Dragonsong: Daughter of the Revenge of the Narrative

(by Silver Adept)

Last time, I won a bet I hoped not to, and Menolly found a full set of fire-lizards. With her spirits lifted, she returns to the Hold.

Dragonsong: Chapters 3-4: Content Notes: Gaslighting

Menolly’s return is greeted with immediately having to go wash her greens in the kitchen and a chastisement for being outside so long, when a ship has come in and there’s the threat of Threadfall at any time. Menolly is given the explicit instructions to keep Old Uncle (yes, that’s his name) full of food so that he doesn’t talk and take up a lot of time. Sella, once of Menolly’s sisters, is better at this, but because Menolly is the low person in the hierarchy right now, she gets the task. Which is written as an elder care nightmare – Old Uncle smells, and complains about how nobody pays any attention to him any more, and takes his time, and never shuts up about anything. He also is a double-amputee (below the knee), and is suffering from some form of neurological issue as well. To get him to the Great Hall, Menolly carries him to his place.

The old man was so frail that he was no burden to a strong girl like Menolly. She carried him down the steps, he complaining all the way about people who’d been dead before she was born.

I was right again, I see, about Menolly’s body construction – tall and strong are confirmed, so that picture I have of a muscular Menolly punching out Yanus just needs Menolly punching out Yanus.

The guest of honor tonight is the new Harper! His name is Elgion. And he brought some nice instruments with him. Menolly wants to listen to the Harper’s songs, but Old Uncle interrupts with a demand for happier songs, and when stuffed with sweets to keep him quiet, Old Uncle resents being told to be quiet. Like someone does when they know they’re being handled so that they don’t cause a fuss. So when he starts to hiccup from the food, it interrupts his complaints, and to try and clear the hiccups, he starts pounding on his chair, which is sufficiently out-of-rhythm with the Harper’s song to be funny, if everyone wasn’t so very invested in making this a solemn, serious affair. Because Yanus is that kind of guy who would take laughter at something that’s funny and make it an affront to his honor and the Hold’s honor.

[The Simpsons Movie – I’ll Teach You To Laugh At Something That’s Funny]

So Menolly has to take Old Uncle back to bed and get him situated, which takes a long time. Then Mavi berates her for the embarrassment Old Uncle caused. Then Threadfall, which means mucking in the marsh looking for burrows. Then loading nets, getting and gutting fish, and mending nets while Yanus glowers and paces, so there’s no singing.

And then her sister gaslights her.

“Angry about Old Uncle?” Sella shrugged. “What on earth [Shouldn’t that be Pern?] are you talking about, girl? Who remembers that? You think entirely too much about yourself, Menolly, that’s your biggest problem. Why should Yanus care one way or another about you?”
The scorn in Sella’s voice reminded Menolly too acutely that she was only a girl, too big for a proper girl, and the youngest of a large family, therefore of least account.

Which is pretty much the opposite of reality. Yanus cares far too much about Menolly, and in all the wrong ways.

Also, nailed it, completely, on Menolly’s appearance.

Anyway, the hell days continue. Mavi yells at Menolly for not keeping herself and her room clean, and then Menolly had to help clean a completely new catch. Due to her sleep deprivation and distraction, she slices her hand open with the fish knife, and the shock is such that Menolly doesn’t react, just stares at it.

Then her mother gaslights her, in much the same way as Sella did – Mavi says nobody thought Menolly cut herself deliberately to get our of the work, despite everyone giving Menolly looks that said they were thinking just that. You see, I trust Menolly’s observations about reality more than anything Mavi or Sella says, because both Mavi and Sella are actively trying to get Menolly hurt, even if it is out of fear of Yanus.

Now, the narrative still hates women who exercise independence and progressive thought, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that the fish that Menolly was working on is venomous, and that the venom has infected her hand. Chapter 3 ends before we get full confirmation of what happens, but Mavi tells Menolly that she’ll be lucky to have a functional hand, but that her music days are definitely over, even if her hand heals well enough for her to be able to play any musical instrument.

Chapter 4 starts with that confirmation – no amputation needed, thank Prime, but Menolly definitely has a hand that will not function at full capacity.

Is it wrong of me to think that this is so because the protagonist is fourteen, and killing her from venom is a bridge too far, even for this narrative? If this were the other books, Chapter Four would have opened with the new Harper singing Menolly’s funeral, and then the plot that was intended for this book would move forward.

Now that Menolly has been injured to the narrative’s satisfaction, there is a veritable outpouring of familial love for her. Mavi stays by her for the entire recovery time, nursing Menolly back to health. The cries of her seriously injured daughter produces the empathy that has been lacking. Yanus is sorry that his daughter cut herself, and maybe misses her singing a little bit, but he’s not actually remorseful, considering that he thinks Menolly’s injury is for the best, because women have other things to do than sing and play instruments.

I’m still holding out hope for Menolly punching out her father, because the narrative is going to have to make up a lot of ground if it wants to get back in something resembling a lack of active hostility from me. I don’t think it will ever actually get to good graces ever again.

We’ll stop here, just a few pages in. Next time, what one of the Benden Weyrleader’s plans looked like on the actual ground. Or actually, what one of Robinton’s plans looks like on the ground.

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6 thoughts on “Dragonsong: Daughter of the Revenge of the Narrative

  1. Only Some Stardust November 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I don’t think the author would kill off a protagonist, ‘tho I could be wrong. So even if she was older she’d be safe by virtue of Protagonist Plot Armor.

  2. Pebblerocker November 13, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    The older Hold workers remember back before Sea Holder Olduncle’s accident, when you were allowed to talk and laugh as you mended nets or gutted fish, and the resident Harper was always encouraged to sing something entertaining in the evenings, not just recite unending stanzas about Tradition and Duty. None of that now his dour nephew Yanus has taken over the running of Half Circle.

    Reading between the lines, “Old Uncle” must have been a good leader for the Hold and a far better man than Yanus. Hard-working but not opposed to a good time. Now he’s trapped up in his rooms, unable to get around unless someone feels like carrying him, and nobody even remembers his name. When he is let out for a few hours, he isn’t permitted to participate socially at all. Nobody has any respect for the position of authority and responsibility he once held.

    “Uncle” and “Auntie” aren’t being used as respectful honorifics here; elders don’t warrant even having names. And Menolly, our hero, doesn’t think of Old Uncle as anything but a nuisance and an impediment to her.

  3. boutet November 15, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I went to see if her physical description stays the same (big, strong) after she isn’t being abused at home anymore. If her descriptions once she’s risen in society start heading in more socially-imposed-attractive directions. But I don’t have the books on hand and the wiki doesn’t have any description of her at all. I guess I’ll have to wait until we’re further in the series!
    I get very tired of the ugly duckling–> beautiful swan storyline in girl characters. Especially if she is treated poorly young and then treated well when she’s grown. Yeah, it’s probably accurate to say that society will treat someone better when they meet an imposed standard, but it’s never addressed as such. More that the girl becomes so wonderful at the same time that she becomes so beautiful (or worse, that she becomes comfortable with herself once she’s beautiful and her comfort and confidence somehow fixes other peoples’ behavior).

  4. Silver Adept November 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    I don’t give the author much leeway after the clusterfrak that was the end of the last book, and the general attitude toward women present. Protagonist Plot Armor doesn’t always work against a fridging.

    @ Pebblerocker –

    That’s interesting. Old Uncle as the previous Sea Holder would be an interesting story to have as comparison.

    @ boutet –

    Please do keep an eye on it. It’s going to get weirdly Schrodinger-like. Maybe you can help us untangle the threads.

  5. depizan November 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    The problem with Menolly’s injury is that it seems to make it canon that she is at the Hold of Enormous Asshats. It’s not just things like people looking at her as if she did it on purpose (something that might be barely possible in a world with modern medicine but seems completely and utterly absurd in a world where even a cut less bad than the horrific one Menolly sustains could cause someone to lose a limb or DIE), but her family’s reactions seem to kill every possible non-asshole reason for why her dad didn’t want her doing music.

    If she were being kept there as marriage material, this does not improve her prospects. At all.

    If she were being kept there as a drudge, this vastly reduces her usefulness. Especially as they apparently lie and tell her she can’t use her hand at all.

    Add in the bits we get with Old Uncle and it doesn’t even seem to be TRADITION! it seems to be Yanus is a nasty piece of work who’s tolerated either because of TRADITION! (i.e. he was the only heir) or because he’s a really damn good shipmaster/fisherman/whatnot and the fact that he’s an enormous asshat on land can be lived with.

    It’s just all overkill. Most of the events of the book could happen without her family being unremittingly awful. And if they really are meant to be the abusers they come off as, it’s disturbing that the story never deals with that. Menolly isn’t the only person to suffer at Yanus’s hands, after all. (Or Mavi and Sella’s for that matter. Trickle down abuse, it’s fun!)

    She could have had a family that just didn’t understand how important music was to her and gone about handling her accident wrong because even well meaning people can screw up. She runs away, etc. Or, keep the abusive family but have something happen to them for fucks sake. The narrative destroyed Kylara for sins that seem a heck of a lot less than Yanus’s.

  6. Michael I November 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    @Silveradept

    Despite the other issues, actual fridging doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue in the Pern novels that I’ve read. Terrible things happen in the novels to sympathetic characters (and to characters that are supposed to be sympathetic) but they usually survive the terrible things.

    (There are a couple I can think of who do die, but it’s at the very end of each of their respective books, after they’ve helped solve the main crisis of each of their respective books. And probably others who die earlier in “Moreta” but that’s a novel about a civilization-threatening epidemic. There had BETTER be sympathetic characters dying in a novel like that.)

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