Flashback Fridays: The little queen all golden, Flew hissing at the sea

Dragons.  Who hasn’t encountered dragons in the fantasy worlds they read?  Out of all mythical creatures, these giant flying lizards are truly some of the most recognized creatures of fantasy stories.  But do you remember one of the original science fiction stories with dragons?

I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong (c1976) when I was about ten and already quite sold on the idea of dragons.  So of course a cover of a book with a girl on it and little dragons flying around just wasn’t going to be skipped.    There are two more that follow this one.  The second continues the story of our main character from the first book and maintains a middle grade feel.  The third book follows another character and tends to be closer to YA fiction.

If you’re not familiar with the Pern books, specifically the Harper Hall books,  this trilogy of stories focuses for the first two books on a misfit girl named Menolly who has an amazing gift for music.  But in the world she inhabits, only boys can be Harpers.  So Menolly is oppressed and punished for her creativity until she runs away . . . and discovers something extraordinary.  Menolly already knows about the giant dragons that are bonded with their dragonriders and patrol the skies of Pern, but she’s never seen tiny dragons before.   Menolly’s adventures will lead her from living outside in the wilds, to the great dragon rider halls, to the Harper Halls themselves.

Sounds pretty much like a fantasy, right?  Well that’s where it gets tricky.

Is this scifi? Is this just fantasy? Dances with fire lizards just aint reality . . . ^_^

Menolly’s rather medieval sounding world almost could be a pure fantasy world.  But here and there are strange artifacts and elements.  The creatures that live in this world, and the deadly Thread spores that the dragons burn from the skies aren’t anything typical to a human earth like world.  Arguably it could be a fantasy.  And McCaffrey never completely comes out and says it’s not in this trilogy.  It’s only upon reading the adult books in the series that you learn for certain that this is a colonized planet, hundreds of years later.    The planet Pern was colonized by space faring humans.  The dragons are bioengineered creatures, made from the fire lizard DNA.

A new reader might not realize this until they graduate in their reading,  but it’s kind of exciting to go from a story that’s simply impossible to one that actually might some day be plausible.

And while the dragons in this book were a great element, it was Menolly’s own denied passion for music that really carries the story.  McCaffrey weaves a perfectly good coming of age story into these pages and I don’t think that story has faded in the decades since I read it.  This is one flashback book that is still in print and available on the library shelves much of the time.  I still feel that the first two books in this series remain among the best books that Anne McCaffrey wrote.  I’ve read and reread my copies until they are all but tatters.

These are books that are like old friends I can retreat to when life is overly demanding.  Wonderful, cozy little story gems that bring me right back to being eleven years old and sprawled out on the carpeted floor of the library.

What’s your go-to book for re-reading?

Miss you, dragon mistress. Anne McCaffrey (April 1, 1926- November 21, 2011


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 7, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Kathy DeWeese

    You had me at “The little queen all golden flew hissing at the sea.” Wait, what? That’s my book! This is totally one of my comfort books that I re-read every couple of years or so… and I agree that the first two books of Harper Hall are the best, and I’ve read them all. I love to re-read just the section where Menolly is going through evaluations and tests at the Harper Hall in book 2, I just love her writing about music. Have you read the Crystal Singer books?

  2. I’ve read at least two of them . . . I’ve been meaning to go back and find the others. ^_^

  3. Very important for my childhood! haha…. LOVED all of them. Well, not after they destroy ___ (if you’ve read them you’ll get my point but I don’t want to spoil it for others).

  4. Dragonsinger is one of my favorite re-reads! Large chuncks of it are embedded in my memory.

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