Of Harpers and Dragons
Please enjoy this post from guest writer Beth on her early favorite books.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to read. One of my favorite summer haunts was the public library, and I would always come home with armloads of new books to devour. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of my mother reading to my older brother and me. My mom, however, did not fool around with her choices of what to read us. Picture books had a time and place, but novels were always king. The two earliest books I remember having read to us were “The Hobbit” and “Fahrenheit 451.” She pushed us at an early age to read chapter books, and I had no problems obliging. Some of the earliest books in my collection were the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary and the original “American Girl” series (Samantha and Molly were my two go-tos).
However, I was a stubborn child; if my mom told me a specific book I should read, I fought tooth and nail to read anything but the thing she suggested. This was only compounded by my brother taking her up on it immediately and also pushing me to read it. Headstrong young girl that I was, nobody was going to be the boss of me or my reading choices. One of the series on that “No, no, no!” list was Anne McCaffery’s “Dragonriders of Pern.” I think 8-year-old me was intimidated by the sheer size of the original trilogy; my mother owned the whole “Dragonriders” trilogy in one massive, well worn paperback tome. My mother and brother fought for years to get me to read it, while I kept dodging it and finding other things to fill my reading time. Finally, my mom came to me with a considerably smaller book and suggested I give it a try. The book was “Dragonsong,” also by McCaffery. I was told that this may be more my speed, as it was specifically geared to a YA audience. I was a little skeptical, but I decided to give it a try. It was short enough that I decided if I didn’t like it, at least I wouldn’t have wasted much time on it.
Well, I was right in that it didn’t take me long to finish, but, boy, was I ever wrong on predicting my enjoyment of the book!
I could not put it down, and I quickly tore through the two remaining books, “Dragonsinger” and “Dragondrums.” I was captivated by the strong female lead, Menolly. I remember the emotional roller coaster that entailed my first read—sympathizing with Menolly on not being able to use her talents, the rage towards her abusive father that mirrored certain aspects of my own home life, the wonder at her discovery of a whole damn new species of fire lizards, and the joy of witnessing her finally finding her place in the world outside of her tiny Hold. Suffice it to say, I was hooked. I had seen strong female leads in other genres, but never in the fantasy books I had read up to that point. Here was someone I could finally relate to, a young woman struggling to find her place in the world, who felt she could accomplish so much more with her life if only she could escape her oppressive circumstances.
I went on to read the full “Dragonriders of Pern” trilogy, as well as other books in the “Pern” universe such as “Dragonsdawn” and “Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern.” I was not disappointed and discovered even more badass female leads, all of them with their own claims to fame in addition to fighting the deadly Threadfall. There was Kitti Ping Yung, a respected and genius biologist who provided valuable research on how to combat Thread and pioneered the bioengineering that enhanced the fire lizards into dragons. Sorka, the very first Queenrider whose dragon ensured the continuation of the species. Moreta, the famous Weyrwoman who discovered the dragons’ ability to travel Between (a form of time travel), and lost her life ensuring that as many Holds as possible received the vaccine for the epidemic that was sweeping the land. Lessa, the headstrong Queenrider with telepathic abilities who won back her ancestral hold from her enemies and rediscovered dragons’ abilities to travel Between. The list goes on and on.
This is the series that I can definitively point to that was was my jumping off point into the world of fantasy literature. The rich universe that McCaffery creates, putting strong women at its center, was the hook I needed to really give this genre a chance, and it grew into a lifelong affinity for fantasy.
In closing, I’d like to give a big thank you to my mom. I know that I was as stubborn and headstrong as the ladies in these novels, but thank you for sticking with it and finding a way to convince me to give this series a chance. Thank you for fostering my love of reading and instilling in me the feminist values that are at the core of these wonderful novels. Thank you, and I love you.
(Original cover art is by Rowena Morrill)