Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.
T: So this has always been, in my memory, my favourite Pern book. Reading it again was interesting, because I realised that some of the bits I thought were in it are actually in other books, which was weird, but also, there is so much I forgot! It was like coming at it for the first time, which was fantastic.
M: I had the exact same experience! It’s really again proof of her storytelling power, that that many bits from a character stay with you despite multiple books, usually over multiple years for readers.
T: I love the fact that so much of the story of this book comes about due to the intellectual curiosity of the characters, not just the harpers, but others too, both young and old. The way learning and cross-crafting is so important. And the idea that sometimes, you just have to take a leap to reach the next level!
M: The first few books were very Big Hero out to save the day, but this and the Harper Hall books are broader. It’s the ‘little’ important people making significant changes that aren’t big and flashy, but integral to the entire world becoming a better place. I love the little heroes in any story, and much of Pern is made up of them.
And of course, Ruth and Jaxom being such a unique pairing. Unisex, white runt dragon who, while being a full dragon, is completely different from every other dragon we know of. He’s so smart, and seems to have more awareness than the bigger dragons do. I’ve always thought Mnementh and Ramoth, obviously intelligent, were more like wise beings a bit lost in their thoughts. Ramoth less so, smartie pants queen. But Ruth has a very good cause and effect thinking, and picks up on social things almost immediately. I’ve wondered if that’s because of his unusual situation as a dragon for a rider/lord holder, or because of the fire lizards adding a level of social nuance the other dragons don’t get.
I know the reason I love these books so dearly is the characters, and The White Dragon is an excellent example of how fabulous they are. The interactions between Jaxom and Lytol, he who has been Dragonrider, Craftmaster and Lord Holder in his lifetime, are beautiful in this. Jaxom growing in his maturity (and honestly, from the time we meet him as a child through to the end of this book, there is so much change, even in the way McCaffrey writes his “voice” – she’s amazing!) and figuring out Lytol on a grownup level, that’s lovely. And then the way Lytol sucks it up and offers advice about fighting Thread to Jaxom when he’s teaching Ruth, and is such an upright and responsible person but smart enough to know when he needs to loosen the reins on his young ward, oh my, so good! But the bit when Lytol comes to the cove, having been so very worried about Jaxom when he was ill with firehead – yep, there’s the sobbing again…
I know think I mentioned at some point to you, Marisol, that The White Dragon has been retrospectively designated as a young adult book. I actually think it’s a pretty valid classification. Jaxom’s journey is a classic YA story, and very well done.
M: Yes, and when I finished, I remember thinking if I had to class it, I think I’d initially be tempted to put it as New Adult, because of his age and the awareness he has about his situation. I feel like a lot of YA is very juvenile nowadays, as opposed to encompassing stories like this which now are VERY much coming to adulthood stories. However, since New Adult still seems to be some weird split from YA to help people avoid the juvenileish stories, I decided YA is way better. It needs more stories like this. Especially from a male perspective. And without a love triangle!
(Note: my perspective is from US genre splitting, and may not make sense in Australia/the rest of the world.)
T: I found the Jaxom’s interactions with Corana fascinating. On one level, Jaxom’s worry about the whole thing is an interesting exploration of the idea of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. On the other, I’m a bit conflicted, because while the sex-positivity and acceptance of his “friendship” with Corana is nice, it’s sort of a bit off in terms of the world-building. Corana’s family is happy for her to be involved with Jaxom on a sexual level, with no potential long-term outcome, even to the point of possibly bearing him a child. There doesn’t really seem to be any taboo about pre-marital relations or hang ups about virginity (to a point). But this doesn’t really work with the way women are generally portrayed, for me. It’s a small glitch, and one I’m happy for because it’s better than the usual “feudal society” elements about sex and women that we see, but it still grated a little.
M: I found it refreshing. I think it’s a change in generation. The previously rapey character attitudes shown are now middle-aged at this point in time, and along with cross-Crafting there’s an exchange of social ideas. A more relaxed attitude towards sex, and more importantly, a positive one, was a real highlight to those changes.
To be fair to the whole child bit, this is the first time we’ve had a chance to really see how sex and children matter in the realm of Lord Holders, and they’ve mentioned before there were some quite different opinions about sexual inhibitions in that part of Pern. Jaxom as someone who crosses multiple boundaries may very well be welcomed for the more opportunities for a potential child.
As a colder alternative, they might also feel like they can’t tell him no and Jaxom is too naive to realize it, although the relationship between him and his holders seems quite good.
T: Yeek, that IS a cold alternative…
And I also twigged that there is no religion on Pern. I think I’ve read an article about this before, but I’d forgotten…
M: Anne once wrote a bit about how a fan had argued with her that religion is required, and she’d firmly put no religion in the series for a reason. Given their scientific origins, I can see why none would be really ‘required’, emotionally speaking.
T: MASTERHARPER! In my notes, I wrote “I can NOT read these books in public!” because I was weeping when Robinton had his heart attack and the dragons were talking to him, keeping him alive. TEARS GALORE!
M: That was one of the things I thought happened in another book until I got about a third of the way through, then got the pit in my stomach feeling. The ways the dragons adore Robinton, just…
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
T: I’m totally crying…
M: And now that we’re going on to Moreta’s story, I’m wondering if I’ll be interested because I’m so sucked into this current timeline that going into the past makes me scream a little. Especially knowing what they discover on the Southern Continent. Argh!
T: It’s so hard to leave the “present”, knowing what is coming, for a wander back in time, because no matter how good the next couple of books we’ll be reading are, they are kind of filler… But they ARE good, so let’s go!
The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)