Annotation: The White Dragon

In my continuing desire to figure out what motivated me to previously write fan fiction based on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (in the hopes of getting back into the swing of fiction writing again), I re-read The White Dragon for the first time in nearly a decade. While it didn’t quite re-ignite my desire to write about Pern again, I do begin to see what drew me to do so in the past.

Of the original trilogy, The White Dragon is my favorite. It follows Jaxom, the young Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold, who also managed to Impress a small, unique white dragon named Ruth (all other dragons are either gold, bronze, brown, blue, or green, with Ruth being the sole exception). Because it follows Jaxom so much more directly than the previous two books followed their characters, I find myself connecting a lot more with this novel than the others in the trilogy. I think it also helps that at the start of the novel Jaxom is very close to the age I was when I first read it.

The book opens around two years after the end of Dragonquest, with Ruth finally mature enough to fly with a rider. The rest of the book follows Jaxom’s adventures as he comes of age and learns to accept his dual nature as both a Lord Holder and a dragonrider. The overall arc of the trilogy also concludes with the last of the “Oldtimer” leaders, banished in the previous book, making a last ditch attempt to regain power and get revenge on F’lar. With the final removal of the Oldtimers, the Southern Continent (where the Oldtimers had been banished) becomes open to exploration, with the help of Jaxom. Due to the unique nature of Ruth, fire-lizards are fascinated by him, and share images from their racial collective memory with him, which leads Jaxom to discover the original settlement of when Man first came to Pern several thousand years before. The book ends with excavations beginning on the ancient settlement (buried by ash from a nearby volcano, which proved to be the cause of the initial evacuation).

I think this story of personal growth, in addition to having a truly complete and robust world after three books is what caused me to decide to write about Pern. The writing is good, but I wouldn’t call it phenomenal, and I have a suspicion that is a large part of why I decided to write about it: writing that well seemed attainable. The world was rich enough, and there was plenty of room for the adventures of another dragonrider. Having just finished The White Dragon again, I must admit I do have a small craving to write a dragonrider story.

So why did I stop? And what can I do to start again? I started by finding that same writing club that had kicked me out years ago, and rejoined. I wanted to see people writing dynamically for Pern again, see the piles of stories to read. Instead, I got a trickle. Perhaps a single two page story a day, and lackluster stories at that Meanwhile, I couldn’t post, needing to submit anything through a mentor. I found it all almost laughable, and sad. I left without posting.

My quantity of writing hasn’t increased since then, and yet I still feel better off than that ghost of a club. I don’t think I’ll be returning to Pern again, in my own writing. But at least I feel some closure about it. I’m ready to move on, finally.

As far as The White Dragon goes, I definitely enjoyed it, and would recommend it as a solid coming of age novel. It still works best as part of the trilogy, but it is sufficiently “different” from Dragonflight and Dragonquest, that I could say it almost stands on its own. It also feels good to finally get some closure on a topic that has rankled me for 8 years. That chain is finally unbound; now I just need to move forward.

McCaffrey, Anne. The White Dragon. New York: Ballantine Books, 1978.

Annotation: Dragonquest

As I stated with my annotation of Dragonflight, my decision to re-read these books stems from a desire to figure out what caused me to start writing fan fiction in the world of Dragonriders nearly a decade ago, in the hopes of also figuring out why I stopped writing fiction despite my desire to continue.

Dragonquest takes place seven years, or Turns, after Lessa brought the Weyrs of Pern forward in time in order to battle Thread once more. There are a number of plots occuring within this book, which is a bit more ambitious than Dragonflight. The chapters are divided primarily between F’lar, Weyrleader for Benden Weyr (mate to Lessa), and F’nor, his half-brother and second-in-command. The “Oldtimer” dragonriders who had come forward in time were becoming belligerent and divisive, uncomfortable with the changes in society that had occured during the Long Interval, and tired of fighting Thread after having spent 50 Turns in their own time fighting it, only to come forward to fight it for 50 more. F’nor is injured and sent elsewhere to recover, where he meets a young queenrider named Brekke. During his convalescence, he discovers and manages to bond with, or Impress, a just hatched fire-lizard, a signficantly smaller cousin of the dragons. These fire-lizards become used as messengers and pets throughout the rest of the series. Brekke’s queen ends up rising to mate at the same time as another dragon, and in the subsequent battle (which otherwise never happens between dragons), both queens are killed. F’nor, having developed a relationship with Brekke, nurses her back to health.

In the other story thread, F’lar works to keep the alliance of Weyrs and Holds together under the tensions caused by the Oldtimers. This tension comes to a head when one of the Oldtimer Weyrleaders attacks him, leading to a duel that F’lar ultimately wins. This signals a “changing of the guard”, and F’lar is made de facto leader of all of Pern. Following discoveries made in abandoned portions of the Weyrs, a telescope is discovered that allows them to see the surface of the Red Star. Following increased pressure from the Lords to go to the source itself to destroy the thread, F’nor manages to get vivid enough coordinates to teleport to the planet, and is nearly killed by the violent conditions of that other planet.

Towards the end of the book, there is a Hatching (a period when the dragon eggs hatch and Impress their riders). One egg is smaller than the others, and no one expects it to hatch. Jaxom, a young Lord Holder, overcome with emotion, frees the small dragon from the egg, and Impresses it. Due to the clear demarcation between Hold and Weyr, this causes quite a bit of contention (you can’t be a Lord Holder AND a Dragonrider). Due to the unique nature of the small dragon, (he is extremely small and white, which is entirely unheard of), the dragon’s life expectancy is very low, so Jaxom is allowed to remain as a Lord Holder.

It’s clear when McCaffrey wrote Dragonquest, she was already planning to write the third book in the series, The White Dragon, which follows Jaxom and his dragon Ruth. Overall, I’d say Dragonquest is better written than Dragonflight. The characters are more developed and engaging, the descriptions and names are more consistent (though there are still discrepancies), and the overall story is significantly more complex and robust. That said, it does not stand alone, and really requires reading Dragonflight to be appreciated.

Like Dragonflight, I still don’t see what drew me to write about Pern. There is nothing remarkable about the novel, though I do feel it was well written and entertaining. What about it made myself and literally hundreds of others decide to write about the draognriders? It’s a violent world, with only a privileged elite having a truly good life, the rest spending it in servitude or hardship. Why would we choose THAT, of all worlds, to write in?

I would recommend Dragonquest to those willing to read the rest of the original trilogy (if not more). It is an enjoyable read, and does in fact have a complete primary story arc, but I would by no means say that the book is a stand alone novel. It needs its prequel, and it needs its sequel to truly be a strong novel.

McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonquest. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.

Annotation: Dragonflight

I first read Dragonflight my freshman year in high school, along with the rest of the Dragonriders series. I enjoyed it well enough, and after reading the entire series (there are around twenty books total), I decided I wanted to write some Dragonriders stories. I joined a “fanfic” (fan fiction, stories written in a pre-existing universe) mailing list during my sophomore year, and wrote short stories based on “Pern” (the world the series takes place on) for about six months. I managed to rouse the enmity of the people in charge, and got kicked out. I haven’t written consistently since. This semester’s focus on writing caused me to decide to re-examine my time with the mailing list, and the books that caused me to join in the first place, books I haven’t re-read since being kicked out of the writing club eight years ago.

Dragonflight is the first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series. It establishes the world and main characters for the rest of the series. The world in particular needs some explanation, since it is decidedly alien to the reader. The social structure is broken into three hierarchies, Craft, Hold, and Weyr. Crafts are specialists in a given field (smithing, mining, and farming, for instance), and are autonomous within themselves (a Mining Craftmaster would not have jurisdiction over a Smith, for instance). Holds are the general populace of the planet, operating on a semi-feudal system of Lords. Weyrs make up the dragonriders, who live in extinct volcanoes and are sworn to the protection of Pern against an alien threat known as Thread. Since the Weyrs do not have arable land, the Holds and Crafts tithe to the Weyr that protects them against Thread (there are six Weyrs total, spread across the continent).

Thread is an alien organism that eats through any organic material with ease. It is drawn to Pern by the erratic elliptical orbit of another planet that has become known as the “Red Star”. Because the orbit is erratic, it generally only passes near enough to Pern to drop Thread every two hundred years, or “Turns”, and then does so for roughly 50 Turns. Every once in a while, however, the Red Star’s orbit is sufficiently erratic that an extended period without Thread occurs, known as a “Long Interval”.

Dragonflight opens at the end of one of these Long Intervals. During the extended absence of Thread, the Weyrs have fallen into disrepute with the rest of the population, and their numbers have dwindled to a fraction of their previous numbers. The sole remaining “Queen” dragon laid a new Queen egg before passing on, and the dragonriders are in search of candidates to become linked (to “Impress”) to the new queen once it hatches. They discover a young, driven girl named Lessa, who subsequently Impresses Ramoth, the new queen dragon. This makes her the “Weyrwoman” of the Weyr (the Weyr is lead by the Weyrwoman and the Weyrleader, who is the rider of the dragon that manages to mate with the Queen).

As the story progresses, the remaining dragons attempt to prepare the planet against the imminent return of Thread (which most of the planet now regards as a myth), and face the desperate need to increase their ranks quickly. At great risk of life, Lessa and Ramoth travel back in time (an ability dragons have is teleportation; Lessa discovers they can teleport through time as well as space), to the end of the last Pass of the Red Star. She leads the vast majority of the dragons from that time forward to her own time, explaining the reduction in dragon numbers over the Long Interval, and by doing so repopulates the Weyrs in time to save the planet against Thread.

That’s the book in a nutshell. By and large, it’s reasonably well written, and won several awards when it came out in the late 1960s. That said, I’m not entirely sure what I saw in it the first time I read it. There are some major plot holes, and naming discrepancies within the book (let alone compared to future books). That said, the world itself is well developed, with a clear social structure and culture, and the dialogue in general is well written. It’s an enjoyable read, and worth reading if only as an interesting blending of science fiction and fantasy aspects. I’d recommend it as a good example of that hybrid genre.

McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.