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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Goodbye, Ms. McCaffrey!

When I'm asked to name the influences on my writing, Anne McCaffrey is always one of the first names I mention, but I'm not writing this as an author. No, I want to say goodbye to her as a reader.

I first came to Pern by way of Half-Circle Hold and Harper Hall.

It was one of those summer days in Irondale, Alabama when no matter how much Mom ran the air conditioning in the car, my shirt stuck to my back when I got out. We were at the library, and I had wandered from the hardback section and found the round shelves that housed the young adult paperback books. One cover caught my eye, that of redheaded girl who looked about my age and who was surrounded by tiny swooping dragons in different colors. She stood on some rocks by the ocean and held in her hands what looked like a set of wooden pipes. It went into my pile, which would be finished within the week. I don't remember any of the others I picked up that day, but that book was Dragonsong, the first book in the Harper Hall Trilogy.

I don't remember exactly how old I was, just that I was struggling with the things most adolescents do: not fitting in, feeling unappreciated, and general annoyance at the stubbornness of the adults in my life who insisted on silly things like curfews. I escaped through books and found in the Harper Hall trilogy a heroine I could relate to and who did the things I could only dream of. In that pivotal scene, I was Menolly running my feet ragged over a pebbly beach trying to escape from the pressures that wanted to mindlessly devour me, the ones that hissed, "Be thin! Be perfect! Live up to everyone's expectations!"

Then, in the second book, Dragonsinger: Harper of Pern, I understood Menolly the misfit who had to deal with the silly shallowness of the paying female students at Harper Hall. It's tough to be a girl, especially a smart girl. Ms. McCaffrey got it, the struggle between being good at something and not wanting to stand out too much. Oh, and the importance of sassy boots. Finally, in Dragondrums, Menolly finds love, and it gave me hope that a geeky girl like me would eventually find someone. I did, and I didn't need the help of any randy fire lizards.

In spite of wishing hard and taking long walks on the Destin beach to find a deserted-enough spot (there aren't any), I never found a nest of fire lizards. It wasn't until I had cats that I figured out where McCaffrey had modeled her little psychic dragons from. My tuxedo kitty rubs me with his wedge-shaped head and rumbles when he's happy. He gets very persistent when he's hungry, although thankfully his eyes don't turn red.

I did eventually read the rest of the Pern books to get the context for the Harper Hall Trilogy, and I enjoyed meeting Lessa, F'lar, F'nor, Jaxom, and the other dragonriders, holders, and thieves. Menolly will always have a special place in my heart, and if I ever have a daughter, I will give her my well-worn copy of Dragonsong. Maybe she'll be able to relate and find hope like I did.

Happy flying, Ms. McCaffrey! Don't forget to bundle up well – it gets cold between. We'll miss you.


  1. My first dragon book was dragonflight, and I *was* Lessa (albeit a fat Lessa, perhaps Mora rather than Lessa). The Pern books have led me to tears and elation and inspired me. I dream of having a dragon to this day, and wondered why no films had ever been made but the reason is - they are beyond any film-maker's art. The art is in literature.

    I found myself near to tears at the news today. I will reread all the books in tribute to Ms McCaffrey, and that will be no sacrifice of course.

    RIP Anne McCaffrey, gone between.

  2. I'm glad there haven't been any Pern movies, although I've heard the occasional rumor. I don't know that I would watch them -- I've got such a clear picture of the planet and society in my head, I wouldn't want it ruined by someone else's vision.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I was telling my dragon-loving teenage son about the dragonriders yesterday. Neil Gaiman is the greatest McCaffrey fan. If I could, I'd wish her to be on Pern now.