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Dragons keen


So, Anne McCaffrey has died as hit the twitter and other feeds.

I don't quite remember when I discovered The Dragonriders of Pern. I remember that I fell in love with it and read it over and over and that I was young enough to think it was all very daring and edgy and what would my mother think if she knew I was reading a book where the inside cover used the word DESIRE (old green cover of Dragonflight and the passage with Ramouth's first flight with Mnementh). OMG DRAGONS and OMG DRAGONS AND SEX. And then, whoa, wait a minute, those are all men with green dragons so that means HOMOSEXUAL SEX WITH DRAGONS. It was without a doubt my first exposure to same sex relationships.

Yes, I was young and it was the 70s and early to mid 80s. It was in the same time when I was searching for something other than Middle Earth, Prydain, and Narnia. I was in the throes of Star Wars, watching old Trek, and trying out all the others -- Thomas Covenant and the first Terry Brooks and Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mists, Darkover) then classic science fiction. I didn't notice the squick and the consent issues and sexist bits and other things in those days because OMG DRAGONS. I was in high school and then early college years and I was waiting for Empire Strikes Back to come out and then Ewoks.

Thank gawd there was no Internet for me to spin out my wish fulfillment involving me at Harper Hall (can't sing or play a note) or me at Cove Hold or me at Benden Weyr impressing A QUEEN DRAGON. I'm not sure if I wanted to be Brekke or Lessa -- probably wanted to be Lessa but knew I was more like Brekke. (Never Kylara or Mirrim or a drudge.  Maybe a Head Woman since I was a good cook at age 16.  I was SPESHUL right?  right?). The series became uneven, to be sure, but I still read it and I still love those original books. 

We've all read them, haven't we? I know it influenced how I wrote mental connections between characters in my first fics. I cried (and still do) when Robinton and Zair died.

Comments

( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
elouise82
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
I somehow missed her books in the midst of all the other fantasy I discovered and loved as a teen - I started reading them recently and was amazed at how so many of the cliches that are so funny in fantasy today (throwing in random apostrophes in names, for example, among other things that aren't coming to mind at the moment) originated with her. I haven't made it past the first book yet, but in tribute, I will probably try to swallow my distaste at the sexism and consent issues and make it through the rest of the series. Because really, so much of what is written now, owes so very much to her.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
jenett reminded me that she was the first woman to win Hugo and Nebulas and I remember being so impressed that it all started with short stories for her. Back in the day I was sure I could follow that same path. There are so many tropes and themes and devices that do have their roots in her work.

Something that I'm wondering about now is, given how much I loved it, at that age, when I was too young to see some of the issues that are there now, is whether I'm being unfair to things like Twilight which might fill the same need today that I had then. I dunno. F'lar and Lessa's relationship is rough, for instance -- he slaps her during the first dragon mating flight and later reflects that unless the dragons are involved it might as well be rape. Errrrr... and how exactly is this different from other things I roundly condemn now? Not much. I loved many of the books as a teen and young woman and I love them still though it is definitely through the lens of that fond memory and its impact upon my lifetime love affair with science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, writing and media.
cofax7
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:44 am (UTC)
whether I'm being unfair to things like Twilight which might fill the same need today that I had then

Oh, I think it's very much the same sort of thing. That wish-fulfillment element, of someone being a normal person (or even an oppressed person like Lessa in the beginning), who is Chosen to be Special, lifted up into power and authority, without actually having to do ANYTHING. Granted, the Twilight books don't give Bella any real power of her own until the end (or so I understand), but I do think the draw is very much the same...
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
I may have to retract some of the bad things I've said about Twilight. Maybe. The comments on Scalzi's blog are very sweet and very much like this, though I'm surprised at the number of people who liked Moreta. I didn't like that book as well as a standalone and liked it best when they sang it at Harper Hall during Threadfall (with Piemur singing the part of Moreta) and Menolly conducting and her fire lizards (Beauty, Rocky, Diver, Mimic and Brownie (Lazybones and the Uncle and Auntie One and Two were indifferent singers)). I'm scaring myself. heh.
linneasr
Nov. 27th, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
Well, and aren't they all Cinderella stories of one variety or another?
rthstewart
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:37 am (UTC)
I suppose, yes. The Green Riders, by the way, you'll find most clearly in the part in Dragonquest when F'nor is stabbed at the crafthall by the "proddy" green dragon rider and then in the White Dragon when Jaxom and Ruth are doing their maneuvers. There are a few other places too but that's where you realize that when the dragons mate, so do the riders and the riders are all men.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 4th, 2014 10:45 pm (UTC)
Even after having re-read these many many times I still don't see the rape overtones. Here's the way I read it:

If Lessa has no choice in the matter that's not F'lar's fault...if anyone's to 'blame' it's the dragons. Also, there's a case to be made that it's F'LAR being raped as well, since NEITHER of them had a choice.
I always understood it that when the dragons are in the throes of their lust the rider simply had no choice, which was part of why older kids/young adults were chosen to Stand. Sex was simply a part of life, and it wasn't forced by another person - it simply wasn't optional when your dragon Flew.
rthstewart
Feb. 5th, 2014 03:06 am (UTC)
Hello! It's so funny that you found this and commented for, in light of JK Rowling's supposed announcement this week, I've been thinking a lot about old favorites, problematic texts and how we come to see old friends in new, more mature lights. As I mentioned in comments, some of these problematic elements in her works I still didn't see, even until very recently when someone else pointed them out, at least in part because I'm so selective in what I re-read. I think you raise an excellent point about how is F'lar is raped too. However, as I recall, he does mention later that though they continue to have sex, unless the dragons are involved they might as well call it rape. I think that's a pretty close quote. The whole Brekke/F'nor actions is also really problematic and now, I see, that it very much feeds the rape culture trope that "No" just means, we'll have such great sex, you'll be glad I did it.

But I also agree that a part of what both Jaxxom and Brekke's stories do is clearly present that sex is a much more matter of fact thing in Weyr life and that hold and hall are both far more inhibited. Also, though, there is the worldbuilding decision here -- she deliberately wrote, repeatedly, and I think stated also in interviews specifically that there is no consent when dragons mate. The riders are along for the ride, so to speak and have no control at all. And I think it's fair to say, is that a desirable thing? Is that a good thing? Is that romantic? Or is it problematic? I think it's fair criticism. Make no mistake -- I still am very fond of the books but I won't ignore that for me there are problems even if they make sense in the story.
jenett
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:06 am (UTC)
I was OMG Harper Hall, more than the dragons, but ... yes, this.

(And then in college, spent several years on PernMUSH, a text-based role-playing game set a pass *after* the main book series, but created before all the "we have discovered this computer" books came out. It was awesome.

I haven't reread them much as an adult, because adult-me notices the gaps and the frustrations, and all of that. But up-through-college me found an amazing amount of good stuff in there.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
Oh gosh, I never did Pern RPG (it was standard D&D) but if there had been one in my area, I would have. My re-reads as an adult are very selective. I have an easier time with Menolly at Benden and then Harper Hall (the middle of the first and then all of the second in the Harper Hall stories) -- young girl finding her way in a new place and being awesome. It's still very segregated by sex, but I adore Menolly, especially when she gives Benis the black eye at the Gather and dances with Master Dominick. I know she's in love with Robinton and marries Sebell but I think I always shipped her with Dominick. Oh gawd, I'm going to be looking for fic soon, aren't I?
badgerbag
Nov. 23rd, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)
Menolly/Mirrim all the way for me....
lady_songsmith
Nov. 23rd, 2011 01:09 am (UTC)
I had two or three on my shelves but I have never gotten more than two chapters into them. Growing up loving fantasy, everyone was pointing me to her books, but whatever the magic is with them, it missed me. I feel like I missed out on some of the fannish community. Oh well. RIP Anne.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
I know parts of the books completely by heart, but they hit at precisely that right moment for me. I'm far less sanguine about them now, but love them for the fond memories, if that makes sense.
cofax7
Nov. 23rd, 2011 01:49 am (UTC)
I didn't notice the squick and the consent issues and sexist bits and other things in those days because OMG DRAGONS.

Oh, yeah. That was me. This is a nice remembrance.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:34 am (UTC)
I felt SO sophisticated reading them. I was young enough that with some of it, I wasn't even sure what I was reading -- a comment I saw someone else make. It took me a while to figure out what the issue was with the green dragons and their male riders. They were a terrific bridge to eventually more adult reading material, I think. And who wouldn't want that helpmate, friend, advocate, supporter, intimate, DRAGON who could read your every thought and know your every desire? That word again... Desire! So sophisticated. That dragon would be the one who understood me when no one else could, ever, because I was, of course, a teenager and therefore inscrutable and misunderstood.
cofax7
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:41 am (UTC)
Huge flying telepathic animals! What's not to love? Nobody would ever get in your face or give you shit if you had a huge flying telepathic fire-breathing animal at your beck and call!

... which train of thought inevitably leads me to CJ Cherryh's Nighthorse books, in which she thoroughly and terrifyingly deconstructs the adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy of the telepathic steed. She so had it in for McCaffrey & Lackey.

And yet, that concept really meant (means) a lot to tens of thousands of kids reading the books at that perfect time in their adolescence.

(I really do not recall whether I ever understood the whole Green Riders=homosexuality bit. I read them first when I was 12 or so and it's all just fuzzy in my memory.)
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
Mean girls flee before the power of geek girl on her DRAGON. Or even a fire lizard.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 23rd, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
I also found the Pern series when I was going through OMG DRAGONS phase about 5 years ago, when I was 14...Surprisingly enough my mother introduced me to them xD I tore through most of the series over the course of the year and continue to reread them, even with the issues the series has. I'll definitely be lighting a candle for her tonight.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
Hello! Some of them definitely hold up better than others. I know I re-read parts of the Harper Hall trilogy within the last 6 months. The covers have fallen off of Dragonflight and Dragonquest. It's like a long relationship with someone -- there are problems and flaws but the love is there too.
keeperofqkeys
Nov. 23rd, 2011 04:46 am (UTC)
I've never gotten around to reading her books... I suppose some of that just comes from the fact that I read a lot more sci-fi growing up than I did fantasy (filching my mother's Star Trek books off the shelf when I got bored of YA stuff), and as an adult, I tend to lean more towards the swords-and-sorcery type stuff.

It's always sad when an influential writer dies, though.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:36 pm (UTC)
At this point in your life, I don't know that they would resonate, you know? Her worldbuilding was astounding and she really did create so many tropes we now take for granted. There's not magic in the series at all -- it's straight speculative fiction and some of them take a turn to serious sci fi. And I hope you have a lovely lovely holiday!
badgerbag
Nov. 23rd, 2011 05:01 am (UTC)
Me too on so much of that! God I loved them! OMG Dragons... and sex... in space! And I really loved the moment where they are all in the room under Benden Weyr and find all the OMG SCIENCE! stuff and are clearly going to spend the next several whiles figuring it all out and rediscovering genetics and astronomy and so on!

Also I more or less have the Singer and the first 4 Rider books memorized. If only there were bar trivia nights that were all about Pern. WE WOULD ALL WIN.
badgerbag
Nov. 23rd, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)
I realize I wrote that giant critique of the rape and domestic violence in there but I didn't see any of it till I was like 30, so the love of Pern remains strong...
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:52 pm (UTC)
I know! I know! It's the sort of thing that I just didn't see when I read them -- I'm embarrassed to say that the domestic violence/rape parts I quoted above probably only really hit me like LAST NIGHT -- but in fairness, those aren't the books I tend to re-read or at least not those parts of them so I didn't think about it until I errrr thought about it.

The way they rediscover some of their old machines and the science is wonderful. I was just thinking about the AIVAS parts of the story -- how much I loved the closing parts of Renegades? How Aivas senses the purposeful activity and checks its database for "White Dragon" and the book ends with AIVAS Waited. I know I didn't like Renegades much, until the end which I have re-read many times. When McCaffrey goes back to fill in the backstory, Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible, it was cool, though in the end, I wanted the story of Thread and Dragons to go on forever and ever.


By the time I read Dragonsdawn and one of the story story anthologies, the sexism did start to bother me -- Sean tells Sorka something along the lines of "Feed me woman" and I bristled at that and was beyond the point that I wanted to be Torene and talk to all the dragons.

I think my affinity for the books is very much tied to the affinity I felt for the early ones and when I found them in my life. It is funny how some books are so strong you do memorize them and I know that's true for me and some of those books. Gawd, I'm going to go back and re-read parts of them this weekend. I know it. And I saw your post of earlier and I do hope that today is much better day for you! And we would WIN at trivia.
sedri
Nov. 23rd, 2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Oh, certinaly I read them - I have pretty much everything up to All the Weyrs of Pern sitting on my shelf two arms' lengths away. It sounds like I was a bit older than you when I started reading them, but I'm sure I wanted to be either Brekke or Menolly myself. Something like that. And you're not the only one who still cries when Robinton and Zair died... *sniffle*

Still, the idea of Pern fanfic never really occured to me until I heard that she'd essentially banned it, and since there was nothing for me to read I never really got into it as a mental exercise, either - maybe the books were enough? But they were fun and I think they always will be, if read every once in a while.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 01:01 pm (UTC)
Some are definitely easier on the re-read than others and there are some I bought and promptly donated. But those paperbacks green cover, purple/red cover, blue cover I still have.
min023
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I found and loved the Pern books during my teens, too. They were almost my first introduction to the fantasy genre, and I loved them with all their faults. Jaxom and Ruth for me (and Sharra by extension). The covers are coming off my copies of The White Dragon and All the Weyrs and my Harperhall books aren't much better. Vale.
rthstewart
Nov. 23rd, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
Something that just occurred to me in thinking about Twilight and teen girls and the books and such is that my son without through a dragon phase, but that was all about RAWWRR big teeth and was very much an extension of the dinosaur phase. For me, as a girl, dragons were a step up from from the horse phase -- the helpmate, advocate, friend, flame mean girls, I'm bad ass on a dragon/with fire lizards. It was a more subtle sort of emotional relationship, I think. With both boys and girls, dragons are filling an empowerment need, but there's an emotional connection that McCaffrey created that isn't present in the dragon phase that my tween went through.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 25th, 2011 01:57 am (UTC)
McCaffery was my first introduction (aside from the Hobbit) into the world of fantasy. Certainly into the idea of dragons as intelligent, kind, strong creatures. More than monsters. I discovered them around 12 or so and, like you, they were my first introduction into sexuality in literature (I remember thinking my mom would be appalled if she actually knew what went on in the books). The problematic stuff went right past me, it was just so glorious. Fire lizards! Dragons! Sex! I read the series up through the first few Todd started coauthoring on and then stopped. Few ever touched my love for the first two trilogies though.I haven't re-read them because I haven't wanted to be disappointed as an adult. (I LOVED The Dragon Prince series by Melanie Rawn in high school but have had friends who read it at an older age find it not nearly so interesting. I haven't re-read that series either, for similar reasons.)
rthstewart
Nov. 25th, 2011 05:16 am (UTC)
Hello! have we met before and I'm being old and memory challenged? Though it might be the 2 glasses of sparkling wine and 2 glasses of pinot noir over the course of Thanksgiving. Welcome! hello!

In any event, apart from the VERY NAUGHTY books my girlfriends and I smuggled onto the playground during recess in 8th Grade (the Sensuous Woman which we brown bagged as Seven Silver Swans) I'm sure this was my first sexuality in literature as well. From the comments above, I did recall, recently, the problematic scene with Fl'ar slapping Lessa and such. I had forgotten, until I read it in a tribute yesterday, F'nor's sort of seduction of Brekke and YIKES. I don't even need to go back to read it as so much of that book is committed to memory. This is all making me re-reconsider, in an uncomfortable way, my vehement reaction now, so many years later, to teen girl lit and fan fic that romanticizes rape and ambiguous consent. Oh darn it I really hate that rear view mirror sometimes.....

BUT to the fun ... Melanie Rawn! She was the first author I knew of who made the jump from fan fic to pro -- assuming that I have the right names and my facts straight. And hers was the first decent fan fic I ever read (assuming, again, I've got the right person -- I know what was thought at the time -- whether it was true, who know?)(. Star Wars was my first online fandom and a friend directed me to her fanzine stuff. I loved her fan fic (assuming it is the same person) and did read some Rawn stuff. Dragon Prince maybe? I bonded with a Star Wars webmistress over SW, and then Pern and then over Rawn in the 90s. I have very fond memories of all of that. And like you, a part of the attraction to the books was definitely, "OMG I am SO ADULT. MY MOTHER WOULD NOT APPROVE." I hate to think I was ever that silly, but I was. This whole exercise has been helpful as I consider the tweens and teens in my life now.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 25th, 2011 05:30 am (UTC)
No, we haven't met. : ) I came over here from a link on Geek Feminism. I probably should have mentioned that in my original response.

It's been a long time since I read them, I do remember the scene someone mentioned above where F'lar is reflecting that it would have been rape if it wasn't for the dragons. I remember being relieved that he recognized that...but for me then, that was enough to solve my mild discomfort. Then it was back to DRAGONS! In retrospect, the whole thing is pretty cringe worthy.

I'm not sure if Melanie Rawn did fan fic, my first introduction to her was through the Dragon Prince series.

And there is much about my teen years and hell, even my early twenties, that was really silly. But a necessary phase I suppose. :)
rthstewart
Nov. 25th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link! I had no idea I'd been linked from somewhere. I wish my own comemnt back to you had been done under less of the influence of sparkling pinot noir and a turkey coma. A bit incoherent to be sure.

Thanks for coming by and the link and sharing your thoughts!
harmony_lover
Nov. 25th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC)
I never made it to the Dragonriders series, which, given everything else I have read in my life, seems to be some kind of awful mistake. I did read McCaffery's Crystal Singer trilogy, which I thought was fascinating, and one or two of her Brain and Brawn books - I think "The Ship Who Sang" was my favorite; the whole idea of prescient and conscious technology was really interesting. (And of course, as a teen, all of the desire - that word again, rth! - going on between the main characters in both sets of books was fascinating).

My position on Twilight stands thus: Meyers writes a ripping good read that you can't put down. There is no doubt that she knows how to tell a story. Then you go back and re-read, and realize that her politics, gender biases, ideas about "healthy" relationships, etc., are just AWFUL. Then you proceed to dissect everything and try to figure out how to fix it so it's not so horrifying.
rthstewart
Nov. 25th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
Happy Thanksgiving! I think the Harper Hall trilogy is far less problematic in hindsight and I read the first two books in that series over and over. It was and is really seminal to my development as a writer. To read them as an adult and appreciate them, I **think** a reader needs to consider the time in which they were written and how it would appeal to a younger female reader and why. The earlier ones especially are wonderful fun.
harmony_lover
Nov. 25th, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
Thinking about time period and socialization for girls is one of my specialties, as it happens. :) I loved the Crystal Singer books because (as I remember) Killishandra is incredibly independent and strong. "The Ship Who Sang" is a fascinating book because the female brain who runs the ship has an incredible personality and quite the story, and the male pilot who flies the ship is kind of in awe of her and who she is. Plus, there's all kinds of interesting layers concerning technology, what it can do, and how prescient it can actually be. I will have to read the Harper Hall books just to see how wonderful they are! :)
linneasr
Nov. 27th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
Whoa!! Green Dragonriders were having homosexual relationships?? That totally flew past me when I read them! Must go back with these new lenses on. :-)
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