D is for Dragonriders of Pern
Continuing the April 2017 AtoZ Challenge, I’m going back to one of my absolute favorite series, and in all likelihood the reason I’m writing my own dragon novels: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern.
The Dragonriders of Pern is the title of the omnibus edition published in 1978 of the combined original trilogy of books written by Anne McCaffrey: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. This first image is the cover art for Dragonflight, done by professional artist Michael Whelan, and is one of the most iconic images from the series. It shows the heroine, Lessa of Ruatha Hold and later Benden Weyr, leading a wing of dragons on her golden Queen Ramoth.
However, as the Pern Wiki notes, the term ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ “is also used to refer to all Pern related works,” whether written by Anne McCaffrey herself, or the subsequent novels written in collaboration with and then solely by her son Todd McCaffrey. Overall, there are now twenty-five books in the series, which cover more than 2500 years in Pern’s history.
The second series, which was published intertwined with the Dragonriders series and happens concurrently but with different characters, is called the Harper Hall Trilogy, consisting of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Here the story focuses on Menolly of Half-Circle Sea Hold, who becomes Pern’s first female Harper. While not a dragonrider herself, she does Impress (bond with) an entire clutch of fire-lizards, the miniature dragonets of Pern, and she is depicted with them in the beautiful cover art above called Dragonsong by professional artist Rowena Morrill. This was my absolute favorite trilogy growing up, and might just have influenced me to Impress my own clowder of cats!
The Pernese dragons that Anne McCaffrey first wrote about in 1968 were a new take on the species at the time. They are able to bond and speak telepathically with humans, teleport from place to place by going Between, and even time travel in special cases. As the Pern Wiki writes:
In creating the Pern setting, McCaffrey set out to subvert the clichés associated with dragons in European folklore and in modern fantasy fiction. Pernese dragons are similar to traditional Western dragons in the fact that they can breathe fire and resemble great lizards or dinosaurs with wings, but the resemblance ends there. Unlike most dragons in previous Western literature, Pernese dragons are entirely friendly to humanity. Furthermore, they are not magical at all. Instead, they are a heavily genetically modified species based on one of Pern’s native life-forms, the fire lizard.
While those first two series and many subsequent books take place at the beginning of the Ninth Pass, a term that refers to a time about 2500 years after the first (and long-since forgotten) colonists landed on Pern, a later novel called Dragonsdawn (full cover art painting by Michael Whelan above) takes readers back to the time of the original, more technically advanced settlers. Dragonsdawn explores how and why a geneticst named Kitti Ping Yung bio-engineered the dragons in the first place — after seeing the native fire-lizards breathing fire and teleporting away from danger, she imagined a larger version able to help the new colonists and subsequent generations survive the dangerous environmental menace called Threadfall. The Pern Wiki explains that:
Thread was the name given to a voracious, non-sentient organism that … [appeared] as thin, silvery threads that periodically rained down on the planet (threadfall). Thread was a mycorrhizoidal spore that consumed any organic matter it could find, but was deterred by metal, plastic and rock, and [could be] killed by water, cold and fire.
Australian professional artist Robert Crescenzio illustrated a Pernese Dragon and Rider flaming thread from the sky as a commission piece, and you can check out his impressive deviantart gallery for even more dragons and fantasy creatures. Thread falls in a set pattern, like a rainstorm, that the dragonriders of Pern are tasked with tracking it, and organizing teams to fight it. If any small pieces of thread get past the dragons in the air, it is quickly taken care of by ground crews with rudimentary flamethrowers before it can do much damage.
The Pern Wiki has a remarkably in-depth page describing the dragons, their color patterns, their psychology, and so much more, and after yesterday’s post about Conan the Barbarian got away from me so unexpectedly, I think I’ll try to keep today’s post a bit shorter, shall I?
Next up is a painting called The Impression by American professional visual artist Aaron Sims, and it’s beyond gorgeous, although it’s the caption by a commentor setting the scene from Dragonflight that actually made me tear up a little bit:
[At] the impression of Lessa and Ramoth, the mother [dragon of baby Ramoth here, and the last Queen on Pern] is so old that she teleports Between immediately after this scene, never to return. The scene is a rather bitter-sweet one, the dragons going from celebrating new life to mourning the loss of one of their own. – Leo Nielson
Heartbreaking! But as we see in Dragonflight, baby Ramoth and her rider Lessa have an amazing future ahead of them, not to worry.
As we know from Dragonsdawn, Kitti Ping Yung originally engineered (or “programmed”) the dragons to grow only so far from their fire-lizard cousins, to a maximum of about 15 ft. tall for the largest dragons, the golden queens. However, because of circumstances too detailed to go into here, by the time of the Ninth Pass, the dragons have grown much larger than Kitti ever intended.
Canadian artist Micah Johnson created two amazing Pern Dragon Sizes charts, shown below. The top one has Kitti’s ‘programmed’ sizes for the dragons, and the lower is a comparison chart of Ninth Pass dragons in the early series. The smallest dragon in the lower picture is one of the first dragons Kitti created (for comparison), and Queen Ramoth is the translucent dragon in the lower picture, the largest dragon in Pern’s history.
And finally, here is an amazing piece of art inspired by the Pern series that I think both the original colonists and the future low-tech inhabitants of Pern would all love — I know I do! This is a commissioned piece called Pern Circuit Board Dragon, created by American professional artist and crafter Amanda Rethman, proprietor of the Blue Kraken Etsy shop. She has tons of awesome art created with circuit boards for sale there, and I highly recommend you check her out!
Thank you as always for stopping by, and for joining me on this crazy AtoZ adventure! Tomorrow for the letter “E” I am diving once again into a fandom I know nothing about, so wish me luck! Take care and stay creative, especially to anyone else participating this year — leave me a link in the comments, and I’ll be sure to stop by your blog in return!
Dragonflight by Michael Whelan
Dragonsong by Rowena Morrill and found at the Pern Museum and Archives Art Gallery
Dragonsdawn by Michael Whelan
Pernese Dragon and Rider by Robert Crescenzio
The Impression by Aaron Sims
Pern Dragon Sizes by Micah Johnson
Pern Circuit Board Dragon by Amanda Rethman of Blue Kraken