(By Silver Adept)
The year is 1968. Vietnam rages on, a third high-profile assassination rocks the United States…no, wait, this is a fantasy novel. Context only if necessary.
Hi, I’m Silver Adept, and this is hopefully going to be an interesting journey to embark on exploring the world of Pern through its novelization. I don’t expect to make it all the way through to the current day’s material, especially if my pace isn’t going to be quick, but I think it’s worth looking at the series and its origins, considering Pern is often a stop along the way for many fantasy readers as they transition from books written for younger audiences into ones written for older audiences. It’s also an award-winning series written by an award-winning author, so there will be recommendations for it in addition to its placement on the transition spectrum.
I’m a junior deconstructor, at best, and I’m not always going to be able to spot everything, or even what may be the obvious thing to the reading audience. I will try to put content notes where I see their need. If I miss one, please let me know so I can add it back.
My intention is to take the books in the order of their publication, so after the first two books of this apparent trilogy, we will depart for the Harper Hall trilogy before returning to finish The Dragonriders of Pern. Assuming things go that long. And the electronic copy I’m using has some interesting chapter designations, and is chock-full of typographic errors, so someone may have to backfill in where the actual chapter markers are in a paper copy, if there are any.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Dragonflight, Part I: Content Notes: animal abuse, domestic abuse, genocidal intent
There may be an Introduction with various editions and reprints of this novel. It contains future knowledge that hints at spoilers of later books, and also ties in the Pern novels into a larger canon and universe than originally intended. For those reasons, it will be skipped every time it is encountered until we reach the point where that knowledge is obtained in the story. (If we get there, someone remind me to go back and explain why the introduction is a horrible thing to have in front, please.)
The actual narrative begins with the literary equivalent of a Cold Open, where we are introduced to Lessa, and learn in short order the following:
- Lessa is a drudge, which is not a good place to be in, based on the description that the drudges are huddling together to try and get warm.
- Lessa is at least mildly telepathic, able to “touch the mind” of the watch-wehr, a sentry-like creature chained up and begging for freedom, and may also have some sort of precognitive ability, based on her danger sense going off.
- Whatever danger is on the way, it’s bigger than the immediate threat of Fax, the self-styled lord of the area.
I can see why this book is an award winner – it’s a pretty economical description and hints strongly that Lessa is living in a Crapsack World.
After that, we’re introduced to F’lar and Mnemeth, a rider and his dragon. F’lar is clearly a traditionalist with a strong sense that he is entitled to a certain standard of living and deference. F’lar enjoys instilling fear into the humans of the Hold, and thinks that those same humans need to have a healthy fear of dragons and dragon riders. His brother, F’nor, appears at first blush to be a bit more laid back, but usually plays straight man to F’lar’s continual insistence that he be treated according to each letter of the tradition regarding hospitality.
Then there’s Fax, who, in another comic property, might draw comparisons to the Kingpin. Except Fax is not nearly as richly dressed and is known to be both a womanizer and greedy. But F’lar notices that Fax has a fighter’s balance, and therefore is probably more dangerous than his appearance of dirty clothing lets on.
So F’lar and Fax trade veiled barbs at each other, and we learn that the dragon riders are here to find candidates to present to dragon eggs and see if they will pair-bond with the dragons inside when they hatch. There’s a dragon queen in the eggs, which apparently requires a strong woman to ride. F’lar’s definition of “strong”, however, is a bit off.
Adversity, uncertainty: those were the conditions that bred the qualities F’lar wanted in a Weyrwoman.
Given what we know of F’lar right now, it sounds like he really wants someone that he can dominate and cow on a regular basis, but that remains strong enough to keep control of the dragon.
F’lar looks “pleasantly” at the drudges as he passes by them, ostensibly considering them as possible candidates, but he sees them as unfit.
Overworked, underfed, scarred by lash and disease, they were just what they were – drudges, fit only for hard, menial labor.
Uh, F’lar? You’re never going to find anyone with your preferred characteristics if you’re going to dismiss entire classes of people, including the ones most likely to suffer adversity and uncertainty.
Exposition for this chapter comes from Lytol, who was a dragon rider until his dragon died in an accident. Lytol tells us that Fax abuses all his women, hurts any men that didn’t obey him immediately, killed an entire Hold that opposed him, men, women, and children all, and intends to have his wife die in childbirth, but most importantly, Fax thinks of himself as important as the dragon riders and doesn’t respect the traditions. So Lytol asks the two dragonriders to kill Fax.
Yeah. Let’s stay on F’lar for a second. Because if the narrative wasn’t smashing us over the head that Fax is the very worst person ever, based on actions of his past and the way he casually insults F’lar (whose perspective we see this chapter from), F’lar would qualify nicely as an antagonist. Maybe he will yet. His insistence that tradition be followed, his demands to be feted and his riders housed, and his assumption that he will be able to waltz through the population and pick out whatever women he wants to take back with him (but not any of those ugly drudges – there will be no class mobility on his watch) suggests to us that he’s hidebound to the point where when something unexpected arrives, he will be thrown for a giant loop and sputter a lot about tradition and how improper something is, while his brother pragmatically rolls with it.
So, as the chapter comes to a close, F’lar plans to kill Fax for disrespecting him and his way of life, and wonders openly how Fax could have come to power with the dragonriders right next door. The narrative says that Fax starved the area of resources, then led a mission to slaughter everyone there and salt the earth behind him. And tells us that Fax likely plans to kill the dragonriders, too. All while everyone is headed toward the place where the resistance to Fax was greatest.
Surely nothing could go wrong.