Thursday, 21 November 2019

Re-Reading my Favourite Books : Dragonriders of Pern

Dragonflight, the first in the Dragonriders of Pern series, was written by Anne McCaffrey and originally published in 1968. It is set in world where the chosen ride huge beasts bred to defend the world of Pern against a deadly interplanetary threat that returns every 200 years. This threat comes in the form of the Red Star which, when it nears Pern, gives off silver Threads which burrow into the earth and kill every living thing. Last time though, that threat never eventuated, and while traditionalists still hold onto the training schedules and teaching songs, many don't believe it will ever return, and much knowledge has been lost. Too, the population of dragons is no longer big enough to protect the planet effectively should the Red Star throw off the deadly Threads on its return.

I first read this book somewhere around 13 to 15 years old, and I remember really enjoying it. I went on to read several in the series (there are now over 20 books in all, some written by McCaffrey's son). The world the series is set in is unusual and intriguing, enhanced by the terms used for some common words, such as 'turns' instead of years. It has a strange mix of technology and archaism, with flamethrowers used to combat the threads, but knowledge is passed on through songs because they no longer have a reliable way of writing it down.

And, of course, dragons!

I can see how the particular way dragons are presented in this series would appeal to a lonely teenaged reader. Each dragon is matched to a rider, who Impresses on it when hatched, much the same way a mother duck impresses on its baby. From then on, the dragon and its rider are physically and emotionally inseperable: a love beyond any mere trivial human emotion. Dragonriders are a class above the holders, the ordinary people who do the farming, cooking and cleaning to support the riders. I'm sure I would have imagined myself as a Dragonrider, soaring through the skies on a magnificent golden beast, not to mention understood and loved by it unconditionally to boot.

Upon reading this time, however, I was brought back to earth with a jolt. This book is so problematic that I just couldn't enjoy it. It smacks of racism and sexism. There's domestic violence, unchallenged adultery, disturbing sexual references and repeated fatphobic commentary.

The main character, Lessa, is a woman in her early 20s, hardened by 10 years of domestic slavery. Her status as the rider of the golden Queen dragon makes her joint leader of the riders along with her male counterpart. However, he dominates her, mocks her, treats her like a child and physically abuses her by grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. She responds by gradually coming to feel affection for him and feeling jealous of his cheating on her. In a moment of danger and fear, her first reaction is to be afraid of his being angry at her. She is clearly a victim of domestic violence, but the text presents this unchallenged. She is expected to serve him and his visitors food and drink. The treatment of women in general is little better than of servants.

The sexual references in the book are also disturbing. Every time the Queen dragons mate, their two riders are compelled to mate also, no matter how much they may hate or be repelled by each other. It made me feel sick to read these passages.

The previous Queen leader and her dragon failed in their duties to produce enough offspring and keep the numbers of dragons up. She is repeatedly referred to as lazy, incompetent, obese and obstinate, and contrasted with Lessa, who is slender and delicate. She is blamed for all of the riders' current ills, and her death celebrated as a case of good riddance. The dragonriders are in their current situation partly because of past failings, but they are all blamed on a single person, and her physical appearance is irrelevant to what happened. The repeated references to the appearance of the female characters seem to say more about the author than the characters.

Dragonflight was published in 1968, so it must be remembered that it's a product of its time. It's also set in a fantasy world, where social norms are different to our world. Having said that, I'm not arguing that these flaws can be excused. The Lord of the Rings, which I wrote about in this post, was written slightly earlier, and while it doesn't have any central female characters, the ones it does have are treated with dignity. There are many more and better examples, but I'll leave it there for now.

I tried reading the second book in the series, Dragonquest, in case it was any better, but unfortunately it was worse. I only got a couple of chapters in before I had to stop. I didn't even get time to talk about the florid writing style. I have no problem with a more formal writing style, but it was so highblown as to be annoying and distracting at times. I can't help but wonder if the author felt she had something to prove.

Unfortunately I have to conclude that on re-reading, this is no longer one of my favourite series. Part of me thinks I should continue reading the series to try and find some redeeming qualities in it, but there are too many other books and too little time!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

My October

October has been a typical Spring month here, alternating between cold, wintry days and 34C (93F) scorchers, with everything in between. There was only one thunderstorm, but it was a pretty impressive one. I had my ups and downs too -- feeling sick, feeling good, tired/energetic, enthusiastic/sad. I could make the usual apologies for not blogging more often etc etc, but I didn't feel like writing, so why force myself? I'm here now, that's all.

What I've been building ...
It's not much to look at yet, but Husband and I are building a garden bed in our front yard. If everything goes according to plan, it'll be an adorably retro, white-pebbled brick-bordered oval bed with a lemon tree in the middle and some quirky succulents or something dotted about too.

What I've been drawing ...
I went to my first ever life drawing class, and it was a very interesting and inspiring experience. That voice in my head which tells me my art is rubbish was very persistent for the first hour or so, but eventually it got quieter and I was able to get into a kind of flow state. If you can call a lot of scribbling and grimacing a flow state! I found that being forced to just sit there and draw non-stop for a couple of hours a really interesting experience, and it left me very excited about my art and the future.

There have been quite a few developments in my art lately, so I'll do a separate post on that soon.

What I've been photographing ...
A few weeks ago I did my first flatlay! I don't know why I became suddenly obsessed with them. I went down a rabbithole of research and finding pleasing examples for inspiration. I decided to base mine around a manga I'd recently read, because of the interesting colours on its cover. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find enough orange-coloured items around the house, but it turns out that wasn't a problem. There were plenty more I could have squeezed in! I'm generally quite pleased with it, though I notice a few gaps and the lighting could be better.

Where I've been visiting ...
Husband and I and our foodie friend went to visit the Geelong Agricultural Show, and it was so much fun, embracing our inner kids (and inner bogans, somewhat). I got to see baby animals and prizewinning vegetables, though unfortunately we couldn't find the handicrafts and I was too tired by the time we realised where they were. I can always see them next year!

What I've been reading ...
I didn't set myself a reading challenge in October, because I decided to participate again in the Dewey 24 in 48 Readathon, which was on the last weekend of the month. Reading for 24 hours out of a 48 hour period is almost impossible for me, but on the other hand I'm known to jump into improbable challenges pretty often. As usual, I used a page in my Hobonichi to keep track, reading in 20 minute increments this time (or half an hour if I was feeling like I could concentrate for a bit longer). I read about 13 hours out of the 24, and got several books and stories finished, but not the ones I was aiming for. That's life sometimes!