The "Dragonriders of Pern" series

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

Author: Anne McCaffrey

Series: Pern

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Future

Genres:  SciFi


Set on a future Earth colony, settled by colonists wanting to escape the wars and pollution &c. of the Earth at the time. Their intention is to use the minimum level of technology possible, aiming for a self-sufficient agrarian society.

Their plans are stalled by the onslaught of Thread, a non-sentient organism which rains on them consuming all organic matter it touches, and by the eruption of two volcanoes. They are forced to leave their original homes and to build vast shelters (Holds) in cliffs and caves. They also breed Dragons, based on the native winged fire-lizards. The society is split into the Dragonriders who live in Weyrs, formed in volcanic craters: those who “impress” dragons at birth, forming a telepathic bond, and the others, Holders, who work the land. Skills are specialised in Craft Halls where people may be taken on as apprentices and become journeymen and finally masters of their craft.Thread is drawn to the Pern by the attraction of a rogue planet within the solar system, leaving intervals of 250 and sometimes 500 years in which Thread is not present. This series starts after one of the long intervals, with only one Weyr of dragons remaining, and a populace disinclined to believe in the existence of Thread.The stories revolve around the political situation and power struggles, the personal ambitions and actions of the characters, and the relationships between dragons and riders. Several of the books overlap the same span of time, each giving a different perspective on the period.

Later books (Dragonsdawn, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern) charted the prehistory of the series.


One's appreciation of these books will obviously depend on whether one likes the future-Earth-colony genre of SciFi books. Given that one is open to such literature, it's worth examining the philosophy underlying the series.The first books to be written (in the 1970s) were Dragonflight and Dragonquest, followed by Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. When the series grew in popularity, the author added Dragondrums, The White Dragon, Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern and The Dolphins of Pern. At the same time, she wrote the pre-history books Dragondawn, Moreta, First Fall and Red Star Rising. There are also a few short stories in other collections: Nerilka's Story and The Girl Who Heard Dragons. Doubtless more will follow.

The slightly utopian ideal of the original settlers (some 2500 years before Dragonflight) to create an egalitarian agrarian society has been subverted by the arrival of Thread and the need to develop the dragons which burn it out of the sky. Nonetheless, the society portrayed in the early books is a well-formed and, for the most part, happy one. Certainly individuals have their grievances &c. but people are satisfied on the whole with their semi-mediaeval existence.The different craft masters work happily together. The Harper Crafthall is responsible not only for teaching music, but also for maintaining justice and arbitrating in disputes, and as such has a slightly special status in the books, emphasised by the central role played by Masterharper Robinton and his proteges Menolly and Sebell.There is no mention of any kind of religion (except as something that people used to practice) but the natural law is seen to be carried out on the whole. An interview with the author in the preface to “The Girl Who Heard Dragons” reveals that she considers religion to be merely an excuse to start wars.

Moral liberality appears in the relationships between dragonriders. Essentially, a rider “impresses” a dragon at hatching, forming a life-long mental link. When a dragon rises to mate with another, the corresponding riders are so affected (because of this mental link) that they play their own part in this, coupling with each other. This is portrayed as a situation unique to the Dragonriders and elsewhere promiscuity is as frowned upon as anywhere else these days. In general a first mating flight leads to a stable “marriage” (a formalised relationship witnessed by a Harper), but in theory any male dragon may compete for any female in heat, and it may not be the existing mate who wins the race.All this is very much more emphasised in the more recent books (including references to homosexual dragonriders) and while not becoming graphic is on occasion unsettling. Shame because there is much good in the books, not least of which is the attitude to music.

Tuesday 1st January 2002