Drummer, beat, and piper, blow,
Harper, strike, and solider, go.
Free the flame and sear the grasses
Till the dawning Red Star passes.
On my grand adventure of finally reading the full Dragonriders of Pern series (which I am terribly behind on, I was supposed to start this in January) It’s obvious my first stop goes to Dragonflight, book 1.
I’m going to start off by saying that I strongly believe this book gets more hate than what is truly necessary. Whenever this book is brought up, one of the first things I hear is “what about the misogyny, and sexism and rape/abuse? How can you deal with that?” And for me, it’s simple, I think it’s blown extremely out of proportion. I think when people hear that this book has some of those elements they immediately shut out everything else within the book, which is honestly baffling to me, because you never hear anyone ask these questions when talking about ASOIAF or any other book written by a man who includes these elements, but I guess when a woman does it we have to act shocked and angry. One of the other major complaints I have seen is that Lessa becomes a “sniveling little sissy who can only do something if F’lar is present” which I also disagree with.
My thoughts as a whole for the story before I go into the “issues” of the book. I enjoyed it, it’s a solid start to the series, we get backgrounds on how the Holds and Wyers function. What Threadfall is, how it comes back into play after being gone for so long. We get talking dragons, who can be snarky and sarcastic. There are a lot of different characters but it does focus on Lessa and F’lar and we even get some insight to famous dragon riders from old. The writing is easy to follow although at times some of the more in depth explanations were a bit rough to follow, such as the time travel stuff, but I honestly always struggle to understand that haha. F’nor was a great side character and there is not enough talk about his absolute hatred for Kylara, this woman wants to get in his bed so bad but he wants nothing to do with her, and makes it obvious through the whole book how irritated and annoyed he is by her, and it’s honestly hilarious. It’s a solid full story that can be read alone or part of the world of Pern. It feels a little sluggish at times, but for most of the part it felt pretty quick.
Beyond this point there might be spoilers so read if you wish-
For clarity sake the copy I read is from 1978, so my copy is the story in its original form, this is not the newer “updated and edited/censored version” that they apparently needed to make because apparently we only censor women writers who write “questionable” content into their stories, and not men (yah I’m looking at you other older books that are still re-printed today in their original form with all their sexism, misogyny, racism and rape and so many other elements).
Lets address the Lessa “issue”. After re-reading this I am extremely confused as to where everyone got this idea that Lessa became this week, cry baby, who can only rely on F’lar. Throughout this entire book, Lessa makes it her mission to go against everything F’lar tells her not to do. He tells her she can’t fly her dragon, she deliberately flies her dragon while he is at a very important gathering in front of everyone! He tells her not to jump in between too far, she does it, he tells her not to go back in time, she freaking does it. She is constantly going against him, and constantly infuriating him, and this is consistent in the whole book. There is a moment though when the fight against Threadfall starts and she stays behind because the “Queens” don’t fight, and while she does stay, she takes the time to recognize that F’lar is actually a smart tactician, who puts a lot of thought and effort into his choices, and while she recognizes this about him she realizes that her irrational, just do whatever you want method is actually not that good of an idea, (she of course follows this realization up with jumping back 400 turns after being told it’s was too dangerous because Lessa will be Lessa). We learn the Wyerwoman (the ones who get the golden dragon) aren’t allowed to do anything, they aren’t taught to read or write, take part in decision making for the Wyer, being included in meetings and such and Lessa immediately starts to do all those things and being part of the Wyer as a leader. She has one moment, where she literally does have a complete freak out over what F’lar’s reaction will be, and you know what that is in relation to?? HER JUMPING 400 TURNS INTO THE PAST, I would have freaked out too, the jump could have killed her, that’s an important aspect of the storytelling if you ask me, it’s not her becoming weak she is literally in a state of shock and being like “oh shit I did this super dangerous thing that could have killed me, I literally did almost die, F’lar specifically told me to not do this because it could kill me, he is going to be livid”, which I mean he has every right to be angry about. That’s a pretty normal reaction if you ask me. Then after all that is said and done, she finds out that Queens do in fact take part in the fight against Threadfall, yet not in the same manner as the other dragons, and GUESS WHO JOINS THE FIGHT AND LITERALLY GETS TO FLY IN THE QUEENS WING? LESSA!!!!! LESSA DOES!! So where, where does she become lesser than when we initially met her? She is still rash, and reckless and refuses to listen, but at times she will stop and think about what her actions will be, that sounds more like character growth to me.
Now the sexism/misogyny, there is no denying that when you initially start this story it is heavily present, but what’s funny is people only connect it to F’lar, and not that douchebag Fax Lord of the High Reaches Hold, who is quite literally a piece of trash in how he treats his women and the womenfolk of his Hold. The start of this story does have a lot of moments of “women can only do this job and this job only” or “they are only good for making babies, or being bedmates” Slowly over the course of this book this starts to change with the help of Lessa and even some old timers who come forward. F’lar actually does listen to Lessa, he changed the Hatching ceremony after Lessa witnessed a huge massacre of women and young boys. This is vital to the story because it’s one the first big changes with how the Wyer’s function. F’lar learns later on from the old timers that the Queens do in fact fight threadfall, there are ballads about it, why is he not listening to them. A lot of how the Holds and Wyers function in the start of this story are because they are still trying to live how they interpret the ballads and songs while simultaneously ignoring some, and over the course of the book F’lar realizes that things need to change for the better. Does he at times say things that are super misogynistic, yeah, does he also show signs towards the end of the book that he is changing, yes he does. It’s one of those elements in the book where the reader needs to recognize that change is happening, you get to see it how it initially is, and what it is working towards becoming.
Now the rape. I will start by saying that an onscreen rape NEVER happens in this book. F’lar and Lessa’s first night together isn’t actually written in the story, it is brought up in ONE paragraph when F’lar is reflecting on it. In which F’lar admits HE HIMSELF IS NOT HAPPY ABOUT HOW IT HAPPENED. He admits it was violent and how he should have been in more control of the emotions he was getting from his dragon (since they are linked). He himself states that if the dragons are involved “he might as well call it rape”. From what I took away from this paragraph was that F’lar never had the intentions of actually raping Lessa, he recognizes that because of how it went down and what factors played into it, it can be seen as such, and he himself is angry about this and wishes it had not been like that and has been “a gentle and considerate bedmate since”. I think its important to recognize F’lar’s thoughts in regards to their first night together, people like to talk about how ‘oh its so terrible there is rape,’ even though we literally get to see F’lar’s reflection on it and how he feels about it, and yet he is demonized as being this horrible man who intentionally ‘raped’ Lessa, when that is in fact not the case. And mind you we are never given Lessa’s reflection on the night, so we don’t know how she sees it, she never brings it up, and yet as the story progresses she does fall in love with him (to the point of refusing to let any other dragon mate with her dragon, this is because of the link riders and dragons have). It’s a very small portion of the story that I feel has been blown out of context and I feel if the last line “Might as well be considered rape.” was never included I don’t think so many would be pointing it out so harshly, and don’t get my words twisted rape is never okay and McCaffrey could have left out the humans being affected by their dragons when they [dragons] are in heat, but again I think its important to recognize what F’lar is actually saying.
The Abuse, which is really just F’lar shaking Lessa a few times in the book. I personally didn’t see this as abuse, I saw this as a person who was extremely scared, or angry at someone doing something reckless and grabbing them and giving them a shake because their emotions are boiling over, not violently racking her body across the ground as some make it sound. But this is more so up to interpretation and mine is that it’s not abuse. It honestly made me think of a movie when character A lays their hands on character B’s shoulders and gives them a shake, some shakes might be a bit more rough but not to the point of actually causing harm. And yes he does slap her once, but she was in a complete melt down and it felt more like a last desperate attempt to get her to calm down, which of course isn’t okay but in 1968 this was probably “normal” not right, but “normal” which I think is why McCaffrey utilized this. (but I mean I have read modern books where men slap women so..yah).
In the end I feel these “issues” are always going to be up to interpretation, and I do feel certain elements McCaffrey utilized on purpose because she was a woman writing in a literal men dominated world, but it was also more than likely a reflection of what was “normal” in her day. So yah like any older fantasy there is going to be elements that don’t age well, but I don’t think this one is as bad as others I have come across (I mean have you guys read Piers Anthony, sheesh those are absolutely horrifying and terrible in terms of misogyny, sexism and rape). I still think the story is great and while I do recognize that for some these are a big turn off, I do think they are blown out of proportion, but again that’s my opinion.