The Masterharper of Pern: Convenient Absence

Last chapter, Robinton and Merelan went to Benden Hold to escape Petiron’s abuse. Robinton made a plot-important friend in Falloner and his performance of the Question Song has netted him an invitation to Benden Weyr, which is where we pick up.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter VII: Content Notes:

Falloner slips off the wrong side of Falarth, the transport dragon, so as to not have to be officially acknowledged, and introductions are made of the headwoman of the Lower Caverns, the Weyrsinger, C’gan, who is a blue rider, and Miata, who handles lessons at the Weyr.

I can’t remember if there have always been Harpers at Weyrs or not, but the distinction of C’gan being a singer is apparently an important one, because not five paragraphs later, Robinton is wondering whether or not he can be both Harper and dragonrider, despite theoretically having met someone who is both of those roles in C’gan. (I’m also not thrilled that the person interested in singing is described as slight and boyish and, according to draconic typing, very much gay, because it sounds like the stereotype of camp gay.) Robinton’s wonderings stop at Impressing a bronze or a brown, and don’t go any further.

Falloner gives Robinton the tour, including the crevice where everyone spies on the eggs in the Hatching Ground and some of the spaces he probably shouldn’t be in, like the Archives. There’s also a week and a nod to how Robinton is going to be both old and a workaholic:

As they flashed by, Rob caught a glimpse of his mother talking to some of the old aunties and uncles at one of the tables. Well, that duty would be over, so he wouldn’t have to nod and smile at the oldsters. The look of them, not to mention sometimes their smell, distressed him. People shouldn’t get that old. When harpers could no longer work, they went back to their birthplaces or down to the warmer, southern holds.

I’m going to note that the narrative is pinging about with various nicknames for Robinton, which seems like something characters would do. The narrative, I would expect, would stick with a single name.

Also, not cool about the older people, Robinton. They’re boring to you now, but many of them hold the memories you’re going to need.

Finally, it seems very weird to me that Pern, which is generally a very whitebread cultural approximation of Latin Christendom, has this universal thing of “everyone is everyone’s auntie and uncle.” Which isn’t to say there weren’t extended families and more than a few kinship bonds between families in the same space, but it seems very out of place that it has extended to the point where even people who aren’t in the same space you are get the respectful titles due to an elder. (Even if they do smell.) Given how things are set up in the planet, it doesn’t seem like it would have developed the cultural idea of everyone older than you being an aunt or an uncle. But maybe I’m the one being weird.

The tour continues until the dinner bell rings, and Robinton gets to sit with Falloner. There’s more reference to Noodle Incidents as everyone who’s a grownup tells Falloner to behave, and we see a young Manora, currently given charge over Larna, whom Falloner declares needs to be taught manners, even if all that happens is the teachers get in trouble. Robinton can sense that the grouping around Falloner often have issues with each other, and diverts the topic where he can back onto safer ground. Before food, and then singing, where the important part is that there a dragon that tells Robinton that the dragons listen to the music as well, and that S’loner gives Robinton a wink when he says as much aloud at the end of the night. Then it’s back to Benden Hold the next morning.

Where there is a package waiting for them from the Harper Hall – Petiron has written something new and Gennell has sent it along. Merelan plays it, of course.

“I think I can say,” she began slowly, “without fear of contradiction”–a little smile turned up the corners of her mouth–“that this is the most expressive music your father has ever written.” She wrapped both arms around her gitar. “I think he misses us, Robie.”
He nodded. The music had definitely been more melancholic, where his father usually wrote more…more positive, aggressive music, full of embellishments and variations, with wild cadenzas and other such flourishes. Rarely as simple, and elegant, a melody as this. And it was melodic.
She picked up Master Gennell’s note. “Master Gennell thinks so, too. ‘Thought you ought to see this, Merelan. A definite trend toward the lyric. And, in my opinion, quite likely the best thing he’s ever written, though he’d be the last to admit that.'” Merelan gave a little laugh. “He’ll never admit it, but I think you’re right, Master Gennell.”

Don’t take him back, Merelan. Also, Gennell, you’re being an asshole, although there’s a fifty-fifty on whether you realize it. Because if Merelan wouldn’t have wanted to see this from Petiron himself, then you’re helping Petiron by sending it under your own seal. It can be the sweetest love song in the universe, and it’s still a thing that Merelan might not actually want to hear or see, because Petiron is still an asshole, even if not having her there is changing his compositions and inspiring new ideas. There are lots of assholes who use their breakups and relationships as song fodder. (There are good artists that do the same.)

It’s just that this seems a lot more like a dude playing a piano in the front lawn of his girlfriend’s house and vowing not to quit until she takes him back. It sounds romantic, if you don’t play attention to the details.

Chapter VIII is a big chapter, so we’ll leave off here. But just peeking in, I can see that there’s talk of going back to the Harper Hall.

12 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: Convenient Absence

  1. genesistrine March 15, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    I can’t remember if there have always been Harpers at Weyrs or not

    C’gan was in the first book (died heroically in the first Threadfall IIRC), but I can’t remmeber any other dragonrider/harpers offhand.

    Given how things are set up in the planet, it doesn’t seem like it would have developed the cultural idea of everyone older than you being an aunt or an uncle.

    I dunno – it’s stereotypically an Indian thing, but I’m middle-aged whitebread English and remember auntie/uncle being used for close friends of parents (so generally the same generation as one’s parents) when I was growing up. And it’s an English countryside thing that any older people would be called gaffer/gammer (i.e. grandfather/grandmother). So I can see Pern independently reinventing it, even if none of the colonists had it in their background.

  2. Sontin March 16, 2018 at 5:14 am

    @genesistrine

    it’s stereotypically an Indian thing

    Not just Indian; this is normal throughout other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Japan (I think China and Korea as well, but I’m not sure).

    What is strange – at least to me – is that aunty and uncle seem to be the only terms used on Pern. In real life, the term you use depends on how much older the person is. For example, I’m in my thirties, so when someone younger than me addresses me, they always call me “older sister” even if we’ve never met before (incidentally, many young women take offense at being called “aunty” as the mental image is generally that of someone in their fifties!) People who are even older are called “grandmother/grandfather”.

    Referring to someone as “man” or “woman” can be seen as a bit disrespectful, so if we’re talking about a person we don’t know, we’d say something like “the aunty over there” or “the grandfather who lives next door” so Robinton’s thought processes make a certain amount of sense in this culture.

    Merelan’s leaving does raise an interesting point though; what – if any – are the immigration rules on Pern? Can someone just up sticks and move between Holds if they want to?

  3. saidahgilbert March 16, 2018 at 7:24 am

    I read that as adults close in age to Robinton’s parents that have been introduced to him so of course they are all aunties and uncles. When I was growing up, all adults that your parents introduced to you were to be called Aunty This or Uncle That. That was the normal thing in my country but it’s no longer so due to Americanisation. Children are calling adults by their first names now.

  4. genesistrine March 16, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    @Sontin: In real life, the term you use depends on how much older the person is.

    Yes, that’s an odd difference. Possibly an indication that the usage on Pern is independent invention? It first showed up with Old Uncle and the Aunties in Dragonsong, and by the time of Moreta Auntie seemed to be a general term for spinsters of any age – viz the Weaving Aunts.

    Though the usage I remember as a child was “aunt/uncle” for any familiar-but-not-family adult, similar to saidahgilbert, so that may have been familiar to AMC too.

    Merelan’s leaving does raise an interesting point though; what – if any – are the immigration rules on Pern? Can someone just up sticks and move between Holds if they want to?

    Probably not, look at Renegades for the difficulties average people without an existing Hold affiliation have. Benden explicitly requested a Master Singer and Merelan accepted, and we saw in Red Star Rising that the artist’s Craft has a similar procedure for offering/accepting commissions. But it seems to need to be pre-arranged or only apply to some Crafts – Aramina’s father was a woodcarver, but that wasn’t helping him get accepted into a new Hold.

  5. Silver Adept March 16, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    The thing that bothers me the most about aunt/uncle construction is that it’s not referenced enough to be consistent. There aren’t children and adults saying it enough for me to believe that it’s widespread across the society. People don’t refer to each other as aunties and uncles and such.

    As for mobility, the Crafts have the highest amount of it, at least in terms of being able to contract themselves to other places after their current one expires (or being reassigned by their guild master). Land-bound holders and people without contracts or trading charters presumably have no mobility at all, or the problems of Fax and Chalkin would not be nearly as difficult to resolve as they were, because everyone could theoretically take their stuff and leave. (Never mind the border guards.)

    Aramina’s father might have had trouble because he lacked a letter of introduction or other warrant of conduct from his lord and nobody on the other side of that wants to hire someone without papers.

  6. genesistrine March 17, 2018 at 3:41 am

    That’s undoubtedly why he’s having trouble, but it seems odd that his Craft won’t speak up for him or arrange a trial period somewhere. Unless he’s a self-taught or family-taught woodcarver without proper Woodcrafting accreditation.

    It’s also an interesting comment on the strictness of the system – apparently you can’t just go to the Lord next domain over and say, “Fax just invaded Ruatha and murdered the entire noble family there; my wife is a relative of theirs so we’ve run for it” and get any help. Even though, as we’ve mentioned before, the nobles of Pern all ought to be closely related and know each other, or at least know of each other.

  7. Silver Adept March 18, 2018 at 8:42 am

    I think that’s the problem. Both Piemur and Robinton talk about a Craft seal that’s applied to goods so that you can sell them officially from the Craft stall at Gathers. Piemur also essentially brokers a deal between himself and another person to sell unstamped instruments at a discounted price from the stall, which essentially means that someone trusts Piemur enough to deliver quality product for the price.

    If Aramina’s father came to the craft later than when he was supposed to be apprenticed (as in “no way am I paying that much for my child’s bed, I’ll learn how to carve it myself” or something similar), he might be the best woodcarver in all the land, but not have any Craft accreditation to help him out.

    As for the refugees, we’re about to blow up the idea that people can’t come over and say “bad shit’s going down in my home Hold,” because that’s exactly how Robinton is going to learn that Fax is starting to do terrible things to his holders, but the excuse for not doing anything about it is going to be the same thing, regardless of whether it’s a holder or the Masterharper saying so – autonomy in one’s own hold is sacrosanct. Despite having the last book tell us what a terrible idea that is. And, presumably, there being records that exist of everyone agreeing what kind of terrible idea that is. But this is where you start running yourself into paradoxes when you retcon if you’re not careful.

  8. genesistrine March 18, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    we’re about to blow up the idea that people can’t come over and say “bad shit’s going down in my home Hold,”

    Yeah I probably should have added “and expect any help, support or sympathy”.

    autonomy in one’s own hold is sacrosanct. Despite having the last book tell us what a terrible idea that is.

    Only if you’re a Lord Holder though, of course. If you’re just a vanilla holder, then you get autonomy only up to the point your local lord doesn’t feel like letting you have it any more.

    And yeah, strangely enough Chalkin doesn’t seem to be remembered as an awful warning, or have resulted in any case law examples or what to do in cases of flagrant abuse. Probably lived on for a while in non-Harper-approved scary stories and mourning ballads for a while, until they were quietly squashed by the Harpers because the ruling elite doesn’t like things that point out that their Charter isn’t utterly perfect and the pinnacle of human political thought.

  9. genesistrine March 19, 2018 at 2:42 am

    Oops sorry, should be “of what to do in cases of flagrant abuse”

  10. Silver Adept March 21, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Yeah. Chalkin should be case law in Pern, but is somehow not. I’d suspect Lords wanted him quashed because they might have similar ideas, but that’s me. And I really would expect the Harpers to know it, even if the Lords have said they have no interest in it.

    And also, Robinton will say much later on that the Charter was written by optimists. I think he’s being optimistic about that.

  11. genesistrine March 21, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    I’d suspect Lords wanted him quashed because they might have similar ideas, but that’s me

    We haven’t seen any other examples anywhere near that bad (well, yet…), so I think it’s more of a slippery slope thing – if they allow one amendment to the Sacred Charter then they might at some point have to allow others, eeek!

    Robinton will say much later on that the Charter was written by optimists.

    I dunno, I can kind of see his point if you assume that the optimism is about human nature and that the absolute rulers are going to rule with fairness and justice. As so many overarching authorities have throughout human history hem-hem.

    But that’s kind of defining optimism as “sticking your fingers in your ears screaming that common-sense, history and general humility don’t exist”, so hardly optimism in any sensible sense.

  12. Silver Adept March 22, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Certainly could be an affront to the idea that the Charter is perfect, since they eventually were able to prosecute everyone under the Charter in one way or another, but the way people act in the face of clear aggression seems more like they can’t believe it’s happening, like the idea itself is an affront to them. Optimism, indeed. In an incredulous way.

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