Online Book Summary edited the summary of Dragonsong Friday, October 29, 2010.
OVERVIEW Dragonsong, one of the novels in the Pern series, is both an adventure tale and the story of a young woman finding a place for herself in her world. The overarching theme of the series is the strength of love, most dazzlingly embodied in the telepathic bond between a dragon and its rider. Scarcely less important is McCaffrey's portrayal of the seamless web of a society; one's talents and desires must be realized in the context of social responsibilities. Failure here can bring consequences as dire as destruction of the planet's life forms. But the world also provides ways for an individual's dreams and gifts to blossom in whatever social setting will best nurture them.
All these themes are present in Dragonsong, which relates the story of Menolly. She has grown up in an isolated seahold, whose practical fisherfolk see no value in the music she loves so much. Before she discovers her destiny, she is battered again and again—by her own mother's indifference to the hand injury which makes it impossible for her to play music, by hunger and isolation, and threat of death from Threadscore. She finally sees a more accepting way of life among the dragonriders, but she fears she can never aspire to join them. Menolly's escape from her restrictive life forms the basis of her adventures. Readers cringe as she tears her feet on the rocks fleeing Thread, and share her sheer delight as a flock of fabulous fire lizards adopt her as 'their' person. Along the way, Menolly learns important lessons: That the first adult to tell her what to do may not be the wisest and that small deeds of kindness or bravery can have great results.
Dragonsong takes place on the planet Pern, which was settled by colonists from Earth some centuries earlier. Like medieval society, Pern is divided into three interdependent estates: the Weyrs of the dragonriders; the Holds which shelter the majority of the population and produce crops and other basic resources; and the Crafts, where technical and artistic skills are practiced. The planet's ecology is very unlike Earth's. Because of the erratic Red Star which orbits its sun, Pern is subject to periodic attacks of Threadfall—streams of spores falling into its atmosphere from the Red Star, which devour all organic matter they touch. The indigenous animal life is different too. Long ago genetic scientists from the colony ship bred huge sapient dragons from the native fire lizards. These dragons, with their ability to breathe out flame, form the primary defense against Threadfall. Perhaps because of this planetwide menace as well as a shared cultural heritage, Pern is not divided into warring nations.
Human nature is much the same on Pern as anywhere else. The planet has its share of ambitious Lord Holders seeking to extend their lands by any means possible, as well as those who disregard duty to pursue their personal desires.
No amount of description, however, can convey the full magic of the setting. Some readers have been so taken with Pern that they 'adopt' replicas of the mischievous fire lizards to wear upon their shoulder and organize local fan clubs along the line of a Craft, Weyr, or Hold. The books' paperback editions have drawn some of the best science fiction and fantasy artists as illustrators. Michael Whelan's covers for the Dragonrider trilogy, and Rowena Morril's for the Harper Hall books, evoke the wonder of this world.
THEMES AND CHARACTERS
Menolly of Half-Circle Sea Hold is the primary character of Dragonsong. As the book opens she is only fourteen, the youngest child of a Sea Holder father accustomed to hard work on the fishing fleet but limited in his imagination. Moreover, Menolly is tall and big-boned, and she feels herself to be entirely too strong and awkward for the role of a daughter in this tradition-bound family. She carries out the expected female duties, from cleaning slimy fish to caring for infirm older relatives, but her heart soars elsewhere. Inner songs bolster her spirit as she goes about her tasks. In the slivers of time between duties, she steals up to her sleeping cubicle to compose ballads. Menolly is a misfit in her home—an artist in a community of stolid folk—and even worse, a female dreamer.
Dragonsong's theme centers on a woman artist developing her own voice. Everything Menolly does during her adventures—fleeing her home when her father forbids her to 'tune' at all, using her skills and intelligence to survive in a cave along the seacoast, finding baby fire lizards who surprise her by appreciating her songs—leads to the climax when the Masterharper of Pern accepts her as his apprentice. He chooses her even though, as she gasps in wonder, 'But I'm a girl.'
The theme is not intrusive—one can read Menolly's adventure without noticing any 'feminist' elements—but nonetheless her plight recapitulates that of many other women. In her home she is effectively silenced, first by housekeeping tasks and then by actual edict. Only in the solitude of her seaside exile does she find the time and self-esteem to accept her own talents. Yet the fire lizards' enjoyment of her songs is not enough. It takes a supportive human group, which she finds when recuperating at the Weyr, to ensure that she will grow and flourish in her craft.
Many other characters throng the pages of Dragonsong. They all function as supporting characters who affect Menolly's life. Her brother Alemi's high-spirited curiosity about the wider world contrasts with her dour parents' disapproval. The dashing dragonrider T'gran rescues Menolly from Threadfall and takes her to Benden Weyr. The weyr-folk surround her with kindness. Among them are major characters from the other Pern novels: imperious Weyr-woman Lessa; her mate, the upright Weyrleader F'lar; sensitive Brekke who has suffered the inconsolable loss of her own dragon; droll Masterharper Robinton, a man who almost serves as the conscience of Pern. All these people welcome Menolly and help her find her place, but the story centers on Menolly.
Supporting themes are woven through the entire series. The life-giving quality of love is exemplified by Menolly's link with her fire lizards. The interdependence of society's parts is shown by the dragonriders' protection, the harpers' part in education, and the holds' provision of foodstuffs to the other estates.