all different kinds of music, even though right now he’s really into punk.  Although he doesn’t know who Norah is, she knows all about him because she’s an old friend of Tris and has listened to and admired the mixes he’s made and the songs he’s written.  They are both trying really hard to be people that they’re really not because they love this kind of music and nothing exhilarates either of them more than jumping into the mosh pit when Where’s Fluffy? plays their trashed out rejection of The Man.  As Norah sagely remarks: “The mosh pit never lies.”

Although there are things in book that made me seriously pause, look out the window, and wonder how it was possible to write something that sounded so trite and yet rang so true, I raced through the 183 pages in less than a day. The prose carries you forward as if you were just a passenger on their crazy train or a thrashing punk song, and after a while, you don’t really want to get off or see the song end.  Long sentences that riff like one of Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness poems run into even longer paragraphs that run into pages that occur inside one brain or the other and at the end you realize that only a few seconds have passed in the story and it only felt like a few seconds as these pages devoured you!

Most of the book is just laugh-out-loud funny, although there are some pages where you might develop a permanent little chuckle. Cohn and Levithan have such a grip on their writing, however, that this humor can change to heart-rending angst or unexpectedly profound observation within a few words.

The push and pull back and forth between Nick and Norah is a kind of song in itself as they feel their way through their anxieties, work out their past failures, and grope toward a relationship. They are, in some ways, metaphors for our fractured world and if they can work it out, maybe we can work it out.  This must be considered a break-through novel in the YA genre, not just for the language, but for the compression of time, the driving style, and the unique young voices that push it forward.

This is a compelling book that should be LOUD on YA radar.

Like it or not.

My review of the movie is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane EyreThis 1847 classic novel both delights and confounds a modern reader.

Told mostly in first person past (with brief lapses into first person present) by the heroine, Jane Eyre, the book was originally subtitled An Autobiography.  It begins with Jane as a young girl of ten years as an orphan living with her Aunt Reed at Gateshead Hall. Her parents died several years earlier and she was taken on by her Uncle Reed as a ward of the family.  After her uncle’s death, she lives in misery as an obstinate, sullen girl and is mistreated by her aunt and her three cousins.  Her only friend is her governess, Bessie, who is also stern, but not malicious.

After a series of incidents, she is packed off to Lowood Institution, a school for girls run by Reverend Brocklehurst, a miserly man who starves and treats the girls to a form of discipline that would put him in jail today. She makes friends with a girl named Helen, who accepts her own punishments meekly, knowing that God sees that she is righteous and will reward her when she goes to heaven, which she does sooner rather than later when an epidemic of typhus ravages the school and she dies of “consumption.”  Under investigation, the school must change its practices and Jane receives a fair education and teaches at the school for two years after she finishes her six years as a student.

Now eighteen and wishing to find a place for herself in the world, she places an advertisement looking for work as a governess and is hired to work at Thornfield Hall. When she arrives, the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, informs her that she will be educating a French child named Adele, who is a ward of the master of the house, Mr. Rochester.

When Rochester finally arrives at Thornfield from one of his travels, he is abrupt with Jane, but comes to think very fondly of her. He tells her of his disappointment with the world and of his affair with a French dancer, who claimed that Adele was his child.  When the little girl was abandoned, he decided to make her his ward.  He seems a very tortured sort of man, but comes to value his time with Jane, seeking her conversation every evening.  She is honest and open with him, blunt at times, and he appreciates her manner.

During her stay at Thornfield, her Aunt Reed falls ill and summons her back to attend her while she’s dying. Jane finds out that her male cousin has himself committed suicide after failing to control his drinking and debauchery.  She finds a truce with her female cousins and forgives Aunt Reed before she dies.  She has learned this forbearance from her friendship with Helen at Lowood.  Before her aunt’s death, she learns of another uncle who wishes to contact her, but she doesn’t follow up on it.

Thornfield Hall is definitely a strange place.  When Jane hears laughter on the third floor, it turns out to be a most unusual woman named Grace Poole, who is employed as a seamstress.  Jane grows closer to Mr. Rochester, but one night discovers his room afire.  She puts it out and he counsels her to silence on the matter.  Rochester manipulates her into thinking he is serious about marrying a beautiful society lady in order to make her jealous.  It works and Jane grows to love him.  Finally, he asks her to marry him, but on the alter, another calamity occurs that turns the plot on its head and sends Jane off to an entirely different life.

The delights of this novel are plentiful, so much so that it is almost impossible to put down. The prose is stellar.  It carries one along as on a gentle English breeze.  The story is an utterly engaging Gothic romance, full of thrilling mystery and great characters.  It takes the time required to unfold a handful of prickly themes and it does so in a voice that completely engages the reader from beginning to end.  In all of these regards, it is an undisputed masterpiece.

For the modern reader, however, there are certain drawbacks.  The length is a serious issue.  As with most novels of the early 19th Century, it was published in multiple volumes, three to be exact.  It should have been edited quite a bit.  There are long, convoluted sentences, which were the style of the time (see Jane Austen) and at times one must exercise patience in riddling out their meaning.  The dialogue is, for the most part, completely unbelievable.  People simply don’t talk that way, then or now.

The major drawback for me was the constant pounding of the Christian message. It is a highly religious book and I find it laughable that the Quarterly Review, when it first came out, called it a “pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition.” Don’t believe it.  This book drips with religious messages.  I read the Norton Critical Edition and had to read each and every footnote just to keep up with the Biblical references.  It is also funny that one of the characters wants to become a missionary in order to stamp out “superstition.”  Toward the end of the novel, this  religiosity becomes a very serious problem indeed, interrupting the plot to such a level that the book stops dead to preach for pages on end.

Despite these drawbacks, I still found it a marvelous novel, certainly one of the best ever written. Some of the themes were quite revolutionary for the time.  Brontë gets into issues of class, morality, ethics, and feminism that were scandalous fare in 1847 and in that regard she was way ahead of her time, particularly in expounding the theme that a woman could be both independent and equal to men.  Each of the men in her life struggles to dominate her and Jane always asserts her own independence.  In addition, the writing style, especially the use of first person narration, creates a kind of inner personal universe for Jane that was a breakthrough in style and highly influential on other novelists through the early 20th Century..

It is a truly great novel, even now, and should be on everyone’s reading list.


Jane Eyre 1996Read my review of the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli movie!

Adapting a classic novel to the big screen is always a dicey proposition.  The screen writer and director have a limited amount of time, yet there is so much in a classic novel that readers depend on for a satisfying experience. 


Samantha Morton2_Jane EyreRead my review of the 1997 ITV/A&E movie!

This film adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was originally aired on Great Britain’s ITV in March of 1997 runs approximately one hour and 45 minutes.  Obviously, a great deal had to be cut from the story in order to fit it into that kind of time parameter, but Kay Mellor’s script concentrates rightly on the romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester and the Gothic suspense of Thornfield.


Jane Eyre 2011Read my review of the 2011 Cary Fukunaga movie of Jane Eyre.

This adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre was produced in 2011.  Directed by Cary Fukunaga from a script by Moira Buffini, this is clearly the best of the recent movie versions of the novel.  Ms. Buffini’s script is faithful to the novel, yet innovative in the way it tells the story, bringing a passion lacking in the other attempts.