The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey

White DragonBeginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold. A number of stories are intertwined around the Renaissance of the planet Pern and The White Dragon is both a tremendously compelling story on its own and it sets up the events to occur in the final three books of main saga, The Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, and The Skies of Pern

The emphasis on youth is not accidental and Anne McCaffrey develops both of her young men, Jaxom and Piemur, extensively in the final novels, adding strong, bright young women as their mates, in the form of Sharra and Jancis. But The White Dragon is almost exclusively about Jaxom, beginning in his adolescence as a ward under the guidance of Lord Warder Lytol.  He is frustrated about a number of things.  His milk brother, Dorse, teases him mercilessly about his “runt” dragon.  He has not been allowed to fly Ruth while the white dragon matures.  Ruth shows no interest in mating.  Neither a Lord Holder, because of his age, nor a dragon rider, because he is a Lord Holder, Jaxom is caught between everything.  Gradually, he gets to fly Ruth, so he can escape Dorse, he cultivates his own relationship with a farm girl named Corana, and he teaches Ruth to chew firestone so he can fly with Fort Weyr against Thread.

When D’ram, Weyrleader of Ista, retires, he disappears and no one knows where to find him.  Jaxom, on a hunch that D’ram may have returned to a certain cove on the Southern Continent where Robinton and Menolly had been shipwrecked, goes with Menolly to the cove to get the impressions of the fire lizards there.  On another hunch, Jaxom goes back 25 Turns to find D’ram, so that F’lar can bring him back to usefulness.  Through this experience, Jaxom learns that Ruth always knows when he is in time, a remarkable and important talent.  The Oldtimers, exiled to the Southern Continent, are all getting old and their queens no longer rise to mate, so they pull off a clandestine operation to steal Ramoth’s hardening golden egg and hide it somewhere in time.  Coating Ruth in black river mud, Jaxom goes back through time to find the egg, steal it back, and successfully return it to Benden Weyr without anyone realizing he was the one who did it. 

War between the weyrs is averted due to Jaxom’s bravery and Ruth’s cunning, but both he and the dragon run into Thread during their jumps between times to return the egg. Seeing the damage to Jaxom and Ruth, N’ton finally agrees to let him train at Fort Weyr to fight Thread.  Even though he has the symptoms of a cold, he is so excited that he and Ruth go ahead and fly their first Fall together, but the cold gets worse.  He remembers the warm cove and decides to go there because he thinks it will make him feel better, but he utterly collapses once he gets there.  Concerned, Ruth alerts everyone and when Jaxom awakes, his eyes are covered and he is being tended by Brekke and a girl with a wonderful voice.  This turns out to be Sharra, Southern Holder Toric’s sister, whom we met in Dragondrums.

As he recuperates, a mating flight takes place at Ista to determine who the next Weyrleader will be, but two Oldtimer bronze riders show up, T’kul and B’zon.  When T’kul’s dragon Salth dies trying to mate with the new queen, he goes mad and attacks F’lar.  During the duel, F’lar kills the Oldtimer and Robinton has a major heart attack.  Robinton collapses and only the voices of the dragons keep him alive until Master Oldive arrives to treat him.  They decide to move Robinton south for his recovery with Jaxom at what will be called Cove Hold.  Jaxom, Sharra, and Piemer have had the place all to themselves, but now they must deal with hordes from the north coming in to build the new hall for the Harper. 

Jaxom falls in love with Sharra and is determined that she will soon become his lady. Once Robinton is installed in Cove Hold, he recruits the young people to continue to chart the Southern Continent.  On impulse, Jaxom goes to investigate the gigantic mountain that dominates the view.  Sharra, Piemer, and Menolly go with him and they discover the site of the original landing of the planetary colonists, their ancestors.  When Toric objects to a match between Jaxom and Sharra, Robinton and the Weyrleaders intervene and distract Toric while discussing what Southern lands should be his.  Jaxom, meanwhile, goes to Southern Hold and rescues Sharra from Toric’s men, bringing her back to Landing, where Toric has no option but to approve.  Jaxom reveals that it was he who returned Ramoth’s egg after the Oldtimers had stolen it and, in an afterward, Jaxom is confirmed as Lord Holder and Lytol will move south to work with Robinton.

This is easily best novel of the three that make up the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy.  It reflects a maturity in Anne McCaffrey’s writing that was missing in Dragonflight and merely growing in Dragonquest.  Part of this maturity comes from the depth of the characters and the evolution of the entire planet of Pern as a completely and faithfully realized world.  The love for her characters that reflected a big step forward in Dragonquest blooms in The White Dragon and finally explodes in The Harper Hall Trilogy that followed hard on the heels of this great novel.

The White Dragon, together with The Harper Hall Trilogy and All the Weyrs of Pern, represents the best writing about Pern that Anne McCaffrey was to accomplish in a long and distinguished career as a science fiction writer.

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!

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.