Dragonflight: New Life, New Name

(by Silver Adept)

(Okay, gloves off, swears turned on. Today’s episode happens to be swear-free, but from here on out, all words will be displayed. If I hear They Changed It, Now It Sucks from you, I will be very cross.)

When we last left our Lady of the Sith and the Jerk who thinks of her as his possession, Lessa’s revenge is complete, except for the part where her Hold is in the care of a young boy and his regent, and F’lar thinks he’s got the right candidate for the queen dragon that is about to hatch.

Dragonflight, Part II: Content Noes: Patriarchy, Deaths of children

The last part of the current segment is getting Lessa settled in with castoffs of clothes from other women that F’lar has had in his bedchambers, getting the dragons fed, and a bit more about how well-matched F’lar and his dragon are (they’re both easily ruffled in matters of honor and saving face). Since the new egg is about to hatch, all the other riders are returning with their candidates as well. There’s also the first mention of between, the hyperspace dimension that the dragons travel through when covering great distances in a short amount of time.

The next scene starts with Lessa taking a bath, after seeing if there are potential escape routes. Not that we needed a ritual symbol of cleansing the body and soul and of transition and newness to drive the point home, of course, but here we are. Lessa luxuriates in the bath and is quite pleased with the feeling of soft clothes in what the narrative wants us to believe is her actual, quite feminine, personality. Her moment of girlish delight is cut short by F’lar’s return, and after catching her reflection in a mirror, Lessa becomes entirely self-conscious about how beautiful she is.

Why, the girl in the reflector was prettier than the Lady Tela, than the clothman’s daughter! But so thin. Her hands dropped of their own volition to her neck, to the protruding collarbones, to her breasts, which did not entirely reflect the gauntness of the rest of her. [Emphasis mine]

So let’s be clear here: Lessa is probably thin in a malnourished sort of way, except, of course, for her boobs, which somehow fare better than the rest of her. Despite an obviously athletic life, despite her lack of nutrition, despite a lack of any indication at all that she lives well enough to have developed fat reserves, Lessa has good-looking breasts. Great Maker forbid that F’lar have brought back an ugly girl as his choice, so reality itself bends to the will of the narrative.

Not that he’ll admit it. F’lar teases Lessa about her attractiveness by saying she’d be good enough for his brother. I think we’re supposed to get a Beatrice-Benedick feel from these two, but Lessa is not, in any sense, F’lar’s equal, nor would F’lar ever permit that to happen, so instead we get F’lar being a condescending ass (his default personality) and Lessa taking it because she knows how trapped she is in this space. F’lar is the sleazy boss that harasses all the female employees and enjoys watching them suffer, knowing they can’t retaliate against him. And to prove that point, F’lar orders Lessa to take care of the wound he received while fighting Fax, and Lessa just can’t bring herself to give as much rough as she’s received from him. We’re supposed to believe it’s because of a burgeoning attraction, with as much description if how virile and muscular and so very male F’lar is. I’d like to think that Lessa is making a cold calculation about what kind of consequences will likely happen if she gives him what he deserves, and she decides that she’s had enough of the physical abuse for now, but maybe later, when she does know all the escape routes, she’ll explain to him in excruciating detail just how much of an ass he really is.

There is food, which is also luxurious compared to Ruatha, and more of this burgeoning attraction between Lessa and F’lar, with her frustration that he gets to see her on full alert at everything and his complete lack of empathy regarding how she must feel in a new and strange place that makes odd sounds and has new ways of everything. F’lar takes delight in Lessa’s fear and suffering and being off-balance, because he’s the kind of guy that enjoys women being put “in their place”. And then, the Hatching starts, and F’lar threatens to strip Lessa if she doesn’t put on the candidate’s dress right this instant. No, he doesn’t make any sort of offer of privacy, or even try to avert his eyes from her. And when she’s done changing, he physically hauls her along to Mnementh and they go off to the Hatching, with F’lar having given her the most basic of advice about how to get through it.

The Hatching itself is horrible. Lessa is placed in yet another group of shrieking girls, and her contempt for them brings back our Sith sociopath of Ruatha Hold. She watches newly-hatched male dragons maul children they don’t match up with (yes, much like the Jedi Order, the dragonriders prefer their candidates young and lacking emotional attachments to the world) before the screams of the still-apparently-hysterical women return her attention to the golden queen egg. The girls don’t fare any better, with one girl’s neck violently broken and another clawed “shoulder to thigh” who will also die. Lessa’s contempt for the others’ inability to dodge puts her eye-to-eye with the new hatchling, and there’s the spark of connection where Lessa pair-bonds with Ramoth, the new queen, and everything else is secondary to making sure that Ramoth is taken care of…despite, as Lessa points out, Ramoth having just killed two children.

So, of course, F’lar is right, yet again, and can have his ego stroked that his single selection was the one who would Impress upon the queen. It must be nice being right all the time.

But let’s leave F’lar of the Immense Ego and go back to the ceremony of the dragons hatching. So dragonriders go out into the world, choosing young men and women from all around the world, bring them back to their Weyr, where, if a dragon doesn’t find them worthy of becoming their lifemate, the children could potentially die. For what the appropriate response is apparently…don’t be afraid. No pressure or anything. I have to think something like this gets downplayed when the parents get told. “It’s a great honor to be chosen! …assuming they survive. But Honor! Glory! Dragonflight!” And nothing is said about what happens to candidates that don’t get dragons but manage to survive. Are they kept for the next clutch? Are they sent to become the support staff for the dragonriders? Not that Lessa cares at this point, but we could stand to know.

Still. Children. Potentially as a fighting force. Or dead. And these are the traditions F’lar wants to uphold.

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23 thoughts on “Dragonflight: New Life, New Name

  1. alexseanchai May 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    …to be fair I think this is the only hatching where any candidates actually die. But still. Suck Fairy.

  2. Michael I May 22, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    If I recall correctly the other hatchings are portrayed as not at all dangerous to the dragonrider candidates.l

  3. depizan May 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Wow. This book continues to be amazing, and not in a good way.

    I find it somewhat hard to believe that a person who felt unsafe enough in their new place that they were actively checking for escape routes would also feel safe enough to relax in a bath, enjoy their new clothes, and be amazed at how pretty they are. It’s not impossible – people are varied. But it seems unlikely.

    There’s something very bad romance novel about this. The attention to our heroes’ looks, the fact that F’lar is horrible to her but she’s attracted to him… it just feels like it’s following a romance formula more than a fantasy formula. (Like that it seems like more time is spent on the bath and F’lar’s looks than Lessa’s feelings and plans or even on exactly what the situation is.)

    Worse, it’s just oozing with dislike of women – there’s surprisingly little sympathy for Lessa, and no sympathy at all for other women.

    The hatching is horrific, and I can’t decide if McCaffrey meant to evoke sacrifices with the candidates dresses or if that was just a bonus. I’ve got to say, it does make Fax’s anti-dragonrider attitude seem a lot more compelling. I mean, usually, it isn’t the heroes demanding child sacrifice from the citizenry.

    This is up there with the Ender books on my “what the hell’s the selling point???” list.

  4. Silver Adept May 22, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    @ AlexSeanchai and Michael I –

    I’m going to caveat that by saying its the only on-camera Hatching where there are fatalities. It’s strongly implied by the lack of audience reaction that this is a usual thing at Hatchings, and either in this book or the next is a very strong reinforcement of the idea that this process is normal, traditional, and that casualties are a normal part of the process.

    @ depizan –

    Dragons, perhaps, is the appeal. And what I left out in this summary is there while Lessa is bathing, F’lar is off taking care of some business. Perhaps this means Lessa feels comfortable enough to bathe, but I think you’re right – someone actively looking for escape routes is probably not going to spend much time primping.

    I think the white dresses are supposed to evoke something else, but sacrifices is definitely a knock-on interpretation. And since the people who don’t Impress don’t return home, add best I can tell, once the candidates leave, they may as well be dead.

  5. depizan May 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Silver Adept,

    I suspect that a big part of both series’ appeal hinges on whether you think you’d be the special one. I read the hatching scene and identify as much (or more) with other candidates as with Lessa. Dragons are cool, but the appeal goes way down when you’re being stepped on by them because you’re not worthy. (Yes, I suppose “stomped to death by baby dragons” is a fairly cool thing to have on one’s tombstone, but it’s still on one’s tombstone.)

    I’ve read elsewhere on-line that the reason the world is so unappealing in this book is that things have kind of failed and this isn’t really how it’s supposed to be (rather like the Republic and Jedi in the Star Wars prequels, I guess). The problem with that explanation is that the text doesn’t encourage us to stop and go “wow, this is fucked up,” it just sort of skips over problems (What does become of the kids who aren’t paired? Are they all killed?) or mentions them and then zips on as if merely mentioning them is good enough (wow, this dragon killed two people, oh well).

    There are small hints that things might be off (the games that resulted in that one guy’s dragon getting killed – is this practice for the Thread or is this decadence?) and things that are just frickin’ weird (I’d hate to care for food animals in a place where dragons are free to just swoop down and eat them whenever!) but I can’t tell if there’s supposed to be values dissonance or not.

    Actually, it really is like the Star Wars prequels – our supposed heroes are actively supporting a culture/government/way of life that’s pretty messed up, but it’s not clear if the creator intended us to see it that way. That F’lar and Lessa are so thoroughly unlikable just adds to the problem. We’ve (I think – I already knew about Thread and all) been given enough to acknowledge that the dragonriders are a necessary evil, but that’s about it. And I’m not getting the impression that McCaffrey intended the book to have villain protagonists. Which means that the values dissonance feels like it’s between me and the author, not between the audience and the world of Pern. (If that makes sense.)

  6. Silver Adept May 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    @ depizan –

    That makes sense. Much like the Ender books, it speaks if you think you’re Ender. And, later on in the series, when someone who isn’t a dragonrider thinks about dragonriders, there’s almost always awe or envy involved. So I think there’s anything to that idea of where the appeal comes from.

    As for the other theory, Future Knowledge disproves it hard, which should become evident when we get to the point of Future Knowledge. On the plus side, some of the values dissonance is acknowledged later, but the context of later changes it enough that it becomes a different chord of dissonance, so the questions here don’t really get answered satisfactorily, in my opinion.

  7. mmikeda@erols.com May 24, 2014 at 5:22 am

    As far as the hatching goes, I did recheck two of the more prominent hatchings (one in Dragonquest and one in The White Dragon) and neither of them seems to indicate any serious danger from the hatchlings. Ramoth is being a bit intimidating in the hatching in The White Dragon (likely due to certain events preceding that hatching) but she doesn’t actually attack anyone.

    I wonder if McCaffrey actually changed her mind about how dangerous hatchings were supposed to be and just wrote the later hatchings to fit with her new viewpoint.

  8. depizan May 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    I wonder if McCaffrey actually changed her mind about how dangerous hatchings were supposed to be and just wrote the later hatchings to fit with her new viewpoint.

    That wouldn’t surprise me. The level of danger here seems counter productive to the goal of pairing off the dragons. In a part that Silver Adept didn’t quote, a kid is walked on by a hatchling, cutting him up pretty badly, and then chosen by another. One assumes he wasn’t crippled by his wounds and didn’t bleed out, but either of those things could have happened. And what then? Would the hatchling just choose another? Attack the hatchling who crippled/killed their person? The whole thing could go very bad for all involved, it seems.

  9. Firedrake May 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

    depizan and others: I think it’s worth remembering that this was meant to be a one-off book. (Well, a one-off series of short stories first.) If you’re only visiting the world once, I think there’s a temptation not to worry about the details: the core point of the story is “underdog girl gets Nifty Dragon and hunky guy”, and the other stuff accretes round that, and if you’re never going back you don’t need to take so much care over the implicatipns.

    (And while I liked Annie both as a person and as an author, I’m sure she wouldn’t deny that she sometimes chose not to worry about details.)

    So I can very easily believe that McCaffrey toned down the danger of hatchings after this one.

  10. depizan May 25, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Firedrake,

    at least for me, that actually makes it worse, not better. If she had planned a series in which she might later address the issues, the fact that they go unaddressed in this book would be less of a problem. Her failure to consider implications means that her “underdog girl gets Nifty Dragon and hunky guy” story does not read that way to some portion of her potential audience.

    Lessa’s view of herself as utterly entitled to be something special while other people (particularly women) are garbage kills any chance I have of viewing her as an underdog. Hell, it’s not even implications (like that she must have gotten people hurt and/or killed with her sabotage), it’s flat out her actions and what we get of her inner thoughts.

    Likewise, I don’t care how “hunky” F’lar is supposed to be. He’s an asshole. He’s an arrogant bully who seems highly unlikely to ever have the common folk’s interest in mind and who comes off like a potential rapist in some of his interactions with Lessa. (What the fuck was he going to do when he was thinking about stripping her while she was unconsious!?)

    And the dragons kill children on page and no one cares. In fact, it’s normal.

    These are details one might want to worry about. At least if “underdog girl gets Nifty Dragon and hunky guy” was the story you wanted to tell. (If it was potential Sith dates asshole and rides a dragon, well, then she nailed it.)

  11. Silver Adept May 26, 2014 at 10:43 am

    @ Firedrake –

    Sure, details get left out, but I would expect them to be of the nature “Where does all this food we’re eating come from?”, not “What motivation do these children have to stand in front of things that can potentially kill them?” Considering the only advice F’lar gives Lessa about how to handle a dragon is “Show no fear”, it makes even less sense for children to be the candidates for Hatching, because kids and adults have a fairly natural fear of the unknown, even more so when is a potentially dangerous unknown.

    Just because it may not have been intended to be a complete book or series at the outset doesn’t excuse it from the issues that appear when it became a full book.

  12. Firedrake May 27, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Sure; I am always trying to work out the author’s thought process, not to make excuses for it. I want to know why she made these decisions. When I propose a sequence of thoughts, I’m not also saying “and that’s why it’s all OK” unless I actually write that.

    I fear that the Asshole Hero was enough of a standard character in much 1960s category romance that he was put in more or less by reflex.

  13. beappleby May 27, 2014 at 9:40 am

    They only went on Search for female candidates for the queen. The boys were all from the Weyr, so were well aware of what Impressing a dragon means. So the girls are all screaming in terror and the boys are standing their ground hopefully.

  14. James Haney May 27, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    For those of you who are following this and have NOT read the books, I suggest you borrow one from your local Library. After all, how can you truly make up your mind by just following this Blog and NOT have some true idea of the books without reading them. That’s just plain ridiculous.

  15. depizan May 27, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Well, gosh, I guess the whole concept of reviewing media is fatally flawed. People should go to movies or read books before they read reviews of them because otherwise they wouldn’t be being fair to the entertainment. I’m sure glad you pointed out how ridiculous the concept of a review or deconstruction is.

    Look, I get it, you love the Pern books. That’s fine. But the entire universe is not going to share your tastes and may take issue with things that don’t bother you.

    However, I am not convinced that recommending that people read the books is going to help you – assuming your goal is to get other people to like Pern, too. I’m reading along and, frankly, Silver Adept is being NICE. I wouldn’t find the book half as appalling as I do if I weren’t reading it.

  16. christhecynic May 27, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I wouldn’t find the book half as appalling as I do if I weren’t reading it.

    I’ve had that experience with multiple decons and I do wonder if it’s the norm or just sample bias.

    A deconstruction is basically a close reading and analysis based on that close reading. If you’re following along then you’re probably doing a close reading too. The difference is that you’re seeing the whole thing where the people reading the deconstruction alone are seeing only excerpts.

    The result is that people reading along are seeing more evidence than those who are not. If the deconstructor has done a good job of analyzing the work and choosing representative excerpts it seems like the result should, theoretically, be that the person reading along has the same reaction as one who is not, only more so.

  17. alexseanchai May 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    James Haney: Have you ever decided “I’m not reading this”, for any value of ‘this’, based on your (incomplete) knowledge of the content from hearing about but not yourself reading the ‘this’?

    Oh, you have?

    Shut up and let Silver Adept work, then.

  18. Silver Adept May 28, 2014 at 9:16 am

    @ beappleby –

    That makes it worse still, because it adds an element of “women are disposable creatures not worth teaching to preserve themselves, so long as one of them gets the dragon we want” on top of all the other problems involved.

    This work is a Julia set of wrong already.

  19. alexseanchai May 28, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Wiki on ‘Julia set’ is written for mathematicians. Halp?

  20. depizan May 28, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    And it very quickly becomes unclear why they went on Search for women. I haven’t read very far ahead, but it appears that they don’t expect the Queen or Lessa to do anything. So much for the idea of finding someone special and being sure not to take drudges. (Yeah, I get that the dragons look for something particular – not the same as special – but I fail to see why the boys of the Weyr are guaranteed to match up to a hatching with no dragons left over, but for the Queen (who doesn’t do anything except breed) they had to scour the countryside.)

  21. Silver Adept May 28, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    @ AlexSeanchai –

    Julia sets are fractals, although not to the same expansiveness as the Mandelbrot set. They are related to each other, though, through maths.

    @ depizan –

    If we can trust F’lar as far as we can throw him, his motivations for searching, as displayed earlier, are that the appropriate qualities for wrangling queen dragons are not found in Weyr-born women. Since we don’t trust F’lar as far as we can throw him, it’s really that he’s looking for certain qualities in a woman that he can control – perhaps Weyr women are too used to their freedom to get put into such a role, and the dragonriders have to go outside to get someone that fits.

  22. depizan May 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    It appears that it’s traditional to search outside the Weyr for the woman who’s paired with the queen. Combine that with the tradition that the queen and her rider do nothing but hang out and make baby dragons, and it seems hard to avoid the idea that they go outside the Weyr specifically to get someone who will be awed and easy to control. It also makes all of F’lar’s disparaging comments about the previous queen rider seem like pure jackassery.

  23. J. Random Scribbler May 30, 2014 at 3:52 am

    @depizan: That’s the best explanation I’ve heard yet for queenriders being Searched from outside the Weyr while all the other candidates are home-grown.

    Oh, and re your earlier comparison with the Star Wars prequels and whether the authors involved intended things to seem messed up– my read of Dragonflight is that AM was trying to say yes, things are messed up here, but that’s the fault of the current Weyrleader. (And more generally the lack of respect for the Weyr.) The book pretty much comes out and says that things would have been OK If only F’lar had been in charge.

    @James Haney and other dismayed Pern fans: If you’re not familiar with this community, you should be aware that we focus pretty sharply on social-justice-type issues. That means you’ll see more attention paid to those aspects of the books than you may be used to.

    I’m also pretty sure nobody is saying you are a bad person for liking these books; yes, they have problems, but nothing is perfect. Anybody is free to like or dislike whatever they want. I think you’re getting a bad reaction because you’re coming across like we shouldn’t talk about the problems with these books. That’s probably not your full intent, but we can’t read your mind, only your words, and even those are going to be seen differently by different people.

    I don’t know if that helps you at all, but it’s how I see things.

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