Dragonsinger: Mars, the Bringer of War – Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

When we last left Menolly, she and her fire lizards had accidentally upstaged a teaching moment, been reassured by Robinton that she was going to do well, but would still go through the wringer like any other apprentice, and been shown where she would be bunking, despite the person in charge of the house showing signs of fundamental incompatibility with Menolly.

Dragonsinger: Chapter 3: Content Notes: Sexism, misogyny

So Chapter 3 starts with the entrance examination. Menolly finds the workshop, and the noise is enough to send Beauty screaming to the rafters. The noise stops the work, and Master Jerint, after misgendering Menolly, is fascinated by the fire lizard until Master Domick comes by, gives Menolly some rude teasing, and re-sets the workshop to their tasks. Then come the instruments. Jerint reaches for a gitar, but Menolly stops him.

“It’s too green to have any tone.”
“How would you know by looking?”
So, thought Menolly, this is a sort of test for me.
“I wouldn’t chose any instrument on looks, Master Jerint, I’d choose by the sound, but I can see from here that the wood of the gitar is badly joined on the case. The neck is not straight for all it’s been veneered prettily.”
The answer evidently pleased him, for he stepped aside and gestured for her to make her own selection.

And she passes the first test, stepping around the room, feeling gitars, enjoying the sounds of one in a case, and reverently putting it back, correctly identifying it as a master’s gitar (it’s Jerint’s) before settling on one hiding in the back that’s missing an E string. Fingering chords that don’t use the missing string, she seems happy, so Jerint gets a new string. Tuned up with a full complement of strings, Menolly strikes a few different chords and chooses it for her practice gitar.

Having chosen, Domick hustles her into a practice room and commands her to play. Only play, and no help from Beauty. Menolly’s pride stings from the curtness, and so she tries to play one of the trickier songs, about a queen rider, Moreta, and manages fairly will, despite having to hit alternate fingerings for chords and completely borking a few chords because the scar won’t let her stretch far enough to get the right fingerings. Domick betrays no emotion, asks her about the “liberties” she’s taken with the Teaching Ballads and Sagas, to which Menolly counters that it was in a written copy at Half-Circle. Domick takes it in stride and has her play drum, lap harp, and play an accompaniment to his melodic line on a pipe. He asks about brass, then dismisses Menolly for food.

“Master Domick, whose was this?” She asked the question in a rush, because she had a sudden notion it might be his, which could account for his curious antagonism.
“That one? That was Robinton’s journeyman’s gitar.” Then, with a broad grin at her astonishment, Master Domick quit the room.

Of course it is. Clearly, there’s going to be a close relationship between Robinton and Menolly throughout, but I still don’t trust Robinton enough to say that it will turn it to Menolly’s benefit to have Robinton on her side.

Soon after finishing with Domick, the chaos of the schoolyard erupts as the lunch bell dings. Still unsure about everything, Menolly follows Camo’s lead and gets seated in a group of apprentices, all boys. The apprentices generally regard Menolly as out of place, thinking she should be sitting with the other girls at the back of the hall, with one exception. First, however, there is food. The change in status for Menolly is reflected in the quantities of food offered to her, which she initially only takes a little of for fear of it running out. Once assured of her food security, Menolly will eat more heartily. This is the same way that Lessa reacted to food at Benden compared to Ruatha back in Dragonflight, which makes me wonder just where the Lords Holder sit on the food chain, because characters who move out of their holds seem to improve the quality and quantity of their eating immediately. This seems more in line with the time period of the Italian city-states, where the mercantile economy meant that you needed economic power, rather than martial power, to eat well. Then again, dragons. But underneath the dragon level, the power structure seems to be giving deference to the craft guilds before the land owners and those that produce the food. Maybe the power play that the Lords Holder tried back in Dragonflight would work here, although at the cost of pissing off the Harpers, which would likely be social standing suicide.

The apprentice to Menolly’s left, who eventually introduces himself as Piemur, asks about the singing fire lizard incident from the morning, taking the perspective of someone who was being accused of taking liberties, but was successfully able to dodge the blame by virtue of being able to honestly blame something else. This is important for later.

Across from Menolly, however, is our first blatant example of sexism in the Hall.

“She shouldn’t be here,” complained the lad immediately opposite Menolly. He spoke directly to Piemur, as if by ignoring Menolly he could be rude. He was bigger and older looking than Piemur. “She belongs with them.” And he jerked his head backward, toward the girls at the hearth table.
“Well, she’s here now, and fine where she is, Ranly,” said Piemur with unexpected aggressiveness. “She couldn’t very well change once we were seated, could she? And besides, I heard that she’s to be an apprentice, same as us. Not one of them.”
“Aren’t they apprentices?” asked Menolly, inclining her head in the girls’ general direction.
“Them?” Piemur’s astounded query was as scornful as the look on Ranly’s face. “No!” The drawl in his negative put the girls in an inferior category. “They’re in the special class with the journeymen, but they’re not apprentices. No skill!”
“They’re a right nuisance,” said Ranly with rich contempt.
“Yeah, they are,” said Piemur with a reflective sigh, “but if they weren’t here, I’d have to sing treble in the plays, and that’d be dire! Hey, Bonz, pass the meat back.”

Because girls can’t be Harpers, despite, y’know, Menolly being right there. The way this is being set up, though, it doesn’t sound like the girls are thought of very highly. It would be nice if it turns out they’re all very talented, right? Since we haven’t met them, I can hold on to that hope.

So more food gets requested from Camo from Piemur, using the same speech pattern as Camo, which produces laughter from the boys at Camo (possibly laughing at getting extra meat, but I don’t think so) until it works, when they shut up.

The apprentices grill Menolly for more information about the Impression from Benden in Dragonsong, after which the chores are assigned to the apprentices and Menolly’s exam continues with Master Morshal, who teaches musical theory. Morshal has very little expectation of Menolly, but Piemur gives her an encouraging thumbs-up, despite being the shortest of the lot, missing a tooth, and with shockingly curly hair. Piemur is clearly a force for chaos against the Hall’s attempt at order.

Morshal starts Menolly out easily – major chords, then example chords from other songs, then drum technique, fingering technique for pipes, and so forth, interjecting comments about her posture, harrying her if she pauses, always calling her “girl”, and getting very annoyed when she asks to sit because of her feet. The barrage continues with written notation, and then with playing a song. Morshal picks the same song that Menolly played for Domick, and he insists that she play it as written, which we already know isn’t doable.

There were variations in the chords: two of which were really managed, but she flubbed the fourth and fifth because her scarred hand would not stretch.
“I see, I see,” he said, waving her to stop, but he liked oddly pleased. “You cannot play accurately at tempo. Very well, that is all. You are dismissed.”
“I beg your pardon, Master Morshal…” Menolly began, again extending her hand as explanation.
“You what?” He glared at her, his eyes wide with incredulity that she seemed to be defying him. “Out! I just dismissed you! What is the world coming to when girls presume to be harpers and pretend to compose music. Out! Great shells and stars!” His voice changed from scold to panic. “What’s that? What are they? Who let them in here?”

They, asshole, are the fire lizards that have been roused by your unfair treatment and who are defending Menolly by attacking the thing that is attacking her. Bad enough that Menolly is getting sexism from the apprentices, once of the masters is a giant misogynist. Here’s a good test for Robinton – there’s no doubt he will hear about this, especially since Piemur is apparently lurking right outside the scene, so let’s see what sort of action he takes against Morshal, or whether he lets it all slide. Piemur gets to pet one of the fire lizards and is also fascinated by them. Then he remembers he’s suppressed to deliver Menolly to Master Shonagar, the Voice Master, and Piemur’s clear favorite. Shonagar dismisses Piemur, and then lets on to Menolly that he’s fond of Piemur and his cheeky nature, too. Shonagar’s test is for Menolly to sing, without accompaniment from fire lizard or instrument.

“Sing, not concertize. The voice only is important now, not how you mask vocal inadequacies with pleasant strumming and clever harmony. I want to hear the voice…It is the voice we communicate with, the voice which is the words we seek to impress on men’s minds, the voice which evokes emotional response; tears, laughter, sense. Your voice is the most important, most complex, most amazing instrument of all. And if you cannot use that voice properly, you might just as well go back to whatever insignificant hold you came from.”
Menolly had been so fascinated by the richness and variety of the Master’s tones that she didn’t really pay heed to the content.
“Well?” he demanded.
She blinked at him, drawing in her breath, belatedly aware that he was waiting for her to sing.
“No, not like that! Dolt! You breathe from here,” and his fingers spread across his barrel-width midsection, pressing in so that the sound from his mouth reflected that pressure. “Through the nose, so…” and he inhaled, his massive chest barely rising as it was filled, “down to the windpipe,” and he spoke on a single musical note, “to the belly,” and the voice dropped an octave. “You breathe from your belly…if you breathe properly.”

I’m nodding along with this explanation much like a bobblehead on a stimulant. Since Petiron didn’t teach Menolly brass playing, he probably didn’t talk much about the need to breathe from the diaphragm. Whether coaching voice or wind instruments, understanding the need to provide a proper foundation of air for the tone is something that separates learning musicians from more experienced ones. So it’s nice to see some of the research being done here.

So Menolly sings for the Master, and he lets on nothing about the performance. He does give Petiron a backhanded compliment for not teaching Menolly anything about using her voice, instead leaving her up to him. It rattles Menolly and the fire lizards a bit. Shongar, of all the masters, however, realizes that the fire lizards follow Menolly’s emotional state, which makes him the smartest of the lot at this point. He makes it a point to tell Menolly to bring the fire lizards with her to his lessons, so that they will learn how to sing better as Menolly does. He sends Menolly away, and falls asleep before she leaves.

That’s the end of Chapter Three. Menolly’s first day hadn’t finished, but we’re already starting to see where the battle lines are going to be drawn. Will Robinton get involved, or will he direct the puppets from behind the scenes? We’ll find out soon enough.


21 thoughts on “Dragonsinger: Mars, the Bringer of War – Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

  1. genesistrine January 22, 2015 at 4:12 am

    What I really like about this chapter is Menolly’s confidence and lack of self-consciousness as soon as she’s dealing with music-related stuff – not that guitar, these alternate chords; she knows what she’s good at. And as soon as she’s dealing with people she’s pretty much back to apologising for her existence.

    Also worth noting for future reference that the despised girls apparently include singers good enough to perform publicly and in preference to trained apprentices. Will this ever be mentioned again, we ask ourselves?

  2. depizan January 22, 2015 at 10:58 am

    There’s a lot of strange unfair fairness here. It seems clear that the instructors either haven’t been told about her injuries or are pretending they don’t know. Menolly was told to stay off her feet as much as possible, despite not having the power to control that. And anyone who was going to have her play an instrument should definitely have been told about her injured hand.

    I’m not saying it’s unrealistic, but it is kind of weird that in a place where we’re supposed to see the highest powers as on Menolly’s side, they don’t address her injuries at all well. Have no apprentices ever arrived injured before? That seems unlikely on a planet as dangerous as Pern is supposed to be (when it’s supposed to be dangerous, which varies). And, once again, why couldn’t she have waited until her feet were healed and her hand had made more practice before either coming to Harper Hall or before beginning her training?

    asks her about the “liberties” she’s taken with the Teaching Ballads and Sagas, to which Menolly counters that it was in a written copy at Half-Circle

    This suggests that there is no room on Pern for crippled or even just injured Harpers. Again, not necessarily unrealistic, but not exactly a point in Harper Hall’s favor. (And leaves me with an odd question – it seems that Harpers are basically the educators of Pern, yet they have to be exceptional musicians, not just competent or even merely above average. That seems both believable and at the same time unlikely. We’re back at random tropes being stuck together rather than a world that feels natural.)

    Menolly’s first day hadn’t finished, but we’re already starting to see where the battle lines are going to be drawn.

    Or we would be if men were allowed to be the bad guys in this series. As they’re not…


    The despised girls remain (off camera) good enough to perform publicly and on camera terrible. It’s one of those headscratchy things. Or headdesky things.

  3. boutet January 22, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    @depizan About Menolly not having any allowance for her injuries. I assume this is one of those Exceptional Woman things. LIke, not only is Menolly the only woman who can be a Harper, she will be a better Harper than most of the men, and she will do it with multiple injuries that prevent her from performing at her best! And no exceptions made for her even if those exceptions would have been made for a man in similar situation. She does it the hard way with extra hardness! As if being allowed to sit, or having accommodation for injuries would somehow invalidate the work that she’s putting in.
    An unfortunate thing that I think may be at work: Menolly can’t be too strong or too talented or she might alienate readers who like to see a female lead but don’t want her to be too intimidating. Menolly is established as being really good at music. If she showed up at the Hall in full strength and was actually great at the things that she’s great at there would be a hooting chorus of “MARY-SUE!” from the peanut gallery. She has to be flawed to be acceptable, and even her legitimate, hard-won skills must be flawed.
    Of course that could be accomplished by having her being talented but undertrained as she is in the singing scene, but undertrained and talented was apparently not flawed enough.
    And of course she has to be -fixabley- flawed. She can’t possibly be permanently disfigured by her injuries, or challenge a system that makes no allowances for anyone.

  4. depizan January 22, 2015 at 4:15 pm


    I think you’re right. Unfortunately, that leaves us with people we’re supposed to see as good (Robinton and Silvina) failing Menolly in some pretty serious ways – they fail to actually get her accommodations for her injuries (and having Menolly be responsible for not being on her feet when she doesn’t have the power to accomplish that is also a jerk thing to do to her) and they fail to make sure she’s not being abused…as we’ll see next chapter.

    Worse, the way this story is written, the moral becomes “Follow your dreams. If you’re super mega ultra talented.”

    And, of course, to go back in-universe, we once again have a narrative that’s fine with saving Menolly, but not actually fixing anything. She’s not even going to be very much help for the next girl who wants to be a Harper because that girl will have to be as super mega ultra talented as her. Glass ceilings aren’t broken by the exceptional getting through, they’re broken when the average get through. (Those who are of the same standard as the guys who get through.)

    So Menolly gets to be a Harper, but the status quo stays. Yay?

  5. genesistrine January 23, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    The despised girls remain (off camera) good enough to perform publicly and on camera terrible.

    I’m sure no-one’s surprised by this. Dammit, McCaffrey….

  6. Brenda A. January 24, 2015 at 12:06 am

    In my copy, the boys say that the girls are not apprentices – “No road!” I’m guessing that’s like “No way!” which still isn’t quite as insulting as “No skills!”

    Genesistrine – I really like your point about her utter confidence in music and utter lack of it with people.

    Domick’s sternness about the chords seems like part of the test – trying to make her second-guess her decision, he gives her a chance to defend it, which reveals that much more of the level she is at.

    Also, Domick does make allowances for her hand – he lets her demonstrate on the lap harp because he knows she won’t be able to handle the octave stretches on the great harp.

    All this would be overwhelming for any new apprentice coming in unexpectedly – I imagine that most of those examinations would be the same for any newcomer. Morshal is the only examining master who really seems biased against her – certainly the only one to say anything specific. The others seem willing to see what she is capable of, if only because they know Robinton wouldn’t waste their time.

  7. depizan January 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Domick is actually a good example of how the book could’ve gone instead. Menolly sees him as hostile to her, but he really doesn’t seem to be, he just has kind of a gruff or stern manner. Her misreading of him seems perfectly in line with the abuse she’s suffered, and there would’ve been a perfectly good story in her recovering from the damage her family did to her and making friends and gaining confidence beyond her music. There could’ve been other female apprentices (especially as the whole paying students thing doesn’t seem to fit very well with the rest of the world). There didn’t need to be enemies as such. They kind of screw up the apparent theme of the book. (Unless it really is supposed to be “Only the mega awesome are good enough to do what they want.”)

    (Or, of course, the book could actually have dealt with the struggle to be the first female Harper, which would’ve required some of the masters be the bad guys.)

  8. Silver Adept January 25, 2015 at 3:54 am

    I read the commentary about the girls as more of a “With them around, we don’t have to sing the high parts!” than as any sort of recognition of skills. Knowing what we will know of Shonagar, you’re right – the girls have to be decent at singing too be included.

    The moral of the stories has been “Follow your dreams, if you’re super-talented” since the last book, and will continue to go that way through the next one, too. This would be a much better story if Morshal and some journeymen who believe the same way he does were the villains of this story, but alas, Morshal will soon be out of Menolly’s hair, to better key the Mean Girl Squad shine in their antagonist role.

    As for the exceptional skill of Harpers, I think the journeymen are supposed to be where the okay-to-above-average players are. Although they all have to have serious memory for all the songs they’ll have to teach… We don’t get to see what happens to apprentices that fail out, though. Do they stay at the Hall as perpetual apprentices? Get shunted to kitchen staff? We don’t know. (The Harpers would tell us that they only select apprentices that can succeed, but the Harper Hall is not Lake Wobegon.)

  9. Brenda A. January 25, 2015 at 9:49 am

    “Follow your dreams, if you’re super-talented” – but aside from talent, only one of the girls is at all interested in improving their musical skills. They haven’t been recruited for their talent, they’ve been sent by their family to improve themselves, and mostly are more interested in flirting with the young men of Fort Hold.

  10. depizan January 25, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    @ Brenda A

    It isn’t so much Menolly as compared to the girls (or even Menolly compared to anyone) as that the narrative makes it clear time and time again that Menolly is exceptional. Which isn’t helped by there really not being anyone we can compare her to. We don’t see anyone else’s arrival at the Hall and I don’t really have a good feel for how trained most people are when they show up. We just see Menolly, who’s kind of already had an apprenticeship, and who is highly skilled/talented. There’s really nothing she struggles with musically. Which wouldn’t screw up the message if there were other girl apprentices and if talent and goodness weren’t so linked. But there aren’t and it is.

    Also, you’ve hit on another way in which the girls don’t make any sense. Singing is every bit as much a skill as playing an instrument. Yet the girls (off camera) are good enough to take the soprano parts in performances. So…they work hard at singing but not playing? ??? (And that’s not even getting into how this makes sense with the one who apparently can barely read music.)

  11. Only Some Stardust January 25, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    That none of the other girls are interested in improving themselves is also problematic; it gives the message that exceptional women are exceptional because they are the only ones with the right mindset, and every other girl is just lazy, or vain, etc, too girlish and flirting obsessed to fit in with the men like mannish, strong Menolly.

    Who wants to bet none of the other girls are physically strong like Menolly is?

  12. Brenda A. January 25, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Probably never had much to do in the way of chores, either.

  13. Brenda A. January 25, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    Menolly has had much more training than the other girls, so it’s as much that she is more skilled as that she is exceptionally talented. If they’ve only just been taking lessons for a short time, it’s reasonable they wouldn’t be as good as her – it’s just that she ends up in the beginners’ class by mistake.

  14. genesistrine January 26, 2015 at 7:49 am

    It’s vanishingly unlikely that the girls are totally untalented.

    I daresay there’s a lot of competition between Holder daughters for a place at Harper Hall, since it’s very likely the one place on Pern that girls can get to live away from their parents/relatives – boys of the Blood get fostered out and swapped around, but none of that’s mentioned for girls. Well-brought-up girls probably aren’t allowed to pursue any other Crafts, even as hobbies. Well, OK, Healing. Weaving, maybe?

    But the Hall isn’t going to take anyone it thinks is untrainable/incapable, and their parents wouldn’t thank them if they did – imagine the shame of boasting that your daughter had trained at Harper Hall then finding out your whole region is sniggering that she plays lap harp like a spit-canine licking a griddle and sings like a meow-beast on its espousal night!

    We’re never told how long these girls have been at the Hall; they may be a recent intake, and we never see them practicing anything else. They may include good singers, pipers, whatever – who knows?

    And the boy-mad thing is actually perfectly understandable and even sympathetic, though McCaffrey likes to paint it as shallow/vain/SLUTTY. They’re teenage students; they’re away from parental supervision for the first time and there are lots of hot musicians and hot Hold fosterlings around to flirt with. It’s no wonder they’ve gone a bit over the top….

  15. depizan January 26, 2015 at 10:50 am


    Yep! The way the girls are presented really makes no sense at all. They aren’t characters, they’re what ever is necessary to either show Menolly’s awesomeness or get in her way. Because we can’t have the conflict come from the Harpers, oh no.

  16. Silver Adept January 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    @ Only Some Stardust – No bet. We’ll find out why soon enough.

    @ genesistrine/depizan – the Holder daughters really do get the short end of the stick. Since our example of Hold culture is Half-Circle, which is rather explicitly held to be Weird, we have no idea how other people are raised. It’s quite possible that these women are being sent to learn music enough to get themselves into a favorable marriage, and then that’s it, so they have no reason to care. It could also be that these are younger daughters with no prospects who are sent to go get a younger son and the music is a cover… but of course, we don’t know, because we get no story for the women except their antagonism.

  17. genesistrine January 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    @Silver Adept: we do get some idea of Hold culture from the earlier Weyr-based books – mostly by contrast with Weyr life, but it’s not a pretty picture.

    Kylara, for example, was a Hold daughter; mum got dumped for not staying attractive and sexually interesting, and she was due to be married off until Searching dragonriders swung by. There are comments about her and other Holder women being expected to produce baby after baby until they’re worn out. The only skill I can remember a Holder woman being noted for is Mavi’s Healing – nobody’s wife/sister/mother/daughter has been mentioned as being really good at embroidery or singing or runner-beast breaking or wrestling or anything except being attractive and wearing a pretty dress.

    And music is important on Pern, and the general standard of musical appreciation seems likely to be higher than on Earth, simple because of the emphasis on music in elementary education. I don’t think “music as a cover” would work as a cover, even if the Harper Hall was OK with being a presumably-well-paid dating service.

  18. Brenda A. January 26, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Young women are said to foster as well. Felena, at Benden Weyr, is surprised that Menolly wasn’t ever fostered. I like to think Kylara would have been fostered, except that that was right after Fax took over Ruatha and everyone was keeping close to home for a while. In fact, Lessa and Kylara might have ended up fostering at each others’ Holds! They might have been best buddies!

  19. emmy January 26, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    re: injured or less-than-perfect-in-all-skills harpers

    My impression was that harpers who were okay but not really excellent in any particular skill would likely stay at Journeyman status and go around to holds and the like, carrying news and doing their teaching-the-young stuff. It’s not that every harper is required to be a master in every skill, but Menolly is being grilled in all of them for testing purposes to see what her current skillset actually is.

    In the next book it will be discussed that they would not throw a loyal apprentice out to his parents just because he could no longer sing, even if he was mediocre in his other skills. The overall implications, to me, were that if you’ve been a Harper long enough and paid your loyalty dues, the Hall will look after you. Crippled Harpers might be assigned as assistants, or given assistants of their own, depending on how the skills and needs balanced out.

    Which came with the other side of it – I suspect an ordinary apprentice who wasn’t amazing at anything and suffered a critical loss of ability in his first year probably would be sent home.

    But that’s just impressions, not proof.

  20. Silver Adept January 27, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of the other examples – still not a whole lot about skills or expectations, but more than what I was thinking.

    As for the Hall, I wish we had more examples of not-exceptional apprentices and how they end up, even if they only have to be secondary characters. If the only people who get focus are the exceptional at what they do, then we get a view askew. And really, Menolly’s main opponents should be the Harpers and her own disillusionment at finding out paradise is nor all she hoped for.

  21. genesistrine January 28, 2015 at 8:10 am

    @ Brenda – good point. The impression I’ve got is that Weyr fostering is mostly of young children and intra-Weyr (though Mirrim at least was presumably older when fostered by Brekke) while Hold fostering is much more like the mediaeval system of sending your sons out for squires, but I’m not sure whether that’s a matter of interpretation on my part or not.

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