Fangirl Fridays – Dragons and Dragonriders of Pern

I don’t know about you, but for me dragons are absolutely enchanting. There is something fascinating and captivating about them. They are both majestic and terrifying. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been in awe of these magical beasts and wanted to have one as my best friend.

Dear Smaug

I used to look for drawings, photos, sculptures, and stories of the mythical creatures. Almost every civilization has created some form of dragon.

I read about Chinese and Japanese dragons, and discovered that a Chinese dragon has four or five claws on each foot, while the Japanese dragon has only three. I found out that my Chinese Zodiac sign, derived from my birth year according to the Chinese lunar calendar, is the Dragon.

I read Norse dragon mythology. There are three dragons primarily represented in Norse mythology: Nidhogg, Jormungand, and Fafnir.

I devoured tales about the medieval evil dragons. There are so many stories, legends, and descriptions of these magical creatures that it’s easy to believe that they exist ... or existed once.

Dragons can be friendly or vicious, tiny or gigantic, real and loyal allies, or a deadly force of destruction. They are clever, cunning, and sometimes sensual and very seductive.

The first science fiction series about dragon lore that I loved very much was Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. After the jump, I’ll tell you about these books and their magnificent dragons.

The story

 There are three books in the original series: Dragonflight (1968), Dragonquest (1971), and The White Dragon (1978). The trilogy started as a short story called Weyr Search, which Anne McCaffrey wrote in an effort to brush off the negative image of dragons. It was published in 1967 and nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella. It won the 1968 Hugo Award. Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to win either award, breaking a science-fiction glass ceiling. Yay! For her and for us!

There are at least 24 books and a few short stories currently. Some of them were written in later years by Anne McCaffrey with one of her sons, Todd McCaffrey, and some by her son alone. The publication order of the books is different from their chronological order. For example, book 9, Dragonsdawn (1988), portrays the story of the first settlers on Pern, the Fall of the first Thread, and the creation of the dragons, while the original trilogy takes place 2500 years afterward.

The story takes place on a planet named Pern, far, far away in the galaxy....

Humans fled there to escape a long war. They settled on Pern, creating an agricultural society, a kind of pre-industrial society with Lords, Holds (castle-like towns and farms), and Weyrs (where the dragons with their riders and their staff lived). They did have a few technological tools like telescopes, flamethrowers, and telegraphs.

To their unfortunate surprise, they discovered a red planet circling their sun with an orbit that passed very close to Pern every 250 years. Eight years after they settled, that red planet neared Pern, and to the settlers’ horror a rain of silvery strands, an organism called Thread, came down from it, devouring every organic element it came into contact with.

The people of Pern discovered that fire, water, or freezing temps could kill Thread. They tried shooting it with flamethrowers, but those weren’t powerful enough. They needed a special kind of air force to combat this deadly rain, so they found a native lifeform in Pern that could help them: the fire-lizards. Naturally, the native fire-lizards were too small, but after some genetic manipulation, they successfully hatched 18 dragon eggs.

Now it is almost 400 years since the last Fall of Thread. People have forgotten almost all the stories, and most of them don’t believe that Thread will ever fall again. But the red planet is getting closer and closer.

That is the beginning of the Pern saga, now for the dragons.

The dragons

First, Pernese dragons are not magical. They are genetically modified by Pern scientists, based on fire-lizards, one of Pern native lifeforms, and they are friendly to the people of Pern. Second, they are warm-blooded creatures. McCaffrey describes their heads as similar in shape to those of horses. They have multifaceted eyes that change color depending on the dragon’s mood. Unlike other dragons, they have a smooth hide rather than scales. Pernese dragons are intelligent (though less than humans) and communicate fluently although telepathy in human language. Every generation is bigger in size than its preceding one.

Dragons can teleport. They do this by briefly entering a hyperspace dimension known as Between. After spending no more than eight seconds in Between, the dragon can re-emerge anywhere on Pern, along with any passengers or cargo they carried. This ability allows dragons also to time travel, but they must have a clear picture of what a particular place looked like at the desired time. This method is highly dangerous to both dragon and rider and is severely restricted.

Dragons are distinct by color: female dragons are always green or gold and males are blue, brown, or bronze.

  • Green dragons are most common (50% of the population). They are the smallest of the normal-size dragons. They are females, but infertile. At first they impressed (formed the bond between dragon and rider) only female riders, but due to a reduction of female candidates they started to impress gay men. Gradually they began impressing women again. They are very valuable in Thread Fall because of their swiftness, but they lack the stamina to last an entire Fall.
  • Blue dragons are the smallest male dragons (30% of dragon population). They are as quick as the greens, but have much more stamina. Due to their small size, they mate only with green dragons. Most of the blue riders are gay or bisexual, very few are women.
  • Brown dragons are next in size and they are males (15% of dragon population). Their riders are always men, most of them heterosexual, but not all.
  • Bronze dragons are the largest males (5% of dragon population). They are the ones to mate with the gold dragon queens, because the smaller ones lack the energy and endurance to chase the large gold dragon. Bronze riders are very masculine.
  • Gold dragons, known as queens, are the largest and rarest of all dragons. They are the only fertile females. They always bond with a young, heterosexual female rider. Gold dragons cannot produce fire, because it requires chewing a fire stone, and the Pernese believe that the stone makes the dragons infertile so they don’t allow the gold queens to chew it. Their riders fly with special flamethrowers. Gold queens dominate the dragon community; every dragon must obey them even against his rider’s wishes. The rider of the bronze dragon who catches and mates with the gold queen becomes the leader of the Weyr.
  • There is only one white dragon: Ruth. He is not really white, and his hide has faint stripes of all the dragon colors. He is smaller in size than even the green dragons, though his parents were of the largest gold and brown dragons.

When the eggs hatch, the tiny dragons choose their riders from a group of preselected youngsters. Each impresses a young adult with telepathic abilities. The bond between rider and dragon is both telepathic and emotional and lasts until death. If the rider dies, the dragon commits suicide; if the dragon dies, the dragonrider becomes hopelessly insane or suffers from severe depression. Whenever dragons mate, their riders are affected, driven also to make love.

Odds and ends

Just a few notes before I end this short post about a very long series:

  • I didn’t tell you about the series protagonists, because I’ve read only three books, but some of them are as good as the dragons. All in all, it is a sci-fi story about courageous people, politics and intrigues, action and adventures. It creates an intricate, fantastical world populated by dragons — without the help of magic.
  • There are a few times that the sexual encounters can be called rape, and some readers criticize the author for it, but there are a couple of reasons why I’ve never been offended by this. For one thing, the society of Pern is styled after the Middle Ages, when women were considered good only for cooking and breeding, so it is realistic for the time. In addition, the dragon mating ritual is extremely passionate and somewhat violent. Their riders have no choice, their emotional connection with the dragons is stronger than their mental connection.
  • One of Anne McCaffrey’s replies to a question, just to get her take on it:
    Q: You said that Green riders are generally gay males ... Is this always the case? Is it possible to have bisexual green riders? For that manner, is it possible for a bronze rider to be bisexual, even though they generally aren’t?

    ANNE: Green riders in my Pern world are ALWAYS gay males: blue riders are usually bisexual and browns not averse to a little of what pleases them with greens. “The dragon decides!” But as such sexual tendencies are not at all unremarkable in a Weyr (where they would be abhorred in Hold or Hall); the matter is not at issue. Bronze riders in my books are as masculine as gold riders are feminine ... but occasionally a bronze will take a green — and it’s up to the riders to decide if they want a like match or will take each other. One can arrange for extra partners of the right persuasion.
  • McCaffrey sold movie rights for the series in 1996 to an Irish company, and in the end Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) was chosen as show runner. In 2002, Mr. Moore presented a pilot episode to Warner Brothers Network, but they demanded so many changes that Moore, as a fan of the series, refused to continue with it.
Most of us are familiar with several dragons now: Smaug from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion from A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, Falkor from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Saphira from Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and my personal favorite dragon, Temeraire from His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. There are more out there, but for me the dragons of Pern will always be my first.

I hope you enjoyed this dragon’s ride, and maybe you’ll give this “ancient” series a try.


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