Dragon Harper: Complicating Circumstances

Last time, Kindan got hit with the puberty stick hard, which made him a lot clumsier than usual and aggravated at the continual consequences of that clumsiness. Despite all of this, at no point did Vaxoram provide something sympathetic or inspiring to Kindan, despite the fact that Vaxoram has gone through what Kindan is going through and therefore has the right amount of maturity and recency to be a convincing shoulder for Kindan to lean on.

Additionally, Kindan got tasked with looking for mentions in the Records for an outbreak of flu that was particularly virulent and deadly. This seems to be a regular occurrence on Pern, and always gets narrative mileage. It’s the second-most common cause of mass fatalities, it seems.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 6: Content Notes:

Records to keep, Records to learn
Knowledge gained from Turn to Turn
Harper keep the truth alive
Thus will all on Pern survive.

Except that hasn’t really happened, and we have the same problem that the monks in the scriptorium have had since they started copying – there has to be enough people to do the copying, and then the adding of knowledge means there’s even more to copy from book to book to book. And they’re seven Passes away from the rediscovery and rebuilding of a printing press with movable type, which will help immensely with copying knowledge that’s still preserved, but also will make it even easier to generate more written records of everything.

To put it mildly, the amount of information produced by a society in a single day is always more that that society could copy and preserve in that day. Which is why you have archivists and librarians, whose job it is to preserve and catalogue the information so that it can be found again relatively easily and to provide assistance to researchers who want to use those stores of knowledge to find what they are looking for. It’s not perfect by any means, but that also means that at least some of the information being generated is not something that needs to continue existing into the future. Is it the Harper Hall Master Archivist that’s making the decisions about what gets priority for the copyists? Are Harpers in each Hold, Weyr, and Crafthall copying and making Records as well? I really want to know more about the information generation and preservation practices of Pern, now. If I actually learned it, there’s a high probability that I would swear about it and wonder why the authors didn’t consult with someone who knows the history of archives or someone who works in the profession now. So it might be best that I don’t know the how of it, but the results sound suspiciously like Pern loses a significant part of its recorded knowledge every year because it doesn’t have enough people and supplies to be able to copy everything out new before the source material degrades too far to be legible. And that there’s not a system in place to prioritze what knowledge has to go through and what can be lost or shorthanded. (And, for that matter, I wonder if anyone has developed shorthand as a way of trying to speed up the process of copying knowledge.)

Right. Plot. Which essentially picks up with Kindan, Conor, and Vaxoram all in a Records room, and Kindan is basically the only one with enough energy to try doing the work, and he’s fading fast, because he’s only able to do the research on this task after his full day of work and classes as a Harper apprentice. Kindan gamely tries to get both Conar and Vaxoram to go, because they’re not tasked with the research, but neither of them wants to leave. Even though the light level is not nearly bright enough for them to get any actual work done. Masterhealer Lenner, when he finds the three, says as much and throws them all out to get some sleep so that they don’t miss something by being too tired to notice.

There’s also a vibe going on between Conar and Vaxoram that Kindan’s picked up on.

In the sevenday since his arrival at the Harper Hall, Conar had proven to be shy and reserved around everyone–except Kindan. Kindan had hopes that Conar would soon thaw around Verilan, too, but Conar’s relationship with Kelsa and Nonala was marred by their repeated insistences that “He’s so cute!”
However, strangely enough, it was probably Vaxoram for whom Conar had the greatest affection. Neither spoke of it, and Kindan didn’t understand it; he just sensed that the two felt more comfortable with each other than either did with anyone else.
That was why Conar was here tonight: more to keep Vaxoram company than Kindan.

And again I’m having that feeling like the authors want a queer reading of this relationship, or at least the possibility of a queer relationship. Except they don’t really need to queerbait here, given that there have been canonically gay relationships in the series without it being dragon-induced temporary gayness. And for as much as I thought Cristov might have had a thing for Pellar, that never really resolved satisfactorily. Pellar has Halla, sure, but we have no idea as to whether Cristov wanted Pellar.

So now we have Conar and Vaxoram as a possibility, and perhaps the possibility that Vaxoram might have been acting as fully bullying and aggressively as he was because he was trying to hide his orientation. Perhaps the magic in Vaxoram is that by losing the duel and ending up as Kindan’s servant, he doesn’t have to be as aggressively toxically masculine to keep up appearances. He did the thing that men are supposed to do when challenged, he lost, and he may have realized fairly soon after losing that it gave him cover so he doesn’t have to be that way any more. He could, in essence, blame Kindan for any changes without losing face or having his masculinity challenged. This is an interesting lens to view things through, and we should probably keep it in our back pockets, because I doubt we’re going to get anything explicit in the text. Which is a shame, really, because fantasy and science fiction are supposed to be the kind of places where you can push boundaries, make suppositions about what things might be like, and otherwise make commentary on the world as it exists while hiding behind elves, dwarves, warp drives, and dragons. It’s a missed opportunity, and being courageous enough to go with the idea that there might be gay / bi characters outside of the Weyrs and outside of being whammied by a dragon/wher/fire-lizard ray would have raised the estimation of Pern significantly in many audiences, even if in its core fandom, it might have been dismissed and trashed in the way that works in our times get trashed and dismissed for having representation and plotlines that include queer people. After all, at the time of this book’s publication, we hadn’t had the Puppies, or Gamergate, #metoo, or the resurgence in pick-up artistry and other toxic forms of masculinity coming out into the open and being given space and fertilizer to grow even larger. (Or, for that matter, the third season of Glee, where the football-playing jock that torments the openly-gay glee club member is a closeted gay man himself.)

Plot-wise, we jump ahead to the morning run and exercises, which Kindan is nearly late for because he was sleeping off his late night. There’s still more of this “anything you can do, I can do better” attitude in the “outcasts” group.

As they started their regular calisthenics, Kindan flashed a look at Kelsa, who grinned back at him. Kelsa and Kindan often joked that girls did stretching exercises better than boys but boys did calisthenics better than girls. It had become something of a competition between the two of them to see who could outdo the other at their “best” ability.

I’m willing to make this a thing said in good faith, but it’s still reinforcing the idea of having to be the best at something to be good enough, and it falls in gender stereotypes – Kelsa is the more flexible one with the stretches, Kindan is the better one at strength in calisthenics. (Which is a really weird word to have survived all the way through to this time, honestly.)

Conar doesn’t do all that great at the run part of it, because of his inability to breathe normally, so the rest of the group takes a rest with him, which puts them in prime position to observe the arrival of Lord Bemin, Lady Saannora, and Koriana. After a short conversation where Kindan gleans that the purpose of the visit is to talk about fire-lizards, the group works their way back to the Hall and collects their chores, which puts them in the awkward position of not potentially being able to get either bathed or fed because they have to do their chores (Which is changing out all the glow baskets in the Hall). Kindan, being the leader of the group, sends Kelsa out to get her shower in and then get breakfast for the lot. Nonala is paired with Conar to grab one wing’s baskets, Kindan and Verilan the other, and then one of the two groups will hit the showers while the other runs about providing fresh glows. When the first group is finished bathing, they’ll switch with the glow-runners and the second group will hit the showers.

Which makes me think that Kindan’s skill for the Harper Hall is leadership and delegation, which will serve him incredibly well if he makes a full circuit back to the Hall and obtains a residency as one of the Masters who teaches. (And/or gets elected to the Masterharper’s position.) The narrative acknowledges that the plan “almost worked,” and the thing that spoils it is that Murenny is very specifically looking for Kindan and prevents him from getting his shower in. (Because you don’t say no to the Masterharper.) Which is to say that the plan works perfectly, except for Kindan, and that’s because Kindan has the unfortunate problem of being everybody’s favorite when it comes to things that do not require physical dexterity or the ability to sing on pitch.

Kindan’s arrival to the Masterharper’s lands on the tail end of Lord Bemin talking about Conar’s asthma, with birth Murenny and Vaxoram looking suitably chastised about not knowing about that detail before the morning run. Bemin reminds Kindan unpleasantly of someone from his past.

Lord Bemin’s tone reminded Kindan of someone, and it took him a moment to recall: Tarik, C’tov’s father. Kindan gave himself a quick mental shake. Lord Benin was not at all like Tarik, who had turned out to be a murderer and was ultimately given the worst punishment ever handed out on Pern, being Shunned by all, including his wife and son. No, Lord Bemin merely sounded like Tarik had when he’d been particularly pompous or patronizing.

Nice alliteration there.

Also,

While Tarik was convicted of murder with regard to the cave-ins at Camp Natalon, there’s more than enough information now, especially if Moran, Halla, and Pellar were comprehensive in their testimony, to pin the blame for those violent acts and their associated deaths on the now-deceased Tenim. Not that it helps the also-deceased Tarik much, and since C’tov is now a dragonrider and the last member of his nuclear family alive who would need to care about his family line (I believe he was the only alive son in the family), I suppose it’s only the interest of justice and having the Harpers set the record correctly that has me raising a red flag about this. Tarik was a terrible person and responsible for a lot of bad things, but he was never conclusively proven to be a murderer.

Kindan’s reaction to Bemin is also interesting. In some other world that was more aware of traumatic events that aren’t dragons dying, someone might notice that Kindan’s having a traumatic reaction to Bemin, based on the physical and mental violence and abuse that Tarik did to him while he was at Camp Natalon. Kindan is having a perfectly reasonable reaction to someone that is unconsciously coming across as a threat. While Kindan is able to stop himself from what might be an incapacitating flashback, or from lashing out at Bemin, it’s pretty clear to me that Kindan just got triggered by the situation and could use a competent PTSD-trained therapist. (And that’s without also referencing that the constant bullying can’t have been good for Kindan’s mental health either.

Bemin is visiting to see what information can be obtained from the Archives about the care, feeding, and potential issues regarding sexual behavior that may arise from Koriana having a gold fire-lizard. And also to ask if Koriana can learn to improve her writing, why Conar is here instead of with Bemin, and to learn drum code, which is read by both Kindan and Murreny as a veiled insult, even if it might be as innocuous as wanting an extra pair of ears due to an aging Harper.

Specifically, Koriana flat out says she’s interested in learning when to expect Koriss to want to mate, drawing disapproval at such directness from Lady Sannora.

Bemin asks if there is a list handy of all the nearby people who have bronze fire-lizards, including Kindan, which Koriana protests about, but it’s clear that people in this era know full well that all of the dragon family have influences on their bonded humans, especially when it comes to sex.

Murreny asks Kindan to stay behind as he and Vaxoram escort the guests to their proper places. While Kindan cools his heels, his stomach reminds him that food is a valid life choice. He notices there’s a tray of dainties sitting there and decides that one or two won’t be missed. Murreny returns after number three and immediately compliments Kindan on having used his time profitably, before following suit and sharing his pitcher of klah with Kindan. Once fed, Murreny asks Kindan’s opinion of what just went down.

When they talk about fire lizards, Kindan mentally repeats the idea he got from Selora.

Koriss frightened away the two last hatchlings–both males–that her brothers would have Impressed, as though the little queen had not wanted to mate with bronzes owned by her owner’s brothers. Kindan was amazed I the fire-lizard’s actions, but not entirely surprised at her reasoning: The intense emotions of fire-lizard’s mating were shared by their human partners just as dragons shared their mating lust with their riders.

Which is all well and good for explaining that the humans on Pern have an incest taboo (I think it was Rescue Run last where this was foregrounded strongly) but says nothing at all about why the fire-lizard would do something like that. I think they’re giving agency to the wrong creature. Fire lizards and dragons, as far as we know, don’t have an incest taboo, and the two that were going to the brothers were explicitly mentioned as from another clutch, so they wouldn’t have been biologically related, anyway. But, say, if Koriana knows what happens, and she sees bronzes and browns coming out of those eggs, she doesn’t have any interest at all in being mind-whammied into sex with a brother, and so she might be (sub) consciously wanting those threats to go away. It fits in better with everyone-but-maybe-Kindan’s judgment that Koriana is a pretty shrewd operator and manipulator if she provided the emotion and the fire-lizard provided the action, which allows the fire lizard to take all the blame.

Which is to say, Kindan, friend, your innocence is touching. And provides impassioned speeches, too, as Kindan is not ready yet to give ground on the realities of his situation with Koriana. For his part, Murenny tries to shred his defenses with a series of armor-piercing questions.

“Koriana is of age to be married,” Murenny agreed indirectly. “It would not do for there to be any indiscretions on her part.”
“That’s not fair!” Kindan shouted. “I fought Vaxoram because it’s wrong for a woman to be judged–”
“Kindan,” Murenny’s voice was so soft it demanded Kindan’s instant attention. “Consider her choices.”
[…Kindan does, pointing out that Koriana made a bead harness for Valla…]
“Do you think that she would be content, who has known servants and finery, to exist on the income of a simple harper?”
[…Kindan thinks Murenny is saying she has no choice. He says no to that…]
“And I think that she would be happiest living the life to which she has grown accustomed.”
“A broodmare for Holders?” Kindan snapped, shaking his head and all the while wondering at his outraged words to the Masterharper. He’d never felt so angry and so out of control before.
“A Lady Holder, a symbol of grace, beauty, and kindness,” Murenny replied calmly. “Her children would only be a part of her legacy, though possibly the most enduring.”
“But there has to be more for a woman!” Kindan protested.
“Perhaps you are mistaken about what you believe a mother should be,” Murenny replied. “I think that being a parent is the greatest challenge and greatest joy of all occupations.”

Except what it actually does is show where the limits are of Murenny’s supposedly progressive attitude toward women, even though I agree that parenting is a hard occupation, and likely one that Koriana will do alone, even if she is nominally married to someone else who should be helping with that. But Murenny seems very unwilling to contemplate the possibility of a Holder daughter being allowed to give up her marriage prospects for being with someone she wants, or to learn a Craft. And yet, Menolly does, although not without her own amount of trouble for it.

I am, perhaps, also a tiny bit skeptical at Kindan being able to calmly observe that he’s completely out of control while he’s yelling at Murenny. Because puberty doesn’t usually provide this kind of dissociation, and it doesn’t seem like Murenny is standing on one of Kindan’s triggers that might produce the feeling of not being in control and being able to observe that.

The thought of working on writing prompts Kindan to ask the Master about something else. And while I’m perfectly capable of that leap of logic and/or memory that’s about to follow, sometimes it’s nice, in a story, to have that heralded a little more smoothly.

“What would make it difficult for people to read in dim light?”
Murenny cocked his head thoughtfully and frowned for a moment before responding. “There are several things that could do that. That person could have poor eyesight–not as bad as your friend Nuella’s, obviously, but poor all the same.” Kindan nodded in understanding. “Or the person could have difficulty in reading altogether,” Murenny continued. He glanced up at Kindan. “Do you know this person well?”
Kindan nodded. Murenny glanced at him for a moment longer, giving Kindan a chance to supply him with a name, but when it was not forthcoming, the Masterharper continued, “One way to check on this is to see if the person has trouble distinguishing between b’s and d’s or u’s and n’s, m’s and w’s. Another way is to see if the person has difficulty with the same word in a different Record.
“Such a difficulty is not uncommon and often indicates a great degree of intelligence and ability,” the Masterharper said. “People who have difficulty reading often find out difficult to remember tables of multiplication and addition but find it easy to remember songs, particularly those with catchy tunes, no matter how difficult the words.” He pursed his lips as he trolled his memory, then brightened as he recalled, “Some of these people are great songwriters or artists.”

Hang on. *rummage* Well, Doctor Joanne Pierson at the University of Michigan suggests dyslexia is probably present in about 5-10% of the population, in various degrees of severity, so that tracks. That same site has more than a few recognizable names of people with dyslexia, so that tracks, too. Although it’s always been true that the Healers seemed to have retained more of the ancient knowledge than anyone, I’m really pretty shocked that a diagnostic criterion for dyslexia has survived at all. That seems like the sort of thing that would disappear quickly in a world that (still strangely) has universal literacy but doesn’t necessarily require proficiency of letters for all the possible professions on the planet.

And while I can see how Kindan might suspect that Vaxoram had difficulty with reading, it presumably was a low light situation, and that would have normally been it. I don’t know where he’s making the inference or idea that Vaxoram has more problems that low light reading, or that the Record that he has to decipher is written in a terrible hand. We’re not seeing how Kindan is ruling out other possibilities over time to come to the conclusion that it’s Vaxoram. We just saw him note that Vaxoram hasn’t read anything in their session and now someone is talking about disabilities as a possible cause. Maybe it’s Murenny who is doing the leap of logic.

The chapter closes out with Murenny thinking Conar’s art skills might prove useful and another admonition to find useful information on the flu in the archives and to study with Masterhealer Lenner. For that purpose, Kindan is excused from his classes in voice and instrument making (temporarily, Murenny hastens to add) because, well, both of them know how well Kindan will do in those classes right now.

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4 thoughts on “Dragon Harper: Complicating Circumstances

  1. genesistrine April 28, 2019 at 4:06 am

    at no point did Vaxoram provide something sympathetic or inspiring to Kindan

    To be fair to him, he has problems of his own; he has no particular harpering skills and was only being kept there because he had no place to go. He’s Kindan’s servant now, so that’s either the rest of his life right there or he’ll get the boot once Kindan moves on.

    Which makes me think that Kindan’s skill for the Harper Hall is leadership and delegation

    Kindan’s future career is very obviously being mapped out by how Murenny treats him; private convos, a fire lizard of his very own – he’s intended to be the next Harper spy. (Whether or not that was the authors’ intention… I’m not convinced it’s not an accidental byproduct of Protagonist Syndrome.)

    I suppose it’s only the interest of justice and having the Harpers set the record correctly that has me raising a red flag about this

    Honestly, I can’t imagine they’d care. “Fairness” and “justice” aren’t particularly important concepts on Pern; look at the “fairness” and “justice” of the solution to the Shunned problem. An appeals system? Hell no! You all get to work in a mine! Yay!

    Bemin asks if there is a list handy of all the nearby people who have bronze fire-lizards, including Kindan, which Koriana protests about, but it’s clear that people in this era know full well that all of the dragon family have influences on their bonded humans, especially when it comes to sex.

    Yes, and the time to think about that was *before you encouraged your daughter to bond to one*. He’s bonded to a green wher himself; it’s not like he has an excuse for not knowing!

    parenting is a hard occupation, and likely one that Koriana will do alone, even if she is nominally married to someone else who should be helping with that.

    The chances are, if the Pernese nobility is anything like historical European, that she’ll have very little to do with the parenting of her children. One has *people* for that dahling. Nurses, nannies, tutors, etc etc. She’ll have a Hold to run and an example of “grace, beauty and kindness” (ahaHAHAha) to set instead.

    Menolly does, although not without her own amount of trouble for it.

    Menolly’s from a hillbilly Hold in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t seem to bother with fostering, arranged marriages or any other behaviour expected of the nobility. Koriana’s a daughter of the oldest Hold on Pern, who can be expected to care a whole lot more about what she does.

    Vaxoram’s potential dyslexia is never mentioned again after this AFAIR, so it reads much more as an inclusion tick-box/a reason for his behaviour. From the point of view that Vaxoram is showing Where Drudges Come From And Why They Like It Really it’s absolutely bloody *horrifying*, though.

  2. Silver Adept April 28, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Fair point. Everyone is dealing with their own issues and may not have spare capacity for someone else. I think I was phrasing it that way because the narrative seemed to be setting Vaxoram up to be the wise mentor, now that this terrible business regarding women was done and Vaxoram was in his proper place.

    Hrm. Kindan as the next Harper spy does make sense, now that Pellar’s gone and found himself a steady gig with a woman he loves. Zist seemed to be training him in the same way before sending him on to the Hall, so we’ll have to keep an eye out and see if that ever comes to fruition.

    That said, I think the Harpers couldn’t care less about fairness and justice, and that’s a fatal flaw of theirs, because they’re ostensibly involved in the justice process and figuring out where the rules are being broken in bad ways.

    You’re right that Koriana will probably have people to raise her children, since that’s something I can’t imagine her doing much of if she’s supposed to be the ethereal creature on the pedestal, holding up the honor of Fort Hold and the nobility by herself. (Rather than being from the backwater where they couldn’t possibly know how to behave, I suppose, with regard to Menolly.) And, perhaps, I suspect the fire lizard was for the status symbol and the idea that she might meet another son of a Holder with a similar wealth symbol, and the fire lizards might enourage the pairing that the humans might otherwise shake their heads at. But once dirty commoners could get their hands on fire lizards and be near their precious girl, then it became a problem.

    There’s a really bad correlation in these books between mental disabilities and issues and becoming a drudge. Camo is a drudge with a disability, Vaxoram functionally is a drudge with a disability, Piemur seems to pretend a disability to blend in with the other drudges, and if I remember rightly, everyone seems to treat drudges like they have mental disabilities, if they’re not causing them through the constant abuse. And there’s the Shunned, whose one place to work and not functionally be outcasts screens them for “laziness.” I can’t remember whether it was textual or extratextual that someone said that the drudges are there because they’re lazy and unmotivated and therefore destined to do the crap work at the bidding of everyone else. And possibly whether being a drudge was considered a blessing for people with mental disabilities, because it was all they could ever aspire to, the poor things, and Pern is such a nice place for giving them something they’ll find completely fulfilling rather than turning them out to starve or killing them for their disability. It’s completely horrifying to think through these things as the justifications for the drudge class. (It’s completely horrifying to think through basically any implications that involve the drudge class or the Shunned.)

    Also, it’s depressingly realistic that the literate Harpers that supposedly educate the next generation haven’t actually noticed that Vaxoram is struggling with reading and tried to find interventions for him that can get him what he needs without exposing him to unnecessary embarrassment. (Which, admittedly, might be because Vaxoram is incredibly well-practiced at this point at finding ways to get out of any situation where he would have to show that he can’t read.)

  3. genesistrine April 29, 2019 at 12:15 am

    I can’t remember whether it was textual or extratextual that someone said that the drudges are there because they’re lazy and unmotivated and therefore destined to do the crap work at the bidding of everyone else.

    Extratextual but Word of the Author. (Her infamous “don’t be a bleedy heart” comment.)

  4. Silver Adept April 30, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    Oh, the other one. Right. It explains the insistence in work as a measure of worth and the society choosing to shun our enslave the people they don’t believe are working enough.

    Something something Pern needs labor unions.

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