The first book of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragon Song begins with the main character, Menolly singing the funeral song for her friend Petiron. An aging Harper,
Petiron had retired to Menolly’s home at Half-Circle Sea Hold to live out his days. As his caretaker, Menolly and the Harper became close friends, and he taught her everything he knew of his craft. While she was described as tall and strong and was often mistaken for a boy, she was a girl.
“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”
“Well,we’re stuck with me being a girl.”
“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.
“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing,half-annoyed.
This remembered exchange between the two friends, set up that not only does Menolly have an extraordinary talent, but also that it’s kind of a problem that she’s not a boy. Being a Harper was something that men did and it would be disgraceful to her father if anyone found out that she would have the gall to believe that it was something she could aspire to.
Published in 1977, during the height of second-wave feminism, Dragon Song deals in part with issues of equality and gender discrimination, changing political climates,abuse, and growing up. I wanted to say that it was about longing for something better, but I don’t really know whether that’s true. Menolly’s life as Petiron’s apprentice wasn’t perfect, but she had her heart’s true desire – to play music.When he died, she grudging allowed to play with supervision, and then following an accident where she cut her hand was forbidden to play at all. Without musician her life she felt like a hollowed out shell, began to drift through her days doing chores and looked for opportunities to be alone with her thoughts.Gathering sweet grasses and crayfish in the countryside offered these chances for her. They also made it possible for her to explore the coastline, which is how she stumbled across a fire-lizard queen and helped save its eggs from being drowned in the ocean.
Most people considered fire-lizards, miniature dragons about the size of a Macaw, fairy stories told by young boys to impress the other children. Menolly had not only seen one though, she had actually held it’s eggs! Looking forward to seeing the fire-lizards again, she left home early one morning to gather food.Far from home, up the coastline, she was caught outside the safety of her home’s stone walls during a dangerous storm, and was forced to take shelter in the fire-lizard’s cave. The eggs began to hatch. Rather than let the babies fly out into the storm to their deaths, she fed as many as she could the crayfish she’d collected. When Menolly woke the next morning, nine fire-lizards thought of her as their mother. Feeling like she’d never really belonged back home, and knowing that once they realized she wasn’t there they would assume she was dead,she decided not to go back.
Dragon Song is not about looking for more than what you have. It deals with a lot ofbig issues, within its adventure framework, but it is about loss, self reliance, and finding happiness. It’s also about finding something to care about and letting others care about you. I always identified with Menolly because she LOVED what she did, and I think really wanted people to pay attention to that part of her, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to notice her. Those were very familiar feelings growing up. As far as an introduction to the world of Pern, I’d say that it’s actually better than starting with the first book. There is a short foreword that gets you up to speed with the setting, and I found the story itself to be much more personal and satisfying than you’d find in the core books.
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