A copy of The Dragonlover’s Guide appeared fast enough for me to get this taken care of before jumping fully into Moreta, so we’re going to hit this short story while we still have The Smallest Dragonboy fresh in our minds. Next week, I promise, Moreta starts in earnest.
The Impression: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity, bullying, child endangerment
This particular story opens Chapter Five (Weyrlings) of the Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern, an item which I will be otherwise steadfastly ignoring, both for spoiler data reasons and for temptation of retcon reasons. I am given to understand that there are inconsistencies between the Guide and the books, even into the second edition of the work, which would likely generate only WTF. Perhaps at the very end. Maybe.
The viewpoint character here is Felessan, son of the Benden Weyrleaders, and he is about to undergo his first opportunity at Impression. He’s known that he could stand as a candidate for two nights at this point, and since learning, has taken as many detours through the Hatching Ground as he can, examining the eggs.
Which egg held a bronze dragon, and which a blue? To Felessan’s knowledge, no one had been able to work out a system to tell the eggs apart. Of course, the queen egg was easy to pick out. It was mostly gold, like its occupant, it was bigger than all the rest, and it rested, lovingly protected, between the claws of its broody golden mother.
Ramoth opened one great jeweled eye about halfway and regarded the boy passively. To his relief, it showed the blue of sleepy contentment rather than the red or yellow of annoyance. Felessan was afraid she was sizing him up and paying judgment on him: “Might make a blue rider, but no more than that,” as the elders and senior weyrlings has been doing for two days now. He did not see where the others got off making remarks about him.
Of course, if there wasn’t so much status attached to the color of dragon you had, then you wouldn’t need to develop a set of superstitions about determining color. Or, for that matter, a way of bullying someone about not living up to their potential. This is one of those betrayals of the ideal that the narrative provides for us, but then doesn’t bother to reflect on it to at least signal to the reader that it is aware of what’s going on, even if the character isn’t.
The narrative goes to lengths to suggest to us that Felessan isn’t sure why he’s been picked, why he’s being picked on, and that he is just one Weyrling among many, but if that were true, then it seems like his bullying would be more like Keevan’s. Even if Felessan can claim some sort of ignorance, others are clearly throwing his parentage in his face as a way of putting him down and trying to goad him about what an embarrassment he will be when he impresses a low-status dragon. Petty things filter down all the same.
Advice from the actual riders seems enigmatic and useless to him, because there are twice as many candidates as eggs for the fighting dragons, and even though he won’t admit it to himself, Felessan has a legacy to uphold. All the candidates have had the opportunity to touch the eggs, which reminds Felessan of how he and Jaxom snuck in to an earlier clutch, the one that would eventually produce Ruth.
Rather than dwell on the upcoming event, all the weyrlings have chores to do. Felessan has drawn the hunting of tunnel snakes, for which his snares are excellent, and he pairs up with a new boy arrived from the Search, Catrul, who has a forked knife that looks like it will be excellent for decapitating snakes. Hunting snakes is likely a dangerous action, if this description is accurate:
The trick of killing tunnel snakes was to avoid their sharp claws and teeth and strike at their unprotected backs and necks.
Wait, claws? That doesn’t sound like any snake that I know. A different group, perhaps, of molting creatures?
The boys watched in silence as one of the bests crept closer and closer to the place where Catrul had spread a snare. The snake, invisible in the darkness, passed cautiously over the single grains of glows dispersed along the corridor. The boys could measure its progress by how quickly the glows disappeared and reappeared. Another man-length, then another –
“Pull, Catrul!” Felessan cried suddenly. With a whoop, the redheaded boy sprang to his knees and fell into his back, yanking the cord taut.
From the other side, Felessan dove over the flailing pair of stabilizers that were the snake’s middle limbs and yanked the tail and the hindquarters back and down. There was a snapping sound as the snake’s neck broke. It twitched in a frenzy for a few seconds, then fell still.
They call a six-limbed creature a snake. As we found out in The White Dragon, it appears that zoology was not part of the knowledge destined for survival. Also, I would like to know what kind of creature it is, to have six limbs and an adaptation for nearly complete darkness.
Still, the method of hunting them is to lie in wait in near darkness, then snare it and kill it. If they misjudge the timing on it, then they’re fighting something they can’t see. I wonder how many weyrlings and drudges have been lost because they made a mistake in the tunnels. And if tunnel snakes don’t like light, then it seems the best way to avoid them is to keep surroundings lit. Presumably there are enough glows to go around, right?
As the boys are celebrating their kill, they realize that the humming indicating a Hatching has already started, and race to get clean and to their places in time.
“But it’s too soon,” one of the boys cried. “I don’t know what to think yet.”
“How will I know what to do?” another boy asked.
Felessan was worrying about the same things, but he said nothing.
As we saw with Keevan, and with Lessa’s contempt for the other queen candidates, it’s entirely okay for a candidate to have concerns or feelings of nervousness, but those who are destined for greatness will never articulate those feelings aloud to anyone else, as doing so is a sign of weakness that will affect the dragon’s choice. This very well may be what the Brown Rider Rapist meant in his advice to the candidates about not being afraid of one’s dragon, but, as Felesaan notes, “They would Impress now, or not, as the dragons pleased.” So all the previous advice was more for the benefit of the people rather than the dragons.
This is another one of those moments of the curious ignorance of Pern. We’re in the Ninth Pass, and there are clearly plenty of Records of previous times and Hatchings. Yet nobody seems to want to try and figure out why some candidates do and others don’t? The Holders would probably want to know, so they could only send sons and daughters that really were destined for the job.
In any case, as the candidates are waiting for eggs to hatch, Felessan wonders why they have to be barefoot on the very hot sand. (Probably TRADITION, much like how all the candidates dress in simple white clothes) Before too long, though, the first egg hatches, a bronze, and Impresses. This opens the way for all the others, and soon there are many dragonets on the sands. A brown falls over his feet, but then toddles away after Felessan helps right him. A green and a couple blues intrude on his attention, but they all pass by him as well. Right before Felessan is ready to give in to frustration and disappointment, he is distracted by another dragon.
“Oh, a bronze,” he breathed. Not an ordinary bronze, either, but a flawless combination of gold and green and tan that looked like the dappled sun through the leaves, only more perfect. “Oh! Is he coming…to me?”
Of course he is – we don’t write stories of Hatchings where the viewpoint character doesn’t Impress. And, since it is Felessan, and we’re supposed to be sympathetic to his plight and bullied experience (which Keevan did a lot better), it’s going to end up being a bronze for him, too.
However, we do get the clearest picture of what Impression feels like from a candidate.
Suddenly, some indefinable sensation surged through his body, filed by a consciousness that centered itself both in his head and a few feet in front of him, inside the body of the little bronze, making every breath echo, every movement repeat itself.
My name is Golanth, the bronze hatchling said.
Felessan reached it to stroke the dragonet’s skin, knowing before he did how soft it would be, and how happy Golanth would be for the caress. He loved the little dragon with an astonishing sense of completion. He was overwhelmingly happy, happier than he had ever been in his life. All he wanted to do was look at the little bronze dragon, just look at him. Felessan had the amazing feeling of being together with Golanth. No matter where he was, the rapport would remain between them. But he had no intention of ever being away from Golanth.
Impression, it changes people, totally and completely. The next paragraph is Felessan, now properly F’lessan, waxing poetic about how perfect and the very best dragon Golanth is, which could very well be a thing that happens with every dragonrider, but it’s tough to tell because Golanth is a bronze, and we don’t get to see the insides of too many other characters’ heads during their Impression. I’m going to guess this is just a standard thing, though, as Felessan only started noticing how beautiful the dragon was when it became clear that the two were going to be a pairing.
Golanth interrupts F’lessan’s reverie with more practical matters – he’s hungry, as all newborns are. This gets F’lessan off the Sands and into the Weyr Bowl so that feeding can happen (big bowl of red meat, and F’lessan has to explain what chewing is to Golanth) and itching and oiling can happen (both sensations and relief are things that F’lessan feels as well, so he’s going to have to learn how to discern the difference between his feelings and Golanth’s). We are told that Golanth likes whatever F’lessan likes, continuing in the vein of a dragon being your best friend forever.
Having satisfied food and oil requirements, F’lessan notices the latest entry to the area:
Joyful creelings from a fair of Impressed fire lizards echoed overhead in the wide Weyr Bowl, as a very small green dragon joined the other hatchlings in the sun. F’lessan noted with one astonished glance that the weyrling with her was Mirrim. A girl impressing a green? Why she hadn’t even been standing on the sands.
And this is why I can’t manage even a short story without a content note. And maybe I’m being a little cynical, but that doesn’t read as fully astonished to me, but more like it has a little of something else. But maybe that’s because I’m expecting the narrative to be a bit more heavy-handed than this when it comes to Mirrim.
As F’lessan and Golanth wind down from the excitement of the hatching, the narrative lets us know that F’lessan was totally aware of all the burdens being placed on him because of his parentage, despite the fostering system’s intent and attempts to remove dynastic considerations.
F’lessan discovered that he, too, was exhausted. He had been up practically all the night before, too nervous to sleep, not knowing what to expect and worrying what the other Candidates would say if the Weyrleader’s son failed to Impress on his first try. But it had all turned out just fine! And he had Impressed a bronze, too – the most beautiful, intelligent, wonderful bronze on Pern! The reality of the Hatching was more wonderful, more terrifying, and more rewarding than any description he had ever heard. He would never be alone again – and he had never realized how alone he had been until Golanth’s presence filled his soul.
Admittedly, the idea of dragon companionship here is well-crafted, and for an audience that is looking for someone to understand them and unconditionally love them, this kind of wish fulfillment fantasy holds a really big appeal. How nice it would be to have another being that is always with you, understands you perfectly, and loves you anyway.
The rest of the story is basically the new dragon and rider falling asleep and being tucked in.
As a story, this one doesn’t work as well as The Smallest Dragonboy, in my opinion. It’s a nice account of what Impression is like, but other than that, it’s not much of a story. Felessan’s result wasn’t actually in doubt, since Dragonquest mentioned that. And Felessan isn’t generating a lot of drama with his mental state, because while he’s supposedly agitated about all of this, he’s apparently doing a really good job of keeping it all inside and not showing anything to anyone outside. If there’s no external conflict, and no internal conflict, then there’s no story, really. Yet there was still enough time to be dumbfounded at Mirrim’s presence as a dragonrider…until looking again at his dragonet, which basically wiped away any concerns he had.
That sort of mind-altering effect could be the great premise of a horror-type story in the same vein as the Stepford Wives, though, where characters seen as undesirable to the society, or are branded as criminals, are the ones picked as rider candidates, to have their antisocial tendencies removed in their desire to care for dragons, and then to be used as cannon fodder against the invading parasite. Nothing else would really have to change, but the story would be creepy as all fuck with the insinuation that everyone on the sands is hoping not to Impress and to somehow manage to ride out their sentences.
So it’s probably a good thing that this story is here in the Dragonlover’s Guide instead of somewhere else – people purchasing the book are probably doing it for the other data, and might be peripherally interested in the story. Otherwise, this one probably needed a few more revisions.