Published by Del Rey on orig. published 1978
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Also by this author: Catalyst, Restoree
To the nobles who live in Ruatha Hold, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright.
But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . .
Another Turn, and the deadly silver Threads began falling again. So thebold dragonriders took to the air once more and their magnificent flyingdragons swirled and swooped, belching flames that destroyed theshimmering strands before they reach the ground.
But F'lar knew he had to find a better way to protect his beloved Pern,and he had to find it before the rebellious Oldtimers could breed anymore dissent... before his brother F'nor would be foolhardy enough tolaunch another suicide mission... and before those dratted fire-lizardscould stir up any more trouble!
Never has there been as close a bond as the one that exists between the daring and adventurous young Lord Jaxom and his extraordinary white dragon, Ruth. Pure white and incredibly agile, Ruth is a dragon of many talents, though almost everyone on Pern thinks he is a runt who will never amount to anything.
But Jaxom knows better, knows he can teach his dragon to fly and destroy the deadly silver Thread that falls from the sky. Disobeying all rules, Jaxon and Ruth train in secret. Their illicit flights seem but a minor disobedience - until they find themselves in the path of danger and in a position to prevent the biggest danger of all...
Meet the series that made me fall in love with dragons!
Before McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern novels, most dragons in Western myth and fantasy were fierce, dangerous, and generally wicked: hoarding gold, rampaging and killing, and eating sacrificial maidens. Think Smaug from The Hobbit or Maleficent-as-a-dragon from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
McCaffrey changed all that. Her reimagined dragons are intelligent, curious, and tightly bonded to their chosen riders both emotionally and telepathically—so much so that if a rider dies, the dragon commits suicide rather than live without them. (Riders only rarely survive their dragon’s death, either.) Pernese dragons aren’t scaly like mythic dragons, but warm-blooded, with a soft, supple hide. And while they do breathe fire, it’s only as a result of chewing phosphine-bearing ore.
What’s more, McCaffrey’s dragons, far from terrorizing the countryside, are its sole protection against an extraplanetary threat known as “Thread”: an organism that falls from the sky and consumes or destroys anything organic it comes in contact with. Thread can be killed only by drowning it, freezing it, burning it to ash, or spraying it with caustic chemicals. Since the first, second, and fourth methods are largely impractical when it comes to protecting fields and orchards from something that falls from the sky, that leaves aerial protection to the fire-breathing dragons and their riders. Fortunately, in addition to breathing fire, dragons have one other useful talent: they can not only fly but also teleport, traveling not-quite-instantly from one point to another via a dark, cold nothingness known as between. This enables them to dodge Thread, while between is cold enough to freeze any Thread that does land on them or on their riders.
Dragonflight begins as Benden Weyr—the only inhabited weyr, or dragon-and-rider colony—is Searching for a candidate for the queen egg on their hatching grounds. Dragons bond at birth; queens will bond only with a female candidate. But Pern is at the end of a long “Interval”: a four-hundred-year period without Thread, instead of the usual two hundred years. Many people think Thread is gone forever. Only the Weyr, the Harper Hall, and a few of the Lord Holders still believe. Dragonflight tells the story of strong-willed Lessa, the new queen’s rider, and F’lar, the bronze rider who is one of the few even within the Weyr who recognizes the signs that the resumption of Threadfall is imminent. But the Holds have multiplied since the last Pass, and five Weyrs stand empty, leaving Benden alone and unprepared to protect the entire continent. It falls to Lessa, and her discovery of an unexpected corollary to dragons’ ability to go between, to solve the problem.
Dragonquest takes place a few years later. The cast of important characters widens to include Brekke, a queen rider, F’lar’s brother F’nor, rider of brown Canth, and a slightly larger role for one of McCaffrey’s favorite characters, Masterharper Robinton. Tense relations between the dragonriders and the Lord Holders, conflicts between conservative and forward-thinking dragonriders, the political machinations of several power-hungry men, and a return to the long-abandoned Southern continent drive the story, but it’s the personal interactions that really give it life. I also love the fire lizards, tiny cousins to the dragons, who make their first appearance in this book.
The White Dragon is one of my favorite books in the entire series (with the exception of the first two books in the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger.) Ruth, the white dragon, and his rider, Lord Holder Jaxom of Ruatha, are both outsiders or misfits—Ruth because he’s unusually small, and white, a color never before seen in a dragon; Jaxom because he is both Lord Holder and dragonrider, yet not allowed to fully be either. McCaffrey is at her best in this book, as Ruth and Jaxom together seek to build their own place within a society whose own horizons are expanding.
The two books I mentioned above, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, are part one and two of the Harper Hall trilogy, the only Pern books written as YA rather than adult fiction. They were published between Dragonquest and The White Dragon. While you don’t have to have read them to enjoy The White Dragon, I would recommend it, because there are secondary characters and relationships you won’t enjoy as much otherwise—particularly Menolly, Sebell, and Piemur.
I first read Dragonflight and Dragonquest in high school, and immediately fell in love with the series despite the fact that (in retrospect), Dragonflight is not one of the best in the series. The worldbuilding is excellent, albeit just a trifle inconsistent between those first books and the later ones. Socially and technologically, Pern is a medieval-cum-Renaissance analog, but it’s also a lost Terran colony world, one which either deliberately or as a result of calamity lost its advanced technological and scientific knowledge. (That story is explored in Dragondawn and several other books and short stories, all written well after the original trilogy and the Harper Hall trilogy.) Throughout the series, McCaffrey explores the effects, on both society and individuals, of Pern’s origin, of Threadfall, and of the dragonriders’ bond with their dragons. The plots balance personal stories with the broader scope of an entire culture and the subcultures of Weyr, Hold, and Guild. And the majority of the human characters are well-drawn: realistic people with strengths and flaws mixed together.
Last but decidedly not least, there are the dragons, who are as much characters as the human beings, particularly in The White Dragon. Dragons are, on the whole, more straightforward than humans, more direct and very much living in the moment. They’re often quite charming, and I fell for them hard. For a while, I wanted nothing quite so badly as to be a dragonrider, though I would have settled for becoming a Harper.
The series was the first adult fantasy I read after Tolkien, and probably did as much as LOTR to cement my love affair with the genre—though strictly speaking, the books aren’t actually fantasy, since McCaffrey wrote them as SF and tried to work out scientific explanations for everything, including (eventually) the dragons’ ability to fly (c.f. The Skies of Pern.) When I went to SF conventions in my late teens and early twenties, I sometimes cosplayed a rather generic Renaissance-era peasant costume that could easily pass for Pernese dress.
The White Dragon came out when I was a high school junior, and to my delight, a year later McCaffrey came to a library in the DC area. She was a delightful speaker, very gracious to her fans, and very willing to sign my paperback copies. I still own them; I later bought a hardcover omnibus edition to read, so I could keep those precious signed copies in decent shape! As the years went on, I bought every book in hardcover as it came out, though I confess I rather drifted away once McCaffrey’s son Todd took over the franchise. I still re-read most of Anne’s Pern novels every three or four years, though!
* She was probably touring for the Dragondrums release, because The White Dragon had just been released in paperback.)
What better way to celebrate the Bookwyrm’s blogoversary than with the books that kindled (pun intended) my love of dragons?
I’ve got a Kindle copy of the omnibus edition featuring Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon to give away. I hope whichever of you wins it falls in love with Pern as I did!