Dragonsinger: Fate of the Unknown / Dearly Beloved [Reprise] / Sunset Horizons

Last chapter, Menolly made a friend. Who was her first girl friend in fifteen Turns. Because that girl had been excluded from the Mean Girl Squad for sticking up for Menolly. The leader of said squad has been dismissed from the Harper Hall, which only really set her loose on the world to continue her campaign of venom. Not that we will hear from her again.

And Shonagar completed the circle of fifths – of alcohol, one bottle for each Master and their sexism.

Dragonsinger: Chapter 11: Content Notes: No notes

So here we are, the last chapter. We still have failed to go an entire book without a female character suffering abuse because of heterodox ideas.

The action, such that it is, is short. Domick wants Menolly to copy out many copies of the sea song she sang at the gather and a couple more of the fire lizard song. Which, surprisingly, leads to Menolly having a thought about home.

Sea songs inland and land songs on the seaside, thought Menolly as she climbed the steps to her room. She wondered just how Yanus, her father, would approve of land songs at Half-Circle Sea Hold. Well and good, and wouldn’t it be the best of all jokes if the land songs introduced at Half-Circle by Harper Elgion were ones she herself had written or copied out? Disgrace the Hold, indeed!
Now she wondered if she should write her mother, Mavi, or her sister, and just casually mention that she was apprentice to the Masterharper of Pern. That all her twiddles and tunings had considerably more merit than anyone at Half-Circle had the wit to appreciate. Except, of course, Harper Elgion. And Alemi, her brother.
No, she wouldn’t write her mother or her father, and certainly not her sister. But she might write Alemi. He’d been the only one who cared. And he’d keep the knowledge to himself.

Assuming that Yanus doesn’t intercept all the mail and read it first for subversive messages, that is. Truthfully, though, I’d rather see Menolly tell off her entire family to their faces, with as much pomp, circumstance, and buildup as possible. Of course, the narrative would hasten to tell us that Menolly is no better than Pona by doing this, no matter how much Yanus deserves to have his bell rung repeatedly by his youngest daughter. Maybe Menolly’s sister could be fostered out with Pona, so the two of them could spit acid at each other as much as they wanted.

Menolly copies out the music, and Domick asks for more before the supper bell, along with a boast about how the Harper Hall is in the business of expanding knowledge, and that Domick knows Menolly’s songs are necessary and good. Menolly is able to produce the extra copies after her lesson with Shonagar, and then has to feed the fire lizards. Dragonriders arrive at the Hall, since tonight is the night where journeymen receive their assignments. T’gellan arrives with a pair of boots, in Harper blue, for Menolly from Benden, which is a reminder that only seven days time has elapsed since the beginning of the book. More on time later.

It’s assignment dinner, which means the Mean Girl Squad continues their silent treatment and Piemur gets to expound again about Robinton’s plan to send his journeymen and music around so that everyone gets cross-crafted. Robinton sends out the journeymen – three to Telgar, (one for a hold, one for the Minercrafthall to improve the metals sent for instruments, and the archivist’s senior journeyman to Wansor, the Starsmith we met in Dragonquest), two to Igen, one to Bitra, and one to Lemos to work with Benelek, a woodsmith, who chooses the wood for the Hall. The journeyman is to assist in that selection for Jerint’s benefit.

Then comes the special announcement from Robinton.

“To be a Harper requires many talents, as you all ought to realize by now,” and he frowned at the very youngest of the apprentices who giggled nervously. “Not all of these skills need to be learned within these walls. Indeed, many of our most valuable lessons are more forcefully learned at some distance from this hallowed Hall,” and he frowned at the journeymen, who grinned back at him. “However, when the fundamentals of our craft have been well and truly learned, I insist that we hold no one back from the rank they are entitled to by knowledge and ability, and in this case, rare talent. Sebell, Talmor, since neither of you will resign in the other’s favor…”
A silence emphasized by Piemur’s tiny gap of astonishment fell over the dining hall as Sebell and Talmor rose from their table and walked up the aisle by the hearth. They stopped. Startled, Menolly looked up at Sebell’s shy grin and Talmor’s broad smile.
[…]
“Menolly’s a journeyman! Menolly’s a journeyman!” echoed the other apprentices, clapping their hands on rhythm to their chant. “Menolly’s made journeyman. Walk, Menolly, walk. Walk, Menolly, walk!”
[…]
The last vestige of anxiety lifted from Menolly’s mind. As a journeyman in blue, she had rank and status enough to fear no one and nothing. No further need to run or hide.

And roll credits! Menolly has, in seven days, gone from being the runaway girl with the fire lizards to a journeyman Harper, now secure in her status no matter where she goes. She’s overcome all sorts of obstacles and we should feel good about her. And we can be proud of her for overcoming all those narrative-mandated problems.

But…

In terms of plot, we’ve spent two books on Menolly, and we haven’t received a real reason to believe that she’s important in the grand scheme of things.

Menolly is:

None of which necessarily says that Menolly is important to the overarching plot.

Most crucially, though, is the timeline of the books so far. We started the Harper Hall trilogy in roughly the same time as Dragonquest, but we’ve taken two books to get up to the end of Dragonquest. Which runs the risk of turning the entire Harper Hall Trilogy into a Gaiden Game, where we don’t actually have to have read the stories here to be able to follow the main plot of the series. The next book is going to be the first opportunity, it seems, for the plot to advance past the points where it has already been.

That’s fairly insulting to Menolly – all this strife and problems and abuse for her on camera, only for her entire story not to matter in the slightest? That’s not a good way to write your books. Or to develop your characters, even if it is consistently the way the narrative has been treating its women characters.

Next time, we get to find out whether or not we’ve wasted all this time on books that ultimately don’t matter.

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23 thoughts on “Dragonsinger: Fate of the Unknown / Dearly Beloved [Reprise] / Sunset Horizons

  1. beappleby March 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Well, the series starts out telling the Story Of Pern, with the main characters being leaders who are directly involved in how the world is being run. People with dragons. People whose story immediately affects the larger world around them.

    Menolly’s story is more personal, more internal to her. I don’t think that’s unfair at all. Not everyone’s story is going to change the world. This is not the story of the world, it’s the story of HER world.

    This whole book has had Menolly in a sort of limbo while her teachers determine what level she tests out at, since as Robinton says her apprenticeship was served outside the Hall. It’s only in the last day or so that she really settles in a bit and starts to see the shape of what her life will be like for the next… longer period of time. (Remember, she was only at Benden Weyr for a week, too!)

    I do wish we could have gone on to see more of her personal story. In particular, there’s a line in The White Dragon that really intrigues me. In the first chapter, Jaxom is looking around at all the people who have come to see him attempt to ride Ruth for the first time, and he mentions Menolly, “the Harper girl who had always been his champion.” We got to see a little of that when she was talking with Mirrim and then with the apprentices at the Hall, but to me that line implies that she takes an active role of some kind. That scene takes place several years from the end of Dragonsinger.

    If she did write to Half-Circle, maybe she’d send the message in care of Elgion, since we know her parents would respect that seal. Although in my personal headcanon, Elgion spilled the beans when he got back from the Hatching… (See link below.)

    http://archiveofourown.org/works/1086776

  2. genesistrine March 19, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    And also, it doesn’t appear that Menolly making journeyman is going to help any other girls get into the Hall. She’s SPECIAL, and SUPER-TALENTED, so any girl with the musical talent of the average boy apprentice is still going to get ignored, passed over and not given even the marginal help that Menolly was.

  3. boutet March 20, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Agreement with genesistrine. If Robinton wanted to open up the Hall to having girl Harpers the best thing he could do was bring girls in at the starter level and have them work through as regular Harper-hopefuls like the boys do. That would have made girls become a part of the Hall. (he would need to put supports in place fro the girls, and oversight to make sure the teachers are teachinga ppropriately, and such things).

    This just shows that Robinton doesn’t really care one way or the other if girls can be Harpers. He just wants this talented composer under his control so he can have catchy songs on demand, and get credit for teaching/creating this talent (that he had nothing to do with directly). I guess if you aim to control all the music in the world you want to get rogue talents under your banner in a hurry.

  4. notamolly March 20, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Agree with boutet and genesistrine: Robinton really does not want the best students: he wants a controlled harper workforce with a token female who he can control and who he trots out for show. In reality there is no room for a female in his hall outside the kitchens or for the segregated holder girls who are there to find a holder boy (preferably with a decent family and land). This makes him not have to support female singers or female harpers.

  5. genesistrine March 21, 2015 at 4:31 am

    @boutet: it’s not even just music; it’s information-gathering, news-distribution, spin-doctoring, education (primary-level planetwide and probably a finger in the pie for higher), political middle-manning… Robinton makes Rupert Murdoch look small-time and unambitious. He’s the Grey Eminence of Pern.

    @notamolly: also worth noting that none of the masters or journeymen are married. None of them even seem to have steady relationships/bed partners that we see. Which is astonishing given the emphasis on getting-married-and-having-kids in Pernese society. (That is conceivably a Mastercrafthall thing rather than a Harpercrafthall thing – Lessa asks about Fandarel’s wife in, um, DQ? and he says he’s not married, but there’s no hint of “of course he’s not married, he’s a Master Craftsman,” so I’m inclined to think it’s just the Harpers.)

  6. Firedrake March 21, 2015 at 5:23 am

    genesistrine: but he’s a good guy so that makes it all right. Or something.

    Attitudes towards marriage are odd. It might make sense if it were a Holder thing (patrilineal property rights), but children of Craft people don’t seem to be favoured over others when joining crafts so there’s no particular reason for Crafters to marry; and dragonriders do without it completely, so it’s clearly acceptable to do that.

  7. genesistrine March 21, 2015 at 5:50 am

    It’s not just marriage though, it’s a lack of relationships in general. This could be handwaved as Menolly not noticing who’s-with-who in one week, true, but no pairs of people look out of windows at fire-lizard morning choruses, none of the kitchen-women have children or babies around, nobody’s gossiping about anyone’s latest squeeze, no-one at the Hall is looking forward to spending Gather Day with their girl/boyfriend (except the Mean Girls of course, but that’s icky girls for you, isn’t it). Harper Hall is entirely celibate as far as we can tell.

    (The one exception is the mention of Robinton’s mother, but that’s just her name and that she sang well. But then we hear that of Silvina too, who we never see practice or perform….)

  8. notamolly March 21, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    genesistrine that would make sense IF harpers were known to be a safe haven for homosexuals like the weyrs are but this is not the case. Harpers out of the hall have families. Now unless this is in Menolly’s POV and that she is remarkably unobservant (not likely for an abused kid) then it seems the harper hall is a bit monastic which really does not make sense. It could be Anne McCaffrey’s piss poor worldbuilding but this is inconsistent.

  9. genesistrine March 21, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    @notamolly: yeah, even if the Harper Hall had a higher-than-average ratio of homosexual people living there you’d still expect relationships and sleeping together and gossiping about same, and even babies for couples or singles that want them (by asking an opposite-gender friend to help out, or, given Pernese child-raising customs, fostering one). As you say, it comes over as weirdly monastic.

    Doylistically I daresay AMC was basing the Hall on choir schools and just transplanting the setup with little thought about how it fitted into the wider society, which I find pretty funny – she was adamant that Pern had no religion, but it ended up with all these weird religious echoes; worship songs for dragonriders, monastic Harpers….

  10. notamolly March 21, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    That kind of makes sense in a very twisted way. The Harper Hall was based on a student’s view of a boarding school. The echoes of religion were kind of odd in Pern and if this started as a Harlequin novel then i guess the inconsistencies are normal for a “penny dreadful” but for f/sf and groundbreaking f/sf they are somewhat jarring.

  11. Silver Adept March 21, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Yeah, Robinton isn’t interested in systematic change in his own house, but solely in Menolly’s ability to compose. Which works more against Menolly as being important to the plot. Unfortunately, these books don’t work all that well as a slice-of-life set, either, because Menolly is in pretty constant conflict and almost always somewhere that’s not connected to the rest of society on the planet. Menolly is repeating Lessa, but without dragons and without pairing up with anyone that hurt her.

    The lack of relationship talk in the Crafthalls is very odd. Fandarel’s hall is the one we’ve seen inside so far, and his efficiency mandate means women working, which is explicitly called out as weird by the Benden Weyrleaders. So perhaps all the Crafthalls are always only men, and everyone believes that men that are interested in other men only end up in Weyrs, so nobody has anything to talk about.

    Despite there being young women at the Harper Hall for the boys to gossip about.

    Also, notamolly, I’d like to avoid the term “homosexual” because of its history as a term used to pathologize gay men and lesbian women. I also think “inconsistent” is a more accurate term to use for the worldbuilding problems – there’s a lot that does hang together pretty well.

  12. notamolly March 21, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    sorry Silver Adept. Inconsistent is the word indeed. And you bring up a question: if the weyr was a sort of safe place for gay and bisexual men, what escape was there for a lesbian? Canon has no mention of women being anything other than a madonna or whore so I guess this is too much to ask?

    The lack of relationship talk was odd indeed but weyr relationships start with a dubious consent (dragon flight legitimizes a nasty rape culture) and holders are apparently in arranged marriages with what one can only assume are their cousins. Seems like the Smith Crafthall is the one sane place on the planet.

  13. genesistrine March 22, 2015 at 3:37 am

    Smithcrafthall would definitely be my chosen hangout too, but the chances of women getting there who weren’t born there seem sadly remote. Fandarel obviously promotes on talent rather than gender if his headwoman working in document recovery is any indicator, but you’d have to get his attention first. Still, if trained Smiths are trained up in that attitude too there might be more chance of them recommending a female apprentice to the Hall – though whether the wider society would allow that is an entirely different question.

  14. beappleby March 22, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    The forum I’ve been on for years refers to things like T’ton becoming T’ron as “Anne-consistencies”…

  15. bekabot March 22, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    @ genesistrine, boutet, notamolly

    It’s worth thinking about…any young lad in Harper Hall who wanted to complain about Menolly that she only got in or got ahead due to special treatment would be right. She did only get in because of a special exemption, and she got ahead the same way. The premise of the book is that she’s only treated specially because of her enormous talent, but all the same…that’s moot. Menolly doesn’t come up through the ranks, she’s denied the opportunity to come up through the ranks, so the camaraderie which subsists among peers all of whom come up through the same process is denied her, or should be.

  16. notamolly March 22, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    @bekabot and there would be a set of naturally created enemies or at least a lack of friends and colleagues.

  17. genesistrine March 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    And a strengthening of the belief that girls can’t really hack it in the equality stakes – OK, you get the odd freak talent you have to make an exception for, that doesn’t mean you have to make any effort to treat girls as equals. If they’re good enough they’ll make it to the Hall themselves, just like Menolly did!

  18. Silver Adept March 23, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    @ notamolly – While there are no canonical lesbians, the way that women seem to be treated in almost all of the cultural areas suggests that so long as the kitchen and the domestic tasks run on schedule and the daughters of Holders get married in proper fashion, nobody cares. Women are so invisible in the eyes of the narrative (unless they are the Chosen Ones) that they could probably perform a three-act play about how much they’re more interested in each other than men and it would never register on the narrative radar. And with Weyr culture already explicitly Weird, it would be very easy to pass off such an interest as being some unexplained dragon or fire-lizard phenomenon. Based on the evidence provided about gay and bisexual men, I’m going to assume that a similar acceptance happens for lesbians and bisexual women.

    @ genesistrine –

    Smithcrafthall is the place to be, definitely, although you apparently have to get in through the kitchens or other drudgery if you’re a woman. If this were a standard medieval pastiche, sons who don’t inherit would likely be absorbed by the Crafts so as to keep them out of trouble and to teach them something useful. Daughters are apparently only good for marriage and running a household, so they could theoretically also be fostered to Crafthalls so as to catch the eye of a younger son. Everyone would be alive and working. And, in the case of the Crafts, slowly accumulating power and wealth for the time they decide to seize control through economic means.

    As for Menolly’s meteoric rise precluding friendships and generating complaints, since Menolly is one of Robinton’s apprentices, that means she gets assigned to Special Projects, rather than getting posted to a Hold, Weyr, or Hall as signals intelligence. Since her natural composition skill will be unaffected by this, this allows Robinton to keep her firmly pointed in the direction he wants her to go, without complications like relationships or friendships. If she ever stops generating earworms, things are probably going to end poorly for her.

  19. Only Some Stardust March 23, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I believe female (lesbian) blue riders were a-OK’ed and her son wrote a book with one in it, if I recall correctly. Once again, a sadly familiar sexuality hierarchy, the straight people on top, rewarded with pretty!shiny golds and bronzes. Or in the case of the bronzes, bisexual I suppose.

    I’m mentally imagining an evil/morally-apathetic Robinton twirling his mustache and chuckling how convenient it is the shy, abused girl isn’t the type to question her seclusion away from potential influences who might make her want to write the wrong sort of songs.

  20. genesistrine March 25, 2015 at 1:42 am

    @Only Some Stardust: I believe female (lesbian) blue riders were a-OK’ed

    Must’ve come as an awful shock to the vast majority of green riders! [Dragons trumpet overhead; both riders look at each other and shrug. One says, “Um… I’ve got a pack of cards, you play poker?”]

    Re Robinton and moral apathy you could make a good story case for him having a tortured conscience; the booze, the not sleeping without fellis, and have him believing that everything he does he does for the good of Pern. [People are stupid and stubborn and have to be guided, however terrible I feel about what this does to individuals.]

  21. notamolly March 25, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    @ Genesistrine love the scenario of the mating flight not ending in some love story.

    Re Robinton and the harpers in general. I think they were supposed to be keepers of knowledge. So why call them Harpers? Their primary function seems to be education. And not a very good one at that…..

  22. Only Some Stardust March 25, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    ‘Stop trying to turn me straight, dammit!’

    Yeah, lesbians would make more sense with a bronze… except that would require gold riders to be bisexual, and they are ‘supposed’ to be straight, woo. Either way, once you stop invisibling half the gay people the neat little orientation by dragon color system just doesn’t work properly anymore.

    Not that it was really all that great in the first place.

  23. Silver Adept March 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I would totally dig that blue/green scenario, but I suspect some sort of arghlebargle about dragons overriding the minds of their riders would have resulted in straight sex that neither of them really wanted, but thoroughly enjoyed because dragons and possible extra insult, they’re now straight. Like Only Some Stardust points out, invisibling is the order of the day. I like fanon better.

    Regarding Robinton, I think it’s fair to say he really does believe the rest of the planet needs guidance because the old ways aren’t working, in his opinion, and Benden is the power to use to get there. As we see more of him, I think that will come out pretty clearly.

    And as for the Harpers being the educators, in early societies, even literate ones, all the way through ours, singing is the way we teach a lot of core concepts, like alphabets, birthdays, and language. (Go visit a public library story time for children for an easy example of this.) If Harpers are the Craft of Music, then they inherit the responsibilities of education as well. Which is why Robinton wants Menolly – earworms or new Teaching Songs with messages means being able to influence the society over time.

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