Our Reading Lives

‘Dragonriders of Pern’ Series: Calling All Dragon Nerds

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

Few genres are more fabulously dorky, and in my opinion, therefore more fabulously escapist, than science fiction about communicating telepathically with dragons. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, which includes the breathless, bodice-ripping titles Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon, are all about communicating telepathically with dragons, on a planet called Pern.

Deadly silver Threads fall from the sky “threatening all Pern with destruction,” and the dragons’ fiery breath is the only thing that can shrivel Thread. Do these dragons just fly around spitting fire for the betterment of humankind? No, no, my fellow dorky friends, the dragons must have riders! My 10-year-old self rejoices. This is so much more awesome than How To Train Your Dragon, it is more Horse Whisperer, more Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer, except, you know, with dragons.

The dragons on Pern, you see, choose their riders, just as nerds like me in junior high school chose dragon books. Some of the most exciting writing in the series concerns the once-a-year festival in which the just-hatched blue, green, gold, and silver dragons choose as their riders and life-long friends, certain young Pernian adolescents. Pick me, pick me! Oh please pick me! I basically can’t help shouting at the page, every single time I read about Lessa, F’lar and F’nor and Lord Jaxsom – okay the names are bad- but should we really pass judgment on another planet? These good-hearted kids get chosen to have planet-saving adventures. Like stories of medieval knights in battle, there’s lots of emphasis on skins, harpers and bards, winds, wounds, recovery by certain healing salves, and romance.

There’s even romance among the dragons. “You flew me well,” a golden dragon queen says appreciatively to her consort. My heart would pound back then, reading these bits. Wow, I would think. Now, I think this dragon sexytime stuff is silly, but I use McCaffrey language with my husband, who, because he’s not about being telepathic with dragons, but instead believes in Elf Kings, and quests, and all that mess of Hobbity-stuff, has never read the books. Which is a shame. He has no idea what I mean when I say, “You flew me well,” at night when we gaze together at our beautiful sleeping children.