dragonflight

Promises of a movie version of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight novel have been murmured for many years now. And for all that time I have been ambivalent about the idea.

I first discovered Pern as a thirteen year old. I read my way from the middle of the series outwards, and backwards, and around again. I then went on to buy most of Anne McCaffrey's books. They did not create the bones of my imagination - Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Grimm Brothers had done that long before - but Anne taught me a great deal and also encouraged me (in a personal reply to a fan letter, which I treasured for years) to believe I could be a writer myself. A writer. The most amazing thing in the world. 

My juvenalia mainly involved a fiesty heroine and a tight-jawed hero out to save the world from some impersonal meteorological menace (and, in one dreadful case, riding telepathic pegasus to do so!) Yes, alas, I spent many years writing thinly disguised versions of Dragonflight - which is of course the best way to apprentice yourself as a writer. Take your favourite stories by your favourite writers and pick them apart, then put them back together again, until you learn exactly what you love about them, and why you love it, and how to create that kind of experience in your own words.  


my mental template for dragons


I am currently rereading Dragonflight, inspired by the movie talk. (Oh, I just know they're going to utterly ruin it. But yet - seeing the dragons on screen! Although what if they don't - sorry, I could go on for hours.)

For several years as an adult, I couldn't reread Dragonflight or Dragonquest because of an awakened understanding that the way the heroes of both books treat the women they love is awful. But the older I get the more ambivalence I'm willing to tolerate. I still think the heroes' behaviour is abhorrent - but I also believe it reveals more about Anne McCaffrey herself than general 1960s values as most people say. A lack of consent of various kinds ripples through many of her books, even alongside progressive ideas about women's power in stories and in the world. I suspect this was a matter of Anne's personality rather than a political opinion. And I've discovered that, because of this, I can take what I like from Dragonflight and leave the rest. (I do this with several books, such as Wuthering Heights and Tehanu, although with others, like The Fountainhead, I can't quite manage it.)

I have been interested to see how bad some of the writing in Dragonflight is, and how good some of the characterisation is, and how, by about page one hundred, none of that matters because the story has you by the throat. And I remember what I admired from the very start about Anne: the courage in her writing. She was never afraid to make her characters unlikeable in the service of their personal truth. Nor was she afraid to be herself as a writer, even though other people may deplore some of her values. And she actually broke ground in some fierce and amazing ways - especially with her heroines, who were bitchy, or doormats, or promiscuous, or disabled, or in many other aspects real woman, in a time when that was rare in fantasy literature. 

That kind of courage is the final lesson she has to teach me, and I am still learning.