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.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

The following review contains spoilers, so if you’re looking for a surprise in the book, please read thisImage after you finish!  Thanks!

I first came onto Dragonsong after I had read The Dragonriders of Pern trilogy (which sets up the entire series of Pern books). I read the trilogy in a gulp, as the world of Pern and the life of the Weyr totally fascinated me. I immediately went looking for anything more about Pern and I encountered Dragonsong.

Menolly was a minor supporting character in the third volume of the Dragonriders trilogy, The White Dragon, and I was surprised to find a complete novel built around the character, but I jumped in with no preconceptions.

Menolly is the youngest daughter of Yanus, Holder of Half-Circle Sea Hold on the wild Eastern part of the northern continent on Pern and she is 15 years old at the beginning of the novel. Petiron, the Hold Harper, had found her to have an exceptional musical talent when she was very young. Even though girls were not allowed to be Harpers, he taught her how to play all of the instruments, to sing the traditional songs and eventually to write music. He even sent some of her music to Robinton, the Masterharper of Pern, for evaluation.

The novel begins with Petiron’s death and the subsequent abuse of Menolly by her family, who believe a musical daughter is disgraceful. Her father forbids her to write music and even beats her when she disobeys. When the replacement Harper arrives, Menolly is hidden from him, even though he is seeking the composer of the wonderful music sent to the Masterharper. After she badly cuts her hand, her mother intentionally mistreats the wound so that Menolly believes she will never play music again. Menolly falls into a deep depression.

Caught out during threadfall and stuck in a cave, Menolly witnesses the hatching of wild fire-lizards (miniature dragons). To prevent them from dying, she feeds the small creatures and bonds (or imprints with) nine of them, who will then be her friends for life, linked telepathically. Deciding that she will not return to the hold, Menolly makes a life for herself on the coast, living in the fire-lizard cave, spending most of her time just finding food for the ravenous creatures. She makes herself a set of pipes and the fire-lizards learn to sing with her. During a later threadfall, she is caught away from the cave and must run for cover in her worn boots, tearing her feet to ribbons in the process. Fortunately, she is rescued by a dragonrider, who brings her to Benden Weyr.

For the first time in her life, Menolly begins to understand what it is like to be treated with respect and affection. Her nurse is Mirrim, one of the most enigmatic characters throughout the saga. They are about the same age and quickly become friends. Afraid that she will be sent home, Menolly hides her fire-lizards until she is found out by Weyrwoman Lessa. Breaking down, she begs not to be returned home and is asked to stay in the weyr.  Once accepted, she becomes overwhelmed by all of the attention.

It is at this point that events from the novel Dragonquest become interwoven into Dragonsong, most notably, Brekke’s recovery from the death of her dragon and Jaxom’s impression of the little white dragon, Ruth. For those familiar with the earlier novel, it is really great to see the same events from a very different point of view.

The book ends with Masterharper Robinton’s discovery of Menolly as the composer of the songs that Petiron had sent him. Overjoyed, he asks her join the Harper Hall. At last, she will be able to pursue her love of music and to begin her new life as a musician.

McCaffrey tells the story of a hero overcoming adversity extremely well. It is completely believable that Menolly suffers unbearably in order to pursue her dream. Her suffering is even more poignant in that it is at the hands of her own family, those who should love and support her. McCaffrey takes the time to detail these familial characters, so that they do not feel two-dimensional and so that their mistreatment of Menolly is understandable, if not agreeable.

Menolly’s love of music is treated in such a way that the reader develops an amazing sympathy for her plight. Everyone should have such a love of something that it would be the whole purpose of his or her life. This is a terrific foundation for the rest of the novel and also for the sequel, Dragonsinger.

When she realizes that she has left her hold for good, there is a miraculous sense of freedom, which is punctuated by the miracle of the fire-lizard hatching. Menolly literally saves their lives, as she has saved her own, and both she and her fire lizards may live free. This freedom is referenced again several times in Dragonsinger when, under the pressures of life in the Harper Hall, she remembers the complete freedom of living in the cave.

After her rescue, Menolly can scarcely believe her luck – she almost always worries that what she is doing is wrong or that someone will come down on her for her actions. This is the result of her mistreatment at the hands of her family. She has been conditioned into believing that she is always in the wrong. Part of the poignancy of the story is that the weyrfolk and harpers have to convince her of her own worth. And when she realizes that she can both play and write music to her heart’s content and to the joy of others, she feels an amazement and gratitude that the reader can share in completely. It is cathartic.

For me, Dragonsong is a perfect little novel.