Menolly’s Story

Daily Prompt from Daily Post: Second Time Around

“Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?”

I started reading Anne McCaffrey in the seventh grade. There was a short story, Smallest Dragonboy, in our reading book which was required reading. In those few pages, McCaffrey created a world of fantasy that has captivated me for more than twenty years. The very next time I was in the school library, I looked her up in the card catalog and found that there were a handful of her books available. I started reading them and haven’t stopped to this day.

In her world of Pern, Anne McCaffrey painted a beautiful picture of a world untouched by modern technology as we know it, yet its history lies in our distant future. Humans from Earth traveled for many years on three colony ships to settle on the rich, fertile planet called Pern, a name derived from one of the initial survey reports, which stood for Parallels Earth, Resources Negligible. The planet eventually lives up to its name when an unexpected and pernicious danger reveals itself. Thrown into chaos after those initial attacks, the people were scattered and cut off from all of their ships and technology. Twenty five hundred years later, the story begins with a young girl who can talk to dragons, in a world resembling medieval Earth in the first book, Dragonflight.

I can’t tell you how many books there are in this series, and choosing just one is very hard to do. One of my favorites was probably Dragonsong, which is the first book in the Harperhall Trilogy. It follows Menolly, a young daughter of a Lord Holder, who possesses great musical talent, but whose family is determined to smother her gift in order to raise a proper girl, devoid of creativity and destined to work in the sea hold or to be married off. She had studied under a Harper Master, an old man who had recognized the value of her gifts and allowed her to pursue them in secret. After he dies, she is no longer able to compose or play and music, and is even discouraged from singing at all by her parents. After an injury to her hand leaves her unable to play, she finally has had enough and decides to run away. Unfortunately for her, she encounters the dangerous Thread, the enemy that wreaked havoc on the original settlers. Caught without shelter, she is forced to use her sharp wit to survive. Fortunately, she finds some very unexpected help in the form of tiny dragons. The legendary fire lizards had always been a mystery, as they could pop in and out of between in the same way the larger dragons could. In her days living in a set of caves at the seaside, she uses her resourcefulness to create bowls and tools, and even a flute made of reeds from the river. She takes shelter during threadfall, and teaches her nine fire lizards to sing. Unaware that she bonded telepathically with them at birth, she finds that she can’t go anywhere without them. While she is grateful for their company while she lives alone, their ever-present nature provides some tense, if comical moments after she is rescued by the dragonriders from Benden Weyr.

McCaffrey’s characters are well developed, her sense of wonder is childlike, and her comedic timing is perfect. Her stories of Pern span the breadth of time from the original survey mission to the isolated planet, through colonization, genetically engineering the telepathic dragons and learning to use them to fight the insidious Thread, all the way to hundreds of years later, when all memory of Earth is gone, and all that is left are traditions, the roots of which are forgotten.

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One thought on “Menolly’s Story

  1. I taught seventh grade English and loved introducing my students to McCaffrey’s world. I was already a huge fan of the Dragonrider series, and when I realized there was a short story of hers in our textbook I felt pretty giddy.
    I still remember two students who had never enjoyed reading coming to me after we finished that story wanting more like it. That’s the best.
    Thanks for reminding me of that short story.

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