Dragonsong: And, action!

Last chapter, thanks to his friendship with Alemi, Elgion was finally permitted to deduce the circumstances of Menolly’s absence and the nature of the mysteriously absent songwriter that Elgion was sent to find. With everyone finally in place, the action begins.

Dragonsong: Chapter 9: Content Notes: Misgendering.

Chapter 9 returns to Menolly’s troupe, where breakfast is the order of the day, and Menolly’s chief concern is figuring out how to repair her shoes and/or make new ones. On a long-range expedition, Menolly discovers a stream that could make for excellent foraging ground, but her explorer instinct is curbed first by the thought of food, and then secondly by the dread realization that she’s been caught too far from shelter during an advancing Threadfall.

She told herself firmly that now was not the time to panic. She forced herself to swallow the last of the cress juices. Then she had no control over her legs; they took off with her and she was running, toward the sea and toward the rock safety of her cave.

It’s been well-established that Menolly is fast by this point, so part of the convincing part of the drama is that she could make it back. The thought crosses her mind to use the water as safety, but the difficulty of staying under during a Threadfall, and the likelihood of hobbling herself on the rocks nixes that idea. For as fast as Menolly is, and with the fire-lizards flying protective formations above her, though, the leading edge of Threadfall is gaining on her. Menolly doesn’t know that fire-lizards eat Thread, not that it would be useful in the rain oncoming, so this is a good moment of drama. Now, with our previous knowledge of the narrative, there’s no way Menolly would be able to get back in time – women characters are not able to do things under their own power, if their views run contrary to the established male-dominant order, and will be punished for trying. But for someone new to the series, there’s still the possibility of being able to outrun the dangerous advancing curtain.

She heard the whoosh, heard the fire lizards’ startled chirrups, saw the shadow and feel to the ground covering her head instinctively with her hands, her body taut for the first fell off flesh-scoring Thread. She smelled fire-stone, and felt the air heavy against her body.
“Get on your feet, you silly fool! And hurry. Leading edge is nearly on us.”
Incredulous, Menolly looked up, right into the whirling eyes of a brown dragon.

No, thankfully, it is not the Brown Rider Rapist. The rider warps through hyperspace to Benden Weyr, which gives Menolly an experiential lesson on the Teaching Song regarding between.

And a quick reality check on the size of everything, as Benden is big enough to fit the entirety of Half-Circle and about half again. The rider lets Menolly off…

You can relax your death hold, lad,”
[…]
“Down you go, lad, I’ve got to rejoin my wing to mop up.”
This was the second time he’d called her “lad.”
“You’ve a fine pace on you. Ever think of going for Hold runner?”

[RECORDSCRATCH.] Bzuh? Not the bit about admiring Menolly’s fleetness of foot, but that a dragonrider didn’t feel or see anything that suggested his passenger was a woman, despite having a good look at her while she was trying to outrun the Thread and her “death grip” on him during the warp? Maybe there’s some allowance for the fact that he’s not really focusing on her past the point of dropping her off and getting back to the fighting, but this also suggests that Menolly is, well, flat. Despite being fifteen, which in a medieval pastiche-world, would be likely well past the point of puberty. And there’s no indication that Half-Circle is somehow food insecure or otherwise being exposed to chemicals that would slow or stunt puberty growth and development. I think we’re supposed to believe that Menolly’s athletic build and lifestyle has given her muscle and strength instead of a curvy figure. (Before continuing, I consulted a go-to collection of pictures of Olympic athletes surrounded by an excellent post about body types and fitness models to make sure what I said next was actually accurate to actual athletic bodies. Unfortunately for my research, most of the athletes are pictured frontally, rather than to the side, but even frontal pictures gives a pretty good clue about what’s going on.) If Menolly has been building an athletic frame, there may not be much there to distinguish her, but the close proximity should have given the rider a fairly accurate picture of things, (maybe the fighting gear reduces his ability to sense things), the dragon doesn’t correct his rider (which may be due to dragons communicating about people by visualizing them, but still, the dragon would know), and Menolly manages to somehow not betray herself through her breathing (which should be heavier due to her run) and doesn’t say anything in the process of being transferred, not even a casual or happy “Thank you” for her rescue. (Panic freeze, maybe, but it takes a while to wing down to the landing zone.) Menolly basically avoids discovery until she tries to step down and nearly faints from the pain.

“My feet!” She’d run the boots to uppers without knowing it, and her lacerated feet were bloody from toe to heel.
[…]
He grabbed her by the wrist, gave a practiced yank, and laid her over his shoulder.
[…]
“Just look at his feet! He’s run them raw!”
“T’gran, wherever…”
“Saw him trying to outrun Thread down Nerat way. Bloody near did!”

No, no, no, wait, wait. First, the oath “bloody” derives from “God’s blood”, a reference to the Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton, who has been conspicuously absent from all of these books. I can accept references to dragon eggs, but the blood of a deity with no followers? I think not.

Second, T’gran has no reason to keep referring to Menolly as a him, unless he knows something about her gender identity that the rest if us do not. (If this were so, though, this plot would be Mulan, not Rapunzel.) I doubt that Menolly’s pained scream can pass as a dude with an awesome falsetto. (Not that they don’t exist, but seriously, most people can tell the difference between female singers and guys with awesome falsetto.)

Third, T’gran has probably added a dislocated shoulder, sprained wrist, or broken bones to Menolly’s injured feet with that move. I’m not an expert in wrestling maneuvers or other ways of carrying people, but I suspect the wrist joints are not meant to be used in that fashion, and especially not for the one hundred plus pounds of force that had to be exerted just to lift Menolly, much less the extra force applied to put her over the shoulder quickly. The narrative doesn’t mention these use of the other hand as either a support or where all the actual lifting takes place, so my mental picture is that T’gran grabs Menolly by the wrist, throws her into the air toward him, and catches her on his shoulder. Which should hurt, a lot, for everyone. And that’s assuming Menolly is on the small end of size and weight of those athletic women, like the gymnasts, and not on the larger end, like the basketball players, despite being described as both tall and strong, and someone with the ability to run long distances at high speed. To dead lift her in that awkward way would suggest incredible strength. And should hurt like hell for everyone involved.

Back to the plot. Menolly is dosed with fellis juice and quickly fades to black, as we’re told she’s the second person brought in today. The other? Elgion, of course, who went looking for Menolly today and was also caught out in Threadfall. And who also thinks this other person caught out is a boy. I realize that the whole plot hinges around Menolly being thought of as a boy, but this is starting to stain credulity. Elgion doesn’t put two and three together to think about whether this “boy” could be the lost girl. He’s too wrapped up in how he’s going to deal with Yanus when he gets back to Half-Circle, I guess. Yanus has apparently gotten to the Harper as well. But Elgion takes advantage of a delay in getting him back to observe daily Weyr life and to get acquainted with fire-lizards.

When he’s returned, the dragonrider spins the clock back so that Elgion returns to Yanus much earlier in the day that he would normally have gone. There is a discussion of fire-lizard eggs, and Alemi wants to know if Elgion found anything in a specific cave. Which arouses Yanus’s suspicion, but Elgion and Alemi are able to successfully navigate their shared story to prevent any slip-ups. Yanus asks for some words with Elgion, but the Harper has discerned the way to deal with Yanus without having to lie – he can claim just about anything in relation to the Weyr, and Yanus will let it slide because Yanus respects the Weyr more than himself and his Hold. Elgion has found the weak point, finally.

And so chapter 9 concludes, with the Harper still holding the secondary Idiot Ball with regard to Menolly, even if he has figured out how to get Yanus on board with change.

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18 thoughts on “Dragonsong: And, action!

  1. depizan December 18, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I’m more willing to give a pass on T’gran’s confusion as to Menolly’s gender. In my experience, expectations and internal stereotypes count far more than anything else when it comes to that sort of thing. (I “pass” well enough as a man to scare little old ladies in the women’s restroom and not everyone who hails me as “sir” changes their mind when I speak. Short hair and neutral clothing are enough for a lot of people.)

    That said, Elgion not even considering that the other person caught out could be Menolly, despite her being the only person known (or at least strongly suspected) to not be living in a hold or weyr, and despite him having been caught out while looking for her is beyond ridiculous. If the plot needs him not to know, perhaps he should’ve been injured as well – I suspect thread score would do a number on one’s reasoning ability. Or a head injury. Or both.

    If he had enough time to hang out and get to know about fire lizards, he had enough time to discover that Menolly had been found. That he doesn’t is complete and utter FAIL.

    I’ll have to look at the book when I get home, but I’d love to know where else Menolly/mystery lad could have come from. If she was close enough to some other Hold or Weyr to be plausibly a lad from there, why wasn’t she worried about running into people from that Hold or Weyr while out foraging? And why didn’t she?

  2. genesistrine December 18, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Re not noticing: Well, he is wearing flying gear….

    And average age of puberty has been dropping in the modern world – it was over 16 in 1860 according to here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/oct/21/puberty-adolescence-childhood-onset , so it is possible that Menolly’s not particularly developed in that respect (which may add fuel to the “Petiron suggesting she cross-dress to get into the Harper Hall” theory). It may also indicate that that things are bad for women in the Sea Hold, nutritionally speaking, though no-one’s sure of the reason for the age drop.

    (Hi again all! New job so not much spare time around here recently….)

  3. depizan December 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    *reads chapter in book*

    Oh dear god, Elgion literally sees a fire-lizard and forgets everything. It really is an idiot plot.

  4. Silver Adept December 18, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Flying gear is fairly thick, then, that it can’t help someone distinguish, which makes sense for keeping out the cold of hyperspace.

    I seem to recall, perhaps very poorly, that the marriageable age for women in Latin Christendom was about Menolly’s age, and possibly that puberty hit about that age, too, but I don’t remember where, so I could be very wrong. But maybe nutrition isn’t that good, or Menolly is a late developer (stress from abuse delaying things?). It just seems odd that with contact and hearing someone scream in pain that they would figure out what gender they might be carrying.

    It really is a plot of lack of observation and stupidity, which are two vices no Harper should have, and especially not one sent to retrieve a mysterious candidate that nobody will own up to. Elgion should have at least asked to see the other person who got brought in, if for no other reason that it might make a good story. Especially if the story of how Menolly tried to outrun Thread and nearly succeeded was attached.

    Yay, job! Congrats, genesistrine!

  5. Only Some Stardust December 19, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    To quoth time travelers guide to 14th century:

    Cohabitation may begin at 14 (marriage at 12). A woman is in her prime by 17, mature at twenty five, and growing old by mid 30s. Most are married by 16 if they are of good birth, and will have five or six kids by mid 20s, assuming they survive the risks of multiple childbirth, with 2 or 3 kids dead by then as well.

    Note the ‘of good birth’ part though. There is every reason to think nobles, as better fed beings, mature more quickly, and indeed another book I have (although for the 11th centures) states commoners often married for the first time at the age of 20 instead. Records are much better for nobility as well, since most don’t care deeply who Mr Smithy The Poor Beggar married as much as they do who Sir Kingly Kingmost married.

  6. Pebblerocker December 19, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Elgion’s plot-induced stupidity is not in failing to recognise someone whose face he has seen only briefly at a distance. He knows there’s a young person missing from the Hold, he knows Thread is falling over Half-Circle’s districts today, he knows the kid with the tattered boots was picked up in Threadfall shortly after he was… and he doesn’t piece it together or even give a cursory thought to finding out more. As Silver Adept says, a harper should want to ask questions about unusual or exciting events! Plus he already decided in the last chapter that the lost songwriter was probably living Holdless in the caves, and he planned to go looking for her in that direction.

    I picture T’gellan’s move as pulling her towards him by the hand, bending down to put his shoulder at about her centre of gravity, and converting forward motion into rotational motion as he straightens his legs to get her up and over his shoulder. Works for me. Do dragonriders get the same sort of training our firefighters do, in how to lift and move people in need of rescue? I imagine Wingleaders organising carrying-victim-over-shoulder drills in the Weyr bowl.

  7. boutet December 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    It occurred to me to wonder if the thing with T’gellan continuing to think that Menolly is a boy is to avoid any rider-saves-woman-must-be-love kind of feel. If T’gellan knew Menolly was a girl then he would have carried her gently in his arms or something. He might have been more interested in her recovery, sticking around to receive her thanks or whatever. (I’m basing this on what we’ve seen so far of riders behavior towards women that they think owe them something). Saving a boy doesn’t create anything that the narrative might otherwise feel inclined to pursue.
    Rider saves boy, hands him over to healers, gets out of there. The story is over.
    Rider saves girl, brings her to healers, romance!
    Riders saves girl, thinks she’s a boy, treats her roughly, calls her “boy” several times. Too awkward to stick around hoping for thanks and praise, gets out of there. Story is over.
    Of course you could just have a male and female character interact with one another in a life-saving situation and not have any sexual or romantic tension at all in any case. But maybe not on Pern.

  8. depizan December 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    boutet,

    That makes a horrible amount of sense. :\

  9. Firedrake December 23, 2014 at 8:42 am

    boutet:

    Of course you could just have a male and female character interact with one another in a life-saving situation and not have any sexual or romantic tension at all in any case. But maybe not on Pern.

    I think they put something in the water. Or perhaps the seetooaitchfiveohaitch.

  10. Silver Adept December 24, 2014 at 11:55 am

    @ Pebblerocker –

    I don’t know if they’ve trained the fireperson’s carry or not, but from the description of it as a “yank” after grabbing the wrist, I can’t really see that being the maneuver performed. It would be nice and a lot less painful to Menolly if it were, though.

    @ boutet/Firedrake –

    As an aside, there is precious little of that seetwoagefiveohage on the planet. Surely, if they’ve figured out grape fermentation to produce several varieties of wine, they have expanded to attempt other fruits and grains as well, for those that can’t access or afford wines. There should be a thriving community of distilleries and local drinks, some if which should rival Benden’s vintages as the best drink ever.

    It does seem like the gender confusion is meant to forestall any romantic inclinations, except that these are dragonriders, who presumably are going to have a lot of same-gender relationships because of dragons, and who presumably must have a nonzero number of dragonriders who find young men attractive. Which is a thing that keeps getting danced around every time mating gets brought up, especially with considerations about how young the men are when they Impress. So, really, Menolly being confused for a boy should have no bearing on whether a romance flag is tripped by the interaction. If, say, there was gender parity in dragonriders, then it might make more sense for the “she’s a boy” idea to be used as a romance killer. Among dragonriders, her being revealed as a girl might be the better romance killer, although given how dragonriders feel about consent, it might open up a different problem.

  11. Firedrake December 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Silver Adept: yeah, I think this is a good cautionary tale of what happens when you-the-author simply ignore a class of people. As I read it, Anne wanted to write a romantic story about the manly dragonrider and the tough independent woman thrown into this society. So she wrote the mating flight (and it’s in keeping with the near-rapes and actual rapes that were common in romances at the time) and simply didn’t think about the implications for the green riders until much later. She obviously isn’t interested in homosexuality, so she does her best to ignore the possibility.

    Well, it’s that or assume she set the whole thing up to create a class of unhappy homosexual men who then get deliberately ignored, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    If she didn’t want to deal with the implications of homosexuality, she should probably have made the green riders female. But then there wouldn’t have been the same “only important woman in the weyr” isolation effect for Lessa, and it’s clear that she’s not really happy with the idea of women in combat either.

  12. annoni-no December 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Anne McCaffery has a long history of controversy in the Pern fandom in regard to homosexuality, most infamously the “tent peg” comment. In strict fairness, no one has been able to definitively prove the origin of the quote – it apparently came up during an interview in the late ’90s with a fan-zine. As the online forums have gone defunct and have now been taken over by sex-spammers, apparently, I will not be linking there.

    On the other hand, no one has ever proven it to be a hoax either. As it is consistent with the world she presents in Pern, though, I present it here now.

    TW: Homophobia, Rape

    A: The situation will arise where two males will enagage in sexual activity. Greenriders, have to be homosexual.

    Q: Some fandom Weyrs choose to seperate sexual tendencies and flight related sex experiences…

    A: Let me stop you right there, there is no seperation. Two men engaging in sexual activity with one another are gay. The dragons choose based on their own drives.

    Q: *audible pause* *sounds of paper rustling* But, uh, some people say one experience, especially under the control of outside forces dosen’t really make you *emphasis* gay.

    A: It’s not a matter of the rider *emphasis* becoming homosexual. Green and blue dragons choose people who are already homosexual. And even if circumstances arose, and a green dragon chose a heterosexual lifemate… Well, he would become homosexual. It’s a proven fact that a single anal sex experience causes one to be homosexual. The hormones released by a sexual situation involving the anus being broached, are the same hormones found in large quantities in effeminate homosexual males. For example, when I was much younger I knew a young man who was for all intents and purposes, heterosexual. He was mugged, and involved in a rape situation involving a tent peg. This one event was enough to have him start on a road that eventually led to him becoming effeminate and gay.
    ____

    In later interviews she stuck to the position that greens and blues will only impress on boys who are naturally gay, but I don’t think it’s off-base to say that McCaffrey has some serious issues with homosexuality.

  13. Only Some Stardust December 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Well, she may also not have wanted to deal with the backlash of talking too openly about homosexuality; it was that sort of time, after all. And the class of unhappy homosexual men actually does make a sort of sick ‘sense’, in the ‘hide your gays’ trope sense or ‘no happy endings for teh gays’ trope sense.

    This is an interesting thing to read and deconstruct… in a ‘what were people thinking back then’ sort of way. It never would have occurred to me that her being a ‘girl’ could open up a romantic subplot simply by being rescued, bleck.

  14. Silver Adept December 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    @ annoni-no –

    We’ve talked about the Tent Peg Statement before when it was brought up. I personally don’t feel that it’s all that useful for the deconstruction at this point, because even if it is properly sourced to the 90s or so, that makes it at least a decade, if not more, past the point in which these novels are published. It might very well be the author’s view on the matter at this point in time, but frankly, I find it mostly deuterocanonical, because the books themselves may have something else to say on the matter, and I would use those more than commentary to a fan – it’s kind of like the reveal that Dumbledore is gay, or that Korra and Asami went into a spirit portal in a romantic relationship at the end of the Legend of Korra – you’d have to read it the right way to come to that conclusion, as the source material itself doesn’t say once way or another.

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    Yeah, that’s bad, but it’s also a pretty common romance trope. Characters in books seem to have a lot more instances of Florence Nightingale Syndrome.

  15. Firedrake December 26, 2014 at 7:33 am

    SA: my assumption on the author’s attitude to homosexuality in the 1970s is that she probably didn’t want to think about it. I think it may quite literally not have been part of her mindscape (not especially unusual in those days), or if it was it was some weird thing that nasty people did, not something that had to be taken into account when building a world.

    I think it possible that she may simply have missed the implications of the green dragons rising to mate until someone pointed them out later.

  16. Silver Adept December 26, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Quite possible, Firedrake. The HIV/AIDS crisis is still some ways off, so there’s no real major public awareness going on about all the ways people make sexual contact. It still is relevant by its omission, though, because there are some pretty clear implications that green riders still have the sexual desire, as do the ones chasing the green. And yet, we never have anyone in the right place at the right time to see what happens then.

  17. boutet December 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    @silver adept: In response to Menolly-as-boy not derailing the romance train. I don’t remember ever reading a male-to-male romance in any of the Pern books. Not even as a side character thing. There was the implication of sex, but not romance or romantic relationships. Within the world (what we see of it) there seems to be room for homosexual sex but no room for homosexual romance. Which is part of what I based my riders-romance-women comment on.
    I It read to me as though the green riders were just physical sexual outlets similar to a later scene with Jaxom and a holder woman (he shows up, there is somewhat skeezy-on-consent sex, he never talks to her again). So it seems like the narrative would have no interest in pursuing a rider-saves-boy romance.
    t’s possible I’m forgetting an existing romance though.

  18. Only Some Stardust December 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Hmm, I think I heard the excuse (brought up for greenriders, not golds sadly) that Riders are allowed to sleep with folks other than the one who caught their dragon, so it is possible that at one point the author may have had in mind no gayness at all.

    Rider saves boy romance would be awesome.

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