Dragonsong: Secret Missions

Last time, the narrative attacked Menolly repeatedly, culminating in the crippling of one of her hands due to venomous fish slime infecting a deep hand wound brought on by fatigue from punishment duties assigned by her mother and father.

Dragonsong: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Sexism

So, we’re going to pick up in Chapter 4 where we left off, at the point where Chapter 4 really should have started. Rather than trying to cliffhang on whether or not Menolly’s hand would have function enough to play, it would be better to end after the outpouring of familial love, such that it is. It allows readers to have a happy point (“See, they do love her after all…”) and gives deconstructors a nice place to hang their hat (“…only after they know she won’t be able to pursue her forbidden dreams.”). Besides, we’re told, Mavi said her hand wouldn’t be good enough for playing, and Mavi never lies. Which is an assertion I can’t disprove in that Mavi has never told a direct falsehood to Menolly, but that I will give the biggest side-eye to because of Mavi’s entrenched interest in letting Yanus hurt Menolly and hurting Menolly herself. Lies of omission and coloration of Menolly’s perspective, though, I’m pretty sure have already happened before the narrative arrived.

Like the one Yanus commits when Elgion asks about who taught the kids.

At first, thinking that Menolly had been nowhere near as skilled as everyone had assumed, Yanus had told Elgion that a fosterling had undertaken the task and that he’d returned to his own Hold just prior to the Harper’s arrival.
“Whoever did this has the makings of a good Harper then,” Elgion told his new Holder. “Old Petiron was a better teacher than most.”
The praise unexpectedly disturbed Yanus. He couldn’t retract his words, and he didn’t want to admit to Elgion that the person was a girl. So Yanus decided to let matters stand. No girl could be a Harper, any way the road turned. Menolly was too old now to be in any of the classes, and he’d see that she was busy with other things until she came to think of her playing as some childish fancy. At least she hadn’t disgraced the Hold.

I’m sorry, did I say lie of omission? That’s only after the blatant lie about who taught the kids.

I’m also beginning to wonder whether there was only one plot in mind when it came to writing these books, because this is the third set-up of “resourceful protagonist must defeat intensely traditional antagonist” in as many books.

Anyway, Elgion is on a mission from Robinton to gauge how receptive and open to change Yanus is and to get him to start thinking beyond his own Hold and into bigger logistical problems. Which Elgion does in a fairly ham-fisted manner, and Yanus gives his responses in as few words as possible, and as close to traditions as Yanus can get. We can forgive Elgion his methods, as the narrative informs us that this is his first posting, but we’re also told that Elgion has been prepped to find this Hold hide-bound and that there would be difficulty sussing out who the songmaker is. Petiron, however, appears to have neglected to mention his songmaker is a woman. Perhaps because he thinks Robinton isn’t quite ready to go there (which we’ve seen, at least the cultivated image of misogyny that Robinton needs for dealing with actual misogynist Holders), or because he thought the message wouldn’t get through if he did. In either case, Elgion seems content to wait for the time where the supposedly male Harper candidate will present themselves. Yanus and Mavi have both sabotaged this plan by directing those who know not to say anything, those who might have enjoyed Menolly’s music not to ask for it, and giving Menolly tasks to keep her away from where music is made.

Unsurprisingly, Menolly is depressed about her musical capability.

If Mavi was perplexed by the quietness and passivity of her youngest child, she put it down to the long and painful recovery, not to loss of her music. Mavi knew that all manner of pain and trouble could be forgotten in time, and so did her best to keep her daughter occupied. Mavi was a very busy woman, and Menolly kept out if her way.
Gathering greens and fruit suited Menolly perfectly. It kept her out in the open and away from the Hold, away from people.

This line of reasoning from Mavi, however, doesn’t quite fit for me. Especially since there’s been a lot of movement just before this to keep Menolly from being able to play her music, some of which Mavi has participated in. And, with this continued subtle acknowledgement that Mavi is also an abuse victim, I would think Mavi’s first thought would be that the depression is entirely about what Yanus beat her over. Perhaps Mavi has too much experience ignoring the truth to be able to confront it now.

Life continues on – shellfish get hunted, greens get gathered, a large amount of concern is raised about abnormally high tides (new knowledge – Pern seafarers know that tides are caused by heavenly objects, but they mistakenly believe only the solid objects exert gravitational pull enough to affect tides.), and so Menolly is out running, thinking about nothing to numb the pain, and looking for signs of high seas when she encounters the fire-lizards again. The fire-lizards are in a complete panic, and when Menolly tries to creep closer to figure out what’s going on, she takes a long ride down the cliffside. Which turns out to her advantage, as Menolly finds out what has the fire-lizards a-flutter. There’s a clutch of eggs and a rising tide.

Here we have some great writing about trying to communicate with a species that might be able to understand you, but that you can’t necessarily understand back. When not actively trying to hurt the main characters, the story and the writing ability starts to come through. So, Menolly’s deductive process for figuring out what’s going on goes like this:

  1. Eggs! I almost stepped on them. Maybe if I back off, I can climb up the cliff. [Result: Fire-lizards stop attacking.]
  2. Good, that worked. I’ll try to stay away from the eggs and climb. [Result: Fire-lizards attack. Menolly’s cheek is scratched.]
  3. Observation: Queen is trying to protect the clutch. How ungrateful of them to not recognize the one who made a nice tune for you. Also, laughter makes the fire-lizards disappear. Maybe I can climb the cliff while laughing? [Result: Too tough to climb while laughing. Also, fire-lizards attack.]
  4. Maybe singing will grant safe passage? [Result: No audience for song, but curiosity and rapt attention from the fire-lizards. Singing again while attempting to climb results in fire-lizard attack.]
  5. Attempt to explain that I can’t stay, because the tide is coming in. [Result: Queen fire-lizard cries shrilly, heads to egg clutch, grabs an egg, hauls it upward to a cavern, rolls the egg into the cavern.]
  6. Oh! Queen lizard needs help moving eggs. Carefully move an egg from the beach to the cavern. [Result: Queen appears, rolls egg into cavern.]
  7. Okay. Three eggs this time. Observation: The tide will win the race unless the other lizards can help.
  8. Observation: A bigger hole will provide that help, and would allow for one trip with all the eggs in a greens sack. Action: Widen the hole. [Result: Queen fire-lizard is upset! And with good reason – if Menolly collapses the entrance to the cave, those eggs are lost.]
  9. Action: Load eggs into sack. [Result: Queen fire-lizard attacks. Someone is stealing her eggs!]
  10. Menolly scolds the queen fire-lizard, who appears to understand and subsides.

Three trips later, all the eggs are safe and Menolly is free to climb the cliff and return home. After she climbs the cliff, Menolly reflects on what she has learned. And, uncharacteristically, the narrative rewards Menolly for her good deed helping the fire-lizards.

Her hand ached in a dull way, and the long scar was red and slightly swollen. But, as Menolly flexed her fingers, it seemed that the hand opened more easily. Yes, it did. She could almost extend her fingers completely. It hurt, but it was a stretchy-hurt. Could she open her hand enough to play again? She folded her fingers as if to chord. That hurt, but again, it was a stretchy-hurt. Maybe if she worked her hand a lot more…

And thus, Menolly discovers physical therapy. Having broken two fingers myself, after everything was pinned up and healed, it took a very long time of straining against the position the fingers were locked into for the healing. Eventually, with the diligent application of exercises, the flexibility of the fingers has been restored. So, in Menolly’s case, perhaps her hand will be restored to proper functionality after all.

That’s weird. And a bit scary, because now I’m worried the narrative is going to Kick The Dog very hard before we’re done.


8 thoughts on “Dragonsong: Secret Missions

  1. depizan November 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    resourceful protagonist must defeat intensely traditional antagonist

    That’s not a terrible narrative set up (though three times in as many books is a bit much). I just wish there were more actual defeating in these books. And that what little defeating there was wasn’t all accomplished by people almost as traditional as the antagonists. And that the narratives weren’t so busy punishing non-traditional people, especially women. So, yeah, the books have that theme, but also fall flat on their faces when it comes to actually holding up that theme.

    “At first, thinking that Menolly had been nowhere near as skilled as everyone had assumed, Yanus had told Elgion that a fosterling had undertaken the task and that he’d returned to his own Hold just prior to the Harper’s arrival.”

    This seems to imply that if Yanus had realized that Elgion thought the instructor was super good, he would have told the truth. I’m gonna call bullshit on that. It’s like the narrative is trying to soften Yanus’s lying, rather than give an accurate portrayal of events. (Unless this is Yanus’s internal excuses leaking into the narration?)

    Also, it seems like a stupid, stupid lie. Even if everyone at the Hold backs up Yanus’s lie (and Yanus tells everyone his lie so that no one goes “What fosterling?” if Elgion asks them about the fictitious boy), surely there’s a limited number of Holds this fosterling could’ve come from… and there haven’t BEEN any fosterlings at the Hold.

    (Now if this was all leading up to Yanus spectacularly sinking himself in his lies and assholery, that would be fine. But nothing comes of this. As far as I know, no one even checks his damn story. The humans of Pern have no room at all to talk in calling the dragons not bright.)

    I also want to call bullshit on the idea that no one, not even the Old Aunts and Old Uncle, mention Menolly’s music – and her loss of it (supposedly) due to the hand injury – in Elgion’s presence. Unless Yanus makes damn sure no one who might blab is ever in Elgion’s vicinity. Except Elgion is teaching children. Who somehow never slip up and refer to their previous teacher as she or her?

    Really, Yanus only gets away with this because the narrative lets him.

    And I continue being extra irritated because most of this isn’t at all necessary to the story and just adds extra unpleasantness and karma houdini-ing. *glares at book* This has vexed me since I was fourteen.

    [Totally unrelated to the matter at hand…

    Having broken two fingers myself, after everything was pinned up and healed, it took a very long time of straining against the position the fingers were locked into for the healing. Eventually, with the diligent application of exercises, the flexibility of the fingers has been restored.

    Ooh! This is very useful information to me as a writer. Thank you for sharing.]

  2. Silver Adept November 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    The narrative is very firmly on Yanus’s side, but I think, based on context which I didn’t provide in the posts, that were supposed to also see Yanus as an opportunist looking for any advantage or prestige that he can bring to his Hold. So he still wouldn’t tell the truth that it was Menolly, but he would have probably spun it as “a fosterling from this hold who just left for elsewhere” instead of “a fosterling from somewhere else that just returned.”

    It’s still a stupid lie and once that should be easy for Elgion to catch him in (and he does, eventually, when people do start slipping up), but, as you pointed out, Yanus enjoys a basically-perfect cover for far longer than he should. I think the implication is that everyone is sufficiently afraid of Yanus that they stick to the story. Which has the extra implication that Yanus hurts a whole lot more people than his immediate family. And yet, despite the Thread falling and the explicit introduction of a fish that is venomous enough to cause worries of amputation if introduced to a wound like Menolly’s, nobody has yet given him improperly-prepared packtail (the venomous fish) or taken one for the team in sabotaging a fishing boat Yanus is on and leaving him to be eaten alive by Thread.

    Or the Hold Harper hasn’t threatened him with being erased from history and song (or, worse, being used as the villain for a new Teaching Song). Everyone is too passive in the face of this.

    And no, nothing comes of it. Once we leave Half-Circle, we don’t hear anything about what happened to Yanus and Mavi and the whole abuse thing. The narrative not only lets him do horrible things, it prevents consequences from reaching him.

    [Glad to be useful. Took about three to four months before a whole lot of flexibility came back to those fingers.]

  3. Only Some Stardust November 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    My first thought was that Yanus beat the children into silence. Which brings up how do their parents not kill him in his sleep.

    He’s a tyrant. And like all tyrants, he’s got to have nasty buddies who will back him up (and help in gaslighting others into believing their little version of events), and like many bullies has a good sense of just how far he can push people before they explode, thus explaining why nobody has managed to murder him yet.

  4. depizan November 21, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    @Only Some Stardust

    The odd thing is, we never really see his buddies. If anything, the narrative seems to want us to think he’s a hard but fair man or some similar cliche. At least part of the time. He seems to be the first tyrant antagonist that we’re not really supposed to notice is a tyrant. (As opposed to the tyrant protagonists we’ve been supposed to not notice previously.)

    @Silver Adept

    The narrative is very firmly on Yanus’s side

    The narrative is extremely weird. I just checked the book out (advantage of working in a library) and, as far as I can tell, the book seems to have unreliable third person omniscient narration, or at least it’s very hard to pull out actual facts as opposed to what various characters believe from the narration. (Menolly’s hand and how good a medical care she got…or didn’t get…is probably the biggest example of this, but there are other times where the narrative implies, or outright says one thing, only to imply, say, or show something incompatible later.)

    The narrative not only lets him do horrible things, it prevents consequences from reaching him.

    And I really don’t understand why. This should be Menolly’s story, the narrative should be on her side, if it’s going to be on anyone’s. Yes, she gets a better life in the end, but the people who hurt her (and possibly intentionally crippled her, or tried to) are allowed to continue on hurting people, not just by the narrative but by people I think we’re supposed to see as good people. It’s normalizing abuse, treating it as something that you don’t fix and don’t address. (But maybe rescue exceptional people from.)

    [Was the loss of flexibility from how long they were immobilized, or partly a result of the injury itself? Er, if you don’t mind my asking, that is.]

  5. Silver Adept November 23, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Well, considering the context of the last few books, abuse being normalized appears to be the default setting on Pern. Yes, some people get rescued and pulled to somewhere else, but others stay exactly where they are, like Mavi and Sella, without any sort of intervention from anyone. I think we’re supposed to just accept it as part of the setting of the pastiche.

    Which is what allows him to do it himself, without the need for flunkies or subordinates. A dragonrider could do it, but probably not by himself. If we’re engaging in magical thinking, we may as well do it wholeheartedly.

    [Both. Injury required pins to hold bones in place to reset, which resulted in extra structure that needed to be broken apart, and the cast and pins lasted for several weeks, which gave plenty of time for such things to grow. The exercises basically consisted of birth trying to move the fingers under my own power, and then using the other hand to try and pull the fingers into a flexed position.]

  6. depizan November 23, 2014 at 1:43 pm


    [And thank you for all the awesome information! Though I’m sorry you acquired it by breaking your fingers. No part of that sounds pleasant. At all. 😦 ]

  7. Silver Adept November 24, 2014 at 6:41 pm


    [I can also tell you about the time I accidentally drove a pickaxe blade into my shin, which required stitches at the after-hour clinic, but thankfully nothing else, as the blade itself didn’t embed or hit anything major.]

  8. depizan November 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    [Oh dear. On the bright side, you’re a font of information regarding interesting injuries. Not that “interesting” was the right description at the time. Ouch!
    But I will keep you in mind if I ever go after one of my characters with a pickaxe or anything similar.]

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