Dragons, can it be any better?
I first discovered Pern in Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern, a three book compilation offered on discount through a book club. As a young adult I would read pretty much anything with dragons and being on a budget, three books for the price of one instantly made it a winner in my eyes.
As soon as I started reading, I realized I had hit the jackpot.
Immediately we are drawn into this new world, meeting the heroine of the first book, Lessa. Her family has been killed, her home and standing stolen, and she has been relegated to little more than a serf living in squalor. But soon we get to see her indomitable spirit, the strength of her will and know she is destined to regain her family’s honor.
Enter then, F’lar and F’nor, riders of majestic dragons, huge creatures with jewel-like eyes as big as a man is tall and the ability to teleport through space and time. I was mesmerized, after all, doesn't every heroine-to- be dream of having her own dragon? The freedom to soar on dragonback and communicate telepathically with your intelligent reptilian partner are just some of the benefits of being a dragon rider.
Through this trio's journey, we learn about the planet, Pern, the society that has formed over generations, and the history of the fierce yet gentle creatures with whom they share a quasi-symbiotic relationship to fight a common enemy.
We meet the less desirable characters as the story progresses, leaders who have put their own needs ahead of those of their people, dragon riders who have abandoned their code of honor, and greedy holders flaunting the laws to increase their wealth. Dismissing traditions as old wives tales, the leaders have allowed their defenses to weaken at a time when the Pernese people are about to face their most dangerous foe.
Each character introduced in the story, and throughout the many books that follow, are real down-to-Earth, or should I say down-to-Pern, people. They are emerging from a dark era and entering a time of rebirth and growth that, without the dragons, parallels Earth’s Dark Ages and Renaissance times. Every aspect of the story, including the peoples, places and situations, are so similar to our own history to make them feel comfortable and believable. Yet they also have a uniqueness to Pern that makes every chapter an exploration and discovery.
The over 25 books in the series, many featuring the better known characters such as Lessa, F’lar, F’nor and Brekke, the Master Harper, Piemur, the Weyr Leaders past and present, others introducing new main characters, all work together to tell the story of a planet in crisis, a society growing, changing and improving.
These books, the first of them written at a time when women were burning their bras and fighting for equal rights, present the female characters as strong, independent women. The author has been quoted as saying, “I was so tired of all the weak women screaming in the corner while their boyfriends were beating off the aliens. I wouldn't have been—I'd've been in there swinging with something or kicking them as hard as I could." She has succeeded in giving us female characters as strong, independent women, equal to the men, yet distinctly feminine.
The remaining books were written over the decades between that time and this and offer great similarities between the Pernese society and our own. Leaders who put their own needs first to the detriment of the common people, heroes rising from the ranks of commoners, varied governmental groups at odds over minor issues coming together, on more than one occasion, to fight a common foe.
Every character in the books embodies characteristics of people we all know, either personally or in the news. There are no super powers, except of course for the telepathy and teleportation of the dragons, but the Pernese people face adversity and win through sheer courage and determination. They experience joy, fall in love, celebrate victories, mourn losses and in one memorable scene evoke heart wrenching sorrow and fear as the hero leaves to risk his life to save the planet while the woman who loves him begs him to stay.
Perhaps the stories seem real to us because they were real to the author and she has succeeded in passing that belief on to us.