Posts Tagged ‘Dragonriders of Pern’

Back in my days with Pern fandom, we had endless discussions of dragon size. There was a set hierarchy, with green dragons the smallest, blue and brown dragons getting bigger, and bronze and golds being largest of all. With this progression in mind, fans tried to determine how big the dragons actually were so our stories would be consistent.

In the Pern novels, their dragons were genetically created from a smaller species, the fire-lizard. They were engineered to become progressively larger until they stopped at a pre-determined size. However, due to circumstances in the novels, the dragons of Benden Weyr became genetically isolated and grew to significantly greater sizes.

Just what was that optimal size? Sources in the books stated that several Benden dragons, including Ramoth, Mnementh and Canth, were larger than the expected size. At 45 meters, Ramoth was the largest Pernese dragon ever known. Other dragons would have scaled progressively smaller.

The debate among fans arose because 45 meters translates to 147.6 feet — the size of a passenger jet! This size seems extreme, even for a fantasy creature. How much would such a dragon eat? What space would it need for its personal weyr, and what would be the required area for a Weyr of 300 or more dragons? How could even a well-intentioned dragon avoid harming the relatively tiny humans around it?

Oddly enough, this issue may have sprung from an editing mishap. Pernese dragon measurements are sometimes given in meters, as common in Europe, but sometimes given in feet, as common in the U. S. However, the number wasn’t changed during editing. So a 45-foot-long Ramoth suddenly ballooned to 147 feet when converted to metric!

Just for fun, here’s a post from the blog Dragon Calling, which estimated the size of various dragons in video games and movies. The author used media dragons because still images give a good idea of comparative sizes between the human and dragon characters.

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Fairy dragons are a relatively modern iteration of the legendary dragon. The difference between fairy dragons and traditional dragons are obvious. Instead of being huge and dangerous, these dragons are little and cute. Fairy dragons are small enough to ride on wrists and shoulders. Rather than menacing people, they prefer to cuddle.

Miniature dragons first appeared in SF and fantasy fiction during the early 1970s. For example, Anne McCaffrey created “fire lizards” in her second Pern novel, Dragonquest, published in 1971. Alan Dean Foster introduced his “mini-dragon” Flinx, half of the Pip and Flinx duo, in 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang. 

Smaller dragons began to appear in wider circles. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons included “faerie dragons” in a 1982 issue of Dragon Magazine. By now these small dragons are part of many games, including World of Warcraft, and have become a perennial subject in fantasy art.

Most versions of a fairy dragons do have some powers. Flinx carries a deadly poison, while faerie dragons have the power to charm and confuse. This makes them more useful pets and companions than your typical dogs and cats. Still, I have to admit, something in me balks at turning the magnificent dragon into a mere plaything.

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Last time, I mentioned that Michael Whelan’s illustration for the Pern novels became an icon for me. This leads me to another set of Pern novels, the Harper Hall books, which had covers by Elizabeth Malczynski. Here’s her gallery.

In some ways, Malczynski’s fire lizards were the opposites of Whelan’s dragons. His covers are glossy, airbrushed, with operatic composition. The dragons are solid and almost dinosaur-like. By contrast Malczynski’s are small and dainty, set amid ethereal watercolors. Of course, fire lizards always had the feel of charming pets. Still, her covers were intimate and welcoming, a perfect invitation to young readers.

For many of us, Malczynski’s Harper Hall covers are the Pern we remember most fondly.

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It’s here! January 16th is Appreciate A Dragon Day, 2016. This holiday was created by Christian children’s writer Donita K. Paul in 2004 to commemorate the publication of her novel, Dragonspell. This was the first in her award-winning Dragonkeeper series.

Paul called upon her readers and fans to recognize the significance of dragons in cultures all over the world. She urged participants to choose one special dragon character and re-create it for others, explaining why the dragon is your favorite. Her web site includes a number of suggestions, such as puppetry, classroom or library activities, and various art projects.

How can I resist? My favorite dragon is Mnementh, the first speaking dragon character in another first-of-series book, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. This, of course, was the first in her ground-breaking Pern series. I read it as a teen. Until then, I had heard and read only of evil, destructive dragons. The idea that dragons and riders could bond in a friendship that nothing could destroy was captivating.

Mnementh was a bronze dragon who stayed calm and carried on while all the humans were getting frantic. He set the standard for me, and I went on to write lots of Pern fan fiction in my twenties and thirties. Many friends I met during that time are still close today. My husband, for one!

So here’s a toast to Mnementh and his writer, Anne McCaffrey.

Ms. Paul has gone on to create several other series. Check them out at her official web site.

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Certainly, in some cases, authors create good dragons who would grieve the passing of their own or a human friend. One of the best cases is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.

Now, these dragons are quite a bit different from the mythical sort. They are genetically created by scientists and “impress” upon hatching with human companions. Indeed, Pernese dragons require this mental bond and cannot survive without it; there are no wild Pernese dragons. Still, the books show numerous instances where dragons mourn.

Because of the mental bond, if a dragon’s rider is killed, the dragon immediately commits suicide by going between forever. When this happens, the other dragons show grief by “keening,” an eerie wailing that echoes throughout their weyrs. They are also shown to lose color, eat less, and behave as if depressed. Most riders also commit suicide if their dragon is killed, although a few manage to survive through the torment. Dragons don’t mourn these riders, unless they were significant leaders such as queenriders.

Believe it or not, there also is mention in the Bible of dragons mourning. In the Book of Micah, Chapter 1, Verse 8, it states:

Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.

This is a pretty definitive statement that dragons can mourn. Check back Tuesday for more on this topic.

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This is a poem I wrote long, long ago when I was deeply involved with Pern fandom. Enjoy!


by Deby Fredericks

Together we wandered the green hills of spring.
The flowers of summer to me you did bring.
Wherever we rambled, in love we were free.
Now you have a dragon, you’ve no need for me.

The Weyrman came down from the vault of the sky.
The dragon spoke to you, in joy you did cry.
Away you went with them, a Weyrman to be.
Now you have a dragon, you’ve no need for me.

So I am forsaken, and all my life I’ll mourn.
My parents say I should not live all a-lorn.
The gray hills of autumn I tread in the rain
And with withered blossoms I weave me a chain.

I see you go flying, so high and so free;
Now you are a dragonman, you’ve no need for me.

(Wow! Has it really been 25 years?)

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