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.

E

 Edge of TomorrowEdge of Tomorrow

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If ever there was a candidate for a movie that needed a Second Look, it is the 2005 Cameron Crowe romantic comedy-drama, Elizabethtown.  Crowe wrote and directed the film, which features music by his wife, Nancy Wilson, one-half of the musical duo Heart.  As romantic comedies go, this is a very smart one, always entertaining, and deeper than it probably should be. 


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Walt Disney Pictures has given us a most enchanting film in this entertaining blend of animation, CGI, and live action.  Released in 2007, Enchanted was written by Bill Kelly and directed by Kevin Lima with an eye toward both parody and reverence toward the Disney classic animated movies.  It contains wonderful songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and sparkles with good humor.


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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.

20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom is a documentary about all of the really great backup singers from the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, the people, especially black women, who broke the mold and changed the sound of pop music.

Darlene Love

The movie focusses in especially on Darlene Love, who sang lead on the recordings, “He’s A Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron”, and “Uptown,” Merry Clayton, who has backed up everyone and is known primarily for her kick-ass solo on the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, and Lisa Fischer, a remarkable singer who has now been with the Rolling Stones since 1980 singing a variety of stuff. She’s won a Grammy for her solo work and she has an amazing Jazz voice.

This movie also explores some of the more talented young singers working today, including Judith Hill, who started out with Michael Jackson. A wonderful film full of lots of really great music and interviews with Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Sting, and a whole bunch of others. This is a must see for anybody even remotely involved in music!

                                                                                                    
Lisa Fischer 


Merry Clayton