The White Dragon: Appreciation For All That Has Been Done (…And The Conspicuous Lack Thereof)

Last chapter, the solution to the excess Holder population arrived – go South. With everyone looking to Benden for the go-ahead, there’s a full-scale scramble in the wings for the upcoming land rush.

Menolly confessed her feelings for Robinton in a cheek kiss, and Robinton rebuffed her, despite feeling an attraction to her.

And everyone wants Wansor to look at three stars in the sky that don’t behave like stars.

The White Dragon, Chapter XVIII: Content Notes: Sexism, creepy stalkerism, “entitlement” to women and ownership of them

(15.10.14, the day Robinton arrives at the new Cove Hold)

Cove Hold is complete in eleven days, we’re told, although the stonemasons are worried about the structural integrity of the “hardset” used. Mental note: Pernese technology now includes either concrete or cement, or some form of stone mortar. Which is doable, assuming Pern has the correct mineral content, like lime or gypsum, to use to make the mortar, but one wonders how well it survives contact with Thread at high velocity. Also, this is the sixth book in the series, and just now we’re getting to see a rather fundamental part of the society – how do the buildings not fall down?

For the three days after exterior construction finishes, Lessa, Manora, Silvina, and Sharra do the interior decoration, juggling all the gifts received into an effective (“not efficient, Sharra told Jaxom with a wicked grin, but effective”) floor plan.

Not to be a stick in the mud, but that crack about efficiency says that at least Fandarel was involved in trying to generate the floor plan. He may have lost in the face of spirited opposition, but he was involved. Instead, the narrative wants us to believe that the women did all the work in the domestic sphere, while the men did the hard work of construction and clearing the land. Hello, sexism. Are we also to assume that Fandarel and company entirely ignored Sharra from two chapters ago and built the Hold to Northern specifications, because silly girls can’t do architecture?

Jaxom’s frustration at not being able to pursue Sharra is clearly building, and leaking into the narrative:

Piemur rather arrogantly told F’lar that dragons had to be a place first to get there again between-or else get a sharp enough visualization from someone who had. But he, with his two feet and Stupid’s four, had to be first so mere dragonriders could then follow. The dragonriders ignored the somewhat disparaging remarks, but Piemur’s attitude was beginning to get on Jaxom’s nerves.

Piemur may have the tact of Space Durian in his delivery, but he’s essentially right. Dragons need very clear pictures to do their hyperspace hop, which requires someone else to have been there or recorded the image somehow for the dragon to use later. And since the South has effectively been a no-fly zone while T’ron, Mardra, and T’kul have been in charge, that means mapping it all out on foot. With the associated bumps, bruises, scratches, and near-death experiences that entails. The high-and-mighty dragonriders ignore this truth, as it is inconvenient to their self-image, but it remains a truth all the same. So I’m not convinced it’s Piemur talking about his exploits that has Jaxom frazzled, but Piemur’s presence as a potential romantic rival for Sharra. After Sharra shows that she’s fine with methods other than foot travel, refusing to buy into Piemur’s grandstanding, Piemur backs off and things return to the largely one-sided Cold War between Jaxom and Piemur.

The next major event is the arrival of Robinton at the Cove Hold. Oldive sent word ahead forbidding a great feast and party on account of Robinton’s heart, so the welcoming party is small – Jaxom to represent the Holders, Lessa the dragonriders, and Fandarel the Crafts.

To keep up appearances of a healthy old man, when coming into dock, Robinton is standing at the front of the ship, waving to everyone. At least, I assume that it’s to keep up appearances, and that there was a fantastic fight between Robinton, Menolly, and Oldive about whether he should. Robinton has tanned significantly in his travels (“Look, he’s almost black with sun,” Lessa cried, clutching Jaxom’s arm in her excitement.), which makes me wonder how much sun protection was thought of on that ship, and how much sunburn Robinton suffered through before it mellowed out into his tan. And whether that kind of sun-roasting would have been good for his health and his heart.

Neither Robinton nor Brekke were informed of the changes made from the original design, so Lessa has to course-correct Brekke when she heads toward the original site, and Robinton is hesitant about the size of his new dwelling until he’s strongarmed (literally) inside and gets to see the place, including everything that was in his office at the Harper Hall. Welcome to your retirement, Masterharper. We hope you like it.

Ever-observant, Robinton notices Farli among the fire-lizards that have stopped by to say hello, and:

“We didn’t want too many people about, tiring you…” Lessa added in a soothing tone.
“Tiring me? Tiring me! I need a little tiring! PIEMUR!” If his tanned and relaxed face had not been proof enough of his return to health, the bellow he let loose, as vigorous and deafening as ever, left no further doubts of his vitality.
Clearly audible was the distant startled reply: “Master?”
“REPORT, PIEMUR!”

Which brings Piemur into the room at high velocity, worried something dire is happening, only to find that the newest cup in Robinton’s collection had no wine in it and himself sent to get some. After returning and getting distressed at by Robinton for his handling of the wineskin, Robinton gets a glass. After everyone toasts his health, Robinton is pulled along on the rest of the tour, including a custom-built chair for him (also, if your mental picture of Robinton is that he’s short, we’re told he has long legs and long torso here. Still no idea whether that means he’s taller or shorter than Menolly.) and a codex of all the Traditional songs and ballads. There’s exploration and swimming and dinner guests, including the crew of Idarolan’s ship and all the others assembled.

After dinner, the new plot for the Harpers and Jaxom is to move inland, while the dragonriders supervise the land rush. An offhand remark from Menolly about trying to get more information about the possible viewing of the past in dreams (Jaxom realizes his fever dreams might have been a collective visualization of many beings, which is why they were hazy) reminds us that the plot has now been stalled for several chapters while everyone is healing or getting into proper position, and the ensuing discussion sets Piemur off again:

“That’s a nice concept,” Menolly said. “A dream eye unfocused.”
Piemur groaned and flailed at the sand with his fists. “Here comes another song!”
“Oh, do be quiet!” Menolly regarded him with impatience. “All that lone traveling has changed you, Piemur, and I for one don’t like the change.”
“No one says you have to,” Piemur snapped at her and, with a fluid motion, was on his feet and striding into the first, angrily batting the underbrush out of his way.
“How long has he been so touchy?” Menolly asked Jaxom and Sharra.
“Since he arrived here,” Jaxom said, shrugging to indicate that they hadn’t been able to change him.

And yet, nobody has apparently asked Piemur what is happening that he has changed so much. Something is clearly affecting his mood, but nothing on-camera is being done to ascertain what. Piemur seems to be feeling unappreciated for his work (repeatedly mentioning how sick he is of walking), his adventures, and his exploration, instead having his surveying transformed into land for unappreciative Holder brats and Inherently Superior dragonriders without so much as a “Thanks, Piemur, we couldn’t have done this without your hard work of the past three Turns.” Plus, all of these intruders are likely to carve up the relatively unspoiled tropical paradise that is Southern and make it into something else. If Piemur appreciates nature the way that it is, the incoming development might end up pushing him in the direction of “I am the Harper and I speak for the trees.” (And the wild fire-lizards, plants, beasts, wherries, and other such things.)

Menolly doesn’t know what’s going on or how severe it is, so she can’t be engaged as the Designated Empathy character here. Which would leave Jaxom, except Jaxom has been far too busy thinking with his penis and continues to see Piemur as a rival for the control of Sharra instead of the friend he had before going south.

Then he looked off in the direction Sharra had gone. Had he any legitimate reason for following her? He sighed. He liked Piemur, despite his acid tongue. He’d been glad to see the young Harper, grateful for his company and assistance. He just wished that Piemur had taken a day longer, even half a day longer, to reach the Cove. Since his arrival, Jaxom had had no time at all alone with Sharra. Was she avoiding him? Or was it just the circumstances of the building and getting Cove Hold ready for Master Robinson? He must figure out some way to separate Sharra from the others! Or else visit Corana!

I get that Jaxom is supposed to be a horny teenager in a society where is position basically gives him control over people, directly or indirectly, but it’s still fucking creepy, man. And totally stalker territory, for which our last result was the rape of Brekke. There are enough uncomfortable parallels that I’d almost suggest that the plot thread is being recycled from Dragonquest, with new names and taking longer to arrive at the payoff point. The longer we go in this book, the more convinced I am that Jaxom is going to take Sharra down the same path.

I still hope I’m wrong. However, Jaxom admitting he would go see Corana puts the lie to the idea that his intentions are romantic. And Corana is being specifically thought of as an object to be used for Jaxom’s lusts, like she always has been, instead of as a woman with her own life and possible issues that are made more complex when someone who she can’t refuse comes in for a booty call. The narrative is only concerned with Jaxom and whether he’s getting his rocks off, instead of what any of his potential partners thinks about the affair.

Which is, unfortunately, one of the most consistent parts of Holder culture and the narrative.

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15 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Appreciation For All That Has Been Done (…And The Conspicuous Lack Thereof)

  1. boutet October 16, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    It really undercuts the idea of Jaxom being in love with Sharra. I can’t have sex with the woman I’m “falling in love with”? Well then I’ll go think about her while having sex with a different woman! How lovely for Corana to be basically a masturbation aide.

  2. Only Some Stardust October 17, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    ‘ He must figure out some way to separate Sharra from the others! Or else visit Corana!’

    Wow.

    ‘If I cannot have sex with one woman, alas, I’ll have to have sex with another!’

    The ‘or else’ and the ‘must’ part is just, whut. Makes it sound like some kind of dire emergency. When it’s just his penis not getting laid. Nobody’s /making/ you visit Corana, dude.

    I’m honestly baffled why a woman would write this and find this appealing. I would have thought in a female fantasy you’d get more, I dunno, idealism, faithfulness… I guess all this is to show off how virile and handsome he is? A disturbing attempt at ‘realism’? A laugh at inferior women like Corana for being teh slutty? A genuine belief that a man not getting laid really is an emergency that must be rectified (and if he can’t get the woman he wants, it’s a tragedy that he has to fuck someone else)? I feel like it’s the last one.

  3. genesistrine October 18, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Well, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that a high-status straight teenage boy who’s been brought up in a misogynist culture would have that level of entitlement; the disturbing thing for me is that the author doesn’t seem to notice that that’s a deeply unpleasant way to think.

  4. Firedrake October 18, 2015 at 8:14 am

    It may well be that, in the world and mindset she lived in, that seemed just to be “the way men think”. (Yes, there was other stuff happening in the 1960s and 1970s, but a lot of people’s attitudes to social things seem to freeze around age 20.)

  5. Nothing October 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I think I mentioned that attitude on the author’s part chapters ago, regarding dragons. The entire point of green dragons rising to mate often is to keep the males all sexually satisfied. She writes this way about all males, regardless of species: in her mind, sex is an uncontrollable need, not a desire over which a person is able to have control. And if sex is a need, then apparently shame on any woman a man finds appealing for not giving him sex. In light of that, Brekke’s rape by F’nor could be seen as inevitable, or, in Anne’s mind, even “deserved” (note that I strongly disagree with both of those possibilities myself) because as the object of F’nor’s desire, she had tried to refuse him. She had also been uncertain about mating flights in general because of her Holder upbringing, and no one thought to talk to her about that.

    Yet again I am reminded of why I gave up on this series in disgust over the multitude of problematic things included. Pern is not meant to be a paradise, but it does appear to be meant to be an improvement over real world Earth culture. And it isn’t.

    It also isn’t an accurate depiction of a regressed society. Humans are curious and spiritual by nature; even lacking organized religion, people would devise their own beliefs to fill gaps in their knowledge. It’s surprising that there aren’t dragon worshiping cults offering sacrifices during the Passes especially, or a religion where ancestors are worshiped as gods (because I remember there being some knowledge that their ancestors came from the stars).

    As others pointed out, Pern is mostly not consistent, despite its being acclaimed for world building. We’re expected, I think, to see Jaxom in love with Sharra (because she isn’t beautiful), but we are shown only blatant lust–Corana could easily stand in for his “need” for Sharra.

  6. Only Some Stardust October 18, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Yeah, I think I remember you sayin’ that. It’s the shown only blatant lust part I don’t get, if it’s supposed to be him ‘in love’ with her. I would expect, in a fantasy, -something- romantic, if he’s in love. Unless the lust itself is romantic somehow, even though he shows similar lust to Corana?

    So, I supposed it’s if you lust after a woman who’s ‘easy’ and attractive, it’s not love, but if you lust after a hard to get woman, it must be love. Ick.

  7. genesistrine October 18, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Yeah, I think Nothing’s right. Sharra’s not “conventionally attractive”, so the only reason for wanting sex with her must be ~Falling In Love~.

    But eh, if she’s not available the penis god must be satisfied somehow.

    There are no words loud and foul enough.

  8. emmy October 19, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I guess sex toys were another bit of technology the colonists forgot to bring along.

  9. Silver Adept October 19, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Surely, someone must have figured out sex toys by now. They may not admit to it, but it had to be there.

    I think class issues start complicating what “counts” as love on Pern. Kylara was basically told off for slumming it with Meron, and there’s this cultural assumption that Holder men will sire bastards before getting properly married and producing heirs, so there’s probably never any acknowledged love between Holders of different class statuses – so Jaxom and Sharra can be love because they’re both on the same level, but Jaxom and Corana can’t because he’s her Lord. (And because he explicitly tells us it’s all about his pantsfeels.)

    Sharra is described, from Jaxom’s perspective, as not perfectly beautiful, so Jaxom might also be thinking he can collect a high-status wife for a small amount of courtship, because she’s at Southern, and because her lack of beauty might also mean a lack of suitors.

  10. genesistrine October 20, 2015 at 1:53 am

    Sharra’s status is still ambiguous at this point, isn’t it? Not only is Toric not acknowledged as a “proper” Lord Holder by the other Lord Holders, I don’t think it’s even been mentioned that she’s his sister. So small props to Jaxom for not glomming on to her because STATUS I guess….

    The whole Toric-will-never-let-us-be-together thing we get later is ridiculous, but better leave discussion of that till it shows up.

  11. Nothing October 20, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Am I the only one who wonders why it’s Toric policing Sharra’s sexuality instead of their parents? I mean, it’s weird either way because she’s an adult, but weirder from a brother. The policing-her-sexuality thing appears to be standard on Pern, although there is usually a conspicuous lack of parental figures.

    Either way, why would her brother object? Does he hope to find a marriage partner of greater political importance? He does not seem to really care about her happiness… Unless I misremember? It never made sense to me. I guess that’s something to discuss when we get there!

  12. Firedrake October 20, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Parents seem to be absent from Pern generally. Sure, there are individual examples (generally bad ones, see Yanus), but mostly they’re dead and gone by the time their offspring turn up on the stage. Or, like F’lar and Lessa, they barely interact with said offspring.

  13. Only Some Stardust October 20, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Instead of being raised by TV*, everyone is raised by Harpers? 😛

    Anyway, it makes ‘perfect sense’, in this sort of setting, that a brother would police a sister. Medieval lords were always trying to set up their sisters and even cousins in marriage the moment dear old dad wasn’t around to stop them. Her choosing her own mate undermines his authority to choose who he wants for her.

    *Don’t know who here has seen the Simpson’s skit where Lisa and Bart hug the TV.

  14. beappleby October 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Renegades of Pern shows Toric abandoning his family Hold, later followed by a number of his siblings. His parents aren’t part of the picture anymore, and Sharra is living with him so she’s under his “protection”, or whatever.

  15. Silver Adept October 24, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Only Some Stardust:

    Ha, ha, only serious about everyone being raised by Harpers. Back in Dragonsong, remember, Menolly is taking over for Petiron’s teaching duties with the very young. Plus, there’s the whole category of Teaching Songs and the “traditional” songs and ballads. Harpers are also always on stage at Gathers, and Menolly is actively pursued by Robinton and punished by Yanus because she has the ability to create earworms. Left by herself, without official training and indoctrination, Menolly could create heterodoxy, unintentionally at first, and then very much intentionally later, once Yanus and Mavi are no longer keeping her in check.

    As for why it would be Toric, in certain historical societies (and at least a few current ones, many based in specific interpretations of their sacred texts), the authority for managing the house and its women passes from father/husband to “nearest male relative” in the event that the father is unavailable or dead and the woman isn’t married yet or her husband has died. Without ever explicitly saying this is what happens, Holder society resembles the ones that have these rules, and so they have come along for the ride, despite lacking almost any reason why a society should develop that fetishizes virginity and transacts in bride prices.

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