The White Dragon: Learning About One’s Ancestors

Last time, Jaxom found out that Ruth has a much more accurate time sense than your standard dragon, and may even have the ability to feel pings or read time data out of fire lizard pictures. Jaxom also blew up at the accumulated microaggressions and is feeling without a purpose. Right now, a gathering of students is at the Smithcrafthall.

The White Dragon: Chapter 3: Content Notes: Misogyny

Finally inside the Smithcrafthall, Jaxom joins many others to listen to Wansor, keeper of the telescope, display the star charts that have been crafted from many nights of staring into the sky. Well, everyone else is listening to Wansor. Jaxom is trying to think of ways to get Ruth firestone, since N’ton gave a tacit blessing for them to try it, while maintaining plausible deniability. When Jaxom’s attention returns to Wansor, he finds out that thanks to astronomy being a surviving discipline from the Ancients, it is now possible to chart the path of all the heavenly bodies. Which serves to prove the Benden Weyrleader right from a previous book – a blue star and a yellow star have been interfering with the regular orbit of the Red Star and changing the Threadfall schedules. Once clear of their influences, the timetables Benden distributed will work again. And they will know the next time the Pass begins, and can calculate when interference will happen again.

Everyone here is gathered so that such knowledge gets widely spread and passed down through the generations, so that when it’s needed, there’s no forgetting. The idea of cross-crafting has taken hold and so people from other crafts, as well as dragonriders and Holders, are all supposed to learn from each other, exchange ideas, and learn the scientific method and apply it to their own lives. F’lessan takes the spirit of the idea and runs with it.

“I wonder if we can use Wansor’s equations to go ahead in time safely.” F’lessan mused.

“You deadglow! You can’t go to a time that hasn’t happened!” Mirrim answered him tartly before the others could. “How would you know what’s happening? You’d end up in a cliff or in a crowd, or surrounded by Thread! It’s dangerous enough to go back in time when at least you can check on what happened or on who was there. Even then you could, and you would, muddle things. Forget it, F’lessan!”

“Going ahead could serve no logical purpose at this time,” Benelek remarked in his sententious way.

“It’d be fun,” F’lessan said, undeterred. “Like knowing what the Oldtimers are planning. Flar’s sure they’re going to try something. They’ve been far too quiet down there.”

Of course, having Future Knowledge could change the path that gets taken so that the expected action doesn’t happen. And Mirrim is right about possibly telefragging oneself in the future. Presumably, the equations would prevent appearing in the middle of a Threadfall, but there’s always the possibility of appearing where someone else is. You’d need really clear pictures…or a dragon that can hit their spots with pinpoint accuracy.

Also, F’lessan takes after his mother a lot – immediately finding a possible use for the equations, and having a willingness to give it a run, even with possible consequences, including death or serious injury. So, way back in Dragonquest, I mentioned that Felessan’s role was action to Jaxom’s thinking. As a dragonrider, it appears F’lessan retains the action role, and so he would be a good combination to work and do things that would normally get Jaxom in trouble, but that F’lessan could do to relieve the issues that Jaxom is feeling and dealing with at Ruatha. Fistfights worked for Menolly and Piemur…

As if to prove this division of responsibility is intentional…

F’lessan gave his boyhood friend a long measuring look. “You know, I used to think this school idea was a good one. Now I think it’s turned the whole lot of us into do-nothing talkers! And thinkers!” He rolled his eyes upward in disgust. “We talk, we think everything to death. We never do anything. At least we have to do first and think later when we fight Thread!”
[…F’lessan is distracted by a food tray…]
“That F’lessan!” Menolly said at his ear. “He wants to keep glory in the bloodline. A bit of derring-do…” and her sea-blue eyes danced with laughter as she added, “for me to tune about!” Then she sighed. “And he’s not the type at all. He doesn’t think beyond himself. But he’s got a good heart. C’mon! We’d better lend a hand with the food.”

“Let us do!” Jaxom’s quip was rewarded by Menolly’s smile of appreciation.

There was merit in both viewpoints, Jaxom decided as he relieved an overburdened woman of a tray of steaming meatrolls, but he’d think about it later.

As I was saying, but before we can think too much on how F’lessan is not-thinking like a dragon and Jaxom is thinking like someone with competing responsibilities, F’lessan drags Jaxom off to have a look at the customary gathering of fire lizards chattering with each other and looking at Ruth. Jaxom mentions that the fire lizards have some very “fascinating and unlikely” pictures that they share with Ruth, and Menolly points out that the fire lizards have some form of memory, possibly extending all the way back to the First Shell, and that their fear of the Red Star predates anyone else knowing about its dangers, too. But the construction is odd:

“So, fire-lizards have memories.”

“Ah, leave off, Menolly. You can’t ask me to believe that fire-lizards could remember things Man can’t?”

Which is slang that’s not really in evidence, based on the culture? And is a surprising departure from Jaxom’s usual perceptive and reflective self. Menolly adds on that it’s not just her, but Mirrim as well that’s concerned about fire lizard memories. Which means both experts on fire lizard behavior are worried about this. Jaxom, pay attention.

And then we have this exchange to close out the chapter.

Menolly’s eyes glinted with devilment as she beckoned him closer, as if anyone were near enough to hear what they’d been saying. “I hear Lord Groghe fancies you for that beast-bosomed third daughter of his.”

Jaxom groaned in horror.

“Don’t worry, Jaxom. Robinton squashed the idea. He wouldn’t do you a disservice there. Of course,” Menolly glanced him from the corners of her laughing eyes, “if you have anyone else in mind, now’s the time to say so.”

Jaxom was furious, not with Menolly but with her news, and it was hard to disassociate tidings and bearer.

“The one thing I don’t want just now is a wife.”

“Oh? Got yourself taken care of?”

“Menolly!”

“Don’t look so shocked. We Harpers understand the frailties of human flesh. And you’re tall, and nice-looking, Jaxom. Lytol’s supposed to be giving you instructions in all the arts…”

“Menolly!”

“Jaxom!” She mimicked his tone perfectly. “Doesn’t Lytol ever let you off to have some fun on your own? Or do you just think about it? Honestly, Jaxom,” her tone became acerbic and her expression registered impatience with him, “between Robinton, though I love the man, and Lytol, F’lar, Lessa, and Fandarel, I think they’ve turned you into a pale echo of themselves. Where is Jaxom?”

Again with the mishandling of characters. Unless, that is, this is post-Dragondrums Menolly, who had a time on the boat with Sebell because of the fire lizard mating, and who is apparently also completely over her upbringing and the traumatic experiences she had at the Harper Hall when she first arrived. Which, considering the complete lack of mental health professionals…well, it’s unlikely. Not impossible, but Menolly’s trauma line doesn’t seem like it would be fixable just by doing what she loves to do.

So it doesn’t seem like Menolly is the character to be giving Jaxom grief about his lack of women, nor would she, as the victim of bullying about her appearance, be the kind of character to refer to another woman as “beast-bosomed” as an insult. This scene should have been done between F’lessan and Jaxom, and it would read much better – F’lessan, as a dragonrider, is much more likely to have picked up the misogyny run rampant throughout Pernese society. It would still be awful and horrible, but it would at least be consistently characterized. That’s not saying much, though.

Jaxom resolves not to storm off from Menolly’s ribbing, and also resolves to find Ruth firestone secretly as a way of showing how much he’s a man and Ruth is a dragon. Thus ends Chapter 3.

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9 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Learning About One’s Ancestors

  1. Only Some Stardust July 9, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    ..beast-bosomed… makes me think she has yowling cat heads for breasts?

    So, Menolly considers ‘picking up girls’ an art? Oookay then.

    Honestly, I’m not really surprised at her behavior or find it all that unrealistic, it’s just disappointing. Victims sometimes do go on to become victimizers: ‘if I am high on the totem pole and prove it by ribbing at someone else, it will prove I am untouchable and so I will be safe’. And they often try to justify that what was done to them wasn’t that bad. It’s just sort of creepy.

  2. genesistrine July 9, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    I was thinking snarling lions’ heads. Either that or a cleavage full of kittens/puppies/cubs.

    From the writing POV it’s another of those weirdly ineffective phrases AMC comes up with that don’t manage to describe or evoke anything. It’s obviously meant to be insulting, but other than that… it’s just puzzling.

    And yes, I agree with you about Menolly, sadly. The Harper Hall doesn’t appear to have opened its doors to any other female apprentices, so Menolly is in the position of being the Special Girl, and faced with the Hall’s ingrained misogyny she’s defending herself by being Not Like The Others, those “beast-bosomed” women who aren’t cool and worldly-wise Harpers like her.

    We haven’t seen Mirrim do the same yet, but since she’s in the same position (note that she and Menolly are the only girl students – we can safely assume that the “various other likely successors to Lord Holders and advanced junior craftsmen” don’t include any other Icky Girls) I daresay it’s just a matter of time.

  3. Silver Adept July 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I like the thought of “beast-bosomed” being taken literally, hiding kittens in cleavage or something like that. It’s just a weird insult to go with, since it assumes that a woman with large breasts is clearly unattractive.

    Yes, Menolly seems to have absorbed the bro culture of the Harper Hall…but she also seems to be ribbing Jaxom about not being interested in girls here, which seems really very odd, since Menolly never seemed interested in boys at the time of this book. But the timelines are more than a bit screwy between chapters, so maybe this Menolly has already gone through Dragondrums at this point.

  4. genesistrine July 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    We must be past Dragondrums at this point, since Piemur’s mentioned as being one of the core students at Pern’s super-duper Young High Achievers Academy, and he certainly wasn’t involved in that before Dragondrums.

    Not that there’s any mention of how he gets there from his dream job as Southern Hold drum-journeyman; obviously dragons can be spared so important characters can secretly commute to important classes even though everyone else has to sail ahahahaha would it really be too much to expect some bleeding consistency here McCaffrey?

    Why aren’t there any young queen riders in the YHAA? You’d think they’d be ideal candidates; plenty of free time, respected status, in an excellent position to pass on knowledge….

  5. notamolly July 13, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    McCaffrey seems to be able to handle only one heroic woman in her stories. The junior queen riders would make more sense than the guys being that they are the more likely keepers of records. Bu in McCaffrey’s verse Mirrim has to be the only girl dragonrider in a group or Menolly has to be the specialest one.

  6. Silver Adept July 15, 2015 at 7:50 am

    If there were evidence to handwave it away, I could believe the junior queenriders were too busy learning the statecraft and household skills they would need when they became Weyrwomen, but even Terran history suggests that someone can learn the running of the household and get what passes for the classical education at the same time. Apparently the awesome of women is such that it can only be concentrated in one woman in any given context, whether Lessa, Menolly, or Mirrim.

    As for Piemur, well, there’s no other Hold top need to drum to, and since he had to report and receive new information from Robinton about how the South is going, clearly dragons can be spared for him. Even though there’s distinct hostilities between Southern and Benden, which should complicate Piemur’s free traveling abilities.

  7. genesistrine July 15, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Queenriders don’t even need to learn household management skills; the headwomen – Manora, Silvina, etc – deal with the day-to-day running of a Weyr/Hall. Though old Southern>High Reaches seemed to dump everything on Brekke instead, but then again Brekke seems to be one of those people who can never say no and can never delegate….

    Yes, I suppose any extra women being awesome in a particular context make the originals automatically less awesome and We Can’ Be Having That. So we get an academy of high achievers who are all people we’ve heard of before and who, as a rule, don’t seem that suited to it. Menolly, yes, good PR and someone who can translate ~*science*~ into the vernacular is priceless; Jaxom, yeah, I guess they’d want a Lord trained up in what science they’ve got; but F’lessan and Mirrim seem to have got in on the grounds of Have Dragons and Appeared In Previous Books. Why aren’t they training up a ton of young Harpers to spread the word to the yoof? Why no queenriders, just some random bronze rider who’s apparently the only other student cool enough to get a name? Why can’t Lord Groghe’s beast-bosomed daughter get a name and a knack for mathematics? (Tangentially but delightfully the Georgian-era magazine The Ladies Diary published a lot of mathematical problems – they were very popular with ladies. Why couldn’t the Lords’ harems be interested in the New Science? Ah yes. Because Pern doesn’t have the printing press yet. And may never, if Robinton gets a say in it….) Where are the clever peasants who improved a waterwheel or a beast’s harness?

    As for Piemur’s commute, it’s jumping ahead a bit but we’ll soon get to see Robinton and Menolly caught in a storm sailing to Southern. They didn’t rate a special flight….

  8. genesistrine July 15, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Oops. “Can’t Be Having That”. Ahem. Proofreading is an awesome thing, which is why I only did it once.

  9. Silver Adept July 19, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Regarding the Robinton-Menolly trip, I think it has to do with the nature of the trip as to why it goes that way instead of by dragonback.

    And as for why more women aren’t learning the sciences, remember how scandalized Lessa was that Fandarel was permitting kitchen women to work with the ink and paper. There should be many more women in the science academy, but dragonrider, Holder, and Crafter cultures all seem like they have plenty of misogyny to get in the way of giving women am education.

    Clever peasants with inventions are presumably promoted until the Crafts or have their ideas stolen and copied by the Crafts. I’ll bet the stuff that’s really good probably gets taken and then stored or destroyed so add not to raise the technology level too much.

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