The Dragonriders of Pern Critical Essays

Anne McCaffrey


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The science-fiction elements are stronger in some Pern novels than in others. Dragonsdawn explains that the colonists arrive in the three transport spaceships with all the necessary technology. In fact, the dolphins who arrived at the same time had been genetically enhanced before the journey to enable them to communicate with human partners.

One important science-fiction device in this series is the biogenetic manipulation of the dragonets (later called fire lizards) into the powerful fire-breathing dragons of Pern. They fly, teleport, breath fire, and possess telepathic abilities, all as a result of genetic engineering rather than magic. In several novels, these science-fiction elements are only implied; after Dragonsdawn, it is not until The White Dragon that physical remains of the landing are discovered. At the conclusion of The Renegades of Pern, the Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System, or AIVAS, is discovered, and the Pernese begin to explore their scientific origins.

McCaffrey has created a world that many readers would like to visit. Pern is a place with fascinating telepathic creatures, complex and growing characters, and a strong work ethic. Although the series is science fiction, the stories largely concern relationships among people and between people and animals. Readers return to the series as new novels are published because the history of Pern is so rich and intricate. Many teachers in elementary and junior high schools require their students to read “The Smallest Dragonboy” (1982), a Pern story that is anthologized widely, and the novels of the Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums).

McCaffrey has recommended starting with the two main trilogies within the series, the Harper Hall trilogy and the adult trilogy consisting of Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. These six novels provide an understanding of the complex social structure of weyrs, holds, and crafts that sets up the other novels. The two trilogies also contain the most exciting events of the series: Lessa’s trip through time, Ramoth’s Impression, F’lar’s fights with Oldtimers, F’nor’s attempt to reach the Red Star, the discovery of fire lizards, Ruth’s...

(The entire section is 950 words.)