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Menolly of Pern was one of my first awesome girl heroines during my awkward teenage years. Unlike most Pern fans, I came into the world through Anne McCaffrey's Harperhall Trilogy, which I read in junior high and have made it a point to re-read it at least once every year. Menolly, the irrepressible scamp Piemur, Manora, Masterharper Robinton and Menolly's brace of fire lizards--are old and familiar friends. I'm still hoping for a bronze fire lizard of my own.
Unlike typical romance heroines who were always perfect, always beautiful and often stuck on stupid, Menolly was self-sufficient and not scared to be smart. She wasn't about her looks but her brains. I've come across some readers who, in trying to be oh-so "edgy" have accused McCaffrey of writing Menolly as a "Mary Sue". Sorry, but unlike the obvious Mary Sue-edness of Bella Swann, Menolly wasn't perfect. In fact, I've found her to be rather socially inept when it comes to basic human interactions. She has a hard time making female friends, but no wonder. Like myself, she grew up wanting to do "what the boys did". For her it was being a harper. For me it was jumping over garbage cans a la Evel Kneivel and reading science-fiction. I didn't have girl friends with these sorts of hobbies. And the few female friends she does make--namely with Mirrim (whom I have always been a fan of)--are cut from that same cloth.
Once I discovered there was more Pern, then there was Lessa--prickly but strong and a wonderful leader. Lessa wasn't warm and fuzzy and her first mating flight with Ramoth was so far and away not the hearts and flowers type of intimate scene, and yet it made perfect sense for it not to be. And yet for some reason, I always got a nice tingle down below reading it. My guess is the idea of being mentally overwhelmed by the sheer lust of the dragon, which is still an animal. I wondered then, even at that age, whether animals had the right of it. Sex without all the human rules. Though I have, over the years, have had serious issues with McCaffrey's handling of Kylara. Not that I liked the witch, but her sexuality should have been separate from her other bad behaviors as Weyrwoman. I've often viewed the Brekke/Kylara arc as a weird Madonna/Whore dichtomy (though I love Brekke and F'nor and it would have been all kinds of AWESOME had Canth flown Wirenth).
Oh Anne McCaffrey, how your world of Pern changed my life for the better. My first love was Lord Jaxom (he even figured prominently in my first book written in high school--The Time Ghost and Saren). Then I fell for the steadfast yet easygoing F'nor. But I will always love Masterharper Robinton and I bawled like a baby at his passing. I sighed with fangirlish happiness when Menolly and Sebell got together (no surprise there really), courtesy of the mating of their fire lizards.
Then I met Killashandra Ree and the whole idea of singing crystal. I agree with McCaffrey that Killashandra was wasted on a brand of butter. I think I've seen Ballybran in the night sky before. And Helva, the ship who sang. I never knew where McCaffrey's books would take me, but I always knew wherever I went, adventure and characters who leaped off the pages and into my heart, was sure to follow.
There are really few female science-fiction/fantasy authors who mattered when I was growing up in my book: Octavia Butler for so many reasons, Marion Zimmer Bradley for others. Ursula LeGuin, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Andre Norton, and of course, Anne McCaffrey. They spoke to the geek girl who wanted adventure, not boys and a white picket fence.
Therefore, it was so awesome to read how so many people were inspired not just by Pern, but by the woman herself. And the fact that she was so accessible--a rarity in this day and age. I remember my friend Kara told me that she went to Anne McCaffrey's house in Ireland and had tea with the woman. My mouth dropped, but having read this wonderful tribute, I can only wish I'd done the same. Oh, the conversations she and I could have had. What an amazing woman and how she's so very missed.
The Pern books will always hold a special place in my heart. Dog-eared and very much loved. Dragonwriter is for the fans, we who can see ourselves within every essay. And who knows, I may yet find that bronze fire lizard, and when I do, I will name him Robinton.