Pern – opinions on bringing it to screen


I have periodically wondered about this… Interesting how technology changes our access to story and to retell inns of old favourites

I like this idea of re-addressing absence of diversity through new retellings, too…

Actually, I agree with this last one in terms of casting and could see most of these actors in character, but I still find the creation of these videos kind of fascinating. How do they fit, generically?

Anne McCaffrey


In her (sanctioned, but not authorized) biography of Anne McCaffrey, Robin Roberts describes McCaffrey as a writer who “has affected not only innumerable readers, but also the genre.” (p.7) Roberts focuses on McCaffrey’s life, not on analysing her writing, but there are snippets of critical reading and summations of McCaffrey’s oeuvre that interested me. She writes:

original (1)“Literary critics know Anne McCaffrey as a member of a ground-breaking group of women science fiction writers who forever changed the field, humanizing it through their emphasis on women’s issues and plots.” (p.1)

“One of the twentieth century’s best-loved and most widely read writers, Anne has made immense contributions to fiction. In 1968, she was the first woman to win both the Hugo (an award bestowed annually at the World Science Fiction Convention) and the Nebula (awarded annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America), the genre’s most prestigious awards. In 1978, she became the first science fiction writer to have a book on the New York Times best-seller list. In 1999, the American Library Association recognized her work with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement. Anne has also collected the Ditmar Award (Australia), the Gandalf Award, and the Streza (the European Science Fiction Convention Award). In 2005, she was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an honor bestowed only on twenty-two other writers, of whom just two are women. In 2006, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages and have sold more than twelve million copies. These distinctions and statistics are important because she was a leader in the feminist revolution in science fiction, and she also focused on female protagonists and women’s issues – child rearing, for example – at a time when strong women were largely absent from the genre. Sarah Lefanu, the author of one of the first books on women and science fiction, Feminism and Science Fiction, praises Anne’s contributions: “It is great to have Anne’s girls and women with their skills and strengths and emotions.” (pp.7-8)

“Anne became an award-winning writer who helped feminize the genre. Anne brought great emotional depth to her writing. While not as overtly political as Russ or Le Guin, Anne nevertheless challenged traditional ideas about women and science and women as heroes. Her novels’ strong emotional appeal can be traced to Anne’s own preoccupations and concerns as a member of a generation who came of age during World War II. Disappointed by the opportunities available to her as a highly educated and intelligent young woman, she gravitated to science fiction for the alternatives it offered to an unsatisfactory real world. But she found limited roles for women in the pulp magazines she read, and she consciously wrote her first novel, Restoree, “as a tongue-in-cheek protest, utilizing as many of the standard ‘thud and blunder’ cliches as possible with one new twist – the heroine was the viewpoint character and she is always Johanna on the spot.”” (p.8)

“Like that of other women science fiction writers, Anne’s work champions strong female characters, and she positions women in worlds where they have greater opportunities than in the real world. As literary critic Jane Donawerth notes, these women, including Anne, moved the figure of woman as alien in science fiction “from margin to center.”” (pp.7-8)

original (1)“Taking women’s stereotypical association with the natural world, Anne and a number of other women science fiction writers inverted this association, making it into something positive, a strength for their female characters. Anne’s dragons, for example, are genetically engineered, telepathic creatures that bond with their humans. The dragons enable humans to live on Pern, providing an alternative to machine transportation and a way for the colonists to fight a life-threatening spore. In making dragons, that had heretofore been featured primarily as evil beasts, into attractive companions, Anne reshaped our cultural image of them. Significantly, she did so in a structure in which queen dragons were the species’ leaders. Bonding with female humans, the dragons enable women on Pern to assume positions of leadership; and, as Jane Donawerth explains, “the dragons offer an alternative model for relationship,” one that is more positive than traditional masculine domination of women.” (p.9)

“A number of women science fiction writers use strong female protagonists whose position as outsiders enables them to connect not only with other beings, but also with other humans.” (p.9)

original“Her first novel, Restoree, was a space gothic romance, a new hybrid that few reviewers recognized. Anne wrote the novel because, she said, “After seven years of voracious reading in the field, I’d had it up to the eyeteeth with vapid women.” Anne’s willingness to write about love, sex, and emotion became her fiction’s identifying characteristic. As she later explained, “Emotional content and personal involvement are expected in stories by me. In fact, I have had stories returned to me by editors because they lacked these elements.” Anne sees these elements as essential to the transformation of the genre during her writing career: “With the injection of emotional involvement, a sexual jolt to the Romance and Glamour, science fiction rose out of pulp and into literature.”” (p.10)

“Dismissed as “diaper copy” in the 1960s, the fiction that Anne and other writers published brought feminine values such as mothering into science fiction. …But Anne’s work moves beyond conventional gender roles (there are very few diapers in her fictions) to deal with the emotional needs of girls and women.” (p.11)

“Anne repeatedly depicts outcast characters who radically change their circumstances by discovering they have a special skill.” (p.11)

Roberts refers to “the isolation and sense of being an outsider that shapes so much of her fiction.” (p.3)

“…one of the hallmarks of her novels is her ability to evoke in the reader the intense longings of adolescence. These longings are often satisfied by love by and for animals. Anne transformed this affection for animals into fictional creatures who have egalitarian relationships with humans: for example, the Dragonriders of Pern benefit from their dragons’ unconditional love and acceptance and telepathic communication.” (p.5)

Also, perhaps incidentally, but interestingly too, McCaffrey was someone who “…[put] you at ease. A friend and collaborator, Elizabeth Moon, recollected her first impression of Anne: “A blazing fire in a big fireplace. Gracious, warm, kindly – and the loveliest smile and laugh. I felt like I found another aunt. Oh, and that upright elegant look, too.”” (Moon, quoted p.4)

Ref: Robin Roberts (2007) Anne McCaffrey: A Life with Dragons. Jackson, MS, USA: University of Mississippi.

Anne McCaffrey on creating Pern


In her foreword to 40 Years of Pern, Anne McCaffrey wrote (and I believe it’s ok to quote this!):

“How did I come to write Pern? That is extremely easy to remember because it’s emblazoned on my mind as One of Your Better Ideas.
I had by then published Restoree and parts of The Ship Who Sang, so what did I want to do next? Maybe animals… I’m good with them. Okay, what sort of animal? Andreproduct_thumbnail Norton had mentioned that dragons had a bad press in the West. So, why don’t I make them the good guys? Fire-breathing, too, because that’s what dragons do, even the best ones. But I remembered Analog editor John Campbell saying that you couldn’t just populate a planet with critters that didn’t have any ecological reason to be there, so I needed a menace for my dragons to flame. Okay, and I hate wars between people – for any reason – so it would have to be menace that didn’t know it was a menace, or care. All right, it could be something airborne that had to be neutralized before it fell on the planet’s surface. Good.
Well, one didn’t want even good dragons flaming, overhead without control, not when they are 25 feet long, or longer. So, taking a hint from ducklings, which go after anything that moves in front of them after their hatching, I decided my dragons would bond with a suitable human as soon as they hatched. They would be starving, so the bonded person had to stuff them with food, to complete the bonding.
Now who knows anyone who speaks dragon? Harry Potter only speaks snake (though he was not yet thought of at the time I was recreating dragons). So the dragons are psychic, telepathic (and as we later discover, telekinetic). And, I thought, give them a break, and they know their names when they hatch, even if some of them are rather odd. Still, if that’s what its name is, fine!” (p.10)

I don’t know if I noted these sites in a logical place before, but:

reader-response criticism and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series


Some 25 years ago, Kay E Vandergrift took a critical approach to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series that was based on reader-response theory. I haven’t read a piece of literary criticism quite like this before – and there should be more like itDragonflight!

She gathered a small group of readers who had shown a strong interest in this series and started helping them tease apart (and share) their responses to the books in discussion. Then she published their findings.

Some of what I found interesting in this article includes:

What then attracts readers to Pern and draws them so intensely into the lore of the dragons who inhabit the land? The respondents indicated that what attracted them was exactly what some critics perceive to be the greatest flaw in these works, that is, the rather loosely connected episodic plots with references to characters and events in other Pern novels. One student said she “liked how you meet a character from one book in another one.” McCaffrey has also devised an elaborate hierarchy among dragons that seems to heighten reader involvement.” (p.28)

“McCaffrey has established elaborate names for dragons and riders in Pern, and the Impression ceremony is one of naming as well as bonding. At the time of Impression a rider’s name is shortened and it is the rider who announces the namAll the Weyrs of Perne of the dragon. Although some readers thought “this business with the names is somewhat silly,” most thought it strengthened the bond. The girls especially appreciated that “both riders and dragons got new names —not like a human marriage when the woman is expected to change hers.” At the Impression of young Keevan, students were delighted by the exquisite courtesy of Lessa to young Keevan in asking him the name of his dragon when she could speak directly to any dragon.” (p.30)

“…food is very important in dragon lore and references to dragon appetites are often humorous. Once Impression has occurred, the dragon seeks food; and it is the responsibility of the rider to provide moderation, control and direction to the young dragon’s appetite. …The control of food is a critical factor in managing a queen dragon just prior to mating. At this time she may kill animals and drink the blood, but she cannot consume the meat which might inhibit her mating flight. Firestone (phosphine mineral) is a particularly important food in that it is fed to dragons to make the fire which destroys Thread. Students recognized that food and feeding are integral to dragon lore and they make the connection between food and control by the rider….” (p.30)

“Members of the group attempted to describe what happens to them as readers as they perceive the dragons and watch them defeat evil in this imaginative land of Pern. There was general agreement when one reader said, “I put myself in Pern to try to help solve the problem, but then I use Pern to think about my own problems.” There was also evidence that they “like to imagine the details of some of the things McCaffrey only mentions in the stories,”….” (p.30)

The power of “between” is critical to the stories, but it is also “more frightening than death itself,” perhaps because McCaffrey leaves no gaps for imaginative recreation. She tells readers that it is a cold void of nothingness, thus prohibiting that natural reader tendency to specify the unspecified in order to gain imaginative control over it.” (p.30)

“A weak dragon may even lead to the very problem that the new weyrleaders will face, as in the case of Jora and her dragon queen Nemorth. A laziness of both dragon and rider eventually led to poor reproductive cycles and consequently fewer dragons to combat Threadfall. It became clear as the discussions progressed that just being a dragon is not enough; it is the development of character through testing that makes the greatest dragons.” (p.30)

originalIn answer to “What were these novels about?” or “What did they mean to you?” the strongest and most agreed upon response was “the relationship between two beings.” This corresponded with the most frequently mentioned key words: impression and bonding. All agreed with the statement that “a mission can be a driving force in life” and that “humor is essential in even the most serious situations.” In an attempt to determine which elements or aspects of the texts caused these particular recreations of meaning, we went back and looked again at the incidents discussed in this article. This return to the texts confirmed that the dragons and fire lizards of Pern share a world of telepathic communication in which a loving exchange is the basis for all that happens. The emotional bonding and the constancy and the power of that relationship is so strong that all else in the stories was secondary for these readers.” (p.31)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Vandergrift, Kay E. “Meaning-Making and the Dragons of Pern.” Children’s Literature Quarterly 15 (1990): 27–32.

Abjection and Fictional Girl-Animal Relationships


I’m not usually big on the psychoanalytic tradition, but Jennifer Marchant’s analysis of fictional girl-animal relationships (including Lessa’s relationship with her dragon, Ramoth, in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight (1968)) is interesting. The questions she poses are worth considering and the approach she takes is fruitful. Her explanation of ‘abjection’ is also perfectly accessible  and fits rather perfectly!

“…what did that relationship between girl and dragon mean to [the protagonist of Dragonflight,] Lessa—and to me, the young reader? In this article, I want to suggest that, in Dragonflight and many other novels, the powerful relationship between adolescent female protagonist and animal plays a vital part in the protagonist’s psychic development. Moreover, I wish to make the argument that Kristevan theory is an especially useful lens for examining this bond and for considering the appeal these books have for many adolescent readers.” (p.3)

“The time of boundary establishment is difficult and painful for the infant. On the one hand, she longs to continue the blissful unity with her mother’s body. But on the other, she fears being reincorporated with her mother, “falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling”. In order to establish herself as autonomous, she needs to separate herself from her mother’s body. Kristeva calls this period between unity-with-mother and autonomy “abjection.” Abjection is uncomfortable, both to the abject and to those within the social order. Kristeva describes it as that which “disturbs identity, system, order. [It is] what does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite”. This is where the imaginary father comes in, comforting the child with “his” love, and thus preventing her from merging back into nonidentity. Abjection is not confined to infancy; it appears at any point in which someone is temporarily or permanently in a state of in-betweenness, not really one thing nor the other. This in-betweenness occurs both on a relatively small scale (concerning the individual and/or her relationships with family members) and on a larger one (concerning the individual’s relationship with community or country). The need for an imaginary father, then, is not outgrown, but continues throughout adult life, although “he” may change form. [-p.5] For example, the imaginary father may reappear in adults’ search for totally satisfying sexual relationships and/or a loving and comforting God.
Adolescents may have an especially strong need for imaginary fathers. Kristeva suggests that adolescence is a time of “psychic reorganization,” a time when people “begin to question their identifications, as well as their capacities to speak and to symbolize”.” (pp.4-5)

“Not only is the adolescent trying to establish boundaries between herself and her parents, but between her own community(ies) and those she deems “outsiders.” In addition, she must deal with her developing sexuality.” (p.5)

“Thus, the adolescent may have to deal simultaneously with several sorts of abjection, and so be powerfully drawn to descriptions of fictional imaginary fathers and their relationships with similarly abject protagonists. Such descriptions may not only reassure the reader that her experiences are not unique, but suggest that abjection can be resolved.
Lessa, in Dragonflight, is a good example of adolescent abjection and resolution.” (p.5)

It is through Ramoth that Lessa is eventually able to come to terms with both her social and sexual states of abjection.” (p.6)

“Moreover, Lessa’s uncertainties about her sexuality and her relationship with F’lar are resolved when Ramoth mates with F’lar’s dragon.” (p.6)

“For both Lessa and Opal [in Because of Winn-Dixie], companion animals play a vital role in drawing boundaries.” (p.7) “The animals also help the girls move from being “outsiders” in their new communities to being accepted members. In these ways, they act as imaginary fathers.” (p.7)

“Considering the animals as imaginary fathers suggests one way in which to interpret a common motif in girl-animal stories. While a child may have to share her parents’ love with siblings, the imaginary father’s love is for the child alone. In a similar fashion, the animal in these stories often displays a marked preference for the protagonist. Usually, this is for an unusual aspect of her personality, rather than because she is the one who feeds it.” (p.7)

“Freud suggested that the ego ideal—one’s internalized sense of what is right and good—is founded on the infant’s identification with the “father in prehistory” (or, to use Kristeva’s term, the imaginary father). The child’s later identification with her parents reinforces this. However, an adolescent has presumably already incorporated her parents’ standards, and is now in the process of separating herself from her family. At this stage, then, one might expect an imaginary father to help her explore parental standards as she decides whether to keep or reject them. Indeed, this pattern often appears in girl-animal stories—although, at least in the ones I surveyed, the animals are far more likely to reinforce the parents’ standards than to instigate rebellion against them.” (p.8)

I think it is probably significant that so many of the protagonists in this genre are attached to animals associated with power and freedom—horses, large dogs, wolves, dragons, and falcons. It is also worth noting that animals are outside the patriarchal social and linguistic systems that marginalize women. In identifying with animals, girls and women may seek an alternative social system in which they are not regarded as the inferior “other.” Although animals are not generally believed to use language, many of those in girl-animal stories communicate very effectively via vocalizations, body signals, and/or telepathy. In this sense, they may represent an alternative to male-privileged language. Thus, while the animals still ultimately function to integrate the protagonists into patriarchal society, they may also imply that this society can be questioned, subverted, and perhaps eventually changed.” (p.9)

In a number of novels, the protagonist learns that the animal itself is less important than the supportive structure it has helped her develop.” (p.13)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Marchant, Jennifer ‘An Advocate, a Defender, an Intimate”: Kristeva’s Imaginary Father in Fictional Girl-Animal Relationships’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 30(1), Spring 2005, pp. 3-15

Readers of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series


Jennifer Marchant refers to a study on teenagers’ reading of Anne McCaffrey’s novels by Kay E. Vandergrift. Apparently, in the discussion groups:
“a large percentage of the time was spent on discussing Impression; and it was clear that they had found the passages in the various texts dealing with this phenomenon to be powerful and emotionally charged. Several indicated that they had re-read those passages many times and tried to imagine themselves in such a scene.”

I thought this interesting. Marchant explores her own views on what makes these scenes ‘powerful and emotionally charged’. I suspect more could be said…

Ref: Vandergrift quoted p.14 of  Marchant, Jennifer ‘An Advocate, a Defender, an Intimate”: Kristeva’s Imaginary Father in Fictional Girl-Animal Relationships’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 30(1), Spring 2005, pp. 3-15

Reference is to: p.29 Vandergrift, Kay E. “Meaning-Making and the Dragons of Pern.” Children’s Literature Quarterly 15 (1990): 27–32.

Religion on Pern? – Richard J. Woods


On the topic of religion on Pern, Richard J. Woods offers the following commentary and quotes:

“When asked by one interviewer why the people of Pern were not overtly religious, Anne explained,
“As you probably realize, during a terrible war situation people either cling as their last hope to the religion of their choice, or they become agnostic, losing their belief in a Good, Kindly [and] Wise Deity who has allowed such atrocities to happen to innocent people. The colonists who went with Admiral Benden and Governor Boll were of the second type, especially from groups who had suffered from atrocities committed BECAUSE of religion: notice what’s happening in Kosovo and Iran. What happened to the Mormons in the USA? So no ORGANIZED religion was brought to Pern and none was set up. There is, however, a strong ethical code among the colonists and by this they govern their lives and interactions. Not even Thread was allowed to alter these precepts.” []

[Woods continues:] Anne was well aware of the role “organized” religion played in bloody strife, not least in Northern Ireland, as well as in other global hotspots. She – along with her Pern colonists – deliberately precluded that from marring what was planned to be a permanently peaceful new world, at least in that respect. There would be plenty of malice, greed, hate, and violence, of course – what would fiction be without them? – but not as the result of religious conflict. Not on her planet! I suppose it could be argued from this that Anne’s evaluation of what religion ought to be was, in fact, too lofty. She was hardly a utopian, but she had high ideals.
As we learn from Emily Boll’s speech in Dragonsdawn, eliminating organized religion from Pern had been deliberate from the earliest phases of the colonists’ planning:
“We may not be religious in the archaic meaning of the word, but it makes good sense to give worker and beast one day’s rest,” Emily stated in the second of the mass meetings. “The old Judean Bible used by some of the old religious sects on Earth contained a great many commonsensible suggestions for an agricultural society, and some moral and ethical traditions are worthy of retention” – she held up a hand, smiling benignly – “but without any hint of fanatic adherence! We left that back on Earth along with war!”

Though admittedly smug, Emily’s statement effectively summarized the colonists’ rationale. Anne’s own explanation [-p.157] (supplied after the fat hit the fire following the publication of “Beyond Between” in 2003) provided some personally meaningful detail:
“I figured – since there were four holy wars going on at the time of writing – that religion was one problem Pern didn’t need. However, if one listens to childhood teachings, God is everywhere so there should be no question in any mind that he is also on Pern. Thus, there is a heaven to which worthy souls go. So, without mentioning any denomination of organized religion, I figured that both Moreta and Leri deserved respite after their trials … and that’s where “Beyond Between” is.” []” (pp.156-157)

Woods also notes that: “Absent organized religion on Pern, the matter of profanity also posed something of a problem, if one more literary than political. For reasons deep and dark, religion (next only to sex) seems always to have provided humankind matter for its most outrageous and, therefore, useful expletives, frequently curses involving the inappropriate use of the Lord’s name or ingenious (and obscene) references to sacred body parts. The retrospective volume Dragonsdawn does find the original colonists swearing colorfully, if not frequently, including some vocabulary that would have seemed out of place in the original Pern stories. But even these hardy pioneers seem temperate in employing the usual religious epithets, giving the more heated exchanges a kind of Victorian hue. But it is cumbersome even to be mildly profane when there is no fanum to be outside of.” (p.160)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) Richard J. Woods ‘Religion on Pern?’ pp.150-170 Ed. Todd McCaffrey, with Leah Wilson (2013) Dragonwriter: A tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern. Smart Pop, Dallas, Texas

Woods’s quoting of McCaffrey is taken from: