The White Dragon: He’s normal. No, really.

Last chapter, a large amount of misogyny resulted in Jaxom insulting Mirrim regularly about her dragon’s likelihood of mating soon. And then Jaxom did some mating of his own.

The White Dragon: Chapter XII: Content Notes: Dubious Consent Rape, Rape Apologia

(15.7.6, the day after the last chapter)

Okay, so I was wrong about a lack of consequences discussion…ish. The chapter opens with Jaxom trying very hard not to think about Ruth’s lack of ardor, with two separate green dragon risings to bring the matter back to the forefront of Jaxom’s mind. On the second, the Weyrlingmaster takes a long look at Jaxom, which sends him into a giant shame spiral, enough to get Ruth agitated from his mindset. Jaxom says he’s okay, but what’s going on has his focus:

With a challenging snarl, the green dragon was airborne, the blues and browns after her while she repeated her taunting challenge.
On the killing ground, their riders closed into a knot around the green’s rider. All too quickly, challenger and pursuers dwindled to specks in the sky. Their riders half-ran, half-stumbled to the Lower Caverns and the chamber reserved there.
Jaxom had never witnessed a mating flight of dragons. He swallowed, trying to moisten his dry throat. He felt heart and blood thudding and a tension he usually experienced only as he held Corana’s slender body against him. He suddenly wondered which dragon had flown Mirrim’s Path, which rider had-
[…Jaxom’s thought process is interrupted by the Weyrlingmaster giving him consolation on Ruth’s disinterest…]
Jaxom thought of the skyborne beasts. Unwillingly he thought of their riders in the inner room, linked to their dragons in an emotional struggle that was resolved in a strengthening and fusing of the links between dragons and riders. Jaxom thought of Mirrim. And of Corana.
With a groan, he sprang on Ruth’s neck, fleeting the emotional atmosphere of Fort Weyr, trying to flee from his sudden realization of what he had probably always known about riders but had only this very morning assimilated.
He had intended to go to the lake to immerse himself in the cold waters and let that icy shock cure his body and chill the torment in his mind. But Ruth instead took him to the Plateau Hold.

Before we talk mating again, here’s another confirmed case of a dragon altering the destination point of their rider based on an emotional state. Ruth has determined that Jaxom needs Corana more than he needs a cold bath. Which suggests that Ruth understands this sex thing perfectly well in terms of feelings and emotions, is just that he’s not interested in dragons. He’s normal.

Also, I’m having trouble figuring out what Jaxom is reacting to with such force. Is it the group sex aspect that could be going on, depending on whether the green is satisfied with one partner, or will mate and then mate again with a different dragon? (Or the possible orgy among the riders that may develop anyway from the sexual feelings their dragons are having.) Is it the thought of potentially violent sex being done to Mirrim while Path is mating, and Jaxom is feeling some form of regret or sorrow at how cruel and callous his remarks were to Mirrim about the upcoming flight? (If this were previous Jaxom, this would be the likely interpretation, but current Jerkass Jaxom makes this a less likely solution.) Perhaps Jaxom is feeling oogie at the possibility of having sex with a man while their dragons mate, as Mirrim is the only female green rider? As Holdbred, from what we understand, that might be seen as something unnatural and disturbing about the dragonriders – but then again, Jaxom’s ward is a dragonrider, so it’s unlikely that particular issue would have crept into Jaxom’s upbringing, unless Lytol is a single voice in a cacaphony of Hold people saying otherwise. I think the text supports this option best, because it would be a group of men headed to the Lower Caverns, Jaxom thinking about sex, then about what he said to Mirrim, then about men and sex and him, and then he takes off for the cold shower to get it out of his head. Ruth doesn’t quite get it, and so thinks to shunt Jaxom to Corana because he can tell Jaxom is thinking about sex, and the mating flight is clearly influencing his psyche, although he can’t quite parse it all out completely.

Anyway, Jaxom finds Corana, and he intends to have sex with her. Whether she’s in the mood or consenting or not.

Corana, recovering from surprise at his unexpected arrival, waved a welcome. Instead of rushing toward him as she usually did, she smoothed back her hair and blotted the perspiration beading her face.
“Jaxom,” she began as he strode toward her, the urgency in his loins increasing at the sight of her, “I wish you wouldn’t-”
He silenced her half-teasing scold with a kiss, felt something hard clout him along his side. Pinning her against him with his right arm, he found the offending hoe with his left hand. Wrenching it from her grasp, he spun it away from them. Corana wriggled to get free, as unprepared for this mood in him as he was. He held her closer, trying to temper the pressures rising within him until she could respond. She smelled of the earth and her own sweat. Her hair, covering his face as he kissed her throat and breast, also smelled of sun and sweat, and the odors excited him further. Somewhere in the back of his mind was a green dragon, shrieking her defiance. Somewhere, too closer to his need, was that vision of dragonriders in an inner room, waiting, with an excitement that matched his own, waiting until the green dragon had been captured by the fastest, the strongest or the smartest of her pursuers. But it was Corana he was holding in his arms, and Corana who was beginning to respond to his need. They were on the warm ground, the dampness of earth she had just hoed soft under his elbows and knees. The sun was warm on his buttocks as he tried to erase the memory of those riders half-stumbling toward the inner room, and the mocking taunt of a green dragon in flight. He did not resist or deny Ruth’s familiar beloved touch as his orgasm released the turmoil of body and mind.

*sigh* I liked you a lot more when you were younger, Jaxom, before this culture got to you.

What, exactly, could Corana do in this situation that would have resulted in Jaxom not raping her, short of killing him with that hoe? (Which would bring its own consequences down on her) If she refuses him, he’s the Lord of Ruatha and can make life miserable for her. Or he can take her on a dragon ride somewhere and leave her. Or he could be violent to her. There’s no way for her to escape the situation, because on Pern, like other patriarchal societies, the men hold all the power. It’s why the law can take into account things like whether or not coercion was involved when there are accusations – because the boss can threaten someone’s job, especially in an “at-will” employment situation, and make it seem like the firing was over something other than a refusal to have sex.

Additionally, Jaxom, Corana not going along with your desires immediately is not any sort of signal of “restrict my freedom and hold me in place until I go along with it.” This whole scene is a mess and reflects horribly on Jaxom and the societies of Pern.

Other than the apparent need to show Jaxom committing rape, it’s still unclear what about the mating part still has him so distressed. The text in this section does seem to support the idea that Jaxom is having trouble with the idea that he’s going to have sex with another man on a mating flight, and worse, that he’s going to enjoy it at least as much as he does having sex with Corana. Since there are no visible well-adjusted male couples (or polygons) for Jaxom (or us) to take cues from, despite the fact that there should be hundreds of them based on “no women dragonriders except queens!”, the conclusion we have to go with us that dragonriders are not comfortable with those relationships, either, despite their reputation for sexual liberty. Which is sad and makes me wonder how an attitude like that survived all the generations of dragons and riders.

Now that he’s done raping Corana, we go onward to the next day, and Jaxom takes that cold bath he was trying for yesterday, and lets Ruth out to hunt while he thinks about yesterday. Unexpectedly (at least by the standards of these books), Jaxom regrets what he has done.

Jaxom was not pleased with himself. He was thoroughly disgusted and revolted by the way he had used Corana. The fact that she seemed to have matched what he had to admit was a violent lust dismayed him. Their relationship, once innocent pleasure, had somehow been sullied. He wasn’t at all certain that he cared to continue as her lover, an attitude that posed another unpleasant burden of guilt. One point in his favor, he had helped her finish the hoeing his importunity had interrupted. That way she’d not be in trouble with Fidello for shorting her task. The young grain was important. But he ought not to have taken Corana like that. Doing so was inexcusable.

It’s old Jaxom, peeking through again! And having thoughts in the place where he is best-suited, at the intersection of dragonrider and Lord Holder. It would be better for him to be thinking about this less as “oogie, man-sex” and more about how, as a powerful person, he has the ability to get sex from women who may not be consenting because they are less powerful than him. And that, if Ruth ever starts to take an interest in green or gold dragons, that he might be consumed by that lust and commit rape again. He doesn’t have the indoctrination of Weyr culture that just treats dragon lust as part of reality, and Holder culture, while it clearly thinks nothing of impregnating women and leaving them to raise the kids with no support, it apparently hasn’t explicitly gone far enough to approve of casual rape all the time. This could be a great opportunity for Jaxom to explore what life is being a person who wants consent in their partners being stuck in a world that basically ignores consent every time they have the opportunity.

Instead, the narrative chooses to make Ruth the mouthpiece for rape apologia. The otherwise asexual Ruth. Because, really, the only cover that the narrative can provide for that apologia, especially when Jaxom is actually feeling bad about this and would otherwise have to engage in on-page self-examination, is for it to sound like Ruth is just asking innocent questions and making innocent statements. So this quote picks up exactly where we left off:

She liked it very much. Ruth’s thought touched him so unexpectedly that Jaxom jerked straight.
“How could you possibly know?”
When you are with Corana, her emotions are also very strong and just like yours. So I can feel her, too. Only at that time. Otherwise I do not hear her. Acceptance rather than regret colored Ruth’s tone. Almost as if he were relieved the contact was limited.
[…Ruth returns from eating…]
“So, do you like what you hear? Our lovemaking?” Jaxom asked, abruptly deciding to air his concern.
Yes. You enjoy it so much. It is good for you. I like it to be good for you.
Jaxom jumped to his feet, consumed by frustration and guilt. “But don’t you want it for yourself? Why are you always worried about me? Why didn’t you go fly that green?”
Why does that worry you? Why should I fly that green?
“Because you’re a dragon.”
I am a white dragon. Blues and browns, and occasionally a bronze, fly greens.
“You could have flown her. You could have flown her, Ruth!”
I did not wish to. You are upset again. I have upset you. Ruth extended his neck, his nose gently touching Jaxom’s face in apology.

Why, of course Corana likes it. It’s not like sex is a biological process engineered to be pleasurable so that the human species can continue to propagate and evolve, right? Such that someone who was taken without any consent at all might appear to be enjoying the sex anyway, because biology? No, we have to be assured that it wasn’t really a rape, or else Jaxom would be like many other protagonists and powerful men in this series, and Jaxom is supposed to be Different. So we must be assured that Corana liked all of it, including the method and the attitude, or else Jaxom might have second thoughts about getting into relationships when he’s not sure he’s going to be able to do them the way he wants.

This is also the first textual possibility that we get where Ruth could be ace, or intersex – it’s not that he couldn’t, it’s that he doesn’t wish to, or that he thinks he’s the wrong color for it. Ruth understands something of what the humans are doing, but doesn’t want it for himself. Respect his wishes, Jaxom. He’s not broken.

After this introspection, Jaxom makes busy work for himself sketching out the cove he went to before hoping back in time, using charcoal (“soft carbon stick”) and paper, using “softwood tree sap” (can you get rubber of some sort from a softwood?) to erase any mistakes. Lytol appears, examines the drawing and praises its accuracy, with a remark about the large size of the volcano (which, I believe, is the first time that word has been used to describe it in-text. Unless the Records of the past mention that name and a detailed description, religion-less and myth-less Pern should not be using a name which derives from a god (Vulcan), even though we still have plenty of possible cultural artifacts that survived from the Ancients) while reminding Jaxom that he’ll have an opportunity to fly with a fighting wing. With a request to be told when Jaxom plans on returning to the cove, Lytol leaves. Jaxom figures it an implicit permission to go back and find out more information about the men who went before and to collect a clutch of fire-lizard eggs while he’s at it.

We’re told that dragons transmit pictures to each other for use as space-time coordinates, pictures which they collect from riders. In Ruth’s case, he also gets pictures from fire-lizards. So it should be possible for a dragon to assist in holding a picture, with all its details, in the mind of their rider for something like sketching. Assuming the rider has enough skill, great works of art in the form of landscape painting should be a thing in Weyrs. Or someone, maybe the Harpers, should be commissioning these kinds of works so that dragonriders have a handy reference of places they can always keep in mind, so that the knowledge of the pictures doesn’t depend on oral transmission, which we have already seen fail spectacularly with regard to a lot of the other Crafts.

The next morning, Jaxom heads to the Weyr (by normal air, as his damp, wet, and hyperspace affairs from yesterday have made him sick (“caught a cold”, which is an idiomatic phrase on Terra, so I’m not sure it would survive on Pern, either)) and we finally get to see preparation for Threadfall. The first phase is building sacks of firestone and getting Ruth to chew up a lot of it so that his second stomach will be generating enough gas to be lit up by the time they contact Thread. After that, assignments are distributed – Ruth gets to fly with the queens’ wing, which Ruth is happy about but Jaxom feels slighted over. Which casually nullifies our opportunity to see the whole process. Jaxom is fighting his cold and mostly gets to observe the fighting dragons attack. His position in the queens’ wing is mostly to be a mobile turret to provide extra firepower on whichever side of the wing has highest concentration of Thread that has escaped the upper wings. After finishing up and being sent home early so as not to be seen by the ground crews, there’s shared happiness at having actually fought Thread and avoided getting hit, although Ruth is ready to vomit up the fire ash as soon as possible. After which, both of them head quickly to the cove on the Southern continent, and our chapter ends.

No doubt there will be Shenanigans.


14 thoughts on “The White Dragon: He’s normal. No, really.

  1. emmy September 3, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    > I’m having trouble figuring out what Jaxom is reacting to with such force.

    As I recall, it’s suggested in canon that the problem with dragon flights is that the excited dragons psychically broadcast their sexual arousal – not just to their riders, but to anyone in the vicinity. (Dragons can, after all, talk to people other than their riders when they want to. They just usually don’t.)

    It’s why flights are supposed to be kept away from holds, and why the weyrlingmaster is trying to get the young ones away before the flight finishes… at least, that’s how I saw it.

    So the way I read it when I first read the books was:

    – Jaxom experiences a bunch of angst and guilt about his potential inadequacy
    – Jaxom is suddenly hit with a wave of lust emanating from the dragon flight, and all sorts of crazy images go through his mind, tangled up with the earlier shame and guilt
    – He wants to fight off his lust but Ruth suggests he should express it instead

    I don’t see any clear signs that he’s hung up on the m/m aspect, or even that he’s noticed it, although it may be that the author is just playing too coy with that part. There is that one line

    >what he had probably always known about riders but had only this very morning assimilated

    Which could mean anything. It could mean “Oh, wow, I never realised they REALLY have sex with men” or “I never realised they really have sex with unknown partners unexpectedly when a mating flight happens” or “I never realised someone else’s orgy could affect me” or “I never realised that as a dragonrider I will be expected to take part in sex rituals”

    and then, the Corana scene.

    The thing that bugged me most about it was NOT the sex itself, which did not read like a rape to me, other than the obvious consent issues normally present in their relationship because of him being a Lord Holder. He was highly aroused (aliens made him do it!), he tried to hold himself back to see if she would respond, she responded, they coupled. This is not that different from something that could happen with a normal couple if one was suddenly extremely lustful and the other responded to that desire.

    No, what did and always will bother me was how he treated her afterwards, the jerk. She did nothing wrong! How DARE he act like she’s dirty because HE was horny? How does that make any sense? (Well, it makes sense in that he’s ashamed and people do things like that when they’re ashamed. But it’s still wrong.)

    Yes, he stuck around and helped her with the grain, which is good, but then he washes his hands of her.

    I guess it’s also because I did not read the scene as rape that I saw his “I shouldn’t have done that” as insultingly dismissive of her agency. I saw her willingly helping him, and then him shaming her for it.

  2. Brenda Appleby September 4, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Even if she wasn’t unwilling this time, he feels guilty for giving in to the urge in the first place and confronting her with it where she couldn’t have done anything about it if she WAS unwilling.

    It would be interesting to have seen what happened between the two of them if he didn’t get sick and end up stranded half a world away for several months.

    Completely unrelated to all that – I am amused that you are calling out the use of the word “volcano” as unrealistic! Do you think that the colonists, who also called burning mountains “volcanoes”, were intending to invoke the ancient god of fire? Do you, when you use the word?

  3. emmy September 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

    The volcanoes thing is frustrating when you’re writing books set on completely alternate worlds that never had earth history at all, because so many english words are so deeply tied to our own history and past civilisations and religions and wars and famous people, and when you think about it, none of it actually makes sense in another setting.

    on the other hand, those other settings wouldn’t be speaking English at all, so one can simply imagine that the entire book is being translated into words that we the readers can understand and not necessarily the words they would have used.

    In the Pern case, they are speaking sort-of English and they did come from our civilisation in the past, so it’s not intrinsically weird for them to still have the word ‘volcano’, except that it IS very weird and silly for them to keep a word like volcano, which doesn’t seem to get that much use in Pern, and forget the word for ‘horse’, which they use all the time!

  4. boutet September 4, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Yes. If you have short word (horse, week) why would common usage switch to a longer one (runner beast, sevenday). I can see it more likely to change pronounciation and shift rather than switch to entirely different and more work to say.

    Why isn’t volcano a firemount?

  5. genesistrine September 5, 2015 at 4:25 am

    Re firemount: they haven’t even seen it on fire. Maybe the word “volcano” shifted its meaning to “conical mountain” over the centuries…. Though there’s a reference in DF to “Ista’s smoking mountain”, so they didn’t seem to know the word “volcano” then.

    “Soft carbon stick” is notably stupid too – they think HNO3 is a word, “agenothree”, but they remember carbon instead of just saying “charcoal”, or even “charwood” or some other godawful neologism?

  6. Silver Adept September 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    @ emmy – It reads as a rape to me because I don’t see any way that Corana can meaningfully consent in the situation – if she says no and acts on it, then he’s the Lord Holder and can punish her family however he likes. And he’s clearly trying hard to get her in the mood, so to her, the choice is to go along with it and decide how enthusiastic she wants to sound about it, in case he notices at the end that she wasn’t into it much and tries to hurt her for that. I’m not sure I can call what Jaxom does as checking for consent.

    It’s a valid interpretation to have it be consensual, but for Jaxom to be a heel afterward, too. If the plot had continued with them, I can easily see Jaxom using her until he’s bored of her and then chasing other women.

    With regard to volcano and other words choices, Pern is trying to be a world that has no explicit his or religion. They fail, because dragons and their riders, but there is definitely a conspicuous lack of spirituality. Part of pointing out all these words with religious origins is because of you want to scrub society of religious traces, you have to do better than just omitting obvious religious words. You also have to be knowledgeable of etymologies and the origins of phrases and the life. It’s not enough to try and scrub out just the words of the dominant religion of the author’s time, but you have to get all of them, or destroy the link between the two and bury it so deep it can’t be resurrected. If someone asks “why call it a volcano?”, there needs to be a reason, other than Vulcan, that’s plausible. It they’re will be stories made up about it, and you’re back to mythologies. Especially ones about volcanoes exploding and people fleeing from them.

    And then there’s the other things that have been pointed out – a curious mishmash of words and neologisms that doesn’t seem to follow rhyme or reason as to why which words survived. Outside the universe, we can chalk it up to author whim, but inside, there has to be reasons why.

  7. genesistrine September 6, 2015 at 3:01 am

    @Silver Adept: If someone asks “why call it a volcano?”, there needs to be a reason

    “Because that’s its name” works as an in-story answer though – why are dragons called dragons? Why is klah called klah? Pern is a monolingual planet; they may not even remember the concept of etymology.

    It’s when you look at the whole language from out-story that it’s this weird mishmash of clunky neologisms and stucktogether wordpairs and SCIENCE WORDS, and the only answer I’ve come up with is that Pern was settled by a gang of Ren Faire rejects who escaped from Golgafrincham Ark B. F’lar is going to be asking for a j’nan t’nik any moment now.

  8. Only Some Stardust September 6, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    I read it as straight up rape. not ‘dubious consent’ at all:

    ‘He silenced her half-teasing scold with a kiss, felt something hard clout him along his side.’
    ‘she struggled to get away’

    It sounds a lot like she hit him and tried to run away.

    And then gave in when she started to feel lust back, probably a very confusing experience for her, but not at all indicative of consent.

  9. Only Some Stardust September 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Or gave in when she realized she couldn’t escape from him, too. He was pinning her down and threw away her weapon. She couldn’t murder him with the hoe even if she wanted to.

  10. genesistrine September 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Plus, DRAGON. Ruth may be small for a dragon, but I don’t see any reason to think he’s not going to intervene if someone tries to harm his human, even if his human’s being harmed by someone he’s trying to rape.

  11. Only Some Stardust September 8, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Is totally possible that he raped her, but ‘regretted’ or was disgusted by the fact she ‘responded’ to him / ‘let’ him be ‘seduced’ and interpreted it as consensual on her part. That’s how it reads to me. Rapists are often not very rational. So there are actually two sides of being a heel here: there’s the rape-heel and there’s the ‘she is such a slut for letting me touch her’-vibe he’s giving off heel.

  12. Silver Adept September 8, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    There are no ways of interpreting this scene that don’t make Jaxom out to be a shitheel, and very few of them that wouldn’t append all sorts of rapist on top of that. I still want to know where that kind and empathetic boy went to be replaced by this proud specimen of Holder culture.

  13. emmy September 9, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Yeah, I guess I always interpreted the hoe ‘clouting’ him in the side as meant to be him grabbing her so urgently that he didn’t notice the hoe was between them until it got in the way, not as her hitting him with it.

    Because Ruth insisted she was fine with it, so my young mind had to find some way to interpret events to make that make sense? So much ugh.

  14. boutet September 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

    It reads to me like a combination of “can’t rape your wife” and kink-shaming. She’s already consented to a sexual relationship (that explicitly is likely to lead to children) with him so her consent is counted as permanent, and Jaxom’s regret is over the violence of it and not the consent/lack. It’s like how previously F’lar regretted not being more gentle with Lessa but didn’t regret dragonyraping her. And BrownRR is forgiven in text for his rape since he was so gentle.

    “The fact that she seemed to have matched what he had to admit was a violent lust dismayed him. Their relationship, once innocent pleasure, had somehow been sullied.”

    He’s upset with his violence, and that she seemed to respond to violence in sex. Violent lust is a negative in this world (for an in-text definition of violent since rape itself isn’t seen as inherently violent). (see also: Kylara)

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