The Masterharper of Pern: Leveling Off?

Last week, we were introduced to Halanna, who the narrative painstakingly painted as a stuck-up pain in the ass of a Holder’s daughter before taking a certain amount of glee in abusing her to take her down a peg.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes:

The end of the concert has Merelan and one of Halanna’s brothers talking about her marked improvement in attitude and singing ability, having learned to play some instruments, as well as the suitability of dance partners of Halanna, before the brother asks Merelan to dance. Even so, Merelan notices that Petiron is so deep in conversation he fails to notice when Robinton plays with a group of nursery students, but she’s also afraid that Petiron will eventually notice that Robinton is very much the prodigy. The narrative frames this first as Halanna noticing Robinton’s talent, even though she hasn’t really interacted with him much, and then we hear about all the works Robinton has composed and the drum he made… and how Merelan found it very hidden away and learned that Petiron’s commentary for it was that it wasn’t good enough for the Harper stamp that would have let it be sold.

Merelan realizes, essentially, that she can’t talk to Petiron about Robinton, because Petiron will never actually be proud of his son unless his son is essentially perfect in all ways. Which still leaves her with the issue of her gifted child, as Kubisa tells her about how Robinton is able to help teach a child with a learning disability far better and more patiently than Kubisa can. This is a frankly impossible position for Merelan to be in.

And then Robinton learns about Thread, described this time as “bad Thread fell from the sky and hungrily are anything living it touched, from grass to runner- and herdbeasts, and even people.” But Kubisa also says it’s unlikely that Thread will fall in their lifetime. The day after that, actual dragons and their riders come to the Harper Hall.

And Robinton is bold enough to go up and secretly touch one, while thinking about how different the hide is from the watch-wher (ol’ Nick) and wondering if they’re both in the same family of dragons. The dragon (Cortath) answers Robinton, and the two have a conversation about the trip that Robinton’s parents are going on and Robinton’s desire for safety for them. When all is said and done, though, it seems like Robinton gets in trouble for the whole sequence.

“Robinton!” his father roared, scowling his amazement. Robinton risked a nervous glance at his mother and saw her slight smile. Why was his father angry with him? He hadn’t really been doing anything wrong, had he?
“Cortath says he’s enjoyed conversing with your son, Master Petiron,” M’ridin said with a reassuring chuckle. “There aren’t that many children these days who will, you know.”
Robinton’s sensitive ears caught the plaintive note in the tall, bronze rider’s voice. He opened his mouth to say that he’d be happy to talk to Cortath any time, when he saw his mother raise her finger in signal for him to be silent and noticed the deepening scowl on his father’s face. So he looked anywhere but at the adults.
“Out of the way now, boy,” his father said, gesturing urgently.

The narrative helpfully supplies that Robinton believes Petiron would have struck Robinton for bothering a dragon. Because the cult of the dragonriders means a lot less people feeling like they can talk to them that aren’t dragonriders.

Robinton also becomes more secretive about his compositions after having met the dragons, which is a serious change, but the narrative quickly jumps forward to the next time dragons come to the Hall. Robinton bolts to see if Cortath is among them, but he’s not present. But there’s also an exchange between dragons that Robinton gets to hear.

I call myself Kilminth and my rider is S’bran. What is your name?
As if you’ll remember
, said another dragon voice. It was the very dark bronze one. It is only a child.
Who hears dragons when they speak, so I will talk to him while our riders are busy. It is nice to talk to a child who hears.
He’s not old enough to be Searched.
Don’t mind Calanuth,
Kilminth told Robin in a somewhat supercilious tone. He’s too young to have much sense.
Who’s talking about having some sense?
Oh, curl up in the sun,
and then Kilminth lowered his head down to Robinton.

That’s the most conversation I’ve heard between two dragons in all these books that wasn’t interpreted through one dragon. And it’s snark between them, no less. Makes me wonder what the opinion of the dragons has been on all of these strange human things they’ve been dealing with.

In any case, Robinton and Kilminth have a conversation about whether dragons being able to see above themselves makes them dizzy and how the dragons know when Thread is returning before S’bran returns and is happy to see there’s a child there talking to the dragons. Robinton innocently inquires whether it’s possible to be both a dragonrider and a Harper, and there’s a lot of laughter, but no actual response one way or another. Which leads to Robinton not holding out a lot of hope for the prospect.

They hadn’t told him if he could be a harper and a dragonrider. So that probably meant he couldn’t be. Which would please his mother. She had set her heart on his being a harper, and that would take a lot of hard work and many years.

Robinton continues to keep his conversations with the dragons close to the vest, even when he has a dream of dragons trying to tell him something and a harper that was taken on Search riding the color of dragon that he would eventually Impress.

That ends Chapter IV, without anyone having triggered off Petiron’s rage. Can we make it two?

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15 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: Leveling Off?

  1. saidahgilbert February 22, 2018 at 9:51 am

    I thought it was a special thing to hear dragons. Wasn’t Araminta decades later chased for her special ability to hear dragons? And now here is Robinton able to hear them all the while? Or was it because she was a girl that it was so special?

  2. Silver Adept February 22, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I think what we’re supposed to believe, and it’s splitting hairs, but that Robinton is liked enough by the dragons that they talk to him when he wants to converse, and Aramina is special because she hears the dragons whether they want her to or not. So Robinton’s familiarity with the dragons earns him reputation with them. He’d be a dragonrider candidate in other situations, but he’s young at the moment.

    Since we know the telepathy has at least some genetic component to it, then, that suggests Robinton has telepathy in his ancestry, although it probably has skipped a generation or few.

  3. genesistrine February 22, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    He’d be a dragonrider candidate in other situations, but he’s young at the moment.

    Bear in mind, as well, that this is Interval, so there aren’t many candidates needed and they’ll probably be filled from the Weyr, given that non-gold dragons are supposed to prefer Weyrbred candidates.

  4. WanderingUndine February 22, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    Bluh. I happen to currently be reading a non-Pern book centered on dragons and music, and it’s so much better than this book sounds.

  5. Madame Canard February 23, 2018 at 3:17 am

    Urgh, I loathed this book. All the reconning, all the abuse. Petition the giant arsehole. There was nothing to redeem it. And I got a signed copy.

  6. depizan77 February 23, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Okay, Petiron is utter garbage. And I am just so stuck on the weird interlude with Halanna. The book’s story (such as it is), comes to a screeching halt to make sure a blond girl gets her comeuppance, which is bad enough on it’s own, but when we compare her faults with Petiron’s… What the hell, everyone at Harper Hall.

    If Halanna’s gifts meant it was okay to abuse her into behaving the way they approve, why was Petiron not similarly “adjusted”? Why does he get to get away with being a raging asshole – to the point of limiting at least one talented person? Putting the chapter about Halanna in there just underlines that Pern is sexist and run by ginormous assholes. It’s like the opposite of helpful for the story.

    (Unless we’re supposed to wish that Merelan and Robinton would run away, perhaps with the help of dragons. Hey, I bet Petiron is crunchy and tastes good with ketchup!)

  7. depizan77 February 23, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    (Bigger question: why did McCaffrey retcon Petiron into being an asshole in the first place?)

  8. Eilonwy Has An Emu February 23, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    @depizan77 — Because without an abusive parent, Robinton couldn’t gain full Gary Stu points?

    I find the whole thing maddening, as there’s nothing in Robinton’s character as an adult that requires him either to have been a child prodigy or to have had an asshole father… heck, there’s nothing that even hearkens back to those things. Piling trauma on him (and the narrative is far from done with that) just draws big flashing arrows to what a flat, unmysterious stock Suave-Tongued Bard character he is when we meet him as a middle-aged adult.

  9. genesistrine February 24, 2018 at 3:41 am

    I dunno about Petiron not being an arsehole previously – IIRC we were told in D’singer that he bogged off to Half-Circle when Robinton was elected Masterharper, which is a hell of a break, and I think the only explanation we were given was “Dunca was chasing him after Merelan died”, which, well, seems a bit of an overreaction. Grief is a thing of course, and we don’t know the timescale, but it looks much more indicative of a really nasty break between father and son, or dad throwing a stupendous tantrum when son beats him at something (and mum isn’t around to smooth things over).

    But yes, “gifted child with abusive father” is McCaffrey stock-in-trade. She’s done it so many times before it’s become extremely tiresome.

    what a flat, unmysterious stock Suave-Tongued Bard character he is

    He does have occasional touches that lift him out of that, but they’re all the “blandly torturing a dying man”/”creepin’ on his teenage apprentice” kind of thing, which I bet we never see McCaffrey address.

  10. Firedrake February 24, 2018 at 6:50 am

    The really embarrassing bit is when she does generational stories, and last story’s gifted child is this story’s abusive parent following the exact same pattern. (It happens in Lackey, too.)

  11. Michael I February 24, 2018 at 8:17 am

    @Firedrake last story’s gifted child is this story’s abusive parent following the exact same pattern. (It happens in Lackey, too.)

    What’s an example of it happening in Lackey? She definitely has a lot of abusive parents in her stories, but I don’t recall her doing generational stories that much, and I don’t remember any where the abusive pattern repeats.

    (The only Lackey story that comes to mind where a main character is a child of a main character in a previous story is “Silver Gryphon”. It also looks like the upcoming “Family Spies” series will focus a lot on the children of Mags and Amily (from the “Herald Spy” and “Collegium Chronicles” series).)

  12. Firedrake February 24, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Um. I can’t lay mind on it but I think it’s one of the Heralds/Mage Winds transitional books, and involves an inn somewhere. It’s also possible that I’m wrong.

  13. alexeigynaix February 24, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Elspeth is Selenay’s daughter, and the books where Selenay is sort of a lead were written well after the books where Elspeth is a lead–and I don’t know that Selenay was ever abusive, just distant; it’s clear that most of Elspeth’s abused childhood is her nurse’s fault, I think the nurse was a Hardornen mage–but, y’know.

  14. Michael I February 25, 2018 at 8:52 am

    @alexeigynaix

    Also Selenay’s father wasn’t abusive, so even if Selanay WAS abusive there wouldn’t be a generational pattern there.

  15. Brenda A March 1, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Robinton’s entire history in this book of speaking to dragons contradicts his utter shock and surprise at being spoken to by dragons in DQ. I could see it if it was this one childhood encounter, barely remembered, but it’s an ongoing thing.

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