Anne McCaffrey Debra Rae Cohen - Essay

Debra Rae Cohen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Science fiction's "Dragon Lady" has written several novels, but none more popular and durable than the sagas of the Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and the new White Dragon. No random magic here, no Tolkienesque created language—Pern is supposedly a long-lost Earth colony—but a meticulously logical civilization, finely crafted. Social structure, tensions, legends and traditions are all based on the fundamental ecological battle and on the empathetic kinship between a dragon and his rider.

The ideal of empathy is at the root of Pern….

The people of Pern fight internal disunity and the cultural stagnation that threatens their society's very survival. Each Dragonriders novel marks a victory for a world that revitalizes ancient traditions to fit modern demands. The heroine, or hero, upholds the spirit of the law rather than its letter, taking a moral stand against a dogmatic society….

These kinds of conflicts aren't easily disposed of, and McCaffrey's books often end with ellipses: People don't pair off neatly, dragons die, solutions are acknowledged as merely temporary. Of course, unresolved endings are useful when you're writing a continuing series, and McCaffrey willingly mocks her own habit. Dinosaur Planet, the first volume of a new, less subtle, trilogy, ends with her protagonists hanging, literally, from a cliff….

Why dragons in the first place? "They had bad press. And I liked the thought of them being so big, and controlled by a bond of love." Ties of trust and telepathy are a constant theme of McCaffrey's….

Debra Rae Cohen, 'Great Escapes through Fantasy," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1978 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June, 1978, p. 51.